Jamie and I began our international school teaching careers just a year after we married. Children was certainly in our future, but the unknowns of having children abroad was unsettling at first. What would the healthcare be like? How will they get a passport? How will we deal with grandparents and family back home being separate from our children? All of these questions and many others ran through our minds before embarking on our first international teaching job in China.
Our fears were immediately relieved once we arrived in China and discovered that they too, in fact, have children born there! Kidding aside, we met many couples who had children in China or in Hong Kong, and they all had positive experiences. We learned more information about parents visiting, Skype calling, how to obtain passports and birth certificates, and how to deal with the family separation. We quickly realized that having a child abroad would not be as bad as we originally imagined.
We learned what a TCK (Third Culture Kid) actually was and taught several of them. The thought of having a TCK scared us a little but learning more about how various families dealt with this unique situation helped us. What we learned is that it isn’t really that unique after all and TCK children live exciting lives. The pros and cons of living abroad become exponential once you have a child, but what we learned is that having a child abroad certainly isn’t a difficult situation at all.
Like any other family, once you have children, your lives change forever. Teaching internationally brings different changes. Some of these make your lives more difficult, but some of them make your lives easier. For example, our school here in Saudi Arabia provides a free nursery. Where in the U.S except at large companies will you get that? We save thousands of dollars of year just in day care. We are able to bring our boys to work with us and pick them up in the afternoon literally about 100 yards from our classrooms. Jamie was able to nurse them during the day. The nursery itself is outstanding and perhaps the best benefit that is offered at the school.
Another benefit is the lifestyle you will be able to provide for your children. Their vacations will be spent in places like Rome, Paris, Bangkok, Istanbul, Maldives, and Tanzania. They will have study trips with other children to exotic locations or Habitat for Humanity trips where they learn about service. They will probably learn a foreign language easier and be more culturally sensitive because they will have children in their classes from 10 different countries.
Some negatives include traveling. Because you will travel more, you will spend more on hotels, flights, food, and attractions. This might limit your travel more than it would when it is just the two of you backpacking through the Philippines. Some families with three or more children only take one or two large vacations a year. Jamie and I without children took five or six. We will still take that many per year because we value the traveling. We’ve become quite adept at traveling with small children. Our 2 year old has already been to 8 countries and has had over 30 flights. The United States this summer will be our youngest child’s fifth country.
The most obvious negative of having children abroad is the distance they will be from family. They might only see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins one time a year. Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, and other social media programs have really helped us stay connected to family, but it obviously isn’t the same. Once we are back home for the summer or perhaps a winter break, we complete the circuit of seeing family and friends which makes for a ton of traveling and living out of a suitcase. Children are flexible, but parents have to have some patience and flexibility too.
The birth abroad process was very smooth for Jamie here in Saudi for the most part. Doctors’ bedside manner will not be what you expect, but the care is fine and you and your baby will be in good hands. Our health insurance covers Jamie for a private room and our out of pocket cost was less than $100 for both children. You simply won’t find that anywhere in the U.S. She had two very different experiences with our boys but overall the healthcare and the facilities were very good.
Every country will have its different procedures for obtaining the birth certificate and ultimately the U.S. passport. In Saudi, here was the procedure we had to go through before our boys were given a U.S. passport, which meant they could leave the country.
- Certificate of Live Birth – this is a Saudi document that we received at the hospital basically stating that a baby was born in their hospital. Documents required: mother and father’s Iqama and passports
- Saudi Birth Certificate – This was done by our government relations (GR) and was all in Arabic, which is actually a pretty cool looking document. Documents required: Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
- Saudi Birth Certificate Translation: Again, our government relations department did this. It was needed for us to attain the U.S. Passport. Documents required: Saudi Birth Certificate, Certificate of Live Birth, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
- U.S. Birth Certificate: We had to go next door to the U.S. Consulate here in Dhahran for this. It is actually a Certificate of Birth Abroad issued by the United States State Department. If a child is born in the U.S., their birth certificate will always be on file at the state level. For children born overseas to U.S. citizens, they issue this document instead. Anyone born abroad who loses their original birth certificate will have to go through the U.S. State department at receive another one. Documents required: application, money, Saudi Birth Certificate and its translation, mother and father’s passports
- Saudi Iqama: This is completed by the GR once the U.S. Birth Certificate comes back in. The iqama is basically the residency permit for non Saudis working in the country. Documents required: child’s U.S. passport, mother and father’s Iqama and passports
- Exit/Re-entry Visa: This is completed by GR and allows for anyone to go in and out of the country freely. The child is not permitted to leave the country until this document is finished. Documents required: child’s Saudi Iqama and passport
That’s it! The entire process takes about 6 weeks. This is only frustrating because you can’t leave the country until everything has been processed. Once it is though, your little darlings can begin their journey to becoming world travelers.