5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

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How many travel and expat bloggers out there have wonderfully successful international relationships that they are more than happy to share with the world? As much as I love reading those stories, from my own years spent in Spain I have learned that dating abroad is not all sunshine and fairytales, and it has been idealized online far too often. From her own experiences, our contributor breaks it down for all of those starry-eyed youngsters hoping to fall in love while abroad.

Have you ever dated, had a fling or fallen in love abroad? Tell us about it! How did it end?

falling in love abroad

It seems like a dream…you move to a mysterious new land, meet a handsome stranger and fall hopelessly, passionately in love. Soon enough, you’re riding on the back of his Vespa through winding roads to watch the sunset from a spot that only locals know about thinking, is this real life??

That’s exactly what happened to me when I studied abroad in Granada, Spain last spring and, BOY, do I wish I had someone warn me that such a romance isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I wouldn’t trade in my experience for the world, but I want to share some of the darker sides of falling in love abroad that no one talks about.

 First, some upsides to international love. I met a fantastic guy, I became fluent in Spanish from constantly conversing with my novio and his friends and family in their language. I learned colloquial terms and sayings I never would have  known and got an insiders look into lesser-known spots in the city.

Oh, and I got to fall deeply in love in one of the most romantic cities in the world…I guess that’s pretty cool too.

But, just like any relationship, there are some aspects that are extremely difficult and painful. The difficult parts are often exacerbated in a foreign land as you are introduced to new cultural practices, beliefs and values. A language barrier doesn’t help things. So, I’ve put together a list of things that either hindered my relationship directly or have happened to my friends.

This should serve as a caution to starry-eyed girls who go abroad looking for a fairy tale…like a certain 20 year old I once knew.

falling in love abroad

1.This isn’t his first time at the rodeo

If you met at a disco/bar where study abroad students tend to flock; Rico Suave came with one thing in mind. Use your head, chica. Each year, thousands of Americans and international students move to these hotspot cities looking for an adventure, and men absolutely take advantage of this.  Most women let loose, and rightly so, it’s a time for fun and few obligations. But, unfortunately for many women, this means doing things they normally wouldn’t back home. If a man picks you up in one of these situations, be wary. Oftentimes, the men that frequent these places are just looking for a fling, banking on the fact that a ton of girls are hoping to fall in love. We go in thinking it’s love, a story to tell our grandchildren, while we’re more than likely just going through a revolving door of American girls.

{If he pursues you outside of the nightlife atmosphere, doesn’t try to sleep with you immediately, and especially if he involves you in his life with his family and friends, however, he could very well be an exception}

falling in love abroad

2. You may not be in love with him

Moving away from home to a foreign land presents a multitude of new experiences that could influence your feelings during this time. When choosing where to move abroad, most women choose charming and  romanticized places whether it be Rome, Barcelona, Buenos Aires or New Zealand. With the history, natural beauty and exciting culture, it’s easy to fall in love with the place you’re in and the life you live there. Between the yummy food, flowing drinks and new adventures, your pleasure center is constantly stimulated. Mix in a relationship with all these feelings and emotions and it becomes hard to distinguish how you feel about the person versus how you feel towards life in general at this time. Would you be in love with this guy if you were back in your home town? Would you want him to meet your parents? These are things worth thinking about if you’re interested in more than a fling.

falling in love abroad

3. You’ll never 100% understand each other

This one pertains solely to relationships where there is a language barrier. You could be as fluent as a non-native can be, but it is nearly impossible to truly understand humor or complicated emotion in a language that is not your mother tongue. Things like dry humor, sarcasm, and goofy jokes are extremely difficult to accurately translate. Combine that with the difficulty of conveying exactly why you’re mad/hurt/upset in a new language, and a lot of important things get lost in translation. This makes for a lot of frustration and, more than likely, many unnecessary fights.

{Upside: with all the passion and excitement surrounding you, makin’ up ain’t haaaalf bad}

4. You’ll miss out on experiences

If you’re only living abroad for a limited amount of time, having a man in your home base can and will distract you in some way. This isn’t some feminist “sister, a man will only hold you back from becoming the woman you should be” speal. It’s a fact. If you’re in love with someone and know your time together is limited by your visa, you will want to spend as much time with him as possible. This means turning down weekend jaunts to Ibiza to stay with him and nixing girls’ nights out of shameless bar-top dancing with your friends for quiet nights with your man. Many people only get the chance to live abroad once, and though you don’t think so in the moment, turning down exciting opportunities could be something you may regret when you look back on your life.

falling in love abroad

5. There’s an expiration date on your relationship

This has been a theme in each of the previous points. You have a visa, and visas expire. This means one of two things. You have to either accept your romance as nothing more than a fling, or, you have to commit. Commit to making a bi-continental relationship work, commit to a permanent  move at some point, or commit to staying together with no plan at all. To know that you’re in love and these things have a way of working out. This is, of course, up to you.

My point is that in order to protect yourself from heartbreak and disappointment, there is a lot to consider before entering into a love affair abroad. My friends like to refer to what I had with my love as “the fairytale,” and, in many ways, it was. When I look back on my time with him in Granada, I remember the most intense feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life; passion, pain, confusion, excitement, desperation and intense disappointment. I think I could have avoided some of the darker bits had someone made me conscious of the facts I’ve listed above. So, I hope that I can help at least one person to make the most of their time abroad. To immerse yourself, to love, and to explore, but to be aware, conscious, and smart.

falling in love abroad

My two biggest pieces of advice:

Don’t go looking for love, go looking for yourself and if love finds you, then love. You may find the man of your dreams. And if it’s a fling, go for it, girl.

I don’t think anyone ever regretted a tryst with a mysterious stranger.

{Disclaimer:  I know people who have successful international relationships, so there are absolutely exceptions to this list}

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190 Comments on “5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

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  1. I love #2 – it’s so true, and definitely worth thinking about.

    I haven’t really had much experience with love while traveling, though I DID have a fling with an Englishman last summer that I’m still trying to figure out (we’re still in touch and it’s just all sorts of confusing…).

    If only the world wasn’t full of dashing men with sexy accents! 😉

  2. I met many a toad on the road and as an expat before finding my British prince charming, including one really life-changing breakup I’m still trying to figure out how to write about. But of course, two years after I swore to “spend all my 20s single” I ended up meeting my fiance (when I was 21) — so you never know what may come of that travel fling!

    1. So true! I think committing to the expat life absolutely makes things easier; with study abroad, you unfortunately HAVE to go back. In any case, difficult to start something with someone in a totally new situation and culture, and often we unknowingly risk so much. But that’s one of the best parts about the adventure we so desperately seek 🙂

      Congratulations on the engagement!

  3. This post hits oh-so-very near to my little corazon. I initially had more qualms to my relationship with my Rico Suave, an English-wielding pilot named Enrique. I looked for ANYTHING to break us up, not willing to let my guard down or risk the big teary break up before hopping a plane back to America. But we eventually did break up when I realized Spain may not be it for me.

    Turns out, I’m still here, Enrique and I are still very much in love, and that talking about these fears has taken us this far. We’ve talked about kids, marriage and the like, but at the end of the day, it was just dumb luck that we met and formed the kind of relationship I always wanted to have…just in Spanish!

    1. I think talking about the fears, risks and realities of these relationships is so important, and that’s what I hoped to get at with this post. It is so easy to fall into a dreamy, jaded state when abroad, and overlook all the potential issues and risks that could lead to heart break.

      It makes me so happy to hear that you and your Rico Suave have gotten through all that and are happily together! I love when these stories work out 🙂

    2. Great points! I spent a semester in Costa Rica and watched a lot of friends deal with a lot of heartbreak…I on the other hand lived a true fairy tale (I am still living it). I even wrote an book about it “Pura Vida: a Memoir about International Love and Growing Up” by Andrea Chuchoque.

      1. Oh my goodness, I am currently studying abroad in Costa Rica and have met the most wonderful tico who has been so good to me. I really want our relationship to work out and after reading the synopsis of your book I have more hope for us. Thank you so much! Pura Vida 🙂

      2. I am currently studing abroad in Costa Rica as well! I’ve found the most romantic person I have ever met in my life. I didn’t know someone could ever make me feel this way. I have met his mother and his friends they are all so great… but I sometimes forget I might not be able to live here forever. It’s sad but who knows, maybe in 7 months things will fall into place. Time will have to tell 🙂

    3. I met someone when I was working abroad in Kenya this year. We dated for 3 months , I fell in love with him, the most in love I have ever felt for anyone in my life. We both cried often before I left back home to Canada, knowing my visa expired. We are both unsure of our future together considering neither of us are financial stable, both just students who graduated. I don’t know how we will see each other again, for him to come here it is extremely expensive. Even the richest ppl in Kenya can’t afford it. Secondly its likely my country would never accept him as a resident or citizen because of such strict immigration regulations. As for me, I would go back to Kenya in a heartbeat, I love the country. But I see it all becoming so expensive down the road, plus living in a developing country is not always easy. My best bet is to get dual citizen andlive in Kenya permanently. To be honest , I’m not one to easily open my heart, but I want to marry this guy and want to have children (so unlike me) I really hope it works out. 🙁 I can’t imagine myself being with anyone else. Not to mention, his work and livimg conditions are poor. He was a orphan at 15, grew up under a distant relative , who he now “owes them”. It kills me and makes me cry that I cannot be there to help him, and support him through the hardships in his life.

      1. Hi Nicole,
        I would really like to know how things are right now.
        I’m in a quite similar situation right now, and would love to gain some experiences.

    4. I just stumbled upon this post and I’d like to say that most of it is so true, but it also matters especially how much effort you put into it. I met a wonderful guy whilst on a solo trip, but it was an unusual dreamy story right off the bat. I wouldn’t go into details but he was a foreigner living in the country and had been traveling and living in different countries for three years. It was a romantic place and as we both said, it’s easy to fall in love with the circumstances…
      We knew there was an expiry date (5 days in fact) and he said he’d be perfectly fine if I treated it as a fling. I decided not to give up. I invited him to visit me, and he came for a month. We travelled around together and fell deeply in love. The day after he went back, he emailed me in a panic to make sure I was real because he had just been woken up from his jetlag and sleep by his friend who hadn’t known about him being away or me, and so he thought he had just made it all up.
      Fast forward four years, we are getting married next year, lived in three different countries and given up countless things big and small to be together. Some I do regret, but I’ll never regret anything that resulted in us being together. He is going back to visit one of the places we travelled to together the first time with his sister and booked the same hotel we stayed at. When I got home, he told me he was crying for the past hour because he just felt emotional thinking about those memories…it was so strange seeing him cry which he doesn’t do very often.
      Like every other relationship, there are struggles and sacrifices, and maybe more of both when it’s an international relationship. If you’re not willing to give up being your own person, it’s better to keep it as a fling when traveling. But if you’re both willing to take a leap of faith, it could end up being a beautiful experience.

    5. I had a very important relationship abroad but I can’t relate to this post. It lasted 6 years, ready to get married and tying to have a baby. It didn’t work for other reasons, none related to us. But we were settle together with our own house and everything. Having a relationship abroad is the same as having a relationship with anybody else if there is real love.

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