Adjusting to expat life as an accompanying expat partner

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Moving abroad with your partner: What happens if you can’t work?

Your partner gets a fantastic new job abroad and you both agree it’s too good an opportunity to miss. You pack up, ship up and move countries. When you get there your partner starts their new job. And you? What do you do?

Like most expat partners, you will have probably given up your old career in order to make the move abroad. But what happens if you can’t find a new job in your adopted country?

If you aren’t able to find work, or for certain reasons cannot legally work in your new country, this can make a profound difference to your life and also the dynamic of your relationship. This is especially true if you have been working previously because inevitably, for want of a better word, you will be forced to take on a more traditional female role within the household. And, let’s be frank, it is usually women who fall into this non-working, accompanying partner role. Although figures are rising, the proportion of women moving their careers abroad is still very low.

This might seem fine to begin with; perhaps you’re happy in your new adventure or you might even be glad to see the back of your old job! But actually after a while, if you have been used to using your brain and interacting with peers, then taking on the traditional female role may not be enough for you. Many expats employ help in the home so you don’t even have housework to keep you busy (if that’s a thing!). And a lack of financial independence and daily boredom can have a debilitating effect.

In truth, moving abroad, not finding work and playing the ‘passive’ female role can be a real identity shift for a lot of expat partners, and often not one which is comfortable to handle.

What’s happened to the REAL me?

It’s challenging to go from a fulfilling job that gave you a sense of purpose and achievement to suddenly filling up your time dealing with all the ‘small stuff’. Where’s the fun in cooking and cleaning all day long?! I hear all sorts of comments like this all the time – this sense that you have lost some part of yourself in the move: The part of yourself that found engagement, fulfilment and worth outside of the home, outside of your relationship, outside of being a parent.

If you can’t find work and you feel frustrated or unhappy within the confines of your new life, it’s really important to work out how you can replicate the feelings that your career used to give you.

  • How you can challenge yourself mentally?
  • How can you find interaction with a group of peers?
  • How can you increase your sense of worth by contributing your skillsets or time to a greater good?


You may find it helpful to find some volunteering role if you cannot find regular work. This experience will help you make connections with your new life, present you with some potential new friends and it will give you a sense of satisfaction that you’re doing something worthwhile. The aim here is to give you back a sense of worth and some grain of your old working identity.

Not only does your professional world change when you follow your partner abroad, but your relationship will change as well. Since you are pretty much each other’s whole world at the start of your new life abroad you are also the only two people in the world who can guess what the other one is experiencing. But there will be vast differences between your experiences of your life overseas compared to your partner’s.


You must communicate during this period of change.

Try not to form assumptions about your partner’s experiences. Instead, readjust to the new standard between you both and be open to meeting any new needs in your partner. For example, your partner may not be around much as they adjust to their new job, where conversely you might need more of their presence if you are spending a lot of time alone. You need to both be more accepting of the difficulties involved in expat life and this change of balance and not necessarily expect life to continue as normal.


What’s interesting about this adjustment period is that you are both dealing with a lot of change and this change will always reveal new insights about your partner or your relationship that were perhaps hidden back home. Some of these can be fun and some of them not so fun! Ultimately be prepared to be more dependent on each other than you may be used to.

It helps if you are self-sufficient and independently-minded. If you know you’re not naturally a self-starter then it’s really important to make a much bigger effort and get out there and start to create an identity for yourself that feels compatible with the old you.

Finally, following your partner abroad can mean a lot of uncomfortable change for you if you’re not forewarned! So recognise your needs. If you’ve been used to working – rather than try to make your new ‘traditional’ identity fit you, get out there and find a sense of self and satisfaction outside of the house and be prepared for a period of change within your relationship too.

Need to talk 1-1 about your move and life overseas with someone who 'gets it'? Consider me your own, personal expat expert! I'm here for you.

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