When you decide to move abroad, the decision doesn’t just affect you. For some people, relocating without their spouses, children, parents is a non-negotiable. If you are single and don’t have children (or have grown children) you may be in a better position. That is not to say it is impossible if you are not.A few things to consider, when weighing a move abroad with family and loved ones:
- Is your husband/wife/partner willing to pack up and move?
- Are you looking at a long distance relationship?
- Are you considering a country where same-sex marriage is not only illegal but homophobia is widely accepted and carries serious repercussions?
- Do you have children?
- Do you have older parents?
Many modern couples are dual-career couples in which both partners are actively pursuing their own goals. When one decides to accept a position overseas a great deal of strain can be put on the relationship. The former career person may not find immediate or any employment in the new country. Studies show that a direct correlation between the increased likelihood of dissatisfaction and/or failure for a professional on a foreign assignment and the feelings of their spouse about the posting. Moreover, trailing spouses exert considerable influence in the amount of stress felt by the expat working spouse. While there is no cure for what is often described as the boredom of a trailing spouse, there are some steps you can take before leaving and once you arrive in the country to mitigate the negative feelings.
Before, you leave, do your research, how far is your new home from a gym and restaurants? Do you get residency discounts on spas, attractions, and resorts? Check out the expat forums, meetups, Internations, Hash House Harriers and other networks whose members may offer a guiding and/or companionship to the trailing spouse. Make sure the internet is on when you arrive or very shortly thereafter. A trailing spouse may not be able to obtain a local working permit but depending on his/her skill set they may find engaging remote employment as a writer, virtual assistant, web developer, tax accountant or a myriad of other sectors for which sites such as UpWork, People per Hour, iWriter and elance hire. Consider taking courses in the local language or a foreign one at a school. This will give the spouse much-needed interaction with people and a reason to leave the house on what could be a daily basis. Look at online education opportunities, this could be the chance your spouse needed to go back to get another degree. Or, by looking at Coursera they may find MOOCs which invite them to explore new subject areas.
Long Distance Relationships
For some, leaving their job to move with their significant other is not an option. Enter the long distance relationship and commuter-partnerships. A quick Google search will yield a plethora of articles, books, blog posts, and comments on how to make a long distance relationship work. Not wishing to add to the flotsam and jetsam, I will not dive into those murky waters. Instead let’s discuss the commuter-partnership, while still within the long distance category its egalitarian approach has been described as a desirable outcome for dual-earning couples.
In the commuter-partnership, one partner lives in close proximity to their place of employment while the other remains at home or seeks optimal arrangements to meet the needs of their employment and/or the family. I saw this in action on more than one occasion while I was living in the Gulf. The parents of one of my assistants maintained this arrangement. The mother was a high school teacher working in Education City. The two children one a recent graduate and the other a high school senior lived with their mother in a well-appointed apartment on the Qatar Foundation grounds. Her husband, an architect, was working as the team leader on a building project in Abu Dhabi. He would fly back on Friday evenings to spend the weekend with his family. In Abu Dhabi, he lived in a simple one-bedroom place located less than a ten-minute drive from the site. When the daughter graduated the mother decided to retire from teaching. She briefly moved with her husband to Abu Dhabi while their new house in Penang, Malaysia was being finished. He joined her there at the end of his contract.
A 2008 paper on the subject revealed the keys to the selection and success of a commuter partnership are “the balance in partners’ individual and their common interests, as well as the gender ideologies the couple holds.”
Gay and Lesbian Relationships
As recognition of relationship equality becomes more common in the United States so too are the laws prohibiting same-sex relationships in countries like Uganda gaining greater authority. In the case of Uganda, the interference of White American Ultra Conservative Evangelical Christians seems to be part of the rising tide of homophobia and violence. How does a married American lesbian couple deal with moving to a country where their relationship is illegal? According to an Independent article, in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq being gay or bisexual is punishable by death. These countries are joined by another 59 countries where homosexual acts are illegal. In a whopping 40 countries there remain on the books a “gay panic” clause which justifies the use of violence against LGBTQ individuals.
In a personal experience, in 2009 I was in South Africa working on a project when I received a panicked message from a friend who was working in India. We met several years before in Mozambique and I had on more than one occasion gotten him out of sticky situations with the police and a local boy trying to extort him. This time the stakes were higher, his boyfriend who lived in Spain had just left and his coworkers were beginning to suspect he might be gay. While not punishable by death, it is still illegal to be gay in India. Moreover, in his position, he was responsible for programs running in Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and India. He offered me a ticket, a place to stay and his per diem if I would come out for a few weeks and pretend to be his girlfriend. Of course, I said yes, I’d never been to India before and am not one to leave a friend twisting in the wind. Our ruse worked, I was an excellent beard—meeting his friends and colleagues as his fellow NGO worker girlfriend who was primarily stationed in Africa.
In an interview on the blog, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, part of one gay expat couple explains how some of the rules may be bent for established relationships. For example in the UAE same-sex couples can obtain residency if one of the partners is listed as “a member of the household” as in staff. In China, he was told, not tell anyone he is gay as they won’t understand and may cease to respect him. He makes the point that he nor his husband want to move to a place where they will have to fight for their basic rights or fear for their lives.
Making the decision to move overseas with children requires a lot of evaluation. If your child has yet to start school there is a bit more flexibility but the access to quality scheduled and emergency health care should factor into the plans. Unlike in the States, nannies and housekeepers are an everyday luxury for many expats in emerging markets and the developing world. While having the extra assistance around the house is helpful, the opposite side of the coin is public schools are rarely an option for expat children. Beyond language issues, every country has a different school system which may or may not be accepted by American secondary or college educational institutions. The school fees for the American or other international schools can be on par with those in the States ranging from US$3600 per year at an international school in Nairobi to $16,500 for the same grade in Thailand.
A word to the wise, factor in school fees when negotiating your contract—in many countries employers will provide a stipend for your school aged children or they may have a special relationship with one of the international schools. From speaking with children who did a semester abroad in high school or lived in foreign countries with their parents growing up, I can tell you few have regrets. These children are often polyglots and have a cultural understanding that gives them an advantage in the increasingly global marketplace.
It is not common for parents to join their children on a permanent basis overseas unless they are providing childcare. However, the age and health of your parents should also be considered before your move. If you are a key caregiver or are the one that drives your mother to the grocery store every week, moving overseas may trigger guilt as well as inconvenience.
Only you can access the other people who move in your orbit or whose obits you transcend. Take the time to talk to them about your move. Give them a chance to voice their concerns. Address them with fact-based research and assure them you’re doing this as an investment in your career and globalcreating life.