Thinking about moving abroad? Get a taste of the expat lifestyle from the comfort of your sofa with our guide to the top 10 movies every expat must watch.
Watching foreign movies is a great way of getting an idea of what life is like in a particular country. Whether it’s a modern thriller or a period classic, these films can give you an excellent insight into places you’re not familiar with, especially if you’re thinking of moving there.
Foreign movies are also a great way of improving your language skills, especially if you use subtitles while watching. Services like Disney+ and Netflix make it easy to add foreign-language subtitles – just remember to put on your glasses first!
To give you an idea of what to watch, here’s our guide to the best movies every expat should watch.
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1. Belgium: In Bruges (2008)
Weird encounters with Dutch prostitutes and an American dwarf-sized actor shooting a European art film set the tone for this dark comedy. Filmed in the medieval city of Bruges, the movie takes you through the ups and downs of two hitmen banished there just before Christmas in Belgium, to lay low for a while. Completely out of place among the gothic architecture, pretty canals, and cobbled streets, they sample the life of a tourist, drinking tasty Belgian beers (though they don’t appear to enjoy them much), and delicious Belgian food. With an exciting experience of a brief romance with a local lady, this movie is a great taster for anyone thinking of living the expat life in Belgium.
2. France: A Good Year (2006)
The joie de vivre of southern France combined with the well-established tale of the city slicker forced to slow down their pace of life is what really appeals if you are considering a new life abroad. A British trader unexpectedly inherits his uncle’s charming vineyard and chateau in Provence. Having fondly spent some of his childhood years there, it comes as a surprise that he feels little attachment and wants to sell the French property. Following several altercations with the vineyard owner, the road to happiness presents itself in finding love with a local. The stunning scenery of Provence combined with the feel-good factor makes this an excellent choice for the romantically inclined expat.
3. Germany: Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
Good Bye Lenin! is a fantastic watch for anyone looking to move to Germany and get a brief historical knowledge of its past. Now a unified country, this movie dates returns to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fall plays a divisive role for Berlin’s residents – on both sides. Prior to 1990, the wall physically and ideologically divides Berlin, and a young man named Alex is arrested while protesting. Alex’s mother falls into a coma through the shock; afterward, we see him desperately trying to keep the fall of the GDR secret from her to prevent her health from deteriorating. Sharp and sarcastic German humor is used throughout and the viewer develops an understanding of what makes German culture unique. Featuring some great cinematography in and around Berlin, it’s also a great insight into the different areas of Berlin and what each of the boroughs of Berlin historically represents.
4. India: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
Most expats idealize a new glamorous life in an exciting foreign country. Who doesn’t dream of retiring in a warm, sunny country away from the long, dark, dreary winters? This heart-warming and uplifting movie serves as a lesson to any budding expat that it’s good to take off the rose-tinted glasses before you make that move abroad. The movie follows a group of British retirees who decide to travel to India. Their aim is to enjoy their twilight years in a seemingly newly renovated luxury hotel. They soon realize that the hotel doesn’t quite measure up to the original advertisement, and the story develops around each character’s experience of how to adapt to a new life overseas. They interact and develop deep bonds with each other, the locals, and hotel staff; the story intertwines nicely with personal discoveries and experiences.
5. Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
This enticing movie will strike a chord if you want to move abroad or are already an expat living abroad. When San Francisco-based author Frances discovers her husband is cheating on her, she takes a vacation to Italy. While traveling on a gay tour bus through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, she impulsively decides to buy a villa abroad. However, as charming as it is, it needs lots of renovation. The viewer gets to savor many feel-good moments through her new life; the film follows her experiences of the ups and downs of living in a different country. Despite the clichés of dating the local Italian men and trying to negotiate building work in a different country, this delightful film strikes a note with the expats who dream of living, well, under the Tuscan sun.
6. Russia: Burnt by the Sun (1994)
Culture and social etiquette in Russia are notoriously misunderstood, ranging from guys drinking copious amounts of vodka to Moscow being a cheap place to live. However, in this historical drama set during the summer of 1936, the focus is on army commander Sergei and his family. Everything is turned upside-down when a former lover of Sergei’s wife wants to arrest him. The reason? For an alleged assassination plot against Stalin. This dark movie is a taste of what was once a society operating behind closed doors, full of secrets. That said, the film should be viewed with a pinch of salt. As life in Russia for an expat is now a wonderful mix of great food, a great place to meet people, and also a good place to launch a business in Russia.
7. Spain: L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) (2002)
If you’re thinking of venturing off to study in Spain, then this ranks highly on one of the movies expats need to watch. It follows the lives of six students from across Europe who follow their university exchange scheme in Barcelona. We see Xavier, a 27-year old economics student experience the heartache of leaving his girlfriend back in France. Barcelona’s famous nightlife scene along with its colorful and multicultural nature also feature and will draw in any millennial looking to escape to the sun. Aside from the ‘party hard’ theme, there’s also the more sensible and serious storyline about how each character evolves and adapts to their new life abroad.
8. Switzerland: Die Schweizermacher (The Swissmakers) (1979)
This satirical comedy about foreigners trying to obtain Swiss citizenship is one of the most successful Swiss films of all-time. Two hilarious police officers have the job of investigating the lives of expats trying to get that elusive red passport; definitely one of the Swiss movies expats need to watch! The immigrants include a French psychiatrist and his ballet dancer wife; they have their lives pulled apart over how clean they are and other idiosyncrasies to obtaining Swiss nationality. Despite being inspired by a practice that still holds true to today, you’ll be happy to know that cultural differences to obtaining your C permit in Switzerland have changed completely.
9. The Netherlands: Amsterdamned (1988)
Although not what you’d typically expect of a movie that draws you into the delights of moving to the Netherlands, this slasher film features some pretty impressive chase scenes on Amsterdam’s famous canals. A serial killer is at loose and the main character, a detective, is tasked with his capture. There’s some extremely dry Dutch humor used which contrasts nicely with the horror theme. This also gives a great insight into what life is like in the Netherlands for an expat. Don’t take this fictional dark thriller too much to heart though; the Netherlands ranks highly on being one of the safest countries to live in globally.
10. United Kingdom: Notting Hill (1999)
If you’re looking to find a job in London, you wouldn’t necessarily think of becoming a bookstore owner. But in this must-see romantic comedy, a famous American actress finds love and happiness in London with just that guy. We see their romance develop from a simple family birthday party date to romantic walks in the park. Set in the affluent suburb of Notting Hill, it also exposes expats to the cost of living in London. It shows some amusing cultural nuances between the US and the UK, making it one of the movies expats need to watch.