When you are considering starting your life anew somewhere else – exciting! – there are lots of things on your mind. Moving abroad and becoming an expat is a major life change, no arguments there. You need to think about finding a place to stay, securing work, possibly signing up for language classes…
You are likely also thinking about how you are going to meet people, make friends and connections. If you are single, what would it be like to date as an expat? How do you navigate romance in a place where you don’t even have a favourite grocery store yet?
Being single is a wonderful thing. It allows you to make your life decisions single-handedly, which likely has already played a role in you deciding to shake up your life and move abroad. (Not to say that a partner would prevent you from doing so, since there are many great examples of couples living it up as expats or nomads.) If dating has been a part of your life at home, it is reasonable to want it to be part of your new environment, too.
Love and romance can be complicated everywhere, but especially so when you are in unfamiliar waters. So what can you expect from dating as an expat?
(Note, beautiful people, that this post is intended as a general piece of advice. I cannot predict where you move and so your circumstances may vary. Have fun with discovering what works for you!)
Things That Will Likely Happen When You Date Abroad
English will only get you so far
Learn the local language! This goes without saying for any expat moving to a country where English is not the main language spoken. This is a priority no matter what your plans are about romance or dating. Speaking the language is necessary for finding jobs, using public services and, of course, making friends with locals. Making a meaningful personal connection requires having a shared language in common. If it is English – great. If it’s not – the onus is on you to learn one. You’re the expat, after all!
Meeting locals is daunting
This is true not only about dating, but friendships in general. For one simple reason: when you are new in town, you simply have no idea how and why to make friends. Language barrier plays a role (see above), but also you have so many things on your mind (job, housing, general stress after moving, adaption anxiety), that hitting a bar may mean just wanting that drink, not socializing with locals. Not to mention that some nations are notorious for not letting new people into their cliques, expat or not. (Looking at you, the Netherlands.)
Therefore, when it comes to dating…
You may gravitate towards dating other expats at first
And it’s totally normal. Expats tend to form expat communities that act as support groups and anchor in people interested in mingling. Other expats are more approachable. You have something in common simply by virtue of having moved to the same place and thus shared experienced you can talk about. Language is no issue as well. You may reminisce about life back home, if you happen to come from the same country. Long story short, it is easier to connect. And it’s not a bad thing.
Dating other expats is often a gateway to dating locals! As life goes on and your social network expands, it will include more and more local people, who in turn may become romantic prospects.
It’s all about the cultural differences!
This is your biggest – and possibly only – real difficulty when it comes to dating abroad. The rest described above are just stages of adapting to your new life and are eventually overcome by most, if not all, expats. However, once you delve deeper into the local dating scene, you are likely to see differences in how it all works.
Some may be not to your liking. Whether it is the patriarchal influences and subtle and not-so-subtle sexism that laces all interpersonal relationships, whether it is aggressive approaches to courtship that border on harrassment, the traditions of who does what at every stage of a relationship – issues may vary.
They also vary depending on where you yourself come from, and what you yourself are used to and regard as normal in dating. Maybe you are accustomed to splitting the bill, but your date insists on paying. Maybe you feel comfortable inviting someone over after the first date, and they immediately pass judgement on your character and question your morals. Maybe you like taking things slow and seeing someone once or twice every few weeks, but they barrage you with text messages and declarations of love after two dates.
Whatever the case may be, dating rituals differ, and how you deal with these differences needs to be a fine balance between keeping an open mind and protecting your own boundaries and comfort zone. Respect the other person enough to understand that what they are doing may not be an attempt to disrespect you, but merely a way to approach dating that they have internalized. At the same time, be enpowered to discuss your differences and establish boundaries that would work both for you and for them. You shouldn’t be the only one adapting to your partner’s cultural quirks! They also should be open to adapting to yours, or else it won’t work.
You’re an expat and you’ve got this!
When you are totally new to the country, don’t panic. Don’t dive into forming romantic relationships until you have the mental resources and energy to handle them. Take your sweet time in getting used to your new surroundings, your new life and new people who come into it.
Spend time with people you enjoy, no matter who they are. Make friends, form connections that are meaningful to you. Once you become friends with a few locals, ask them questions, be curious about everything in your new home – this includes asking about dating! People love sharing these kinds of insights. Keep an open mind about the information you hear – after all, it is all about the cultural exchange.
Be willing to adapt and to learn… and keep your heart open. Happy dating!