Thanksgiving is a time when the thoughts of the nine million Americans who live abroad turn to home, as well as how best to celebrate.
With no other country celebrating Thanksgiving (other than Canada, in October, due to an earlier harvest further north), celebrating abroad as an expat presents all sorts of logistical challenges. As such, many Americans attempt to return to the States in November to celebrate with family. This isn’t always possible though (and particularly this year), and even when it is, the hassle of crowded airports over the holiday season and for many expats having to travel a long way for a short time isn’t necessarily appealing, so it’s often better to brave the logistical challenges of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.
Many expats employed by a foreign firm won’t automatically get the day off, and children at school abroad won’t have a school holiday, either. The solution, for many expats, is to celebrate the following weekend.
Then there’s the question of finding traditional American ingredients.
While turkeys, cranberries, and pumpkins are available in some countries, and particularly if you start searching early, in many countries they simply aren’t.
This is when the ability to adapt and improvise (skills most expats have already mastered) becomes essential. The ingredients we think of as traditional were totally alien to the original settlers who first celebrated Thanksgiving after all, so whatever interesting food is available will be fine.
An alternative is to find out whether a local hotel or restaurant may be laying on Thanksgiving food, as happens in many places, although this year this option may be more limited in many places due to Coronavirus-related restrictions in 2020.
Another common Thanksgiving dilemma for many expats is who to celebrate with. Many expats find themselves far from their families over Thanksgiving, and they may or may not know other Americans who live locally. Expats are resourceful though (it comes with the territory!), and many choose to celebrate with other American expats, or, if they don’t know any, with foreign friends. There’s a real satisfaction in fact in introducing foreigners to the Thanksgiving tradition, and many end up converts, continuing to celebrate with their American friends year after year.
“In rural Ecuador, finding a turkey required some diligence, and our side dishes, when we cooked at home, were not exactly the same. Many expat families meanwhile came together to share the experience in a large, local restaurant owned by an expat.” – International Living
Tales abound of large parties thrown by expats with 40 or 50 or more Americans and foreign friends, with everyone bringing a dish and a bottle and celebrating together.
So for Americans living overseas, the best Thanksgiving strategy is to be flexible, open-minded, and adapt traditions to your circumstances. Here are our five top tips for Americans celebrating abroad.
1 – You’re never alone. If you don’t know other Americans, introduce Thanksgiving to a new audience.
2 – Start planning early, including sourcing traditional ingredients, to stand a better chance of success. If you still can’t find them, consider celebrating in a local western hotel or restaurant, or otherwise create a new menu using local ingredients.
3 – Arrange video calls with loved ones back in the States.
4 – Celebrate on the weekend if you can’t take time off on the day. Or, if you can celebrate on the day, be thankful that grocery stores are probably open should you need to run out for something last minute.
5 – Be thankful for all the experiences and adventures we have as expats and the friendships we make living abroad.
The team at Bright!Tax wishes all Americans around the world a very happy Thanksgiving 2020. While 2020 is for many a very challenging year, there is still much to be thankful for, too.