12 Tips to prepare your child for school abroad

I waved my 16-year-old (surreptitiously!) off for her first solo bus ride yesterday to school, much to her chagrin. You may be thinking, first solo bus ride at 16? What has she been doing for so many years?

Suffice to say she has been in an international school bubble here in Kuala Lumpur, with mummy shuttling her back and forth, not having much faith in the Malaysian bus system, but also with her school 23km away from our house, it seemed easier to drive her.

The decision to move our daughter to a private school abroad in New Zealand was rooted in this. We wanted to expose her to an English-speaking country with more public amenities, to grow her independence (like learning how to navigate public transport, registering for driving licence, etc), being more active outdoors, whether it be walking to town, walking to get her groceries, or just doing more sport in general.

We were very grateful for our New Zealand family stepping forward to help us watch over our daughter. She will be sharing a flat with an aunty, near the heart of the city, on the main bus route to her school.

Good prep is half the work done

1. Research schools the year before the move. We decided on a private school after chatting to several friends in the New Zealand education system. We narrowed our choices down to 2-3 options and from there it was an easy decision after we had interviews by Zoom.
2. Make sure you’ve got all the necessary documents in place like birth certificates, passports, old school records, vaccine records, parents marriage certificate. Ensure that your child’s passport has a minimum of 6 months validity from the time they plan to come back to Malaysia.
3. Check out visas months before you fly. Some countries have changed their visa requirements since covid. Malaysians now need to apply via an app called NZETA.
4. Public transport in New Zealand is great. It costs 1 NZ dollar per day for a half hour dedicated school bus to and from school. They have live tracking and schedules which you can view in the Moovit app. Do ride along with your child if they are disorientated the first time, using a Snapper card, which works like a Touch & Go.

5. Sign up with the Libby app for the public library system. It is easy and you get access to thousands of books. They just abolished late return fines!
6. Arriving in New Zealand: get a school tour and a buddy sorted, it’s so important! So many tips and insights are being shared into upcoming school life. Get involved with a few clubs or sporting activities as soon as you can, so you can meet other school goers.
7. Open a bank account for your kid as soon as possible.
8. Community programmes: check out your local recreation and art centre and gain access to lots of sports and arts classes for minimal cost or for free.
9. Charity shops. Visit these for some excellent deals on bedding, clothing, glassware, etc. A great way to start your new overseas life on a budget.
10. Uniforms: check out Facebook groups for second-hand uniforms, as they can cost in the thousands.
11. Health: bring covid test kits, and other medicine as needed, as it can be expensive in New Zealand. Check out Bargain Chemist for online medication. We arrived in winter and had to buy throat spray and lozenges, which we could have easily brought from Malaysia. We also love Malaysian meds like the tummy reliever Pil-chi-kit and cough medicine Pei-Pa-Ko. Make sure you register with a doctor and dentist (dental is free for kids 18 years & below) as soon as you arrive, as some places have a four to six weeks waiting period.
12. Food: luckily, we have a super independent girl who is used to cooking for herself, but as it’s winter she needed to learn to cook more hearty, warming meals. Check out healthy meals for teens for ideas. As food is expensive here, we took her to low cost grocery stores, showed her the Asian food stores (and zero waste stores), and introduced her to easily freeze-able meals. We will also pre-order some meals (we found this one which works out to $10 per meal) every week until she gets used to planning and cooking.

It has been an eye-opening experience (breath holding and heart stopping), but at the end of the day, even though my heart is breaking to leave her behind, I know she will spread her wings and fly!


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