‘Slowmadic’ Families & Schooling
For the past 3 years, my wife, 6-year old daughter and I have been on the move. First was Tokyo for nearly 2 years, and now we’re finishing up our year in Bali.
I find it takes at least six months to start appreciating the rhythm and culture of a new country. I suppose it takes several years to become culturally fluent, but somewhere in between—about a year or so—I begin to absorb a few things about a country’s culture and people. Because of this realization, my family has become “slowmadic”. It is a term I coined to describe a slowly nomadic liefstyle in which we learn a bit about a host nation for at least a year before we venture on to the next locale.
When we landed in Tokyo in 2014, we discovered there was already a long-standing subculture to which we were welcomed- the corporate slowmadic family. This breed typically consists of a VP-level or higher man or woman who works for a multinational firm. She tends to manage her firm’s country office or its regional department and then relocates every three years or so. Of course, these corporate slowmads bring their spouses and children with them and settle in.
Since we moved to Bali, we evolved into a second type of slowmadic family—the digital slowmad (or, more aptly in our case, the mini-retired slowmad). This breed is quite different from the corporate version we used to be. Among other differences, we do not benefit from expat packages, which include generous reimbursement for school tuition.
Slowmadic families are free to enroll their kids in local public schools; however, it turns out that few do so because of the language barrier and because the international school serves as a great support community for the parents trying to cope with all the stresses of an overseas move. International schools made the most sense for our family in both Tokyo and Bali.
Corporate slowmads by definition live and work in the financial and industrial capitals of the world—Paris, Hong Kong, London, … You get the idea. Not so coincidentally, those cities’ international schools are very expensive.
Sky High Tuition
In fact, the creator of Expatistan built a database covering international schools for 20 popular corporate expat locales. To get a sense of the relative costs, I wrote down the top three most expensive schools for each of those cities and then plotted them on this graph:
The top and bottom of each grey bar represents the tuition of first and third most expensive school per city. Each red line shows the average tuition for the three most expensive schools per city combined.
Why did I focus on the Top 3 most expensive per city? It’s because I wanted an apples-to-apples comparison. Some cities have dozens of international schools; others only have a handful. By selecting just the three most expensive schools per city, I avoided the bias caused averaging very long tails. In addition, most cities have a group of quality schools with tuition roughly 25% cheaper than the most expense choice. Thus, you can go 25% below the top of each bar to get an idea of what a good school would cost.
School Options For Slowmadic Families
For the corporate slowmad who receives a nearly unlimited education allowance, $30K per child per year tuition means very little. For digital slowmads; however, sky-high tuition is much harder to accept. Especially for those families with more than one school age child.
This basically leaves four choices for digital slowmads:
- Option 1: Enroll in local public schools as mentioned above.
- Option 2: Participate in home schooling or “unschooling’. There’s a lot of debate about these methods, but I won’t get into that here.
- Option 3: Live in an expensive city but opt for one of the cheaper international schools.
- Option 4: Move to a city in which there aren’t lots of corporate expats but still have a few international schools.
When we were planning our next location after Tokyo, my wife and I narrowed our choices to Option 3 (Ho Chi Minh City) and Option 4 (Bali). Before making a decision, we visited the mid-tier schools in HCMC and came away less than impressed. On the other hand, in Bali we found a great school which was less than $10K the cost of HCMC’s schools. So, we moved to Bali and have been happy with the decision ever since.
We have decided to go back to America after our year in Bali so that our daughter can get to know her home country. I don’t think it is a permanent move back home though. We are already toying with the idea of moving overseas again during her junior high years.
Most likely, we’ll remain self-employed, so I did some of my own research covering the Top 3 most expensive schools for 18 other slowmadic-suitable cities:
How did I come up with this list?
Well, for countries with high costs of living, I chose areas that were cheaper than the country’s capital city. For countries with a lower cost of living, I chose the capital city.
Since this post is about education, I tended to choose countries that will be important for our daughter 20 years from now. Therfore, I selected cities in China (which is likely to be the globe’s financial capital in a couple of decades) and in Southeast Asia/Sub-Saharan Africa (which will serve as the economic growth engine mid-century).
I added few other locales just because they are nice or interesting places in which to live.
For one final step, I created a short list from both charts above of 9 cities that are most interesting to our family. For each of those cities, I presented the annual tuition of the 3rd most expensive international school to give me an idea of what to expect.
I admit that school fees aren’t the only consideration when moving abroad. Still, these fees are an important factor because tuition will be a slowmadic family’s second biggest expense after rent. If you are a slowmadic family with two or more kids, then tuition will probably be your largest expense.
Anyway, each of the cities in this final graph represent an interesting choice for an American family wishing to go overseas.
So why not move abroad for a few years to educate your children…and yourselves…in another part of the world? If you can do it in conjunction with a mini-retirement, so much the better!