Cultural Integration

Tips for expat women

For an expat woman, moving abroad can be exciting but daunting. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your adventure.

Expat woman

Updated 15-5-2024

Living in a new country as an expat woman can be a fantastic experience. If you’re going abroad to follow your dreams, for love, or to explore a new part of the world, there’s a lot to look forward to. On the other hand, many female expats move abroad as accompanying partners. In this situation, it’s just as important to find ways to fit into your new home and enjoy your time.

Our tips will help you to relish your new situation. We’ll delve into ways to connect with your new country, including making friends, getting to know the culture, ensuring your safety, dealing with discrimination, and building a career:

Do your research

The first thing you need to do when moving abroad is to get to know your new country. That does, of course, involve sampling the food, visiting the most beautiful places, and discovering the nightlife. Although there are so many positives about emigrating, women still face many major challenges. You need to be aware of what difficulties you might encounter as an expat woman in your new country – what are your rights? Where can you get support when needed?

Woman on laptop
Photo: Josep Suria/ShutterStock

This could be as simple as stepping outside the usual gender roles and deciding to work full-time in the Netherlands. Or it could be as strict as Saudi Arabia, where you need your husband’s permission to work. There are additional obstacles for women of color in many countries – building a network and knowing where to report discrimination is essential. Women in relationships with other women and trans women might face not only discrimination but persecution and arrest. So again, be aware of what’s legal in the country you move to, and where to get support when necessary.

Learn the language

Perhaps the most effective way to fit into a new country, build a network, and find support, is by learning the new language. Even understanding a few words can help you access more services and feel more at home. In addition, once you feel more comfortable in your new language, you’ll be able to make more friends and open up more possibilities for work.

There are several ways to get started. You might spend some time studying at a language school, or your work or university might offer free or subsidized courses. If you’re not in the country yet, or you prefer distance learning, check out language apps and online resources. Learning a new language as an adult might sound like a challenge, but it’s never too late!

As well as being fun and useful, learning a new language is an excellent way to connect with other expats. If you attend classes, you might meet like-minded people who can offer tips and advice about living in your new country.

Build a network

About 32% of expats find it difficult to find friends. In addition, women are more likely to move abroad for their partner’s work, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Indeed, it’s a challenge to leave friends, family, and a career behind. But even if it wasn’t your choice to relocate, there’s no reason not to build a network of new friends and contacts. This can help you overcome lonely feelings and open up new opportunities for work and hobbies.

Women having tea
Photo: MachineHeadz/iStock

One of the best ways to make local friends is to learn the language. This can also help you escape the ‘expat bubble’ and feel more at home. However, when you first arrive, you might be keen to meet people who’ve also experienced the fear of moving to a new country. Thankfully, most countries have expat groups, where you can meet like-minded people. You’ll find these all over social media platforms such as Facebook or Reddit, often even in the smallest towns. Another useful, global resource is of course Meetup, where people are keen to get together and share activities.

These groups will be able to offer you tips to settle in and provide support during challenging moments. If you’re single, it’s also a great way to find other single women to hang out with; and, if you’re looking, potential dating partners.

Having a good network and knowing where to go for help can make you feel safer and enjoy your time abroad far more. You can find plenty of groups for expat women in our Business Directory for each country.

Find your dream job

Women make up only 20% of international assignees, according to Mercer. This number is, however, on an upward trend. That’s not all – nowadays, with the rise of remote work, you can even bring your current career with you to sunny Spain or the chilly streets of Moscow. If you’re feeling brave and live in a country that permits it, you could even set up your own business.

When looking for a new job in a new country, you might find that the industry you work in is different from what you’re used to. That’s why learning the language and building a network can help you: your contacts can advise you on where to look for jobs and which skills you need. Studying abroad can also give you an idea of the job market while gaining a helpful qualification.

The most crucial aspect of working abroad is to know your rights. Male expats still enjoy a higher level of pay. Unfortunately, some employers still expect expat women not to know when their working conditions are unlawful. Make sure you have someone who understands the local language read over your employment contract before signing it. In addition, many countries, such as the Netherlands, have workers’ unions who can advise on contractual questions and unfair treatment.

Look after yourself

Handling a move abroad, while exciting, can be overwhelming. And on top of that, keeping fit and well is another challenge. Our first tip for this? Be patient with yourself.

There are several ways to keep physically and mentally healthy. Exploring your new city on foot is one option, or escaping to the great outdoors. You might be able to find local or expat sports teams to join, which can have the added perk of making new friends. Finding healthy food can be difficult when you first arrive, so check out our pages on supermarkets in your new country.

Women hiking
Photo: Sabrina Bracher/iStock

Looking after yourself also means knowing your rights and keeping safe. If you move abroad as a single expat woman, you might already have received comments from loved ones about your safety. Try not to live in fear, as you won’t enjoy your experience if you never venture outside. The best way to enjoy yourself safely is to avoid doing anything you wouldn’t do at home: keep your valuables safe and make sure your accommodation is secure.

Having a support network will also alleviate some concerns – local women and expats will be able to give you tips about keeping safe. In addition, speaking the language and getting to know your new country will help you find the best ways to fit in. Finally, should you get into real trouble with violence or domestic abuse, many countries have anonymous hotlines, emergency contacts, and services providing legal help. Make sure you are aware of these (we list them on every one of our country websites), and remember that you can sometimes contact your country’s embassy for help if needed.

Get clued up on healthcare

Every expat woman, man, or otherwise, should be aware of the healthcare system in their new country. This can save you a lot of worries and give you extra tools to take care of yourself.

Healthcare might differ from your home country, both in the way you pay for it and what’s available. Visit our pages on healthcare for the country you’re moving to find out in detail how the system works and what you need to be aware of.

Healthcare includes your reproductive rights and your mental health. Some countries are better at handling these topics than others. For example, mental healthcare in some countries (such as Belgium) is gradually improving, but you might find facilities lacking in some parts of the world. One way to overcome this is to visit an online therapist or find out if a therapist in your home country is willing to speak to you remotely.

Sexual and reproductive healthcare varies from country to country. In Germany, for example, there is a high rate of contraceptive usage and plenty of sexual health practitioners. However, abortion is still a controversial subject – someone who requires one has to meet several conditions, but there are calls for it to be legal in all situations. In contrast, an unmarried expat woman in the United Arab Emirates might struggle to access contraception. Ensure you know what sexual health provision your new country has and where you can find support in an emergency.

And finally… enjoy it!

Being an expat woman is a fantastic opportunity. If you’re single and exploring the world, you can look forward to getting to know your new home, building a career, and maybe even meeting someone special. On the other hand, if you’re moving with a partner or your family, there are great ways to reclaim your agency and carve a place for yourself in your new home.

A group of women taking a selfie
Photo: Germana Marengo/Dreamstime

For practical tips on moving abroad, make sure you read our specific country sites. And remember, many women have taken this step before you, and plenty of them will be happy to help you on your journey.