How to Help Your Spouse Adjusting to the Host Country – Five Principles
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.



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