Supporting Accompanying Spouses/Partners During Relocation

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Suzie Chapman

As the needs of relocating employees change, mobility must adapt to support them. This is especially important when considering the support of accompanying spouses/partners who work. According to the latest research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,1 nearly half of U.S. marriages consist of dual-career couples. The percentage has risen steadily in Europe, according to research by Modern Fatherhood,2 and in Japan as well, according to Bank of Japan Review.3  These rising numbers should be front of mind since the top reason employees turn down an international assignment is the potential disruption of a partner’s career.What does all this mean for a company’s mobility program? If stakeholders want to maximize the potential success of employee relocations and assignments, they may need to consider providing spousal/partner support before, during and after a move.  

In today’s world economy, two incomes are often necessary to ensure that a family thrives. For this reason, couples may only be in a financial position to relocate if both individuals are able to work. Additionally, an opportunity for one partner could put the other at risk of unemployment or potentially lost career advancement opportunities. Unless provisions are made for the accompanying spouse/partner, the relocation may be less appealing to some couples.

The success of an assignment or relocation depends not just on the successful transition of an employee, but also on the ability of an accompanying spouse and family to adapt to the new location. When couples relocate and the previously employed spouse/partner is unable to work, a sense of identity loss may occur, resulting in disappointment, resentment, a lack of confidence, and even anger. If language and cultural training haven’t been offered, this can add to a feeling of isolation. All of this can put a strain on the couple’s relationship, which may negatively impact the employee’s productivity and engagement. Ultimately, this can negatively impact the success of the relocation and/or assignment.  

Challenges Associated with Dual-Career Relocations

Spousal/Partner Support: With such a growing number of dual-career families, finding employees who are willing to accept international assignments can present a challenge. To expand and preserve a company’s talent pool, consideration of spousal/partner support is key in the areas of intercultural and language training (to ensure assimilation into the host environment), settling-in services, spouse/partner allowance, job search/transition assistance, and/or the reimbursement of continuing education and accreditation courses if employment isn’t possible. Actively involving the spouse/partner throughout the relocation process can help to provide a sense of empowerment; providing support for employment or education will be key to maintaining his/her sense of value and significance.  

Work Permits: Work permit requirements and eligibility for spouses and partners differ from country to country, so enlisting the help of an immigration subject matter expert to gauge eligibility early in the candidate vetting process is recommended. While some countries grant work status if the spouse/partner finds an employer to apply on his/her behalf, others may provide this opportunity automatically. Some countries recognize unmarried partners or same-sex partners, while others don’t.  Knowing the host location’s rules and regulations will be key to determining whether or not a candidate will be comfortable considering an international relocation – and whether the conditions in the host country will support his/her family’s needs.

Non-recognition of Origin-country Qualifications: In cases where an accompanying spouse/partner is permitted to work in a host country, but his/her qualifications aren’t recognized, skill and coursework updates might be required to find work and remain competitive. Since so many international moves are initiated within short timeframes, pursuing this level of preparedness – along with achieving an industry-accepted level of language proficiency – can be challenging.  Even in cases where individuals’ qualifications are recognized and there are sufficient employment opportunities, resume preferences, interview styles, performance management assessments, and job-searching techniques may differ, culturally.

Spousal/Partner Sense of Belonging: When an employee accepts an international assignment, both s/he and the accompanying spouse leave their support systems and familiar surroundings behind. However, while the employee has an immediate opportunity to develop a daily routine and new relationships through work, the accompanying spouse may feel a loss of direction or purpose, particularly if s/he had a career in the country of origin. Without a daily routine or the ability to communicate with neighbors, shop clerks, or potential friends, spouses/partners also run the risk of feeling isolated and alone.

What Companies can do to Support Accompanying Spouses/Partners

Despite the barriers and challenges to supporting accompanying spouses and partners during an employee’s relocation, it’s important to value and provide this support, as many preferred candidates can’t consider relocation without it. These provisions should be clearly defined within a company’s mobility policy. We recommend the following when considering support for accompanying spouses/partners:

Do Your Homework: Be sure to determine the employment eligibility of the spouse/partner from both a company policy and country-specific standpoint, and be aware of the host country’s current work permit regulations. If the spouse/partner isn’t authorized to work in the host country, clearly define any support that will be made available in its place. For example, tuition reimbursement may appeal to individuals hoping to advance their degrees or who would welcome the opportunity to prepare for a career change. If the relocation will be long-term or permanent, funding the updating of their qualifications in the host-country would also be a welcome provision. Arranging volunteer opportunities may also offer unique benefits to accompanying spouses/partners, including the addition of overseas experience to their resumes. 

Maintain Open Communication: After identifying any potential challenges, including any work limitations or cultural mores specific to the host location, maintain direct communication with the employee and spouse/partner. In addition to helping set and manage expectations, this will also provide an opportunity to develop a plan for the spouse/partner’s assimilation.

Support Job Searching and Maintenance: Consider providing resume revision guidance based on the host country’s trends and preferences, a labor market review, job leads and search services to help the accompanying spouse/partner find employment. Language and cultural training should be added to support assimilation into the new environment and to develop an awareness of workplace norms that may vary greatly from the individual’s country of origin. Interview training that takes cultural differences into account can also be extremely helpful. Once the individual has found employment, consider reimbursement of commutation fees (for public transportation) or a car rental, if appropriate. As an alternative, if the spouse/partner possesses skills that allow for remote work,  guidance and assistance with freelance/contract work and startup costs may be an option – but be sure to consult a subject matter expert and advise the individual on tax implications that may or may not be a consideration in the destination location. Remember, too, that expatriate spouses/partners could be a source of talent. Offering them direct employment or contract positions may provide mutual benefits to the individuals, employees, and the organization.

Get Them Connected: To ensure that an accompanying spouse/partner has a better chance of assimilating into new surroundings, research local networking groups and expat support organizations (live and online) and encourage membership. Language and cultural training play a significant part in helping individuals build new support networks, both personal and professional. Be sure that a strong internet connection will be available in the destination home, as a connection with family and friends in the origin country will be equally important. Each of these actions will go a long way toward ensuring a sense of belonging in a new host location, while maintaining previously established relationships from ‘back home.’

Think About Tax Considerations When Work Permit Assistance is Provided: If the company will be covering the spouse/partner’s work permit, it will be necessary to define whether or not the spousal/partner income will be equalized in full, in part, or not at all.  This should be defined in the organization’s tax equalization policy (spousal/partner income is typically classified as personal income), as the implications of the spousal/partner income on tax equalization costs can be significant.

Spouse/Partner Support – a Wise Investment

As cost control remains a top priority for many companies today, it could be tempting for stakeholders to consider spouse/partner support as an extraneous expense. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, initial costs incurred by providing this support could be incidental when weighed against costs associated with assignments that have failed due to an inability for the employee and spouse/partner to assimilate into their new environment, unhappiness of the spouse/partner that negatively impacts employee engagement, or the choice to select a less qualified candidate for a role rather than the right person for the job.

NetExpat revealed that 33% of employers reported an increase in the performance of their employees when support was provided to their partners on international assignments.5 A growing number of qualified relocation candidates are members of a dual-career household. Providing spouse/partner support not only fosters employee productivity and engagement during a relocation – it widens and strengthens the pool of candidates that companies have to choose from.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families – 2018,” News Release,April 18, 2019,
  2. Helen Barrett, “Employers baffled by dual-career couples with joint ambitions,” June 14, 2018,
  3. Ko Miura and Masato Higashi, “The Recent Increase in Dual-Income Households and Its Impact on Consumption Expenditure,” November, 2017, Bank of Japan Review,
  4. NetExpat Team, “RPS Facts: Reshaping Perspective,” August 14, 2019,
  5. NetExpat Team, “RPS Facts: Reshaping Perspective,” August 14, 2019,


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