trailing spouse

Trailing Spouse: Finding Your Place In The World Beside Your Loved One, Not Behind!

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Mention the word “trailing spouse” to a stay-at-home expat husband or wife and it may ruffle a few feathers. The common protest remains: “Who’s” following “who” across the world when the decision was made as a unit? “Trailing” seems to imply following your other half without much of a purpose beyond just, well, tagging along! Coined in 1981 by Wall Street Journal reporter Mary Bralove in an article titled “Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt”, the term refers to an individual who follows their spouse or partner to relocate to another city, state, or country because of a work assignment, and the issues that arises as a result of that move.

While relocating to a foreign place can be exciting initially, when the dust settles, you’re left standing in a new condominium with boxes of belongings for your entire family to unpack; experiencing difficulties in adapting to a new culture where everyone eats noodles or dumplings for breakfast; as well as accepting that you’ve had to make sacrifices in the process, which makes the term “trailing spouse” rather rankling. It trivializes the issues you face and relegates you to the role of matrimonial baggage, because you’re doing so much more than just “trailing”.

Having been in those shoes ourselves, Team Expat thinks that there should be international awards for trailing spouses who have to put up with a lot, including:

  • The Unselfish Team Player – They give up their existing career or even future career goals during the relocation period to support their partner’s dream. In any case, statistics show that the vast majority of spouses who were employed at home are unable to find employment abroad.
  • The Power International Adaptor – They have to adapt to new environments and culture, and in some cases, help their children adapt to their new surroundings as well, which means being strong for the entire family and putting up a brave front! All of this involves working hard at reestablishing a new identity, personally, and in professional and social circles.
  • Mr. or Mrs. International – They have to socialize, get out to make new friends and be open to change, since they’re seeing less of their own family and friends and would be prone to bouts of homesickness. Due to sudden and various changes in lifestyle, they may be experiencing whiplash, and it’s exacerbated when they’re expected to keep up appearances as “the devoted partner” of an active, ambitious go-getter!
  • The Portable Career Maker – Unselfish they may be to make an international move for their partner’s sake, but nothing will stop them from finding an enterprise of their own regardless of where they are in the world! Their main trading commodity is what’s up there in their precious upper hemispheres, or their handy skills, and that’s universally valuable currency, accepted worldwide.

Employment for Foreign or Expat Spouses In Singapore

In any case, trailing spouses seeking to make the most of their skills can take steps to find gainful employment by applying for a valid work permit. It takes about two weeks for the application to be processed, and foreign spouses should take note of the following:

  • Until the work permit is issued, you should not commence employment;
  • If you’re on a Social Visit Pass, you’re not allowed to work in Singapore, even casually;
  • Keen applicants are advised to visit MOM, The Employment Pass Department and obtain a brochure on “A guide to applying for the Employment Pass”, which stipulates the eligibility and procedures involved. You can also obtain this free guide from any Contact Singapore Centre.

Resource Guide for Specialized Professions in Singapore

If you’re a nurse back home and wish to continue enhancing your skills in your adopted city, you should know that jobseekers in certain specialized professions like nursing require professional registration before you can start work in Singapore. This isn’t associated with your residency or citizenship status, by the way, and is governed by local regulations that all registered professionals must abide by. Aside from nursing, other specialized professions include accountancy, architecture, dentistry, engineering, land surveying, law, medicine and pharmaceutical.

For further details, you should contact the following departments (click on colored headers to go to specific websites):

Employment Pass Department
Ministry of Manpower
9 Maxwell Road, #03-01
Annex A MND Complex, Singapore 069112
Tel : (65) 6438 5122 | Fax : (65) 6293 2138, (65) 6296 2086
Email :

Public Accountants Board
55 Newton Road, #02-06
Revenue House, Singapore 307987
Tel : (65) 6351 4380 | Fax : (65) 6351 4379
Email : pab_

Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore
20 Aljunied Road, #06-02
CPA House, Singapore 389805
Tel : (65) 6749 8060 | Fax : (65) 6749 8061
Email :

Board of Architects
5 Maxwell Road, #01-03
MND Complex, Tower Block, Singapore 069110
Tel : (65) 6222 5295 | Fax : (65) 6222 4452
Email :

Professional Engineers Board
5 Maxwell Road, 1st Storey, MND Complex,
Tower Block, Singapore 069110
Tel : (65) 6222 9293 | Fax : (65) 6222 9471
Email :
Website :

Land Surveying
Land Surveyors Board
c/o Singapore Land Authority
Land Survey Department
8 Shenton Way, #28-01
Temasek Tower, Singapore 068811
Tel : (65) 6323 1786 | Fax : (65) 6323 9801
Email :

Board of Legal Education
Subordinate Courts Building
Conference Room, 9th Floor
1 Havelock Square, Singapore 059724
Tel : (65) 6534 1831/2 | Fax : (65) 6538 7757
Email :

Singapore Medical Council
16 College Road, #01-01
College of Medicine Building, Singapore 169854
Tel : (65) 6372 3061/2/3/4/5 | Fax : (65) 6221 0558
Email :

Singapore Nursing Board
16 College Road, #01-01
College of Medicine Building, Singapore 169854
Tel : (65) 6372 3082, (65) 6372 3082 | Fax : (65) 6221 1160
Email :

Singapore Pharmacy Board
Harrower Hall
14 College Road, Singapore 169853
Tel : (65) 6223 7777 | Fax : (65) 6325 1618

National Dental Council
16 College Road,
College of Medicine Building, Singapore 169854
Tel : (65) 6372 3076 | Fax : (65) 6221 1275

Foreign Spouse Support In A Time of Need

Team Expat recognizes that beyond finding a career, there are several other key aspects in life where you’ll require additional support. Whether it’s finding the right property, relocation services company, cleaning company, insurance plan, international school for your child or even professional fitness trainer, all these elements combine to make the international move abroad easier! If you’d like advise or assistance in any of these key areas we cover (Property, Relocation, Finance, Kids, Healthcare and Education), do visit our Experts page and get connected to an Expert who can help you navigate your new life! is also keen to recruit onboard more Relocation Specialists who could assist spouses and partners in the following areas:

  • Providing in-depth career counseling and assessment
  • Prepping foreign spouses for job interviews with potential employers, on top of qualified job leads and networking contacts
  • Gathering market research such as company profiles, professional associations, and certification requirements
  • Familiarizing foreign spouses with local surroundings, e.g., schools, stores, libraries, neighborhoods, etc., as well as culture and protocols

If you think you fit the bill as an Expert Relocation Specialist, fill in our contact form or write to us at Should you have questions off the top of your head which you’d like answered, you could also join our Singapore expat forum as a member and connect with other expats like yourself. We know from experience, that the best coping mechanism for homesick blues is trying something new—developing a new set of routines that can distract you from dwelling on what you left behind and keep you optimistic about sticking out the rest of your assignment abroad. Hence for our recent write-up on 7 Cool New Hobbies For The Homesick Expat in Singapore, among many other informative articles updated regularly on our blog.

More and more organizations these days are recognizing the practical need for supporting spouses and partners through the relocation process and beyond. Providing spousal support is a small price to pay to ensure they attract, develop and retain the right talent, for if one’s significant other is resisting the big move—that could be a serious deal breaker for any organization! As a spouse, get your partner to check with the company he or she is being offered a job at, and enquire about spousal support, prior to your move. Most likely, if your partner shares honestly about your current situation, his or her employer should be more than willing to throw in additional support for you if they’re super keen on hiring.

Worldwide and online, there are tones of great resources and books to help you navigate the expat spousal journey. One guidebook in particular, called A Portable Identity, is an interactive book filled with powerful exercises, essential information and real-life stories for women, all of which come together to make a practical handbook that assists accompanying spouses to take charge of the changes associated with an international relocation. Whichever stage you may be in, be it pre-departure, arrival or while living overseas, you’ll find it a valuable expatriate resource! Their website’s Expat Resources page further lists down an exhaustive supply of international expat resources for all corporate, foreign service, military, and missionary spouses overseas.

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Moving As One

Meet Michael Stone, a British expat and engineer who took a bit of a backseat in terms of career progression to support his wife’s career relocation to Singapore as a Senior Financial Services Consultant in a reputable accounting firm. In the process, he became a stay-at-home-dad and unpaid Uber driver for their two school-going kids, performing the seldom glorified rigorous job of cooking, cleaning and washing up daily after them.

“It’s not like I do not have the qualifications to work or anything, but right now—I’m certainly not going golfing every other day or sipping cocktails by the poolside! It’s just as tough, if not tougher breaking through the stereotypes society throws at you.” In time, Andy found a community through interacting with other expats while waiting to fetch his kids from school, family outings at the park, and befriending the neighbors. “Sooner or later, I may consider going back to a job, once the kids are more settled and we manage to find a domestic helper we can trust. For now, my wife and I made this decision together and we’re sticking to it as a unit. Being together, that’s the ultimate adventure… the settings may change, yes, but not our commitment to each other.”

Do you agree with the term ‘trailing spouse’ and if not—which ‘label’ or ‘award’ mentioned in the above article would you comfortably settle with? We’d love to hear all about your globetrotting experiences as an accompanying spouse and coping mechanisms in the comment section below.

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