Embarking on the adventure of living abroad is like beginning a new chapter in the book of life. It’s thrilling, liberating, and at times, just a bit terrifying. In this guide, I’ll share with you some tried-and-tested tips that have helped me make friends abroad.
Announce your move
Every move, every new country, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, but one challenge that remains constant is making new friends.
You see, starting fresh in a new country isn’t just about getting accustomed to the local food or figuring out the public transport system. It’s also about building a new social circle from scratch.
This can be daunting, especially when you’re dealing with language barriers, cultural differences, and the undeniable fact that, at least initially, you’re an outsider in this new world.
Announcing your move to everyone in your network is a crucial first step. You never know who might have useful connections or advice for your new location.
When I first announced my move to Japan, it was overwhelming to see how many people reached out with advice, contacts, or simply well wishes. A similar approach worked wonders when I moved to Denmark.
From professional contacts recommending excellent local eateries to help from a friend’s cousin who had been living in Copenhagen for several years, announcing my move really opened up a world of assistance.
So, broadcast your big move on social media, send out personal emails, or even throw a farewell party.
Keep your ears open for any advice or connections that people might offer. You might find that an old classmate has family in your new city or a former colleague knows the perfect cafe for you to check out.
Read more: Moving abroad checklist.
Check out Meetup groups
I’ve found Meetup groups to be an exceptional resource for making friends abroad.
These groups cater to all kinds of interests, hobbies, and activities, providing an easy platform to find like-minded people.
You can find groups for people interested in photography, nature, tech, languages, cooking, and so much more.
The groups are generally welcoming, and it’s an easy way to strike up a conversation with like-minded folks. Not only do you make new friends, but you also get to explore your hobbies or passions in a whole new setting.
In Denmark, I was part of a tech group where I made many friends with a shared love for coding. Some of my most profound friendships in Denmark were born in these meetings.
Learn to cook local cuisine
Cooking is a universal language. By learning to cook local dishes, you can connect with people over shared meals.
Invite your neighbors or coworkers over for a meal or attend local cooking classes, which can be a fantastic way to meet new people and bond over the love of food.
When I lived in Japan, I took up cooking classes where I learned to make traditional Japanese meals like sushi and ramen. These cooking classes were not just educational, but also social. I met several new friends who shared a love for food. Our shared kitchen experiments and culinary triumphs led to many interesting conversations and friendships.
Join a hobby club
Hobby clubs are fantastic because they allow you to meet people abroad while doing something you love.
Whether it’s a book club, a cooking class, or a sports team, these clubs offer an immediate shared interest that can help break the ice.
When I was in Japan, I joined a photography club. I’ve always been interested in photography, and this club seemed like the perfect opportunity to pursue my passion while getting to know like-minded people. The club was a mix of locals and expats, all brought together by our shared love for photography.
We would often go on photo walks together, capturing the beautiful landscapes of Japan through our lenses.
Through these shared experiences, I formed some strong friendships. Plus, it was an excellent way for me to get to know my new city.
So if you have a hobby, look for clubs or gatherings in your new city that cater to that hobby.
If you don’t have a specific hobby, this could be the perfect time to pick up one. You never know who you might meet and what wonderful friendships you might form.
Go to events
One of the best ways to dive into a new culture, understand the people, and make friends along the way is by attending local events.
When I was living in Denmark, I made a point of attending as many local events as possible. I frequented the local music festivals, food markets, and art exhibitions.
These events not only helped me understand and appreciate Danish culture and lifestyle but also allowed me to meet a diverse group of people.
So once you’re in your new city, keep an eye out for local events that align with your interests. They are perfect venues for making new friends and experiencing the local culture first-hand.
Volunteering in your new community can be a rewarding way to make friends abroad.
While I was in Denmark, I volunteered at a community center. The shared purpose and the spirit of giving back to the community created a sense of camaraderie that transcended usual social boundaries.
So, look for volunteering opportunities in your new city that align with your interests or cause you’re passionate about, whether it’s a local food bank, an animal shelter, or a community center.
It’s not only a chance to give back to your new community but also a wonderful opportunity to form lasting friendships.
Learn local language
Learning the local language is not only useful for day-to-day life but also opens up many opportunities to meet new people.
While it might not be easy, being able to communicate with the locals in their language is a massive advantage.
Also, the process of learning a new language can be challenging and at times frustrating, but doing it with a group of people who are going through the same experience can make it fun and rewarding.
Plus, locals appreciate it when you try to speak their language – it’s an instant icebreaker.
In Denmark, where English is widely spoken, my attempts to speak Danish were always appreciated by the locals, leading to many interesting conversations and friendships.
Check out bars
The local bars and cafes often act as the social hubs of a city.
During my time in Japan, I found a local Izakaya that I would often visit. Over shared drinks and small plates of delicious Japanese food, I got to know many locals and fellow expats.
The laid-back environment of the Izakaya was perfect for friendly conversations too.
These places often have quiz nights, live music, or other events which can be an opportunity to meet new people and make friends.
Visit Co-working space
For those of us who work remotely, co-working spaces are a great way to combat loneliness and meet new people.
You can find a community of international and local professionals who are open to sharing ideas and making new friends.
While living as a digital nomad, I’ve spent a large chunk of my time at co-working spaces.
The people I met there were from different parts of the world, working in various fields, but we all shared the experience of living away from our home countries and navigating the challenges of a freelancing career.
So, if you’re working remotely or have a flexible work schedule, consider spending some time at a co-working space in your new city.
It can provide you with a social setting to interact with others and possibly lead to meaningful connections.
Say Hi to your neighbors
Don’t forget your neighbors. Something as simple as saying “Hi” to your neighbors can be an effective way to make friends.
After moving into my apartment in Japan, I made an effort to introduce myself to my neighbors. Despite my limited Japanese at the time, I was able to convey my greetings and appreciation for their warm welcome.
Over time, these small interactions turned into friendly chats, shared meals, and a feeling of being part of a community.
One of my neighbors, an elderly Japanese lady, became a dear friend. She would often share traditional Japanese recipes with me, and our cooking sessions are among my most cherished memories from Japan.
Adopt a pet
If you’re a pet lover and your circumstances allow, consider adopting a pet.
Pets can be great ice-breakers and provide numerous opportunities to interact with others.
Local dog parks are some of the best times for social interactions. You can meet other pet owners, engage in conversations about pet care, and even organize playdates for our pets.
Also, community pet events or meet-ups can also serve as a platform to meet new people.
Join expat forums and local Facebook groups
Expat forums and Facebook groups can be a wealth of information and a platform for you to connect with fellow expats and locals.
These online platforms can be your first step in creating a social network in your new city. Be active, ask questions, share your experiences, and you might find yourself making friends along the way.
Whenever I visit or move to a new country, I always sign up as a member of an expat forum. From tips on the best supermarkets to recommendations for English-speaking doctors, these forums are my go-to guide for all things related to living abroad.
I also make a few friends through these Facebook groups, and we often meet for coffee or explore different parts of the city together.
These groups are not only useful in keeping me informed about what was happening around me but also help me connect with people who share similar interests.