Digital Marketing

How to Grow Sales by Targeting Expats on Facebook

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Facebook has over one billion daily active users all over the world, yet very few brands run Facebook campaigns overseas, or have stopped because they couldn’t scale.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to correctly target expats overseas and why they will be more profitable than your current audiences.

Why you should run ads in emerging economies  

Think of every country as a huge lake. In the lake are fish (consumers) and on boats and piers are fishermen (advertisers).

In countries like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, there are a lot of fishermen trying to catch the fish, making it harder (more expensive) for you to run successful ads.

In contrast, in countries like Thailand, Mexico, or South Africa there are fewer advertisers fighting for leads, allowing you to run cost-effective ads and gain a lower CPA.

However, you cannot use the same ad sets that you do in the United States and expect them to work overseas, because they won’t (we’ve tried).

Here are some best-practice tips on how to run Facebook campaigns targeting expats overseas.

1. Don’t target by country

When targeting a non-first world country, target city-wide only (ideally the capital).

For example, Thailand is a cheap country to become an expat, with places like Chiang Mai attracting budget backpackers and nomads with small budgets of $400-$700.
But you don’t want to target this audience because a low-income audience won’t take your offers.

Bangkok, on the other hand, is much more diverse with expats who easily spend over $3,000+ on living costs.

When selecting your country, do some research to find the right cities to target. In most cases it will be the capital.

2. Use the narrow further clause

The narrow further interest option at the ad set levels means a user must meet two interests or more to be shown an ad.

Let’s say I’m selling an online golf membership package to expats. One of my detailed targeting options is expats, and the second option is users who have an interest in golf.

expat targeting 1.png

When targeting cold audiences, this is the type of approach you need to take, depending on what you’re selling you may need a third or fourth caluse to make sure you’re reaching the right people.

3. Location and language

Facebook gives you the option to target people with the following options:

expat targeting 2.png

Select users who live in this location to reach expats. This will serve your ads to people who have changed their location to the country you’re targeting, and ensures your ads are not shown to someone on holiday who just happened to check in to Costa Rica airport, for example.

Select the language as English (if you’re running ads in English).

4. Exclude interests 

If you follow the tips above, Facebook will still serve your ads to local people, many of whom won’t be able to read English, therefore killing your relevance score and increasing costs.

For example, this ad, which is written in English, is targeting digital nomads and entrepreneurs while most of the likes are from Thai Facebook users:

expat targeting 6.png

This is common with overseas Facebook ads that are targeting the wrong audience – there are dozens of likes with no comments, shares, or conversions.

The secret sauce to running profitable overseas campaigns is how well you know the country you plan to target. If you don’t know it very well, then you should hire a Facebook expert in that country to help.

The exclude interests clause is all about minimizing the chance of your ads being shown to non-expats (people who can’t speak English or afford your product).

Here’s a few exclude interests you should be using as default:

Celebrities – Exclude all local celebrities in the country you’re targeting. Chances are that expats don’t know them and won’t like their pages, but locals will. A quick Google search will tell you who the biggest celebrities are in a particular country.

expat targeting 3.png

Local businesses
– Mobile service providers, Internet providers, electrical companies, and local food brands should also be excluded. Again, most expats are not going to like pages.

Country-specific habits – Mobile gaming is huge in Asia. If you’re targeting expats in Asia, it may be a viable option to exclude anyone who has played a game in the last seven days.

expat targeting 4.png

These are good places to start, but for more exclusions you need to know your targeting country well (or hire someone who does).

For example, Malaysia has a tourist and expat community in Thailand as they are a neighboring country, so learning about Malayan expat interests and including them would be a very smart idea.

5. Include western interests

Singapore, for example, has a huge expat community; so much so that their businesses cater for expats exclusively. Including these businesses in your interest options is one of the best ways to reach your desired audience.

expat targeting 5.pngIn Thailand, FoodPanda is the biggest (and one of the most expensive) food delivery services used by thousands of expats. Even if your brand is not selling food, targeting this super-targeted expat audience may come in handy the next time you run an ad over there.


Targeting emerging countries is a struggle at first, as more often than not you will be serving your ads to the wrong people. With much lower average monthly salaries than the US or UK, to have the best chance of success, you will want to reach expats first.

Once you do this successfully and learn more about your audience overseas, then you can start running ads in different languages targeting the growing middle classes.

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