Relationships are never easy, but there’s even more obstacles for those who fall in love with someone from a different country than their own. From stereotyping and visa issues, to cultural misunderstandings, a relationship with a foreigner is often a bumpy road to navigate. Now that we have the internet at our fingertips and the power to travel wherever we please, it’s easier than ever to meet people from across the globe.
I’ve shared my story alongside four travel bloggers who open up about their experiences falling in love with a foreigner.
I wouldn’t have it any other way
If you don’t know already, I’m from Hawaii, the most remote landmass on the planet. So even if I were to date someone from the continental U.S., that would be a nice six-hour plane ride away at least. But it was a Spaniard who stole my heart, and you can’t really get much farther from Hawaii than that.
Some cultural differences were annoying at first, but I quickly got used to them. One that sticks out in my mind is the differences in verbal and nonverbal communication. In Spain, it’s totally fine to raise your voice or speak over someone else who is talking (most of the time this is not ok in the U.S.). We still have a lot of miscommunication as well, which is inevitable when one person is always speaking their second language (I’m still trying to learn Spanish and Catalan). It’s not uncommon for us to think the other person said something they didn’t actually mean. Dating a foreigner definitely has a huge learning curve and tests your patience (still working on that too).
Despite all the challenges, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some of my favorite moments together are when we’re teaching each other about our cultures. It’s the little things like learning how to cook and eat calçots, explaining what the Manapua Man is, and watching him enjoy Hawaiian food that make me smile. Did you know Hawaii’s malasadas are actually really similar to Spanish buñols? We may be from opposite sides of the earth, but we all often have more in common than we realize.
During my first major backpacking trip—the Gringo Trail—I stopped in Cali, Colombia to take salsa classes. I only planned on staying for a of couple months. It’s funny how plans change. I met the love of my life in dance class, got married, and have lived in Cali ever since.
I never imagined life would lead me here. Falling in love with a foreigner can be amazing, but it comes with a unique set of challenges. One being language. I speak a first-grade level of Spanish and my wife speaks a first-grade level of English, so that means a lot of elementary school level conversations. It can be a struggle having deep conversations where precise language is needed. Imagine having an argument and trying to explain your feelings, but only knowing how to say the words: good, bad, happy, sad, and angry. It can be difficult dialing in and pinpointing how you feel.
But it’s not just language. Cultural differences creep into our relationship as well. For example arriving “on time” in Colombia basically means within a two-hour range. Whether it be language, culture, or something else—the key is patience and understanding. Recognize that there will be frustrations and misunderstandings, but in the end, you love each other and are on the same team. With that being said, those are just the personal challenges.
Navigating life as an expat brings on a whole new set of issues. For one, how do I make a living? If you’re not married, you probably can’t legally work in another country. And even after marriage, the salary for “normal” jobs in a third-world country is less than appealing. Your best option (which I chose) is to search for travel jobs you can do anywhere so you get the best of both worlds.
Mitch from Project Untethered
Finding the right place to live is the hardest part
I fell in love when I was on vacation in New York City just before I left for a five-month trip across Canada. One night turned into a whirlwind courtship and before the end of the trip, we had to decide which country to move to. Although I hadn’t lived in Australia for many years and Kevin had his own business and house, we decided to move to Australia because the Australian government recognized our same-sex relationship and at the time, the U.S. government did not.
Unfortunately, Kevin desperately wanted to return home, so after three years in Australia I managed to get a U.S. working visa and we moved to NYC. We then lived in a state of anxiety that my visa wouldn’t be renewed, because it was dependent on me earning a minimum salary set by the government. The required minimum went up every year, but my salary did not.
When New York State passed marriage equality, we got married immediately, but the federal government still didn’t recognize our marriage. Then, just as the minimum salary needed for my visa became so high that my employer refused to pay it, the Supreme Court determined that the federal government had to recognize our NY marriage and I immediately applied for, and got a green card.
Falling in love with someone from a different country definitely brings up a whole lot of issues about where you can live. Having traveled a lot, I was able to adjust to living in the U.S. much more easily than my husband did to living in Australia. There are a lot of cultural differences to navigate, and when your partner doesn’t like living in your culture, it can be difficult. For gay couples, the decision of where to live is even more problematic. We were fortunate that we both (eventually) come from countries that recognize same-sex marriage. Most countries do not, and many gay couples find themselves permanently torn apart.
Almost being reprimanded by a policeman for prostitution was a definite low-point in my relationship. Despite it being the 21st century and mankind apparently being the most advanced species on the planet, seeing a Western woman walking hand-in-hand with an Indian man is still more shocking than a four-headed snake to some folk. Some people still hold the belief that we, as two people from completely different countries, cultures and backgrounds, shouldn’t be together.
Although we’ve been in a relationship for more than two and a half years now, some of his friends and family still don’t know about me for that exact reason. Then there’s the police officer in Goa who assumed I’d been bought for the night. Because a white woman couldn’t possibly be out with an Indian man willingly, could she?
It’s not just India with this odd way of thinking, but the U.K. too. On finding out about my relationship, some of my friends hesitantly asked me “Are you sure he’s not with you for your passport?” As if a British passport is the Holy Grail for all people east of the Caucasus. There’s nothing he would hate more than moving to the UK permanently! I mean, we don’t even season our food…
Acquaintances ask if they can ride an elephant into our wedding, if he speaks “Indian” or if he can teach them Bhangra—all incredibly stereotypical views of India that don’t even remotely reflect a tiny slither of the incredible country.
But for all the obstacles, ignorant questions and disgusted looks that come with a multicultural relationship such as ours, there are an infinite amount of incredible moments that make it all worthwhile. And these are the kind of moments you only get if you fall in love with a foreigner.
Explaining the Eurovision Song Contest and introducing him to the wonders of Lordi, attempting to learn a whole new language with a completely different script (Malayalam is hard, y’all!), learning to cook authentic Indian food and comparing childhood stories (the boy who cried wolf to me is the boy who cried tiger to him) all just add an extra bit of fun to our relationship. Being in a multicultural relationship means we get to learn new things about each other every single day, and that’s one hell of an adventure.
I’m from St.Petersburg, Russia and my husband is from Cape Town, South Africa. We first met five years ago traveling in the Philippines. We happened to be staying at the same hostel (we had neighboring beds in the dorm). By the end of our stay in San Fernando we became friends; sharing tuk-tuks to the beach every day, going out for dinner to the local market, and hanging out together. We had similar travel plans and decided to continue exploring the Philippines together. Since then we’ve traveled to four continents and 35 countries and did an endless number of hikes and dives. Two years ago we got married and started our travel blog that now keeps us busy most of the time.
It might sound unrealistic for two people from different parts of the world to have a relationship, but we never had any problems or challenges related to our different cultures. I was however shocked when I went to visit Campbell’s family in South Africa for the first time because of how large a family he actually had! In Russia it’s very rare to have more than one or two children when in South Africa couples have three or four. It took a good part of my three-month visit to remember everyone and figure out who is who, but now after three years I’m used to it.
From our experience I can say that it doesn’t matter what countries both of you are from as long as you like doing the same things and have similar values and goals. Don’t be afraid to date or marry a person from another country just because he or she is too different, you might actually find more similarities than with someone from your own country.