I was once one of those world travelers that you see and envy on social media, posting pictures from exotic locales halfway across the world. In fact, I was an expat for 10 years. I met my husband and gave birth to a beautiful boy while over in Asia. As much as I loved my time there, my husband and I ultimately decided to return to the U.S. to raise our son.
Financial Motivation to Return to the U.S.
Many people will tell you that countries like China have a lower cost of living, but we decided to bring our son back to the States. That would seem like a strange choice for a budget-conscious family.
What we found out was that for a family with two working parents, the cost of living abroad isn't really all that low. My husband and I work full-time, and neither of us have any plans to stay at home with our son. Considering that we don’t have family nearby to help with things like babysitting, that can quickly get expensive. Sure, we could homeschool our son, but again, we are two working parents.
A nanny in Asia averages around $800 a month. This includes cooking and cleaning services. But hiring someone who speaks English comes at a higher price. I wanted my son to speak English, as well, and that wasn’t going to happen unless I was willing to fork up a lot more money.
Once a child reaches school age, you have to consider tuition costs. I can’t speak for all countries, but in China, expat kids aren’t allowed to go to public schools, and private schools can get expensive. Even with a discount (since I'm a teacher), school fees and other costs can eat up my entire paycheck. Since my husband and I both taught elementary school, at some point those discounts would go away when he reached middle school.
The Language Costs of Living Abroad
Growing up in a country where English isn’t widely spoken was something I didn’t want for my son. The ability to speak English can take you much further in your career compared to other languages.
If I wanted my son to be around kids who spoke English, I’d have to live in expat communities. Those areas tend to be expensive.
If we wanted him to participate in after-school activities, those cost more, as well. For example, to join a soccer team, you’re paying for the privilege of a native English speaker on top of uniform fees and travel going to and from matches. I’m certainly not saying I’m not willing to shell out money to ensure that my son thrives. But I didn’t feel like paying for something that I could get for free in the U.S.
Moving Back Home After Living Abroad Brought Us Closer to Family
Perhaps the biggest reason is that we were tired of traveling long distances to visit family. We want our son to get to know his grandparents and relatives, and flying with a kid a few times each year made huge holes in our budget. Given that the average flying time is about 19 hours, we didn’t want to subject our son (or ourselves) to that kind of torture. If you’ve never taken a young child on that long of a flight before, trust me, it’s not fun.
We Still Want Our Son to Travel
Though we live in the U.S., we have not discounted further travel. With family members literally scattered across five continents, I want my son to get to know them. I want my son to visit the places that my husband and I fell in love with. I want him to understand why travel is a valuable experience in and of itself.
Because to tell you the truth, I started out traveling because of those beautiful pictures in the magazines. I thought that seeing beautiful places was the point. But now I know better: Beautiful experiences come at a cost.