What's Best for the Kids?

Expat Briefing Editorial Team, 04 September, 2013

For parents relocating abroad for extended periods, as part of their employment perhaps, or planning to make a move abroad permanently, the wellbeing of their children is probably going to be their primary anxiety. In this briefing, we look at some of the more suitable locations for expat families (as well as those not particularly suited to expats with children) and summarise some of the schooling options open to expat parents.

Safety and Wellbeing

Safety and wellbeing is obviously a top concern for parents when deciding to relocate to a different country, but there are certain places that are safer in the eyes of expat parents than others.

It may seem quite surprising to some, but those looking for a child-friendly safe haven could do a lot worse than Hong Kong, which, according to a recent survey, provides the best peace of mind for expat parents. More than nine-out-of-ten (91%) of expats in Hong Kong who answered HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey indicated that the safety of their children had improved since relocating. The results are the highest of any country and well above the average figure of 60%, making the country the safest place to raise children in the most recent survey.

At the other end of the scale, the United Kingdom is ranked as the lowest country in terms of safety with only a third (34%) of expat parents indicating that their children's safety had improved since moving to the UK and a quarter (26%) stating that their children's safety had actually got worse since moving.

When asked where they would consider relocating to after their current posting, expat parents selected only those countries that made it into the survey's Raising Children Abroad league table, which examines the perceptions of expat parents of the cost of raising children, the quality of education and childcare services, changes in children's diet and activities after relocating, and the ease with which children are able to integrate into new cultures. This, observes HSBC, demonstrated a clear knowledge of those countries ideal for bringing up a child.

Canada, a country synonymous with the great outdoors, proved to be a popular choice, with one fifth (20%) of expat parents living in the country suggesting that of all of the expat locations, they would choose to relocate elsewhere within the country rather than choose a new location or move back to their home country. This result placed Canada first in the Raising Children Abroad league table. The country was particularly highly rated by expats in the USA (9%) and the UAE (12%).

Similarly, Australia (4th) scored consistently well as a future expat posting with expat parents in the Netherlands (10%), UK (10%) and Hong Kong (10%) all choosing it as a possible future home. As with Canada, a high proportion of expat parents in Australia (17%) would choose to stay within the country if they were to move, rather than choose to move elsewhere.

From the outside, the perception of Hong Kong is that it is a densely populated, congested and polluted city. Interestingly though, these factors do not seem to have an effect on the amount of time children in the territory are spending outdoors. Expat parents in Hong Kong report that their children are able to spend more time outdoors (39%) since relocating and nearly half (48%) believe they are able to spend more time with their children since moving.

For parents looking for a more active lifestyle for their children, Australia and Canada appear to  provide the best opportunities, with more than half (55%) of expat parents in Australia and two fifths (40%) in Canada saying that their children were spending more time outdoors since moving to the country. Additionally, 40% of expat children in Australia are playing more sports, a percentage which rises to 45% in the case of expat children who have relocated to Canada.

However, these countries also provide parents with opportunities to be more physically active, with one third (31%) of expats in Australia reporting that they themselves were more active in sports since relocation. A quarter of expat parents in Canada also reported they were active since moving to the country.

The countries which present a more challenging environment for expat families appear to be in the Middle East, and here children of expat parents find it especially difficult to integrate socially. As a result, despite its popularity with expats from all over the world, the United Arab Emirates is in the bottom half of the Raising Children Abroad league table, as are Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Six out of ten expat parents in Saudi Arabia reported that the social integration of their children had become worse since relocating. This falls to 40% in Kuwait and 34% in the UAE, but both are well above the average of 26%.

Expat children's lack of propensity to integrate with the local population, combined with the region's high summer temperatures – which regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius – tends to mean that they spend more time indoors playing video games, and watching TV than their peers in other parts of the world.

In terms of the cost of raising children abroad, the Middle Eastern countries tend to be among the most expensive, with 77% of expats in the UAE reporting an increase in childcare costs since relocating. Similar responses were received from expats who have relocated to Saudi Arabia, with 70% saying their childcare costs had increased, 67% reporting the same in Kuwait. However, expat parents in the UAE in particular see the cost of children's education (86%) and the overall cost of raising children (87%) being more expensive when compared to their home country.

It is interesting to note that Canada and the Netherlands top the Integration section of the League Table by some margin over the other seven countries, with the Netherlands again, and Australia at the top of the Health and Wellbeing scale. Overall, the nine countries in the Raising Children Abroad League Table are ranked as follows: 1, Canada; 2, Netherlands; 3, Hong Kong; 4, Australia; 5, United Arab Emirates; 6, United States; 7, Saudi Arabia; 8, United Kingdom; and 9, Kuwait.


With the global workforce now more mobile than at any other time in history, specialist schools catering for the needs of foreign students are common in many countries, and expat parents now have more options than ever when it comes to schooling their children. Nonetheless, there are still many things for an expat parent to consider when it comes to educating their offspring, and many of the key decisions will come down to language, the expected duration of the family's expatriation and where they intend to relocate when the temporary period of foreign residence ends (i.e, back to their country of origin, or another foreign country).

In the case of a family relocating abroad on a temporary basis, choosing an international school, of which there are many thousands all over the world, may be the best option. There are many hundreds of international schools located all over the world which offer the UK national curriculum and teaching to UK standards for example. One advantage of an international school is that children of expat parents will be able to settle much more quickly, being surrounded by nationals from their home country, or children living under similar circumstances to their own. The best international schools tend to be those which belong to the Council of International Schools (CIS), which counts more than 660 schools, and 490 colleges and universities in 104 countries within its membership.

Another thing to bear in mind is the type of qualifications that the foreign school, whether it is of the international or local variety, offers, and whether these will be recognised internationally when relocating to country of origin or another foreign jurisdiction. Examples of internationally accredited secondary school qualifications include the International Baccalaureate and the international GSCE.

So choosing a school with CIS accreditation would give expat parents a reasonable assurance of quality. International schools do, however, vary in terms of teaching style and the sorts of things they teach, as well as the qualifications they offer. Therefore, plenty of research prior to expatriation could prevent a lot of pain further down the line if the chosen school turns out to be undesirable for a child's personal needs. Some expats might have their choice of school limited to the area where their employer is located. For others with a bit more freedom however, the choice of school could ultimately dictate where in the host country the family decides to live.

There are also other options open to parents anxious about their children's schooling.

In increasing numbers, expat parents in certain countries are turning to home tutors to educate their children, and this seems to have become a popular choice for parents living in the UAE.

Another possibility for parents intending to relocate abroad on a temporary basis is to leave the kids at home. We are no way suggesting that children be abandoned and left to fend for themselves, character building as it may be! However, educating children at boarding school might represent a suitable compromise for some, as this allows children to remain in their home environment, avoiding the potential emotional upheaval associated with adapting to a foreign culture. This is of course, only an option if you can afford the fees.

If you do have the means to educate your children privately, many British private and independent schools are opening branches in various other countries, and this could be another avenue worth exploring. For example, Malborough College opened a school in Malaysia in 2012 which now has more than 600 pupils. Meanwhile, Wellington College is opening a school in China, and this is expected to open its doors to pupils in August 2014.

If the period of expatriation is to last for a considerable period of time, or is to be permanent, then schooling children in international schools, which by their nature may be slightly insulated from the local environment, might not be the most suitable option. In cases where residence abroad is to be long-term or permanent, integrating children into the local education system might be the best course of action.

High Education

Private schools aside, in most developed countries, primary and secondary education is free, paid for by the taxpayer. Tertiary education however, generally is not. But the cost of putting children through university can vary enormously from country to country, as recent research by HSBC shows.

Currently, Australia is the most expensive country for overseas students to study in. The combined average cost of university fees and living expenses in Australia puts the average cost at more than USD38,000 per year for international students.

The United States is the second most expensive country for overseas students, with the combined average cost of university fees and living expenses putting the annual cost at more than USD35,000.

The United Kingdom is third, with annual costs of more than USD30,000.

Nevertheless, despite the often prohibitive cost of higher education in the US and the UK, these two popular destinations attract three in ten international students, according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The research also found that international student costs in the UAE, Singapore and Hong Kong are all above USD20,000 a year.

In contrast, international students studying in Germany pay an average of just USD635 a year for tuition fees, plus a further USD5,650 in living costs. This makes an annual total of USD6,285, one sixth the cost of studying in Australia.

Tuition fees in Japan are also modest relative to countries like the US and the UK, although the high cost of living pushes up overall costs for students studying at Japanese higher education institutions.

The research analysed available data on higher education in 13 countries. Fees represent the average tuition cost for international students based on the top 10 largest institutions in each relevant country (sourced from individual institution data). Costs at US Ivy League institutions are based on total average costs for attending a top ranked US University according to Forbes.

Malik Sarwar, HSBC's Global Head of Wealth Development said that with rising affluence, particularly in developing markets, and an increasingly competitive workplace that demands quality skills and a global outlook, the appetite for international education will to continue to grow.

“Even though the market for higher education remains segmented and therefore mispriced at an international level, the cost is going up everywhere as government subsidies are rolled back,” Sarwar observed.

“Those who wish to educate their children overseas have to factor in tuition fees, living costs, exchange rates and inflation. There is a need for parents to ensure their children's education forms an important part of their financial planning,” Sarwar warned.

Today there are more than 3 million people in higher education in a foreign country. But as many countries reduce the levels of state subsidy, the results of the above research press home the need for students and their families have to plan more carefully than ever to meet the cost of tuition and living expenses.

Further Reading

To find out more about the Council of International Schools, please click on the following link.

Information on rates of taxation and tax laws in more than 70 countries and offshore jurisdictions can be found on our partner website, www.lowtax.net

Tags: business | Education | Middle East | inflation | Education | investment | Japan | Canada | Hong Kong | United States | Kuwait | Netherlands | Saudi Arabia | United Arab Emirates | Australia | United Kingdom | offshore | environment | education | fees | tax |


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