The benefits of raising a third culture kid

ExpatRoute is here to help you understand the challenges and opportunities surrounding expat families and raising third culture kids.

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) can often enjoy great benefits that many of their peers who grow up in the UK may not have access to.

Expats living abroad can provide a whole world of new opportunities and experiences, not only for them but their families, too. Whether this is speaking new languages, enjoying different cultures or accessing different opportunities, raising a child overseas can offer them and their parents plenty of benefits. Let’s look into how expat life helps shape these children and the positives this can bring.

What is a Third Culture Kid?

The term Third Culture Kids (or TCKs) originally came from US sociologist, Ruth Hill Useem, in the 1950s.

It was used to describe children who spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland. Since the Fifties, a combination of increased globalisation, cheap air travel and greater connectivity via technology has made TCKs more common, with increasing numbers of people setting up homes as expats in new countries and locations across the world.

What Are The Benefits Of Raising A Third Culture Kid?

TCKs have demonstrated a number of characteristics, traits and skills which make them very employable and able to access new and exciting opportunities.

A previous survey by Denizen found that most of the 200 TCKs they asked made their first move across the world before reaching the age of nine, and had lived in an average of four different countries. Up to 85% spoke at least two languages while the majority had also studied undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

While this study shows some obvious trends among TCKs, it is also important to emphasise how each person is different. They will not all have a similar experience just because they grew up in a different country to the one where they were born.

Some TCKs are raised within the culture of their new home country. Others are brought up in an expat community so their exposure to a new culture or language is far more limited and restricted. However, here are some of the benefits TCKs could potentially enjoy from spending their early years abroad.

Greater Experiences and Rounded Worldview

One obvious benefit of living as an expat in a different country means you will be exposed to a whole world of new cultures and life experiences. As we’ve already mentioned, this could be more limited if you spend your time within an expat community but even just living in a new place can change you and your world view.

A report from Aetna International showed how many TCKs see themselves as being more empathetic, while some demonstrate a greater understanding than friends or colleagues who haven’t enjoyed an international experience.  Some believe that arguments don’t often have a right or wrong answer and there are many different perspectives surrounding a debate or discussion.

More Emotionally-Intelligent Than Their Peers

Many TCKs are able to monitor their emotions and register societal norms and cues more adeptly than some of their peers who have not enjoyed similar experiences.

According to the Aetna report, many respondents felt they were better-equipped to deal with unexpected or unusual situations or circumstances. Some even said they now preferred to be faced with a new challenge or problem to overcome. They also felt more comfortable decoding any intercultural differences, and functioning effectively with people and organisations from a variety of backgrounds.

More Attuned to Health and the Environment

For some expats, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of access to healthcare has become an important one, particularly as some countries experience a third wave of the virus. It’s causing some expats to question whether they want to be abroad at all.

However, this may only be a cause for concern among a certain generation more at risk from the coronavirus. One positive from living abroad means many TCKs are more interested in enjoying a warmer climate and the health benefits this brings, whether it’s fresher or better quality of food, or the ease of exercising outdoors.


Many TCKs experience great upheaval during the early years of their lives, particularly if their expat family life takes them between different countries. While this can sometimes be challenging, it can also increase resilience, making someone more comfortable and adaptable to change. This can be a great skill for successful professionals to hone.

Enhanced Language Skills

By their very nature, many TCKs are often bilingual which can help them in many aspects of their lives.

Being able to speak more than one language can open up plenty of additional career opportunities in different countries outside of the UK, particularly if a second language is a widely-spoken one, such as Spanish. This also means they might be more adept at communicating and creating effective bonds and relationships within new countries and cultures.

Many TCKs are better qualified

Many TCKs go on to a study at a higher level of education than their peers. Ruth Useem’s report into their learning shows how 44% of adult TCKs go on to earn undergraduate degrees, while half study for Masters and doctoral qualifications. Almost three-quarters of those questioned said that living abroad has had a big impact on what they chose to study.

What are the negatives?

Despite the positives of raising TCKs as part of an expat lifestyle, there are some challenges they have to face, some which can be felt more sharply if a family decides to move back to the UK at any point. Many expats are on short-term contracts or work in industries that are vulnerable to change so this can happen. However, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s greater uncertainty surrounding how long an expat lifestyle may continue. This may be fine for you as an adult but can create a sense of rootlessness more keenly felt if you return to the UK, and your child has to compare themselves with peers who have a fully-formed social circle.

It has been noted by some child counsellors and psychologists that issues begin to appear around the age of nine or ten when friendships become more central to identity. It’s possible that children can become withdrawn or find it hard to establish long-term friendships when they move around.

As with many things, it’s hard to spot nuanced trends with TCKs. Many experiences for these children will be very different from the next depending on the country they are in, whether they have to move between countries and if they ever come back to the UK. At the same time, a greater view of the world, different experiences and the chance to learn new and exciting skills are definitely bonuses for anyone looking to establish themselves, and launch a career in an increasingly connected world.

There can be plenty of benefits for expats looking to start families overseas and raise so-called third culture kids.

When doing so, it can be important to work out any financial obligations you may have in your new country of residence. ExpatRoute is on hand to help provide you with support and guidance around your money. Contact a financial adviser today for more information.

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