Moving Abroad For Your Partner's Job: Should You Do It?

Let me start off by saying that this is a very personal decision and unique to every situation, couple, and family. And living abroad, especially moving abroad for their partner's job, isn't for everyone. But, I moved abroad for my husband's job, and spoiler, it's something I'd do again.

Let me give you a bit of a backstory. I met my husband, J, while I was in graduate school and solo gallivanting around China doing my dissertation research. After I completed all of my research in the field and genetics work in the lab, I allotted myself a year to write my dissertation, publish an article, and graduate. But, for my own well-being, I needed to do this away from the ultra-competitive, toxic environment in my department.

Me and J traveling in Barcelona, Spain

So, J, who is a teacher, decided it'd be a great time to search for a teaching position abroad. And I wholeheartedly agreed. He got a job in Vilnius, LT, and in August 2013, off we went. And I didn't throw my plan for graduating with my PhD and future research plans away either. My initial hope was that I'd be able to forge some collaborative relationships with other academics who'd want to work together. Turns out, collaboration among academics in a Soviet-style education system is frowned upon (although this is changing), so that didn't really work out. Luckily, freelance academic editing was a better fit anyways. 

Fast forward to November 2017, and we are now living in Florence, Italy, after having lived in Vilnius for four years. And all this time abroad has been thanks to J's job -- not mine.

While this might sound completely and un-popularly unfeminist of me, I'd argue the opposite -- that moving abroad allowed me the freedom of lifestyle that academia (as a young, American woman in science) wouldn't have afforded. It also allowed for a lot of travel, which is something I can definitely get behind.

Some things to consider before deciding to move abroad for work


So what should you do if you or your spouse has been offered a job abroad? As I said right off the bat, living abroad -- even if temporary -- isn't for every family. And I say family here, because I think it must be a family decision rather than a unilateral choice for it to be a positive, healthy experience for everyone. Before you leap into saying yes, especially if you already have a location-specific career yourself, you might want to consider some things first:


1. Is your job portable?

If your current job has a strong online portion, you might be able to get permission to work remotely. Or, if you are an academic or researcher, you might be able to find a position abroad. If you're an artist, you can consider selling your work online (if you don't already). If you are a teacher, you could look into the international school system. There are so many options if you get a bit creative.


2. Would you be okay with not working?


Many of the couples I've met abroad moved for their partner's job and decided to take time off themselves. Some have worked part-time, some took a short time off before finding a job themselves, and some decided it'd be a great time to try to start a family (that's us again too). Whatever it is you decide, know that there are others out there that you can connect with!


3. Would your family be financially stable with one income?

Cost of living definitely varies from place to place (hello, expensive Italy and cheap Lithuania!), so it is really important to consider all expenses as well as savings goals, especially if only one person will be earning an income.


4. How do you feel about missing out?

No matter what you move abroad for, you'll miss out on things happening where you're from. That wedding you would've definitely made it to -- maybe not going to happen. Your mom's (or dad's, or sister's) birthday each year -- nope, not there for that either. If you can handle missing these things -- and can stay in touch in other ways -- then you can make living abroad work. Actually, I think I'll write a post soon about how we keep in touch with family in the US.


5. What are your career goals and how is the job market in your field?

Think to the future before saying yes. For example, if I decided to try to re-enter academia (botany is highly competitive, go figure) after a nearly four-year break, I'd have little chance to find any job at all. If your field is similarly competitive, you'll probably want to think carefully about what finding a job would look like if and when you return to the US.


The Takeaway: would I do it again? Yes.


Have you moved abroad for your partner's job? Would you? How do you make it work?