10+ tips for a smooth transition moving abroad with kids

9 May 2022

You are moving? How exciting! Now what? 

Moving abroad (or not), can be a very daunting process for kids. Like any other transition in their life, it can feel overwhelming and they may struggle to process all of the emotions associated with the move. Any parent will try and smooth the process for them, of course. I attempted to make it easier for my kids also. Here is my take on it from a mama who made her own international move with two kids DIY-style.

MOVING ABROAD WITH KIDS: TIPS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION


As we moved abroad last summer from Germany to Portugal, I wanted to make sure my children understood the process and would have as smooth a transition as humanely possible. They were aged 7 and 11 at the time. 
Following this expression: good goodbyes and happy hellos, I spent a lot of time thinking through options and ideas for my own kids for this momentous occasion. I read up on the RAFT framework to remember to focus on the different aspects of the transition, not just the goodbyes. If you are not familiar with it, I highly recommend reading about it. 
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the more practical things we did to make this as easy, fun and interesting as possible. Please don't feel like you have to do all of this, especially if you move often. Doing what you feel will work well for your own kids is best. 

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Tips to help kids have a smooth transition while moving abroad:

  • Visual countdown

It is inexpensive. It takes seconds to make.
Children of all ages will love to visualise how much time they have left in their home, or in their school, or with a specific friend. In our family, we love to make little paper links chains to help visualise major events. In this case, we used toilet paper rolls, cut them in circles and attach the right number of circles to each other. Every Sunday, our youngest would remove a link, counting down to the number of weeks left in our apartment. 

Countdown paper chain links

  • Read books

In our family, we love to read books to open discussion about different topics, especially hard ones or life-altering ones. Moving is no different. I used books to show my kids that moving was part of life, that many kids have done it before, that they may have found some aspects of it tough but they will make it through. I have a selection of books about moving home here. 

  • Memory book

While searching for books, I came across this Moving Booklet. You can read my full review here. We loved this workbook as it allowed us to write memories and stick other bits and pieces in. We used it throughout the transition and it now makes a wonderful memory book.

  • Stay in touch kits with little postcards

Stay in touch kits and postcards



The kids and I wanted to leave a little something to their school friends. It needed to be small, practical, and easily replicated. I am not one for small gift favours that are no use to anyone. 
We created small stay-in-touch kits. They included little stationery items (stickers, pen, etc). But we also created little postcards. This was the highlight of the kits. Even their teachers wanted one. We simply printed a blank postcard with their new address at the back. Their friends could therefore send them mail. Little ones drew on them, older kids wrote. And we received some lovely postcards during the summer and well into the Autumn. It was a lovely surprise every time. 


Stay in touch kit package



Edit and download this template entirely free. You can download in the format you prefer (I recommend PDF) and print 4 to a page to save on cutting time and paper. You can also get it printed in any copy shop. You can also download the empty template here.  

Blank postcard template

  • Presentation about their new country

As agreed with their respective teachers, our kids prepared a few slides to present to their classmates near the end of the school year. Of course, the presentations were age-appropriate and both did not do the same thing. We also followed the kids interests. Mr 7 at the time showed his friends cork products (one of Portugal's biggest export) and talked about how it was made. It was both instructive and fun and interactive. Miss 11 highlighted several aspects of Portugal and took delicious custard tarts for her friends to taste. You can take a peek into Mr 7's first ever solo presentation below. Proud mama alert! I still can't believe he did it! 



  • Watch videos about new country
For weeks before our move, the kids and I watched age-appropriate YouTube videos about the sights, smells and tastes of our new country. We showed them photos and news from their future school, looked at Google Maps to familiarise ourselves with different areas. We looked at everything from shopping centers to restaurants near us, from tourist tips to football championships to animals unique to Portugal. We followed their interests (and ours) and tried to make them excited about their new country. Good goodbyes and happy hellos. 
  • Get involved in decisions
We tried to involve the kids in as many decisions as we could. They were old enough for this and we felt it would give them more control over the move. From anything very basic to some major new home decision, we set up a weekly family meeting from the moment we told them we were moving to discuss everything and anything they or we needed to discuss. It was our Sunday morning routine and I loved it. We discussed emotions, friends, homes. We cried, laughed, picked a house with them, made plans and hugged a lot. Did I say it was very emotional? It was. 

  • Friends book aka "Freundebuch'
If you have lived in Germany with kids, you will know what a Freundebuch is. Translated as a friends' book, it is a little keepsake, children give their friends to keep a little memento of their time together usually at kindergarten or school. Even though I have a love-hate relationship with them, I made little Freundebuch pages for my kids to give their friends and then stick in our memories workbooks. Those workbooks had similar pages for contacts but they were very limited (to contact details). 

Friends books



Once again, feel free to download my template and use as you see fit. We have an English version and a French one. And I modified them slightly to be more age-appropriate. So all in all, there are 4 pages. It is A5 format so you can print 2 to a page. Just pick what page works for your kids or modify them.

  • Say goodbye to the moving van/truck
This is not something I had entirely planned. I thought it would be useful for the kids to see at least part of the process of the movers loading everything in their van. But I didn't want them there all day either. Luckily, it was a school day and once they came back from school, the movers were still here. So they got to see the last few pieces being loaded and got to say goodbye to their belongings and the van. It was rather emotional. My youngest had a bit of a meltdown (from fatigue also) but it was necessary for him to understand his belongings would just be shipped and not disappear. 
  • Revisiting empty places
Once the van had left, we went back to our apartment and took pictures of it empty. It felt odd. It felt like it wasn't our place anymore. The kids didn't want to stay long. They looked at their rooms and happily left the building. An empty apartment is not the same as one with all your toys in it. Once again, every child is different and some may not like to see their home empty. But I liked to be as transparent and opened about everything with them. I always made sure I explained everything as some of these thing may seem obvious to us, but they were not for them.

  • Taking photos

We took lots and lots of pictures of everything they felt was important enough to remember. We had taken photos of our home while it was still untouched by the process. Just before we started selling, giving away, packing, etc, we took pictures of every room. The kids glued these in their transitions workbooks (see above). And we also took a few selfies in our empty apartment. 

  • It is bittersweet. Don't hide it.

Finally, and I think this is one of the best piece of advice I read out there. It comes from Susan Cain's work on bittersweetness: don't hide the bittersweetness to children. When saying goodbye physically to friends, colleagues, teachers, I didn't pretend it would not be bittersweet. We didn't pretend we would see everyone again. Goodbye is part of life. We will meet many of our friends again soon. But for many, we won't. And that is okay. That is life. Pretending you will see all of them again (because let's face it you won't) is not necessary. Also, my now 8-year-old barely remembers some of his classmates a year on. Life is a great big whole bittersweet transition. 


We are moving announcement | the piri-piri lexicon

Wishing you good goodbyes and happy hellos! 



Feel free to pay me coffee if you have found this at all useful and/or use one of my templates: paypal.me/thepiripirilexicon. Obrigada!


Tips for a smooth transition moving abroad with kids

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