9 Questions every expat partner should ask - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation

In the first of the three part series, we set the scene for some of the tougher questions – the ones that we are looking at today. No-one likes to think about what happens if things go wrong, but as the expat partner, you will have interrupted your independent income stream, be dependent on your partner for right of residency and be judged according to a set of laws that may be at odds with what you believe. In essence, you are putting yourself in a far more vulnerable position, so you need to take steps to protect yourself and your rights should something happen to your partner or your partnership. And then, hopefully, never have to think about it again..

4. What financial provisions will need to be made?

Choosing to go on international assignment in a supporting role means that you interrupt your career, even in the short term. This has potential impact on your pension (both state and company),  home country benefits entitlement (depending on the length of time you are out of your host country), earning potential, credit rating and your professional credentials and resume, so you need to be clear about your financial plans for the future, and how you will safeguard yourself.

As a dependent partner, it may be more difficult to open an individual bank account in your host country, but it is an essential part of your financial security. If something happens to your partner or your relationship, depending on the laws of the country you may lose access to any assets held jointly, and thus the ability to not only pay any bills and live in the family home but also to hire legal services. While we hate to think about a loved one being either missing, incapacitated or dead, the reality in these situations is that your legal rights are determined by the law of the land you live in. The same applies in the case of marital breakdown, and the last thing you need in a time of personal or family crisis is a financial one.

5. What if something happens to the primary visa holder in terms of country law?

Bear in mind that the transferring partner is the primary visa applicant, and in most cases, their residence in the country is dependent on their continued employment with the sponsoring company. So if your partner loses his/her job, breaks the terms of the contract, commits a crime or dies, you no longer have the right of residence, regardless of how long you have lived in the country.

For most expats on short term assignments the immediate response is to return to their home nation. However, the longer the assignment, the greater the family investment in the host location, both in terms of financial assets, education and employment history. So if you are considering seeking employment, re-entering education, have college age children or are going to invest larger sums of money, consult a legal or visa specialist to fully understand your rights.

6. Have we made legal arrangements for all dependents in the event of our death, injury or incarceration?

I am continually astonished at how few people have a Will, let alone an Advance Directive of Health Care (Living Will), a Trust or chosen guardians for their children in the event of their death. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes”, and we should be giving both the same annual attention. You should have valid copies of all of the above held by a lawyer in your home location, and additional host location ones completed as soon as you arrive. If you haven’t already heard it enough, I’ll say it again.. Laws vary, and your Embassy/Consulate can only do a certain amount to help. Most Embassies retain a list of local lawyers who speak your language, and other expats will often have recommendations or referrals. As with finding a good doctor, it’s always worth finding a good one before an emergency arises.

Photo courtesy of Musée McCord Museum. Interesting what comes up when you Google ‘Supporting Partner’..

2 Responses to 9 Questions Every Expat Partner Should Ask (Part 2)

  1. Weighty topics Rachel but important to address. The local wills issue is important – we discovered that in Belgium, if you don’t have a local will (short, handwritten!! but got to say the right stuff) and something happens to both spouses, the children are automatically taken into care pending court review. Don’t even get me started on the banking stuff – I could probably write a book of stories about my dealings with banks as an accompanying partner.

    • Rachel Yates says:

      These questions struck a chord with me too – in one particular incident, a car crash killed the working partner and one of the children. As if this wasn’t tragedy enough, the spouse and remaining two children were no longer entitled to remain in country despite having lived there for 9 years. They were put in the horrific position of having to re-enter on a tourist visa to make funeral arrangements and settle the estate, which took months because of the lack of documentation. It was a heartbreaking wake-up call for the rest of the expat community, and a poignant reminder that none of us are immortal.

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