Moving to the other side of the world for love

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to start a new life far and away from everything familiar, here are the stories of four women who did.

It’s been a year since I moved to Sweden for love—to be with my Scandinavian AFAM. It’s better than I thought it would be because despite having constant communication for years, my partner and I met in person only twice before living together, but the thing that baffles me till now is we don’t really fight.

When people ask me if my partner is Swedish, I say “very.” Martin got me into very Swedish things like music competitions Eurovision and Melodifestivalen (not at all like the Idol search), recycling, punctuality and IKEA. I now know how to make Swedish meatballs from scratch, but I’m yet to nail the sauce that his mom makes so well.

I sold stuff, even my precious art collection, and gave away 98 percent of my belongings. It wasn’t a question of “does it spark joy?” It was “do I want this in my new life?”

A non-threatening Swede, Martin is the most unbothered person I know. Being with him has been calm, pretty much like Gothenburg, the city we live in which feels like off-season Baguio. I tried to be the drama but he didn’t really bite, because as Martin said, “It’s a waste of energy.”

In 2017, I met Martin through Tinder Gold in Gothenburg, the second biggest city in Sweden, during my big Scandinavian adventure with friends. We were three single girls and a Pinay-Dutch couple touring the Nordics for 30 days, and I’m glad we did that cold and expensive trip before the pandemic.

Martin’s Tinder profile said he was a lawyer and five years younger than I am so I was curious, because guys on dating apps were either startup dudes or DJs (so many DJs!), or both. After the trip, I went back to Manila to my old media job, and Martin and I stayed friends and eventually dated other people—-until our availability aligned. We were both single and realized we had been talking almost daily since we met in Gothenburg. So in 2019, he went to the Philippines and we made our looming long-distance relationship (LDR) official.

The author Irene C. Perez and her partner Martin Karlsson in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I told him flat-out: “Before you go back to Sweden we must decide whether we are a couple or not, but know that long-distance would be hard.”

He replied, “Let’s try. Even couples who live together break up so we can try.”

He also reminded me that he was a total introvert and can spend a lot of time on games and toys which I could find boring. Actually, I didn’t even know how much of an extrovert I am until the lockdowns happened in Manila and I volunteered to work on-site, face shield and all, because I needed the interaction.

Our slow-cooked love story was dragged on by the pandemic as we scrapped plans of taking turns visiting each other every six months. So, in the middle of the Covid outbreak, we applied for my residence permit to cohabitate since the migration agency in Sweden is notorious for years of waiting time, but we got lucky. I got my approval within months, and things fell into place as I was transitioning at work, too.

I sold stuff, even my precious art collection, and gave away 98 percent of my belongings. It wasn’t a question of “does it spark joy?” It was “do I want this in my new life?” (move over Mari Kondo), leaving only a small box of documents and mementos with my family. It was a daring decision since Martin and I were together in person literally only twice—once in Sweden and once in Manila, but that’s on COVID. I also wanted a change of environment and, well, government.  


In Manila, a foreigner boyfriend is called “AFAM,” acronym for “a foreigner assigned to Manila.” But I was the foreigner when I met him so maybe I am Martin’s AFAS? Not in the way of being “a foreigner assigned in Sweden,” more like “Amaccana fresh accla in Sweden.” (There’s actually a Swedish wet wipe brand called “Akla Fresh.”)

I left all my comfort zones in Manila for a man and the move was exhausting. I wasn’t just packing—I was packing up.

I left all my comfort zones in Manila for a man and the move was exhausting. I wasn’t just packing—I was packing up. We also went on a wonderful but tiring inter-island Philippine tour to make up for all the celebrations we missed.

In Sweden, I nested and went on a social media break for half a year which apparently alarmed my friends. I also got sick, which sucked because I didn’t even get Covid when I was working on-site in Makati. Perhaps my tropical body was adjusting to the prolonged Scandinavian winter and it was snowing until April!

How many Pinoys move for love?

NJ Torres-Jacobson with husband Christophe and daughter Savannah Taylor in Switzerland.

Before flying out, one of the requirements for Filipino partners was a certificate from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), which can be obtained digitally after counseling (I had mine over the phone). Immigration didn’t ask for it, but I guess this was done to avoid human trafficking. 

According to the CFO website, there were 583,279 Filipinos who moved overseas as “Filipino spouses and other partners of foreign nationals” from 1989 to 2020. A big 91.27 percent or 532,374 were women, and the most common relocation countries were the United States (44.03 percent!), Japan, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Germany, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Norway and Sweden (1.04 percent).

Just in time for my first proper white Christmas, I came out of hibernation and assured my people by posting selfies that I was safe, and that Martin didn’t traffic me. We were discovering our love languages. His are physical touch (super hugs and cuddles), quality time (and being on time!) and words of affirmation (“Your health and happiness are the most important things”).

Mine is receiving gifts. I also like giving gifts even if pasalubong is a weird concept in Europe.

Tips from Filipinas who moved for love

Yasmine and Marco Giovannoli taking a break in Italy.

Thinking of moving? I checked in on my friends and former colleagues who also moved for love and asked for tips.

Public relations manager Yasmine Hidalgo-Giovannoli met her husband Marco when she was just 20 years old and married him after 22 years. Now based in Germany, Yasmine said, “The best thing about moving overseas is being with the love of my life. Our love story has been really long and exciting since I was the one who wanted to travel the world and develop my full potential before settling down. The other plus is the chance to experience a whole new culture and the endless travel possibilities!”

She said the worst things are “giving up the comforts of home, my career, friends and family plus the warmth of the Filipinos. Relationships at work are not the same here. There is a big distinction between work and friendship so it is rare when you have a friend at work that can be a friend forever.”

Her tips: “Know and love yourself. When you are abroad you are prone to self-doubt because you are the newbie, the foreigner. Always believe in yourself. It is not fruitful to project your frustrations to your partner as this will jeopardize the relationship.”

She added: “Never doubt your capabilities, you may not succeed in many interviews in the beginning but you have to stick to your core competencies. You know what you’ve got, what you are made of. Let no one belittle you. Study. Learn the language of the country you are moving into before you move, ideally. One can never integrate in any work or social scenario without the language.”

‘Incredible adventure’

Carmee Calimlim-Burch and family enjoying nature in Atlanta.

Former media and public relations head NJ Torres-Jacobson moved to Switzerland to be with her husband Christophe. They have a beautiful daughter named Savannah Taylor. NJ said her move “wasn’t just an opportunity, but an incredible adventure.”

NJ said that in Geneva, “I get to immerse myself in a vibrant new culture, embrace different traditions, languages and customs. The best part is sharing this thrilling experience with my husband and strengthening our bond.”

For NJ, “moving overseas means breaking free from the ordinary. It’s a chance to reinvent myself in a foreign culture and environment.” The challenges for her were “leaving behind familiar surroundings and my loved ones, saying goodbye to my home country, adjusting to a new place especially when everything from the language to the customs feel unfamiliar. It takes time and effort to settle into a new environment and make it feel like home.”

Her biggest obstacle was the ”overwhelming sense of loneliness and longing for home … without a strong support system. Building new friendships and finding a sense of belonging in a completely different social setting is not always easy. Adapting to a new culture, searching for job opportunities and continuing my education have all had their moments of difficulty.”

NJ shared tips: “It’s important to dive into the culture, understand the requirements for my career path, and ensure that my daughter’s education fits our new location and new life. Handling our finances and managing the logistics of the move have also been essential steps in preparing for this exciting adventure.”

And if feeling homesick? Cook! “Mastering the art of cooking and baking local dishes has been a fantastic remedy for homesickness. Thanks to my husband’s help, we’ve found nearby Asian and Filipino stores that satisfy my cravings.”

Making sisig and sapin-sapin was no problem for self-taught cook, restaurant co-manager Carmee Calimlim-Burch who moved to Atlanta to be with her husband. They now have two wonderful sons Charles and CJ who get to enjoy authentic Asian and Filipino food in the US.

“No more LDR! You can show affection in person and be with the family all the time,” she said. Carmee added that it took time to get over the culture shock, and adjust to the environment, weather and food. Her best tip is to be resilient, “always communicate with your husband and speak your mind.”

‘Lagom’ life

I know that moving for love and still living off my savings is a privilege. I am debt-free and living rent-free (thanks, Martin!) and have started looking for work in Sweden this year. It’s true that the biggest challenge, especially for employment, is the language barrier, because pre-Martin, I didn’t even know anyone who spoke Swedish, and now I am studying a language with eight vowels? It’s tough, but I am getting better and we speak mostly Swedish at home now.

Moving for love forced me to discover who I am outside of my career. I joined organizations and networked, and found friends among other internationals who moved to Sweden for work or to be with their loved ones.

I connected with the local Filipino community through my Sweden-based friends Angelo and Chistelle who told me about the Filipino church group which has a Tagalog Mass every month followed by a “salu-salo.” I made friends with younger Filipina scientists. I met refugees and asylum seekers in school and learned about their stories and culture, too. I joined a ladies group who loves exploring the city, but mostly cafés, picnics and restaurants. I have a book club, and I finally got to do volunteer work.

On some weekends, we spend time with Martin’s family and I get to enjoy homecooked Swedish food not found in restaurants. When the weather is good, Martin and I take walks to the nearby lake.

You know the Filipino saying “lumagay sa tahimik,” which means to get married? That’s me now, a lightweight drinker far from the parties of Poblacion. We’re still not married, as I feel it’s necessary to have a boyfriend-girlfriend moment, and I want to know what life in Sweden would be for me.

There are tough days, of course, and it helps a lot that my Filipino family and I have a very active Viber group and do video call on celebrations. At the moment, I am doing freelance journalism and trying out for communications roles. My goal is to earn more than Martin so he can be a sugar baby. Or win the EuroJackpot lottery—who knows?

As NJ said, “give yourself time to blend in and adjust. Promise, it gets easier.” Sometimes I question when it is too easy for me, but there is a popular Swedish word, “lagom,” which means “not too much and not too little.” I am embracing the “lagom” life I have with Martin now, just right and sakto lang in Sweden.  

The new lifestyle.