how to move abroad with children with special needs

Moving abroad on your own is challenging enough. Moving abroad with kids takes it up a notch or two – but moving with special needs children takes it to a whole new level.

Many a relocation deal has been broken because the parents simply cannot find the right resources to ensure that their special needs child will have the necessary support to make life as easy and pleasant as possible for all involved.

Even though there is no “magic wand” to wave in this situation, we have provided a number of practical tips which may help smooth the way. After all, losing out on a potential relocation, as well as all the ways that  children benefit from moving abroad, would be a pity. On the understanding that you have already made inquiries regarding any medical requirements, we have tried to keep these tips down to the practical level:

1. Visual context

A visual context will help the child acclimatize, even before you make the move. Create a photo album for your child. You can do this either by visiting your intended destination ahead of time, or if this is not possible, by scouring the Internet and travel sites for pictures of your new country, and your new city.

If you have been able to connect with the current tenants in your intended house, ask them for pictures of every room; possibly pictures of your child’s new school, maybe even some shots of the kids in the class; what the town looks like, local shops, the local park and so on. A great way to do this is to find the location in Google street view and do a virtual stroll through the town. That will make it very exciting. If you want to be extra ambitious, you can consider creating a digital photo album. Try using PowerPoint to put something together. It’s not that difficult, and could be a great deal of fun for everybody.

2. Try to introduce some stability and routine ahead of time

You could create a timetable with images to describe what will be happening over the next few months. Mark the moving date with a special colorful sticker and start a countdown, crossing off dates or removing an image for each day. You should also try to get them used to sights and sounds, and new situations, new routines and new ways of doing things. If school uniforms are required, try to buy one in advance, and let them wear it, so they get used to the look and feel.

Find out if the local stores stock their favorite foods or drinks. If not, then try to get some of the popular local food shipped to your home, so your child can start getting used new tastes and smells.

3. Pack carefully and calmly, keeping familiar objects within easy reach

When it comes down to packing, do so carefully. Consider any favorite toys, cups, blankets, music, DVDs, night lights, towels and other objects that will be familiar and comforting to your child when they encounter their new surroundings for the first time.

Buy your child a special backpack, maybe with a favorite cartoon character, and let him/her pack it themselves (with some supervision) with their favorite things for the journey.

4. Visit schools, doctors, and medical facilities beforehand

If you have the opportunity, try to visit schools, doctors and other important support facilities beforehand. Take copies of notes from doctors and any other specialists involved describing the care and education of your child, and give the local organizations as detailed a history of your child’s condition and needs as possible.

Check if there is any state support available. Among the top 10 countries for raising a family, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Australia are often particularly helpful when it comes to assisting economically. This money can be used to cover therapy or even education. Children with special needs also often continue receiving financial support once they reach adulthood.

Making local friends is also vitally important for your child’s well-being. There are plenty of international programs that pair up children with special needs with a friend, allowing them to go out weekly and do normal and fun activities.

With these few tips, we hope that your transition to a new home will be made as easy as possible.  Bon Voyage!


Written by David M