Whether you’re a single expat going it alone or moving with your family, making friends will have a huge impact on your life in your new home.
Making friends in a new destination is an important step in making an adopted country feel like home. Friends can help you settle in and learn about the area, be companions on your explorations, be good sources of information, and can make the tough times feel a little less so and the good times even better. We’ve compiled a list of ways to meet people and make friends as an expat in your new destination.
Try to make an online friend before the move
Ask your current network if they know of anyone in your new destination and contact them. Alternatively, search for expat groups on social media (Facebook tends to have multiple expat groups in every country), join them and indicate that you’ll be arriving soon and are looking to hang out.
Making these connections before you move can be helpful as you’ll have people to meet up with as soon as you arrive. They can provide advice to assist you with a lot of the pre- and post-move stress and help you to orient yourself in your new city. These people will be great sources of information and they may lead to further connections as they invite you to meet their friends.
Be a 'yes' person
Don’t say no to anything! We don’t recommend this for the long term as it will get exhausting, but making friends when you initially arrive can be tricky and saying yes to any invites to meet up or do something social is a good way to get a foot in the door in social circles.
There may be days when you are tired or stressed and not in the mood to see people, but we recommend that, during the first few weeks at least, you muster up the energy and go to these events anyway. Getting those friendships going early is important and declining, even if it’s just a coffee date, can lead to not being invited in the future. Future meetups are often also organised during gatherings, which means you may miss out on events if you’re not there.
Join local clubs, hobby groups or volunteer organisations
Bonding over a common interest is a great way to make a new friend. By joining a club, hobby group or volunteer outfit, you’re bound to meet likeminded people. Whether a society for American women (or any other nationality), a chess or knitting club, or even a pet adoption event, you are likely to meet at least some people that share in a few interests with you. Becoming friends with people with whom you share hobbies means you’ll have scheduled meetups in future, and get to have fun while making friends.
Be active online
Spending time on online expat groups prior to your move and once you’ve arrived can be a great way to make friends with other foreigners in the city. By joining groups, such as those on Facebook, you’ll be able to meet people by attending the social events advertised on those groups, or you could host a meet-up yourself. Make sure to advertise it properly, pick something that will be interesting for a range of people and host it in a neutral location, such as a park.
Meetup.com is another great platform for making connections with people. It’s similar to a dating app but for friends, and the success rates are astounding. All you need to do is download the app, set up a profile and get chatting with people in your city.
Join a gym, exercise class or sports club
As with joining a hobby group, joining a gym, exercise class or sports club can be a good way to meet people with similar interests, such as a love for yoga, football or the outdoors. You’ll not only be making likeminded friends, but this is also a good way to stay active and healthy.
Taking language lessons is one way to combat any language barriers in your new destination. On top of this, it’s also a good way to meet other expats. You’re likely to come across people in a similar situation to you in your classes, making them a good space in which to practise your language skills as well as get to know others.
Local vs expat friends
There are advantages in having both local and expat friends. We recommend having a mix of both as, although it can be easier to make expat friends, having a few local friends will go a long way to making your new destination feel like home.
Expat friends are wonderful as they relate to your situation, may have a similar background and can be super useful when it comes to helping you with expat admin. As they will have gone through the same process as you, they may have great advice for adjusting to life in the city or country and may share any feelings of homesickness. Expats may also be slightly more welcoming and willing to befriend you as they either are or were in your shoes and are also looking to make lasting friendships in their new home.
On the other hand, the familiarity you may feel with expats won't necessarily help you to assimilate into the local culture, something locals can help out with. Expats may also only be around for a season, or a couple of years, before moving on. Although this may be the case with locals too, they are more likely to stick around for the long term. Locals make great guides and exploration buddies and will have knowledge about your new home that expats will not. They are also good people to practise your language skills with, if living in a country with a foreign language.
There are so many advantages to having both local and expat friends in your new home, and we hope these tips will stand you in good stead in your endeavours to find welcoming, likeminded people to share your adventures with.