Tag Archives: women

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Women, Money and What ‘Dependent Partner’ really means. The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse.

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationUpdate: After considerable lobbying from consumer groups, the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has amended the rule requiring evidence of independent income when applying for consumer credit, replacing it with a declaration of household income. This is excellent news for accompanying partners in the United States who had been denied access to credit and left unable to build an independent financial identity, in a country where a credit card or credit history is required for everything from hiring a car to setting up a cell phone contract. Sanity is restored…

I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

The dictionary describes the term beholden as owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T…

As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when a couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income”. This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model…

The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening your own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed… However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at a young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already…

Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner Survey Release. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global accompanying partner expat spouse.

The “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” Survey is out!

Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner Survey Release. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global accompanying partner expat spouse.The eagerly anticipated “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” survey conducted by Evelyn Simpson & Louise Wiles is now available, and it makes fascinating reading.

“This report provides a view of the assignment experience and the impact it has on career choices and aspirations from the partners’ perspective.”

Respondents answered questions relating to their prior employment status, factors affecting their desire and ability to work in their host locations, and their levels of satisfaction and sense of fulfillment with the international assignment, and the responses, conclusions and recommendations made will have expat partners across the globe nodding in agreement.

Their findings included:

  • While 78% of accompanying partners would like to work while on their current assignment, only 44% do.
  • Unavailability of work permits inhibit many accompanying partners from working, but it’s by no means the only reason seeking employment while on assignment is difficult or impossible.
  • Theoretical availability of work permits doesn’t mean its practical to get one.
  • Other practical factors, such as language mastery, are more frequently cited as impediments than the lack of a legal right to work.
  • Working accompanying partners report higher levels of fulfilment than non-working accompanying partners.

For more information or to download a free copy of the report summary, click here.

Congratulations to Louise and Evelyn!

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner

Expat Family Adventures. Just call me Supermum. Or better yet, don’t.

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partnerMy children seem to think I have superpowers. On the surface, this seems flattering – all shiny lycra, comic-book stories and a movie where my character is played by Angelina Jolie.

The practice is somewhat different. It involves the assumption that any challenge can be presented at the very last minute, and a solution can magically be presented from the kitchen, the filing cabinet or presumably, a body orifice.

It’s my own fault. During their formative years, I took to carrying one of those enormous mail-sack versions of a handbag that every mother seems to get stuck with. (How men manage to ‘do’ childcare with just two pockets is a long conversation for another day.) No matter what the challenge, I had the emergency response kit tucked in the bottom somewhere. Hungry? Have a packet of (slightly furry) raisins. Thirsty? Sippy cup. Bored? Book, toy cars, Polly Pockets. Bacteria for science project? Remains of a mouldy sandwich wedged in the mobile phone pocket. Frankly, that bag had everything but a silky cape, and I have the spinal issues to prove it.

Time and location have not altered the reality. I have ranted at length about the challenges that expat life adds to the table – creating a family tree (with copious photographs) on a timescale that even DHL’s international service and a second mortgage can’t fix. Failure was not an option, so with some cavalier use of Google images, my children now both have illustrated family timelines with a little creative license. If using extras to fill the places of the stars when they are indisposed is good enough for the Oscar ceremony, it’s good enough for me.

2012 has seen the blossoming of the Wiggy One, with a sudden interest in socializing, traveling the world and even going to college conferences (gasp). For many of you, this may seem like a normal stage of teenage growth and not cause for disturbance, but as Wiggy’s time-honored strategy for adapting to a new environment involves adamantly refusing to speak to people for the first three months, it is quite the sea change. Predictably, as with anything new, he fails to understand the timescales necessary for certain tasks to be completed, and relies on the superpowers yet again.

This time, it was bureaucracy. So startled were we in his interest in going to Turkey and Greece with his history group that we failed to realize that his passport and visa were tied up in the Green Card application process. Not only were we not in actual possession of his passport (with accompanying visa), but the aforementioned passport was only valid for another 4 months. Entry into Turkey required 6 months validity. Re-entry into the US would the require a new visa. We had 8 weeks to achieve all of the above, 4000 miles away from the nearest passport office.

Thus ensued a frenzy of activity; tracking down non US passport photos (Costco, for those of you in a similar predicament, are helpful, quick and cheap. And are really happy to do retakes..), filling in forms, finding UK citizens to countersign  (no easy task when they are required to have known you for two years, and we move every three..) and spending days at in line at the Post Office spending a fortune on tracked, insured, countersigned, personally delivered, gold-plated, fingerprints and inside leg measurements required for delivery type postage.

We managed it, with a mere two weeks to spare, thanks to the efficiency of the US Immigration Service and the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the Wiggy One trooped off to pastures new with a newly minted Green card and passport and instructions to never, ever let them out of contact with his skin. I would have staple-gunned them to his torso if I could.

I must give credit where it is due. He had a very jolly time experiencing rather more of what Greece and Turkey had to offer than was advertised on the tour brochure (how does one inadvertently manage to book a 15 year old on a wine tasting tour??), and arrived back tanned, relaxed and carefree. Oh, and luggage free too.

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partnerI should probably pay British Airways for the lesson to teenage global nomads. If it’s not in your hand, don’t count on it being there when you get to the other end of the journey, no matter what the airline might tell you. Sure enough, he arrived back on US soil, safe and sound, still clutching his wallet, passport, Green card and a book. And absolutely nothing else.

British Airways should have listened to mother..

The Dora’s are Exploring, and it’s Hell on Wheels

Most of you are probably enjoying the resounding silence echoing through the blog this week, and here’s the reason. The Doras are off exploring, and this time it’s New York that’s the victim of choice.

The Doras are a highly inept, haphazard bunch currently consisting of my sister (Dinner Ladies, and Parenting fame) and Ify (who has yet to feature anywhere by the comments section, mainly because she’s bigger than me and has a death stare that could stop a charging rhino at 40 paces). The sole qualification for inclusion into this elite group is the ability to create chaos wherever you go, eat unhealthy food from street vendors without a food hygiene certificate and be able to sustain at least a modicum of good humor on one of my sister’s inevitable bicycle endurance tests.

And you need stamina, because jet lag is ruthlessly ignored. I inadvertently started this tradition when Sarah stumbled off an 11 hour transatlantic flight to be whisked off to Panda Express for takeaway. She may have been in transit for 18 hours, dragged 50 kilos of chocolate across London’s formidable public transport system and then endured close questioning from a surly immigration officer, but it was dinnertime in LA and she was getting Chinese takeaway.

She had her revenge. Six hours on a red eye to New York, an hour and a half on the subway system and no sleep for thirty six hours meant nothing. It was 8 am New York time and a new day was beginning. A tour of Washington Heights, a quick look at the river, deli lunch from Frankies supermarket and then off to walk Brooklyn Bridge. It was only the knowledge of twenty packets of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons back at the apartment that kept me from throwing myself off.

Cycling around Golden Gate park was always going to be Ify’s favorite. Not. Last time we were on a bicycle, it was the torturous 30 mile trip from San Francisco to Tiburon, through some of the hilliest terrain that San Francisco has to offer. We learned some new words that day, and it was only Sarah’s superior turn of speed on two wheels that kept her from being throttled, especially  given her habit of shouting loud and cheery encouragement at Ify’s mutinous form.

Yesterday’s bicycle outing was stunning in it’s lack of planning. Alighting from the subway on 5th Ave, we found ourselves swept into the middle of the massive Puerto Rico day parade, complete with thumping salsa music, hoards of scantily dressed women and general chaos that followed us for the entire day. Instead of the leisurely leafy freewheeling seen in all the movies, we spent the entire time pushing our bicycles around throngs of celebrating parties, all of whom seemed intent on poking our eyes out with the national flag.

But we had a great New York day, despite the crowds. The architecture of the buildings overlooking the park was beautiful, the lakes were glistening in the sun, and the mounted police waved cheerily from atop their horses as we labored by. But the cherry on top of the cake came at the very end, as we halted our bicycles ready to push them back up 6th Ave to the hire shop.

Apparently, racing cyclists feel they don’t need to obey red lights, regardless of whether or not there are stroller pushing pedestrians waiting to cross. We amateurs, however, are a far more courteous breed, and so braked gently to a halt, three abreast. It was too much for the speed racer behind us, who failed to slow in time to avoid us. He screeched painfully into the back wheel of Ify’s bicycle, only to find his feet still firmly attached to the pedals. I watched bemused as he toppled gently in slow motion into me, before reaching a fully horizontal position, still in racing crouch.

I don’t think we are intimidating, but the poor man looked terrified by the three women peering down at him. As he struggled to free his feet and extricate himself, he stuttered endless apologies and inquiries as to our welfare – ironic when when were the ones still standing. He wobbled off into the throng of people, disheveled and dusty, and only the little the worse for wear.

It’s incredible to see the full destructive force of the Doras in action. Still, it’s good to see Ify enjoying herself.

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..


Planning on Returning to Work? Free Online Career Mentor Classes

One of the things that has surprised me in my online voyage of discovery is the kindness, encouragement and generosity of so many people involved in the expat and ‘trailing spouse’ world. One of those is Jennifer Bradley, who was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance. Despite never having met me in person, she still found time to say kind things about the website, and thanks to her encouragement, I am now a contributor at the Families In Global Transition Conference in March..

She is offering a set of free Career Mentor sessions, so if you are contemplating re-starting, reconsidering  or re-inventing your career, this might be a great place to start. And no, I’m not paid to say any of this – I just really like her humor, her attitude and down-to-earth, practical approach.


New Series of Free Career Mentor Classes

Learn what you need to know to make your job
search easier and more effective.

The classes are virtual. Join from the
comfort of your home or office.

Sign up to get advance notice by email.


During each 30-minute class, you will learn
essential skills and practical tools that you can use
to find your next position.

Join one or more of the series.

More information:


The “No Fair” Rules of Parenting

There is a code of parenting solidarity, that guides our behavior in those early years. It’s there for a reason – to provide a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through your child’s teenage years. For those of you who may not be familiar with this unspoken code, here it is…

Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.

Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.

When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.

When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.

When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.

When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how said child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until roles are reversed, the balance was still tipped in my favor.

When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.

When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.

Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.

When my child has children, thou shalt smile and enjoy the show..


Miss Representation

Yesterday, I wrote a post How to make friends and introduce people, which included a brilliant photo of two very, very special women. In aesthetic terms, the picture was less than flattering, but to me, it sums up many of the things that I value so much about them.

The backstory behind the photograph is that they were at a leaving celebration for a long serving elementary school Principal, and I was not. I was relatively new to the area, and although I was invited, I didn’t know many of the people going and was feeling a little intimidated and insecure. Until I got that photo, demanding my attendance.

Here’s what I see when I see that photo. I see two smart, savvy and very funny women, who care enough to take the time and effort to include me, even though their lives are already full of family, friends and social activities. I see two women who are willing to make themselves seem less perfect if it helps others feel better about themselves. I see two women who have had plenty of troubles of their own, but still found the time to listen to mine.  I see two women who I want my daughter to become, and my son to discover.

The picture shows only these two, but there are many others. Some are members of my family, others I have known since childhood, many I have met on my travels, and one has traveled alongside me. They each have had a profound effect on my life, whether they know it or not, and all embody the idea behind the Miss Representation movement; that “You can’t be what you can’t see“. I’m lucky; I see or talk to strong, smart, humble and hilarious women every day, and I can’t imagine life without them.

So this video is for all those women, and the men who value them. Please share it.