High-skilled professionals - what are the needs of their accompanying partners?

January 28, 2024

Accompanying partners - what are their experiences and needs? Here, I unpack this heterogeneous group by drawing on the research done to date.

There is broad agreement that ‘we’ (those working in the area of recruiting and retaining professionals moving internationally for work) need to ensure there is adequate focus and support on the needs of accompanying partners (and children) in strategy, policy and programme developments.

I have just read a draft report by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration and Copenhagen Capacity, and a final report from a two-year project by the University of Copenhagen emphasising this. I also read, during the end of year break (December 2023), two books written by ‘accompanying partners’ – exploring their experiences of being the person who follows an internationally mobile professional (Dina Honour’s ‘It's a lot to unpack’ and Catriona Turner’s ‘Nest: A memoir of home on the move’) – both were really powerful accounts of living life and creating a family home while on the move. As I prepare a paper for a small conference on transnational families I am attending in Finland, I returned to the small body of research on this topic.

Here are a few ideas from the recent reading I have done, which challenges the superficiality of the ways accompanying partners are portrayed in strategy documents or LinkedIn posts.

Accompanying partners (i.e. those who move without securing a job beforehand) have multiple roles – a partner, often a parent, a professional, a migrant….thus, we need to consider which of these varied roles we are seeking to support them with (1)

  • Accompanying partners learn what this role means and requires over repeated moves. This means they become very good at anticipating how they will feel, what needs to be done as quickly as possible to set up their new (temporary) ‘home’ (2). This can include particular items of furniture to provide a sense of constancy, what things you need when you arrive rather than waiting for your shipment of all your furniture, clothes etc. (3).
  • Ready-made communities of people with similar trajectories and experiences makes a significant difference to how easy it is to make a new ‘home’ quickly (4). Those already in place understand what people need to know when they first arrive, they understand the need to find new friends and are eager themselves to meet new people, they pass on their ‘know-how’ but also more material things (furniture, homes to rent etc), especially if they are getting ready to move on themselves (3).
  • Accompanying partners can really struggle with losing their idea of who they are, especially if they do not easily find work (if that was something they wanted) or their own desired trajectory is ruptured by the move made for their partner’s work (they knew who they thought they were going to be ‘back home’ and had a clear future plan mapped out). But many accompanying partners also find new understandings of themselves, their value and the contributions they make. They realise they are as foundational to professional mobility being possible as the working partner; they realise they can pursue other interests and make significant contributions in other ways (beyond the role they saw themselves fulfilling ‘back home’) (5).
  • Accompanying partners are having to navigate their own imaginations of who they are, who they think they should be and who they think they want to be, but they have to do this alongside the ways they and their needs are presented in policy/strategy, in social media etc. This can make the job of being an accompanying partner even more challenging – as they have to find a way of navigating a range of expectations being thrust upon them (6).

That is why we need to be careful not to simplify and homogenise how we present the needs of accompanying partners – and look at them as individuals, as members of families, and as members of an international community.


  1. Brahic, B. (2022). From expat mothers to migrant mothers: narratives of transformations, lost privileges and the ‘quieter’ everyday in Brexit Britain. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 48(9), 2168-2186.
  2. Büchele, J. (2018). “We live a life in periods” Perceptions of mobility and becoming an expat spouse. Migration Letters, 15(1), 45-54.
  3. Turner, C. (2023). Nest: A memoir of home on the move. Word Bothy Press.
  4. Duru, D. N., & Trenz, H. J. (2017). From diversity to conviviality: intra-EU mobility and international migration to Denmark in times of economic recession. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(4), 613-632.
  5. Honour, D. (2023). It’s a lot to unpack. Syclla Press.
  6. Cangià, F. (2017). (Im) Mobility and the emotional lives of expat spouses. Emotion, Space and Society, 25, 22-28.