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WILL YOU BE A TRAILING SPOUSE*?
*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

Your spouse has been offered a job and the move seems very exciting and full of possibilities. Then comes the news that you won't be able to work. Your skills aren't transferable. Or perhaps there are employment restrictions in the new country. Whatever the case, you have now joined the ranks of the trailing spouses.

Trailing spouse, accompanying spouse. Whatever the terminology, you will have to rethink what this transition will mean for you and your future and you have a number of options available.

Firstly, you could choose not to go. If the posting is a short one then it may be better for you to retain your home base and conduct a long distance relationship for a period of time. This is not without risks but, unfortunately, it may be an option for you given your personal circumstances. If you do go down this route make sure you schedule plenty of visits (for both of you) and that you make the effort to stay in contact. A web-cam is a great way of doing this cheaply as you can converse via the internet and pay no extra charges provided you both have access to broadband. Contact a good computer shop to find out how to rig it up.

Alternatively you could chose to go. This may not be as bad as first imagined. Many countries that do not allow spouses to work have quite comprehensive support networks and social groups established to help you find and re-establish social networks. You should check out whether this is the case in the country that you are moving to. For example, Hong Kong has a variety of expatriate organisations that help smooth the way. From International Groups such as the American Women's Association to the Australian Association. These groups (predominately nationality based) provide a great leg into the social scene of the country as well as providing a comforting and familiar base to obtain information and assistance. Other groups include hobby based associations such as sports, language and social clubs. And of course, you can join professional organisations such as the various Chambers of Commerce and industry clubs. Check whether the place that you are moving to has these types of organisations.

Moreover, although being a stay at home parent or spouse may not be acceptable in your home country, this may not be the case in overseas. Your expectations may be wrong and, for many, this can be comforting, knowing that there are others in the same situation.

In Hong Kong, many people who were in this predicament took matters under their own wings, and, once the working partner was well established, they explored a variety of options available to them and ended up working after receiving sponsorship from employers. Just because you are initially told that you may not get a working visa does not necessarily mean that this will be the case for the entire posting overseas. It may also depend on the skills that you have and the flexibility that you are prepared to offer an employer.

Other options for the trailing spouse may include establishing your own business. I worked as a freelancer whilst living in Hong Kong because I was unable to find regular full-time employment. Freelance work suited my personal situation as well as providing a continuity of employment. Moreover, it kept my skills sharp.

Another popular choice for the trailing spouse is to undertake further study. This can be expensive and it may be worthwhile negotiating for education to be included in the prime income earners package. Obtaining additional professional qualifications, picking up a language or obtaining formal academic qualifications are all available options and well worth considering.

Voluntary work is another choice that many opt for. I worked as the Editor for a Magazine until I was able to push my local experience into a regular job. By proving myself in the local market I could then extend this experience into a locally hired position. The fact that I hadn't been paid for it wasn't mentioned during the interview process and, instead, the focus was on whether or not I could do the job. My salary (or lack of it) didn't rate a mention.

Finally, remember that the skills that you do gain over seas will also be valuable. The ability to adapt to new situations, remain flexible and open to new possibilities, and the ability to cope with differing cultural and social practices are valuable additions to any CV.

And who knows, you may not be returning as fast as you think.

Amanda O has been an expatriate most of her life and lived in Hong Kong for 7 years. She now lives in the Channel Islands.

HSBC Bank International has a range of tools on their web-site ( www.offshore.hsbc.com ) that are worth checking out. These range from country guides country-guides which can help with background information on a variety of destinations to an expenses calculator living-working-abroad  for you to calculate your monthly living expenses.

Posted 19Mar05