Expatriate Spousal Problems and Feasible solutions


Kavita Verma
Faculty Member
(Management Department)
B.S. Anangpuria Institute of Technology and Management
Faridabad (Haryana)

Trend to send the employees for overseas assignment has been crossed some of the decades. Since then one issue which was not considered is still going on. The issue which should have been taken care since then is now raising its head appallingly and being considered by some of the companies only and still ignored by other organizations. The issue which is being discussed here and for which each company who deals in internationals assignments needs to concentrate to make such assignment successful is "Expatriate spousal adjustment".  Spousal problem can be from male partner and female partner, but as of now the no. of expatriate women is not too much so here the problem of female spouse has been stressed rather than problem of male spouse. Let's take this issue in detail.


An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of home country.

Strictly speaking, expatriate means a person who has left his country, or has been forced to do so. However this term is now more commonly used to refer to people posted on jobs in a foreign country. This is not just employment of person of foreign origin, but actually posting person from one country to work in another country.

* Difference between traditional and current view regarding expatriate spouse:

Traditionally, expatriates were males accompanied by a wife who was a homemaker and companies did not consider spousal adjustment issues to be their responsibility because  at that time the problem was not  too much serious as it is now because today an extensive proportion of marriages are dual-career partnerships with both partners employed, and thus a need to take this into account has been stressed.

Global mobility is a reality and a necessity in today's global business environment and adjustment of accompanying spouse are positively related to the expatriate's intention to stay in the overseas assignment. These factors suggest that companies need to pay close attention to developing policies to ensure expatriate success.

* Relation of spousal adjustment and career with expatriate success on international assignment:

The demand for expatriate employees is growing rapidly as it becomes necessary for firms to expand globally in order to create and maintain a competitive advantage in their industry. Surveys consistently show that about two-thirds of international expatriates are accompanied by a spouse, children, or both, means that employees are concerned with the stress of cross-cultural relocation on their family. In addition, over half of expatriate families are dual career couples, and this number is rising.

Problems associated with dual career couples have been found to  include:

1. Higher refusal rates to relocate internationally;

2. Extended adjustment cycle for dual-career couples and their families;

3. Disruption of family income level;

4. Discontinuity in trailing spouse's career;

5. Heightened dysfunctional family consequences;

6. And repatriation and reengagement issues associated with the trailing spouse

Spouse adjustment-expatriate cultural adjustment connection is the largest of all of the variables in the international assignment. Spousal dissatisfaction, adjustment, and issues associated with her career development are the most common reasons for expatriate failure. Experts on spousal employment assistance agree that although the spouse has no contractual relationship with the company, he or she plays an important role in the success of an international assignment. Thus in order to enhance expatriate adjustment, reduce expatriate failure rates and to enhance expatriate performance, it is critical to address spousal adjustment issue.

* Difficulties faced by expatriate spouse:

  • Culture shock- spouse suffer substantial culture shock in the foreign location and shut herself away from the world. Due to that, expatriate may decide to return home prematurely rather than risk his wife's emotional, physical, and psychological health, and possibly their marriage.
  • Living condition-obvious differences are founded in living conditions of host country from that of   home country
  • Language barriers- spouses are not bilingual in the host country language.
  • Preferences for local hires-employers of host country prefer to employ their own country people rather than immigrants.
  • Unrecognized.-as spouse fail to work in host country they feel unrecognized as compare to home country where they worked hard at building a career and getting an identity. The loss of an important role in one's life can create wide-ranging negative affect and reduced self-esteem.
  • Unsupported-spouse feel like this due to no support from expatriate company and host country.
  • Let down because of inaccurate or irrelevant information- they don't have any prior and accurate  information about the host country so that they can prepare themselves accordingly before accepting the assignment.
  • Isolated-due to no interaction and contacts at new place.
  • Lack of recognition of foreign qualifications;
  • Visa restrictions;
  • Lack of available jobs;
  • Reluctance of local managers to employ transient expatriates;

* Support From:-

Company's side:

  • Issuance of work permit- to those who can work, as it gives to its employees.
  • Help to find the jobs for the expatriate spouse-expatriate firms can come into contract with other firms of host country to absorb the trailing spouse.
  • Organize some events and activities -which involve the spouse and the other family members to increase the interaction and contacts.
  • Identify networking resources-before departure, with the help of a relocation service, put the trailing spouse in touch with nonprofit organizations such as the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO)which helps people meet other expatriates
  • Provide an action plan outline-help the expatriate family outline key objectives they--individually and as a family will strive to achieve in the first 10, 30, 60 and 90 days and so on.
  • Give details about setting up household-numerous details must be taken care of when moving a family's household abroad like information about the appliances and suggesting them to take favorite products that may not be available abroad etc.
  • Evaluating relocation services- help to find out relocation service firms which provide a menu of services with prices based on individual or package rates and the needs of specific expatriates and their families. Some firms even provide a bilingual hotline for expatriates and their families to contact when they are faced with problems such as communicating with a plumber, establishing a bank account, identifying where to buy a particular product (e.g., in France, baking soda can be purchased only at a pharmacy), or understanding the public transit system.

Not only the company but the host country can also do a lot in this line.
Support from the country will provoke the immigrants to be positive towards the country and citizens of that country. If country will set up constraint for the immigrants like only after a fixed time period one can be PR and then he can apply for the job or the immigrants are not considered for  the job etc., so all these gives a negative feeling about the country and the expatriate leave  the assignments at  premature stage due to family  problems which affects the performance of the company and ultimately the economy and the reputation of the country. So, country should also contribute in this.

Host country's :

  • Remove constraints -offer the job for the expatriate spouse, in case companies do not give the work permit.
  • Coaching at low cost -so that spouse and the family members (immigrants) can be familiar with the culture of that country.
  • Organize events occasionally- and give the chance to expatriate and family to become participant of those events which shows the acceptance of immigrants by the country.

Conclusion: problems faced by expatriate accompanying spouse due to overseas assignment create dissatisfaction in his or her life and also on complete family part which affects expatriate performance and results in unsuccessful or premature termination of international assignment and company bear the loss which is quite heavy in direct and indirect way. So, to reduce such heavy loss all companies deal in overseas assignment should give due consideration to this issue to increase the expatriate success.


1. Punnett, B.J (1997), Towards effective management of expatriate spouses. Journal of World Business, 243(15)

2. Cole, Nina D., Managing global talent: Solving the spousal adjustment problem. Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

3. Turne, B.F., Ways to Help Expat Families Adjust. Living in Indonesia

Kavita Verma
Faculty Member
(Management Department)
B.S. Anangpuria Institute of Technology and Management
Faridabad (Haryana)

Source: E-mail May 7, 2010


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