It’s 2021. And although COVID halted pretty much everyone’s travel plans, there are still many people who are moving abroad or putting plans in place to. As a seasoned expat, I’ve noticed something very specific that often happens when people move abroad. It’s called the “expat bubble” and I’m here to give you all the advice you need to avoid it. 

What is an expat bubble?

Simply put, an expat bubble is the place where people wind up when they move to a foreign country without making any effort to immerse in the culture of their host country. The so-called bubble has varying degrees and sizes. For example, it can look like only socializing with other expats, only shopping at supermarkets which serve the food of their native country, not learning at least a portion of the native language and so on.  

For many, this might seem a little strange. Why move abroad to live practically the same way you would if you were in your home country?

Well, expat bubbles form for many reasons. Sometimes these habits are formed out of simply missing our home country or being too afraid and uninformed about how to integrate into the local culture. After all, we all crave familiarity from time to time and full immersion into a foreign culture is no easy feat. The real trouble however, is when your expat bubble becomes less of a security blanket and more of a force field preventing you from engaging with locals, understanding your host country’s customs and living respectfully. 

When this happens, you not only create an unnecessary divide, you also miss out on the true pleasures of exploring, and eventually integrating into a different culture. And there’s much more to it than shopping with local grocers vs international supermarkets, which is why I’ve lined out five things to ask yourself to prevent getting stuck in an expat bubble.

How often are you trying new things?

Moving to a new country is a literal step into the unknown and it’s important to examine how willing you are to try new things. Sure, you may feel a bit awkward asking for directions in broken tongue, wandering markets with unfamiliar foods and trying things you’ve never even seen before, but these will all serve as an opportunity to grow. Afterall, culture shock is exactly what it sounds like, but not without its benefits like gaining confidence in the language and learning about new foods.

How willing are you to learn the language?

As an expat who is learning Spanish while living in Spain, I spend most of my days mispronouncing words, trying to understand fast Spanish speakers, and wishing that real life came with subtitles. That said, there’s no better satisfaction than finally being able to understand things without having to translate hurdle after hurdle in your head. And sure, you don’t have to master the entire language, but it is an important part of connecting with the culture that you’re living in. Bonus? You’ll order food correctly, be able to embrace the country’s history more and earn much more respect as an expat.  

expat placing order in street food stall

Are you willing to commit to supporting local businesses?

Trust me, I know the big, fancy supermarkets are alluring. I practically did a cartwheel when I finally found a particular brand of hot sauce from back home once. That said, a big part of breaking out of the expat bubble is prioritizing local shops when you can. Not only does it keep the money in the hands of your host-country by saving it from the filtration of mega international chains, but it also helps you discover new products and brands you might not have thought of before.

Integrating into the local community is just as important as building your own. Check out tips and tricks for Creating a Sense of Community Abroad here!

Are you willing to respect different traditions and customs even if you don’t agree with them?

Prior to Covid, bullfighting was a very popular attraction in Spain. And yes, they kill the bull and serve its meat for dinner. It’s a brutal sport and one that’s not without controversy. And as an animal lover, it’s something that I definitely don’t agree with. However, while you won’t find me in a bullfighting stadium and I certainly don’t support the tradition, I don’t hold any disrespect toward anyone who does. You don’t need to approve of every tradition or custom of your host country, but respect is required at the very least.

How often are you learning new things about your host country?

Ask yourself, can you name just five historical or cultural facts about the country in which you’re currently living? Ultimately, most people want to travel to try new things and learn how others think and act in different parts of the world. Afterall, there’s a reason why people say that travel is the best education. But when you’re living as an expat somewhere it can be easy to stop once you’ve reached a basic understanding of the nation’s history. Which is why it’s important to constantly be learning about your host country’s history and current events. So get out there, ask questions, visit museums and be informed about the past and present of where you are.  

sagrada familia between trees

Like I mentioned before, expat bubbles are completely normal. You just shouldn’t live inside of them all the time. So if you find yourself living in a bubble, be sure to step outside it once in a while, and who knows? Maybe you’ll be so brave as to pop it one day.

Are you an expat? What’s the best advice you’d share for the balance between integration and the expat bubble? Tell us on Twitter!