Things to Know About (my) Expat Kids

Ask any parent why they decided to move overseas, and “for my kids” usually ranks at or near the top of the list.  “A chance to expose our kids to different cultures and experiences” is one of the main reasons parents choose to take an expat assignment. It was definitely near the top of our list!  Raising third-culture kids (TCKs), i.e. children that spend at least a portion of their childhood outside their passport country, presents a unique set of challenges. In many ways, expat kids are just like any other group of kids.  But in some ways, they are very different from their peers back in their home country.  Like all of my posts, this one is written from mainly my personal experiences of parenting young kids in the expat environment.  Some expat parents will find different challenges…

1.  They are worldly, yet naive.  They can navigate public transit systems, different languages, cultures, and quickly become politically savvy. (My 7-year old has very pointed opinions about US transportation policy…)  They understand that their current home may be different than their passport country, but they may not be able to fully appreciate those differences.  Our kids are easily overwhelmed by the buy-buy-buy consumer-oriented culture in the US.  If I walk into Target, I love seeing all the choices and selection!  But my kids quickly shut down.  It is too much for them – almost sensory overload.  On the other hand, they are genuinely surprised to find out that their peers in the US may have NEVER left America, or flown on an A380! (The latter is particularly shocking to Isaac.) They cannot comprehend why American kids don’t travel internationally like they do.

2.  They can be great on long international flights, yet a two-hour car ride can seem like forever.  To make the trip from our home in Dublin to Amarillo, Texas – our hometown, takes 3 flights and appx 22 hours doorstep-to-doorstep.  (In the expat world – this is a comparatively short trip.) Generally, my kids are GREAT on the long-haul flights.  They know the security drill, how board the plane, put their headphones on, and settle in the long flight.  They may watch Doc McStuffins ad nauseum, but they are much better behaved than some of my adult seatmates.  At the same time, a two or three hour car ride with them can take FOREVER. “Are we there yet?  I need to go to the bathroom. Why can’t we watch a movie?” and on and on and on!  It is all in what you are used to.

3.  They are incredibly resilient, and their bonds with their siblings are very strong.  There’s nothing quite like uprooting your kids, and throwing them into a country where they know no one to encourage resiliency!  I won’t lie – the transition is really tough.  On the other hand, their bonds with their siblings strengthen during this period.  Isaac and Liesl are very close, and I attribute most of this closeness to the fact that for the first 6 months or so, the only playmate they had was each other.

4.  They can easily assimilate into different cultures – almost like chameleons.  Expat kids grow up shifting between cultures, as they travel home, to other countries, and back to their country of residence.  They may meet many kids in their school that are also expats, but from a different country entirely.  Once they get the hang of it, they can blend into most any group, and easily take on the characteristics of that group.  When we were in the US last summer, I thought everyone would find Isaac and Liesl’s Irish accents so cute.  Only one problem. Within 24 hours of us returning to the US, their accents were GONE.  I was shocked at how fast they were able to switch back to “American” English. They had both completely adjusted the tone of their voice – almost subconsciously.  The only thing that gave away their expat-ness was their vocabulary for different things, “car park” instead of parking lot, “lift” instead of elevator, “to mind” instead of “to watch”.  But even those linguistic differences quickly disappeared.

5.  They are scarily, eerily good at saying goodbye.  This is probably the strangest one to experience.  It is written about in expat parenting books, and although you can be prepared for it – seeing how quickly your kids can say goodbye to friends and family and move on with life is both rewarding and scary.  To my kids, they don’t seem to notice the physical distance between themselves and their cousins, or the time spent apart.  Partly because technology has made the world much smaller.  It’s hard to miss your cousins when you can Skype with them whenever you want.  When we are saying goodbye at the airport, I’m usually much more emotional.  Is it because I know how far the distance truly is?  Or is it because I wasn’t accustomed to saying goodbye as a child?  Seeing the detachment that expat kids can show makes you worry – will they ever have a sense of home?  Will they be able to put down roots as an adult?  At the same time, it makes you proud that they understand that saying goodbye quickly and often just comes with the territory.

What are your thoughts?  If you are the parent of an older TCK, are the challenges different?  What should I be looking out for?

P.S. If you are considering moving abroad with kids, or having a child while living overseas, I highly recommend reading Third Culture Kids. Some people give the book negative reviews saying the book itself is too negative, but I think that more information is always better than less. I also really liked that this book did not assume that every expat family was financially well-off.  It covers a variety of situations from corporate expats to military families to missionaries.


A few weeks ago, we took a quick trip to London.  Can you believe that we have lived in Dublin for over three years, but hadn’t been to London yet?  My sister and mother were going to be in town, and my brother-in-law would be passing through London on his way back from the middle east, so we decided to take a long weekend all-together in London (minus Brad, who was in the US for a conference).  We flew out on Friday, and back on Monday, so we didn’t have a ton of time, but we certainly packed in the sights!  A few highlights:

Friday afternoon:

We took in Hyde Park.  I love urban parks in Europe.  Quiet, sophisticated, relaxed…there is just something about the parks in Europe that is missing from US parks.  We had lunch at the Lido Cafe near the Serpentine Lake, and then found a chicken coop, playground (shocker!), and then an adorable ice cream truck.  The weather was cool, but felt so much warmer than Dublin without the brisk wind off the Irish sea!


Did I mention that we forgot that it was a three-day weekend in London?  Ooops.  Luckily, the kids wake up at the crack of dawn (and the dawn cracks early this time of year…) We made it to the Natural History Museum before 10:00am.  We had to walk through what felt like miles and miles of empty queues, but the museum staff said they queues would be filled before noon.  We spent about 2 hours looking at their awesome dinosaur exhibit, and their life-size model of the blue whale.  There was so much more to that museum that we didn’t see – I’d love to go back.  As we left, I looked back towards the entrance, and sure enough, there were people queued to enter.

In the afternoon, we went back to Hyde Park to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.  If you are visiting London with kids, I can’t recommend this playground enough.  (And we have been to plenty of good playgrounds.)  It had an enormous pirate ship in the middle of an even bigger sand pit.  It also had play structures for older kids and little kids, plus picnic areas, a cafe, toilets and changing facilities.


We got a later start on Sunday, as we had brunch with Taylor and Evan, and then decided to take the bus from Marble Arch to Westminster. It was a regular London bus – I can’t remember the route number, but it was like a mini-tour of sights in London!  We saw Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square – where we saw one of the more memorable sights of our trip.  As we were making our way through the square, a group of men came running through the intersection clad in nothing but multicolored briefs. “Look!! Mom!! Those men are running in their UNDERWEAR!”  And to every person who has asked, “What did you see in London?”  my kids have answered, “Men running in their underwear!”

We saw the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, but the crowds were absolutely HUGE.  So we quickly decamped to see the Tower Bridge, which the kids really enjoyed.  We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant – Perkin Reveller.  Great food, lovely design, and wonderful service – especially for the kids.  Near such a major landmark, and in the height of tourist season, I had decidedly low expectations, but it was a great stop.  Highly recommended!

Sunday Evening we rode the London Eye.  Naturally, it hadn’t rained all day…until about 30 minutes before we rode the Eye.  Sigh.  The views were still great, and the kids liked riding in the pod.  (Pro tip:  Paying for the “Fast Track” tickets is worth it.  Instead of waiting in a loooooong line, (in the rain!), we collected our tickets and waited about 15 minutes before boarding.)

So there you go – a very quick trip to London! We packed in a bunch of sights, some good family time, etc.  One thing I realized over the course of the weekend is that the kids are not ready for a “walking” city like Rome or Paris.  I had to haul the stroller up and down the stairs of the Underground, and as much as Patrick insisted (loudly!) that he could walk, he just isn’t ready for walking-sightseeing.  A few more years perhaps!

How to take an infant passport photo

You have this beautiful new baby, and now, you’re itching to GO somewhere.  Or maybe you have a wedding to attend. Or a distant relative to visit. Or maybe you live overseas, and you want to take your baby back to your home country to meet the rest of your family.  You’ve looked at flights, vacation schedules, travel advice, and decided to go for it.  Now you just have to get that tiny, floppy, bundle of joy to open her eyes, look straight at the camera, keep her hands out of her face, to take that all-important passport photo.


All persons on international flights require a passport, which sounds all well and good, until you’re faced with actually getting your infant’s photo taken.  The main requirements are:

[checklist icon=”fa-camera” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]In front of white or off-white background[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Both eyes open[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Neutral facial expression[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Fully facing the camera[/li_item]

Source: US State Department

It is harder than it appears, especially with really young kids.  Did you know you can take your own passport photo pictures?  I have done this several times, and it is so much easier to do at home than trying to get it done at your local drugstore.  We took Isaac’s passport picture when he was 3 weeks old for a family trip to Spain.  We took Patrick’s picture when he was 6 days old for his Consular Report of Birth Abroad (equivalent of a US birth certificate), and passport.  Liesl was 13 months when we got her passport, so it was a bit easier.  Here are some tips and tricks for taking the getting a decent passport photo of your infant at home:

1.  Cover your changing table in a plain white or off white cover (no print or major texture), or use a sheet as a cover.

2. Place your baby on the changing table.  (I use a changing table because the concave shape of the pad prevents the baby from rolling to one side – thus improving the chance that you’ll get a picture with him looking directly into the camera.)

3.  Stand on a chair and take the picture from above. It helps to take the photo in a well-lit room, so that you don’t have to use a flash.

4.  Go to a Passport photo template website, such as, and load your picture.  The online service will help you size the photo to the correct dimensions.  You can choose to download the file for free (to print at your local photo kiosk), or you can have them mail you the photos for a small fee. There are several of these websites available, but we have used ePassportPhoto several times, and have been really happy with the results.

Don’t worry if the picture isn’t great. Kids passports are only valid for 5 years, and by that time, they will look so much different than they do now, no matter how good or bad the picture was.

Above is Isaac’s passport photo from his now-expired passport. (Yes, all my kids had GIANT hands and feet as newborns.)  We had to renew his passport at the US Embassy last year.  Those 5 years went really fast!

10 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I wrote up my 10 tips for traveling with an infant.  Traveling with an infant is great, but flying with toddlers definitely requires that you up your game a bit. They are bigger, louder, more mobile, and more independent.  This list is written with long-haul/international flights in mind, but many of the tips are useful for short trips as well.  For those who will be flying the friendly skies with children ages 9 months – 3 years, here is a list of 10 tips to keep in mind.

[checklist icon=”fa-plane” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]1. Do yourself and your child a favor, buy them their own seat, and bring their car seat along.  I can fly “infant in arms” until the child is about 9 months old, and then I reach my limit. Other people have different opinions, but I have found that after about 9 months, the baby is not as comfortable in my arms for the duration of a long flight.  (Short-haul flights, I can usually tough-it-out until the kid is 2.)  Your car seat must be approved for air travel. We bought the FAA-approved Britax car seat, and it has performed beautifully.  We liked it so much, we now have two of them.[/li_item]

[checklist icon=”fa-plane” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]2.  To carry your car seat, and your kid through the airport, check your stroller and buy one of these.  It’s basically a luggage cart for your car seat.  If your trip is just a one-time thing, beg, borrow or steal one from a friend, but for multiple trips, it is worth the money. You snap the car seat onto it with the LATCH connectors, tilt it back, and pull it through the airport.  It is lightweight, folds flat, and you can store it in the overhead bin, or under the seat. You can also strap your kid into the car seat as you pull it along, but if we have the time, I prefer my kids to walk in the airports. (See #6).[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]3.  Before your trip, go to the dollar store and pick up a few fun toys, games and stickers for the trip.  For our last trip, I bought each child a small pencil bag, and put inside some crayons, colored pencils, and loads of stickers.  I bought each child a new coloring book as well.  When traveling with a toddler, I try to set a “1 toy per 20 minutes” rule.  Meaning, I will get out a new toy every 20 minutes or so, but I will not be the “on-demand” toy factory.  If you expect to be traveling often, make a box of “travel toys”.  Our set of travel toys includes: a set of lacing cards, a set of small dinosaurs, Mini Magna doodle, play-doh, triangular crayons (an ingenious idea – they don’t roll off the tray table!) etc.  The kids know that most of these toys only come out on the plane, and therefore, are more excited to play with them. We also load the iPad with shows they like, and a few games, but most of the time, they want to watch the TV on the airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]4.  Buy a set of over-ear headphones for each child. The ones provided by the airlines don’t usually fit little kids’ heads, and ear buds usually bother them. Also, it can be something special to bring out during the flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]5.  Bring your own food. MORE THAN YOU THINK WILL BE NECESSARY.  Trying to convince your grumpy, tired 2 year old to eat mystery “chicken mornay” may be a hard sell.  Bring sandwiches that travel easily, such as PB&J.  I bring plenty of small foods, such as cheerios, goldfish, teddy grahams, or box raisins.  The box raisins are super handy because the kids kill a bunch of time trying to fish every last raisin out of the box.  They are also high in fiber, which helps counteract travel-related constipation.  I also bring a few apples and granola bars.  Each child has his or her own water bottle.  We encourage them to drink plenty of water.  Pro-tip:  If traveling with your spouse/partner, split the snacks into two gallon-size ziploc bags, in case you are separated on the plane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]6.  If you have time, let the kids walk in the airport.  This is a handy way to burn off excess energy and get the wiggles out.  It is tempting to strap them into the stroller or carrier, and just get on to the next gate, but then they don’t have any time run about.  If you’re worried about a toddler running off, get a leash/harness, or let them walk part of the way, on the less-crowded concourses.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]7. When you get to your gate, sit close to a window so that they can watch the planes, or off to the side, where there is more space for them to run around (within reason).  If you are fighting jet lag, keep moving.  When we have a layover on an international trip, we try not to sit down too much until we get on the next flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]8.  If traveling with your spouse or partner, consider sending one person onto the plane early, with the car seat and carryons (if possible), and then wait until the latest possible moment to board the plane with your child. There is nothing worse than trying to entertain a child while you are still sitting at the gate![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]9.  Clothing: Dress everyone in easy-on, easy-off, non-fussy clothes.  This is not the time to dress your child in that adorable dress with lace and tulle from your aunt.  If necessary, change into that adorable outfit in the airport bathroom when you get to your destination. I dress my daughter in leggings, t-shirt, cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt.  My sons wear comfortable jeans or athletic pants, t-shirt, zip-front sweatshirt.  Pack each child a full backup outfit, including underwear and socks, in a one-gallon ziploc bag.  Should the worst happen, you just have to reach into your bag, find their ziploc, and take that to the bathroom to change.  You never know when someone might get air sick, or spill an entire orange juice down the front of their clothes.  Pack an extra shirt for yourself as well.  If your child is recently potty trained, have them wear pull-ups.  We flew a week after Liesl was potty trained, and I told her that the pull-ups were her “airplane panties”.  She never had an accident, but it was cheap insurance.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]10.  Be flexible and Have Fun! Set some ground rules, but don’t be afraid to make the trip fun as well.  For example, screen time is really limited at our house, but if Liesl wants to watch Doc McStuffins all.the.way from Dublin to New York, I let her.  They rarely get juice at home, but if they want juice every time the flight attendant offers drinks, juice it is!  If they want to do jumping jacks at the gate, they can.  Or we go out of our way during a layover to find the “really big” planes and watch them take off.[/li_item]


I find that the kids reflect our attitudes, especially in travel.  When things don’t go as planned, if we treat it as a “Grand Adventure”, they will too.  Travel with kids is a lot of work, but given the choice between traveling with kids, or staying home – I’ll choose travel any day!

10 Tips for Flying with Infants

Terrified of flying the not-so-friendly skies with your infant? Relax – and go for it!  I personally think that, of all the ages and stages I have experienced so far, traveling with infants is the easiest.  They don’t need any toys, they can’t talk back, you don’t have to bring a year’s supply of snacks… I have flown with my kids as young as three weeks old.  I think that the smaller they are, the easier it is.  Here are my tips for a less-stressful experience:

[checklist icon=”fa-plane” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Check your stroller with your luggage.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive, right?  But it is so much easier to not worry about the stroller until you get to your destination.  No trying to fold a stroller one handed while holding your baby.  No worrying about whether the “gate checked” stroller will actually make it off the gate and onto the plane. Instead, carry your child in an ergo/sling/bjorn or other carrier that you like.   I like the Ergo because it has a zippered pocket in front where I kept my wallet, phone, passports and boarding passes. This will keep your hands free. Since you are flying with an infant, your stroller and car seat should be free to check.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Carry all your diaper bag supplies in a backpack.  That cute diaper bag you love, the one with one strap?  Pack it in your luggage.  It is so much easier to have both hands free, rather than trying to keep your diaper bag on your shoulder.  This is the less fashionable option, but definitely the most workable.  You can always carry your diaper bag or purse  when you get to your destination.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Sit on the row with the airplane bassinet, if possible.  If you are flying on a wide-body aircraft, and flying “infant in arms”, you should call the airline and ask to be seated on the bassinet row, if is available.  The bassinet row is the bulkhead row – sometimes the first row of coach – where you can attach a bassinet. The bassinet is this baby bed that attaches to the wall of the bulkhead, and you can place your child in it, as long as you are at cruising altitude, and everything is going smoothly.  Bring a blanket to put in the bassinet.  It makes a great place to put the baby while you rummage through your bag, stretch your arms, or have a snack. Even if you don’t use the bassinet, the extra space in the bulkhead row is so helpful![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Wear slip-on shoes. At TSA checkpoints, you are basically on your own. They will help you put everything through the scanner, but they will not hold your baby while you take your shoes off, or anything else. If you have liquid baby items (diaper cream, etc), I usually keep them in their own plastic baggie. So I have one baggie for my stuff, and one baggie for infant stuff.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Nurse, feed, or offer a pacifier during take off and landing. This is a big one. To keep your child’s ears clear, you’ll want to feed him during take off and landing. If you’re not feeding him, definitely use a pacifier. The sucking that they do during feeding will keep their ears clear in the pressure changes. I try to hold off on feeding until we are taxiing to the runway. Bring a nursing cover if that makes you more comfortable, but it is 100% legal to nurse a baby uncovered on an airplane. I have hilarious stories of nursing on an airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Bring disposable changing pad covers. Changing tables on airplanes and in airports can be gross. I pack several of these large disposable changing pad covers. That way, you can just change your baby and wrap everything up in the changing table cover, and toss it into the trash. You can get them at BabiesRUs, Target, BuyBuy Baby, and other places. (I buy them in the US, and bring them back to Ireland!)[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Pack just enough diapers to get you there. It’s tempting to plan for the absolute worst and bring 30 diapers and a full package of wipes with you. I usually bring enough diapers for 24 hours (more for international trips), about 10-12, and a half-used pack of wipes. I buy more diapers and wipes at my final destination. Or better yet – have whomever you are staying with buy diapers and wipes ahead of time! It is the kind of job that people LOVE.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Check the identification requirements. Infants may not need a picture ID for domestic flights, but you may need to bring a copy of the birth certificate. If you are flying internationally, your child must have a passport.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Water and snacks – FOR YOU. Especially if you are nursing, you can get super thirsty and hungry. I always bring a snack like trail mix that has a good mix of carbs and proteins. Luna bars are also good and can take a beating in your carryon. Rather than try to fill up a water bottle after security, I just buy one.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Don’t worry if he starts crying. I know that is easier said than done, but take a few deep breaths and relax. Don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking. You don’t have to see them again anyway. I have traveled multiple times with infants, and not once has one of them cried the entire flight.[/li_item]

In my experience, the good far outweighs the bad when traveling with kids.  Traveling with kids takes work, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.  I’ll follow-up with posts about flying with older infants and toddlers, and flying with young kids.

Did I miss anything?  Any advice you disagree with?  What tips would you offer?