One of the things that many people find daunting when moving abroad is finding new friends. Leaving behind friends and family is likely one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when you begin your new life away from your home country.
In fact, building and keeping a strong social circle is one of the foundations of living a successful, healthy, and long life, according to the Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.
Building your own community will make your move to a new place more fun, interesting, and much more meaningful. With a little planning and some persistence, you will start meeting new people and finding your crew when moving abroad. Here are some of our best tips on how to do it.
1. Start Building Your Community Before You Leave
We know you’re going to be inundated with researching and planning before you move to your new country. You’ll also want to start seeding your friendship garden before you arrive.
Social media makes it easy to find groups and individuals who live where you are moving. You’ll probably be surprised by the many Facebook groups you will find. You will find people willing to give advice, insights, tips, and welcome you when you arrive. As always, be sure the groups and individuals you connect with are fully vetted and triple-check all advice.
Join the community pages of your new town, too. It’s a good way to learn about everything from how to pay a water bill to when the bus route changes. Here in Cascais, Portugal, we follow the local municipal page on Facebook and pages of local markets and shops for updates and sales. Even if you’ve visited several times before moving abroad, it is going to be much different. Keeping up with what’s going on in your locale will help you hit the ground running.
2. Find People With Similar Interests And Get Involved
Are you an artist? Or, do you like yoga classes? Perhaps you’re a golfer or a walker. You’ll find that most towns that have a community of expats will have groups that gather to do all these types of activities and much more. You’ll be surprised by the variety of MeetUp groups that will be available almost every day of the week. You’ll be off to a good start and find people who have the same interests.
Mine your own network for people who live in your new country. Look for professional connections on LinkedIn and other social networking sites for people in your geographic or business area. Once you arrive, check out the local parks, markets, shops, and eateries. We’ve met people in all of these places. Walk your dog, paint, or bring a hobby outside. You may even want to start a group to share your interests with others and add to your crew.
3. Be Open To Different Types Of Friendships
You’ll probably want to create meaningful relationships when you move abroad. Remember, just as you did in your previous life, you’ll meet people who will become good friends, some who become acquaintances, and others who may not be your cup of tea. That’s okay! The good news is that expats typically love to meet other expats, no matter where they are from or what interests they have.
Keep your ears open. You may hear your language being spoken and then you can easily strike up a conversation. We were in a grocery store when another expat heard us talking about Thanksgiving. She ran right over and asked where she could find canned pumpkin to make her pie. We all laughed and traded stories.
Getting a haircut can turn into an opportunity to meet a new friend. Sue has developed a friendship with her stylist Anabella. She speaks excellent English and tries to help Sue improve her Portuguese. They love to talk about food and travel around Portugal, and Anabella offers wonderful tips on local restaurants and shops.
Keep your mind open to meeting people wherever you go. Rideshare drivers, bakers, artisans, shopkeepers, and people sitting at cafes, shopping in farmers markets, neighbors walking their dog or exercising — all kinds of people. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll learn and what wonderful people you’ll meet.
If you are someone who likes to volunteer, then keep doing that after you move. Find a cause close to your heart and jump right in.
Whether you want to help out at a local animal shelter, clean up a nearby park or beach, or even help someone learn English, a quick online search will typically help you find the places in your area that could use your help. You might also get an opportunity to immerse yourself in the language and culture while meeting people who appreciate your help — a great way to build new friendships.
A lunch or drink with fellow volunteers after hours can take new friendships to another level. And knowing you’re with people who care about the cause you’re volunteering for makes for a good foundation.
5. Go Alone And Together
If you move somewhere as a couple, you may tend to do everything together, even meeting people. We would encourage you to go it alone when you can. You’ll find that meeting people without your significant other can get you out of the house and finding new interests you didn’t even know you had before and allow each of you some time to explore. It’s also fun to bring new friends and activities to each other that you can share.
Although it may sound intimidating if you’re not used to it, going out for a coffee or snack on your own is a great way to meet people. We have many expat friends who first met one another while taking a break at a local bar, cafe, or restaurant. It’s easier to strike up a conversation than it is to interrupt one.
6. Learn Something New
We are true believers that you’re never too old to learn something new. Research from Scientific American shows that learning and implementing new skills as we age helps improve cognitive functions. Maybe even before you leave, you can think of some things you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet done. Or even things you once enjoyed doing but stopped along the way.
Taking language classes with a tutor, improving skills you may have let go like playing tennis or taking a tai chi class will get your brain and your body active, too. As an added bonus, if you take a course in cooking, painting, music, a guided tour, or other learning activity with a group, you’ll be among people who have at least one big interest in common with you — possibly many more. Moving abroad will help you think in new ways, giving you the chance to expand your horizons as well as your friendships.
7. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Have you ever dreamed of acting on a stage, making wine, learning to paint, play the piano, or becoming a gourmet cook? When you move abroad, you’ll have the opportunity to start fresh and take up any interest you like.
When we first moved to Cascais, Sue was invited to a picnic gathering with other expat women in our local gorgeous park. At first, Sue resisted, not wanting to go by herself.
But she put on her big girl pants, made a giant delicious pasta salad to share (after all food is the best ice breaker), and went to the picnic. She met many lovely expat women, whom she later introduced and we both got to know. Now we have a robust group of friends that grew out of that lunch. The group continues to expand as we and the other women introduce new friends. We continue to have a group lunch once a month in addition to all the other activities and interests we share.
Pro Tip: Find The Connector
In most groups, there’s one person who is especially outgoing and friendly that typically serves as a catalyst, organizer, and connector. When you find that person, reach out to them and tell them you’re interested in meeting new people. You’ll likely have a new great friend and a fabulous resource for meeting others.
Finding your group of friends when moving abroad takes a little effort, but is so rewarding. You may need to be more spontaneous, outgoing, and open-minded than you have been in the past. But once you have surrounded yourself with people and interests that you enjoy, your new country will feel like home, filled with wonderful stories, experiences, and friends.
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