Love to travel, travel to love: dating for expats

13 August 2018

Although it is estimated that two out of every three expats are already in a relationship, a global assignment is an exciting – and frequently daunting – opportunity to meet new people and build new relationships.

Why is it so exciting?

Global assignees often feel that they are embarking on a new chapter in their lives. If they are single, they are also likely to be more open-minded about the relationships they form. Only a minority (13%) of expats try to maintain a long-distance relationship. For those who set out single, they are stepping into a brave new world and romance is just one of the many new experiences they are about to face.

Why is it daunting?

Two simple reasons: loneliness and culture difference. Many people find (at least after the initial week or two) that expat life can be a lonely experience. Thrust into a new community, it is easy to feel isolated, which not only makes dating difficult but also puts pressure on single people to rush into relationships.

And, of course, dating will not be the same as it was back home. Within the expat community, there will be common cultural values, which make the dating game easier, but expats do not (and usually do not want to) live in a complete cultural bubble. You are subject to local customs and attitudes, which can be occasionally problematic, e.g.:

  • Public displays of affection may be frowned on in some more conservative cultures. A useful guide can be found here.
  • Attitudes towards same-sex relationships may be extremely intolerant. A report by The Guardian in 2017 showed that homosexuality was illegal in 72 countries and punishable by death in eight.
  • Social hierarchies may be more ingrained than you are used to with class differences proving an unexpected obstacle to relationships.

Clearly, it is important to tread carefully, even if you are dating someone from the same cultural background or nationality, albeit in a different part of the world. Indeed, if you travel with your long-term partner, you will still need to abide by the prevailing social norms in your host country.

Online dating for expats

Of course, the internet and social media has made dating far easier than ever. In expat scenarios, where your social circle is far more limited, and you are perhaps unfamiliar with how to go about more conventional dating ‘methods’, it can really come into its own.

There are a few international sites, such as Expatica, which claims to cater for expats in 60 different countries, and there will, of course, be local sites and apps such as Tinder (see here for one expat’s experience of using Tinder around the world). 

A few dos and don’ts

However, the advice to the romantically inclined singles is similar all around the world – you simply need to view the following tips through a local lens and be careful not to offend. The basic rules for the dating game can be summarised as:

  • Be patient. Don’t dismiss people (or online profiles) too quickly and don’t leap at the first opportunity. You’ve got plenty of time. 
  • Be open-minded. It’s a great opportunity to try something new. You’re in a new place, so why not hang out with a few different people? And rather than seeking to minimize cultural differences, why not enjoy them?
  • Be sensible: Take the usual precautions, for example by having first dates in a reasonably public place.

A happy ending?

Of course, your experience of dating will depend on many factors, not least the country you visit. The Huffington Post surveyed the most romantic destinations for expats – a list topped by The Philippines, where 79% of respondents were in a long-term relationship with a local partner. It also noted that 31% of expats moving to Greece were doing so in order to find love (compared to 11% on average).

Summary

If it is your employer who is sending you overseas on a professional assignment, your love life may not be your main consideration. There is plenty else to worry about. But most expats who set out as singles have at least fond memories (and some still have enduring relationships) from their time abroad.

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