Part Three of our guide to what you all really need to know about relocating before you accept your international expat assignment: How will it affect the whole family?
7. What provision is there for my partner?
Relocation policies are increasingly aware of the need to keep all members of the family happy, especially when the majority of early repatriations are due to family concerns. This is reflected in many assignment packages, which include career assistance for the spouse (resume preparation, employment authorization documentation, visa assistance etc.), cultural orientation training, language training, or a lump sum to be used in any way you prefer.
If you have taken the time to create your family 5 year timeline, your expectations and goals should be clear, and you can identify whether the package (and the length of the assignment) meets the needs of the accompanying partner.
Some questions to consider include:
- Is there recognition for same-sex partnerships, and does the host location have a similar policy?
- Is there orientation and location support for the partner, or are they just expected to ‘get on with it’?
- Is there an established expat group in place to provide host country support?
- Who is expected to establish the essentials – housing, utilities etc? How much time and management does this typically take?
- Will you be legally able to work in your host country, what national and local documentation is required, and how long will the application process take?
- Will you be required to undertake local re-certification, and how long will the process take?
- How much travel will the assignment require, and will that affect the accompanying partner’s ability to work?
- Is the accompanying partner’s career appropriate for short term employment, and what would happen if the assignment duration changed?
- Is remote working a possibility, or should you consider career counseling to explore other options?
- Are there any local cultural or legal barriers to your employment?
The ability of the partner to work will depend on many things, not all of which you might expect. Visas, work permits and employment authorization will vary hugely between locations and professions, and it may be wise to get career counseling explore the option of working remotely or creating a more flexible career structure. Even those with widely transferable professions such as nursing and teaching are restricted by the need for local re-certification within the limited time span of the assignment.
Other physical factors such as local vacancies / needs, restrictions (e.g. curfews, dress codes, security issues, laws etc.) the practicalities of sustaining a family life, or even availability of childcare will affect the accompanying partners ability not just to find work, but to maintain an career long term.
8. What provision is there for my children?
The questions that apply to the accompanying partner also have relevance for any children in the family. All the standard questions for any school about curriculum, student-teacher ratios, test scores and demographics apply, but there are additional factors to consider to ensure a consistent and coherent academic pathway. For short term assignments and younger children there is more flexibility in terms of practical schooling options, but the older the children, there is a greater need for advance planning for college applications, residency requirements, academic language and funding.
- How long is the assignment, and what if it gets extended or you move to local payroll? While private schooling is the most flexible in terms of admission and curriculum, the long term expense can be prohibitive.
- Does the host location have appropriate available schooling, or will boarding school need to be considered now or in the future? Is this something you and your children are happy to consider?
- Does your child have any social, emotional or learning issues that will need special consideration? Are these needs able and likely to be met in the new location, or will you need additional resources?
- Does the new location allow for transfers between schools, or is there a limited choice? Is homeschooling supported where there are gaps in curriculum provision?
- What are the demographics of the school? Will the range of languages spoken be an advantage or a barrier to effective teaching and learning?
- Does the policy absorb the impact of international college fees, and what if we transfer during the college years?
- If your children are college age and would normally have spent summers living at home, does the package include a flight to your new location for them once per year?
- What happens when my child reaches legal adulthood? Will they be allowed to remain in the country as dependents, or will they have to apply for an independent visa?
As a rule of thumb, most expats I know have planned current schooling well, but the issues of college education have been forgotten. We are unfamiliar with the admissions process and requirements, fail to understand the importance of standardized tests, and underestimate the complexity of the fee structure.
While colleges are increasingly accepting a wide range of academic evidence for entry, there is less flexibility when it comes to funding. Short term assignments often mean that you no longer qualify for resident rates, whether national or state, regardless of your citizenship. If you have high school age children, consider the long term impact of your school and assignment choices – if you though private school was expensive, just wait until you see the college ‘international student’ rates…