Trail blazer

Trailing spouse

If you’re new to international education, there’s a whole new lexicon to learn. Cracking the code will help you and your family get the most out of your time overseas. Rory Galvin looks at the opportunities open to a ‘trailing spouse’.


There are many new terms that you will come across upon entering the world of international education and expat living. “Third Culture Kid”; “Global Nomad”; “Hardship post”; and “Cultureshock” are but a few. Perhaps one of the most common is the term “Trailing Spouse”.

Trailing Spouse is the term given to a person who follows his/her partner or spouse abroad due to work relocation. In addition to international education, trailing spouses are also associated with other sectors such as diplomats, the military, oil and gas companies and NGOs and other private sector companies.

Opportunities in school

Teaching overseasThere are many factors to consider if you are looking at an international teaching job and it is a decision that must be taken by both partners. In some cases, the trailing spouse is a qualified teacher, who has taken time out to help the family settle in with a view towards going back into the classroom at a later stage.

This can be quite an attractive lure for people to go overseas as there is the added bonus of being able to take some time to be with your kids, especially if they are young.


Trailing spouses from other employment backgrounds can still find a niche within international education. It is not uncommon for partners of teachers to transfer their skills and experience from business, IT, office administration, marketing and communications, or finance into a position at the school, perhaps in operations, finance, or admissions and advancement. In fact, the skills of the trailing spouse can often be a deciding factor for hiring managers when looking at candidates overall, particularly if the school is in a part of the world where such skills are in short supply.

Other opportunities

If a position at the school is not feasible, it is always a good idea to ask at interview what other opportunities in the community or indeed in the country would be available for the partner, based on skills and experience. Many Trailing Spouses can work from home and therefore taking an overseas position is not too much of a wrench – if there is access to reliable broadband!

In a world where remote employment, working from home and freelancing is becoming all the more common, we are seeing more and more applicants are willing to relocate due to this flexibility open to their partner. Multinationals are also more willing to allow employees to work on this basis, as having a remote worker in a different time zone, who can represent the company’s interests in that region, can actually be to their advantage.

The negatives

Embarking on an overseas teaching job can be a very positive experience for a trailing spouse, but there are also some pitfalls for partners. Trailing Spouses often feel a loss of identity due to the sacrifice they have made for their partner’s career. This, coupled with the difficulties of putting your career “on hold” and being away from colleagues, family and friends can make for a difficult transition. Getting an answer to these six key questions could make all the difference

Doing your research
  1. What opportunities are there for me to continue my career in the country we are moving to?

  2. Are there other positions in the school that I can apply for?

  3. What opportunities are there in the school to volunteer/get involved in the community/PTA?

  4. Could I retrain as a teacher and do my teaching practice in the school?

  5. What will the impact on my career be if I’ve not been working in my field of expertise for a couple of years?

  6. How easy it is to freelance/remotely work in the country?

Being a trailing spouse is not for everyone, and very much depends on what your personal circumstances are and what you both want to get out of the experience. The key is to do your homework and search out the possibilities before signing up.


Rory Galvin is the founder of Dubai based Galvin Global Education.  He is a regular contributor to international educator forums, has been featured in publications such The Khaleej Times, Time Out, The Irish Times and is regular contributor to DubaiEye 103.8FM.

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Feature Image: Denise Husted from Pixabay

Other images – Marius Ciocirlan, Unsplash & kaboompics, Pixabay