11 Gift Ideas for Expatriates

GiftExpatriates have the world at their fingertips.What could an expat ever want? They have watched the sun set from the top of the Eiffel Tower, scrambled around the Great Wall, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe. I haven’t, but I’ve only been an expatriate for eleven years, I’ve still got time.

More likely, the expatriate in your life has seen some fascinating sights, worked long hours at a job, met interesting people, and accumulated a lot of air travel miles. What could someone an awful lot like non-expatriates want for Christmas? And an even more important question, what could someone an awful lot like non-expatriates except with luggage weight restrictions and international shipping costs want for Christmas or other holidays?

Coming up with gift ideas for the expat in your life can be challenging. Will it fit in a suitcase? Will it tip the scales over the almost impossibly light 50 pounds? Even less outside the US? Will it fit, not break or spill, in a shipped cardboard box? Will it be opened and searched in the postal office of the expat’s country? Will it ‘disappear’ from said postal office? Will the expat need to pay more on fees for receiving it than the items inside are worth?

We have received packages with chocolates that tasted like the Sea Spice candles wrapped up in the same box. We have also received a Christmas box, mailed November 2012 in October 2013. We received Snowman place mats in 2004 and still use them every December. We’ve received precious photo books, scrumptious coffee, extravagant toys. We’ve received individual sticks of gum, bizarre clothing, and used, broken toys. And guess what? With every package, we remember that we are not forgotten. No matter the contents, we sincerely do appreciate the gesture and the thought. It isn’t easy to mail a box to Djibouti and I can picture, from experience, the look on the post office employee’s face when the word “Djibouti” is said. Huh? Where? That’s a country?

From one expatriate to those who want to give gifts to their special expats, here are some insider suggestions (mom: FYI, this is not my Christmas list. We’ll talk.)

  • Gifts for Expats 1 of 12
    gifts for expats
  • Travel Neck Pillow 2 of 12
    neck pillow

    I am one expat who has looked, almost every time I'm in an airport, at the neck pillows and never, ever bought one. I am also an expat who has looked, almost every time I'm on a trans-Atlantic flight, at people peacefully snoozing on their neck pillows, with flickers of envy. They look like a hassle, bulky, swinging from luggage handles, they take up limited space in those airplane seats. But they are oh, so comfortable. I know, I've borrowed from friends and swiped from my own children. Brutal. So are flights over 20 hours.

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  • Luggage 3 of 12
    luggage

    Expats need luggage. Luggage gets pretty beat up when traveling multiple miles often. And as weight restrictions fluctuate some of the larger, heavier bags aren't useful any longer. Carry-ons with easy rolling wheels, computer bags, suitcases with handles not attached by duct tape and zippers that slide open and shut with ease and sides that aren't punctured or fraying, it is the small things that start to feel like luxuries after 38 hours of travel.

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  • Photo Calendar 4 of 12
    photo calendar

    Photo calendars, or other related gifts like photo books, personalized mugs, these gifts give all year-round and also communicate that special home-made touch. Bonus points for filling in special dates likes birthdays, anniversaries, or scheduled Skype calls ahead of time.

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  • Splurge Food Items 5 of 12
    chocolate

    Even in countries where expats may have access to great food, during the holidays especially there is nothing quite like the nostalgic taste of home. Maybe Cool Ranch Doritos (my husband), maybe Dove chocolate (me), maybe a certain kind of coffee or a special spice. Or packaged food mixes for meal prep ease, ingredients that might not be locally available. It is hard to go wrong with food items, unless they don't ship well.

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  • Tiny Toys 6 of 12
    legos

    Legos, Littlest Pet Shop, Matchbox cars, craft supplies, things like this are small but also endlessly entertaining. They keep kids occupied on planes or long drives. Plus, they translate well to at-home toys.

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  • Gift Cards 7 of 12
    gift cards

    iTunes, Amazon, Nook, gift cards make great gifts because they don't require shipping and I doubt there is a single expat out there who wouldn't enjoy a new book, song, app, movie, or some other treat.

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  • A Local Experience 8 of 12
    eiffel tower

    Sometimes expats can be so wrapped up in work and regular, daily living, that they don't take full advantage of the opportunities available to them in-country. We have been the blessed recipients of cash gifts that come with strings attached - they must be used for local entertainment. We have camped at rustic resorts and hiked in the mountains, we have eaten at restaurants normally outside our budget, and we have enjoyed swimming with whale sharks, thanks to this type of gift.

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  • Digital Scale 9 of 12
    luggage scale

    Expats know all too well the frantic reshuffling in the last minutes before weighing suitcases at the airline counter, or the frantic reshuffling after the weigh-in (even worse), and the pleading and crying that sometimes follows. We also know about telling the kids to "pretend your backpack is light!" Knowing what the bags weigh ahead of arriving at the airport would save many an expat headache.

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  • Plane Tickets 10 of 12
    airline ticket

    For those with more expansive budgets, consider purchasing a trip for your loved one. Maybe a trip for yourself, to come visit. Or helping them to experience more of the region in which they currently live and work.

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  • Upgrades 11 of 12
    first class

    One final idea, also for those with larger budgets: How about an upgrade? Business class, or first class, even the seats with a little extra room, for the expatriate who seems to have everything, this could be a nice way to fly once in a while.

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  • Happy Gifting 12 of 12
    expat thanks

    Expatriates have a lot to be thankful for and more than any gift, we are thankful when the people we have left behind remember us and share their lives with us. I hope that during this season the expatriate in your life will also be remembering you, sharing with you.

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