Airplane approching Vancouver airport, YVROnce you have a family, moving abroad requires more preparation. Not only are there more people to accommodate you'll need to manage the expectations, fears and the frustrations of your children to ensure a successful transition. 

This is why a pre-visit to BC is so important.

I know what you're thinking: "Why do I need to pay more money for travel and waste my time when I'll be arriving in BC in a few weeks anyway? It's not worth it." Don't make this mistake! 

Preparing the groundwork and knowing where you'll sleep upon arrival will increase your confidence. No doubt. But in reality, the benefits are much more numerous. You'll have a mental picture of the place, what it looks like and how it's organized. It'll reduce your level of uncertainty and anxiety as departure day draws closer.



But what is a pre-visit?

The pre-visit is the short visit (usually one week) to your chosen city. The primary purpose is to arrange for the basic needs of the family like housing and schooling. (I am assuming that one family member of your family has already secured a position as job hunting is not within the scope of this article.)


Who is supposed to come? 

Parents often come alone because they need to be efficient with their time. With jetlag, hopping from place to place and lots of meetings, kids can slow the process down. Plus it can be an extremely boring time for kids of any age. Another issue to consider is cost. Bringing the whole family, can easily double or triple the travel budget.


When is the best moment to do it?

The sooner, the better on the condition that the pre-visit has been carefully prepared beforehand to get the most benefit from it. The pre-visit is not a tourist stay! To ensure the best preparation, list your priorities. Pick the three most important and rank them by order. 


In our case, with a family of four children, we chose the following:


Schools

We made finding a school our top priority. Our first objective as parents was to ensure the well-being of our children. 

Because children are more vulnerable emotionally - they never "chose" to move - because they spend such a long time of their young life at school, because it's their main place to socialize, because (in our case, on top of the move) they did not get any summer holidays and had no clue about the language, we wanted them to feel comfortable in a stimulating, warm and caring environment. This is why we selected the schools first. 

We wanted to have a strong anchor for them to feel good, and for us, as responsible parents, to know that we had done our very best for their well-being. This process enabled us to be fully confident about our choices. 


Housing

The location of the school(s) then gave us a good indication of possible areas to live. It was easy to look for what was available, affordable and practical.


Finances

Our third action-point was opening a bank account in order to have a credit card upon our "official" arrival. With a credit card we would then be able to buy furniture and sign up for a phone plan, etc.


Become your own personal organizer

Organize appointments for the first two list items at the beginning of the week. Go online, use Google maps and local contacts to collect street addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and evaluate the travel time between locations. Think about the easiest way to get around (taxi, rental car, public transport) and choose the most efficient one, even if it's not the most comfortable option. Always remember that you have to be efficient.


I would recommend you book a minimum of two and maximum four appointments a day. Confirm all appointments in writing and establish an agenda to take with you with all the details.
 
  • When possible, have several options for all of your action points. Visit a few schools, even if you have a preferred one. You'll learn lots of information and get lots of different opinions during your visit.
  • Try, if possible, to show interest but give yourself a few days or a couple of weeks for reflection before committing to a new school or house. Take some pictures and show them to your children to get their impressions.?
  • If you are not ready to commit to the standard two-or-three-year cell phone agreement, buy a pre-paid phone and pay as you go or pick up a pre-paid international calling card.



Fill in the gaps on site

While in BC, you'll be able to talk to local people. Ask questions; look at the secondary issues that you will need to deal with after arrival such as:
  • Buying a car
  • Private health insurance
  • Important paperwork you need to bring for your official arrival


Fill in the gaps on your agenda. And do it as soon as possible. Some people won't be available the next day and you're only there for a week. While you have much to achieve in a short time, remember to relax in the evenings and try to network.



Preparation payback

When you've established face-to-face contact you get a feel for the people in the different organizations and the local contacts you meet. They, in return, will get a first impression of the new family to come. They'll be able to better prepare themselves and welcome your kids (in the case of the school) with a more personalized approach.


You'll also be able to answer pressing questions from your children, other family members and friends who are worried. You'll be able to show pictures, speak about the people, the language, the food, the clothing, the climate and be in a better position to anticipate problems.


You'll get a clear picture in mind of the town and the location. You'll have a clear transition plan (with back-ups) which you can explain in details to the kids and reassure them.


Your kids in return will feel that everything is planned and that structure is provided. The sense of security your children feel may not be obvious but it is more important than you think. The confidence you'll project during the move and on arrival will be invaluable to everyone's sense of safety and security.


Thanks to our pre-visit, we were able to have our two teenagers start school one week after arrival. In that week, we got a guided tour of the school and bought all the uniforms and the books required. They had a clear picture of the new school but not a lot of time to procrastinate. Once the older ones were at school, I took the two younger siblings on tours of the elementary schools and prepared them for admission during the second week.


We spent only one week in a temporary house before moving to our long-term family home and we were able to buy all the basic furniture (beds, linen, table, chairs) immediately thanks to the credit cards readily available.


In just two weeks, we were fully operational with no crisis, no panic, no drama. All thanks to the preparation done doing our pre-visit.


Are you convinced? Will you do it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 


For more information about psychological issues to consider in relocating, go to Anne's website expatriateconnection.com


Photograph by Hussein Abdallahh.