Trailing Spouse: what to do if you can’t work while abroad?

March 27, 2018
Life as an expat partner can be challenging. We know not all expat partners can work while living abroad, often because of visa restrictions, so moving abroad may be more of a seismic shift in your life. This is especially true if you had your own career in your home country but cannot work outside your home now you are overseas.

Although it is unlikely you made the decision to move lightly, the reality of living away from home, without your usual support network, can be more difficult than you imagined. 

 We have some suggestions for a trailing spouse (we don’t like the term either) who cannot work in a new and unfamiliar country:
This is especially important in the first few weeks when the situation may feel at its worst. A quick online search and you should find blogs, forums and destination specific articles on the topic. It is worthwhile reading some of the articles and blog posts and possibly sharing some of your difficulties in a relevant forum. This alone may help you feel better about your situation in the short term.

As a trailing spouse, you may be at risk of developing situational depression, often referred to as ‘expat depression’. Depression is not, as often thought, about feeling sad, it is a prolonged period (more than two weeks) of a combination of the following feelings:

  • Limited or no interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Guilt or worthlessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Limited concentration or problems making decisions
  • Changes in appetite

If you are suffering with any of the above, visit a doctor in your new country - your spouse’s employer should be able to recommend one. Speaking to family and friends about how you are feeling can also help. The risk of expat depression is just one reason why it is important to have mental health support as part of your international medical insurance.

In terms of practical solutions to occupy your time, if working isn’t an option in your new home, try and meet others in the same situation. There are several expat spouse groups in cities around the world on See if there is one in your destination, if not, think about starting one. Try starting a thread in an expat forum to begin.

If you would prefer not to go down the online route, speak to your partner. Does their company offer a way to connect with other spouses who may be in a similar situation? Since an international study showed that 65% of employers linked family issues as one of the most significant threats to expat assignments, many companies are considering spouses and partners more and more.

Living abroad, but being unable to work in paid employment, could offer you the opportunity to study. You could consider:

  • Learning something completely new
  • Furthering your existing education to improve job prospects when you return home
  • Completing a short course in a hobby or interest

Online courses and distance learning make studying a broad range of topics easier and although a degree of discipline is required, it should be well worth it in the end.

Finally, no matter where you move to, there are likely to be not-for-profits in need of help. Research options in your city and see if there are organisations where you could use your skills in an unpaid capacity to help those in need. Volunteering can also offer a chance to work in a completely different area, either to see if it is something you would enjoy in the longer term or just for a change.
If you or your partner are working abroad, don’t forget to protect your family with comprehensive international health insurance.