When you move to a new country there are plenty of ups and downs and an endless amount of new things to learn. The best way to navigate the challenges of expat life is by building a network of support. That includes making new friends abroad, but we know that’s no easy task.
Trying to meet new people and build personal relationships abroad is hard and takes time. Friendships are different around the world and there may be unique cultural factors to consider when befriending locals. The tips we provide are broad and meant for anyone to pick up and apply to their experience wherever they are living abroad.
We also have guides to expat life in specific locations where contributors open up about all of their experiences moving to a new place and making friends. They also include information on finding housing, schools, jobs and more. Head to our expat life page to browse those guides to read more personal expat experiences.
Why Is It Important To Make Friends Abroad?
Friends should always be treasured, but having friends while living abroad is invaluable. Making friends is one of the most important part of the expat transition process. Friends who have lived in your new country longer than you will be able to help and guide you as you navigate your new life.
It’s important to have connections in your new country. Many expat couples move abroad for the job of one person in the relationship. The trailing partner in the relationship will lean on friends more than usual. These friendships will be important for the trailing partner to network potential job opportunities and in getting acclimated to life.
Because of their unique situation, expats depend on community more than most. When you’re living in a second culture, it’s crucial to have support and befriending other expats is a great place to start. You shouldn’t avoid making native friends, but it’s important to have friendships with other people that are going through the experience of living abroad.
Making friends abroad means you’ll be a little less lonely, miss home a little less and have a helping hand in your new life. It doesn’t mean you forget your old friends, but transitioning life abroad requires you to look ahead. Moving forward in your expat adventure is best done with people by your side.
How Do You Make Friends Abroad?
Sure, it’s easy to understand WHY making friends abroad is important, but HOW do you make it happen? It may not sounds so simple, and it definitely requires some work and effort, but here are some simple tips on how to make friends while living abroad.
1. Sign Up and Take Language Lessons
There are many reasons why you should learn the local language as an expat. It opens up a lot of doors for you in your new country and it will make you feel like you’re part of the local culture. In some countries it’s impossible to get by using English and language lessons are essential, but they never hurt anywhere.
When Mike and I moved to Copenhagen we signed up for Danish lessons and quickly realized it was a great way to meet other expats. By our third session the whole class was meeting for beers afterwards and eager to make new friendships. All of us were in the same situation – living abroad in Denmark without a group of friends. It was a natural place to connect with others going through the same experiences as us.
We even learned some Danish along the way, but the other great benefit was connecting with other foreigners in Copenhagen. Look into language schools in your new home once you’re settled. It doesn’t have to be right away, but once you finish all the tasks for your first 30 days of living abroad (another important post) sign up for language classes and meet some people like you.
2. Participate in Language Exchange Events
If you relocate to an English-speaking country or already know the language of your new country – find language exchange opportunities. These are events where participants meet to talk with others in a second language. It’s a great way to connect with others and talk with potential new friends in a safe way.
The best things with language exchange events is that there’s no barrier to participate. Even if you only speak one language fluently, like me, you can talk with others in that one language. I have attended many language exchange events to practice Danish and speak with others who are learning English. I’ve always walked away with new friends and contacts.
One other benefit is that these events are often held in cool venues like coffee houses or pubs. It may sound intimidating to meet and have basic conversations in another language with strangers, but if you do it over coffee or a drink it’s a breeze. I’ve even attended one at a hostel in Copenhagen where some travellers joined just to chat with locals.
3. Attend Expat Networking and Social Events
Going to an event by yourself where you don’t know anyone can place you firmly outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay though!
Expat groups exist in virtually every city in the world and most hold regular social events and activities for expats. Mike and I went to plenty of expat events during our first year in Copenhagen. They were a fun way to find things to do before we had a social circle.
One of the key things to remember when finding expat activities is that everyone is in your same situation. You’re entering a place and social setting that is specifically designed for you. Everyone attending will be a little nervous, in a new environment and the best way to handle it is to just jump right in!
One of our favorite expat groups is Internations. They’re a well-established worldwide group with a mission to bring expats together in their new cities. Some of their events are social events at cocktail bars, some are hiking and biking outings and others are just coffee meetings. All of them are perfect places to socialize and meet other expats looking to make friends abroad.
4. Ask Your Social Media Network for Connections and Friends Abroad
Almost everyone is on social media these days – so use your network to help you make friends. You may not know anyone in the city you’ve moved to, but someone you know could. A friend of a friend is a great place to start when you build a friend circle from scratch.
When we decided we would move to Copenhagen, we announced it on Facebook (natural reaction). As our friends reacted we had a few people reach out to us. One was an old friend of mine who offered to connect us to an acquaintance that relocated to Copenhagen a year before. She put us in contact and we had a group of friends to hang out with when we arrived in Denmark.
Expats are a community. So when someone else jumps into the pool you help them swim. There’s a good chance that someone you know has a friend or even a friend of a friend who lives in that city or country. Use your social media connections to make new connections abroad. A fellow-expat will more likely than not meet you for a coffee, answer your questions virtually before your relocation or even introduce you to their friends when you arrive.
5. Join Online Groups for Expats
While you’re soliciting friends abroad through your social media, take some time to sign up for online expat groups. The obvious place to start is Facebook. We found groups to join by searching “expats in Copenhagen” “expats in Denmark” and “Americans in Denmark”. Since moving I’ve even joined groups for Philadelphia Eagles fans in Denmark and learned where to watch American football in Copenhagen.
Another place to start branching out is meetup.com which offers events in cities around the globe. Whether they’re expat-related events or simply meetups that relate to your hobbies an interest go meet some new people.
The internet can be a scary place – heck you found us there – but it’s also great for linking likeminded people. Using the internet to make new friends abroad is simple, but effective advice.
6. Join Clubs, Sports Teams or Volunteer Organizations
Most of the methods so far have been surefire ways to meet other expats, but what about locals? One way to meet locals is by finding them where they already exist; in clubs, sports leagues and volunteer organizations.
For Mike and I, joining a sports league was the key to making Danish friends in Denmark. It made sense that when we started doing things that locals do we befriended locals. Today we have a great circle of Danish friends that originated in the sports league we joined in our second year in Copenhagen.
Do some research to find local organizations to join. If you don’t like sports or have a hobby then pick a passion and volunteer. Not only will you feel like you’re giving back to your new community but you’ll really become a part of it.
Sports and clubs are great to meet people because you can overcome language barriers easily. Everyone speaks yoga, right!?
7. Put Yourself Out There - Don't Say No to Anything Social
This one can be tough on certain personality types. I don’t consider myself an introvert, but I do know a few and I realize that putting yourself out there can be tough. Still, you should just say “yes” to every social invitation during your first few months abroad.
Obviously, self care is important too, so if you need to rest, relax, mentally unwind and take care of yourself, do that first. Then take up every social offer you get from colleagues, yoga friends, roommates – anyone. It may be a lot, but I don’t know how to make new friends in a foreign country without saying “yes” to social invitations.
When we arrived in Denmark we adopted this strategy and made a number of acquaintances from attending every event. We attended parties at our gym, language school and even our apartment building. If we had a group of friends already we may have skipped them, but they were great for getting to know a few extra faces. Even though we didn’t form strong social friendships with our neighbors, it was a nice way to connect and it made our new building feel more like home.
Another opportunity to socialize may come from your colleagues. Different countries have their own work culture, but monthly social events are common in the Danish workplace. We both took advantage of this when we first arrived and formed some nice friendships with colleagues.
8. Go to Places Where You're Likely to Meet People
This one is a bit obvious, but go places where you’re likely to socialize with the people around you. This can be as simple as going out to cafes, bars, comedy shows and pub quiz. Events where people socialize naturally lend themselves to making new friends and connections.
This is especially effective if you attend events that are in the culture of your new home. For example, Denmark hosts a number of outdoor music events from April to October. We make a point to attend them, even if the performances are in Danish. People there are friendly, laid-back and open to talk with strangers. They also appreciate the effort of attending an event that shares their culture.
Now You Know How To Make Friends Abroad
Here are eight great ways to get started making friends abroad. Like everything in life – you get out what you put in. The more time you spend making connections the better your life abroad will be. It takes effort, but it’s worth it because friends will make your transition to living abroad a lot easier.
It’s not easy to start over in another country outside of your native culture and build a new network of friends. When it’s tough and seems lonely, just remember that in time your brave step of moving abroad will pay off.
None of these tips are silver bullets and there’s no way you can replace the friends you grew up. Still, following these suggestions will help move you along in your expat journey.
Let us know what you think and any other tips you can share. If you haven’t already, go to our expat life page and check out our guides to living abroad in cities around the world. Expats have shared their location-specific advice for making friends and every facet of life in their new homes. If you want to pay it forward and share your own experience to help others, contact us and let us know.