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Expat life: is it easier when you don’t have children?

By Allix Denham 

It’s a common fantasy – move abroad, reinvent yourself, live in the sun and find love, success and fulfilment. It’s the stuff of many a book and newspaper article, even if the latter seem to prefer stories of the ‘dreams gone wrong’ variety.

Officially, there are some five-and-a-half million Britons living abroad – the majority in Australia with Spain, the US and Canada being the next most popular destinations. What is less clear, however, are the ages and types of people who make the move, and the reasons given for doing so.

Is it easier to move abroad when you’re single and carefree, before the arrival of children and responsibilities? Or is it actually because of your children and their needs that you might find yourself integrating?

‘Not having children allows an expat to take greater risks, and by that I mean choosing where to live and not having to consider schools,’ says Anna Fill, editor of the South of France-based website The Riviera Woman. ‘You are able to pick and choose the best lifestyle for you. With children, it is possible to find like-minded people to give you the motivation to integrate because of the need to find schools.’

Indeed, many families settle in well to new cultures and lifestyles, with children benefiting from growing up bilingual. Finding the right school is generally cited as the expat’s biggest worry, but there are plenty of resources online to help navigate this and any other issues.

For those without children, there are all kinds of international networking groups set up for meeting others, but clearly it helps to be in a city environment, with a higher concentration of jobs and opportunities. The alternative is to wait until retirement. What can be nicer than a lovely holiday home in the sun for all the family to enjoy?

It doesn’t always work out that way, though. Many couples buy large villas with swimming pools, expecting them to be filled with their children and grandchildren every summer, only to find their offspring tiring of doing the same thing year in, year out. The lesson is, as with all aspects of life, you can’t rely solely on your family for company. There’s not a lot of point in moving abroad without then making an effort to fit in socially.

‘An expat existence can be lonely if you don’t make the effort to learn the language and understand the culture,’ says Anna Fill. ‘Without doubt travelling is both enriching and empowering, giving you life-skills you would not necessarily be able to have by staying at home.’

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbour’s cat on a regular basis.

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