Expat Spouses and Work
By Jerry Andrew Nelson, author & freelance writer and American expat
I’m the guy you read about in the ads.
You know those ubiquitous ads which purport to tell how you can become independently wealthy as you sit at a beach side cabana writing the next great novel?
Okay. I’m not THAT guy, but that is my lifestyle.
I’m an American freelance writer and I enjoy writing from any of Buenos Aires’ hundreds of sidewalk cafes, strolling to Fredo’s on the corner for some fresh homemade helado (ice cream) or stopping by the barrio’s only health food store for steaming hot empanadas before I return to my condo’s balcony where I enjoy the breeze from 7-stories up, watch the traffic slither by in the street and finish up today´s assignment.
The other day I got to wondering what the spouses of expats do if they´re along for the ride in a country in which they´re not native.
My wife is a Porteña , a (female) native of Buenos Aires. She is retired after a life time of working in banks and architectural firms. So she really doesn’t qualify as an expat´s spouse, although she is my spouse and I’m an expat.
But I got to thinking about the expat from Des Moines, or New York City, or Los Angeles. What do THEIR spouses do for work as they follow their expat over the globe?
Trading the Boardroom for the Playground
Recently I had the chance to talk with Carolyn, an expat-spouse in Brazil. It’s been four-years since her last official paycheck in America.
“This isn’t to say I haven’t been working,” Carolyn told me. “A person is delusional if they think stay-at-home parents don’t work”.
Before trading in the boardroom for the playground, she was a career woman in government affairs and politics.
In 2011 she moved to Sao Paulo for her husband’s job. She has always been open to one day working part time, but wasn’t sure she could make it happen in Brazil. But she couldn’t speak Portuguese. Her language comprehension even kept her from getting a job flipping burgers.
But because of a large demand for native English speakers, she found a career path where Portuguese wasn’t a requirement.
Today, Carolyn is a language consultant at Albert Einstein Hospital. She also works part-time coaching Sao Paulo business leaders as they learn to speak professional-level English.
She found her niche. “My American business degree and experience coupled with being a native English speaker is actually a hot commodity,” Carolyn said.
I’m not a foreign job placement expert because I talked with Carolyn, but our conversation opened my eyes that career possibilities are available for expat partners also.
Speaking English is a gigantic advantage in developing countries where there is a large demand for highly educated and capable people who happen to also fluently speak English. Having a higher education is a plus, but not necessary depend on the area you want to pursue.
Take a close look at your experience, strengths, professional desire and available time and start networking.
I know expat spouses who have successfully turned hobbies into careers. One expat friend, Josie, is a gifted crafter. She has a successful online retail business and Etsy store in America which sells custom bows, tutus and costumes.
After moving to Argentina last year, she expanded her operations to include Buenos Aires customers and because of a huge demand for custom children’s clothing, her products are popular.
Plight of the Expat Spouse
The crowd-sourced YourDictionary, defines plight as “A situation, especially a bad or unfortunate one.”
In 2011, Tanya Mohn discussed the challenges of international relocation for dual-career families. The article, “Plight of the Expat Spouse”. In it an expat named Annette shares a story abbout a dinner party she once hosted in Singapore and how impressed her guests were with the Western-style meal prepared by her maid.
When the guests asked if the maid could teach their domestic help how to cook similar Western-style food, an idea was born. Annette’s Singapore-based startup, Expat Kitchen, took off.
Don’t Stop Believing
The Dutch based Permits Foundation advocates for improving work regulations for partners of expat employees.
According to the non-profit, “Expat spousal dissatisfaction is the biggest reason foreign assignments fail. More importantly, expat spouses who work are found to be more likely to report a positive impact on adjustment, family relationships, and general heath and well-being than those who don’t.”
While everyone’s circumstances vary, don’t fall for the idea you can’t work just because you live in a foreign nation. Your location can complicate things like work eligibility, but there are still ways to make it happen.
American businesses are being proactive in helping expat partners find work, so investigate options with your spouse’s Human Resource Department.
Good luck on your professional journey and remember, expat spouses are just as invaluable as the working expat partner. Don’t let anyone tell you different!
Jerry Nelson is an American writer living the expat life in Argentina and winner of the Revi 2021 Reader Award. You can find him at any of hundreds of sidewalk cafes and hire him through Fiverr, join the quarter-million who follow him on Twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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