‘Home leave’ is approaching and with it comes the most frequently asked question, ‘what do you (or rather expat housewives) do all day?’ - it's a question that my husband asks me regularly too!
Before I launch into a scintillating account of what I’ve been up to over the last couple of weeks (in my following post), which will go some way to explain why the infrequent blog posting of late, I must pre-empt it with an important point that not many people know about being an expat spouse – that is, it’s not easy to get a work permit, therefore often it is simply not possible to go out to work.
I have three children and have been busy enough lately thank you very much, but the situation is beginning to change now that the youngest is approaching three years old and the others are at school full time. The financial mountain inevitably looms ever closer as it dawns on us that three children was perhaps rather an extravagance and it’s getting hard for me to justify not working. However, I won’t pretend that I’m the type of person who would dash out to work given half a chance because I admit I could probably have done this if I was really determined to. In actual fact I love being at home, being there to do school runs and most importantly being my own boss.
The problem with living in the developing world as a foreigner is the thorny issue of work permits. The Government Immigration Departments are very tight on giving them out because they don’t want to deprive their indigenous population of employment. Most expats have to apply for their work permit renewal at least three months in advance and the government has the right to refuse it. There are prerequisites to getting a permit, the Immigration Department looks for expats who are providing employment for a good number of local people, giving their employees a professional training and who are bringing a new, specialised skills into the country. Many new work permit applications are rejected if these criteria are not likely to be met. I gather that some permits are procured by ‘oiling the wheels’ of bureaucracy with bribes but there are no guarantees.
My presence here in Kenya is allowed because I am listed as a ‘dependant’ on the two year work permit which is stamped into my husband’s passport. The children and I have dependants’ passes which must also be renewed every two years. To award a second work permit to a single family of expats is rare, but can be sought if ‘paid’ for (around £2,000 for 2 years I think?). This means that employers have to really want you to work for them if they are willing to lay out this capital before you even become an employee, plus they would no doubt expect you to work full time in order to capitalise on their investment. Alternatively you can buy the work permit yourself then look for work and hope that your salary will eventually compensate you. I got around this problem once by working for the British High Commission on a local hire basis (earning a salary of only buttons) as I was, strictly speaking, in the embassy thus working on British soil. Many housewives set up their own ‘cottage industry’ businesses, or work informally on a cash in hand basis networking amongst friends, but they often don’t have official work permits and risk deportation if their activities are discovered by the KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority), thus jeopardising their partner’s career too and their future in the country. Anyone with a personal gripe could report you and put your business under investigation, so it is a realistic fear.
Housewives like me end up writing blogs, getting involved in charity fund raising, becoming excellent horse women, tennis players or golfers and living vicariously through the experiences of our husbands and children... Excuse me if you are a working expat housewife and if you are.. good for you!