Why You Should Make Both Expat and Local Friends When You Move to a New Country
Making Friends When You Move Abroad
More than 50% of expats report that missing their support network is the hardest part of moving abroad (source). Rebuilding that network takes time and energy but is a significant factor in expat happiness. If you are considering a move abroad or in the process of building your network, I highly recommend making both expat and local friends.
Many people I’ve met, whom I consider ‘expat purists’ suggest only making local friends. Local friends are incredibly helpful - they give you access to the culture, can help you learn the local language, and are not likely to move away (whereas expat friends are always on the move). I don’t believe it’s necessary to fully culturally assimilate to have a great expat experience. I think expat friends can encourage you and ground you with shared experiences of culture shock and learning a new country.
Finding Local Friends
Depending on the type of country you move to, it can be very hard connecting with the locals. Some countries are so inundated with expats that the locals can feel overwhelmed by expat expectations to be shown the local culture. With a little effort on your part and authentic overtures of friendship, you should be able to begin to build a network of local friends. Here’s how to meet the locals:
Use your network. The easiest way to get connected in is to meet a friend of a friend - use your network to see if anyone you know has a local connection. I’ve found lots of people have a friend from college or worked with someone who has relocated back to their home country and was willing to put me in touch.
Find affinity groups. Lots of cities have meet-up groups around sports, running, volunteering, and other interests. Choose something you’re interested in and join.
BumbleBFF. No, I’m not suggesting you online date to meet locals (although many of my friends have successfully used Tinder abroad). Use Bumble’s find a BFF app to connect with people looking for new friends.
Show up. Attend events, go to educational talks, essentially just say yes to things. One of the best ways I’ve found to meet locals is to live the exciting life I want and chat to people I meet when I’m out and about.
Finding Expat Friends
Typically it’s pretty easy to get connected into an expat group when you’re living abroad. They can be incredibly helpful - they’ll show you around, tell you about all the best (and worst) restaurants, and they’ll confirm you’re paying way too much in rent!
A word to the wise, don’t allow yourself to hang out with the bitter expat crowd. You’ll know them as soon as you meet them - they are bored to tears with everything and nothing about the country they live in (or their home country for that matter) is good enough for them. They’ll poison your view of your new country before you even get started. Give this group a pass and find people who are engaged and happy to spend your time with.
Here’s how to meet the expats:
Facebook groups. Again, there are loads of Facebook groups devoted to expats in specific countries and cities. There are too diverse to list here, but search Facebook and you’ll find one to join.
Find affinity groups. Like meeting the locals, you’ll find lots of expats in meet-up groups around a specific topic. One of my favorite ones in Qatar was the natural history group that went on hikes and rambles together. Ask around and do an online search and you may just find a great group.
Join Internations. Internations is a group for expats and regularly hosts meet-ups and networking events.
With over 20 years of expat experience, Emily Wilson is a skilled expatriate coach and trainer. She is the director of international relations at a major research university. Emily has lived in Qatar, Jordan, the UAE, and China. She is bilingual and a TCK. Emily has a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Northwestern University.