New technology = new relocation planning by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Living Abroad LLC

Technology and connectivity are fundamental parts of a family’s global relocation plan. Choosing what equipment to take, establishing what services are available, determining the best options for at-home and mobile connectivity — all of these decisions can make a critical difference in quality of life, and therefore, an assignment’s overall success.

Yet, it is very easy to overlook the fact that technology is always on the advance. Such innovation makes life easier, especially when it comes to local and global communication. But, it also affects assignees and their families — and their decisions — in new, and sometimes unanticipated, ways.

What are some of the newer technology features, and issues, of which relocating families should be aware?

Video gaming

There is much more to taking video games to a new country than selecting the correct power converter for a console, or choosing favorite discs. Online functionality is now the norm in video gaming, not the exception. The Internet is used to purchase, download and update games, as well as allowing players to interact. In addition, as with DVDs and players, some consoles and games are region-coded. Online availability of titles can also be region-coded.

  • If a family plans to play video games in a new country, these are some of the issues they may face:
  • Will the local language in the new country be a barrier in areas such as the purchase of new games, customer support, technical support, or online interaction?
  • Are online gaming services, such as XBOX LIVE, PSN, or Steam, available in the new country? If so, are there any account, hardware, or setup changes that must take place in advance of arrival?
  • What options are available for gaming subscription payment in the new country? Are certain forms of payment more secure than others? Is it advantageous to purchase an extended subscription prior to departure?
  • Do home Internet subscriptions in the new country support technical specifications for online games?
  • Does the new country limit the importation of video games due to format or content?
  • Are hardware technical support and upgrades available in the new country?

Media streaming services

Internet speed increases and line improvements have brought films, television shows, and telephone service online. In some locations, users can choose to rely exclusively on the Internet for them. This can offer cost savings, as well as a great deal of convenience.

If a family intends to use their home Internet connection for these services in a new country, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is Internet speed and access in the new country at appropriate levels?
  • Are popular streaming services, such as iTunes or Netflix, available in the new country? If not, are there local equivalents? What are the terms of service, and the costs? Are there additional options bundled into a service, such as the ability to select and return DVDs locally, and what equipment is required?
  • Does the new country have legislation that limits what online services residents can access, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or instant messenger services?
  • Are there laws that dictate what online content can be viewed? Is Internet activity monitored in the new country and if so, by whom?
  • Are alternate methods of Internet access preferable? For example, a virtual private network (VPN) can offer digitally secure access to a home or office network.
  • What are good contingency plans for staying informed of weather, news, and other developments in the event of a power or service outage?

Locator apps

Smartphones are almost ubiquitous globally, and international travelers of all kinds are well aware that advance planning is necessary to use them in a new destination. But an enhancement found on many smartphones, Global Positioning System or GPS, has given them an additional use that can be quite valuable to families. Some smartphone apps with GPS functionality allow users to track other users on maps, if mutual consent has been established.

The ability to view a family member’s whereabouts can provide peace of mind anywhere. However, additional concerns about unfamiliarity and security make these apps particularly sought after and valuable in international relocation destinations. For example, in 2013 more than half of users of the family locator app Life360 resided outside of the United States, despite the fact that the app was only available in English and its other features were much more limited internationally.

A family that plans to use locator apps on smartphones to track each other should consider these factors, in addition to other mobile communication planning:

  • What smartphones are available in the new country, if currently owned ones will not work there?
  • Is a smartphone’s GPS functionality limited in any way, by government regulation or by service provider?
  • What locator app, such as Live360 or Glympse, is best suited to a family’s needs? Is a chosen app available to all of the family’s smartphones?
  • What locator apps are available locally? Do those apps provide more detailed or less detailed information than others?
  • What provisions can be made if the app is particularly draining on battery life, smartphone memory, or usage plans?
  • What is an effective backup plan for staying in contact if there are unanticipated outages, especially those that only affect some family members?

Advantages to looking ahead

By identifying these issues and their solutions in advance, families who relocate internationally can benefit from access to familiar activities, fewer ongoing costs, and better communication. They can also establish a pattern of identifying new technological needs for future assignments, and for future convenience.

Published in ACS International Schools Newsletter – click here.