International_Gilberts-1
This is my husband’s artistic interpretation of our children in France. Subtle.

Last week I was talking about our on-going conversation about the pros/cons of homeschooling and a couple people mentioned that Cole’s only 3.5 years old so we have plenty of time. Well, maybe. It actually depends on what we do — which has prompted me to write about some of the options available to you if you want to raise your kids overseas.

1. The Homeschooling Nomad. If we homeschool, keep traveling at a 1-3 month per country rate — then we don’t have to change anything. Most countries allow US passport holders to enter on a tourist visa for between 1-3 months, some countries do 6 months (Mexico, UK, Australia are good examples) and a lot of places can be extended by doing visa runs (Central/South America, parts of Asia, Middle East — basically most places except Europe). If we homeschool there’s really little to be done except perhaps make sure our state of residence in the US doesn’t have some draconian homeschooling regulation, which can be solved by simply doing the paperwork to set up residency in a different state. If we ever feel like Cole is falling behind on his studies, we can consult the Takelessons blog for tutoring help and tips to help him learn a variety of subjects.

However if we want to put Cole in school, we have to set up a permanent homebase. This is trickier if we want to live overseas:

2. Permanent non-working residency visas. If you have a business based in the US (that wouldn’t require you to work locally, like say, um, a blog) then you can prove you have enough income to live on without taking a local job, in many countries you can qualify for a long term residency visa. It’s really intended for retirees or the independently wealthy but plenty of people who have online businesses have been able to qualify. In Europe it varies but somewhere between having 1,000 euros/person each month in income or a million euros in assets (big range I know) can get you in. It’s a ton of work to do it, you have to have everything set up:

  • FBI report on your criminal record
  • Original Bank Statements
  • Original Statements about any assets you may own
  • A signed lease for a place in the country where you’ll be living
  • Confirmed plane tickets to that country
  • Proof of health insurance with specific policy amounts and a certified letter from the insurer

So in order to realistically do this, you have to hope you’ll qualify (the ranges are often estimates, the expat forums will give you clues but people get denied and approved for similar amounts so it’s not set in stone) then go to that country, find a place, rent it and sign a lease for a year. Then fly back to the US, purchase full plane tickets for your entire family, pay for health insurance for that country (which locks you in for a year), get all your paperwork together and wait for about 6-12 weeks near the US consulate you’re using to get approval. Some people report it takes 6 months – a year to get all of this done. It’s expensive and difficult, but you only have to do it once. You renew in-country each year. However you should really be committed to that country long term because otherwise the investment of time/money is not worth it. Plan on it costing about $10,000 to get set up.

3. Get a work visa. This is tough. One way to do it is to find a country that hires TEFL English teachers, take the course and exam, then try to place yourself as an English teacher in that country. Overall this can take about a year between taking the course, doing some work to get experience (even if it’s unpaid internship, because most jobs require at least 1 year experience — especially if they are applying for your work permit) and then moving to the country, applying for jobs and hoping you get something before your tourist visa expires, at which time you have to leave. The good news is that only one spouse has to get it and the rest of the family can follow.

4. Go back to school. One of us (the parents) could enroll in a language school (or other educational program — cooking school perhaps?) for a year or two, get a student visa, bring my family over on that, then figure out the rest later. Of course you still have to prove you have the income to support yourself in country and sometimes they want specific amounts per person in your savings account. For a family of four, this could add up quick. So if we did do it, we’d likely have to get very serious about saving a majority of our income in the preceding year(s) to make sure we qualified. I looked at doing some cooking schools in France and it’s easily $10,000 per semester.

5. Send our child to a private school abroad and get family visas that way. Not every country allows this or allows both parents to come, but some do… you can enroll your child in an international school, then qualify for their student visas and bring your family over on that. See #4 on qualifying income. They basically don’t want you to work in the country, under the table, so they want proof that you’ll never need additional funds during your stay.

6. Have a baby! One thing that having Stella in Mexico bought us was the ability to get permanent residency here on her passport. Because North and South America has the automatic citizenship if you’re born there, Stella has dual citizenship in the US and Mexico. Of course this limits you to just places in the Americas, but that’s one option.

7. Live in a country that let’s you do visa runs. Thailand is a great example of this. However if you’re truly planning on staying in a place long term, then after a few years it can become a problem. One expat I met in Laos was flagged by the consulate as having crossed the border too many times, so he was no longer eligible for 2 month Thai visas. He could only get 1 month visas if he flew into the airport or two weeks if he did a land crossing. He had lived in Thailand for years and suddenly and without warning, he had to seriously consider leaving. So while visa runs are an option, it’s also a grey area where you’re getting repeat tourist visas but aren’t actually legally allowed to live in the country long term. This also means that you can’t get citizenship or more permanent residency based on living in the country 5-10+ years.

8. Other country-specific ways. Some places let you in if you start a business, the rules and investment levels vary wildly. Sometimes it’s just forming a corporation (I’ve heard this about the Czech Republic), other times it’s a investment threshold (like 1 million dollars in Thailand). So if we fall in love with a place we could look into alternatives, maybe there will be other ways.

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Then what? Well the good news is that some places let you become a naturalized citizen after X amount of years living in the country. So if we live in France, Spain or Italy for 10 years, we would become dual citizens. My kids could go to EU universities. We’d be paying taxes to the US and Europe (US citizens pay taxes no matter where they live, forever and ever, unless you renounce your citizenship) but on the other hand, the cost of university in Europe is so drastically less expensive than the US, we’d be saving $50,000-$80,000 per kid (and that’s not adjusted for inflation). And there’s universal healthcare. And our kids would have EU and US passports. Tempting.

Of course the easiest path is to just wait, see how our son does, then decide, but if we do want to settle down overseas, then I have about a year and a half to work out how to do it. Increasingly, I’m thinking that homeschooling is great but maybe constant travel + homeschooling is too much — for us anyway. You know? I know there are families who do it, but really there are very few people having their babies overseas and traveling constantly for 20+ years while raising and educating their kids the entire time (military families are probably the closest thing, but it’s a little different, you don’t choose where and when to go and the father is often away etc — but there’s lots of negative stories about that lifestyle). What does that do to the kids? There’s just not that many good examples. Anyway, I don’t have answers! I am just sharing my process, because I research like a mad woman, and I suspect there might be other travel-loving parents out there working through the same dilemmas.

So much to consider! Anyone have experience with this? I would love to hear your stories.

Here are my posts on homeschooling: Reasons to do it, Reasons not to do it.