How to deal with cultural differences as a solo expat woman

  • solo woman
Published on 2024-03-01 at 10:00 by Estelle
Women's status varies globally, and when a woman moves abroad alone, she may encounter different customs in various countries. How do you navigate these challenges and adapt to different situations? We address these issues in this article.

Should women move abroad alone?

Moving abroad alone as a woman can be as thrilling as it is stressful. On the one hand, it presents a fantastic opportunity to explore new cultures, gain independence, and potentially grow your career in a foreign country through a job offer. On the other hand, it can be a considerable risk, primarily due to potential cultural disparities and challenges faced by single women.

There isn't any universal answer to whether moving abroad as a solo expat woman is a good or bad idea, as it depends on individual circumstances and the chosen destination. Personal factors such as personality, motivations, adaptability to new cultures, the desired location, and resilience in handling feedback from acquaintances in the host country all play a pivotal role in determining the suitability of such a move.

Countries where solo expat women might encounter challenges?

Countries with deeply patriarchal cultures, like Saudi Arabia or India, can present challenges regarding morality. In India, for example, women are often victims of rape, assault, and other forms of violence, which can make things even more complicated for expat women. Similarly, Saudi Arabia's stringent Sharia-based laws impose strict regulations on women, including mandatory wearing of the abaya (although not required for expat women, especially in larger cities) and adherence to gender segregation in various public spheres. Consequently, single Saudi women encounter limitations on travel and employment opportunities. This might be a considerable hindrance to your relocation to such a country.

However, it's essential to recognize that solo expat women can encounter unsettling situations and unfamiliar norms even in Western countries. For instance, in some regions of Germany, women might feel uneasy in male-dominated bar environments where customers can be loud and persistent. Similarly, in the UK, they may face challenges from "lad culture," characterized by crude and sexist behavior towards women. Such situations are not limited to Europe; in some southern US states, like in rural Mississippi or Alabama, locals may have more traditional attitudes towards women, contrasting with life in larger, more progressive cities like New York or Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, it's important to keep in mind that such scenarios are not universal, and solo expat women can indeed have positive experiences in countries or regions often perceived negatively.

How to deal with cultural differences as a solo expat woman

If you're about to move abroad solo, navigating the cultural norms of your host country can be one of the most daunting challenges you'll encounter. What matters most is your determination and preparation before you set off. Remember that nothing is impossible, especially with the proper planning. For instance, it's wise to research local social norms, customs, and expectations of behavior, particularly if the role of women differs from what you're accustomed to in your home country. Additionally, immersing yourself in the local language and culture can significantly help you integrate and adapt to local customs.

Trust your instincts - it's one of your most valuable tools in steering clear of potentially risky situations. Don't hesitate to leave if you sense unease in a particular environment or with certain individuals. Additionally, dress in a manner that aligns with the cultural norms of your new country, avoiding attire that may be considered overly provocative and could attract unwanted attention or trouble.

Contact the local expatriate community or women's groups for additional support. They can offer valuable advice and assistance whenever necessary. Fellow expats who have spent more time in the country, particularly other solo women, are likely to have faced similar situations and can provide invaluable support and guidance when needed.

Lastly, don't hesitate to ask for help if you're struggling with culture shock or having difficulty grasping local customs. Professional organizations, local associations, and, in certain situations, the police or your embassy may be able to provide guidance and support.

Safe countries for women

The positive aspect is that certain countries are renowned for their safety and welcoming atmosphere towards solo women, making them highly appealing destinations. Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are leading the pack, praised for their progress in gender equality, safety, and overall quality of life. They are not alone in this regard; countries such as Canada and New Zealand are also lauded for providing a secure and hospitable environment for single women to establish themselves.

In fact, according to the Georgetown Institute's Women Peace and Security Index 2023, the following countries are currently the safest for women:

  • Denmark
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Luxembourg
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Austria
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand

In many instances, moving abroad solo is a rewarding adventure for women, regardless of the selected destination, so do not hesitate to take the leap. Keep in mind that decisions aren't set in stone, and if the country doesn't meet your expectations, you always have the freedom to move on.