Survival Tips for the Expat Spouse

Published 2008-05-06 20:16:28

You’ve moved into your new house, gone shopping, explored the town center, visited the library, marveled at the architecture and then that nagging question looms up again, “What do I do now?” You’re friendless, jobless, clueless. But not to worry, things aren’t that hopeless. Here’s what you can do to keep your sanity and maybe even your career on the right track!

Start with the language: You’ll feel extremely proud of yourself in your first week in your new home country. This might have something to do with the fact that you can utter your own version of ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language. Unfortunately there’s more to it than those two precious words. If you plan to stay in your new country for more than a year, join a language course. The sooner you learn the language, the faster you get on with life. Most companies sponsor private courses for expatriate spouses. This however depends on the contract, company and the country you’re living in. If it’s not part of the deal, check your options on the internet. Most language schools tend to be in centrally located areas. Take a stroll in the city centre and you’re bound to stumble upon one of them.

The benefits of the language course are twofold. Not only do you actually start communicating in the local language and feeling more at home, you also meet other spouses/partners in the same situation as you. This normally forms the basis of a friendship circle that lasts much longer than your stay in the country.

Volunteer work: Though it doesn’t pay any bills, it certainly keeps you out of the straight jacket! Most countries should have volunteer opportunities available and this is a great way to soft launch yourself into the ‘working’ world. When picking your volunteering job, see if you can angle for something related to what you used to do at home. E.g. if you have a marketing background and you’re volunteering at an orphanage, see if you can help create flyers for them or help them update their website or add an English section to it. This way, you’ll still be able to keep in touch with what you used to do.

Volunteering is also a fantastic opportunity to brush up your language skills. Think of it this way, you help them with a good cause and they return the favour by letting you practice their language. Plus, there’s always the big benefit of actually meeting humans other than your partner. And last but definitely not the least, it does feel good when you’re doing something good. Below is a link to an International Volunteer Organisation but you can be sure to find more in your new country. 

Freelance: The internet is incredible and it’s a fantastic solution for expatriate spouses. For those who can string sentences together, freelance writing is an obvious option. Tons of websites these days also offer a number of opportunities for designers, consultants, technical writers etc. Set time aside to sort through the jobs and pick the ones you think you’re best suited for. This could be a great way to keep your portfolio and experience growing. A word of advice… these things could take time. Trick is to be patient and learn from your experience. Depending on your area of expertise, you may or may not require a license to be a freelancer. For more information, you can contact your local Chamber of Commerce. One site to check out for freelance opportunities is

Study: Always wanted to study but didn’t have the time? This break could be the perfect time to tuck away a degree or pursue that MBA. You could opt to do a distance course, full time course or short-term courses. Also make sure you check scholarship opportunities. You never know if you might be eligible for one. And if that’s not enough, here’s another good reason to use this break to study – tax benefits. An interesting way to save while you learn.

Develop a new skill: For an expatriate spouse, survival is not only of the fittest but also of the most flexible. Explore new options, dig out old hobbies and see if you can convert them into careers, take a short course in whatever interests you and start something small. Watch the local market for opportunities and fill them with your skills.

English: If all else fails, there’s always something you can do with English. From translation jobs to freelance writing (like this article) to teaching English, pick what you’re comfortable with, join a quick course to brush up on your skills (if you need it) and go for it!

It’s never easy starting out in a new country. But, if you’re open to new ideas, flexible, enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile, there’s always something. Even for the expat spouse!

Sidd Lobo
Freelance writer based out of Munich



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