There are Issues that every expat with kids has to face. When I was eight or nine years old, my step-father was in the military and was about to be stationed in Germany. My mother asked my sister and me if we wanted to go, and both of us immediately said “no” because we’d miss our friends. Of course, we honestly had no idea what our mother asked of us. Quite frankly, I think my mother asked so that she could have an excuse to tell her husband she wasn’t going to Germany with him. Whatever the reason, he went to live in Wiesbaden, Germany, and we stayed. Today I regret saying “no”, but I certainly didn’t back then.

a brand new set of problems to face

If you’re going to take children to another country, you will have a brand new set of problems to face. I’ve previously written about the issue of homesickness and how powerful it can be, but it can be even more powerful for children. You’ll have to remember that your child won’t necessarily appreciate your reasons for moving to a foreign. Yes, you may think that it’s a “character building” opportunity, but your eight-year-old who only speaks English may not have a lot of playmates if the local language is Tswana.

You’ll also face the problem of education. Many large cities offer international schools for your child’s education. My wife and I consider the International School in Amsterdam for our child, but it’s not cheap. Fortunately, we have at least three years before worrying about this. Depending on your nationality and circumstances, you may have other options. There is also a new French School in Amsterdam. Subsidised by the French government, it teaches English and French and introduces children to the Dutch language and culture. Due to the assistance from the French government, it is far less expensive (€8718/year for older children versus about €21,000/year) but still out of the price range for many. So keep this in mind: if your child doesn’t fluently speak the native language of your target country, education is going to be a problem.

There is another curious problem that few have to confront. I’m an American, my wife is French, and our daughter will soon be born here in Amsterdam. What nationality will she be? We’re lucky that we already know that our child will be able to claim US and French citizenship and, if we stay in the Netherlands long enough, Dutch. However, not everyone is so lucky. More and more people are living abroad and finding that their children are stateless or claim citizenship in a country that is not their parent’s country. What’s going on?

Citizenship Rights

Traditionally, there are two routes for citizenship for newborns:  jus soli (right of the soil) and jus sanguineous (right of blood). The former states that you can claim citizenship where you are born. The latter allows you to claim citizenship via ancestry (typically your parents). However, politicians find that fear of immigration is often a source of cheap votes as it’s difficult for immigrants to have a political voice. In the US, for example, you may not have heard of the term anchor baby, but many anti-immigration activists have. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees that any child born in the USA is automatically a citizen (jus soli). Still, not surprisingly, some politicians are trying to take this away via HR 1868, the “Birthright Citizenship Act”, which would deny citizenship to children unless one of their parents is:

  • a citizen or national of the United States;
  • an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States whose home is in the United States, or
  • an alien performing active service in the armed forces (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States Code).

Unfortunately, as with most naïve anti-immigration bills, it ignores the modern complexity of the international world. It makes no exception for children whose parents may be stateless or legitimately claiming asylum in the US.

Many countries are trying to limit jus sanguineous. By limiting or eliminating both traditional routes for claiming citizenship, more and more people are finding giving birth abroad a legal minefield. If you live abroad and are expecting a child, contact your nearest embassy to ensure that you understand the legal implications of the birth.

The Question of Citizenship

My wife and I have a different and somewhat curious issue: what if our child chooses not to take our nationality? Our Children not wanting our citizenship isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Have you heard of the British gentleman? Born and raised in the UK, he was surprised to discover that he owed many thousands of dollars in US income taxes. Our child may well turn 18 and realise that they face a lifetime of income tax to the US government if US citizenship is accepted. Naturally, the French and the Dutch don’t tax their overseas citizens.  I want my child to be able to take advantage of extra citizenship, but why would they want to?

Being an expatriate and a parent is a much harder choice than simply being an expatriate, and it could have severe legal implications if your child is born overseas. Before taking this step, make sure you understand all of the impacts. You get to make this decision. Your children don’t.