Tag Archives: kids

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture.

(Often Ignored) Expat Essentials – Writing a Will.

Yes, I know. You don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it, which is why I have been getting shifty looks from most of my expat network this week when I asked them the seemingly simple question: “Do you have a will?” Want to know how many people said “Yes”?

Two. Out of about thirty people, all of whom have high net worth, children from at least one relationship, and often dual citizenship / resident status. A little worrying, no? 

I can’t claim the moral high ground – we recently unearthed our Will, dusty from 10 years in an unmarked cardboard box in a storage container in Walthamstow. Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned. So on her behalf, I am doing something about it… Here goes.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture. I have a new dirty word: intestate. For those of you who have been living a carefree life of blissful indifference, it’s what happens when you don’t have a will. For non-expats, the implications are unpleasant: it gives the state responsibility and control over the division of your estate, decisions about who will take care of your dependents, the timeframe it all happens and (of course) access to a large chunk of your assets via taxes.

It’s a simple fix – a Will. It’s the document that tells those left behind what you want to happen to your dependents and estate.  Most of us overthink it, imagining a torturous process requiring three weeks of desperate hunting for title deeds and old bank statements. Nothing could be further from the truth – the best wills are simple statements of intent, which give executors something to work with and a few clues about where you have hidden your treasure. Combine that with a good estate planning lawyer and you will create a plan that saves everyone time, money and heartache at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Introducing first part of the Defining Moves “Ducks in a Row” program. Our aims are simple:

  • To inspire you to act. Right now. Because this is important.
  • To get you to the lawyer on time. We want to prompt to you think, discuss, list and plan, so that any legal advice you get is based on reality, not just the bits you could remember in the car on the way to the lawyer’s office. And make sure that when whoever prepares your will asks a question, you know the answer and are not paying $300 per hour for them to watch you think about it / argue with your spouse / try to remember whether or not you mailed the last life insurance premium.

So grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started…


Step one: The People.

There are three groups of people you need to consider when drafting a Will;

  1. your dependents
  2. your beneficiaries
  3. your executors



These are the people who rely on you for some sort of care, support and/or protection. Traditionally, these were children still living at home, but modern families are often complicated with blended families, shared custody arrangements, adoptive children, elder relatives and even pets added to the mix. Thankfully, lawyers have seen it all before, and, even better if you have a family as nutty as mine, are sworn to secrecy…

Make of the list of those who you are responsible for, whether physically, socially, financially or legally, and the type of care you provide. Keep it simple – the rest can be figured out later – at this stage, your task is to create a comprehensive list.

Now list any special circumstances that will have to be addressed.  For many families, this may involve shared custody, child support or special needs but for expats there may also be issues of differing nationalities, citizenship and resident status that may have tax and legal implications.

For those of you with your own business, bear in mind that you may also have professional responsibility for continuity of care of clients – check your licensing organization or professional code of conduct if you are unsure.



Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate – usually immediate descendants, siblings, friends and charities. Typically, assets are divided equally between your children, so if you want to use a different split, make this clear to your lawyer so that they can prevent your will being subject to legal contest. Note also that laws differ about division of assets when you die intestate – half siblings, step and adoptive children are often treated differently, and the portion of the estate automatically assigned to the spouse varies widely internationally.

If you have any other people or organizations who you want to leave money to, add them to your list now.


Executors, Financial Guardians and Legal Guardians.

It’s your group of guardian angels, so pick wisely. These are people who you trust to administer your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out, to care for your dependents and to manage the finances of the beneficiaries if they are unable to do so. The roles carry huge responsibility, so discuss whether or not your intended choices are both willing and able. They can be family members, friends or lawyers; typically, lawyers are paid (and aren’t given custody of the children…) whereas family and friends are less likely to be.

Note that guardianship differs from child custody: while custody refers to the physical care provided by a parent (who may have no legal powers), legal guardianship may involve physical and/or legal custody, and continues until the child reaches adulthood or the guardian’s death. By contrast, especially in the modern family, custody is far more flexible and changes according to the situations of the parents.

Here’s where expats need to be especially careful, because the local laws may be very different to those of your home nation and custody / guardianship arrangements and next of kin may not follow familiar rules. In the UAE, for instance, if no will is in place, Sharia law prevails, meaning that assets and custody of children potentially follow the male line – your husband / partner’s parents, brothers and sisters. How is your relationship with your mother-in-law, by the way?


Step Two: The Money

Your estate is the sum total of your assets, and while many of you will be rolling your eyes that I am pointing out the obvious, I can guarantee that there will be plenty of things that you will have forgotten. The temptation is to run to the filing cabinet / junk drawer and fish out the most recent bank statement, and start noting down numbers, but don’t. Your assets are constantly changing, so you only need to include categories – current and savings accounts, property, jewelry stocks, shares, businesses, investment accounts, life insurance, digital assets (websites, videos etc) – and where those assets are held. For a starter list, click here for pdf cheat sheet.

While you are making your list, make note of who your beneficiaries are, and how they are reported. Typically, life insurance goes to the spouse, but in a world where divorce rates run at about 45%, there are a huge number of exes who are still listed as primary beneficiary. Take note, and make any necessary changes…


Step Three: The Decisions

Now that you have the information, you can start making decisions about how to pass on your legacy, human or otherwise. Your key priorities are the welfare of your dependents, so start with those and work from there.

Guardianship of dependents.

Who do you want to care for your dependents if you are no longer around to do so? Depending on the complexity of your family and the types of dependents, there may be more than one answer to this question, so set it all out clearly, naming each dependent individually. Talk to all the parties concerned before you head to the lawyer’s office – you may be surprised to hear who your children would hate to live with, or which relative is intending to move to Outer Mongolia next month – to prevent return visits. Factors that may affect your decision are not just emotional – also consider location (how will your children feel about leaving the country, for instance), age and health of potential guardians, relationship with other friends and family, support network and financial ability to provide care.

Include financial provision for your dependents and decide who you want to manage your estate for them if they are still minors. In many cases, life insurance helps to cover the cost of raising children, but once you include the cost of college education it may not go as far as you think.

Financial, legal and professional dependent provision will require discussion with your lawyer and with those who you nominate to take over; the good news is that if planned in advance, the process is straightforward (and certainly infinitely preferable to leaving your legal advisor / executor to try to unravel the mess in your absence).


Step Four: The Division

This is the fun bit, providing you have money to leave. But before you start divvying up between your offspring and the local cat protection league, here are a few pointers:

  1. Remember that your debts and liabilities (taxes, funeral expenses, etc) will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. You can offset many of these by establishing a Trust, which will will talk about in the next chapter, but for the moment, just remember to include your loans, debts and other obligations when you are cataloging your estate.
  2. Ensure that you own your assets outright before you will them away. Anything jointly owned needs careful consideration to avoid passing on a headache rather than a well-intentioned gift. If you hadn’t already discussed future plans with the co-owner(s), now is the time to do so.
  3. Now is not the time to make a point. Sure, you may have favorites, but remember that in many cases you are not just leaving behind a bequest, but a lifetime of family discord and ill-feeling – not to mention legal challenges. It may seem a lovely idea to leave the bulk of your estate to your newest grandchild/ favorite nephew or next door neighbor, but the resulting fallout can often sour the best of intentions. The same rules apply for property – find out which mementos, furniture or jewelry are most loved by your friends and family, and divide accordingly, informing all of them who has been given what. That way, any discussions, disagreements or disappointments can be directed at you, rather than unwitting recipients.
  4. While we are on the subject of leaving objects to people, think carefully about whether they want them, and the responsibility you are handing over. It’s difficult to part with things, no matter how ugly, unwanted or expensive to maintain without feeling disloyal to the person who gifted it.

Now you have done the difficult bit, it’s time to put pen to paper and make a rough outline to take to the lawyer’s office. If you are an expat, you may be advised to get legal input from both your home and host nation perspective – while the laws of your home nation usually take precedence, extended residence overseas may change the rules, so be sure to explain the situation rather than making assumptions.

You need to include:

  • Your name, and identifying details (usually your address, but if you are an expat, you will need to clarify your domicile (primary place of residence) with an experienced lawyer – it has significant tax and legal implications.
  • Names of beneficiaries; the people and organizations you want to leave your assets (whether money, housing, land, stock options, digital assets etc ).
  • The name of your executor (the person responsible for making sure your wishes are met).
  • Guardians of your dependents – Legal and physical.
  • Who gets what.
  • Your legal advisor should also include a “residual clause” that states the recipient for any assets you forgot to mention, or have been accrued since you wrote your will. “I bequeath any residue to” should take care of it.
  • Signature and date, with initials and date on every page.

Congratulations if you made it to this point- you are well on your way. In the next post, we’ll be introducing the fun stuff.. Planning your funeral, Living Wills and frustrating the tax man.

Bet you can hardly wait.


Further Resources:

Nolo.com – Legal encylopedia – Wills

USA.gov – advice on writing both social media and regular wills.

UK Citizens Advice Bureau information on writing a will.

Australia. gov – Resources on wills and power of attorney

Tools for Transition - Expat Parenting Resources. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner and international assignment

Expat Parenting: Relocation Resources for Parents, Expat Children and Cross Culture Kids

Tools for Transition - Expat Parenting Resources. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner and international assignmentExpat parenting is tricky. Brookfield’s 2012 Global Relocation Trends survey reported that 43% of international assignments involved families with children and for those of us who make up that statistic, it’s a constant balancing act – wanting our newly expat children to experience the world, other cultures and languages, while trying desperately not to scar them for life with constant upheaval. As a parent whose oldest child announced in February that we had “ruined his life” only to be startled by a choice of college major that involved global travel, it appears we are never going to get it right. Still, in the interests of improving my (obviously poor) expat parenting rating, I have compiled a list of relocation resources that others in the same boat can turn to in their hour(s) of need…

Full disclosure. I have received no compensation from anyone for this post (unless you count the three bars of Australian Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut chocolate that Trisha Carter of the CICollective smuggled into FIGT 2013 for me. But as she managed to inadvertently leave with my Burberry sunglasses and signed copy of An Inconvenient Posting, I would argue that I still have the financial moral high ground..), and the opinions expressed are my own.



The brainchild of psychologist and Intercultural specialist Trisha Carter, this comprehensive resource provides ebooks, webinars, podcasts and an Ask the Expert forum for families going through global transition. There are plenty of excellent tools and information for the adult family members (the CICollective has one of the best family-centered transition collections I have seen), the resources aimed at children are down to earth, useable and address the needs of the different age groups individually.

Trisha’s passion and expertise shines through in the attention to detail and very personal feel, while her use of professional educators in developing each child-centred resource means that you get the best possible advice from both perspectives. Access to the site is provided through individual or corporate membership, and the monthly newsletters announcing the latest offerings testify to Trisha’s awe-inspiring work ethic.. Visit the CiCollective here.


Pixie’s New Home

Written by Emmanuelle Payot Karpathakis, herself an expat and mother of CCKs, Pixie’s New home is a wonderful way to introduce young children to the idea of moving, addressing many the emotions and challenges of relocation. Beautiful illustrations allow even pre-readers to follow Pixie’s experiences, encouraging children to ask questions and discuss concerns with parents, while keeping hold of the excitement, the hopes and the potential for new friends and adventures.

Pixie’s New Home is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Russian, with both more languages and adventures to come.

Read more about Pixie here


Transitional Learning.

At the recent FIGT conference, I was mesmerized by a stuffed caterpillar (complete with tiny wings) making it’s way around the halls. It was accompanied by Dr Jill Kristal, a clinical psychologist who, along with her colleagues at Transitional Learning, specializes in supporting individuals and families through transition. The company  produces the excellent ‘Our Move‘ range of resources that help stimulate discussion and address the issues of moving from a child’s perspective. They are tools that I wish I had known about when we first started moving, and reflect both Jill’s personal and professional experiences of expat life, being both simple, accessible and genuinely fun to use. They focus not just on the challenges ahead, but also on a wider perspective – questions like ‘What will you be glad to leave behind?” (inevitably one of the teachers) and “Who do you think is most excited about moving?” prompt children to see the move from a family perspective rather than a solely personal one.

As for the caterpillar? It’s a testament to Jill’s commitment to encouraging others that she should come to a conference carrying a product by another company rather than promoting her own – in this case Kimochis, a series of seven different soft toys designed to help children express their emotions. Bugs (the name of aforementioned creature) was brought to FIGT specifically because he “is afraid of change and has to work on being brave and preparing himself for something new”. Each character comes with a set three ‘feelings’ which can be tucked into the toy’s tummy to reflect the feelings of it’s owner, so it was fascinating to watch Bug’s (and Jill’s!) progress over the two days.  Frankly, some days I could do with one all of my own..


Sea Change Mentoring

Sea Change Mentoring is an organization founded by the dynamic Ellen Mahoney, which pairs teens in global transition with mentors who have already successfully navigated expat childhood and adolescence. As a parent of a teen, I am all too aware of the need for communication outside of the occasional grunt, but am stymied by the fact that my status as parent automatically excludes me from any meaningful dialogue. Meanwhile, life on the move means young adults don’t necessarily have access to friends and family who understand the challenges, and parents who are struggling with their own adaptations. Enter SeaChange Mentors, who I like to think of as Expat Life tutors, allowing teens to work through the problems and confusion of nomadic life in a safe space with expertise and real life experience – and let the parents simply be parents.

Mentoring (like most of teenage life..) is carried out online by professional mentors, and while there is a well developed curriculum underpinning the program, the focus remains firmly on the needs of the individual. It’s online format means that the  mentoring relationship is portable, and so can provide a welcome source of stability at a time when everything else is in transition.



While we are on the subject of the challenges of raising a teen, let me introduce you to Arborbridge. If you haven’t already heard of them, they are an online tutoring resource that, in their words “connect students all over the world to America’s most elite tutors.”. Which sounds ambitious, but if their website is anything to go by, they are doing a darn good job.

It’s a problem that most expats face; no matter how bright the child, how distinguished the school or how smooth the transition, there will be gaps in knowledge – both your child’s, and your own. The time spent moving, the impact of change or simply the differences in curricula between locations means that vital information will be missing, and when it comes to pre-college entry tests, the consequences of being unprepared get serious.

Enter Arborbridge. They provide an interactive tutoring platform for making college entry testing – the SAT and ACT – available globally, providing access not only to experienced, talented tutors (and let’s face it, finding decent tutors is an ongoing parental headache), but also to a full range of services to help you navigate the college admission minefield process.. The site also features free information on a range of high school curricula (the International Baccalaureate, for instance), international college applications, recommended / required standardized testing and links to all the relevant websites, so if (like me) you are struggling with the whole college entry issue, you might want to head over there..


The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition

It’s easy to think that once our children have made it to college, that all the challenges of a nomadic life magically disappear. In reality, college bound CCK’s often find that a lifetime spent away from the country that they think of as home has left them with more in common with international students than their fellow nationals. It’s an issue that expat parent, adult TCK, cross-cultural trainer and author  Tina Quick addresses in her groundbreaking book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.

Tina’s passion, expat experiences and commitment to better preparing families for transition make this book a must read for anyone who has a college bound child. She clearly explains the challenges that they may face, using the voices of students themselves to introduce each section. Most importantly, Tina highlights practical suggestions for tackling each issue – and when I say practical, I mean it. It’s like sending your child off into the world with a reliable friend, an extra parent and a wise counselor all in one, and if there was one essential textbook that should be on every expat student list, it’s this one.


Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog. Defining Moves, Relocation Resources for the Trailing Spouse

Unconventional but Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog

Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog. Defining Moves, Relocation Resources for the Trailing Spouse

I’m writing this in the relative comfort of my bedroom, with the morning sun streaming through the windows, surrounded by the sight and sound of rampaging dogs. It’s chaos in here, a sea of wagging tails, mock growls and flying fur. And every so often, the smiling face of the Feisty One pops up from the middle, pausing in her efforts to teach three mentally challenged canines ever more elaborate tricks.

It’s madness and sanity all at once.

We discovered by accident that dogs are part of our essential expat coping equipment. Our first ‘expat therapy’ dog was Murphy, a stray from the wilds of Ireland, who was abandoned on the ferry to Wales where we adopted him. God knows how he got on the ferry, but it was only the first journey in a life spent globe trotting.


When the OH was transferred to London, Murphy spent hours peering out af the car window at the passing landscape alongside the M4, the main motorway that runs between London to Wales where the children and I still lived. Over the course of his travels, he brought a gentlemanly raffishness to the elegant paths of Holland Park, was joined by Hedgehog (another stray mutt) in Kenya and spent 3 years lounging in the sun in LA.

By the time we moved to San Francisco, his teeth looked like he had spent his life chewing tobacco, and his breath was so incredibly rancid that we did the 6 hour LA – SF drive with the windows wound down.
He died earlier this year and my heart broke a little, but he taught us a powerful lesson about the value of dogs in expat family transitions. Here are Murphy’s Laws.


You have a friend from day one.

Transitions are hard on everyone, especially the kids, and we all need someone impartial to talk to. Dogs make incredible listeners, stroking and scratching make excellent use of anxious hand movements, and dogs understand pitch and tone of voice far more than we do, so they know when you are upset. Should you need to throw something, make it a ball. Do it over and over until you’ve worked out whatever frustrations are driving you, safe in the knowledge that it’s making both of you happier…


They get you out of the house.

One of the hardest parts of any change is facing the new world on the first day. If every journey begins with a single step, it’s much easier when someone is physically pulling you out there, desperate to find out about the sights, sounds and smells of your new environment. Just remember the other rule of kindergarten: Clear up your mess.


You find unexpected friends.

Dogs get you to places that you wouldn’t ordinarily go and to meet people that you you wouldn’t normally meet. Take the cargo section of Jomo Kenyatta airport for instance – not the most obvious place to find a new best friend, but when you see another linen clad, jet lagged, disheveled dog-owning Brit already in heated negotiations with the customs official, you have a feeling you may have been sent a soulmate. You know nothing more about them than that they own a dog, but that is enough.


You don’t need words.

We get tied up in the need to speak clearly, but time spent with a dog teaches you how irrelevant words are in forming relationships. Dogs remind us that the best way to understand one another is to learn a language together, that friendship, fun and laughter don’t always require words, and that what you do is far more important than what you say.


Dogs bring a sense of permanence.

Our family motto is “no one left behind’, and the pets are part of that. The Marines (who we stole that particular phrase from) talk about how there is a comfort and security in knowing that whatever happens, everyone stays together, and the same is true for our family life. It is an acknowledgement of the magnitude of what we leave behind, that the move must be important enough to go to the effort and expense of transferring the WHOLE family.


Or to paraphrase George Orwell;

With four legs we’re good. Just two legs? Bad.

Call center hell lines - part of the Trailing Spouse blog | Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Call Center Hell Lines

Call Centre Hell Lines - Part of the Trailing Spouse Blog | Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation


I like things in life portable, mainly because carrying and unpacking boxes gets really old after the first hour, let alone the days it usually takes. I don’t have a desktop computer, I have a laptop. Our TV is tiny, we have a projector for family viewing, I have a single drawer for paperwork and I only own 4 cooking pans. I like to keep things simple.

Recently, I bought a Roku. It is a cunning gizmo the size of a pack of cards which plugs into your TV  (or in our case, projector) and uses a wireless internet connection to stream TV and movies to your living room, avoiding the use of a laptop.

This is excellent news for me, because I run my entire life from my laptop. It serves as my landline telephone, photo storage, office, website hub, bank and general second brain. Which is why I get a very nervous eye twitch every time it leaves my field of vision, especially in the grubby hands of a small child off to watch SpongeBob Squarepants.

Hence the Roku. And an evening of Call Centre Hell.

Initially, it looked promising. Our Costco version was supplied with a cable that made installation so simple a hamster could have done it, we remembered our modem password without having to climb into the attic with a torch, and so we laughed in the face of adversity.

Until the little “Unable to connect to your Local Network” prompt appeared.

At this point, we were forced to enter the festering pit my son calls his bedroom, boot up his desktop and call up the router settings. Nothing.

A note to the unwary – teenagers think they know everything, and have finely honed fast twitch muscles in their fingers from years of video game use. Faced with an unknown password, instinct kicked in, and one keystroke later the only person in the house able to get on the internet was Wiggy. 

The last time we couldn’t access the internet, I called ‘Mike’ in Bangalore, who was unfailingly polite but somewhat limited by the script provided for him. After 6 futile hours cycling through the same procedure without any change in outcome, he broke,  shouted “I cannot help you any more” followed by a dial tone. The technician that arrived the following day was able to spot the problem immediately, not through any greater skill, but simply because he could physically see that we didn’t actually have a modem.. Poor Mike didn’t stand a chance.

This time, I took a different approach. Hooking my neighbor’s (conveniently unsecured) wireless network to the Roku support page produced “No Results Found” in foot high letters on the living room wall, leading me to believe that either their customer service page needs a little more work, or I am the only idiot that can’t set up a Roku.

Despite immense patience and an hour and a half in an online queue, I was similarly unsuccessful with the Roku LiveChat, at which point a red mist clouded my vision. I vaguely remember leaning heavily on Wiggy’s shoulder and mutter dire threats in his ear, and I faintly recall a hissing noise coming from either my mouth or my ears.

Wherever it came from, it was effective, because five minutes later connection was restored and I was considering authoring a guide to the Idi Amin approach to parenting.

When we finally got a picture, it was heaven. There was laughter, there was cheering, there was celebration.

And when all that died down, there was silence.

Using the projector with a laptop sends sound via the wireless speakers.

Use the Roku and a projector, and you are faced with a silent evening doing voice overs to Monty Python sketches…

Charades, anyone?


9 Questions every expat spouse should ask (part 3) - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation

9 Questions Every Expat Partner Should Ask (Part 3)

9 Questions every expat spouse should ask (part 3) - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation
The Original Portable Career?


7. Who retains custody of any children in the event of a breakdown of the marriage / partnership, and can this be enforced?

We’ve talked about the financial provisions needed to ensure that dependents are taken care of, but as the accompanying partner, you also want to understand how the laws of your home and host nation define your rights as a parent, because there is huge global variation.

The types of family going on international assignment are increasingly diverse, with blended family make-ups and complex parenting and care arrangements, none of which are reflected in many of the host country laws.  In Britain for instance, mothers tend to be given primary custody, while under Sharia law fathers have the greater rights. Same sex partnerships are often not even recognized, or in the worst case, illegal.

So, before you go:

  1. understand your parental rights in your host country.
  2. discuss the issue with your partner to reach a consensus,
  3. include custody as part of your written legal arrangements.

8. Is it possible for me to work, both in legal, financial and practical terms?

Many transferring employers now purchase career support services for the accompanying partner, recognizing the need / desire to continue a career in the new location. But don’t confuse support with legal right to work (as specified by your visa) or the authorization to work (Employment Authorization Document, Social Security number, Tax ID etc).

However, the legal issues are just part of the picture. Ask yourself whether it is feasible for the supporting partner to work in the new location, bearing in mind the potential language and cultural barriers, professional certification requirements, time spent managing the move, childcare requirements, and the need for an understanding employer who will work around the assignment constraints of the primary visa holder.

Happily, with the advent of the internet, Skype, remote working, increasing number of contracted services and Jo Parfitt’s Career in your Suitcase guide, there are a far wider range of options available that reflect the need for flexibility that is required.

9. How does this move affect my career and earning potential long term?

It’s full circle time. Remember our first question, asking “How long will I be going for?”. Here’s the final wake-up call. Many, many spouses have taken a leave of absence and agreed to a short term assignment, only to discover themselves 11 years later on a third continent, having never made it back to work.. (Yes, I speak from experience.)

Realistically, a two year break on your resume can be explained, but more than that and you are starting to look at professional development updates, recertification and the need for more current references. So before you go, consider what your long term career goals are, if any.

If paid employment is important to you, consider whether your current career is portable, whether you can continue it on a remote working basis, whether it has the flexibility and demand to sustain multiple moves, what financial investment is required or whether you can use the relocation as a catalyst for change.

It’s a conundrum. I love the potential for  discovery and reinvention that relocation provides, but at the same time, my lack of planning means that I forfeited ten years of earning potential, pension contributions and resume building. So while it has given me the push to search for purpose rather than simply a pay packet, finding the confidence to re-enter the workforce after ten years is hard, and has required me to start from scratch – with the associated pay scale.


Photo courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums 

The Care and Management of Teenage Boys - Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation

The Care and Management of Teenage Sons

The Care and Management of Teenage Boys - Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation

It’s the weekend, and I thought you deserved a little break from all the intense debate that the 9 questions every expat spouse should ask series. The final part will be out tomorrow, but in the mean time, enjoy my the latest family foray into parenting advice. I don’t think Supernanny has anything to fear just yet..

My sister and I have recently been pondering the challenges of raising teenage sons. To be fair, I have the advantage here – not because I boast any special parenting skills, but because her son is eighteen months older than mine, and so I benefit greatly from advance warning of the inevitable crises. It helps.

She, however, has the upper hand in terms of professional training, for while I spent ten years as a college tutor developing the steely eyed gaze necessary to make 17 year old males give written account of their transgressions and the steps required to resolve them, she used to teach Kindergarten and so assumes a low level of understanding and even less compliance. She is also more familiar with chaos, incontinence and uncontrollable tantrums..

So here are our top three tools for managing the behavioral challenges of teenage sons; namely poor attention span, endless hours in the bathroom and the obsession with all things electronic. For the benefit of mothers everywhere, there is the comments section at the bottom for you all to add your own..


Dry wipe markers.

Ignore your local office supply store when they try to sell you and expensive board or piece of glass to accompany your dry erasable marker – teenagers  spend endless hours gazing in the mirror, so capitalize on this by writing any messages directly on the glass. Not only does it take more than a single push of a button to delete your instructions, you get the added benefit of introducing them to the world of household cleaning products at the same time. If at any time their attention begins to wander or their response rate drops, simply employ time-honored passive aggressive tactics by writing “I love you, by precious little boy” or “Don’t forget to kiss Teddy goodnight” just before his friends arrive.. Perfect

Pair of scissors.

When birthdays come around and gaming systems are requested, we feel a warm glow at the excitement lighting up their little faces. This warm glow quickly turns to a smoldering rage when we realize that we are now completely superfluous to needs, apart from routine cupboard and fridge filling, and the occasional bout of laundry. Thankfully for parents across the globe, Tesla’s wireless electricity system was never taken seriously, so every electronic recreation device requires some sort of periodic or consistent charge. Careful hiding of batteries can help, but for a more permanent solution, there are scissors. Let me tell you from experience, nothing gets a teenager’s attention quicker than a severed power cable. Just remember to unplug it first, okay?

Shower pebble.

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as constant hot water. We had an immersion hot water heating system that took at least 30 minutes to heat, and a very large metal bathtub. This meant that washing in the morning was done on a swift and conservative basis (which as the bathroom maintained a sub zero temperature, was no sacrifice) and baths were only ever taken in the evening, on a strict rotation.
It seems strange that at some pivotal moment during their development, boys switch from a hysterical loathing of personal bathing, to permanent residence in the bathroom. And while I am great advocate of personal hygiene in the adolescent male, the endless billowing clouds of steam from unattended showers and the massive utility bills begin to grate on my nerves. Hence the water pebble. This cunning device has an inbuilt timer which is preset by any adult who happens to read the instruction leaflet. It then sits innocently in the bottom of the shower, only triggered into action when the water starts running. It’s insignificant green pulse switches to a more insistent amber flash when you have two minutes left, until at that ‘time’s up’ moment, all Hell breaks loose in the shape of a pulsating red strobe more commonly seen on the roof of police vehicles..

The one we ditched..

Computer time limiter.

 I can’t compete with kittens on YouTube, bloopers on damnyouautocorrect.com, or the general insanity that is Facebook. What I can do, however, is set rules for the game. Enter, a genius program which allows you to limit the screen time they have access to. In an ideal world, I’d make them generate their own electricity using pedal power, but until that day comes, I’m comforting myself with pulling the virtual plug.

Update. I was wrong. Teenage boys are far more tech savvy than we can ever hope to be, and what starts out as a tool to manage them deteriorates quickly into a cyber battle for supremacy which parents inevitably lose. I have resorted to the a more effective, low tech solution (see “scissors”)..

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress



Tools for the Expat Mother - A Harley Davidson and a tattoo. From the Defining Moves Trailing Spouse blog

What every Mother needs for Mother’s Day.. A Harley and a Tattoo.

Tools for the Expat Mother - A Harley Davidson and a tattoo. From the Defining Moves Trailing Spouse blogI turned 40 last year, and in an effort to do something noteworthy, I contemplated getting a Harley and a tattoo to mark my birthday. Sadly, I am rather fickle, and despite months of research into tattoo designs, I failed to find anything that I would want to look at for the next 30+ years, especially when you take sagging into account.

However, this week, what formerly had seemed wild and reckless finally morphed into a practical solution for the chaos that is my life.

Picture the scene. It was 7.30 am, and I was sitting in an aging Volvo with two kids and three dogs in nose to tail traffic. The Volvo has seen this sort of use for the last 5 years, and is starting to develop it’s own particular bouquet. It was also noisy – the kids were bickering, the dogs were whining with excitement about the impending walk, and the worn shock absorbers emitted a high-pitched squeal every time anyone so much as blinked.

It’s the sort of daily ordeal that keeps the manufacturers of migraine medication very, very rich.

As I sat there contemplating whether I had the strength left to wrestle with the child proof cap on the Migraleve, a glorious apparition sailed by in the opposite direction, untouched by human cares. It was a Harley Fat Boy, and despite the hour, the traffic and the high density of teenage drivers, the rider had a huge grin on his face.

It was a message from above for every harassed mother, and it’s my duty to share it. We all need a Harley and a tattoo. Just imagine…

The Simplicity. Cluttering up a Harley is impossible. There’s nowhere to stuff, drop or hang anything, and anything carelessly left behind is swiftly tackled by a twist of the throttle and the wind speed factor. No tennis balls, sweet wrappers, biscuit crumbs and PTA letters bulging from every orifice. If you really need to carry it, it’d better be bolted on. So you definitely can’t take the dogs..

The Quiet.  It’s all about the helmet. They’re fully lined with inch thick foam, which drowns out everything but the sound of the engine and the blood rushing to your head. No squabbling, no “I forgot my homework”, no ” I need a cow costume by tomorrow”. Just glorious peace. I’ve already bought one for general day-to-day use.

The Privacy. There are five of them in total, and if they’re not squabbling, they’re watching or listening. Put on mascara and they want to know where I’m going; leave Nordstrom bags in the car and they’re rummaging through my purchases, and if my phone chirps out a reminder, they demand to know where I’m going for lunch. It’s a nightmare. The Harley, however, has one comfortable seat, and one very high perch for the passenger, meaning that their entire attention is focused on maintaining a death grip and staying on board. So they are unable to to squabble (only one space), change the radio station  or even open their eyes long enough to critique your driving.

The tattoo is more a form of expat survival. I have now had so many different numbers applied to my identity that I am incapable of retaining so much as the four digit PIN number for my debit cards, and people are beginning to refer to me as ‘Your Majesty’ for my constant failure to carry cash. It’s getting a little awkward, but my interfering Other Half has refused to let me continue the practice of writing the PIN number on my card in Sharpie.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and I think I might treat myself. I’m going to get it tattooed on my person.

The only dilemma that remains is the location of the tattoo. Banking guidelines are boringly insistent on the need to keep your pin number hidden from general view, which rules out most potential sites. The only other option involves peering strangely down the front of my trousers, which is all very well, but they have video cameras in ATMs these days.

Perhaps I should keep my new helmet on, just in case..


Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 2)

It’s the second part of our guide to avoiding relocation disaster – and the same rules apply for domestic moves, diplomatic postings and international assignments. So before you sign on the dotted line, here’s numbers 4 and 5 of the essential questions that every relocating expat should ask.. If you missed the first part, you can catch it here.

4. What support is available? If you answered the first three questions, you already have an idea of what support you’ll need – so here’s where you have a clear conversation with HR about what support services are in place to meet those needs. Many packages seem lavish to the casual observer, but when you scratch the surface, the services included are not always right for your family needs.

Schools, for instance. While the local schools may be excellent, if you are on a 2-3 year contract with a high school age child. you need a curriculum that accepted by their target college rather than a host location one. If the relocation package doesn’t include funding for private schooling, your salary has effectively been reduced by anything up to $30,000 per child, per year.

Increasing numbers of assignments are to developing markets – India, China and Africa – all of which need considerable amounts of cultural orientation and language training. Does the package include enough for you to be able to function effectively and meet your personal goals outside the home or workplace? Shopping, medical visits, dealing with bureaucracy – all are a very real part of the transition, and all involve interpersonal communication.

These examples are gleaned from experience, and the best way to understand what support is needed is to see it firsthand. Hence number 5.

5. Do we get a family pre-visit? In my mind, the pre-visit is vital to a successful relocation – there is no substitute for seeing firsthand the challenges that you all will be facing. Throughout the assignment process, your life transition is facilitated by people whom you have never met, and who are deciding your needs for you. The pre-visit is your chance to see what they got right, and what they have wrong.

The biggest mistake people make is to use the pre-visit purely to find housing. This is wrong for two reasons:

  1. it means you agreed to the assignment based on a very small amount of information and
  2. the time is better spent identifying the challenges you face, not choosing floor plans.

So what should you be doing? Sadly, not staying in the hotel enjoying room service, or visiting the local tourist sights. Your goal is to recreate daily life, in all it’s glory, using the information that you put together in the previous steps. Look at neighborhoods, visit schools, experience traffic and commute times, do some grocery shopping, and most of all, talk to other expat residents.

Listen carefully to what they are telling you about the good, the bad and the plain ugly of your new home. Not all  of their concerns will be problems for you, but you can count complaints about the weather, issues with utilities, security, traffic and schools being pretty universal.

Once everyone has given you the low down and dirty, listen carefully to the concerns of your own family. The work environment will be more familiar and (usually) more supportive, whereas everyone outside of work is flying solo, and your package needs to acknowledge and make allowances for that. With “62% of all refusals to accept an international posting .. family related” and “34% of expatriates return from assignment prematurely because of family concerns”, this pre-visit is a time for the whole family to identify the potential pitfalls and possible ‘deal breakers’ while you still have time and negotiation on your side.


Tales of woe from the roaming professionals

Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey


Top 10 Concerns of Expats #4 – Defining Moves Version

8. Standard of Living

“Few people willingly move abroad to accept a lower standard of living – there are exceptions of course such as those who volunteer to help in nations affected by wars or dire economic circumstances.  The majority of us move abroad expecting to find or achieve a better or equal standard of living to what we previously enjoyed – but everything from the cost of living to the availability and quality of infrastructure can impact this.”  (Shelter Offshore)

Concerns of Relocating Expats - Standard Of Living

What most of the studies don’t show is that we have a mental idea of what our new life will be life that doesn’t just revolve around granite kitchen countertops and a pool. I for one had a mental image of expat life in Kenya as a cross between Out of Africa and Gone with the Wind, with martinis, perfectly pressed linen clothing and a serene demeanor featuring heavily. I would finally have the time to write a book, master yoga and cook gourmet meals. Hours spent on the phone trying to get my electricity / phone / internet reconnected (an oft repeated task that had no relationship to whether I had paid the bill in person, by mail or at a bank) and days spent sobbing with loneliness did not ever appear in my fantasy life. So when we talk about standard of living, the corporate assumption is that all we are expecting is physical comforts like modern housing, air-conditioning and household help, and while we need to be aware of the cost and availability of the ‘home comforts’ that we consider essential, they are not the route to expat happiness. What we also should know is that more time can be spent managing staff than the work itself would take, that the cost of air-conditioning is not just in electricity, but also in time spent locating a repairman and then waiting at home when he doesn’t appear for the fifth time, and your elegant clothing makes you stick out like a sore thumb in the local markets..

Try to articulate your anticipated life before you go, and then compare it to the average lifestyle of the local and expat population to see whether you are really being realistic. Most physical comforts can be achieved with a little planning and effort, but you may find that once you are there, they no longer have the same appeal. Thinking of your standard of living in a holistic way allows you to sort the needs from the wants, and will give you a far better chance of contentment long term.

9. Bureaucracy / Corruption

“No matter where in the world you live you will always face bureaucracy – and by its very nature bureaucracy is usually mind numbingly ridiculous – but as an expat it’s so much worse because it is foreign bureaucracy so it is even more unintelligible, nonsensical, impossible to understand and yet imperative.”  (Shelter Offshore)

I like to think of bureaucracy as a hoop that has to be jumped through. The difficulty is in defining where exactly the hoop is, and how high we have to jump to get through it. And while I think of corruption as someone with the power to move the hoop to make getting through easier or harder, I also happen to know that there are plenty of ‘jobsworth’ civil servants and who may not be corrupt, but are just as unhelpful.

Getting frustrated with it is universal and understandable, but doesn’t change the fact that it exits, and you still need to get though it. If you have a corporate relocation package, your company may have already hired a professional to guide you though and expedite the process. As an individual, your local and expat network will prove invaluable, because everyone will have already have jumped through those hoops and can give you advice. And as a final note – try not to get angry. I have yet to hear of a situation where it helped, but by contrast, I have many, many personal experiences where staying calm, smiling and asking very, very nicely for help has smoothed the way for everything from getting school places to US visa appointments.

10. Raising Children

I’m pretty sure that concerns about raising children are not exclusive to expats – quite the opposite, in fact.  For where we are wondering if exposing our children to multiple vaccines, repeated school moves and language barriers will warp them for life, our less transient counterparts are worrying about their child’s gluten allergy, lack of global awareness, and Spanish grades. It comes with the parenting territory, and unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how we are doing until they hit teenage years and are only too willing to list our shortcomings..  There are a number of strategies for relocating expat children and Third Culture Kids but my Four Basic Rules are:

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed. Tell them early, include them in discussions about family life, and give them a say in matters that affect them.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start. It gives them time to say goodbye, and less time spent without friends to play with.

3. Fill the void. Assume that for the first month or so, you will need to keep them occupied with family activities, and keep them in contact with friends from their old location via text, email or Skype.

4. Expect issues. Everyone is under stress during a transition, so try to be patient, allow for a some acting out, and get help if you need to.


Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My Son Tom.

Sons are funny creatures. I should know, I have one, and I think I may be of embarrassment to him. It doesn’t help that I constantly broadcast his less competent moments on this blog, about which he is endearingly long-suffering. So I thought it was about time I redressed the balance. Because although I seem to spend every waking minute talking to him in a high-pitched voice, and most of our conversations revolve around grades, mass Xbox slaughter and the odd school project, he still has the capacity to make me laugh out loud, and then take my breath away with his kindness. And then just as I start to go misty eyed, I’ll open the fridge and discover that yet again, he has drunk all of the milk and is now mercilessly teasing his sister.

We have a firm belief in our family that in terms of children, you get what you’re given and make the best of them. It’s held true for Tom. From the minute he was born, he watched the world, and waited to see what it would bring. He didn’t want to be picked up and held, and cuddling resulted in a sturdy arm pushing you away so that he could turn around and see the room. He’s still the same today. His early years were spent carefully observing the world and only joining in when he fully understood the rules of the playground. Repeated relocations have not changed his fundamental make-up – he spends the first months or years of each move learning how each new world works, and is agonizingly (for us) solitary until he decides who his new friends will be. But his choices for friendships have always stood the test of time, and with each move, the time between arriving and settled gets shorter.

He’s grown from a sturdy eight year old to a 5’10” young galumph, who now gets to do all the heavy lifting. The last year has seen the most speedy growth, and he still hasn’t quite figured out where he ends, and the wall / door/ person next to him begins. It was a strange sensation after a lifetime of ‘hold my hand’ or ‘stay close by’ to have to physically move him to arm’s length when walking after being ‘run over’ by him three times in the previous ten minutes. And yet despite his testosterone-fueled choice of field sport, he is the one that can be found gently stroking Murphy, the blind, deaf and ancient dog that has traveled along with us. Or sitting motionless on the couch in cramped contortions because he doesn’t want to disturb a friend’s youngest daughter who has fallen asleep while curled up next to him.

He has a great ability to laugh at himself. His teenage moments have been all at once insulting, infuriating and hilarious, but if you can hold on to your temper and tongue and keep smiling at him, eventually his lengthy tirade on your failings runs out of steam and hears himself.  And a wry smile will creep across his face, and inevitably makes him laugh. Most of his early pictures show a great grin and a huge twinkle in his eyes, and for the early expat years, they were replaced by a cautious watchful expression. But with impending adulthood, his twinkle is back, and with it a confident, dry humor that’s accuracy has been honed by the years of watching the world.

Next week’s final exams are looming, and with them the return of the ‘parent as dictator’ role. But just for now, I’m going to remember how lucky I am to have a son that I not only love, but really, really like. I might even tell him that I love him. Loudly, in the school parking lot…