Many expat articles assume people travel for one of two reasons: to boldly seek adventure in a foreign land, or to advance a career and become a major player on the international business scene.
Of course, there are millions of expats living, working and exploring around the world, meaning there are also millions of unique reasons that have inspired them to move overseas.A small proportion of them have embarked on an adventure that’s even more exciting than setting up a new life abroad: setting up a new life with a partner.
According to the Telegraph, 10% of expats move abroad for love, following their hearts to a new life. The article quotes more figures from the InterNations survey, which includes the fact that nearly a third of expats find themselves in a relationship abroad. Amazingly nearly two-thirds of expats in Peru fall in love with a local, with Greece, the Philippines and Finland close behind in the romance stakes.
But should that 10% of expats hitting the road to follow their hearts be listening more to their heads? It’s perfectly normal to have a few awful exes hidden away in our past; partners who seemed a perfect match at the time but turned out to be a major mismatch. At home, that’s no problem, but bad relationships abroad can leave you with tough choices to make.
An increasing number of the lovelorn are meeting their sweethearts in cyberspace, flirting on phones and getting spicy on Skype. Making the leap from long-distance flirtation to real-life romance can be a massive step; even more so if there are thousands of miles, culture and a language barrier to cross.
We’re not trying to spoil anyone’s ‘happily ever after’, but there’s a lot to think about when chasing your fairytale romance to a land far, far away. Before leaping into a matter of the heart, take a look at our list of things to think about first.
Discuss the details
You might be busy whispering sweet nothings to each other, but do have a serious chat about exactly how this is going to work. Are you moving in with them, or will you find a place together?
As well as working out the short-term, plot a rough course for the medium and long term. You need to know what each other is thinking: are kids on the cards? What about travelling together?
Allow yourself a little freedom to adjust the plan and accept that life will always move the goalposts slightly. Talking through your plans means you are both expecting the same things and limits the possibility of big arguments about the future.
Consider your options
Before you commit to making such a big change to your life, weigh up the pros and cons. Sit down with a pen and paper and scribble out all your hopes, worries, concerns, nightmares and happy endings. Weigh the lists up and have a rational look again at whether the move is right for you.
It may be that the plan you are working to at the moment isn’t going to work, but it can be tweaked or altered to tick all your boxes.
Make sure you can still do what satisfies you
Every relationship involves a little compromise and negotiation, but when moving to a different culture you may have to fight a little harder for what means the most to you.
Don’t necessarily follow your heart overseas if that would involve giving up work altogether. Use the move as a way to follow other ambitions and move forward with your career.
It will be very difficult to establish a fair and happy future together if you are bored, frustrated or unhappy.
Consider a plan B
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Relationships are complicated at the best of times and they don’t always end as happily as you’d hoped. Make sure that you have an escape route should anything go awry.
This doesn’t have to mean flying back home with your tail between your legs; it could be moving in with a friend overseas or striking out on your own.
Meet the family
This should be on your ‘to do’ list in any new relationship. After all, you’ll be joining the family yourself soon enough. But when moving overseas, this is all the more important.
You’ll be leaving behind your folks and establishing a new life from scratch, so your partner’s family are likely to become a key part of your support network.
Try to meet the in-laws as early as possible, remembering that you are getting to know them as much as they are inspecting you. The older relatives may have traditional ideas about your role in their family, and you may need to manage their expectations. M.E. Evans, an American living with her husband in Italy knows this all too well.
Evans blogs about her life abroad, which seems to be made all the more complicated by meddling in-laws, she writes on survivinginitaly.com. “My husband’s parents have a strong case of, “I grew up in a tiny village and everything that I say, believe, or have done is right and everyone else in the giant world are vile or mentally handicapped.”
Watch your wallet
There’s nothing less romantic than arguing about money, but you need to know how your money will be spent. As with any expat, you may face trouble moving sums of money from one country to another, especially where exchange rates are fluctuating.
Make sure that whatever income you have leaves enough to give you a little in savings. Should you need to resettle back at home, you may find your savings are quickly eaten away by flights, fees and financial charges, leaving only a little for actually setting up home.
You may be looking to take your relationship to the next level and honour your partner with the biggest commitment of all: a joint bank account. Even if you are splitting the bills and paying the rent or saving for a new home, keep some cash for yourself. Arrange your finances so that you have independent access to money as and when you need it.
This financial freedom translates into real individual freedoms that may make the difference between a happy home and a marriage of misery.
Know your rights
Before you jump into your new life, make sure you know what you are entitled to. That means knowing the terms of your visa and whether you are tied to your partner or employer for the right to remain. Some countries may place limits on expats buying up property or setting up businesses. You may even find yourself in a dry country, facing a life without another refreshing G&T. Make sure you know before you go.
This applies especially to ladies in love heading overseas. Getting married in another country may make separation or divorce harder should the fairytale turn sour. It may also mean your rights over your own body may be changed, limiting your access to birth control or other medical needs.
Thinking a little longer term, make sure you know what rights your children will inherit from you. If things go swimmingly with your partner and a family is on the cards, consider if they will be entitled to dual citizenship. They may also be subject to national service in one or more country based on their various nationalities. It may be worth you flying home for their births or renouncing your citizenship.
Is this the right country for you?
The love of your life might be there, but is it the right place for you?
Your destination country may be one that is very different from home, and your experience of it may be different from your partner’s. Female expats will find they have a very different experience as they live in different countries, with rights, expectations and social pressures exerted on women changing greatly.
You may also find that moving to this country requires a sacrifice to your career, sporting or creative ambitions. Is there any way to soften these blows?
Whilst you obviously want to move to be with your Prince Charming or Leading Lady, there’s no reason why you have to move in with them. Reconsider your options: can they move to you instead? Is there a third country which you could move to together?
Different countries will afford you different opportunities amid different cultures and surrounded by a different landscape. On reflection, you may find that moving to an alternative country may be the best move you make together.
Don’t suffer in silence. If there is something on your mind, or something you don’t understand, talk to your partner. This is key to any relationship, but is even more important as you establish a lifestyle that is a fusion of two cultures.
You may have to plan for twice the celebrations, upholding both of your cultural heritages. You may need to work out when you can afford to fly back and visit your family. You may need to discuss the day-to-day tasks of keeping a home.
The clearer the lines of communication are kept, the more effective and efficient a team you can be. This in turn can prevent confusion and resentment building up. Talk through problems before they escalate, find compromises when you can’t agree and make sure you are helping each other wherever possible.
You’ll be going through a process of change, adjusting to a new lifestyle in a new culture and meeting new people. Talk your worries through with your partner and have them explain things that don’t make sense, but also explain which parts of your culture you want to keep with you.
Before you make the leap abroad, make sure that you’ve got enough grasp of a common language in order to have such important conversations fluently.
Don’t sacrifice yourself
You are about to become one half of an unstoppable team, working together for each other’s happiness whilst each retaining your own identity and ambitions. At least that’s how it should be.
In relationships all over the world there is often a dominant personality and a slightly quieter partner. This doesn’t have to mean one is in charge and the other does as they’re told, but in some cases the partnership is not a fair one.
Make it clear before you move, and throughout the relationship, that there are personal goals and ambitions that you aren’t willing to give up and hobbies that are important to you. You may need to budge a little on how these fit into your new life, but don’t give them up altogether.
Your partner should respect the things that mean a lot to you as much as they respect you, supporting you rather than expecting you to sacrifice them.
Living overseas, this can be all the more important. Living away from a familiar culture, family and friends you may find that you need to hold on ever closer to things you hold dear. Giving up your favourite sport to appease a partner, or altering your personality can throw you into a troublesome identity crisis. Hang on to your culture, personality and language as much as you can, use them to forge a new identity that sits comfortably with you. Never force a change in yourself to make a partner happy.
Remember this is a partnership. If you are the one making all the sacrifices then something is going wrong. Talk to your partner and work out solutions together, but never forget that you can leave if you need to.
Have you moved abroad for romance? Share your experiences in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer