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How taking a job overseas can affect your relationships

Taking on an international assignment is a great way to boost your career and prospects. Getting the tap on the shoulder from your boss is a vote of confidence in your abilities. The challenges you face will give you a chance to shine, and eventually return to a hero’s welcome with a better title and a bigger pay packet.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of an offer of a job overseas, but while there are undoubted benefits to relocating for many international assignees, moving can also cause some issues. The most common issue faced when moving abroad is the impact on your personal life.

Whether the assignment means having your partner move abroad with you or having a long distance relationship, the disruption is not something to be entered into lightly.

The reality of working overseas

About 80% of expat workers move with their partners, and their partners happiness is often a deciding factor in how successful the international assignment is. It’s hard to focus on work when domestic life is in turmoil.

Moving overseas means interruptions to all parts of your lifestyle – for example, strong friendships have a great chance of remaining strong while you may drift apart from previous acquaintances. This change in friendship group and your support system can be especially hard for your spouse or partner if they have relocated with you. This is even more true if your partner is not or can not work in your new location, which may cause them to feel isolated while you can make friends and socialise through work.  The upside is that there are plenty of new friends to be made in your new home location and other expats are often keen to establish new friendships.

Working across time zones can prove challenging. While most executives who take on an international assignment will be familiar with conference calls, they may be used to having meetings scheduled to suit head office. Being overseas often obliges the assignee to re-arrange their working day and work earlier or later, which also has an impact on their partner and family. Many expats experience longer days in the office because of this, which results in less time with your partner and family.

Relocating with your partner

Avoiding a long distance relationship by moving overseas together is often a sensible choice, particularly for long-term assignments. However, the assignee’s partner – often referred to as a “trailing spouse” – may face greater challenges. The initial tasks of establishing a new home and a social life can be all-consuming and overwhelming, and very few feel supported by their partner’s employer. The trailing spouse often has no power to make things happen, which makes them completely reliant on their partner.

A partner’s career can also take a hit. Research indicates that only 15% of partners find work in their new country, and many face limited chances of obtaining a working visa. Although volunteer work and community-oriented activities can be a replacement, there is both a financial impact on the family budget and potential problems resurrecting a career when and if they return home after a lengthy break. Many people become entrepreneurs and set up small businesses, often leveraging their new cultural expertise. For example, Amel Derragui, a business and marketing advisor, founded the Tandem Nomads podcast while on assignment with her husband. After six years it has become a significant business in its own right – proving that problems are just opportunities in disguise.

Leaving your family behind

Not everyone is able to bring their family along on assignment. For those on short-term assignments of a few months there is little benefit in the upheaval of the family unit. Even some partners of people on long-term assignments choose not to travel, or return home quickly if they find their new home hard to acclimatise to.

For many expats, choosing to maintain a long distance relationship is the best decision – especially if their children are embedded in a school and curriculum or are at a pivotal exam age. Thanks to modern technology this option is easier than ever before, with families and couples able to keep in touch via so many forms of communication. And facetime or video calls make time apart much easier. However, many long distance relationships come under and lot of strain. So it’s important that all parties put a lot of effort into maintaining the relationship and visits are planned as regularly as possible.

The great news – with time, effort and professional support, hundreds of thousands of expats enjoy exciting and rewarding lives abroad. The most successful relocations are based on preparation and managing expectations, as well as having access to the best information.

Are you planning a move overseas? For help and advice on how best to manage relocating to a job overseas, get in touch with Santa Fe Relocation or find out more at our Relocation page. We have the experience and expertise to make your move easy, happy and exciting!

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