The Expat LifeLine Making expat life simpler, safer and saner. Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:16:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 You Know You’re an Expat Trailing Spouse When.. Sat, 04 Feb 2017 00:30:28 +0000 The post You Know You’re an Expat Trailing Spouse When.. appeared first on The Expat LifeLine.


Here’s my personal ‘Trailing Spouse’ performance review.

(Five years on, and I’m still counting on you all to add your own in the comments…)


  • You receive a friends and family discount card, and you have absolutely no-one to share it with.
  • You volunteer as a parent driver, and then get completely lost with 4 sullen children in tow.
  • When someone says “we must have coffee sometime”, your immediate response is “Now?”
  • You have 697 Facebook friends, and not one of them lives within 500 miles.
  • Skype refers to you as “a valued longterm customer”.
  • You carry snacks everywhere – most of your life is spent battling bureaucracy, your paperwork is inevitably a three hour problem solving exercise.
  • You routinely carry photocopies of everything from your marriage certificate to evidence of chickenpox immunity in your purse / handbag / glove compartment.
  • You are have a Google alert set up for “trailing spouse’, because it’s the easiest way to find your people who understand.
  • You loathe the term ‘trailing spouse’…
  • You’re suddenly doing playdates in three languages.
  • You can find wifi, anytime, anywhere.
  • Your intercultural catering relies heavily on cheese and tomato pizza and crepes.
  • Your first response when someone asks to visit is to check their baggage allowance and issue a list.
  • You know the luggage allowance for every flight to your location, and which airlines don’t weigh hand luggage.
  • Most marital disharmony centers around “selfish refusal to check bags’ on business trips, or reluctance to fill aforementioned bags with Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate, Branston pickle, Bisto etc.
  • You make your mother carry a Christmas tree to Kenya, complete with decorations.
  • Somehow, a single plane ride managed to erase your entire career history, and has been replaced with the phrase “What does your husband do?”.


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FIGT. I’m Going. Are You? Fri, 13 Jan 2017 17:56:08 +0000 It seems incredible that five years have passed since my first Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson* who is the expat online […]

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Families in Global Transition conference for expats, TCKs, globally mobile,

It seems incredible that five years have passed since my first Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson* who is the expat online version of Wikipedia.

In that time, I’ve presented four times (which boggles my mind even as I write), served on the FIGT board for two terms, and had a behind the scenes pass to the most unique organization I have ever been part of. The initial promise of a welcoming blend of diverse experience and expertise has grown into a powerful, nurturing community of global nomads who have walked alongside me in the intervening years, and who I’m delighted to call friends.

Today, I looked back on the initial blog posts for the first time in three years, and was startled to discover that I now know every one of those early commentators. They not only folded me into their community, they are still pivotal parts of my ongoing journey. They’ve provided advice, support, hilarity, community and a cheering section whenever I’ve needed it – and believe me, I’ve needed it often.

But enough about me, because this is about you. You need to be at FIGT in Den Hague in March. I’m not the only one that wants to meet you – everyone I know does too. We want you to experience that warm welcome, that buzz of excitement at finding people who ‘get’ you, appreciate the challenges you’ve weathered and celebrate the fact that you’re still standing, and you’re still curious.

I want you to meet the people who have raised me – the ‘Trisha’s,’ Jo’s, ‘Norman’s ‘Apple’s, ‘Judy’s, ‘Julia’s, ‘Ellen’s, ‘Maryam’s’ ‘Tina’s ‘Lois’s’ ‘Katia’s, ‘Kilian’s’ and so, so many more. They may not all be there in person, but they’ll be there in the stories, in hearts and in the uniquely grounded, nurturing culture that FIGT provides. But even more, I want FIGT to be part of your journey, to discover the people and the lessons that will change your life and to be one of the brilliant new faces that keep us enchanted, engaged and energized, every year.

It’s where you belong.

You can find more details about the FIGT conference – and the incredible lineup – here, and if you are coming, let me know! I’d love to share a moment, a coffee, a seat or a story with you.

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International Relocation – Buying a Home Abroad. Wed, 05 Oct 2016 01:17:56 +0000 I’m not a real estate professional, so the good news is that I’m not going to try and sell you a home. Predictably though, I’ve made plenty of mistakes when it comes to navigating the international property market and buying a home abroad. So here, following on from the Golden Rules of Renting, are the international relocation […]

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I’m not a real estate professional, so the good news is that I’m not going to try and sell you a home. Predictably though, I’ve made plenty of mistakes when it comes to navigating the international property market and buying a home abroad. So here, following on from the Golden Rules of Renting, are the international relocation rules for investing in property as an expat.

Review your international assignment contract.


Many assignment contracts include a buy out clause to facilitate a quicker move for the new expat family (or one transferring to local payroll), but don’t assume that you will automatically qualify. There are often limitations on the type of property that are included, such as homes that are atypical for the local area, ones that have planning or permit issues, any covenants or contractual limitations to the property or ones that you bought without conforming to company assignment policy.

In addition, buyout clauses tend to offer a ‘competitive market value’ for your home, which in plain terms means a price at which the property will sell within three months. For expats whose home location has a slower housing market, this can mean a substantial reduction in home value.

Understand your expat finances.


After the 2008 financial meltdown, rules and restrictions governing mortgage eligibility tightened significantly. They are now easing off, but as an expat, you may have still have difficulty proving income, qualifying for a home loan or that your limited local credit score only qualifies for the higher interest rates.

No matter where in the world you live, if you’re going to apply for financing, you’re going to need a credit history and credit score. While some lenders will allow your international credit history to be taken into account, many won’t – or will make you pay extra to get it included. Establishing and building a good local credit score means taking out some form of credit agreement as soon as you arrive (the length of credit history is one of the crucial factors in your score), and then managing it carefully, especially in the year preceding any mortgage application. For more information on credit history, scores and how they are calculated, check out the links at the bottom of the page.

When you are deciding what you can afford, it’s not just about the mortgage payment – there may also be fees, charges and taxes that may not be standard in your home location. Most fees and taxes are calculated according to home value, and where international assignments are concerned, there will be wide variation in housing values. It’s one of those things that’s easy to forget when you’re negotiating your assignment contract and planning your relocation budget – it looked great on paper, but once you factor in the non-negotiable (and often, non-tax deductible) extras, you’ve doubled your mortgage payment.

Ones to look out for include:

  • Property Tax (especially in the US, where property tax can upwards of 1% of property value)
  • Earthquake /Flood /Natural disaster insurance (especially where there is a history of former incidents and coverage is not included through your regular home insurance
  • Home Owner Association (HOA) fees
  • Home insurance
  • Property Maintenance fees (typically on properties with shared space or amenities)
  • Utilities
  • Security

There are also huge variations globally in terms of real estate agent fees and as an expat, you are likely to incur these more frequently than a permanently local employee, so include them in your financial calculations from the outset.

Be realistic about your international assignment timeframe.


When you take on a long term assignment or switch to a local payroll, it’s tempting to believe that you will live in your new home for the long term. However, unless you are emigrating or retiring, you are far more likely to be in your new home for between 3 and 5 years – currently considered a ‘long term assignment ‘s international relocation terms. Your company may well help you with the moving costs, but I can guarantee you will have invested plenty of your own money in furnishings, maintenance, remodeling, landscaping and services. For assignments of under 5 years, renting will almost certainly be cheaper, so consider your motivation for buying very, very carefully, and be honest about the real costs over your assignment duration.

You also need to be clear about currency and property value fluctuations – the shorter the timeframe, the higher the risk of exposure. Sure, you may get lucky and make a bundle, but are you protected if your property value plummets?


Understand the work involved in buying and selling property overseas.


A home is the largest single purchase you are ever likely to make, and involves a great deal of money, complex legal requirements and a team of people. If you haven’t already bought or sold a home, be prepared to expend a considerable amount of time, effort and emotional energy. If you are selling a home it’s even worse; open houses, viewings, contract negotiations and surveys are all demanding your attention just at the point you need to concentrate on planning your own relocation. There are ways you can minimize the effort involved (see list of tips, below) but still, know that if your relocation involves a property sale, you are less mobile, less focused and at the mercy of the buyers market..

Still want to buy a home?


If all of our advice hasn’t made you run screaming for the hills, you must be serious about your plans to buy a house. From experience, the rules for buying a house as an expat are a little different, and for many of us, we have learned them the hard way. Luckily for you, we here to let you into the expat expert top 10 secrets for making your life in global transition a whole lot easier…

1. Get a good real estate agent with a proven track record in the local area and who you trust to work in your best interests.

Be clear about how they are earning their commission, and whether they receive any ‘kickbacks’ from your international relocation services / destination services provider. Remember that you typically have no obligation to use the one the company offers – unless their is a specific assignment benefit attached. If in doubt, ask your HR provider if there are any penalties for not using them.

2. Listen to your real estate agent. Even if you don’t like what they are saying.

You don’t have to agree with everything they tell you, but you do need to consider their advice.

3. Buy small.

I love cathedral ceilings and huge family rooms, but experience has taught me that furnishing, heating, decorating and lighting them is more expensive than it seems. And nothing will fit in the next house – I guarantee it. A small home means that you have less debt, lower ongoing expenses and your house is far more rentable should you need to move. Oh, and it’s cheaper to heat, light and decorate..

4. Buy popular.

Spend time watching the local real estate market nd understand what sells quickly, because if you get the offer of a lifetime on the other side of the globe, you are going to need to sell your house as fast as possible. Add in that most relocations have a very short turnaround time, it avoids the unpleasant situation of the working partner being transferred while the rest of the family wait behind for the home to sell.

5. Avoid quirky.

By quirky, I mean anything that may raise red flags on inspections, or reduce your pool of potential buyers. You may love the murals in the front entrance, the 1920′s themed bar area or the garden gnome habitat, but everyone else is just adding up the cost and effort of removal.

6. Avoid fixer-uppers.

Oh, I know, you love a project – but try to limit yourself to work that can be done in under six months and on a moderate budget. You are in the unenviable position of not knowing anyone well enough to call in favors, you don’t have a list of tried and trusted tradespeople, and no matter what the company says about your assignment being 3-5 years, if it ends early, you are stuck with a half-finished property..

7. Limit your spending.

I have lost count of the property listings that I have seen which detail the huge amount of money spent on granite countertops and maple cabinetry. Neither of which I would want in a kitchen – give me white cabinets and butchers block every time. If something is very important to you, by all means go for it, but don’t for a minute assume that you will get your money back when you sell. Keep your spending proportional to the value of the home and the budget of the local buyers, and if in doubt, get a real estate agent to give you advice, rather than the contractor who would be doing the work. Realtors get very, very tired of sellers who are unrealistic about the true market value of their marble whirlpool spa.

8. Get permits.

Make sure that any work you do is fully documented and inspected if necessary, and use licensed contractors. It’s not just about safety and quality, it’s also about having all the necessary paperwork when it comes to selling. The collapse of the financial markets has meant that lenders are being far more cautious about the properties that they lend money on, and any irregularities that the survey turns up may void the sale. In addition, it may invalidate any buyout clauses in your relocation assignment contract. You have been warned.

9. Ask your real estate agents for recommendations for tradespeople.

They usually have a fantastic contact book of people who do work well, quickly and inexpensively, and most importantly, don’t leave a job unfinished.

10. View your home as a consumable, not an asset.

In financial terms, expecting to make money on a property in the short term is highly risky, especially when it is your family home that you are speculating on. Even experienced property owners have been burned in by the recent fluctuations in the housing market, and they have the advantage of catering solely to the market, rather than having to make compromises to meet your individual family needs. Consider any spending in the same way as rental payments, and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Now it’s your turn. There’s an unlimited comments section stretching out below, just waiting to hear about your triumphs and disasters – I’ve got a great Dulux Paintmate story to trade….


Online Resources & Further Reading

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Expat Money: Best Finance Apps for Global Nomads. Thu, 29 Sep 2016 22:29:06 +0000 One of the biggest challenges of expat money management is tracking and taming the financial complexities of multiple locations, households and moves. The minute you’ve got a handle on the your cross border costs and currencies, something changes – your kids start a sport, move schools, head off to college or your partner announces that […]

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One of the biggest challenges of expat money management is tracking and taming the financial complexities of multiple locations, households and moves. The minute you’ve got a handle on the your cross border costs and currencies, something changes – your kids start a sport, move schools, head off to college or your partner announces that they’ve been offered an incredible promotion to Outer Mongolia and you’re leaving in three weeks…

The demands of managing the finances on the move have meant that I can’t solely rely on my checkbooks, credit cards and spreadsheets anymore – instead, I use a range of tools that help me keep my personal and professional finances separate, monitor and manage income and payments on the go, and keep me updated when something has gone wrong.

The growing focus on mobile apps is great news for global nomads, because we can now manage our finances wherever, whenever we need to. So, to help you keep your financial affairs in order while the rest of your life is up in the air, here are my recommended 10 best money apps for expats on the go…


1. Toshl – Best Expat Money Management

Want my favorite app for tracking your income and expenses in more than one currency? Try Toshl. It lets you choose a currency for each transaction, categorize, tag (and search) expenses, offers exchange rates, syncs across devices and has an data export feature. Paid upgrades give you more options, but the basic version does a great job for most of us. It has an incredibly annoying sound, so head straight over to the settings menu to at least turn the noise off. Sadly, you can’t do the same with the monster, but frankly, it’s a small price to pay for making international expense tracking so darn easy. It has just launched the web version, a welcome relief for those of us of a certain age and font size preference…

It also has one of the best introductions to basic financial record-keeping and management that I’ve seen – literally walking you through set up step by step, and explaining some key stuff (like how to track ATM withdrawals and credit card payments correctly) which most other apps assume you already know.


2. LearnVest: Best Combined Budget & Financial Planning

LearnVest launched in 2009 with a mission to untangle and empower money management for real women. While the branding is geared towards the fairer sex, the tools and services are universally appealing: easy to use, comprehensive and seriously good. They started with an online budgeting platform and released an app in 2012, bringing all the best features to your smartphone.

Their app uses bank level security to access your accounts and deliver your financial activity right to your fingertips, where you can categorize, set budgets and track goals. It gives up-to-the-minute clarity on how much you have spent in any particular area – perfect for when you are moving and need to track specific types of one-off expenses. We add a relocation expenses category every time we move, keeping tabs on expenses for reimbursement and real-life data on how much your move is actually costing. It’s also helpful to track bank fees, currency rates and all those hidden or unpredictable expenses – all crucial information for when negotiating your next assignment contract. Not least LearnVest places emphasis on proactive financial planning – both short term budgeting and long term life plans.


3. Mint: Best Automated Financial Tracking

Another brilliant app, but Mint’s automated categorization means you can get really lazy, really fast. While it does a great job of telling you where your money has gone, we are all about forward planning and active participation. Mint is the financial version of moving back in with your parents – i.e. you can see it all happening, but you’re enjoying it all being done for you, thank you very much. Having said that, it’s worth checking out for the free credit score feature, which is invaluable if you’ve just arrived and are going to need to take out loans.

If you’re going to use Mint, you’ll need to set clear financial ‘buckets’, monitor their levels and recalibrate proactively. It’s a great one for using retroactively to quickly see where your money has gone to put a plan in place for the upcoming year – so right now if you’re warming up for end of year tax preparation, it’s worth giving one of the above a whirl.


4. Wally: Most Secure Spending Tracker

For those of us who prefer to keep our financial information offline, Wally is a great way to keep track of what’s going where. It doesn’t sync with bank accounts (great for those of you who are worried about security) so it allows you to be more controlled and creative with your categories and funding. I love it for it’s clarity and ease of use – and the ability to take photos of receipts.- perfect for tracking business income and expenditure. When purchases from Amazon or Costco could be anything from toilet tissue to diamond earrings, it’s incredibly helpful to be able to look back and see exactly what that three figure line item was without having to rummage through my Amazon purchase history.

For anyone who has done the Creating a Back Up Plan live workshop, you’ll know how important it is to have expat friendly categories – and Wally does that better than anyone. You can give it a test run here.


5. BillGuard (Prosper Daily): For Fraud Reporting and Resolution

It’s not as pretty as LearnVest or Mint, but BillGuard is worth downloading just for its fraud protection capability. Unlike other apps, it pays attention not just to the money you spend, but where and how you spend it, and flags anything that is out of the ordinary. But here’s the great thing – it also crowd sources fraud information and uses it to protect you – in other words, if fraud has been detected at a location or a institution, it will alert you if you might also be at risk, and give you a simple way to get your money back.

For travelers, this is huge; you know immediately if you are the victim of duplicate or fraudulent charges, and can contact or flag the merchant with a single tap. The app also gathers information submitted by other users to approve or report merchants, helping you to avoid problems before they happen.


6. Credit Karma: For Monitoring and Managing Credit

I have been singing the praises of Credit Karma for the last five years, from the days when it was a tiny web-based service. Not only does it offer free access to your credit scores, but it is one of the best sources of information on managing your credit out there. The service is free – their revenue is earned from tailored product and service recommendations, but there is no pressure to buy. You can check your score as often as you like and discover exactly what you need to do to fix any issues.

They’ve also got some great tools for calculating home loan affordability, loan repayments and credit score changes – vital when you’re pondering whether to rent or buy those big ticket items.


7. Transferwise: For International Currency Transfers

Transferwise fixes one of the huge pain points of expat money management – international bank transfers.  If you’re operating in multiple currencies, at some point you will be moving money between accounts internationally – and will be familiar with the punishing fees, exchange rates and extensive wait times.

The Transferwise app puts you in the driving seat with clear conversation rates, visible fee structures and single day transfers. The account set up is speedy, with clear instructions and all the required information in one place. In my experience, the hardest part is setting up transfers from your own bank; which, bearing in mind how much money they lose out on after you switch, is probably deliberate. Once you’ve got your systems set up, believe me, it’s worth it. Simple, speedy cost efficient money transfer that reflects the needs of modern international life. Bliss.


8. Paypal: For Small, Speedy Business Payments

I have a love hate relationship with Paypal – I loathe it’s clunky design, it’s irritating login system and it’s confusing user experience, but in terms of ease of payment across every platform, – and in the shape of it’s new app –  Paypal is difficult to beat. Until recently, I’ve tended to use it sparingly, but thanks to Bank of America sending me three replacement credit cards in the space of six months, I’m starting to use it more widely for recurring payments to reputable companies. That way, instead of having to update multiple accounts and risk late payments, I just update the credit card listed on my Paypal account and go on my merry way. Note, however, that this should only be used for regular payments with known, reliable services – because Paypal has a nasty sting in the tail.

The huge problem with Paypal is that it typically removes the consumer protection provided by your credit card company. If you buy something direct with a credit card and run into problems, the credit card issuer has a responsibility to resolve the situation – but with Paypal, that legal relationship is not in place. Paypal does have it’s own buyer protection, but it is an internal code with timing restrictions and a far more limited scope. So, use it for sending and receiving money and paying your dog sitter – but for any big purchases, pay direct.


9. Venmo: For Anyone with TCKs, Teenagers and College Students

If you want to send money simply and swiftly, Venmo is a difficult one to beat. Create a Venmo account, link bank accounts or credit cards and make payments to anyone with a Venmo account at the touch of a button. It’s how I manage my son’s college living expenses and reimbursements, and was a lifesaver when he was studying abroad and needed money quickly.

It’s target market is the social young ‘uns who share expenses but rarely use cash – allowing them to send money back and forth without the need for ATM’s or multiple cards. Gone are the days when you are waiting for someone to repay you for the cab fare or concert tickets – now, you can get the ‘funds’ on the spot. For expat money managers, it means that you are freed from those currency challenges, complicated bank transfer processes and lengthy delays – the money gets to their Venmo account instantly and can be transferred to their bank within a day.

As an added bonus, each transaction demands a description, so tracking who paid for what (and when) is a breeze. Which is perfect when you want to point out exactly how much someone’s four month ‘budget’ sojourn in Europe actually cost…


10. Splitwise. For Social Butterflies

Splitwise is a fantastic app for anyone sharing expenses. I have just returned from a weekend in New York where we rigorously tested it, and it made paying and splitting the bills a breeze. Set up your group, add their emails and enter each bill with who paid and who to split it between. It keeps track of each person’s debt or credit, is easy to edit, lets you add photos of receipts (brilliant for expense reimbursement later) and send a chirpy email reminder to any debtors out there. Wonderful.


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7 Traits of the Secure, Successful Expat Partner Thu, 25 Aug 2016 18:56:07 +0000 When I say I have been lucky for the last fourteen years, I’m not just talking about best bits of life as an expat partner. There have been some wonderful moments – but when I look back, I can also see the stark reality of a high risk cross border life. And while most expat briefings […]

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When I say I have been lucky for the last fourteen years, I’m not just talking about best bits of life as an expat partner. There have been some wonderful moments – but when I look back, I can also see the stark reality of a high risk cross border life. And while most expat briefings on security refer to carjacking, personal protection and home security systems, we rarely address that dirty little secret of the expat idyll – the increasing vulnerability of the partner.

It’s a trap many of us fall into, but thankfully, it’s one we can climb out of with a little effort and attention. I’m firm believer that the simpler you make things, the more successful you are likely to be, so in consultation with expat experts in personal, cultural and career development, legal and financial gurus, here’s my definitive 7 trait checklist for simple, smart and secure life as an expat partner.


1. We define and defend our value.


Most of us are clear about the vital role that we play in expat transitions, but when it comes to articulating it outside of our close relationships, we struggle. We tolerate diminishing terms ‘Trailing Spouse’ and “dependent partner’ while project managing an international move, and singlehandedly managing our family’s lifestyle, welfare and day to day cross border administration. We can advocate powerfully on behalf of our children, but when it comes to our own worth and wellbeing, we use throwaway phrases like “I don’t work” or make light of the challenges of leading international and intercultural transition.

The ability to acknowledge and articulate our own skills to the rest of the world is a key part of our security, because expat life has no inbuilt framework for recognising and rewarding our personal and professional development. Typically, professional value is reflected in monetary terms, and so even voluntary roles – no matter how complex or demanding – struggle to offer the same sense of credible, transferable attainment.

There is good news, however. In The 100 Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott discuss how the traditional lifespan model;  Education – Work – Retirement – no longer reflects the reality of increasing longevity, and suggests that one of the critical skills that we need to master is successful transitioning in and out of differing work and life roles. For those of us who have swapped professional titles for international partnering and parenthood and understand the personal, societal and cultural work involved in adapting to those changes, it is welcome acknowledgement of the growth that global mobility demands.

The first step to building security is acknowledging – both to yourself and the world – that what you are doing has both personal, organizational and commercial value – and you probably couldn’t afford the market rates to pay someone else to fill your roles to the same standard. It’s a healthy reminder that while your name might not be on the payslips, it should be there on the voting rights, joint assets and pension planning.


2. We are able to negotiate effectively for ourselves.


Hot on the heels of recognizing worth is the ability to leverage that value. All too often we are have the impression that we should be passive in the assignment negotiation – and discover that we are now far more vulnerable as a result. Lucy Greenwood, partner at the International Family Law Group talks about the many legal myths that surround moving overseas – and the belief that our rights as a partner and/or spouse are universal is one of the biggest mistakes that we make.

Once you are in location, the realities of an expat move can quickly undermine your ability to find the time, words and self confidence to not just take strong decisions, but advocate for yourself effectively. We procrastinate, we compromise and we become complicit in our own disempowerment.

One of the most powerful steps that expat partnerships can take is to have a regular, honest discussion about where both individuals see themselves, their roles and the family – currently and at 2, 5 and 10 year timeframes. Once those dates are set, we can to use them as a deadline for specific reviews, personal targets and if necessary, rehearsed negotiations.

Devon Smiley, a Negotiation Coach and guest expert on the Global Girl’s Guide to Creating a Back Up Plan, has run training for UN Women and the Clinton Foundation, and talks about the importance of preparation in any successful negotiation. She recommends that before you start, you should know what your ideal and your walk-away limits are, and have prepared scripts to help you communicate your position. She points out that none of us are born with an innate ability to negotiate, so success is inextricably linked to prior preparation and practice… On the family dog, if you need to.


Take the How Protected Are You- Quiz


3. We take ownership of our own choices – both good and bad.


One of my favorite phrases is “No plan is actually a plan – just a really, really bad one”. And yes, before you ask, I am guilty of this one too. I agreed to a one year temporary assignment to Kenya, and here I am, 8 homes and numerous moves later, writing this in San Francisco. And you know what? I have to hold my hand up and admit that for the first five years, I just went along with it.

It’s all too easy to blame circumstances, finances or the lack of work visa as a reason to not take responsibility for our long term situation, but we are where we choose to be, for better or worse. Not all the choices that face us are easy or pleasant, but to effectively chart our own course, we have to be honest about the choices that have got us here – even if they were unconscious or ill informed.

We can’t predict the future, but we can do two things: take responsibility for our own knowledge and make intentional choices. Some will be great, some might be awful, but if you are going to be a partner, it’s always better to be a voting one…


4. We take practical steps to safeguard ourselves


I have lost count of the number of women I know that have no independent access to money, no clear understanding of any retirement plan, and yet countersign the tax filing, year in, year out. And while I fully intend to be a burden to my children (I’m in the throes of the second round of the US college admission process, and feeling a strong need for payback), every one of us should have a back up plan. It’s a huge problem for women who don’t move, but for those of us living internationally, the stakes are even higher. Navigating the cross border healthcare, judicial, welfare and taxation systems takes money and expertise, so no matter which way you slice it, you’ll need to know what you have, where it exists and how to protect it, with or without your partner.

Ask yourselves this – would you allow your nearest and dearest to go overseas without their own money and all the paperwork they need? No, me neither. Yet we settle for a joint bank account, limited access to the household documentation and no local legal identity outside of our relationship. It’s something that is prevalent in the expat community – the belief that we are immune to the forces of real life – job loss, relationship breakdown, illness and untimely death

It’s why I created the ‘How Protected Are You?’ Quiz and Starter Kit – to help you identify the (often forgotten) areas of vulnerability – and take steps to redress the balance. Whether that be setting up your own bank account, creating an expat Family File or creating a comprehensive back up plan, committing to consistent action, no matter how small, will make a huge difference.


Take the How Protected Are You- Quiz


5. We are informed about matters that affect our future


Whether it’s the first move or your fifteenth, we need to understand the impact that our choices have on our future life. We embark on our expat adventure with enthusiasm, optimism and curiosity – and I would never want that to change. However, expat partners need to protect our own interests as individuals, and it’s not always as easy as you might imagine, especially when children are involved. The Hague convention, for instance, forbids the removal abroad of children – which includes you returning to your passport country with your kids – without explicit permission from the other partner.

There are similar pitfalls with access to college education, social welfare, healthcare and credit; in most countries, a significant amount of recent (and proven) residence is required to access services as a local, regardless of whether you are a citizen of that country or not. We often tie up all those bureaucratic loose ends in our passport country to simplify life, but in doing so, cut the ties that not only bind, but also buffer us.

Ask expats about their long term plans, and you’ll often hear “I can’t plan because I don’t know where we will be in three years time, let alone twenty”. But here’s the thing – we all want the ability to send our kids to college, to withstand life’s bumps, have healthcare and be able to retire comfortably, None of these are globally guaranteed, so we need to put them in place for both the short and long term, somewhere – individually, and as a family.


6. We make great role models.


Aha. Here’s the big one. I didn’t start out with a driving need to change the way women live international life. I liek many of you reading this, was living a comfortable – if slightly chaotic – life in the ‘expat bubble’ with a solid household income, the ability to take a career break and a blissful ignorance about the implications of my life choices. My wake up call was realizing that I was no longer a positive role model for my own children – against all the opportunities of my upbringing, I had not only been influenced by gender inequality, I was now embodying and nurturing it.

I had been using global mobility as an excuse – “it’s too complicated”, “I don’t have enough time”, “I’ll never earn as much as my partner”… All phrases that I am mortified to admit to when compared to the life and lack of opportunities that so many women face.

We need to do better. The overwhelming majority of expat partners are women, and while I would love to tell you that our rights and roles are universally acknowledged and protected, I can’t. For the last century, women have fought for the right to define our lives differently – with a independently defined trajectory rather than one that requires and revolves around someone else’s.

We are in strange situation – a life on the outside that looks exotic, exciting, privileged, but scratch the surface and you see rights, and future security channeled through a single partner. We are effectively putting all our eggs in one basket – and giving it to someone else to carry. It’s not an example I want to set, either as a women, a partner or a parent – and certainly not a path that I want my daughter to take.

I still have a long way to go before I have all the answers – if I ever will. I struggle daily to balance the needs of family, home and running a business. Life is messy, frustrating and full of dropped balls. Figuring out how to sustain a location independent career, support children through geographical and cultural transitions, run a household (with a partner that travels a lot), keep 4 dogs in check and maintain basic personal hygiene is an ongoing challenge, but it’s one worth taking on. I know from all your emails, conversations and comments that I’m not alone in this – and so if you can’t learn from my less than perfect example, at least you can avoid my mistakes. And that, in my mind, is one of the most precious lessons I can teach my kids – don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because it shows you cared enough to try out loud.


7. We have a strong support network


I’m ending on a happy note, because here’s one expat partners do brilliantly but rarely give ourselves enough credit for. With every move,it takes time, effort and sometimes, enormous courage to get out there in an alien, unfamiliar and intimidating world and build the networks we need to sustain life overseas. We find friends, places, systems and services that make life run smoothly (ish), often with no support, little preparation and on a punishing timescale.

The act of registering kids for state school in California, for instance, is extraordinary – requiring multiple separate appointments to verify residency (which is a nightmare when you only arrived three days ago and don’t have a pay slip, utility bill, or state issued ID), submit required vaccinations records (which constantly change), pick up registration paperwork, apply for a student ID, sign up for extra curriculars, buy the required PE kit, order the yearbook and if you have navigated it all successfully, get your child’s class schedule. It’s exhausting, and you have to do it for every. single. kid. Every.Single.Year.

Yet, we all know that those school gyms, playgrounds, grocery stores, night school classes and volunteer hubs are the places where we find our ‘tribe’ – the people who help us figure out the next steps, warn us of the pitfalls and catch us when we fall. We have an incredibly community spanning the globe that ‘gets it’ – recognizing the hard work behind the happy smiles. We work together, support one another and make life lived globally safer, kinder and more rewarding.

Here’s the thing. We have to take care of ourselves as well as we take care of each other. The stronger we are individually, the stronger we are as parents, partners and a community. I’m trying to build a community of well padded women (and yes, men) who have cushioning in place for life’s knocks. We’ll all do it in different ways, with different goals and different timelines, but we need to get started now.

If you don’t know where to start, start here. The ‘How Protected Are You?’ Quiz will help you pinpoint the areas where your safety net has holes, and the Starter Kit will get your on your way to a better informed, more secure life. It’s time, don’t you think?


Take the How Protected Are You- Quiz

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9 Essential Questions that Every Expat Partner Must Ask Sun, 14 Aug 2016 02:57:32 +0000 Expat partners are often described as the engines that drive transitions, the quiet power behind the move. Yet scratch the surface and you will find that the perception of an empowered, privileged lifestyle camouflages the uncertainty and hidden vulnerability of life in an internationally mobile supporting role. Interestingly, it’s not just first time expats that are caught […]

The post 9 Essential Questions that Every Expat Partner Must Ask appeared first on The Expat LifeLine.

Expat partners are often described as the engines that drive transitions, the quiet power behind the move. Yet scratch the surface and you will find that the perception of an empowered, privileged lifestyle camouflages the uncertainty and hidden vulnerability of life in an internationally mobile supporting role.

Interestingly, it’s not just first time expats that are caught out – many experienced, long termers are also unaware how eroded their individual rights and ability to make independent decisions have become. For many expat partners, the inability to take their children ‘back home’ is one of the most fundamental  issues- and most overlooked. We go into expat life with a sense of curiosity, a willingness to take a career break and the expectation that if it doesn’t work, we can ‘come home’ – only to find that in reality, we are economically dependent and tied to our new location by the legal restrictions of shared parenthood.

Globally mobile life is challenging, and the stronger the partnership, the greater the chance of a happy, fulfilling life overseas. Which, in my mind, means whether it’s your first or fifteenth move, you need to go in to it with your eyes wide open, with a clear, negotiated and mutually beneficial plan and the understanding that you are both expat partners – with equal rights, responsibilities and value, both inside and outside the relationship.

So, with no further ado, here are my tried and trusted questions that every expat partner should ask.


1. How long will we be expats for?


Current research shows that the typical length of international assignment now falls in the 1-3 year category, but there’s very little discussion about how one assignment often leads to another – and the impact that unplanned serial expatriation has on the (typically unsalaried) partner.

It’s a trap that I certainly fell into. I initially agreed to a temporary one year assignment to Kenya, and based all my planning around that timeframe. The limited timing allowed me to put my career, my children’s school places and my personal and professional plans on hold easily. What I hadn’t anticipated was that assignments often overrun or extend, without a great deal of notice or opportunity for negotiation. Once you are in a new location, it’s problematic to return independently, and yet staying means that many of your reentry plans are no longer in place.

So instead of asking you “How long are you going for?”, I want you to think beyond this particular move and instead focus longer term – how long do you intend to live overseas? As many so-called ‘trailing spouses’  will tell you, the length of time you remain overseas has a profound implication on your ongoing practical, financial, legal, and educational choices.

As the accompanying partner, you often become more vulnerable, losing primary visa status, economic independence, legal rights, access to your passport nation entitlements and – if you have children – the ability to move back home without your partner. You might have agreed to this for the short term, but how will you address that vulnerability if the assignment is extended, or a new one offered?

No matter how long the initial assignment is for, it’s a good idea to think about what you both would do in a range of situations – including repatriation for one or both of you, and where you want to be at the 2, 5 and 10 year mark. Having these discussions up front mean that you can make sure your plans, priorities, security and freedom of choice are maintained throughout the expat journey and beyond.


Take the How Protected Are You- Quiz




2.  What are the role expectations?


Studies have shown that 86% of expatriate partners have not only a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but also an established professional career. So while many take career breaks to spend time with children, their intention is to return to salaried employment at some point.

Note that I use the term salaried employment, rather than ‘work’. One of the important conversations going on in the Global Girl’s Guide to Creating Your Back Up Plan community highlights the obstacles faced by supporting partners when it comes to re-establishing a career – one of the most frequently cited is the lack of time.

There is a massive hidden workload in expatriate life, which the outside observer may not see or understand. While the primary visa holder often has the support of colleagues, information systems, institutional knowledge and specialized teams within the workplace, the supporting partner has to create these for themselves and the family unit to be able to function effectively in the new location.

Unfortunately, many of the tasks that the partner assumes responsibility for are both unpaid and undervalued. In the early stages of expat life, adopting the roles of primary caregiver, relocation and orientation manager and family administrator is a conscious, jointly negotiated decision that has an acknowledged value. With every subsequent move, however, agreement often becomes assumed, the value is less clearly defined and we become unwittingly complicit in our own role shift.

These challenges aren’t unique to expat life, but they are exacerbated by the lack of local family support systems, frequent moves and the established practice of the mother being primary contact for all child related conversations. All of which contribute to the erosion of your  power and ability to self advocate.

So before you hand in your resignation and start planning the move, ask yourselves: Whose career will be the primary focus for each move, who will be considered the “Trailing Spouse” and how do you both feel about this in the short and long term?


3. Is it possible for me to work internationally?


Here’s the thing. When the carrot of an international move is dangled in front of us, it’s easy to be drawn into the idea that once we are settled in, we can pick up our careers right where we left off, and everyone will move heaven and earth to help us. And yes, many transferring employers now offer career support services for partners, recognizing their need / desire to continue earn in the new location. But don’t confuse support with legal right to work (as specified by your visa), the authorization to work (Employment Authorization Document, Social Security number, Tax ID etc) or even the practical ability to secure and sustain a professional role.

Before you go, check the laws, regulations and requirements for work. International assignments make pursuing a professional career as a partner far more complex. You may need to secure the necessary visa or work permits, tax and social security numbers and will probably incur additional tax and compliance burdens that are unlikely to be covered by your partner’s employer. None of which are pleasant, and often prove a significant barrier to continued, consistent employment.

Ask yourself whether it is feasible for the supporting partner to work in the new location, bearing in mind the potential language and cultural barriers, professional certification requirements, time spent managing the move, childcare requirements, and the need for an understanding employer who will work around the assignment constraints of the primary visa holder. If not, is there some way you can work remotely or establish your own business? Or are there strategies that you can implement to keep your professional resume competitive so that when you are ready to retake your seat at the table, you don’t have to take a step down?

Finally, a word on volunteer work. I’m a passionate supporter of volunteering as a tool for personal development, but it is not without risk. Too often, I see strong, capable and hardworking women running incredible organizations and generating massive revenue, only to belittle those abilities as ‘I just help out a bit at the XXX’. And yes, I know that men volunteer too, but if I hear the words “‘just’, ‘only’ or similar, 99% of the time, it’s a feminine voice… So, by all means, please offer your skills and service, but never, ever forget that in an ideal world, your role would be a funded one.


4. What legal rights do expat partners have in the host country?


Expatriate assignments are global, and increasingly include destinations with very different laws and legal systems. While I don’t expect you to have an in-depth knowledge of the local legal system, it’s vital you understand the laws that personally affect you. The rights of women, your rights as a partner, the custody and movement of children, same sex partnerships, and any other laws that may differ significantly from those of your home location should be considered, as well as what legal support is provided in the event of a brush with the law.

Lucy Greenwood, Partner at the International Family Law Group (and one of the guest experts on the Global Girl’s Guide to Creating a Back Up Plan), talks about the importance of seeking advice from a specialist in international family law before you move, so that you fully understand the legal implications of transferring both your relationship and your family overseas. She is all too familiar with the hidden pitfalls of cross border relationship, parenting and custody issues, and the painful implications of being unprepared.

The majority of accompanying partners are women, and depending on the location, legal rights that are previously taken for granted may not apply locally. The same applies for same sex partnerships and custody rights; once relocated, for instance, one parent cannot repatriate with the children without evidence of consent of the other. So if your Plan B included the phrase “I can always go home”, think again.

Get professional legal advice about the relevant legal issues in your host location, and discuss with your relocating organization to understand what support (if any) is in place to support and safeguard your legal rights. Build in a regular legal ‘check-up’ so that you stay updated on changing legal situations  – and how they impact changes to your own family unit.


5. What financial adjustments will need to be made?


If you haven’t already guessed, choosing to go on international assignment in a supporting role means a gap in your personal income, no matter how short term. This is going to have an impact on your pension (both state and company), home country benefits entitlement (depending on the length of time you are out of your host country), earning potential, credit rating and your professional credentials and resume, so you need to be clear about your financial plans for the future, and how you will safeguard yourself.

As a dependent partner, it may be more difficult to open an individual bank account in your host country, but it is an essential part of your financial security. If something happens to your partner or your relationship, depending on the laws of the country you may lose access to any assets held jointly, and thus the ability to not only pay any bills and live in the family home but also to hire legal services. While we hate to think about a loved one being either missing, incapacitated or dead, the reality in these situations is that your legal rights are determined by the law of the land you live in. The same applies in the case of marital breakdown, and the last thing you need in a time of personal or family crisis is a financial one.

Once you have taken care of the emergency provisions, make sure you build economic recognition for both partners into your budget. it’s not enough to settle for joint accounts as an indicator of equity; in most expat situations, the salaried partner is far more financially powerful, and can turn off that joint access to money at will – bank accounts, savings, investments and retirement funds – even credit – leaving you reliant on the courts (and an accurate report of your financial assets and net worth) for any form of future security.

Before you roll your eyes and tell me that this will never happen to you, let me put this another way. How would you feel if it was your daughter in this position? And what is so scary about having assets equally distributed between both partners? I firmly believe that expat families are stronger where the differing roles are acknowledged, valued and secured – and that you stay in a relationship out of choice, not necessity…


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6. What if something happens to the primary visa holder in terms of country law?


Bear in mind that the transferring partner is the primary visa applicant, and in most cases, their residence in the country is dependent on their continued employment with the sponsoring company. So if your partner loses his/her job, breaks the terms of the contract, commits a crime or dies, you no longer have the right of residence, regardless of how long you have lived in the country.

For most expats on short term assignments the immediate response is to return to their home nation. However, the longer the assignment, the greater the family investment in the host location, both in terms of financial assets, education and employment history. So if you are considering seeking employment, re-entering education, have college age children or are going to invest larger sums of money, consult a legal or visa specialist to fully understand your local rights.



7. Have we made legal arrangements for all dependents in the event of death, injury or incarceration?


As Benjamin Franklin said, “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes”, and we should be giving both the same annual attention.

It’s the one no-one likes to talk about – how well are you and your family protected if something happens to either of you? You may have a valid Will, Advanced Directive of Healthcare (Living Will), Power of Attorney and named beneficiary in your home country for instance, but are they valid in your host country, and do you have access to the legal services to enforce them should the unthinkable happen?

You should have valid copies of all of the above held by a lawyer in your home location, and seek international advice for your host location in advance or on arrival.  If you haven’t already heard it enough, I’ll say it again.. Laws vary, and your Embassy/Consulate can only do a certain amount to help. Most Embassies retain a list of local lawyers who speak your language, and other expats will often have recommendations or referrals.

As with finding a good doctor, it’s always worth finding a good one before an emergency arises.



8. Who will have custody of the kids if things change?


We’ve talked about the financial provisions needed to ensure that dependents are taken care of, but as the accompanying partner, you also want to understand how the laws of your home and host nation define your rights as a parent, because there is huge global variation.

The types of family going on international assignment are increasingly diverse, with blended family make-ups and complex parenting and care arrangements, none of which are reflected in many of the host country laws.  In Britain for instance, mothers tend to be given primary custody, while under Sharia law fathers have the greater rights. Same sex partnerships are often not even recognized, or in the worst case, illegal.

So, before you go:

  1. understand your parental rights in your host country.
  2. discuss the issue with your partner to reach a consensus,
  3. get advice from an international family lawyer who is familiar with both jurisdictions
  4. include custody as part of your written legal arrangements.


 9. How does expatriate life affect my goals long term?


It’s full circle time. Remember our first question, asking “How long will I be going for?”. Here’s the final wake-up call. Many, many spouses have taken a leave of absence and agreed to a short term assignment, only to ‘wake up’ many years and many miles from their own personal agenda. That’s not to say that expatriate life doesn’t have many advantages – I for one would not swap the last fifteen years for anything. What it does, however, is interfere with your plans, often without you stopping to think whether the path you are on is the one you want.

I’ve talked a great deal about the financial implications – mainly because they are most frequently cited as reasons for going along with the current plan. I hear comments like ” I’ll never be able to earn as much as my husband”, or “I’d have to start from scratch” – both of which reflect an alarming lack of self belief, and a strange perspective that the only reason for pursuing a career is money,

The issue here is not about specific financial reward, but about value. It’s about making sure that while you are taking care of everyone else, your own needs are being met – or that they are  and integral part of the future plan. All too often, they get lost in the mix, and it becomes more and more difficult to recapture the balanced, negotiated collaboration that characterised your first move.

Typically, the salaried partner has the support of an organization behind them, a more secure residence, legal and income status – plus a highly articulate, capable and proactive partner working behind the scenes. We, on the other hand, have very little institutional support and plenty of barriers to creating our own security – yet we are the ones made most vulnerable by moving, and most in need of a safety net.

It’s a conundrum. I love the potential for discovery and reinvention that relocation provides, but at the same time, my lack of planning means that I forfeited ten years of earning potential, pension contributions and resume building. So while it has given me the push to search for purpose rather than simply a pay packet, finding the confidence to re-enter the workforce after ten years is hard, and has meant I have had to restart from scratch.

Thankfully, things are changing, and there are many great resources out there to help you stay connected with your identity, your security and your personal wellbeing. To help you get started, I’ve put together the How Protected Are You? Quiz which will help you pinpoint areas that you need to work on – complete with a Creating Your Back Up Plan Starter Kit to help you take action.

To take the quiz, click on the link below.

Take the How Protected Are You- Quiz


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When Kids Move Abroad: The Grandparent’s Guide to Location Proof Love and Laughter Sat, 23 Jul 2016 22:40:49 +0000 According to the 2015 Pew Research Center’s Teens, Social Media & Technology Report, over 88% of US teens have access to a mobile phone, sending an average of 30 texts a day. So if you are wondering why your grandchildren never call you once they move abroad, it’s probably because they are far more used to […]

The post When Kids Move Abroad: The Grandparent’s Guide to Location Proof Love and Laughter appeared first on The Expat LifeLine.

According to the 2015 Pew Research Center’s Teens, Social Media & Technology Report, over 88% of US teens have access to a mobile phone, sending an average of 30 texts a day. So if you are wondering why your grandchildren never call you once they move abroad, it’s probably because they are far more used to texting; it’s cheaper, it’s quicker and used with a data messaging service like WhatsApp or Snapchat over wifi – it’s free.

So the only question left is – why not try it yourself?

Why is it important to stay in touch when kids move abroad?


If you think that your role in your grandchildren’s lives is less important once they move, think again. For them, everything is changing – the location, the culture, the people, the schools, the rules – so family is one of the few constants that they can rely on.

Now, more than ever, children need the connection with the familiar, and extended family provide a vital sense of security and a valuable sounding board for sharing their experiences and feelings. And as Julia Simens points out in Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, the opportunity to use emotional language to express and explain feelings is a fundamental building block in successful transitions for both children and adolescent and emerging adults. In a world that is constantly shifting, grandparents need to seize every the opportunity to build and maintain a close, trusting relationship, despite the practical and geographical barriers.


It’s too complicated / difficult…


Be mindful of the example you are setting. At times, the constantly changing technologies makes staying connected seem overwhelming, but if you are thinking that it’s not something that you want to learn, just pause a moment. Remember that your grandchildren are constantly facing enormous amounts of change and learning, – and they will be looking closely at the behavior modeled by the adults around them.

By choosing to learn the skills that you need to maintain and nurture your relationship with them you are sending two vitally important messages – firstly, that learning new skills is part and parcel of every life, and secondly, that they are worth your effort. I may be wrong, but most grandparents I know want their grandchildren to embrace every opportunity to learn, and would walk over hot coals to make them feel loved – and what better way to show them than by being available at some of the most difficult times of their lives.

Why can’t I just write to them?


You can – but remember that that’s your world, not theirs. Your grandchildren communicate in ever new and different ways, and while communicating via technologies can feel awkward and unfamiliar, once learned, they are uniquely suited to cross border communication. Feel free to write letters (but don’t necessarily expect written replies) and use Skype/ Google Hangouts / Facetime to make calls, but for a true sense of what they are up to right now, meet them where they are at. Which means text, picture and even video messaging. 

As a final note before we get into the details, please know that all the previous reasons aside – I promise your effort is worth it. My own children take huge delight in texts from their grandmother, partly because she puts her own particular style into it. Don’t feel pressured into getting it ‘right’ – believe me, they will find those moments when you get it wrong highly entertaining, and love you for trying. Which is a something  precious that they probably learned from you.

Getting Started.


If you don’t already own a mobile device, I would suggest getting a smartphone or tablet. They give you access to a huge range of free apps which will make your life easier and much, much more portable (imagine being able to take your entire photo album around with you in a device the size of an old cassette case…) – and honestly, when your grandkids start sending you photos, you’ll want to be able to see them.

Most tablets now also include a camera and microphone, so you can also make use of the umpteen brilliant-and-free video calling apps out there, so you can join in on family meals, nighttime story-telling and craft projects – without moving from your own living room.

If you already own a basic cellphone, don’t worry. Texting works too – you just have to be more careful of the cost of both sending and receiving texts. You can even send texts from a computer using services like MySMS.

For those of you who want to invest, there are a ton of mobile devices out there – my personal favorites are Apple iPhones and iPads, but Samsung and Amazon also offer good options. Just make sure that your device has a microphone, camera and is compatible with the following apps:

  • Texting (i.e. Google Messenger, Hangouts, Messages, iMessage etc)*
  • WhatsApp
  • Snapchat




Most mobile and tablets come with a default messaging app preinstalled – if you are not sure, simply search ‘message’ on your device and it should appear. Apple devices all have iMessage, Android devices (Samsung, HTC etc.) often have two or three installed.  If one isn’t already installed, head to the App store on your device and download one – my favorites are MySMS and Google Messenger.

Now that you’ve found your message app, it’s as simple as entering their phone number, typing a message and clicking send. If you are looking to extend your skill set, consider adding emojis (those little cartoon type smiley faces and characters that can be found by clicking the little smiley face button at the bottom left of your phone keyboard), photos and voice messages. Be warned, photos and voice messages may be more expensive, so check in with whoever pays the bill first. (I’m channelling my inner Blue Peter presenter there).

Texting always reminds me of those real life, day to day interactions that families have – the ‘hello, how are you?” check ins. They are perfect for keeping in touch in a way that is stress free – letting your grandchildren know that you are there, that you care and that you can be reached easily. Many grandparents get frustrated by the seeming lack of information in texts – but it’s not the words that are important, but the consistent connection. Take time to understand what their ‘normal’ sounds like, so that when the tone changes, you know. And for the record, ‘fine’ never is…




WhatsApp is a data version of texting (i.e. it needs an internet connection to work), but if you want to send photos or have group messages (imagine, all your grandchildren in one ‘virtual’ room), WhatsApp is brilliant. It’s also widely used by kids, so chances are they will already be using it.

You need a smartphone and phone number to set it up, but once you’ve done that, you can set it up easily on tablets and computers. To learn how to set it up without a mobile phone number click here (you will still need a smartphone, so borrow one if necessary). It’s already available for computers and Android tablets, with an official iPad WhatsApp app in the works, so there are no excuses.




Ooooh, Snapchat. Beloved by teens, twenty somethings and celebrities the world over, it’s a strange concept. Basically, you send a picture or message that (in theory at least) disappears once it has been viewed. It takes a while to get used to the idea of disposable communication, but once you have embraced it, it’s huge fun. Think of it as the modern form of slapstick comedy – making faces, wearing silly hats, being tickled – all the things we love to laugh at in one app.

Here’s the thing – don’t expect sensible conversations about college plans or career aspirations on this one. Instead, you’ll get pictures of silly faces, their latest meals or their toes on a beach. But if you want candid shots of their prom dress, best friend or favorite hobbies, being one of their Snapchat friends will make it easy for them to include you. And as you will be the coolest grandparent ever (and one of the very few Snapchat seniors) you’ll have massive novelty value.

For your starter guide to Snapchat, click here.


Messaging Rules of Engagement


Before I send you off into the internet superhighway, here are a few final pointers… 

Check the cost: Most phones come with a text and data package, but check with parents on the limits, because standard rules vary across the globe. In the UK, you pay to send calls and texts – in the US, you pay to both send and receive. International text and data costs vary massively, so check which services are included in the packages, and work around them. Rest assured, there will be a, inexpensive way to stay in touch, and the options that we’ll be focusing on will help you along.

Check the timing. Kids often keep their mobile devices with them 24/7, so Grandma sending hilarious Snapchats at 3am is going to be very unpopular. Have a conversation with their parents to establish what ground rules are already in place, and work with them.

Be clear on confidentiality. You might be clear on the timing rules, but what happens if you are getting communications from your grandkids at 3am their time? Should you tell their parents or stay quiet? What about inappropriate content? Or cries for help? While the beauty of direct messaging means that the vast majority of your conversations stay private, with Snapchat, they may be sharing ‘stories’ publicly – and you may be one of the few family members to see them.

Now it’s over to you… If you have any other favorites (or hilarious stories), share them in the comments section below!




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The Expat Language of Leaving: What We Really Mean By ‘Fine’. Mon, 04 Jul 2016 13:02:28 +0000   Over the last month, I have been completely enthralled by the conversations going on as part of the Moving With Kids Summit, where we heard from some of the most inspiring, engaging and expert voices in the world of cross cultural parenting. Throughout the three weeks, a number of themes popped up in multiple presentations – […]

The post The Expat Language of Leaving: What We Really Mean By ‘Fine’. appeared first on The Expat LifeLine.


Over the last month, I have been completely enthralled by the conversations going on as part of the Moving With Kids Summit, where we heard from some of the most inspiring, engaging and expert voices in the world of cross cultural parenting. Throughout the three weeks, a number of themes popped up in multiple presentations – the need for family to provide a sense of stability, the importance of nurturing a sense of belonging that can withstand geographical and cultural moves, and the critical role of emotional language in both of those.


It highlighted how lucky I am to have an extended family who love, support and sustain my own family transitions. As I write this, I am back in Wales, sitting on a sofa in a converted barn owned by my brother, with he and his family in their own home only yards away. My mother lives just across the road, and my sister is currently traveling down to meet us all. In about 5 hours, we will have three generations in one room, sharing meals, stories and no doubt strong opinions on Brexit. You can imagine how that’s going to go.


There is a sense of coming full circle. My brother was the one who drove us to the airport for our first big move, when we were all a tense, tightly wound ball of emotions, with no understanding of what we were facing and no words to describe how we felt.


Judging by the Summit sessions, discussions and community, the difficulty in finding the words to express how we are feeling is something that every expat family struggle with, with every move. The words to express that tentative excitement, the sparkle of curiosity, the profound sense of loss, the quiet clench of dread. And how you – our family, by birth, by bond, or by choice – play such a pivotal role in our happiness, despite the separation.


It’s the communication no-win situation. When we try to put a brave face on it and focus on the positive, it sounds like we are having a wonderful time and not missing you one bit. When we moan about how miserable we are, we can almost hear the phrase “sure, living a life of leisure in the sun with no work and plenty of help – it must be awful” sarcastically running through your mind. And if you have enough patience and understanding to let us vent for hours without telling us to shut up, at some point we start to hear how whiney and unpleasant we sound and really wish you had.


We do get though it, and the support of the people we leave behind is something that we value above all else. We may not speak to you on a daily basis, but I can promise we think about you often and talk about you to our new friends, wishing you were there in person to join in.

So for those of you who are leaving people you love, or are finding it difficult to explain how conflicted life is as an expat, I’ve put together some pointers that you can share..


We are a confused mix of emotions right now, so please bear with us.

Some of us are excited to be going on this adventure, but we are also quietly terrified of what lies ahead, and can’t show it for fear we won’t get on the plane. We feel guilty about leaving you, but it’s like going into school for the first time – we are trying to put a brave face on. It doesn’t mean that we love you any less – the opposite in fact. If we didn’t have you as a safety net, we’d never step out into the unknown.


We need you more than ever, but it may not seem like it.

Remember when you started school, and it took all of your energy just to keep track of where you should be going, what the rules were and who and where to avoid? That’s what relocation is like. We hardly know what time of the day it is, let alone our own phone number.We are just barely holding it together, and a text or email make a world of difference, especially if it makes us laugh.


If you love us, forgive us if we don’t answer immediately.

We are overwhelmed, we don’t know anybody here, the paperwork is bewildering and every waking moment is spent trying to keep our heads above water. When we finally get through this transition phase (and we will), we will remember for ever the fact that you stuck with us.


Birthdays and celebrations are always the hardest for expats, especially for the first year.

Remember how I moaned about having to cook the Christmas turkey, or that every birthday card reminded me that I was getting older? I was wrong. All those things reminded me that I have friends and family to share my time, my home and my life with, and without them, it can be very lonely. We do find new people to share them with, but if we could have one wish, it would be to have everyone we have ever shared those times with all together in one room..


I may say ‘it’s fine’, but I’m being brave.

Please don’t be fooled. But I also don’t want to waste precious time talking to you by sniveling about the woman at the school, and I want to hear what is happening in your life. Just talking to you makes everything seem a whole lot better, and hearing about your day helps to put mine back in perspective. It reminds me that we all have our good and bad moments, and the trick is to have friends to laugh, cry and share them with.


You don’t have to write an essay – three words will do.

Or a photo, if that is easier. What we miss most is the day to day interactions with you all – the smiles, the snatched conversations in grocery stores and school yards – the sense of connection and belonging. So don’t think you have to send a three page letter for it to be worthwhile (although we love those too) even the smallest contact lets us know that someone, somewhere is thinking about us, and is missing us too.

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An Open Letter to a Teenage Boy Sat, 28 May 2016 17:08:23 +0000 It’s been nearly three years since I wrote this. In that time, my son left for college an awkward, irritable and self-righteous teen, and has returned; taller, thinner, wiser and a joy to be with. So, for all of you parents who are currently suffering through the exam revision or college countdown, this one’s for you.  […]

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It’s been nearly three years since I wrote this. In that time, my son left for college an awkward, irritable and self-righteous teen, and has returned; taller, thinner, wiser and a joy to be with. So, for all of you parents who are currently suffering through the exam revision or college countdown, this one’s for you. 

In a rare moment of family harmony last month, Tom and I went to our local hardware store. We made it the entire way around  the store without becoming irritated with the other, instead managing to laugh and talk.

As we walked to the car, a grandfather and small grandson were on their way in; the grandson skipping alongside, swinging on his grandfather’s hand and turning up his face to share a story. The older man was bending down to listen, both of them were delighting in the other’s company.

And there I was with my now 6″1′ son, for whom life is no longer so simple, and who is trying to bridge the gap between childhood and becoming a man.

In a reversal of the scene playing out in front of us, I looked up at my son, and shared my own secret.


“Just so you are aware of the magnitude of the ‘Bait and Switch’ trick life played on me, you were just like that.”


What I forgot to add, was so was I. I remember the moments when time disappeared as I watched him discover the world, and it makes me sad to realize that he’s not the only one hardened by the passing years – I am too.

In an effort to explain why we as parents seem so unreasonable, so angry, so irritating, so controlling, here’s an open letter my teenage son – and probably others out there. It’s what we are thinking at 3am when we are rehearing our own words, and wishing them unsaid..


Dear Tom,


Firstly, I love you.


Those may not be the words that always come out of my mouth, but please know that it is the one enduring, irrefutable truth in my seemingly erratic behavior. But imagine, just for a moment, you are given a small child and are expected to stand by and watch them navigate through busy city streets. That’s what parenting feels like. It’s terrifying, and you’d be a little crazy too.

I will always see you as three years old – the days when you greeted me with delight in your eyes, excitement in your voice, enthusiasm in your hugs. The days when I was invincible, when your greatest need was to be held close and your biggest challenge was how to balance on a bicycle. It makes it hard to watch you go out there and face the world, armed only with the inadequate advice I tried to give you and knowing full well that you weren’t listening and are probably thinking you know so much better.

You may be right, but the only way to find out is to test that hypothesis and take risks. I have failed far too many of the challenges facing you, and a little bit of me dies knowing that you will be hurt and will learn that not everyone is kind. You will make good choices and bad choices, and feel the consequences of both for years to come. You are too big for things to be fixed with a kiss and a bandaid, but it doesn’t stop me from keeping a secret stock of them just in case.

I know you think I am nosy and intrusive – I am. You have a whole life that is private – it’s called your private life for a reason. And that’s ok, it’s part of becoming a man. But just because you keep it private, doesn’t mean it stays that way – if you are keeping quiet because you would be embarrassed to see it on the front page of the New York Times, it’s probably a bad idea. I know this, because enough of my secrets have been told, and I learned the hard way. The bad news for you is that you have social media recording every mistake, and I desperately don’t want to find out about yours via Instagram. So just think of my questions as your filter; if you are worried that I will find out, you will just a little more cautious. Which is exactly what every parent wants.

While we are on the subject of private lives, know that how you treat people you love now will influence the success of your future relationships. One of the things I most love about your father is the way he treats his mother – no matter how irritated he might be, he treats her with respect. When we first met, it felt like he was choosing her feelings over mine; as I get older, I realize that she taught him to value women, and that I am now the one who reaps the benefits.

I can’t force you to do things any more – you make your own choices. You are bigger than me by about 6 inches, so I can’t just send you to your room or drag you home.  So when your automatic response to a problem is “it’s your fault’, I know that you still have a little more growing to do, because really, most of your life is now down to you. I can protect you, I  can advise you, I can comfort you, I can punish you and I can help you understand the meaning of consequences, but the days when I could make you disappeared when you outweighed me by 40 pounds and joined the football team. I know it, and it’s hard to watch – so I am impatiently waiting for you to get it too. It’s ironic, but the day you turn around and say, without prompting “it was my fault’ is the day that we know you are truly becoming a man.

Here’s the thing – one day (preferably 10 years from now) you will have children of your own. And when you do, I will be there, knowing that your children will have a great father who has made plenty of mistakes, but came through it better, stronger, wiser. One who will love them, protect them, teach them and advise them, and then, when they are teenagers, will also be told how little he knows.. And I will be there, with hugs and bandaids and a huge smile. Because karma is a bitch.

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Relocation Basics: 8 Cultural Orientation Rules You Really Need to Know Wed, 04 May 2016 19:00:39 +0000   You’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then it happens… Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather […]

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You’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then it happens…


Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to the reality of expat life.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with.


So here’s my best advice for potential expats, based on fifteen years of relocation, social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.


It gets easier.

Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any relocation are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.


It’s a numbers game.

You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do…


Talk to a cherished friend beforehand,

so that you are:

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.


Go to where people gather to be social.

This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities for people to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people. Instead, find local events by searching social media, (check out the Families in Global Transition or I am Triangle Facebook Groups for the most awesome community of people who not only get what you are going through, but take a fiendish delight in connecting you with global locals)  take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.


Be prepared to watch, learn, smile – and bite your lip. Often.

There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

It's not right or wrong, it's just different. Relocation Basics: 11 Cultural Orientation…
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Learn to say ‘Sorry’ in every language

– but never be ashamed of trying. This has been a hard-won piece of self-knowledge, based on years of feeling ‘less than’ when I got things wrong. I hereby give you permission to apologise freely for giving offense, but never ever give up your right to get things wrong. Because here’s the thing – if you are out there making mistakes, it means that you care enough about the people, places and culture around you to want to be part of it, and no-one ever got anything right first time.


Don’t undervalue yourself.

Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.


Talk to anyone.

My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil. Feel free to choose your own victims target audience, but pursue it with the same singleminded passion.


At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”.

A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.



Yes, I know I am biased here, because I literally co-wrote the book on this one, but seriously, start writing it all down. Journaling has been empirically proven time and time again to support cross-cultural growth and adaptation, help you manage challenges and maintain a positive mindset. So grab a pad and a pen, and start writing. If you need a little more help, the fabulous (yes, she really is) Trisha Carter and I wrote The Guided Journal for Adapting to Life Overseas, complete with a member website jam packed with relocation friendly resources. To find out more, click here, or if you just want to buy the book, you can get it here (US), or here (UK).


Remember, it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different.

It’s one of Trisha Carter’s favourite sayings, and is incredibly helpful in those moments when you are ready to scream, cry or start booking plane tickets home. You’ll see things that will enrage, infuriate or bewilder you, but you don’t have to agree, or even engage if you don’t want to. Try to suspend judgement, at least until you can dump it all on to paper or a trusted ear. And yes, I know it’s tough.


Over to you. Let’s swap stories…

Because let’s be honest, some of the moments that cement friendships make the best stories. Like the time Staci inadvertently invited my Other Half for a mani pedi, (just as well it wasn’t a massage), or Emma watched while I got steadily more inebriated on sangria, or Liz dragged me to possibly the worst. improv. ever.

Let’s hear ’em…

P.S. I’m running a Mastering the Move webinar with the awesome Naomi Hattaway in the near future – sign up to get automatic entry and access to the recording.

To get the behind the scenes skinny on how to find the right home – and the right help – and get off to the perfect start,


(Yes, it’s free. Yes, you get access to a replay if you can’t make it live. Yes, you can bring snacks. And yes, there will be a TON of funny stories…)

Free webinar; The Expat Guide to Managing the Move with international relocation expert Naomi Hattaway

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