Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Expat Women Series: The truth about expat housewives

In this new four-part series on Expat Explorer, we will be looking at the topic of Expat Women and their experiences abroad.

In part one, we explore the truth behind expat housewives and find out whether it is really just about herbal tea parties, lingering lunches and extravagant trips to the shopping mall.

The truth about expat housewives

You have moved your whole family half way across the globe for your husband’s job, your kids are at school all day, and you have an army of local staff to keep your house in order and dinner on the table at night. You spend the day sipping tea, catching up with other expat housewives, attending pilates classes together and the rest of the time in between spas and manicure parlours.

The reality of course, couldn’t be further away from these stereotypes. Trawl through any expat blogs written by women abroad and you will know.

We have come across some great blogs of housewives living abroad, detailing their new experiences abroad, bringing up the children and settling in to their new homes. Maryline at Franco-American Dream for example blogs regularly about her parenting journey abroad and shares some heart-warming stories about bringing up a child in France.

Africa Expat Wife has been blogging for four years. Her lighthearted accounts of life in Kenya detail the ups and downs of a housewife abroad. Africa Expat Wife’s experiences are on the whole positive ones, however, sadly this is not the case for all expat housewives. Some women have reported extreme cases of feeling lonely and alienated from the local community as a result of language barriers. The important thing to remember that with the explosion of expat activity on the internet in recent years you are only ever a few clicks away from connecting with a community of people in the same position as you. On the expat-blog for example you can find discussion groups on everything ranging from how to make friends in Brussels to how to find a school for your expat children in Bogotá.

For many women who have decided to relocate abroad with their partner, the hardest part is often the loss of one’s ability to have a career of their own. Different countries have varying regulations regarding employment of foreigners and if you are in a country that does not give more than one foreign work visa per expat family your employment opportunities can be severely limited. The other barrier women may face is negative perceptions in their new country of women who work. Saudi Wave discusses the thorny issue of expat housewives vs working women.

Are you an expat housewife? What have your experiences of living abroad been like? Have you developed any innovative ways to keep busy? Tell us your experiences below.


  1. Manicures and spas? An army of local staff? Not exactly! I spent a lot of time raising my children, learning the local language, and questioning everything I believed in, including my place in the world and my status as a wife and stay-at-home mother. It didn't happen all at once, but gradually the pieces of who I wanted to be started to fall into place. My expat experience inspired me to attend grad school while living in France; I eventually earned an MA in Intercultural Communication. It also gave me the confidence to write about my life overseas (and as a repatriate) and reach out to other expat women through my blog. Being an expat wife isn't always easy, but I wouldn't trade those years for anything. They set me on a path I would never have dreamed of had I stayed in my own corner of the world.

  2. However, for me, it has been a life of luxury. I moved from a falling-down house to a slick villa, and have a maid. My friends ask me what I do, and I smile secretly and say "nothing!". I have coffee with mums, get my hair done, do pilates, and even have time to explore my artistic side (I'm currently doing a photography course at the Dubai ladies club). But in my defense, it is important that I take time out to make new friends in this place I now live so far away from my ramshackle home, and coffee and courses are the best way to do this. And the pilates - well I have to work off my "Dubai Stone" somehow...
    And as for haircuts - I didn't have one for 4 years in Melbourne when I was the housemaid, so I think it's my turn!

  3. Fascinating to hear of very different experiences. Our customers are mostly expats in France, Spain, Portugal and Germany - as well as BFPO shopping online rather than in a mall! Many seem to run their own business as a family or man the fort whilst their partners continue to work in the UK - especially those living in France Seems you have to go long haul to be an expat wife in the lap of luxury! Thanks for mentioning your blog on Twitter - look forward to more insights now we've found you. Take care.

  4. Been nothing luxurious that I can think of in the last 8 years....although probably having sunshine and swimming pool would count..
    Ireland - life was similar if not the same as UK - except I didn't work and produced our first child (and only). I then was due to go back to work and we moved.
    Netherlands - life was similar and yet not the same as UK - I didn't work and couldn't get enough childcare to get a job I wanted. I then got a job I wanted and was told we were leaving.
    USA California - life was wonderfully easy and I did what I wanted as service orientated environment were you can always find someone to do the thing you don't want to...then we moved back to NL.
    NL - well I made a decision to build my business here as part of building a new identity for myself, however that has to be balanced by being a single parent (he travels), a taxi driver (our son is in an international school 20kms each way away) as well as all the other housewifely tasks necessary.....yes I could get an au pair but why have to deal with someone else's homesickness as well as your own....?

  5. I wrote about this today. I've had 4 children in 4 different locations, 7 countries in 11 years. I couldn't have survived without the help of the "expat wives club".


  6. Hmmm, I'm currently an expat housewife (I cringe at that label) living in Caracas. I guess part of it can be the spas and lunches, but if those things are not enough to make you happy (which is my case) you're in a world of hurt. This is the first time that I've stepped into the role of housewife/stay-at-home mom and it's been quite an adjustment. The key for me is learning not the sweat the negative stuff and to really enjoy the positive.

  7. Life as an expat wife has not been easy but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've learned so much about myself over the 5 years I've been in the UK. I have a global perspective I would never have attained had I stayed in California my whole life. Sure at times it's lonely and it wasn't easy giving up my career and becoming completely dependant on my husband. But one thing about expat life is that it's never boring!

  8. nearly 14 years of living the expat life, sometimes with a job, sometimes not. 3 children, a home-stay mum for now, with the ups and downs. But overall, I wouldn't change my life for anything, and will certainly not return home except for the holidays. I like to be different, and to look at things differently, even now in my own country. For sure there are places I've liked more than others, it's almost like in art, you can agree on the technics of a painting and still not like what you see. It's the same with hosting countries: some of them "talk to you" some don't, or at least less. The kids seem to be happy, even though it's hard for them to live their friends behind each time we move. But I am convinced that if I am happy they are happy, whenever we end up living, and they do adapt themselves quicker than us. At least for now, I'm waiting for the teenage years to come along... So for so good.

  9. Wow, it seems that on the whole, most experiences as expat wives have been positive. I wonder if having children and therefore being connected to others in the community is necessary? Not having kids and failing to talk myself through each failed attempt to make my way here, I feel it increasingly difficult to change out of my pajamas even though I've been in Italy for more that 6 months. Coming from London, with a high stress job and a strong social network to where I am now has literally knocked me off my feet. I'm certain that time will help ...

  10. I am surprised as well at the positive experiences. I'm like Dianna - no children - and I find it very difficult to be at home now without a job to keep me busy. The only jobs here would be teaching English at night or on the weekends - the only times I see my husband, so since we don't really need the money (it would be nice though) I'm not sure it's worth the effort. Let me know if time has helped you Dianna - so far I am just checking off the days until we can move somewhere else.

  11. Dianna and Mike/Rissa, I'm in the same boat as the both of you (no children, former busy career). I'm currently living in rural Australia (population 9k), where there are no worthwhile jobs to be found despite my work visa. I have appreciated learning about the culture in my host country, though. But without any sort of direction, the days start blurring together and dragging. It's been seven months, but hopefully time will help!


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