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Moving to Spain with kids

Embarking on a new life in a foreign country is a major step for anyone. It takes a good deal of nerve, boundless enthusiasm and an unswerving determination to overcome the inevitable obstacles.

If you're making the 'big move' with children, you're going to need all these qualities by the bucket load!

Over the last two decades an increasing number of families from northern European countries have set up home in Spain.

And for many, the move has turned out to be the best decision they ever made. They left behind an inclement climate, high stress levels, long working hours and streets too unsafe for their kids to play in.

In their new promised land they found year-round sunshine, a laid back lifestyle and friendly towns untainted by the weekend violence of binge-drinking teenagers.

But not all families find their Utopia in the Mediterranean sunshine. For many the upheaval of leaving their native land and adjusting to a completely different way of life proves too much to cope with and they return home wiser for the experience (and usually considerably poorer!)

If you're considering moving to Spain with children...

...make sure you're aware of all the common problems and pitfalls which face foreign families trying to start afresh in a new country.

As a rule of thumb, the younger your children are the more likely they are to settle abroad and adjust to all the sudden changes in their lives. Young kids can adapt quickly and easily to almost any change of circumstances as long as they're at the centre of a loving, secure family. Pre-school children pick up a new language in no time, they make new friends quickly and are likely to adapt easily to the new climate and different routine.

The older your children are when you move, the more likely they are to suffer with problems such as homesickness, isolation and feelings of inadequacy at school. No matter how loving and supportive you are as parents, teenagers are likely to find it extremely difficult to settle into a Spanish school especially if they're not fluent in the language from day one. So you'll need to consider whether private and international schools are the better option. And if you can afford it, you'll obviously need to do some thorough research into where the reputable schools are, what they charge and what they can offer.

Getting children a place in a Spanish state school is normally a straight forward affair for EU citizens - you can get your child in school almost immediately, it's free and you don't need to wait for a resident's permit ('residencia').

Some of the more popular schools have a waiting list but the local authorities have a responsibility to find an alternative school if necessary. In areas with large ex-pat communities, many Spanish schools provide special language coaching for newly arrived foreign children for the first few weeks.

If you plan to send your children to a Spanish school, it's important that you master the language yourself so that you can be fully involved in their education, progress and any problems that may arise. And don't forget that some areas of Spain, such as the Valencia region and Catalunya, have their own local language which is predominant in many state schools.

Brace yourself for minor hiccups and probably a few serious setbacks in the first few months. When anything goes wrong in your child's life during that initial period, he or she is likely to wail: 'I want to go home!'

Be patient. It may take a year or two before your child starts thinking of Spain as home.