In the previous 9 Essential Questions Every Expat Should Ask series, we discussed some of the issues that transitioning couples and families should consider before taking the decision to move. Here, we change direction, and focus on the questions that every expat partner needs answers to..
1. How long are we going for?
There is a great deal of research showing that the typical length of international assignment now falls in th 1-3 year category, but not so much highlighting how one assignment often leads to another. So when you ask the question “how long are we going for?”, I’m not referring to this particular move, but the bigger picture.. “How long do we intend to be expatriates?”
We discussed it in the previous series, but it bears repeating. As the accompanying partner, you potentially take on a more vulnerable role, losing primary visa status, independent income and possibly legal rights. You may be willing to tolerate this in the short term, but how will you address it if the assignment is extended, or a new one offered?
2 What are the role expectations?
Again, studies have shown that 86% of expatriate spouses have not only a Bachelor degree or higher, but also an established professional career. So while many take career breaks to spend time with children, their intention is to return to work at some point. International assignments often make this more problematic – not only the invalidity of professional credentials in the host country, but also the visa and EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) requirements, the complex tax issues, and the practicalities of moving, settling in, establishing a support network etc. Oh, and the difficulty in explaining to any potential employer that you are not sure exactly how long you are going to be here..
It is possible to maintain a profession, as many career expatriate partners will attest. It does, however, take planning and commitment. Many transferring companies are aware of the changing demographic of the supporting partner, and provide career services and visa support. What they can’t do is ensure employment, professional development and childcare provision, so we still circle back to the original question – who’s career will be the primary focus, who will be considered the “Trailing Spouse”and how do you both feel about this in the short and long term?
3. What legal rights do I have in the host country?
Expatriate assignments are global, and increasingly include destinations with very different laws and legal systems. While you are not expected to have an in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of the legal system, it’s vital you understand the laws that personally affect you.. The rights of women, the custody of children, same sex partnerships, and any other laws that may differ significantly from those of your home location should be considered, as well as what legal support is provided in the event of a brush with the law.
The majority of accompanying partners are women, and depending on the location, legal rights that are previously taken for granted may not apply locally. The same applies for same sex partnerships. Ask about common expat legal issues in your host location, so that you can take steps to avoid them if possible, but also plan for the worst case. You may have a valid Will, Advanced Directive of Healthcare (Living Will), Power of Attorney and named beneficiary in your home country, but are they valid in your host country, and do you have access to the legal services to enforce them should the unthinkable happen?
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress