Around the world in 7 movies: Great films for expats


As you settle down for the in-flight movie on your outward journey, what would the most appropriate film for an expat be? The theme of the stranger abroad is a popular one in movies, so we’ve chosen a few that might prepare you for your time overseas.

Lost In Translation (2003)

Most expats – although especially middle-aged men – will sympathize with Bob Harris (Bill Murray). Sent to Japan to shoot a whisky ad, he is clearly out of place and alone in a country that he doesn’t fully understand – and which doesn’t understand him.

Lost in Translation focuses on Bob’s friendship with young college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen), and the natural bond between them contrasts with – and is accentuated by – the alien environment that surrounds them. The film received critical acclaim around the world, and is relatable for many who have moved to a country with a completely different culture.

The Beach (2000)

This adaptation of Alex Garland’s book is great if you like Leonardo DiCaprio, but a little thin if you don’t. The eponymous beach (actually, Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand) is a million miles away from the life that DiCaprio’s character is used to, but it is probably further away still from the truth about life in Thailand.

If you want a colorful romp featuring good-looking young people – with a mysterious treasure map and a romantic sub-plot thrown in – this idealized notion of a year abroad might put you in the mood for your trip.

Casablanca (1942)

If the ultimate expat movie is Casablanca, the ultimate expat must be Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). An American running a bar in wartime Algeria, Blaine is torn between his love for Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergmann) and his duty to help her husband in his resistance against the Nazis.

Amid the love story and the propaganda (this was released in 1942), it is really a story of people with different agendas and nationalities coming together in a neutral venue – a situation which will be familiar to many modern-day, peace-time expats.

Coming to America (1988)

While many films (particularly those produced in the US) focus on the trials of Americans overseas, this Eddie Murphy classic revels in the comic possibilities of a rich African prince making a new life in New York. Prince Akeem is fabulously rich – and fabulously ignorant of American culture – yet is determined to find himself a bride, so goes undercover in order to do so.

The movie is a little dated, teaches you very little about the expat experience, and is really only a vehicle for Eddie Murphy to create another outrageous persona (in fact, he plays four separate parts). But if you like that kind of thing, you’ll love it.


The Last King of Scotland (2006)

This highly thought-provoking film starts with an unusual premise when a Scottish doctor called Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is hired as the personal physician of General Idi Amin.

Initially optimistic of the supposed (and much needed) program for change in the country, he gradually realizes that both Uganda and his own welfare are in danger at the hands of a corrupt political machine. A widely-acclaimed film, it combines a gripping storyline, strong acting performances and beautiful cinematography of the African countryside.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

This film serves as a warning to any outgoing expat: don’t believe all you read about your destination. It features a group of British pensioners who decide to travel to India to live in a retirement hotel – basing their decision mainly on the hotel’s website. Of course, it is not all they hoped and the film follows the friends (played by venerable British actors Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith) as they deal with accommodation, food, locals, and culture shock in general. They realize that their new home – although not as luxurious as expected – has begun to charm them in different ways.

This is a heart-warming, funny and optimistic film that shows how the expat experience is rarely what you expect – but wonderful nonetheless.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

An Oscar-winning classic telling the story of the writer T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) during World War One. It is unusual amongst expat films because it focuses more on the bonds between the expat and his host country than on the differences.

Lawrence has assimilated to such a degree with the Arabic people around him that his allegiance to them rivals his innate loyalty to the Queen and country. It is about an expat who has been there for so long, he is almost a local – a  fascinating film for a would-be assignee to watch before leaving home. Stay away from home too long at your peril…


What is your favorite expat movie?


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