Tag Archives: dual career
Expat Spouse

Going on an international assignment is often a relationship challenge. Even if you have already been married for a long time moving abroad can bring out the best and worst in the relationship with your spouse and/or life partner.

Gone are the days of the “expat wife” sitting in the expat country club, playing tennis or painting her fingernails at the pool while an armada of the staff was taking care of the driving, children, household, and cooking. Today, life partners and spouses are of all backgrounds and all colors.

My observation is that more and more male spouses are joining female expats. We also see more same-sex couples going on assignments together. Some couples plan to have a family while on assignment, others have children living in a boarding school in different countries. My advice here is mainly for dual-career couples. If you have children, you might face other challenges but usually, there is more support around finding schooling by companies than helping with spouse adjustment.

Here are five principles you can use to help your spouse adjust to the host country faster.

1) Make sure you understand all legal obligations when applying for a residence and work permit.

Make sure you have understood the legal obligations in case you are not legally married. Is your life partner allowed to reside in the country? How hard or easy is it to receive a work permit? Did you consider adequate health, accident and life insurance coverage? Work permit legislation can be tricky even for married couples. Make sure you understand the implications of your work permit type for your spouse/life partner.

2) Help your spouse with the job search by building your network in the host country fast.

Try to find out how to build up a network in the host location fast. Speak to agencies and headhunters about job opportunities. Understand the role of agencies/headhunters in the process before you contact them. Build on- and offline networks to find a job. Help others too so that you will be considered when it is your spouse’s turn to look for a job.

3) Get intercultural training to understand the cultural differences.

Understand the cultural differences in how to write an application and how a resume typically looks for the host country. What are the usual ways of getting a job? How important are personal introductions? Who should sponsor your spouse? Getting a social life and making friends together will help in the transition into the new culture. Try to make time for events so that your spouse feels that you are on this adventure together.

4) Utilize support offered by your company.

Utilize the resources of the company you work for. Request for help. Some companies offer spouse career coaching or job coaching. f you have a chance get coaching for your spouse. The transition into a new country is stressful. Sitting at home without a real task can trigger depressions or a feeling of loneliness.

5) Discuss a fallback option with your spouse.

In case your spouse cannot find a job in the host location, come up with a fallback option and value work even if it does not generate family income. Examples include volunteer work, social engagement, university degree, freelance work or building up a company. Sometimes I have observed that expatriates are so busy with starting a new job and a new life that they forget to listen and support their partners. This might be more important than anything else. I have seen couples who agree that they take turns in advancing their career. After this assignment your spouse should be able to pick the next role or location first.

I find it critical for a couple to live together (or close to each other) during an international assignment. Commuting creates separation and your life will diverge. Also consider that even though your career step might be important it does not mean your life. So once in a while, you might be better off turning down an international assignment to save the relationship.

If you would like to discuss your or spouse’s situation with me, kindly email angela@globalpeopletransitions.com for an appointment.

We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder expat spouses from finding a job in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinion and experience. There a number of studies dedicated to the topic though. Mainly Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to host employment. Let me know if you think I forgot an important topic.

Why is it so difficult for expat spouses to find a job in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.

Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Work permit restrictions are a significant barrier to expat spouse employment. Not every country issues a work permit to the married spouse. Let alone the diversity of life partners mentioned earlier.

Lack of Host Language Skills

Even though the expat might work for a global company most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country.

Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

Lawyers, tax consultants, and even HR Professionals are often experts in their country, but the knowledge is often limited to the country and not transferrable. Even moving from Canada to Australia can be tricky if you are a lawyer.

Lack of Professional Networks

Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.

Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de- facto relationships.

Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations but GM Leaders need to update their policies

We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. Global Mobility Leaders should update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.

Intercultural bias of our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand résumés from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.

Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.

Unconscious bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it becomes very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent.

This is probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.

Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual Career Programs

In 2012 ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. While this research probably focused on scientists it is hardly known. We assume that companies working with support programs for their dual career population seem to have higher retention rates but we lack scientific evidence. I am highly encouraging students and lecturers to address this issue.

To sum it up there is still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual career couples in the expatriation process.

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

The Global Mobility Workbook (Third Edition) (Paperback) can be purchased on amazon now. For bulk orders, click here.

References:

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl” 

Weinberger, A. (2019): “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2015): „Interkulturell denken bringt Vorteile“ Persorama Summer 2015.