career planning abroad, expat, confusing, questions, career, sharethelove, working abroad

The biggest challenges for the expat partner to work abroad

The Permits Foundation interviews expats and global companies on a very frequent basis. This way they portrait a well-structured overview of the most common challenges when moving abroad as a family for the accompanying partner. Knowing about the most common challenges will help you to prepare, to better understand the situation and the investment you are making and gives you a better position for negotiations with your partner and your partner’s company. In this blog post, I will present the most common challenges for the mobile expat partner regarding her career abroad.

About the Permits Foundation

The Permits Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organization campaigning globally to improve work permit regulations to make it easier for partners of expatriate staff to gain employment during an international assignment. In this article, I summarize some key points of their insights on expat partner struggles adding my own perspective and experience. 

Main career challenges for the expat partner:

Look for a new job in an unfamiliar location

If we’re honest, job hunting is never a fun process. It is characterized by a lot of uncertainty, a lot of effort, and a lot of question marks, and, in most cases, a lot of rejection. This is multiplied many times over by the international factor. The new job market is unknown and therefore even harder to read. The typical expat partner is often well educated and quite capable of googling how to adapt the CV or cover letter to local requirements. However, it is more difficult to read the reasons for rejection or how to interpret certain phrases in the job advertisement.

Timing dictated by employee’s move

The posting is often accompanied by a lot of uncertainty. When exactly will we move? Are we moving together as a family or is one partner going ahead? Often, start dates are postponed by months at the last minute or, conversely, unexpectedly brought forward. The partner does not have it in her own hands but is dependent on a company and its decisions without being in direct contact with it. The situation is similar when returning from abroad. Many do not want to face the local job market for the reason that it would not be worthwhile anymore. This is a point that I deal with extensively in my coaching sessions because it restricts the partner immensely in his free professional decision.

Adapt skills to the local employment market

No profession is 1:1 transferable abroad. It takes some adaptation and transference to adapt one’s skills to the local market or even better to highlight one’s own skills as special. The most difficult step here is often to become aware of one’s own skills and to communicate them with confidence or find the weak spot and add pieces of training that will make you more attractive for the new job market.

career planning abroad, expat, confusing, questions, career, sharethelove, working abroad

Learn the language, different cultures, etc.

In many countries, language is a decisive factor in finding employment. Especially countries like Germany still rely on applicants speaking fluent German. Culturally unversed people are often seen as a risk and people like to go for the local competitor whose CV is easier to read and who, at least it is assumed, will fit in more easily with the existing team.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the local customs and either learn the language or focus on more international companies. Learning about intercultural competence is key. Start-ups are also more open to more diverse teams.

Compete with well qualified local staff

Starting with the school system, countries differ enormously and there is little knowledge about the degrees of foreign countries. Here, the applicant is asked to take on the educational work and to inquire about equivalent qualifications, and be ready to add qualifications during their time abroad.
Meantime, the time abroad represents an incredible enrichment of one’s own personality. You are confronted with the unknown in all areas of life and get to know yourself and your problem-solving skills in a whole new way. Expat life is the best school.

Persuade potential employer to apply for work permit and wait until obtained...

Local competitors are not necessarily better suited for the job but they can sell themselves more easily and have less to explain. At the same time, as a foreign applicant, you bring more effort to the company. Starting with non-negotiable factors such as a work permit and ending with the recognition of qualifications.

career planning abroad, expat, confusing, questions, career, sharethelove, working abroad

"Work permit procedures and uncertainty – a structural hurdle for partner and employer."

the Permits Foundation 2020

What the future holds

As dual-career couples become the new norm over the globe (more info about that here) companies are increasingly aware of the added pressure to also provide a work permit for the employee’s partner. According to the Permits Foundation Survey already taken about 10 years ago, 96% of the companies said that partners of international assignees should be allowed to work in the host country for the duration of the assignment.

“More and more couples today expect to pursue employment abroad.”

the Permits Foundation 2020

So the road ahead for the expat partner is adventurous and exciting but also challenging on a professional level. Preparation is key and it is never too early or too late to take on some help from fellow professional expats in that field. It starts with negotiating the expat package on eye level and ends with taking the help of a globally trained coach or join a global community to get access to the resources you will need to make it work. Come join one of our mastermind coaching groups or request a 1:1 coaching offer if you prefer to work exclusively. There are also tons of great conferences and events taking place covering all kinds of Global Mobility questions. An overview can be found here.

The path ahead will be colorful as a rainbow and the very high HIGHs and the very low LOWS will make it to the unique experience that living abroad is.

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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One Response

  1. Thanks for writing this! As an expat partner in Germany, I faced all the challenges above (and still experiencing some even after 3 years).

    I thought I could find a job easily with my global marketing experience but my German wasn’t fluent and I gave up applying for jobs after 2 years, and started my own business. It gives me the independence to work from anywhere but I still feel like moving to Germany has made me start from scratch after 10 years of professional experience.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for writing this! As an expat partner in Germany, I faced all the challenges above (and still experiencing some even after 3 years).

    I thought I could find a job easily with my global marketing experience but my German wasn’t fluent and I gave up applying for jobs after 2 years, and started my own business. It gives me the independence to work from anywhere but I still feel like moving to Germany has made me start from scratch after 10 years of professional experience.

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