Tips for the Expat Housewife

Friday 2 November 2012

There are legions of us out there; women who have paused their careers and left their family and friends for this adventure overseas.  Some of us have embraced it willingly while other's might not be so keen.  We find ourselves in foreign country with a completely different culture, no job to occupy our time and no friends to spend the days with.  While I'm not an expert, I'd like to think I've picked up a few tips along the way.

+Get a routine.
Without a job dictating how to schedule our day, all of a sudden the day seems much, much longer and the 10+ hours our partner is away at work can feel like a lifetime.  In the beginning, it will feel like a vacation - sleeping in, napping, showering in the afternoon, watching TV & movies.  Enjoy it but do know that it will get old and pretty soon you'll be pacing.  Try to make a routine for yourself even if it's simple things like waking up, breakfast, read the news, respond to emails, shower, make bed, go for a walk to the store, etc.  It helps to have a bit of structure.

+Reach out to groups.
If you are in a location with a lot of expats, particularly within a specific field, there will most definitely be expat groups already in operation.  PWC (formerly Petroleum Wive's Club,) nameyourcity Expat group, nameyourcompany Wives - they're all there because for most foreign employees, there is a spouse who is looking for something to do.  Sometimes you'll meet someone who will connect you but sometimes you'll have to take the step on your own.  They'll help in making some friends, giving activities to fill your time and it's always good to have a community of people in the same situation as you.  You'll be able to ask questions, get recommendations and even have people to vent your frustrations to.

+Make your house a home.
You will inevitably spend a lot of time in your home so make it feel comfortable.  Rearrange furniture, organise cupboards, buy a few things to decorate, put photos out.  Sometimes it seems silly to invest in a place you know is temporary but if it makes you feel comfortable, it's worth it.

+Get transportation.
When you do meet people, it will be difficult to commit to activities if you can't get there.  Choose housing close to public transportation (if there is any,) learn to drive, buy a car, hire a driver - do what you need to do in your new city so that you can access people and places.

+Your partner will work A LOT. Prepare yourself.
In the beginning, you'll hear all sorts of things leading you to the impression that your partner will work 9-5 and have weekends and evenings to do whatever you'd like.  You were brought there because the company needs help which generally means, there's more work than there are employees.  My husband works 12 hours a day, eats dinner and pulls out his computer for a couple of hours at night.  I hate it, but it's normal.

+Learn to cook/bake a couple of things.
Life in the expat housewife lane revolves around tea & coffee mornings and evening get togethers where you will probably be asked to bring something.  There will be a range of women there from those who can put together delicious little things at the drop of the hat to those who get lost in the kitchen.  I found it embarrassing to always show up with something store bought so it's a good idea to perfect a couple of fall backs and keep those ingredients in the house for last minute events.

+What have you always wanted to do?
Think back to the days where you thought, "I really wish I had more time to __________."  Now's your time.  Occasionally you'll find yourselves in locations that won't have a photography course but buy a book or find an online program to do that thing you've always wanted to do.

+Stay positive about your career.
It's easy for career-oriented women to get a little down on the situation because they feel like they're getting behind and losing touch with their industry.  While you aren't working towards that promotion, you are not just sitting around doing nothing (even if it feels like it sometimes.)  You are learning about new cultures, you're seeing working life in other countries, you're adapting and you're doing something that a lot of other people are too afraid to do.  Your experience abroad will most definitely bring new perspectives to your job when you return so don't discount it.


  1. I wanna cry, this post is so perfect! I was nodding along to everything...routine, yep...decorate your home, definitely...husband never home, sucks...get a car, necessary. It's like you pulled all the words right outta my brain! Have I mastered everything on this list since living in Germany? Far from it. But they're definitely expat rules to live by! Love this times 1,000. :)

    I'm sharing this with all my expat friends now!

  2. Great tips (for more people than just expat wives!) especially "What have you always wanted to do?"

  3. I was on gardening leave for three months last spring and almost went crazy - these tips really would have helped!

    But can I just say... I know it's really hard for all the expat wives out there, but can you imagine how hard it must be for the expat husbands, who are sort of charting entirely new territory all alone?

  4. I mean, the husbands who have followed their wives' careers abroad :)

  5. This post really made my day. Even though I'm not a housewife (getting married in February), I kind of feel like one. And I can't work under the terms of my visa right now, so I have ridiculous amounts of down time and it's driving me crazy! But thank you for these tips, they are really great!

  6. Awesome tips! I'm not sure I could spend sooo much time away from my hubby though. I think I'd go a bit nuts!

  7. wow lots to think about as an expat. I imagine the novelty of having free days would wear off quite quickly. When I was off while pregnant I loved it for the first 2 weeks and then I didn't know what to do with myself. 12 hour days are insane. Definitely making your house feel like yours would help.

  8. Wise words indeed. It should be handed to every expat partner as they arrive in their new country. The only thing I would add, particularly if moving to a developing country, is to be as patient with all aspects of your new life as possible. Thanks for posting this.

  9. Love this post Jay! I appreciate the insider view on what has seemed like a permanent vacation to me (and I'm sure, to other people as well). I think it would be very challenging to be without rewarding work, my own income, and "regular" routine. Thanks for the perspective!

  10. Oh I need to send this to my girlfriend...she's living in China right now! Great advice!

  11. Great post with some wonderful tips! It's a comforting feeling to know that others share the same struggles and triumphs in expat life!

  12. Great post! For our move to Abu Dhabi, I learned patience is everything. The first 60 days were tough, going from tourist to resident, but once you settle into a routine, it starts feeling like home.

  13. I think I've always been lucky that my career is online media, so having this blog and working on other internet projects lets me keep my hand in. These are great tips for the so-called "trailing spouse." I'm interested that your husband works so much - I thought that would be completely out of the question here in Norway where we just can't get over the 37.5 hour workweek! If we weren't moving away soon and ridiculously busy, I'd be in touch to meet for a coffee, Jay.

  14. good thing you have blog world to keep you company! ;)
    i would definitely get very ansy and possibly slightly depressed with too much alone time. i think that's how i felt in barcelona... wayyyy too much alone time.
    but it's great to make goals for yourself and put your self out there to make friends an become part of groups.

  15. Great advice and so true. I think the toughest adjustment in Africa has been lack of routine.

  16. Great tips! We were just relocated to a small SMALL town in Belgium, and I love this email! I am finding my place and my way here, but it does take time and it takes a positive attitude.


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