A significant majority of the expat population is the ‘love-expats’ – those who became expats because they chose to follow their partners. It is common to use terms like ‘expat partner’, ‘trailing spouse’, or ‘accompanying partner’ for those who have followed their hearts to another country. I prefer, however, to use the term ‘love-expats’, as this highlights the power of their choice…
Love-expats consciously made a decision to follow their partner to another country (either with children or not). This choice – to truly trust in your life with another person and follow him/her away from your home country – takes great courage. I have a deep admiration for people who move for love and set their priorities based on this great value called love…
Things to consider before moving for love:
- You first: Put yourself and your needs first. A choice that is solely for you, made in line with your values, rather than based on fears or somebody else’s demands, carries less risk of regret later on, regardless of the outcome. Of course, if you have children, “you first” instead becomes a careful balancing act between your needs and that of your children.
- Your partner: How does your partner feel about the change? Is he/she ready to take on this responsibility? Are you ready to be proactive so that you are not totally dependent on your partner (e.g. for your social life)?
- Location: Will you move to your partner’s country or to a neutral ‘third’ country in which you are both expats? I have heard various experiences: some say it is easier to be in a neutral country because you are both facing the same challenges; others say that moving to the partner’s country is easier as there is often support from extended family. Yet others speak of feeling excluded as the partner is always in ‘his/her’ country. Different contexts work better for different couples.
- Money: There’s a good chance that your financial situation may change when you move. Even if your partner has a well-paid job, you may end up feeling dependent on him/her (at least initially). I know that putting the money issue on the table doesn’t feel romantic when you’re discussing your future together, but see this as an opportunity to empower yourself and give you both peace of mind. What happens if the relationship doesn’t work out? And if it does work, do you have enough money to visit home when you want or need to?
- Career: Often a move involves a career transition – this may be exciting and a chance to reinvent yourself, or it may feel like a setback. Will your education and work experience be transferable? Will you need further education? Will you have permission to work? How much are you willing to sacrifice with regard to your career?
- Family and friends: How will your move affect your relationships with the family and friends you leave behind? Are you prepared to no longer be part of their day-to-day lives and you, theirs? Can you deal with missing out on your nieces and nephews growing up without you? Or with not being around as your parents’ age?
- Language: Will you need to learn a new language? Are you ready for this? Not being able to speak the local language feels a lot like being illiterate. This can feel very uncomfortable and stressful after a lifetime of being able to express yourself effortlessly. Are there ways in which you could support your language learning before you leave for the country?
It’s important to acknowledge that moving for love is one of today’s classic dilemmas – and one that most career-focused (or internationally minded) adults will face at some point in their lives.
It’s also time to recognize that the person moving is not weaker or less-than. After all, every couple makes compromises and trade-offs in order to stay together – a shift of physical location just happens to be the most visible and concrete. Stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk for love takes remarkable strength.
Are you considering moving for love, or have you done so already? Which of the factors above feels most challenging – or inspiring – to you? Please leave your comment below.
First published on Expat Nest.