Opportunity to Relocate to Europe from the US
September 26, 2017 2:14 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to make a lateral move to Europe from the US. I'll most likely land up in a major German city. I am fluent in English and German (German a bit rusty). The work permitting will be handled by my employer but I will most likely have to carry the relocation expenses. I will eventually return to the US after a stay of about 36-48 months. It's a lateral move because I will be performing the same role but the business landscape will be entirely different - more robust and demanding. My wife and I have two sons (12,14) and I do want them to have the experience. However, it's a big move which would require us to uproot our comfortable and easy life in the US. I am partially convinced that getting "out of the comfort zone" is healthy or at least that it was I keep telling myself. Should I stay or should I go?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Go. It will be good for the entire family.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:46 AM on September 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Go. It will be life-changing for all of you, and especially your children. What an amazing opportunity.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:03 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Go, but try to push back on not getting relocation. It's standard that relocation would be paid in these circumstances and I assume your company can afford it more than you can.
posted by hazyjane at 3:09 AM on September 26, 2017 [17 favorites]

My family moved a lot when I was a kid, so I would give thought to how your sons feel about this. Are they excited about the idea? Have they moved before? Do they already know any German? Do they have friends they're going to leave behind?

Kids can be resilient, but it can also be a pretty shitty experience for them to leave behind all their friends, and everything comfortable and familiar that they know, in favor of someplace totally new. It's one thing to move to another town, or another state. It's another thing to move to another country. If they don't know any German, they're going to be in a country where they don't speak the language. There's going to be culture shock no matter what. 3-4 years is a very long time. Your 12 year old will well into his teen years by the time your family moves again. Your older son may be out of high school.

I'm sounding super negative, but I actually think it could be an amazing opportunity. That said, as someone who moved a lot as a kid, I want to at least raise these questions for you now. You may have already thought through all of them, in which case you can ignore everything I'm saying. This could be a very valuable experience for your sons, even if (or because) they'll have to face some difficult challenges, but they may be very difficult indeed. I think everyone can settle in and be happy in the long run, but I wouldn't downplay what it really means for the rest of your family to get out of their comfort zones.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:16 AM on September 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Short answer: Do it - it's an opportunity that doesn't come along every day, and it will be amazing and life changing.

Longer answer: This is something that your whole family should be on board with, and they should have a good idea of what they're actually getting into. It would be wise to look through some online forums for Americans living abroad (especially if there's one for Americans living in Germany), both to ask this specific question as well as to get an idea for the general issues that people encounter.

A few random questions to research and consider when making your decision:

- Your older son will be starting, or about to start, college while you are there. What opportunities will he have? Is there a pathway for him to continue his studies in Germany or elsewhere in the EU should he want to take that path?

- How healthy are your cash reserves? You will have no or limited credit when you arrive (some financial institutions will carry over your credit rating from the US, but this is somewhat rare). You will need to be able to cover day to day living expenses, including setting up a household and possibly running a car, on a cash basis.

- What about family back in the US - do you have aging parents who might need care? How often would you like to return? For major holidays that you celebrate, would you prefer to celebrate them in Germany or back in the US? Does everyone else in your family agree?

- You mentioned your employer won't pay for relocation, but do they have any program in place to help employees relocate in other ways? E.g. help for transferring employees to find housing, open a bank account, or subsidised language programs for dependents.
posted by penguinicity at 3:37 AM on September 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was also having thoughts along the lines of the comment above by shapes that haunt the dusk, but also to add:

-If it turns out not be 100% amazing for your family, there's an end date, as opposed to a permanent move.

-It could be a really enriching experience for your children, possibly a plus when applying to college etc. but also in general trying to become a well-rounded human being.

-Your family's thoughts/feelings/conclusions as to whether this was a good idea may change. My family went through an international move in my childhood that was definitely traumatic at the time, but as I got older I felt more gratitude about some aspects.

YMMV. You won't know until you try it.

P.S. This sounds amazing! Germany sounds awesome in itself, but being there will also open doors to the rest of Europe. Just the other day I was semi-jokingly lamenting that my parents didn't take the Europe post when they had the chance--we could have grown up there instead!
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 3:38 AM on September 26, 2017

I've been an expat in two different countries since 1998. I am considering a change in role at work this week that would provide a strong argument for moving back to my home country to avoid months of travel. So I am all for leaving your comfort zone. But with the little information you provided I have to tell you this would be much harder than you all imagine. You may want to have a look at this recent thread giving advice to a childless couple about to move to Germany. They were anticipating full relocation support from their employer and still extremely overwhelmed.

International moves are a major disruption. And the reason why employers traditionally fork out for relocation agents, moving expenses and school fees, personal tax advice etc is because this is so painful to do. If your employer isn't willing to do that, that means that you as a family have to not just deal with the personal effects of the move but also with all cost and logistics, which are horrendous.

If your employer doesn't pay moving expenses, will they pay for international school for your kids? At these ages it would be very disruptive for them to find themselves in a completely different school system attending classes in a language they don't speak. The way around this is traditionally the relocation package that includes school fees. If this is not part of the deal this would make the move extra challenging for them. The local public school would probably try to support them but it would be hard. They may have to redo a year to allow them to catch up in terms of language. And your oldest son is at an age where maintaining good grades becomes more important as he approaches the end of secondary school. So if you decide to do this you have to make sure that they are both fully on board with this. And you need to discuss things like school with them to make sure they understand that aspect.

Please find some expat forums for Americans in Germany and read around there. And make sure that your boys are fully on board if you decide to go ahead.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:45 AM on September 26, 2017 [17 favorites]

If you can swing it, I'd totally do it. Its an amazing opportunity. I just moved to Japan and its terrifying but also amazing. Check out Morris from America. It's very sweet.
posted by stormygrey at 3:52 AM on September 26, 2017

Go! If you own your home in the u.s., try to rent it out instead of selling it. That way you and your family keep your support networks during and after your expat experience.
posted by headnsouth at 4:04 AM on September 26, 2017

Anyone else in your company qualified for this job and is fluent in German? If no, company paying for relocation would be a non-negotiable condition for me.
posted by Homer42 at 4:32 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Came back to say I may have sounded overly negative. But I get the impression you're not getting as much support as you might from your employer and am outraged on your behalf. Here are some specific things to consider:

- there are many different things that can be part of a relocation package. For an international move this might include a tax advisor doing your tax returns in home country and in host country, a relocation agent helping with finding accommodation, opening bank accounts, finding medical providers, schools etc, moving expenses, school fees, some kind of compensation for having to sell a vehicle or home at short notice at below market rates etc., helping your spouse find employment, annual trip home, help in letting your home, help with storage costs for your possessions, a loan to help with rental deposit and such in new location to name but a few. Helping you get permits is the bare minimum. You might want to see what else they may be willing to do if moving expenses are not on offer. I truly feel you should be able to get something more than help with permits because I cannot imagine how you would not be significantly worse off if that's truly all they will do for you.

- how is your pay going to work? Will you stay on your local home pay? with cost of living allowance? or will you get local pay? Where does that leave you in terms of standard of living? Most likely you'd have to pay tax in Germany as well as the US. German tax and social security are much higher than you may be used to. You need to compare net income to cost of living here, not gross.

- you say a to be determined major German city. Cost of living varies hugely between different German cities. Different parts of Germany also have a really different feel, people have different outlooks on life. For ideas look at maps of the recent election results, especially any showing where the right was most successful. Depending on your family's values, preferred lifestyle etc the exact location can make a huge difference to how happy everybody is. Committing to 3-4 years and finding yourself in a place that sucks is not going to help make for a good experience.

- secondary education systems are decided at the state level, not federal level in Germany. As such there are very significant differences between different states. If your sons would attend local schools some will be more like what you're used to than others. Also, in some schools at least a percentage of lessons may be in a foreign language. Luckily for your sons this would often be English.

- does your spouse work currently? would they plan to work in Germany? Is that realistic? Trailing spouses have their own set of challenges. Often more so because you get to go to work and meet people and they may not.

As I say, lots of things to work through with your family - especially as it sounds as if this would be a large financial investment for you not just a personal one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:36 AM on September 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

Are your sons fluent in German? Where will they go to school? If you're intending that they go to college, are you confident that they would be tracked into Gymnasium? If not, are you confident how American colleges will interpret a diploma or coursework from a "lower" tier of school? What is the probability of their German fluency leading to their tracked into the disability-oriented, underprivileged Sonderschule with lots of other migrants? If they wouldn't go to German public/state schools, where will they go and exactly what variety of "exorbitant" will that cost?

I mean, I would be seriously concerned that this life-changing experience is going to be a crash course in how Germany treats migrant children. And I have to think that if your employer isn't going to kick in the probably less than ten grand to move you, they're very unlikely to kick in the more than ten grand a year, each, to send your kids to international/American school.

Background: USAF brat, spent eight years in Germany in the 70s/80s but it was almost all living on base, went to DoD schools exclusively, it was not a life-changing or enriching experience.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:48 AM on September 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

(obvs I may be misremembering the names of German school levels)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:51 AM on September 26, 2017

It's not just you that's making the move - it's your whole family. Will you wife have to give up her career? If she stays at home, will there be a way for her to find a network of friends? Are your sons 100% on board? Do they feel like they can honestly give you their opinions or do they say things to make you happy? If they were younger, I would say they get less of a say, but they're old enough now that they have friends of their own and a life of their own - and uprooting them is a major life change. A friend of mine moved abroad with his family in high school and even now says that he wishes he had high school friends like the rest of us do - he feels like he missed out on a major piece of life, even though he had wonderful experiences abroad. And lastly, do you have pets? Will they all be able to come?
posted by umwhat at 5:02 AM on September 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

I moved to Germany from the US for a year when my kids were about that age. My short answer is go for it.

Of course, there were some bumps in the road, but overall, it was a great opportunity for my children, and my daughter is disappointed that she can't give her children the same experience. I would advise going for German schools over international schools - my kids knew almost no German when we left, but they went to German schools and became fluent very quickly. They both made friends quickly too. Most teachers will know English to help with adjustment, and all gymnasiums will have English teachers. In my son's case, his English teacher was a great help - he also felt it was good for his students to have an American student in the class. (My daughter's English teacher insisted that she speak with a British accent, which was a bit weird, but I do get where she was coming from in terms of not confusing the other students.) Coming from the US to stay temporarily, you will not be in the same situation as a migrant from Turkey.

As a single parent without much money, I never could have given my kids such a great experience any other way. But even if you have enough money to travel a lot, there is no comparison to actually living in a different country. And living in Germany will make it easier for you to take them to other countries in Europe.

I don't want to go into details about negatives online because I feel that violates my children' privacy, but I'll be happy to share more if you MeMail me.
posted by FencingGal at 7:12 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

My family did the opposite move, Germany to the US, when my brother and I were three years younger than yours. They spoke to us about it, sold us on it - not that we really had a choice, but they put plenty of thought into how it would go - and none of us ever really looked back.

We didn't speak a word of English, did some basic conversational stuff before going, but basically arrived cold turkey, and started (local public) school after a couple of few weeks. Three months later we were speaking passably; after six months we were fluent New Yorkers. (My folks kept their charming European accents.)

The narrative about going was strong - moving to NYC, our move was planned as a proper voyage (by ocean liner) - and there was a lot of time spent together sharing all the new things we all went through.

Ours was framed as less of a short-term move than yours (though it wasn't a case of never going back to Europe, the timeframe was left open, and in the end we stayed for six years), so that makes for a somewhat different proposition. But from what our experience came to mean for all of us, I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to say: go. By all means.
posted by progosk at 8:24 AM on September 26, 2017

OK, I'll say it: I know Europe is having problems too, but considering the dumpster fire that America seems determined to roll around in, I would give a great big plus to getting your kids fluent in another language and building them a possible opportunity to also be expats.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:16 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Go! I've been through 3 or 4 international relocations in my previous life, and one thing you need to get from your employer is relocation assistance. They should cover the cost of the move (moving furniture to Germany or storage in the US if you don't keep your house) and provide temporary accommodation locally as well as some cash toward the living costs of the first months.

All told, we're easily talking 50,000€ for the first months before you're fully settled and know your way around.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:45 AM on September 26, 2017

Depending on the city you are relocated to: International schools are sometimes tied to the State school system. Here in Berlin the 'JFK' is both high school and gymnasium - students decide which track they want to take. There is another state-run international school, both have English and German language 'tracks.'

With a definite return date, I'd say go for it.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:03 PM on September 26, 2017

Do it.

I did this with my family when I was 13 (Pennsylvania to Munich). We spent three years there. It was probably the best time our family ever had together, and a very formative experience for me. My friends from Munich attended my wedding in San Francisco, and I saw many of them back in Munich just last weekend.
posted by kdar at 8:00 AM on September 27, 2017

An anecdote that may or may not be relevant enough to you to do some more research on:

I have a German friend who adopted children from China, and they all lived in the US until the oldest child was 8 or so. Then they moved to Germany (Heidelberg) for professional reasons. After five years, they recently moved back, taking a 50% pay cut to the family, to make sure their kids wouldn't have to go to high school in Germany. The environment was just not very open for the kids, who started internalizing some of the negative stereotypes about themselves. Attitudes about race and approaches to diversity are (apparently) very different.

Now this family lives back in a part of California where being Chinese isn't so uncommon.

Of course, attitudes/approaches vary across this country, too, and they probably vary across Germany.
posted by pizzazz at 2:36 PM on September 27, 2017

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