Shall we live in your home country or in mine? Where will we have better opportunities as a family?

If you are living in a binational marriage or partnership, you most possibly have discussed these questions before or are about to. This becomes even more evident and important when you have kids or a baby is on the way. In some cases, it seems rather obvious which of both possible countries to choose. If one country for example faces a war situation, most likely all family members prefer to live in the other, peaceful country.

However, even if your partner is from a war country, s/he will always find him/herself in a situation of home sickness.

I find this particularly in partnerships where one partner comes from a southern developmental country (e.g. Southern Asia, Latin America, Africa) and the other one from a western developed country (e.g. US, Europe, Japan). With our colonialised mindset, a lot of people will automatically assume that living in the developed country will be the obvious, better decision. Still, this must not be true. Although a country is called “underdeveloped” it can offer even better opportunities or “at least” a happier life to the whole family. Think of the better climate, friendlier folks, higher satisfaction in your job as a development worker, etc., etc.

In any case, the decision where to live is a highly individual one. There are various factors that will play into this and are differently important for each family. The following list of decision factors might not be complete but I hope that it can help you in your considerations which home country to choose.

1. Financials and job situation

The possibility of getting a (well-paid) job and don’t need to worry about financials are most possibly the very first thing to consider, when seriously panning to live in another country. Let’s be honest, without money it’s not easy to live anywhere. Still, some countries can offer you either a better chance for employment or at least a better social aid if you don’t have a (sufficiently paid) job.

While the above is a more existentialistic view of your financials and job situation as a family, there exists also a very personal one. Mostly, each part of a partnership has better job and career opportunities in his/her home country. This is mostly not a question of work permission but more a question of (system suitable) education and even possible xenophobia at the work place. So, choosing one country above the other can imply that one individual needs to give up his/her career aspirations or even won’t be able anymore to find a job. While for some people this can be a choosable option, for others this might feel like the end of their lives. Hence, as everyone in the family has the right to be able to live a fulfilled life also regarding his/her profession, this aspect is a highly important one.

2. Educational opportunities

Education is important for you, your partner and your kids. Some places might have a great public educational system, other places might not be so great but there are private institutions where you can have a great education. Make sure, you understand the level of education of both countries. If you rely on private institutions or international schools than also think about the costs and whether you could afford it. Also, be aware of the future. Maybe you might go to another country after some years. Will the education you our your family members have be internationally recognised? (e.g. if your kids attend school in the father’s home country but should be also able to have a further education in the mother’s home country)

3. Health system, retirement and other governmental programs 

I have seen couples who wanted to live in a certain country but finally decided against it because they just couldn’t afford a private health assurance. A common decision factor might also be the countries’ policies on maternity or parental leave after child birth (see also: Parental leave and child care around the world). Probably you want to have your kids first in the country where you have a longer parental leave before you move to a country where you nearly have any.

But also other governmental programmes like retirement, social aid or the educational system (as mentioned above) should be very important factors when thinking about your country of destination. Having worked the main part of your life in one country, will you be able to get your pension when you leave the country? Will you at any point need social welfare? Just discuss it.

4. “People quality”

Maybe it’s mean to call it “people quality” but you might know what I mean, when I describe the feeling one has when walking in a street where everybody seems to smile and the laughter of the kids echo from every corridor. On the other hand there are those countries, where people just seem to snarl at you when you ask a simple question or trying to be nice to them. The way, people are in a society has huge implications on how fast (or whether) you will find good friends and how easy integration will be for your family. This affects obviously the happiness of life.

5. Family network

Especially when you have kids you might feel the importance to have a good working family network in which you can trust. In which country could you rely on grandparents who take care of your kids while you are at work? Are there a lot of cousins at the age of your kids and would this big family network benefit them in their development?

On the other hand, there might be also family members who need your help. My husband and me, for instance, are both single children and our parents are getting older and older. One day we need to decide how to take care of them, when they can’t take care of themselves anymore.

6. Security

As I mentioned above, you won’t possibly want to live in a war country. But it doesn’t always have to be war itself that could affect your sense of security. Think of the political stability of both countries, about the degree of corruption in the government and other organisations or the impact of some guerrilla or mafia operating in the country. Will you need to face an everyday threat to be robbed, kidnapped or hurt in any other way?

For myself, security is one of the most important facts because it is just something you can’t change as an individual. Sure, if you have money, you could live in a fortress and only use a high security car to get from one place to the other. You could only meet up with friends in private clubs and never go to public places or where the “poor” live. But to you really want this? Security cuts a lot of your personal freedom and before you haven’t experienced this by yourself, you might not appreciate it enough. So make sure you take this also into account.

7. Weather and landscape

Snow desert with 190 days night throughout the year or beach with palms and coconuts? Constant 50 degrees and common forrest fires or four seasons and common inundations? Maybe the country with the “perfect” weather and landscape doesn’t exist and for sure each individual has very different preferences. Still, these might be things to consider in your discussion.

8. Potential to grow

On the one hand the “potential to grow” can be seen as an extension of the factor “financials and job situation”. On the other hand, personal growth does not only exist in career opportunities and income. Each individual has different aspirations in life and such you need to consider where you could learn the most and what makes you grow in life. Is it a powerful job position? Is is to help others? Is it to discover something? Is it to be independent and free with your time? Is it to challenge yourself with something totally new? Is it to be the perfect housewife / houseman? What is it that makes your life beautiful and engaging and which country offers the better potential to grow in these things?

9. Language 

True, if you are motivated, you can learn any language that you need to adapt as an immigrant. Still, there might be some countries which language you just don’t want to learn. Let’s assume your spouse comes from some form of tribe where a very local language is spoken, which you probably won’t be able to speak anywhere else in the world. Maybe you might not be quite motivated to learn this language. So, as a couple you need to have in mind if you both would be able to speak (or to learn) the language that is needed to become integrated. Without a common language, one of you will always feel less integrated and sometimes even dominated by the other (who will have more “power” due to her/his language skills).

10. Fit of basic values

You might come from a country where death penalty is forbidden and gay marriage allowed. Suddenly you find yourself in a more conservative country where this is quite the opposite. If you are neither a criminal nor gay, this might not affect you directly but you may still feel alien in this country because you don’t agree with its basic rights.   But basic values could also have a very direct impact on you. For example when feeling forced to cover your hair or face or just not be able to go out alone as a woman. Or if you are Muslim and married to a Christian, living in a Christian country and suddenly find yourself in the position, that your kids prefer to be Christians rather than Muslims. How would you cope with that?

These 10 factors are my personal outcome of various discussion we had ourselves as a couple and parents of our kid. Sometimes making the “right” decision is very difficult or even impossible. And sometimes I even feel that the importance of these factors is shifting. When you have finished your education, the educational factor doesn’t seem too important anymore until you have your first child. Than it becomes suddenly even more important than ever. And the factors that are most important to me might not be that important for my husband.

In any case, I hope that this post could help you in your own discussion and decision. Please share if you have any other suggestions or learnings you made.