As technology becomes more advanced, and flying becomes so much more accessible, the world in turn becomes smaller. More people are looking overseas to progress their careers, and expand their horizons. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2016 alone 336,000 British nationals relocated overseas.
I was one of those 336,000 British nationals in 2016, taking a step into the great unknown in the name of my husband’s career. As someone who has been a trailing spouse, I can say with experience that it is hard and it isn’t always the glamourous move abroad that people at home may think it is.
Uprooting a family and moving abroad to further a spouse’s career takes a lot of planning and hard work. It usually involves leaving behind your own career, family, friends, and life as you know it. Without really knowing what has hit you, you then up in a country that you don’t know, with a significantly reduced support network, a house to make home and children to settle into a new school.
Being a trailing spouse can mean different things and have different repercussions in different countries. As British nationals, we come from a very open and liberal society and until we step out of that, we don’t often realise just how different it can be. I was a trailing spouse in Dubai, where it is illegal to cohabit with your partner if you are unmarried. Although the legal definition of “spouse” is husband or wife, in this day and age cohabiting couples move abroad together all the time and the trailing partner in those relationships will encounter the same difficulties, if not more, as married couples.
Considerations and tips from one trailing spouse to another
In the majority of countries, if your spouse has a job, you will be able to obtain a spousal visa on the back of their employment visa.
If you are not married, this may be more of an issue for you, especially if you do not plan on obtaining a job yourself. Depending on the country, this may require you to do “border runs” every time your tourist visa runs out.
Without assuming the worst, it is worthwhile to be in the know about what would happen to your spousal visa if you and your spouse were to separate. Not knowing if you are able to remain in the country could have a detrimental effect on you and any children you may have there.
- Laws and Customs of the Country
As I have already mentioned, in some countries if you are an unmarried couple, living together will be a crime. It is worthwhile looking into other laws and customs of the country you will be living in as there are likely to be a few anomalies that you don’t expect. There may be rules around the way you dress, how you should act in public when with your spouse (i.e. public displays of affection), laws on alcohol consumption, restrictions on the use of instant messaging services and video calling to name but a few. Being knowledgeable about these things before you go, will help you to settle into your new routine faster. If you are moving to the UAE, I would recommend reading this article: http://expatriatelaw.com/criminal-laws-dubai/
- Your Career Prospects
A large number of trailing spouses leave their jobs in the UK in order to follow their spouse overseas. This can create a period of unemployment on your CV, reduce the household income, and ultimately can add extra pressure to your relationship. Talk to your employer in the UK, maybe there is a way for you to work remotely and continue working for them? It is worthwhile considering that your specialism at home may not have the same purpose or value in your new country. I know highly qualified scientists who have moved abroad and become primary school teachers because there was no demand for their specialisms. It is important to gain whatever local experience you can. No matter how employable you are in the UK, having regional experience will be invaluable to you, even if that involves volunteering initially. If you knock on enough doors, one will open eventually.
- Maintain your Network
Whether you are planning for your time in your new home country to be a career step or a career break, make sure that you build a new network whilst still maintaining your one back at home. Attend your spouse’s office parties, make friends with other trailing spouses, go to networking events. In expatriate communities it is very frequently about who you know, not what you know. To fall back on my own experience, I managed to get my job in Dubai through my husband talking to his colleague, whose sister in law happened to run a family law firm with an office in Dubai. The world is a small place, and an expatriate community is even smaller.
- Keep Busy
The more things you do, and people you meet, the easier the transition will be. If you utilise your time by volunteering at a local charity, writing a blog about your experiences, obtaining short work placements – you will be able to add valuable skills and experience to your CV which will help you either secure a career in country, or provide you with evidence of what you have been doing when/if you return home to the UK.
Whether you are new to being a trailing spouse or an old timer and have moved to five different countries in the past five years, there are always support groups and networks out there for you to rely on should you need it.
If you feel you need some extra guidance with regards to legal considerations or links to local support groups in your new country, have a look at our website where you can find lots of relevant information about some of the main expat hubs: www.expatriatelaw.com
This article was written by Hannah McCrindle, a trainee solicitor at Expatriate Law.