How do U.S. Expats Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad?

According to the U.S. State Department, roughly 9 million U.S. citizens live overseas. For those expats, or for those who chose to travel over the holiday weekend, it is often possible to get a taste of home in cities all over the world. They usually need to do a little research, connect with the expat community, know the right spots and be willing to adjust their traditions.


A forum thread on gives us a glance at what it’s like to be abroad for Thanksgiving. On this website, several U.S. expats explain that they like to start the day by calling their family in the States. One woman from Belize says “our family has never joined us for Thanksgiving here, although they do visit at other times. So, we start the day by calling our kids and family to connect and catch up.”  

Fortunately, all expats agree that they are able to joyfully celebrate Thanksgiving with the friends they refer to as their “expat family” which often comprises U.S. expats and native of other countries too. A man who lived in Costa Rica and just moved to Mexico explains “Being with your new “expat family” of close friends, you still get the sense of togetherness and fellowship.” Another person who moved to Malaysia adds that her and her husband “have large Thanksgiving dinners with people from all over the world, and we make it a potluck, so everyone brings their favorite dishes.” 

This comment brings us to the cultural exchange that can happen during the Thanksgiving celebrations abroad. Usually, expat communities include people from all over the world, eager to learn about someone else’s culture and holidays are a great opportunity to do just that. 

Our Marketing Manager who is originally from Paris got to experience her first Thanksgiving in Lyon where she used to study. “During my time in Lyon, I worked for the U.S. Consulate and the French-US Chamber of Commerce. That’s how I met a lot of my American friends there. There was a restaurant which was known for its yearly Thanksgiving meal and the U.S. community used to always gather there in such a festive way. All American expats were taking the time to tell us about Thanksgiving and how they celebrate it back home. It was a great way to learn about the American culture and they really enjoyed sharing their stories with non-American guests.” 

What about the long-awaited Turkey and yummy side dishes? As we mentioned above, you should find a handful of restaurants that cater to the U.S. community in each city where the concentration of expats is large enough to justify the restaurant’s expenses. For a list of restaurants around the world, check our this article. When expats live in a more remote location, they tend to organize their own dinners and often have to adapt their American traditions to the culinary customs of their adoptive country, hence, create new traditions of their own. 

One woman living in rural Ecuador explains “we have become open to making adjustments to our long-standing traditions. When no turkeys could be found in our first year in Ecuador, we used wonderful, freshly butchered chickens and when pumpkins were not available, we substituted with other squashes.” She also adds that adjusting their Thanksgiving traditions has been a great lesson and a helpful way to settle in their expat life. “The lesson for us was that the celebration of Thanksgiving with others was much more important than any particular food item. In fact, including native food items in your menu and inviting locals to share the day with you is a great way to expand your expat lifestyle.”

Will you be abroad during Thanksgiving weekend? If so, let us know how you like to celebrate the holiday away from home!

Posted: 11/17/2017 12:06:28 PM