A How-To Guide to Expat Dating: What to Do and What Not to Do
- Expat dating—dating while temporarily living in another country—can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.
- There are tips and tricks to dating as an expat, from dating apps to Instagram rabbit holes.
- The goal is to find someone who shares your interests and open a line of communication—even if you don't speak the same language.
Literature and movies are packed with stories of travelers who fall in love at first sight while under the enchanting spell of a new place, perhaps on the banks of the Seine, at the Trevi Fountain or under the watchful gaze of the London Eye.
Expats are people temporarily living in a different country, perhaps for work reasons. For expat singles, cultural and language barriers and being "the new kid in class" can make meeting that special someone, or even finding a friend for a fling, a challenge.
We'll look at some of the ins and outs of expat dating, talk to relationship experts and get the lowdown on expat life from real people on the front lines of the international dating scene.
Is it difficult to date as an expat?
COVID-19 quarantines changed modern life in many ways. One thing it did was demonstrate that millions of people could do their jobs remotely. Roughly 87 percent of Americans would choose to work from home if given the opportunity, a 2022 McKinsey report suggested.
These unprecedented circumstances opened up a new imagining of work-life balance. Suddenly, open-minded people were unchained from business hubs in the city and free to relocate to remote country homes and overseas to pursue dreams of expat life.
That's the choice some 8.7 million American expats have made—that excludes military personnel and families—according to the Association of Americas Residing Overseas (AARO). While a good internet connection and international banking make remote work feasible for millions, what about the reality of dating abroad?
For Los Angeles-born Jocelyn Silva, M.S.W., whose work as a sexual empowerment coach has taken her to places such as Colombia, Croatia, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Guatemala, living the digital nomad life and pursuing casual dating go hand in hand.
"For what I seek, I can imagine it is easier than those individuals looking for a serious relationship," Silva said. "But even still, I value connection with the people I engage with casually, which means fostering those connections can take time and energy. I've learned that dating while living abroad is definitely a skill that you develop through trial and error."
Real stories from expats in the dating scene
One comment you often hear on dating as an expat is how it's a great opportunity to meet new people. Even if you don't share a native language, the adventures you can have with a new friend in a new land while overcoming cultural and language barriers are endless.
"Dating as an expat can be exciting, as it often involves exploring new places, trying different cuisines and engaging in novel activities," said Martha Tara Lee, Ph.D., D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore. "Dating someone from a different culture can provide a unique opportunity to learn about their customs, traditions and perspectives. Expat dating allows you to expand your social circle and meet people from diverse backgrounds."
Even a seemingly mundane or stressful situation you might encounter as a traveler takes on a different vibe when you have a new friend along for the ride.
"I connected with this Brazilian man who was in town for a week [in Playa del Carmen, Mexico]," Silva said. "We met up, the connection was almost instant, and we spent the entire week together. We went on dinner dates, salsa dancing and spent the day in Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancun. On his last day, he thought he lost his passports, so we spent the entire day looking for them, only to find them in his luggage. It was such an adventure, and I still smile thinking about it."
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What are the pros of dating as an expat?
Dating as an expat may give you an immediate leg up: You are an Exotic Creature from Elsewhere. Immediately, you'll have about a million topics of conversation as you and your new friend learn about your respective cultural norms—and, hopefully, dismantle cultural stereotypes.
One thing that's true about all those movie and novel characters who fall in love in strange lands is that travel is inherently exciting, which often translates to expat dating life.
"When you're living the same life, around the same people, in the same city, there is little room for novelty," Silva said. "When you're abroad, anything can happen at any time. It is always an adventure."
What are the cons of dating as an expat?
Navigating new cultural norms in multicultural expat relationships can be a challenge. Even seemingly little things such as first-date etiquette can be a tripping hazard: Does the guy pay? Do we split it? Would it be weird if I asked?
Another source of complication is understanding differing customs as to how to approach someone you're interested in or navigating standards of attractiveness that may differ from those in your home country.
Trying to sort all this out over the barrier of a language difference can make it even more difficult.
"Communication can be challenging if you and your partner don't share a common language fluently," Lee said. "Different cultural expectations and values may lead to misunderstandings or conflicts in a relationship."
The key to making a good connection usually turns out to be clear communication, regardless of what language you use.
"Navigating things like cultural differences, language barriers and safety can make things a bit challenging," Silva said. "I definitely believe that the more clear you are on what you desire from whom, the easier dating as an expat or digital nomad can be."
What are the best ways to meet people to date as an expat?
It could be tempting to cling to other people who share your background and language when you're traveling. It can be nerve-wracking when you're suffering the growing pains of learning a new language, and there's comfort in the familiar.
However, the best way to meet new people in a new country is to immerse yourself in your adopted home and get involved in local life.
You can meet new people in new places a few different ways, including social media, online groups and expat dating apps.
Everybody everywhere is pretty much just as internet-saturated as people in the United States. Wherever you go, you can start with Instagram searches for whatever—punk rock shows, tattoo artists, painting classes, stand-up comedy—and follow subjects of interest down the rabbit holes they lead to. A firm ground of common likes and dislikes is a great place to start.
Whether you're looking for a committed relationship or exploring the hookup culture in Spain, the first step is always going to be, "Hello." Start by meeting people with no overt intention of dating. It is an underrated approach. In addition to social media notices, meet-up apps abound, offering everything from beachside yoga classes to pub crawls.
Expat dating apps
The best apps for online dating may not necessarily be exclusively expat dating sites. Bigger is sometimes better, and when it comes to dating apps, the more fish in the sea, the better chance you have of landing one. Tinder, for instance, has some 90 million users worldwide and is available in 190 countries, so it's a good place to start. Bumble is also big if you're fishing in international waters. It has 50 million worldwide users and is especially popular in Latin America.
How do you stay safe while dating as an expat?
The concept of staying safe while dating as an expat is similar to the rules of staying safe while dating online. Despite the joy and head-spinning fun of being in an exotic, foreign land, be smart about going to unfamiliar places and meeting strangers, just as you would at home.
"Meet in public places, inform someone about your plans—including details about the person you're meeting—and trust your intuition," Lee said. "If something feels off or uncomfortable, it's OK to end the date or take a step back from the relationship."
Another good tip is to familiarize yourself with the area you're going to before the date. Google Maps is a good resource. Having some advance clue as to what the section of town you're going to is like and a rough idea of the metro stops and bus stops in the area can help if you find yourself wanting to bail.
The bottom line
How do we find love abroad?
The same way we find it at home: by opening ourselves up to meeting people, sharing ourselves with them, and being curious and open-minded. This may come from dating apps, meet-up groups or random encounters.
For seasoned travelers like Silva, the best way to meet people is by getting up and getting out.
"The best way I have found to meet people is by immersing yourself in the city you're in and connecting with others with similar interests," she said. "Take a yoga class. Watch a stand-up comedy show. Go to the local cafe and read your book. Possibilities are everywhere."