About being an Expat

10 famous expats who found success abroad

Choosing to move abroad takes courage, spirit, and determination. If you’re looking to boost your career or follow a great opportunity living in a different country, then these famous expatriates may inspire you to make that move.

Famous expatriates

By Carol Moore

Updated 11-4-2024

Expats move abroad for all kinds of reasons. Some are looking to study abroad, find the job of their dreams, or just take some time out to go off traveling. However, taking those next steps and understanding other cultures can bring about many different challenges. We look at some famous expatriates who took the plunge and achieved success by following their dreams abroad.

Freddie Mercury: from Zanzibar, Tanzania to London, United Kingdom

Freddie, whose real name was Farrokh Bulsara, was born in Zanzibar. He spent most of his young adult life between India and Zanzibar, then moved to London at the age of 18. Having a huge interest and talent in music, he met fellow rockers Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, and formed one of the biggest bands of all time: Queen. Freddie is now not only known as a British and gay icon, but was also named one of the most influential Asians of all time by Time Magazine.

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury, the famous expatriate

Audrey Hepburn: from Brussels, Belgium to London, United Kingdom

Born in Brussels, Audrey also spent a good part of her childhood in the Netherlands. She studied ballet and moved to London to continue the lessons at the age of 19. Having a talent for performance and dancing, Audrey went on to become a chorus girl in the West End. Playing some minor roles, she rose to fame playing the lead role in Roman Holiday (1953). Audrey also appeared in several other successful films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and My Fair Lady (1964). Later in life, Audrey became one of the many famous expatriates involved with the charity UNICEF.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn, famous expat

Arnold Schwarzenegger: from Thal, Austria to Los Angeles, United States

He’s one of the most famous musclemen of all time. Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger came from a small town in Austria called Thal. He was lifting weights at the tender age of 15. Having won Mr. Universe at aged 20, Arnold is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Discovering a talent for acting, he had several small roles in movies, but his breakthrough was in Conan the Barbarian (1982). Years after blockbusters like The Terminator (1984) and Predator (1987), this expat celebrity became the 38th Governor of California, from 2003 to 2011.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger, expat celebrity

Mila Kunis: from Chernivtsi, Ukraine to Los Angeles, United States

Milena Markovna Kunis hails from the (former) Soviet Union. When she was seven, Mila’s family moved from Chernivtsi to Los Angeles to escape the antisemitic sentiment rising in the Soviet Union. She was only 11 when she got into acting, and her first breakthrough role was in That ‘70s Show (1998). Since then, Mila’s gone on to star in blockbusters like Black Swan (2010) and Ted (2012). As one of the more famous expat celebrities in the US, she was once asked for her input in the Six-Word Memoirs book series, a collection of short stories about immigration and living abroad. Her biggest reason to move abroad? To find “a better life for our children.”

Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis – an expat celebrity

Leo Messi: from Santa Fe, Argentina to Barcelona, Spain

He’s one of the most famous footballers in the world, playing for one of the most famous football clubs in Europe. But Leo Messi, arguably the most famous expatriates in the world, was born and raised in Santa Fe, Argentina. As a child, Leo was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency and moved to Spain to join FC Barcelona, who agreed to pay for his medical treatment. Despite his previous health issues, Leo aced his way through Barcelona’s youth academy, making his competitive debut for the club at the age of 17. In 2018, he became Barcelona’s captain and, in 2019, won his sixth Golden Boot award.

Leo Messi
Leo Messi, famous expatriate

Liam Neeson: from Ballymena, Northern Ireland to New York City, United States

Named after his local priest, Liam John Neeson began his acting career treading the boards at the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast. After gaining popularity as an actor and moving to Hollywood, he was nominated for the BAFTAs and Golden Globes for his lead role in the acclaimed movie Schindler’s List (1993). One of Liam’s biggest box-office hits, Taken (2008), inspired thousands of internet memes. He has American, Irish, and British citizenship, having been naturalized as an American citizen in 2009. Liam now lives in New York City.

Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson

Johnny Depp: from Kentucky, United States of America to Saint Tropez, France

John Christopher Depp II began his life in a small town in Kentucky and moved around frequently as a child. He is of English descent, with an interesting mix of Belgian, Dutch, and French ancestry. Johnny catapulted to fame in the movie Edward Scissorhands (1990) and has since played many weird and wonderful roles. Some of Johnny’s more notable roles include Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2010). He owned French property and a vineyard while living in the south of France with then-wife Vanessa Paradis, and joined a host of famous expats who became a US resident again to avoid paying French income tax.

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp

Charlize Theron: from Benoni, South Africa to Los Angeles, United States

Charlize is a famous actress and producer who is both a South African citizen and a naturalized citizen of the United States. She has French, German, and Dutch ancestry, and grew up on a small farm in Benoni. After spending a year modeling in Europe, she moved to Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming an actress. Her breakthrough film, The Devil’s Advocate (1997), first shot Charlize to fame. She is now well-known for playing the wicked stepmother in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). She is also a UN Messenger of Peace and has two adopted children.

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron

Queen Máxima: from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Wassenaar, the Netherlands

A real-life fairy tale played out for Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Born in Buenos Aires, Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti graduated with an economics degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. She met her future husband, Willem-Alexander, at the Spring Fair in Seville and they married in 2002. Máxima eventually became the queen of the Netherlands when her husband ascended to the throne in 2013. Fluent in Dutch, English, and Spanish, she also speaks conversational French and emphasizes the importance of learning a foreign language while living abroad.

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands

Tina Turner: from Tennessee, United States to Küsnacht, Switzerland

The iconic singer Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock, and originates from the United States. Hers is a slightly opposite expat journey, as she left her country of fame and fortune to move to Switzerland for a more peaceful life. The Queen of Rock and Roll has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Having experienced a complicated and abusive personal life, she eventually moved to tranquil Küsnacht in Switzerland in 1994, where she obtained Swiss citizenship – and unfortunately been battling various health issues since 2013.

Tina Turner
Tina Turner – expat celebrity