Expatriate partners – what’s on your wish list for a foreign assignment?

Expatriate partners – what’s on your wish list for a foreign assignment?

International CareersWhen I think about my own relocations joining my husband on his foreign assignments, I realise now that my determination to “do it all myself” did not serve me well.


I was too proud to ask for help in moving my career coaching practice abroad: I am a fiercely independent business woman, and my mindset has always been that “I can do this alone”.  So I never asked for help from my husband’s employers. It didn’t even occur to me to bring the issue up when they were discussing the relocation package. I never even asked my husband to negotiate on my behalf. And when I secretly thought about it, I found myself dismissing the idea straight away. It felt uncomfortable. It felt ungrateful. It felt unreasonable. The employers were supportive of the whole family, so maybe we should not ask for help for my career as well and be happy with the relocation package we got.

If you don’t ask you don’t get

With hindsight, I realise how naive I have been. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. And what I would have asked for would not have cost a lot. What I needed was mainly support in kind: pointing me into the right direction, helping me understand what I needed to do to set up my company in our new destination, a list of local networks to join, a few introductions to like-minded people. Yes, I have managed to get my business off the ground every time we moved, all by myself. But it was hard work, time-consuming and sometimes pretty frustrating. With a bit of help and some local knowledge, I could have been up and running (and earning money!) so much quicker.

My guess is that as the younger generation of expat partners becomes mobile globally, there will be a lot more direct requests for support. And rightly so. If international companies want to attract top talent, they will need to do more to convince the accompanying partners that a move abroad is also in their interests. The employer who pro-actively provides effective career support for expat partners will have a distinct advantage in the market place. They will also save a lot of money – especially when you think that the average cost of a failed foreign assignment is a staggering $1 million ( = roughly £ 600,000).

Support ideas for expatriate spouses

Research by Nina Cole, Associate Professor of Human Resources Management, Ryerson University in Toronto into the needs of expatriate spouses highlights what kind of relocation support accompanying partners crave for. A lot of these suggestions are easy to implement and won’t cost the earth.

Here are a dozen of the ideas that emerged about support for expatriate spouses, in no particular order:

–   Support in building networks in the new location
–   Job search support (ways to find new jobs; CV/resume and interview etiquette)
–   Employer information (eg which companies employ English-speaking staff)
–   1 to 1 Career coaching and career workshops, before and after relocation
–  Support groups with other expat partners in a similar situation
–  A spouse association for networking and support
–  Access to an internal spouse liaison officer
–  Information about opportunities within larger employers
–  Assistance in setting up a business
–  Relocation assistance such as mentoring by local, well-adjusted expat spouses
–  Effective inter-cultural and language training
–  Add your own ideas. I am sure you will have other practical suggestions you could make to your spouse’s employer.

Once you are clear of what would really make a difference to your particular career situation, decide: What will you ask for? And how can you make sure you get it?

Why don’t you share what would help you make a successful career transition to a new country?

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