If you are moving abroad as a couple, having a partner could seem like an easier way to take the leap: living costs might be cheaper, you have less worries about making friends since you already have at least one, and you have a sounding board to navigate a new place. There are many upsides to moving abroad with another person but there are more things to consider than just having an InstaDinnerDate.
If your travel partner is not a significant other
Moving abroad with a friend could be Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Eat, Pray, Love – complete with gushy friendship moments and yummy heapfulls of shared pasta bowls. Or it could also go very, very wrong. When I was graduating high school, my best friend and I, who were both attending the same college, thought the obvious good idea was to room together. It nearly ended our 20-year friendship. Luckily, our friendship won out but we didn’t speak for almost a year. What we didn’t know then was that just because a friendship is strong doesn’t mean it can survive such intimate circumstances. You will be asking a lot of this person. A lot. One of you might make friends easier than the other. Your taste in friends – besides each other – might be very different. One of you might want your apartment to be a place of solace. One of you might want it to be Hot Spot Central. One of you might like adventure, another more of a homebody. Point being, if you are going to move abroad with a friend, make sure – double, triple sure – that you both want the same things.
If you are traveling with a significant other, the same (above) goes for you… and then some
Chances are if you’re a couple moving abroad, you’ve discussed marriage, a slightly higher degree of commitment than moving overseas (but not by much). Husband (then boyfriend), Mike, and I were very committed to each other when we were first considering coming abroad, but the first few places he interviewed with made it quite clear that they were not going to hire my boyfriend to bring along his girlfriend; too many possible problems. So moving abroad sped up where we were ultimately headed. We got hitched. Even before we were married we had discussed many of the points discussed above and had lived together long enough to know the basics of living with each other: I was more social, he liked more adventure. Neither of us wanted our apartment to be Club Hot Spot.
Where are you headed?
The exciting part of moving abroad is thinking about all of the places that you could go. The world, when you think in terms of where else you could live, busts open and the possibilities crack open w-i-d-e like Easter eggs full of candy; each a yummy decision. Kuala Lumpur? Mozambique? Germany? Places you’ve dreamt of, places you’ve never heard of. Cairo, Cameroon, Croatia. The thought of a new place gets me excited. Every. Time. But remember that location is a huge decision to make, especially when two people are involved. Both of you need to be sure about this decision. It is a deal breaker. If you are thrilled about the possibility of moving to China but your partner is worried about the air pollution, don’t push your agenda. If one of you isn’t happy, neither of you will be.
Moving abroad as a couple on paper seems an easier adjustment because you will already have a friend in tow, but don’t let this hinder you from making new friends or friends outside your normal circle. It is easy to fall on the person you came with and rely on them for all of your social calendar activities but there is also no easier way to alienate lots of other potential friends. Even though you came together and will undoubtedly be doing most things together make a serious effort to break out and make new friends outside of each other.
Just because you have talked about having a baby doesn’t mean your options of destinations are limited; it just gives you a whole new realm of things to consider. My husband and I lucked out. We had done no such research (silly, first timers) but were lucky enough to have landed in a place that feels to us as one of the best places for us to have small children. Besides that my pregnancy here made me a fairy princess where I got the best parking, bank tellers fetching chairs for me, strangers giving me the go ahead on lines, and guards that escorted me across the street in the middle of rush hour – maternity leave in Dominican Republic is 3 months 100% paid leave. Law. That’s not just our deal working at an International School, that’s law under the Dominican Labor Code. I am aware of the mystical unicorns like Denmark that offer a year maternity for mothers at 100% wages paid as well as governmental child support. Not all places are so generous but some offer some pretty sweet deals for having babies abroad. Having small kids is not easy, why not look at places that will make you’re life easier.
A big benefit for some couples moving abroad is the saving potential that comes with making the move. Many of our expat friends save 15% of their income a year. A few other couples are able to live solely on one salary, saving the other person’s entire salary that year – that’s anywhere from $35,000 upwards. (We have kids and only one spouse working. Needless to say, no such savings for us.) If saving money is a major factor for you, really research where you are moving. Our employment package here offers a housing stipend as well as a utilities stipend. With most bills paid for, what you make is what you can save and that’s not including places that offer cushy match contributions to your retirement. Saudi Aramco and similar places in the Middle East are considered the gold mine of savings, “I’m going to move there for a few years, bank some money, and retire,” is the repeated message I’ve heard about jobs in the Middle East. But not all places (like most countries in Western Europe) offer such a comfortable package. Choose wisely if you’re looking to save.
For many couples that don’t want children, the abroad life can be limitless. Not being anchored down financially or spatially by having a whole brood to transport, can give you infinite possibilities of where else to travel. If you are living in Europe, holiday breaks can be reasons to visit neighboring countries. Long weekends can give you time to explore towns in your host country or fly elsewhere. Friends of ours have whisked away to Spain, Morocco, and Curacao without much planning. Of course you can do this with children, but couples without children find it easier to travel, lighter to pack, and cheaper to do.
Thinking about how far you are moving might not seem like something to consider when you’re considering a move overseas, after all, you are making a commitment to leave home behind. However, with two people moving from their home base, you would do well to think about the distances that you will be traveling to and from home. Husband and I are both from NJ; in fact, his parents’ home and my parents’ home are 15 minutes apart. From our current country, we are a 4-hour flight. We are the lucky ones. Our friend, Jill is from California while her husband Greg is from Vermont. In relation to further places they could be, this location in the Caribbean works for both of their home bases in that it is one of the closest places they could be overseas to both homes. If you and your partner both plan on visiting home a lot or plan on having a lot of visitors, how far you are traveling might be a bigger factor than you realized, especially if you have two different home bases to consider.
In many respects, moving abroad as a couple has its benefits, the biggest being that you already have a built in friend to help steer the transition into this new life that can often times – especially in the beginning – be quite scary, but don’t assume that just because you have a partner in crime the rest will fall into place. Remember, use your partner as a resource but not as a crutch.
Are you and your partner a couple abroad? What advice would you give another couple moving abroad?Also check out: In the Know: Moving Abroad as a Family In the Know: Moving Abroad as a Single Person ~ Pack light. Live well. Move often. Repeat ~