Buying a gift for someone moving abroad or who is already an expat can be challenging. It might seem like they have everything they could want because they are or have travelled to all sorts of exotic locations and seen some amazing sights! What could you possibly get as a gift for a world traveller? And what can you get that won’t add to their luggage allowance too much or be a pain for them to get back home if they end up moving back?
As an expat who has lived abroad for several holiday seasons and birthdays, I know what it’s like to be asked what I would like as a gift and have no idea. I mean, at the top of my wishlist is always travel, but that’s not really something I can ask for. I also know what it’s like to try and find a gift to send overseas to other expat friends, or family abroad.
To help solve this problem of what to gift friends overseas I’ve often turned to the internet and all the many gift lists out there. But none of them quite seem to fit. They’re either aimed more at long-term travellers, or more farewell gifts for friends moving abroad. While they can be useful, I wanted to come up with some more ideas on what you can get your friends and family who are more long-term expats.
There are several different ways to go about choosing a gift for someone going travelling or living overseas. You can go with a useful travel gift, something nostalgic to remind them of home, or even a gift experience for wherever they are overseas.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started! I’ve sprinkled Christmas photos throughout the post but these would really work at any time of year. Just remember, you don’t always need to buy a gift locally and send it yourself. Nowadays it’s actually often easier to buy something online and have it sent direct. Many places even offer gift wrapping!
Table of Contents
Useful travel gifts
Even though I’m technically an expat I still find myself travelling a lot of the time. One of the exciting parts about basing yourself overseas is being able to explore the area around your new home. Here are some useful travel gifts for your expat friend or family member who is still getting to know their new area, and travelling often.
A gift card isn’t exactly the most thrilling of gifts, but it can be a super useful gift for world travellers and expats. It doesn’t take up space, is easy to send overseas or buy online and then they can choose exactly what they want or need.
Some options are:
- iTunes Gift Card to top up the playlist or buy movies and TV series
- Amazon Gift Card to buy Kindle Books or other useful travel essentials that they may have realised they want.
If your friend or family member didn’t move away with decent luggage, then you could gift them this to make it easier for them to travel from their new home or when they move back. Look into decent sized suitcases that would help them to move country more easily.
When I moved abroad I brought a huge 70-litre backpack with me, but this isn’t practical for weekends away or short trips closer to home. I now have a carry-on backpack that does wonders, and since I live in Europe I usually travel carry-on only as it’s much cheaper and more convenient.
There are also foldable travel backpacks that can be really useful when you’re travelling somewhere with a larger bag but want something smaller to carry your things around while you’re out exploring during the day.
If your expat loved one is into photography and has a lot of gear then you could consider giving them a camera backpack specifically designed for all their tech gear. As a travel blogger, I’m constantly carrying around my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera, a GoPro, a tripod, a selfie-stick with a tripod for my GoPro, and a Gorilla Pod, and often my MacBook and ALL the chargers!
When I travel I love to read, but lugging books around isn’t always practical. I would often buy second-hand books and leave them in hostels as I travelled, but now I’m usually coming home again and I’m accumulating a lot of books I know I might want to read again but can’t necessarily keep forever. An Amazon Kindle is an easy gift to send overseas because you can just buy it from Amazon itself and have it sent for you!
Ok, so I’ll admit that I’ve never actually owned my own travel pillow. But pretty much because I refuse to buy one for myself! I always feel like I’ll be fine without it but then on long flights home or train and bus trips when I’m travelling I’m always jealous of people who have them, and the few times I’ve borrowed someone else I’ve never regretted it!
This is the kind of tripod that I use for my GoPro. It means that I can set it on time-lapse or capture a wider scene with me in it. It’s a great gift for an expat friend that does a lot of solo travel and wanted to be able to take pictures alone. There are different attachments that mean that you can use it with a phone too.
Investing in a sound system when you’re an expat is a big deal. They’re not the cheapest and they definitely aren’t something that you would really be a priority to move back home with you. Having a waterproof and wireless travel speaker is a better option than putting your phone in a bowl, but without the commitment of a stereo, plus you can take it with you when you travel.
These things are amazing. It doubles as a laundry bag and a bag that helps you to do your laundry on the go!
Capturing a life abroad is important, especially when we want to be able to share moments with our friends and family at home. This obviously isn’t for everyone, but many travellers have an interest in photography and would appreciate gifts associated with it.
The more expensive option is a camera itself (I use a Sony a6000 and love it because it’s small enough to carry around but I can adjust the settings to take photos as I like) or a GoPro. A Fujifilm Instax is also a really cool way to get travel snaps that print immediately and can be used to decorate your loved one’s new home.
Camera or computer accessories that help with capturing memories can be a more cost-effective option as a gift for someone overseas.
Some options are:
So many services are provided on a subscription basis now, and they actually make a great gift for friends overseas or expats. It’s something they may be paying for anyway and so it will be a pleasant surprise to have the cost covered for a year or something they want but just can’t justify the cost of. Plus they don’t take up valuable luggage space and they don’t present any problems when you’re moving overseas!
Some options are:
While there is a free Spotify option the ads can be irritating and you can’t stream music while you’re on a plane, so give the gift of Spotify Premium!
Kindle Unlimited gives you access to over a million books, magazines, and audiobooks in the Amazon Kindle Store. If your loved one has an iPad remember that the Kindle App also allows you to read Kindle Books on that rather than having to get another device to carry.
Netflix is a great gift for expats, especially if they’re in a country where the television isn’t exactly the best or they miss shows that are available on the platform.
Another streaming media player which has videos, music, and games that you can play on your TV.
Another one for the photography expat. Travelling really spurred my interest in photography and after living abroad for a few years I finally invested in a proper camera and love to be able to edit the photos I’ve taken. Lightroom is one of the most favoured editing applications, and I’d recommend it for your expat photographer friends.
Offer to pay the subscription for your travelling or expat loved one to have somewhere to store all those photo memories they’re making overseas.
A VPN allows access to websites overseas if they’re in a country that blocks them, and in some cases access to their own subscriptions when they’re travelling (like Netflix etc).
Language Learning App or books
A great gift for someone moving abroad or living overseas is a language learning app. Many apps are free but there are options for in-app purchases or more extended courses.
Some options are:
Home gifts for expats
Not every expat is travelling all the time. Many have made their home abroad and have no idea if they’ll be leaving again. If you know they won’t be returning home anytime soon you might want to gift your expat friend or family member something to make where they live feel more homely. You can still keep in mind that they may have to return home at some point and may not be able to bring it back with them, but they can get enjoyment out of it while they’re living there and feel more settled! Here are some gift ideas for the expat with a home.
Personalised Photo Calendar
Create a calendar they can put on their wall for the next year. You can use photos of you together, pictures of places at home, or even inspirational quotes about living overseas and travelling. Bonus points for adding birthdays etc of family and friends at home! Etsy is one of my favourite websites for personalised gifts, and they have a TON of customised photo calendar options. Check out this cute desk calendar or this photo-heavy calendar with 3 different looks.
Gifting an expat a quirky mug from home can cheer them up in the morning, or when they’re sitting down for a cup of tea after a long day (maybe not everyone does that, but I moved to the United Kingdom ok!). Depending on your country you can check out Amazon or Etsy for cute handmade options including this one where you can have one each with the other’s country on it!
Personalised gifts related to home
We often feel more nostalgic for our home country when we don’t live there. I love having little touches of New Zealand around my home. Consider things like coordinate prints, candles with a particular smell or that are personalised, coasters, or any little personalised items. Honestly, Etsy has so many cool options for personalised, handmade gifts related to your expat friend’s home country.
I love these old style or retro travel posters and they make a really cool gift for expats. They can frame them and put them on their wall but just as easily take them out and roll them up to send them home. They’re easily found online or would be a lightweight gift to send overseas if you find them at home. I used to have 3 vintage style New Zealand travel posters on my wall in the UK, and I’ll soon be moving them back over to put them up again!
It might seem weird to gift Christmas decorations for the holiday season, but if your friend is a new expat or moving abroad close to the holidays then they’re unlikely to have any, and giving them a few small ornaments can help to cheer them up when they’re trying to get through the holidays away from friends and family. I’ve also seen really cool personalised Christmas balls that relate to countries or coordinates. Send them over as an early gift!
If your loved one is travelling long-term or living abroad then gifting them travel related stuff is usually a fairly safe bet. I think these airport code cushions are really cool and would add a nice touch to a home for travel lovers.
I know when I was living abroad, even for a year, I never wanted to spend too much on things like towels and bedding. But at the same time, having nice towels and bedding made me feel more comfortable and settled wherever I was living. If your friend is permanently abroad or newly moved abroad, look at some cool duvet sets that they could enjoy even for a little while. It’s likely if they move they’ll get left behind, so don’t spend a fortune though!
Lightweight photo hanger to put photos around their home
I love putting up photos around my home, and a lightweight hanger like this allows an expat friend to quickly get photos put up without having to buy frames, and it’s easily moved.
This is probably a more useful or thoughtful gift for an expat who is staying in one place for awhile. Create a photo book of your experiences together so they can put it on their bookshelf and flick through it when they like. Or if you know they’ve taken a ton of travel photos and not done anything with them except put them on Facebook, then you could poach a few and make a book of their experiences. This one is a little riskier but can be very appreciated when you don’t have time to put together something yourself!
I love these huge coffee table type travel books. They’re fun to flick through and get ideas or go over travel memories, and they make my home feel more like a travellers home.
Food from home
It might seem cliche but trust me, as an expat I definitely appreciate food from home as a gift! Think chocolates, favourite lollies (that’s candy to non-Kiwis) and favourite condiments. Sometimes you can find these foods in online shops and have them sent direct, otherwise, you can put together a package yourself and send the gift overseas yourself.
Depending on the location of your expat friend or relative, you could give the gift of an experience. For someone who doesn’t necessarily want a lot of stuff and loves having experiences then this can be the perfect gift to give.
Many locations have gift experience websites that can help you out. For example, Buy a Gift allows you to buy gifts for family or friends in the UK and there are other options in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA like Experience Days or Tinggly. They usually involve experience like spa days, culinary classes or meals out, active adventures and hotel stays.
Similar to gifting an experience, vouchers can be used for intangible goods, or for things your expat friend really needs. Rather than using a website like above you can go directly to a recommended place and send your loved one a voucher for it. It could be a spa treatment, a restaurant dinner, or a weekend away.
You could also look at vouchers for local clothing stores. I never wanted to spend too much on new clothes knowing I’d likely be moving again, but at the same time, I would really have appreciated a gift that allowed me to get some new seasonal stuff without feeling guilty, and maybe get rid of the old! One thing I noticed from moving abroad is how different the fashion can be and how the environment affects what you wear.
Some Extra Stocking Stuffers for Expats
- A diary for the next year
- Jewellery – This could be the main gift or something small to add to a bigger present.
- A journal for recording travel experiences or thoughts
- Portable Scale – to help when travelling or moving a lot
- Solar Phone Charger – Always comes in handy!
- Travel Scratch Map – Another piece to put on the wall and remind them of their travels
- Adaptors – I swear I never have enough plug adaptors. I still have plenty of devices that use the NZ/AU plug configuration, as well as several ones that use the UK. This means I’m forever changing adaptors around and when I travel I need to have ones that can fit both to go into wherever I’m going!
- Luggage tag – they don’t have to be boring!
- Keychain of home
- Phone covers
- Cord organisers – Great for keeping cords organised at home or while travelling
- Camera Lenses for Phones
Tips to keep in mind when buying gifts to send abroad
Check for international shipping when you’re buying online and they don’t have different country locations.
Check postage rates at your local post office. There are different options like boxes or envelopes that are be stuffed with as much as you can for a set rate or packages that are priced by weight.
Check shipping dates from online stores and the post office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found the perfect gift only to realise that it’s not going to arrive in time!
Check restrictions on sending certain items abroad, and on taxes. I know jewellery was often restricted, so it can be better to buy that online and have it sent directly. Sometimes if the package is over a certain value the receiver will have to pay an import tax.
And that’s my expat gift guide! Happy shopping!
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