Nearly a year ago I published an interview with Lalla, a friend of mine who had moved to Bangkok with her family (including kids aged 6 and 3). It turned out that the topic of moving to Thailand with kids was something a lot of you were interested in and over the past year I’ve had regular emails asking for more details. I’m lucky that I’m friends with Lalla and have been able to see photos and read tales of the family’s Thai adventures on Facebook over the past year, but I still had a few questions – and so did many of you! So thank you very much, Lalla, for agreeing to answer some more questions to help future travelling families know more about the experience of moving abroad. Much appreciated!
Now that you’ve been in Thailand for a year, can you sum up the main reasons you’re glad you decided to move their with your family?
Being part of the world and active players in a bigger picture has been a real driving force to making this work and there really are times that do require this effort. Overall, however, there are so many reasons I’m still so glad we made the move.
Intercultural friendships, language opportunities, events run by both Thai and other nationalities based here and random things that crop up making each day so wonderfully unpredictable.
It’s not always roses and orchids though.
I won’t lie. You need a fairly well paid job for one or both of you to afford enough space for kids to live in when you’re downtown in any of the world’s buzzing cities. Bangkok is no different. At times, we have felt that is similar to the stretched budget living of the Australian working family but we know how to make that work and have made it work here too.
The shining moments that really make me smile generally involve watching the kids interact independently with all manner of people and cultures as part of their everyday life. They face challenges that were not part of their existence in suburban Australian life and it is both heart breaking and heart warming to see them come to their own conclusions within this process. For example, the first turnover of an international school year has happened and as such, friends move on. It can be an emotional time so as a family, we’ve all had to band together and focus on positives. This, among many other things this year has brought us closer as a family unit and more aware of each other’s feelings.
(Amanda says: I can totally relate to the joy of watching your kids interact in other cultures – some of my favourite moments of our most recent trip to Germany were when my son used his German skills to chat to German kids we met in various places.
I’m also somewhat surprised to realise that life in Bangkok isn’t particularly cheap, necessarily, but I guess you haven’t gone there to make big bucks but to have all these amazing experiences – which are priceless, of course!)
What have proven to be the most important things you took with you, and what do you wish you had brought with you from Australia that you didn’t?
The kids’ special bedtime wind-down comfort items were the things that we have been so, so glad that we brought with us. As an example, a special family close to us in Australia gave the kids pillow pets that they have at bedtime every night. The fluffy pillows became symbolic of long term friendships that you get to keep while you are making new friends and going on new adventures. The kids tend to snuggle in to these when we have our conversations before lights out. This is when we generally talk about feelings they might be going through, chatting about changes or just sharing the events of the day. It’s good to have a couple of special things that become part of a comfortable routine and time for family bonding.
Other things we have found that we would have missed include favourite books, small toys (ie figurines that pack into tiny spaces but are great for roleplay) and a couple of favourite shows on DVD that gave us a taste of home in those tricky first few weeks.
Medicines that are not generic or special things for allergies are also necessary for those first few weeks of settling in. All things are eventually available here but it takes just that bit longer to find where to buy them. It’s just easier to have these things on hand before you get to know to other expat parents and find out where things are sold.
There are a few things that we also knew we would have trouble replacing or would cost the same in Asia so we made a point of bringing these as well. This includes label brand toys such as Thomas the Tank Engine trains, Lego, Barbie and branded figurines such as Polly Pocket or Disney. They all pack up small, however the import tax and strong anti-piracy on these brands brings these particular toys up to the same price as home. Small, well-made things are definitely useful for apartment living with kids so we decided to keep sets intact and brought them with us.
We did however go through all manner of trouble getting them out of customs as we had labelled the box ‘Toys’ and itemised the label brand items. There is a big, lucrative black market here for original toys like these so nothing cleared customs until my work visa settled two months after we arrived! There were some ‘interesting conversations’ with ‘an agent middle man’ and we had to pay more in “storage” than the whole two boxes cost to send in the first place. The moral of the story, don’t mention toys if you are sending a box ahead and label things simply as personal items. Talk to others about shipping companies as we felt a bit cheated by ours and it was supposedly a reputable international company. If we were to do that again, we would ask a family member to send a box once we were settled and wait until the work permit has cleared.
(Amanda says: Sounds like some great practical advice – I bet the kids weren’t impressed when the box of toys took two months to get to you! The kinds of special things you took to help the kids feel comfortable at first sound similar to what I take when we travel – definitely important for young kids to have some familiar favourites around them.)
How has the juggling act of family life worked out in a foreign country?
The juggling act here has actually turned out to be quite similar to the one both my husband and I faced in Australia. We are a little unique, in that we have now changed roles and I am in full-time employment, however he is facing most of the same time constraints that I had as a part-time worker, full-time carer to kids and manager of a busy family household. The difference is that we have affordable help at hand with our casual nanny and food is relatively cheap to buy in when cooking every night gets too tiring.
I’ll be honest, yes, initially, we had ideas that we might be able to have a nanny and maybe house help but as it turns out, we are not in the ‘full-time nanny, house staff’ pay bracket. The large, corporate companies that are global and based in Asia pay their middle and top managers very well. International government positions based here pay well. Embassy staff do quite nicely. Two-parent working families with one executive or two teachers also do quite handsomely and most of the larger companies also pay for the kids to be in a Bangkok international school. Having jumped into the adventure with a set place in mind, we were less flexible with where we lived and worked and have now settled into our family life here as it is quite happily. Things will change as we are here longer but it works for now.
I would still encourage anyone to give it a try. If you live in a nice apartment in the city, one parent is with the kids and the other is working on a reasonably good salary here, you can generally afford to have the house cleaned a couple of times a week and then you can pay a babysitter for a night out once a week. If both parents are working pretty much full-time, then you would go down the path of full-time nanny who does school drop off, school pick up and some meals during the week. It’s not that much different to having a working family in Australia with daycare, after and before school care and having meals from the local takeout when everyone’s too tired to cook, except that the meals are amazing and the childcare is so much more personal.
(Amanda says: Oh for the amazing meals! I’m envious of that!)
Is there anything (else) you’d do differently if you were starting this adventure again?
That first home base. If I were starting off again, I would research accommodation so much more and make sure it ticked all the boxes first time. After packing up in your home country and unpacking in a new one, you don’t want to have to move within the first three months. After our first year we’re still somewhere that isn’t quite what we want because we just got comfortable, got sick of packing and unpacking and moving seemed too much disruption again.
We began in a very nice apartment and it’s been a great place to start, however, it doesn’t have a pool. Bangkok doesn’t have the luxury of public swimming pools for children under 7 and there are only so many times you can invite yourself to other peoples’ places for a swim. No matter how quiet you ask kids to be in water, the inevitable yelling and splashing is just part of the deal, especially if it’s an occasional novelty. Those who are sitting in what they thought was tropical luxury by said pool, find themselves inundated by excited children and/or water. Not happy tourists, even less impressed residents.
Through kind invitations to new friends’ condos though, we soon found out that with city living and an apartment existence with kids, life is easier with access to your own pool, both for exercise and an end of day cool down.
Thankfully, we finally move into our new apartment next month and hit our new pool with a big, appreciative splash! With a bit of luck, the novelty will wear off and the kids’ voices will return to a quiet roar and minimal splashing by the pool too.
(Amanda says: Happy splashing! (or not splashing …!) Even as an adult when I worked in Japan I had to move once – into substantially cheaper accommodation – and packing and moving and sorting out the administration of a move is just that much harder in a foreign country – that difficulty would definitely increase with kids involved!)
Are you ever coming back?
Eventually. [Sheepish smile]. My parents miss their grandkids, my kids miss their friends and I still miss things at home too … but …
… we planned for this adventure for a very long time and every day is still a new surprise. While we’re still all healthy and happy to be out in the world, I think we’ll keep it up for a while if the job situations permit.
We do think, however, that the kids will need to feel they are established with a solid home base when they get closer to becoming adolescents and perhaps even upper primary. With that many hormones and changes, a stable environment will hopefully be one less thing for our teenagers to blame their parents for.
Education in International Schools is also very expensive unless paid by an employer. In the future, it will be a big sigh of relief to be back in Australia’s education system and we will be ever so grateful for the price and quality of this again too.
(Amanda says: Sounds like you will continue to love your time there but then also enjoy it when you, some day, get back to Australia. And of course even though you miss family and friends in Australia now, once you get back here you will miss Thailand and your friends there. It’s a never-ending problem – but still worth going away for.)
So … would you do it, dear reader?
I’m so thrilled to hear about the ups and downs (and there have been even more ups which I’ve seen – I probably should have asked Lalla for a rundown of some of the trips they’ve been on around Thailand) and I especially love the multicultural experiences her kids are having.
Would you move your family to Thailand or somewhere similar? What would stop you, or what would make you do it? (And do you have any more questions for Lalla?)