Empowering Expat Spouses in Their Career Journey

Unlocking Expat Spouse Opportunities: Empowering Expat Spouses in Their Career Journey

Dear Expat Spouses,

We thought we should pull together the main reasons, according to our experience that hinder your employment in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinions and experience. There are a number of studies (Permits Foundation, 2012; Silberbauer, 2015) dedicated to the topic. Global Mobility providers and academics often research how family impacts “expatriate failure”. In my view, this is not enough. There is a need for us to investigate how we can bring down the barriers pertaining to your need for employment as an expat spouse. Why is it so difficult for you as Expat Spouses to find work in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the underlying issues which let us explore why venturing into an international assignment can be an exhilarating adventure, but it often presents unique challenges, especially for expat spouses seeking employment in a new country. This comprehensive guide aims to illuminate the eight significant hurdles that expat spouses may face and provide practical tips on how to surmount them. Our mission is to inspire optimism, offering actionable insights to empower expat spouses as they navigate this exciting but often challenging path.

1 – Conquering Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job outside of one’s home country is not just as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Even if most top host locations allow you to work on the partner’s dependent work permit, other countries present significant restrictions to your employment. In fact, while some of them do not issue work permits to any Expat Spouses at all, others may present subtleties linked to marital status or they might not recognize same-sex marriages. How best then does one overcome this?

Challenge: You may encounter work permit restrictions that vary from country to country, with some nations imposing stringent rules based on marital status or same-sex marriages.

Tip: You can start by researching your host country’s work permit regulations before you plan to relocate. You and your partner can seek out employers who actively support spouse work permits, and don’t hesitate to consult legal experts when needed. We’ll guide you through this bureaucratic maze.

2- Mastering the Host Language 

Despite the fact that the expat might work for a global company, most jobs in the host country will require host language skills unless you happen to move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country. It’s important that you don’t underestimate this aspect and that you start learning the local language as soon as possible, ideally before relocating. The good news is that almost two-thirds of employers already provide this as the main form of assistance (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60-hour course also for their Expat spouse’s classes However, 60 hours is not a lot and for working in another language a basic course will not be sufficient. There are specific job search engines that filter for English-speaking roles. If you are looking to find employment in the Swiss job market, you can look up www.englishforum.ch. 

Challenge: Many positions in the host country necessitate fluency in the local language, which may be a daunting task for expat spouses.

Tip: Embark on your language-learning journey before moving, and make the most of language courses offered by your employer or local institutions. We’ll show you how to immerse yourself in the culture, fast-tracking your language skills.

3 – Navigate the Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields and Non-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”. In the best-case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst-case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country. Even in non-regulated fields and jobs, it seems very hard to translate degrees and determine equivalency. Very often you need to explain what your degree and experience mean in “lay terms.” 

 Challenge: In regulated professions, your academic degrees might not receive immediate recognition, leading to bureaucratic hurdles and added expenses.

Tip: Explore degree recognition processes in advance and be open to obtaining supplementary certifications. We’ll connect you with local experts to streamline this process, ensuring your qualifications shine.

4 – Build Your Professional Network

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. Building your professional network in your host country will require time and trust. You will have to start from scratch and dedicate a considerable amount of time to this activity if you want to see good results. You will also need to understand that matters of trust and relationships are culturally different, so it’s important that you act in a culturally appropriate manner when attempting to expand your professional network. 

Challenge: Establishing a professional network in a foreign land can be intimidating, yet it’s essential for career growth.

Tip: Invest time in networking, attend industry events, and leverage online platforms to connect with professionals in your field. Join local associations and expat communities to expand your circle.

5 – Evolve and Challenge the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward-thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partners. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to 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, and improve their interview skills and online presentations. But it’s crucial that Global Mobility Leaders update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.  

Challenge: Not all companies offer comprehensive policies to support expat spouses in their career endeavors.

Tip: Champion enhanced policies within your organization. Advocate for spousal career coaching and support services, collaborating closely with HR to ensure your needs are met.

6 – Combat the Intercultural Bias of Our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand resumes from other countries and outsourcing talent specialists to 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. Companies should provide training on Inclusion and Diversity in an attempt to eliminate unconscious biases and ensure all worthy candidates are being considered for global mobility. This practice is not yet spread. According to KPMG, 39% of employees surveyed aren’t aware of inclusive leadership training within their organizations.  

Challenge: Recruiters may not fully grasp intercultural nuances, leading to biases in candidate selection.

Tip: Encourage companies to provide inclusion and diversity training for recruiters. Share your unique experiences to help educate them on diverse perspectives.

7 – Support more Research to Measure the Impact of Dual-Career Programs

In 2010 when I was still working at PwC we launched a project together with ETH to support more expat partners in Zurich. ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. For most companies (NetExpat & EY, 2018; Atlas World Group, 2019), the presence of dual-career couples negatively affects the decision to relocate. There’s more: the spouse’s unwillingness to move because of his or her career is the first reason for turning down relocation. 

And this indicates an increase in the number of households relying on two salaries, which should not surprise us. While in the past, small firms were relatively less affected by spouse/partner’s employment than medium and big firms, in more recent times, the impact has been similar across company sizes. There is evidently still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual-career couples in the expatriation process. If you want to keep pace with reality and stand out with a far-reaching Global Mobility policy, please keep this issue a top priority. 

Challenge: Dual-career couples’ needs may not always be integrated into expatriation processes.

Tip: Advocate for policies that prioritize dual-career couples’ needs, collaborating with like-minded individuals to drive change within organizations.

Expat spouse employment challenges are real, but they can be overcome with a proactive approach and a positive mindset. By advocating for change within organizations, seeking language skills, and actively networking, expat spouses can enhance their career prospects in the host country. Remember, you are not alone on this journey, and there are abundant resources and support available to help you thrive in your international adventure. On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope. If you want to see how all these work in practice and would like to receive a proposal from us, please drop a line to Angie Weinberger (angela@globalpeopletransitions.com). I am happy to support you! 


Atlas World Group. (2019). 52nd Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey. https://www.atlasvanlines.com/AtlasVanLines/media/Corporate-Relo-Survey/PDFs/2019survey.pdf

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility Can Help Move the Needle. KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pd

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf 

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen.

Silberbauer, K. (2015). Benefits of dual-career support for expat spouses, International Journal of Business and Management, vol 3, no. 2. DOI: 10.20472/BM.2015.3.2.005

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

Weinberger, A. (2016). “The Global Career Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.


Resources for Expats and their Spouses

Eight Major Barriers to Expat Spouse Employment

Expat Spouse Employment | Global People Transitions |

Why Building Professional Relationships Is Harder for You

Why Building Professional Relationships is Harder for You

Benefits of Spouse or “Plus-One” Communities in Global Mobility


How to get a Swiss recruiter’s attention through engaging cover letters:
How to get a Swiss recruiter’s attention through engaging cover letters – Global People Transitions

How to Help Your Spouse Adjusting to the Host Country – Five Principles:
How to Help Your Spouse Adjusting to the Host Country – Five Principles – Global People Transitions


The Swiss Recruiting Summer Slump – Six Tactics to Make More of the Downtime:
The Swiss Recruiting Summer Slump – Six Tactics to Make More of the Downtime – Global People Transitions


Why Culture Shock Is Different Than Depression:
Why Culture Shock Is Different Than Depression – Global People Transitions


Get Organized to Reach the Peace of Mind You Need to Focus on What Matters:
Get Organized to Reach the Peace of Mind You Need to Focus on What Matters – Global People Transitions


The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 1:
The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 1 – Get Started on LinkedIn


The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 2:

The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 2 


The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 3:

The Social Media Newbie Part 3


The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 4:

The Social Media Newbie – Part 4


The Social Media Newbie Series – Part 5:

Global People Transitions | The Social Media Newbie – Part 5




The Global Career Workbook (2016).

The Global Career Workbook


A list of books I recommend to all Expats reinventing themselves: 



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