The complication of kids

So, both you and your partner have achieved the mythical status of dual citizenship. You’ve overcome the hurdles of getting a stable income and a house in each country. How do you now sustain the ongoing dream of living in each country?

Kids, overwhelmingly, complicate the situation. You are no longer only accountable for yourselves, but for them too.

Children automatically qualify for dual citizenship, whether born in the US or the UK. The fact that both parents have that dual citizenship too provides the opportunity to give them the best possible start in life:

  • They have the freedoms afforded to citizens of the UK and USA
  • They can benefit from being immersed in two cultures
  • They can benefit from two educational systems
  • They can make friends and form their own ties in the two countries

You want to continue splitting your time between the UK and the USA, but need to stick to two rules:

  • Don’t disrupt their education
  • Don’t disrupt their social life

How you do this is up to you. There’s no silver bullet – it’s an incredibly difficult problem to solve, and a highly personal decision only you can make.

We’ve written out some thoughts below, but if you have experience of this and can contribute some ideas, leave us a comment!

Your options

Don’t have kids

That’s certainly one way to solve this problem. Think long and hard about whether the lifestyle you want is even compatible with having children.

Boarding school

This isn’t something we’d ever seriously consider, but for completion, it is here on the list. The nuclear option: if you have kids and you’re dedicated to maintaining a truly flexible UK/USA lifestyle, you could send your kids to boarding school. You of course wouldn’t see your children very often, and would miss out on memories with them, and cause them to miss out on memories with you.

Home schooling

With home schooling, you are free to travel at will and take your kids with you.

In the UK you’d have to teach the national curriculum, whereas in the US it varies state by state.

We think you can choose to teach both programs, or just one national program (say, teaching the UK curriculum while living in the US). We are still looking into the logistics / legalities of home schooling in two countries, in terms of required exams etc. Watch this space.

There are legal requirements / check-ins to be aware of. In the UK, your local council can issue a School Attendance Order if it believes your child is not getting the education they need. You’ll need to look into the logistics of what happens if you’re out of the country when these enquires happen.

You’ll need to consider the fact that your children will miss out on so much friendship building and cultural experience. Think of every coming of age high school movie you’ve ever watched – home schooling doesn’t tend to feature heavily.

Send your child to multiple schools

Let’s just talk through the plausibility of having your child change schools as often as you’d like to change countries. Let’s say every term (3 or 4 months).

It might work when your children are very young, but just isn’t sustainable. Quite apart from the syllabuses being so different and the kids having to play an impossible game of catchup, schools just wouldn’t allow it. You’d have to explicitly enrol and eject them from school on such a regular basis, I could see schools refusing to re-accept.

You could try a year on, a year off in each country, which reduces the problem a bit compared to switching terms, but exacerbates it in other ways. How can kids be expected to form meaningful friendships, only to say goodbye? How can they be expected to catch up on a year’s worth of missed education covering different syllabuses?

No, the only realistic prospect as far as we can tell, is to tackle it in life phases.

  • First 5/6 years: not particularly tied to any country. Think day care, home schooling, nurseries.
  • 7-10 years: tied to one country, for primary (elementary) school.
  • 11-18 years: tied to one country (though not necessarily the same country as before), for secondary (middle/high) school.

Essentially, that gives you migratory freedom for about the first 6 years of your child’s life, at which point you really need to settle down and choose one main “base”.

You’ll want to pick your ‘base’ country carefully. Which has the better education program? Which is a more fun place to be a kid? Which will give them the best start in life?

With your base country chosen, it means only visiting your second country during the holidays. And even that is disruptive – the child will want to meet up with their friends, not leave the country all the time. Plus you’d want to spend at least some holiday time with the family in the base country.

It seems reasonable to think you may travel to your second country for about a month over the summer holidays, and for a couple of weeks over Christmas, and ideally a week in Spring and Autumn. If you’re lucky, that’s about 8 weeks holiday – 40 days – which you may be able to take as unpaid leave from a sympathetic employer (or be self-employed). So be prepared to spend about 90% of the next few years in one place.

Look beyond kids

I think we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that, for a decade or two of our short lives, we will be largely tied down to one country.

But that’s ok. It’s a sizeable and extremely significant portion of your lives, but it will also be over in the blink of an eye. And just imagine where you’ll end up: approaching retirement, with a loving family of dual citizens who have been given the very best of both cultures, and who can now make their own decision on what to do with their lives.

They’ll be able to pick and choose where they’d like to go to university. Choose where they’d like to start a family. It’s an opportunity so few are given, and can consider themselves very privileged.

It’s not just about the destination; it’s the journey too. Make sure you take the right one. We love the transatlantic lifestyle, but think that when the time comes, it’ll be worth putting on ice for a while.