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Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands: How Spouses Find Expat Life

Employers supporting relocating spouses in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands need to provide more support to ensure that they feel settled and adjusted to life abroad.

Relocating spouses in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands struggle to feel at home in the local culture. This is one of the findings from the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition Country Focus, a report based on the Expat Insider — one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive surveys on expat life. In addition to these three countries, the report explores the situation of global employees and their spouses who moved abroad for work and live in China, France, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States of America (USA). The report looks at the types of relocation support that these expat types receive from employers, and how they experience life abroad.

Of the expats that participated in the survey, 10% of respondents in Germany, 12% of those in Switzerland, and 9% of those in the Netherlands are relocating spouses — having moved abroad together with their partner.

Settling In is a Problem

While half (50%) of relocating spouses globally indicate that it is easy to feel at home in the local culture, the percentages saying the same in Germany (49%), Switzerland (36%), and the Netherlands (44%) are lower. Of the nine featured countries, relocating spouses in Switzerland are least satisfied with this aspect of settling in, followed by those in the Netherlands and then Germany.

An American female relocating spouse in Switzerland, says: “I don’t like the difficulty of feeling a part of Swiss culture”. Another relocating spouse, a British female in the Netherlands, has similar issues: “The local culture is somewhat difficult when people aren't friendly or don't have the time for you the moment they hear you're a foreigner”.

Getting used to the local culture also seems to be a pain point for this expat type, with the shares of relocating spouses indicating that this is easy in Germany (46%) and Switzerland (37%), also below the global average (53%). Of those in the nine featured countries, relocating spouses in Switzerland and Germany are again in the bottom three in terms of positive responses. Only relocating spouses in China have a smaller share of positive ratings for this aspect of settling in, at 35%.

Relocating spouses in the Netherlands are more satisfied when it comes to getting used to the local culture, with their share of positive responses (60%) being seven percentage points above the global average. Even so, when compared to the other featured countries, relocating spouses in Hong Kong, the UAE, and the UK had better overall satisfaction ratings.

How Happy are Relocating Spouses?

The difficulty that relocating spouses have in settling in may also impact on their general happiness, with 66% of relocating spouses in Switzerland and 64% in the Netherlands indicating happiness. Both of these percentages are below the global number of 72%. Just two percentage points above the global number, 74% of relocating spouses in Germany are happy.

When compared to the two other expat types in these countries — foreign assignees and international hires — relocating spouses in Switzerland and the Netherlands are the least happy, and those in Germany are the second-least — after international hires (65% indicate happiness with life in general).

Employers Need to Focus on Spouses

As relocating spouses are generally not as well supported as global employees, and commonly indicate the biggest need for relocation support (findings from the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition), their difficulties in settling in and finding happiness abroad may not come as a surprise.

As an important part of the expat family structure, employers should turn their focus to this expat type, and consider providing more solid relocation support — particularly personal support types to help them settle in and adjust to life abroad. For example, relocating spouses in all three countries demonstrate a big need for networking opportunities — 76% in Germany missed it (only 10% received it), 73% in Switzerland missed it (14% received it), and 61% in the Netherlands missed it (12% received it). The same goes for access to socializing opportunities — 74% in Germany missed it (13% received it), 72% in Switzerland missed it (13% received it), and 66% in the Netherlands missed it (15% received it).

With the happiness of their partner and/or family the top factor influencing the happiness of global employees who are in a committed relationship (findings from the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition), focusing on improving the expat experience of relocating spouses should, in turn, improve the satisfaction and productivity of global employees as a result.

Snapshot: Relocating Spouses in Germany

Relocating Spouses in Germany 


Find out more in the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition Country Focus: The report zooms in on Foreign Assignees, International Hires, and Relocating Spouses in nine featured countries. Mini reports for each country provide insights into issues relating to these expats and their employers on topics such as relocation support, settling in, and happiness. 

Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition Country Focus

Expat Insider 2018 | Business Edition Country Focus

A Snapshot of 9 Featured Countries

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