Last update on February 06, 2019

If you’re living abroad because your partner is, continuing your career isn’t always easy. Nor is finding a job abroad. Here are some tips on creating a job you can take with you.

It’s fine for the expatriate employees when moving abroad. They simply pitch up at a new office in a new country, spot a few familiar faces, are shown to their new desk and start work. But for the rest of the family, particularly the accompanying partner, the transition abroad might not be so simple.

It is quite likely that an accompanying partner will have chosen to sacrifice or downshift a career in order to support the employed partner.

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Dual-career couples do not really have a place in the fast-moving expatriate world. While the academic world has taken some steps to address their needs, the reality continues to be that few companies choose to employ both partners. Thus the accompanying partner is sometimes forced to create and maintain a different kind of career, if he or she is to continue with a mobile lifestyle.

We call this kind of career ‘a career in your suitcase’, and for the last 16 years have been writing and speaking extensively on the subject. How can accompanying partners maintain a career abroad?

First find your passion

We believe that if a portable career is to withstand the tests of time and frequent upheavals, then you must choose work that you love, which inspires you and fills you with energy. It takes at least two years to establish a new business in the non-expatriate world. It is vital that a portable career can be kick-started by your own motivation and excitement.

If you love what you do you will be enthusiastic. If you are excited about your work others will become excited too; they will want to know more and this, in turn, will breed success. Reconnect with natural talents that may have become buried in the mire of the rat race and the pursuit of income. Explore growing interests and new possibilities inspired by your new experiences.

Manage your expectations

Working abroad

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to move smoothly from place to place without needing to rethink what you will do professionally. Uninformed and unrealistic expectations are one of our greatest sources of discontent. Managing your expectations appropriately can help you counteract this. Don’t assume that your transition to another culture will be easy. Anticipate challenges and even temporary setbacks. If you know what to expect, you won’t be setting yourself up for disappointment.

The better you prepare beforehand the more easily you’ll make the move into your new environment. Find out what opportunities may be available to somebody with your talents, skills and training. Through a buddy or mentor, try to discover what kind of work, paid or volunteer, other people in your situation are doing. Also check on whether there are places to study, and check the availability of affordable childcare, good Internet connections and reliable transportation. You may need to recycle some skills, return some to your ‘suitcase’ for a while, or learn a few more before you are truly set for your new location.

It is worth adding here that any time you spend on research and planning will not be wasted. Find out in advance whether your brilliant idea is viable in your new location, if at all. Plan it out – imagine that you have the career of your dreams and live with it for a few days. See if you still consider it to be ideal after a few days. It is always wise to look at your idea from all angles and do thorough investigation before spending any money.


At the same time, develop your improvisational skills and ability to respond to changes and unexpected developments. In this world of fast-paced change and information overload, it is hard to plan and predict everything, especially when you are in a new environment and culture. Learn the skills to deal with the unexpected, recognise unplanned opportunities and engage fully in your current reality.

Listen to people

Sadly, few jobs come to us, especially when we’re new in town. We have to go out and find them. It is likely that you may have to create your own work wherever you go. One of the best ways of finding out what goods and services people in a given area need and want is to go out among the local community. Chat with people who have been around for a while to find out what they are complaining about.

In Jo’s village, people were always wishing they could find reliable babysitters, gardeners, cleaners and window cleaners. While you yourself may have no desire to baby-sit, garden or clean, you might like to manage a team of other people to do such jobs. Problems are opportunities in disguise, so find out what gaps exist in the local market and see if you might be able to fill them in a way that uses your skills, experience and talent or allows you to grow new ones.

Of course, a newcomer may not be immediately privy to such information so think about kick starting the process by attending networking meetings, social events and civic gatherings. More than three quarters of all positions are found not through agencies or advertisements but through networking. You can also read the local paper to see what people are doing, what advertisements are posted and what people are asking for in the ‘wanted’ sections. Go the library or supermarket and see what is being advertised on the notice boards, and which local amenities have placed their brochures there. Contact these people and gather information from them.

So go out there and start listening and looking with eyes and ears wide open. Your creative application of your skills, talents, experience and vision for your future combined with your current location will create a whole new world of possibilities for you. It will most likely come in very unique packaging!