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International guide to celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day abroad

Being an expat is exhausting. Packing up, moving abroad, finding a place to live, dealing with new cultures – in the midst the whirlwind of activities involved in international relocation, it can feel like there’s no time left for love?

That’s why it’s important to make an effort for Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re ensconced with your family, skyping your loved-one every night, or if you’re single and carefree, the international festival of love is a great time to recharge your batteries and think about matters of the heart.

Valentine’s Day around the world

Not many celebrations are as international as Valentine’s Day. New Year’s Day is big, but is it on January 1 or about a month later, like in China or Vietnam? Halloween, Christmas, Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah are all popular too, but nothing crosses cultures as well as Valentine’s Day. The origins of the celebration may lie in 17th century England, but the traditions and customs around February 14 have spread across the globe, with all kinds of local twists.

While chocolates, roses and greetings cards are common, the Danes give snowdrops rather than roses, the Italians give Baci Perugina chocolates and South African women wear the names of their would-be lovers on their sleeves. Things are taken very seriously elsewhere: China’s Qixi festival involves making temple offerings of melon, and in South Korea, the celebration take three months – first women give gifts on February 14, then men on ‘White Day’ on March 14 and on April 14 it’s ‘Black Day’ for singletons.

How will you mark Valentine’s Day?

The way expats choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day will inevitably depend on their personal circumstances and whether they are single or in a relationship. And for those in a relationship, celebrations will depend on whether their partners have come with them or if they are maintaining a long-distance relationship.

InterNations, the global expat network, discovered in a 2016 survey that 69% of men and 57% of women were in a committed relationship, with 16% of these in a long-distance relationship. Younger expats are more likely to be single, with more under 25s being footloose than not.

So what does living overseas mean for love-lives?

Moving abroad together

Valentine’s Day is easier in a couple – just ask Bridget Jones – so being together means that there are more opportunities to celebrate your relationship. And while renewal is an important element of any relationship, it is doubly so for expats. Moving your lives from one country to another can have a significant impact on the balance of the relationship.

In most cases, employee relocation involves one person moving for their job, while the other has to decide whether they will go along and become a “trailing spouse” – a description that indicates some of the potential problems that moving overseas for a relationship raises for partners.

While international assignees have a job, a full diary and a new social circle, a trailing spouse will have none of these. After the unpacking is done, it’s too easy to become isolated and for homesickness to set in – and that can have a big impact on a relationship.

For the partner, it’s vital to carve out their own identity: finding a job, starting a business, volunteering or going back into education are potential options. These things need the support of the relocated employee too – dealing with a new job and new colleagues may be hard but if this comes at the cost of a stable relationship then life will become even harder.

Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to reset things, to take stock and to plan ahead. So take the opportunity to make romantic plans and let your special person feel appreciated and loved. It’s also a great excuse to get out and about in your new home, explore the food and entertainment scene and spend one on one time together.

Loving long distance

For some partners, international relocation is not an option. They may be at a crucial point in their career, or they may have caring responsibilities for elderly parents or relatives, or they may not be entitled to the right visa. Same-sex couples may find discrimination in some parts of the world. And some partners may try the expat life and simply not be able to deal with the realities of living abroad.

Living apart is not easy. Long distance relationships require trust and commitment, which means having good communication. And good communication can only be achieved when you can communicate – so the best advice from long distance expats involves figuring out ways to talk.

  • Set time for a regular call
  • Don’t leave everything for the regular call – make time to text
  • Make time for regular visits
  • Facetime and video calls are a great way to connect

It can be good to focus on the positive side of long-distance relationships. Conversations can be much more meaningful when you’re apart, and a great way to improve communication. Couples who are together might not remember to make time for a heart-to-heart. In fact there is evidence that couples in long distance relationships were more intimate with each other.

So for valentines, why not schedule a romantic video-date. Just because you can’t be in the same room doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. We recommend putting together a shared romantic playlist and each make a nice meal, to enjoy whilst facetiming each other. And with so many international delivery services, there’s no excuses for not sending a bunch of flowers, or their favourite gift, ready for them to open on Valentines day.

Finding international love

For the single expat, living overseas can be a great opportunity to explore a new dating scene. Online dating apps like Tinder are available in all corners of the globe so it’s never been easier to meet people wherever you are. But expats in countries with legally-enforced morality codes do need to consider local customs.

So where is it best to find love internationally? The answers may surprise you: Peru, Greece and the Philippines are the top three countries for finding romance, according to InterNations, with 72% of expats in Peru in a relationship with a local. Finland, Argentina, Brazil and Thailand are also good places to find someone special.

For expats in the USA – a major destination for international relocations – there is a gender split: some cities have a surplus of eligible, single men or women. On the whole the east coast is a good place for a heterosexual man looking for a partner. New York has around 230,000 more single women than men, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute. And the west coast, in contrast, is good for women: San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles all have more single men.

International marriage

What happens if you do find someone overseas? There are a great many challenges to an international relationship. Learning about your partner’s culture is a lifelong process and at least one of you will ultimately be away from their family and heritage. Expats who continue to roam the globe may not find this challenging, but if you’re one of the people looking to head home at some point, it’s important to consider how that might work. Not every country makes it easy for expats to bring a spouse home: the UK, for example, has strict requirements which often lead to families being forced to split up for months at a time.

Problems with love

Lastly, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the people for whom Valentine’s Day is an unhappy occasion. The focus on relationships can be a catalyst for splitting up, with some evidence that Valentine’s Day leads to an increase in break ups. For those suffering from heartbreak, there is inspiration from the ultimate romantic couple, Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers of Verona.

The Juliet Club is a team of volunteers based in the Italian city who answer letters left at the tomb of Juliet Capulet. Every year, 50,000 people from around the world write to “Juliet, Verona” for advice on their love life, and they are all answered by volunteers.

So if you’re an expat or a trailing spouse, or in a long-distance relationship, and you’re having problems, you know you have somewhere to turn.


If you’re looking for a sensitive partner to help you relocate, then look no further than Santa Fe – get in touch with us today.

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