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Relationship Abroad: How To Find TRUE LOVE When You Live In A Foreign Country

These heartwarming real-life couples prove you can find love when you're both living far away from home.

Some people find love in their hometown, with the support of family and friends they’ve known for years. But how do you find true love when you’re an expat? On top of that, how do you find love when you’re both foreigners, living in another country?

We’re not talking about holiday romances – although they can be good, too! – we’re talking about finding a partner for life. At first glance it might seem harder to find a meaningful relationship abroad. In some ways, however, it can be easier.

Why? Because living in a foreign country means you have to reach out to strangers. You have to take risks. Maybe it starts with asking for directions when you’re lost. Or you invite a work acquaintance to go sightseeing with you. Next thing you know, that connection turns into something more, maybe even a relationship.

It may come as a surprise to discover you may even be more open to finding true love when you’re an expat. In one famous experiment, strangers were asked to meet on a flat, safe bridge or on a scary highwire suspension bridge. The couples who met on a scary bridge were more attracted to each other, than those who chatted on the safe bridge. 

“That sense of novelty, excitement and challenge you feel is associated with the person you’re around,” explained Dr. Arthur Aron, the research professor from Stony Brook University behind the experiment (and who also came up with the famous “36 questions to fall in love”). 

Living in a foreign country can be lonely, but it can also be exhilarating. It can be your chance to try new ways of life and meet new people. And that can lead to international love with someone from a different country.

To prove the hypothesis, these real-life couples from different countries (including my husband Tuck Weng and myself!) share heartwarming stories of how they built relationships abroad. They found so much more than a holiday romance – they found true love.

Couple: Candy and Oliver Kuan

Respective Nationalities: Filipino-Chinese and German-Chinese

Where they met: Bangkok, Thailand

Oliver and Candy Kuan with their children in Switzerland for an article aout couples who met in a foreign country
Candy and Oliver Kuan and their twins, Cato and Nils, in Switzerland. (Photo supplied)

Banker Oliver and his wife Candy met 18 years ago, when he was working in China, and she was working in Thailand. They tied the knot to their relationship abroad on a beach in the Philippines and their first home together was in Shanghai. Now they live in Zurich, Switzerland, with their 7-year-old twins, Cato and Nils, who speak German, English and Mandarin. 

How did you meet?

Oliver: At a wedding in Bangkok. I was based in Shanghai for work and a university friend invited me to his wedding in Thailand. I jokingly told him I would only go if he could find me a date. Candy was working in Bangkok at the time. She was a friend of the bride, and was already invited to the wedding. The bride and groom introduced us at the reception.

Who made the first move?

Oliver: After spending a few hours with Candy at the wedding party, I didn’t want the night to end. So after the party, I invited her to go for a stroll in Lumpini Park. But by that time it was 4 or 5 a.m.! Candy comes from a conservative family, so she went back to her place to check with her sister, who she was living with. We spent the next day together, going around Bangkok.

International love: Oliver and Candy Kuan dressed for a wedding, She is wearign a red qipao, he wears a velvet dinner jacket
Candy met Oliver at their mutual friend’s wedding. (Photo supplied)

When did you realise it was serious between you?

Oliver: We really connected in the few days we were together in Bangkok. I knew I wanted to get to know Candy better. Unfortunately, I had to go back to Shanghai. But I decided to make another trip to Thailand in a month’s time. Later, I also invited Candy to visit Chiang Mai with me.

Are there challenges being with someone from a different culture?

Oliver: By the time we met, Candy and I had learned to be open to other cultures. We’re both from bi-cultural backgrounds. And Candy had lived in the Philippines, US and Thailand, before we met. I had already lived in Germany, Shanghai, London and Hong Kong. Our first home together was in Shanghai, where neither of us had a “home advantage”. Of course, there are times we clash due to our different upbringings and experiences. But we have learned to deal with them, just as we do with any cultural challenges we deal with in our international lives.

How to find true love when you live in a foreign country - Oliver and Candy Kuan in Shanghai
Oliver is from Germany. Candy is from the Phillipines. Their first home together was in Shanghai. (Photo supplied)

Have you lived in different places, as a couple? 

Oliver: We lived in Shanghai for 12 years, then Hong Kong for four years. Now we live in Zurich. We enjoy traveling – we explored China extensively while we lived there. Before the pandemic, we took at least two big trips in a year, and fitted in a few days getaway every month. But we still have a long list of places we want to visit!

How to find true love when you live in a foreign country - Oliver and Candy Kuan and their children in front of a Christmas tree
The Kuans celebrate a host of holidays together. (Photo supplied)

What festivals or traditions do you celebrate? 

Oliver: We celebrate holidays both of us grew up with, such as Christmas and Easter. Plus the Chinese and Filipino festivals. For example, even though we now live in Switzerland, we celebrate Chinese New Year, and have traditional zhong zhi rice dumplings to celebrate the Dragonboat Festival. I also take part in the Sinulog parade, which is a big celebration in my wife’s hometown in the Philippines – it is a street parade with dancing in honor of the little child Jesus, Santo Niño. 

Couple: Gaelle and Lloyd Pritchard

Respective Nationalities: French and Irish

Where they met: London, England

Gaelle and Lloyd met in a noisy nightclub, and started as a long-distance relationship. (Photo supplied)

Talent Consultant Gaelle met her restaurant-manager husband Lloyd 18 years ago, in London. Originally from Paris in France, Gaelle had already lived in Singapore and London. But when she met Lloyd, she was working in Dallas, Texas. “I was just back in London for a week of business meetings,” she explains. So you can say the path to beginning this relationship abroad did not come easy! But after two years of long-distance relationship, the couple settled in Surrey in the UK, and now have two children, Liam, 15, and Charlotte, 13. 

How did you meet?

Gaelle: In a nightclub! Not ideal, I know! I gave Lloyd my number, and he called me the next day. He had slept at a friend’s place and his phone had run out of battery, so he called me quite late. But I was still very impressed because it was a very noisy nightclub, and I had a Texan phone number, with plenty of digits to remember! 

When did you realise your relationship was serious?

Gaelle: We had a long-distance relationship for two years, because I was still living in Dallas. Lloyd would visit me, or I would visit him in London. One time, Lloyd was taking me to the airport for my flight back to the US, and I could not stop crying! That’s when I realised I had strong feelings for him. We’re happiest doing things together, just the two of us. Lockdown confirmed that feeling – we took many long walks together and always enjoyed them.

Gaelle and Lloyd Prichard - for an article about couples who met in a foreign country
The couple says they enjoy the differences in their cultures and upbringings. (Photo supplied)

What are the challenges of being with someone from a different country?

Gaelle: Lloyd is half-Irish and half-British. His British side comes out in the motto “Keep Calm and Carry On”. I am French, so I am willing to show my emotions. I don’t keep calm! But Lloyd’s Irish side is very strong when it comes to family. Irish people want to do everything together – all the time! I am lucky that Lloyd and his family respect my need for some alone time, now and then.

What’s great about being with someone from a different culture?

Gaelle: You are always learning new things, from sports to food to languages. We speak English and French to our children. I also admire the Irish side of Lloyd, in the sense that Irish people are incredibly social and helpful. My Irish mother-in-law is so kind. There is nothing negative I can say about her, and I have learned quite a bit from her.

Do you celebrate each other’s festivals or traditions?

Gaelle: Of course. But I don’t like the English festival in November called Guy Fawkes’ night. It commemorates a horrible event, with too many fireworks used in a dangerous way! I miss celebrating 14 July or Bastille Day. I also miss the French festival called “Le jour du muguet”, on 1 May. In France, it is customary to give bouquets of lily-of-the-valley (“du muguet”) to family and friends as a gesture of appreciation or luck.

Couple: Hannah and Chris Tweed

Respective nationalities: Filipina and British

Where they met: Singapore

International love: Chris Tweed and his wife Hannah, with their son Inigo.
Chris and Hannah Tweed and their son, Inigo. (Photo supplied)

IT Manager Chris met his wife Hannah at a club for people working in the IT industry. At the time, Hannah was working in administration in the hospitality and hotel industry. But now that they have a 7-year-old son, Inigo, Hannah is focusing on being a full-time homemaker and mother. The family live in Singapore, but make sure to take long holiday breaks back to Chris’s hometown in the North of England, and also to Hannah’s hometown of Manila. They share how they found true love as an expat.

When did you realise you had something special together?

Chris: By our sixth date, we started to realise it was serious between us. That was about two months after our first date.

What are the challenges of being with someone from a different place?

Chris: Sometimes other people believe the stereotypes about certain nationalities or cultures. You learn how to move past it. It’s best to remember a comment from someone else is not necessarily a reflection of you or your relationship. It might say more about them, than you. For example, some other people told me, “An interracial or intercultural relationship sounds challenging enough – and if you have kids it will make it twice as tough!” But we beg to differ. We look at it as an advantage.

What’s great about being with someone from a different culture?

Chris: We’re raising our son Inigo with touches from my British upbringing and Hannah’s Asian upbringing. Inigo can draw on his multi-cultural background in the future, when he’s out there continuing to expand his world. I think having a mix of different cultures will make it easier to keep up with our fast-moving world.

Hannah: Embrace the differences and meet with a compromise. Some may look at cultural differences as a big hurdle, but they’re one of the many reasons why our marriage is full of laughter and excitement! 

What do you admire about your partner’s culture or country? 

Chris: Filipinos are a happy and fun bunch – it’s like living in a soap opera! Life may throw them curve balls from time to time, but they are very resilient and quickly come out of the other side with a smile. I admire how they quickly move on with life.

Hannah: Chris’s innate British politeness is infectious! I’ve learned to be grateful even for small things, and to apologise when needed. I’ve even learned to bottle up my vast array of comments and emotions over bad service in a restaurant or hotel!

But my most favourite thing about British culture is their highly influential pub culture. It’s where you are able to talk in depth. Most of our family plans and decisions are still made by talking things over, sitting together in a pub.

In terms of parenting, I like how carefree and “chill” of a parent Chris is. Say Inigo gets a mosquito bite… I’m doing what a typical Filipino mum would do: running around! But Chris will be well-collected and calm. He’ll be on his phone Googling to find if there’s any danger, or not.

Do you celebrate any different festivals or traditions now?

Hannah: Festivals or celebrations are relatively the same. But having two ways of celebrating the same event – like Christmas – makes it more interesting for our family. We like having that blend of tradition and beliefs in one day. The celebration becomes twice as meaningful.

Chris: I’m Protestant Christian, from a small family of four people. Hannah is Catholic and grew up in a big family of seven people. My Christmas means lunch on Christmas Day, her celebrations are on Christmas Eve. My family goes to watch a fireworks display in the city, while her family prefers to let off their own firecrackers and fireworks outside their home. 

What languages do you speak at home?

Chris: We speak English, with occasional Tagalog. Except Hannah uses American English and spelling, while I use UK English.

Couple: Ify Ubby and Massimiliano Bravin

Respective Nationalities: Nigerian-Italian and Italian

Where they met: Trieste, Italy (neither comes from Trieste)

How to find true love in a foreign country - Ify and Massimiliano Bravin. Ify runs OliveAnkara fashion boutique
Massimiliano and Ify met by accident, on a bus going to the beach. (Photo supplied)

Massimiliano is Regional Business Development Manager, while Ifeoma, or “Ify”, is a scientist with a Ph.D. in Human Molecular Genetics and a background in cancer research. Ify’s family are from Nigeria, but she also grew up near Venice. Ify and Massililiano travelled all over Asia by motorbike together before moving to Singapore for work.

That’s when Ify turned her side hustle into a business. “I wanted to find some African fabrics to make my wedding gown, but I couldn’t find any! So I imported some fabric myself.” The fabrics proved so popular that Ify launched OliveAnkara, an online business which specialises in fashion made from traditional African wax print fabric. Ify, who was one of The Finder‘s 2020 Expatpreneur eAward winners, describes OliveAnkara as “Bold Style for the Culturally Curious” – which also describes her life with her husband.

How did you meet? 

Ify: Neither of us knew Triese at all. We had both moved there for studies. I used to run every week along the Barcola, a seaside promenade. One day I almost decided not to go running. It had been a bad day, everything was going wrong! But I finally convinced myself to do a short run. I also decided to go to the Barcola by bus, instead of driving in my car. So I saw Massimiliano for the first time on 26 August 2009, on bus number 6, going towards the seaside. 

How to find true love in a foreign country - Ify and Massimiliano Bravin
Ify and Massimiliano have travelled all over Asia together by motorbike. (Photo supplied)

Who made the first move?

Ify: After the bus, we met again on the beach. I smiled “hi” to him, and he said “hi” back with the cutest, shy smile. I was waiting for him to “make the first move”, so I watched the sunset on the beach to give him a chance… eventually the amazing sunset ended and I had to go home. I was a bit upset he had not approached me! Then, who was there right in front of me handing me his mobile number?  I could tell he was nervous as he handed me the piece of paper. But that made everything so lovely. We started talking and totally hit it off. He asked me to meet him the next day on the Barcola. We spent the afternoon and night at the beach talking for hours. We met the next day, and the next, and the next.

When did you realise it was serious between you two?

Ify: I had a feeling of being at home with him. I was able to be the best version of myself in this relationship. Plus the way he looked at me, I could tell he was in love before he said it. Another signal was when he introduced me to his friends. For me, getting to know his friends was a huge part of getting to know him. 

How to find true love in a foreign country - Ify and Massimiliano Bravin
Ify and Massimiliano in Singapore, where Ify has a business selling fashion made from African fabrics. (Photo supplied)

What do you admire about each other’s culture? 

Massimiliano. I love the colours and the bold characters of the Nigerian people that I have met. I also admire how they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their family and loved ones.  

Ify: If you keep an open mind, there is always something to learn. For example, the concept of OliveAnkara is to make African-inspired clothes that can be worn by women of all races. I think Ankara fabrics look good on women of all colours! Some may think it’s cultural appropriation, I think it’s not. I deeply respect my roots and the cultures of Africa. I think there is nothing wrong in evolving into new styles and concepts, always respecting where they come from. 

Couple: Ellen Whyte and Tom O’Daniel

Respective Nationalities: Dutch-Scottish and American

Where they met: Madrid, Spain

Ellen Whyte and her husband Tom O’Daniel with friends in Sarawak from back in the day. (Photo supplied)

Ellen is a counselling psychologist who also writes newspaper articles and best-selling online romance novels. Her American husband Tom, or “Dr. Thomas”, is a university academic. They started their long-distance relationship abroad when she was living in Indonesia, and he was living in Spain. Married for 25 years, they’ve lived in Madrid and Soria in Spain, and Kuching and Melaka in Malaysia. Now they live just outside Kuala Lumpur, with their three rescue cats, called Target, Tic Tac and Inkie. 

How did you meet? 

Ellen: My Scottish father and Dutch mother were living in Madrid in Spain. But I was working in Indonesia. I went to Madrid to visit my parents, and met Tom, who was studying in Spain. They were all members of Hash House Harriers – a running club that also socialises. They jokingly call themselves “The Drinking Club with a Running Problem”.  Later on, I lived in Spain for a few years, and that’s when Tom and I became friends.

Who made the first move? 

Ellen: At first we were just friends. Tom was dating other people, and I was dating other people. But the two of us were always on the phone, moaning about bad dates and giggling about the good ones. And it was always fun when we went out together: bowling, for dinner, for lunch, to the Hash House Harriers. After a while, I thought, “Why am I wasting my time dating other people when I have this amazing friend here?” So I asked Tom out for dinner and suggested we date. Actually… I suggested a dirty weekend in Chinchón, a pretty town south of Madrid. Luckily for me, he said yes. 

When did you know it was serious between you? 

Ellen: Pretty much instantly. Being with Tom was like coming home. My parents and brother were also delighted when we got together. Because they had already loved Tom for years, as a friend.

Did you have any reservations about being with someone from a different country?

Ellen: I speak Spanish, Dutch, English and Bahasa Malaysia. Tom speaks English and Bahasa Malaysia. But we both think in English. That’s important to me, because my Mum is Dutch and my dad is Scottish. I saw that when you think mostly in different languages, communication can be tricky.

Couple: Erika Unger and Jason Moggeridge

Respective Nationalities: Mexican and British

Where they met: Paris, France

How to find true love when you live in a foreign country - Erika Unger is from Mexico and Jason Moggeridge is from the UK
Jason Moggeridge and Erika Unger are exploring the world together. (Photo supplied)

Erika is Mexican, while her partner Jason is English. They met in France four and a half years ago, when they were both working in Paris. Now the couple live in Singapore, where Jason works as a banker and Erika has time to explore her longtime interest in sports, dancing, traditional textiles and photography. Erika says, “Singapore is our happy place. I’ve never felt at home like this before. And to share it with Jason is even more special.”

How did you meet?

Erika: We met on Tinder, but we were both too shy to make a move for three months. We just texted and chatted online. But we went out to a bar one night… and hazelnut vodka came to our rescue! On that first date we talked for hours, walking around Paris. So we realised we had something special together, from day one.

What’s challenging about having a partner from a different culture?

Erika: I could say that Jason doesn’t speak Spanish… but all my friends and family speak English. So actually, it hasn’t been that challenging. We are very compatible. 

What travelling have you done together? 

Erika: Our first two years together we travelled almost non-stop, all over Asia. And when we moved to Singapore, so many Mexican friends came to visit that I became like a travel agent. Jason travelled less before we met, but now we are together, he says he has become much more adventurous. 

Jason: Our most special trip so far has been to Mexico. I’d never visited Mexico before – in fact, Erika was the first Mexican I ever met. I loved the country, especially Erika’s region, the Yucatan peninsula.

How to find true love when you live overseas - Erika Unger and Jason Moggeridge
Erika and Jason on a trip to Bali together. (Photo supplied)

What do you admire about each other’s culture? 

Jason: The humour and passion of Mexico. It’s such a rich culture. And the food, for sure!

Erika: I love getting to know English culture. From slang phrases to how they apologise for absolutely everything – even if they don’t really mean it. 

Do you celebrate each other’s festivals or traditions?

Erika: Unlike most Mexicans, I’m not big on Christmas. But for Jason, Christmas is everything. So now we celebrate Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which is on 26 December. Jason is turning the Christmas Grinch in me into a believer! I’d never heard of Boxing Day before I met Jason. It comes from a time when the rich gave gift boxes to the poor. Boxing Day was also a holiday for domestic helpers and staff, who went home to give gifts to their families. 

Jason: We celebrate the Mexican festival called Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. It’s in November, near Erika’s birthday, and it’s her favourite festival. Before meeting Erika, I used to think it was a really dark event. Now I know the real meaning, and I find it extremely special to celebrate the lives of loved ones who are no longer with us. Mexicans believe that our loved ones “stay alive” as long as we remember them, during this festival. 

Couple: Tara Barker and Low Tuck Weng

Respective Nationalities: New Zealander and British

Where they met: Singapore

How to find love as an expat - Low Tuck Weng and Tara Barker on their wedding day in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Tuck Weng and Tara met in Singapore, and married in the Singapore Botanic Garden. (Photo supplied)

Finding true love as an expat is a tradition in Tara’s family. Back in the 1950s her parents met and married in the Lion City. “Mum lived in London. Dad lived in Ireland. They both moved to Singapore for work. Dad worked in a bank, and mum came in to sell an accounting machine. He pretended he wanted to buy the most expensive machine, so she’d go to lunch with him. After they married, my parents went on to live and work in 21 countries together. ” 

Continuing the family tradition of travelling for work, Tara worked in four countries as an editor and writer before moving to Singapore. Banking consultant Tuck Weng is also from a well-travelled family. He was born in the UK, raised in Malaysia and Singapore, and has worked throughout Asia and Europe, including Hong Kong, Sydney, Switzerland, Japan and London. 

How to find true love as an expat - Lex Barker and June Turner on their wedding day in Singapore in 1958.
Tara’s parents also met and married in Singapore. Here’s June Turner and Lex Barker on their big day in 1958. (Photo supplied)

Who made the first move?

Tara: Me. I was in my 40s and travelling every month for work. It was impossible to meet new people. So I decided to try online dating. I saw Weng’s profile, emailed him and we met for lunch. But it wasn’t until the third date that things really warmed up. Tuck Weng told a funny story about a work trip he’d done to Kazakhstan. It involved a bear, vodka and a man with missing fingers. I laughed so much I almost choked on my drink. 

What’s great about being with someone of a different culture?

Tuck Weng: It’s good to find a partner who understands the bigger picture. Tara is very mixed culturally. She’s Caucasian, but culturally, she’s more aligned to Australasia and Southeast Asia. I am Asian, but I also identify heavily with the UK and Europe. And my mother is Malaysian-Chinese. Like many Asians, she sometimes communicates with unspoken symbols. Tara can code-switch.

What traveling have you done together?

Tara: Myanmar, Angkor Wat, Sabah, Australia, Cornwall, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Vienna… I’d hardly visited continental Europe before I met Tuck Weng. One time he suggested a holiday to Strasbourg. I was not that enthusiastic, until he revealed the city’s incredible Art Nouveau architecture. I was thrilled. Especially since I didn’t even know it was there.

I’m always surprised by how “Euro” Tuck Weng becomes when we go to Europe. Suddenly he wears smart jackets and ties his scarf in that jaunty continental way. I didn’t realise Tuck Weng spoke so much German until we went to Vienna. I was very impressed. 

How to find true love as an expat - Tara Barker and Low Tuck Weng in Strasbourg
Tuck Weng introduced Tara to the beauty of Europe including Strasbourg, where they’re shown here. (Photo supplied)

What is challenging about finding love in a foreign country?

Tuck Weng: As an expat you are an outsider. So people are more wary about you. You may also not be able to socialize fully with the locals. Communication and language may be a barrier. And if you are an expat, you are usually very busy trying to build your career. You may be travelling often for work, and you may not be able to socialise outside very narrow circles, related to your work.

Tara: I was a single, outspoken woman aged 37 when I came to Singapore. I was told I was too old to find love here. Asian men would be scared of me. Expat men would want “Sarong Party Girls”, or younger, sexier women. Long work hours would make it hard to meet anyone… The list of negatives went on and on. I worried I would die alone, and be eaten by my cat. 

My dad suggested online dating. He pointed out that you don’t need a million people to fall in love with you. You just need one special person, who appreciates your adventurous spirit and international outlook.

When Tuck Weng and I got together, we realized we had lived in many of the same countries. We’d even gone to many of the same galleries, bars and restaurants over the years. We had similar cultural references, and we share a similar sense of humour and attitudes to family. 

You can say that Tuck Weng and I kept passing each other around the world. Eventually we met – when we were ready.

By Tara Barker

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