When you live in a country where you’ve always lived, you take things for granted.
You take for granted the things that you just know. You know which news programmes suit your socio-political beliefs. You understand the in-jokes from shared childhood experiences. Learning to drive is second nature – you already know many rules just from existing in that place. You just know how the healthcare and welfare systems work. And you take for granted that, should you want to, you can work with unrestricted abandon in your chosen field.
Every expat move we make
seems to throw up some new surprise. Something happens that jolts me, makes me realise there has been something I’ve been taking for granted all this time.
When Thing 1 was born, in the US, I had no idea how the system worked. I went for fertility tests because my doctor told me to. It didn’t occur to me to check if my private health insurance would cover them (it didn’t). I assumed he would be delivered by midwives, just like at home (he wasn’t). I found myself having to check what would have been recommended at home with a retired midwife family friend. He arrived safe and sound and I breathed a sigh of relief until it dawned on me that the health worker support that new mums get at home wouldn’t be something I got. I missed the camaraderie of NCT friends that all my friends had. I didn’t realise that, even though I wasn’t new to the country anymore, I was new to that experience.
When we moved home
I assumed I would get it. That everything would become clear. But my second pregnancy was littered with assumptions from me and the healthcare professionals that saw me – all assuming I knew the drill because, of course, it was my second pregnancy.
I had done all this before.
Except I had done it in a completely different country.
It was the strangest feeling to not know how the system worked in my own country.
Expat working rights
This week I was thrown another curveball.
I assumed it was relatively easy for me to work here. In the US, I was surprised to find my visa alone didn’t allow me to work but, required extra documentation. But once I had it it was fine. I was free to work for whoever I liked.
In Qatar, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Wanderlust had to sign a No Objection Certificate: a letter stating he had no objections to my working should I have chosen to. I was even more horrified to find that men in the same position aren’t allowed to work unless they can get their own visa, sponsored by their own employer.
And then we moved again.
Naively, I didn’t anticipate problems here. And it’s not that there are problems, per se. Just that it’s more complicated than just setting up as a sole proprietor and submitting a tax return at the end of the year like I would at home.
I mean, of course, it’s more complicated than that. It has been in every other country so why wouldn’t it be the same here? Why would I have assumed that I could happily run about doing different types of work without any formal authorisation making sure I didn’t put our visas at risk?
This isn’t a criticism of any of the systems. I’m told it’s the same for visa holders in the UK and I was just blissfully unaware of it. Blissfully ignorant of the ease with which I could do any work I wanted to in my home country.
It was yet another assumption I had made without thinking. An assumption that we don’t have the luxury of making with any expat move.
My new friends
My new friends have been subjected to quite the barrage of questions this week. There’s been (and will continue to be) some soul searching while I decide what it is I really want to do and if it’s worth jumping through so many hoops to do it.
They’ve plied me with coffee and lunch and good advice. They’ve pointed me in the direction of more great advice and talked about their experiences. And they’ve listened to me rant about how annoying it is that I’ve taken all this time to figure out what I really want to do with my life that doesn’t involve me starting from scratch every time we move.
And almost all of them have said the same thing:
Expat life is not as easy as it looks
I’m pretty lucky. And I know it.
For all that I’m sure my life looks easy from the outside, not one of our friends or family has ever verbalised a judgement about it to me. But I’m alone in a sea of people who have said the opposite.
And if the truth be told. I’m one of them.
I judge myself and, by definition, all those who are like me.
I don’t feel like I have the right to complain. I’m so lucky to have the time to workout and to go and get my nails done. I’m lucky that I can do family errands during the week so our weekends are our own. I get to meet the Things off the bus and I can be in school in minutes if one of them needs picking up.
I’m so lucky that I get to choose if I work or not.
Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.
It’s like a mantra that’s repeated over and over again. We’re so lucky. We don’t have the right to complain.
I’m not saying I’m not lucky. I know I am.
But being lucky doesn’t mean it isn’t really hard sometimes.