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How to Make Friends Abroad: 11 Big Tips

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Moving abroad is one of the freshest starts you can possibly get. I should know. Since moving abroad in January 2013, I've since lived in 6 countries full-time and have been a digital nomad through another 6.

Think about it: you’re moving to a new country where in most situations no one knows you. This is amplified if you’re moving abroad solo, without a partner or a friend. 

While I find this incredibly liberating, it can also be terrifying. It’s now up to you to make friends and put yourself out there. Since no one knows you, no one will invite you places and talk you up to their friends.

Give it some time and effort and this will start to change (especially if you take these tips to heart!). Once you settle in and start making friends and putting yourself out there, you’ll soon start meeting friends of friends and will find your crew abroad. 

After you've gone after what you want and you've moved to another country, it's time for you to settle in. A big aspect of settling in is finding your community abroad.

It can all feel a little daunting in the beginning but I'm here to confirm that there are ways to speed up the process. Some of my best friends are now people I've met abroad and even my husband I met while living in a hostel in Panama!

So, let's dive right into my 11 tips on how to make friends abroad.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet

Here are my 11 biggest tips on how to make friends abroad:

  1. Realize Your All in the Same Boat
  2. Think of It Like Friendship Dating
  3. Utilize Facebook Groups/Social Media
  4. Make Your Default Answer YES
  5. Host Your Own Meetup
  6. Follow Up with Those You Liked
  7. Hang Out with Your Coworkers
  8. Practice the Local Language
  9. Join a Sport or Club
  10. Spend Your Days Outside
  11. Don't Let Goodbyes Deter You

1. Realize Your All in the Same Boat

A lot of times expats, especially new expats, are all looking for a pal

Although I'm not the one that thinks you should keep your circle tight to only other expats when you move abroad, it is a really good starting point.

And that's because pretty much all expats are looking for friends. We're all in the same boat, whether it seems that way or not.

All of us, especially the ones who have recently moved to a place, are looking to meet people. You're actually doing everyone a favor if you take the first step to say hi or suggest a coffee date with someone you just met.

This I hope takes some pressure off.

Spoiler though: Just because you have at least some common ground (you both chose to live in the same foreign country), it doesn't mean all expats will be your friend or need to be your friend. I still expect you to follow your gut and hang out with people you actually enjoy hanging out with. It does mean though you might have more first friendship dates looking for the one that clicks.

2. Think of It Like Friendship Dating

Two friends smiling in a selfie while eating ice cream in Tokyo, Japan
Meeting up with a friend I met in Panama while in Tokyo, Japan on a layover

To piggyback off where tip 1 left off, making friends abroad will be a lot easier the moment you start thinking of it like dating.

There's actually even dating apps that have "find a friend" options.

Just like dating, you have to put yourself out there and more likely than not you have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince (or princess). Now, I'm not suggesting you kiss these new friends (that's probably not the reputation you want around town) but I do mean you'll likely need to go on a handful of first "dates" to find someone you want to continue seeing.

A few great apps for making international friends abroad are (just note that these apps could be more or less active based on where you're living):

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3. Utilize Facebook Groups/Social Media

Three smiling friends snowboarding on Christmas in South Korea
We joined a group that went snowboarding over Christmas in South Korea

There’s a lot of cons to Facebook but once you move abroad, you’ll find the pros, too. And the biggest of them all are the Facebook groups for expats. These groups will be your lifeline to events and good tips to settling in (finding out where to get certain products, clothes, and foods).

I highly recommend joining all the expat groups for your new city or country but most places will have a “women’s only” group, and that one is typically the best. For whatever reason, women’s only groups tend to be more supportive and have fewer trolls. 

You can also use other social media platforms to learn about events or even reach out to people you know who live in the same city.

My bestie in Sarajevo happened because we met online (via our Instagram accounts). I commented on a picture telling her I was moving to Sarajevo in a week. We started DMing and met for a coffee one of my first days in the city. We quickly connected and still talk most days even though I no longer live there.

4. Make Your Default Answer YES

Coffee date sound boring? Plan an adventure day instead!

‍Now that you’ve joined the Facebook groups, you’re going to learn about a ton of events happening in your area. This is when you'll need to start saying YES to everything.

There are going to be a wide range of events for parties, meetups, and random hobbies that you probably never even considered before. If it’s something that even slightly interests you, you should go. Maybe it’ll be terrible and you’ll go home just knowing a new thing that you’re not into but maybe it’ll be great and you’ll meet like-minded people or learn about a new interest you now have.

Either way, until you find what sticks say, yes, yes, yes, to everything you can.

If you're more introverted and have trouble putting yourself out there, I suggest making yourself a 30-day "say yes" challenge. That means in those 30 days you push yourself to say yes to all (safe) invites, knowing that there's a time limit to the madness. After those 30 days you should walk away with at least 1 friend. If not though, take a month off and try again after a mental break.

5. Host Your Own Meetup

On vacation with a friend I met at the only meetup I hosted

Better than just taking what comes your way, if there’s something you enjoy and you don’t already see a meetup happening, host your own!

This can be something as simple as, “I’m new to town and would like to meet new people on the beach this Saturday,” or what I did, “I just found this cool new bar and would love to grab some drinks for a ladies night this Wednesday.”

That meetup was the only one I ever hosted because out of that one night, I met 2 of my best friends in Da Nang and plenty of others that I enjoy seeing out on the weekends. 

You could even decide to host something more niche like a book club or a video game night. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, don’t be shy to try and find others in your area that are into the same thing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how diverse expat communities can be.

I recommend posting the event on either Meetup or on a Facebook group - whichever makes you feel more comfortable.

6. Follow Up with Those You Liked

My experience in Ecuador wouldn't have been nearly the same without this weirdo

In my opinion, this tip is the trickiest one.

I really enjoy meeting people at bars or making random conversations at coffee shops but have a hard time following through with the ones I click with. This step is going to be crucial for turning those random people you know into people you’re friends with. 

If you meet someone at one of these meetups or really get along with a coworker, connect with them. Ask them for their social media or their phone number and go ahead and schedule a time to grab lunch or a beer. Taking that next step is fundamental in finding your friends.

This recently happened to me. I kept running into a girl at this same coffee shop we both frequented or while we both took our dogs on walks. I’d even see her at the grocery store and even randomly at my boxing classes.

We always chatted and shared some laughs but it took weeks for me to make the next move and ask her on a friendship date. We now continue to run into each other by accident but also plan for lunch or beach dates every week and have turned into great friends.

It can be intimidating to go for the next step but I promise the sooner you rip the bandaid off and realize it's not so scary, you'll be thankful you went for it!

7. Hang Out with Your Coworkers

a group of Peace Corps volunteers eating lunch on the beach in Machala, Ecuador
Grabbing lunch on the beer with fellow Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador

Working in-person, as a teacher, tour guide, or Peace Corps volunteer, has always been my biggest lifeline to making friends with locals and other expats. It’s a pretty simple way to meet people since you’re forced to spend a lot of time with them.

Not all of your co-workers will become your best friends but from my experience, usually one of them does, especially if you give them a chance outside of working hours. 

If you’re on the fence between working in-person and working online, let this be a vote for getting a job in-person. It’s much easier to meet people when you’re given friends day 1.

At the very least, these people will show you around, introduce you to their friends, and will make settling in much easier.

Although I'll get more into this in the next tip, this is also one of the best ways to make friends with locals. Unlike expats, locals tend to already have their own circles so aren't necessarily trying as hard as the foreigners to make friends. But, as co-workers, you'll spend a lot of time together and get given the chance to bond.

8. Practice the Local Language

A group of people all with shots in their hands smiling for a selfie in a bar in South Korea
Having a few drinks always makes practicing the local language a bit less intimidating

I know I’ve been focusing a lot on making expat friends, and while making friends who understand your culture and your language will be really helpful on the mental and emotional aspects of moving abroad, having local friends is just as important.

The issue here is typically the language. 

If you already speak the native language, it’s up to you to chat up strangers at the bar or coffee shop. They’re in their home country, with their friends and family, so in most cases, they won’t be as eager to meet new people as other expats are. 

When you don’t speak the native language, joining a language immersion program, hiring a local as a teacher, or participating in language exchanges will help you not only learn the language but will make you do so in-person with other people. Using apps at home is great but you’re bypassing the potential friendships if you choose to learn this way.

If you're moving abroad with your family, it's especially helpful for your children to learn the local language to quickly make friends their own age and adapt better in school.

Warning: you might be a little jealous with how quickly your child is able to learn a language compared to you!

9. Join a Sport or Club

A group of women in Ecuador getting ready for a soccer match in Arenillas
My wonderful soccer team before a game

Playing sports has introduced me to so many friends abroad, especially locals. I’ve been an athlete my entire life so sports are something that I’ve always relied on, in my home country or abroad.

When I first moved to Ecuador, I joined a running club and later played in a local soccer league. The soccer league was especially great in immersing me in the local community. Every week there was a mini-tournament in a different neighborhood in the town. We’d all go there together and play among 6 or so other games. The entire neighborhood would turn up to watch, eat snacks, and drink beer.

Since I was on one of the teams, it made me feel like I belonged. It also gave locals the courage to come and speak with me because they assumed I could speak Spanish and was living in town, not just a tourist passing through.

When I lived in Vietnam, I got into boxing. That was another amazing way to meet friends. Although they don’t have weekly tournaments like soccer did, I still go to practice a few nights a week and have met a lot of locals and foreigners at the gym.

In Trieste, where I live now, I've turned to sailing and am hoping to join a rowing team. Whatever the locals in the area are doing, I'm keen to try to put myself out there and learn a new sport along the way.

The same goes for joining a club or volunteering if sports aren't really your thing. My husband loves video games, so while living in Ho Chi Minh, he joined a group of foreigners and locals who organized weekly video game tournaments. It was a great place for him to relax after work but also a way to meet people with similar interests.

10. Spend Your Days Outside

I never would have thought one night out would end up here

There’s a lot of time I really just want to spend some time by myself, so don’t worry, this tip isn’t an attempt to take away all of your alone time. Instead, for those days you’d be happy to chat with others, get out of your house!

A few simple ideas are:

  • If you need to work, work from a coffee shop, without headphones in.
  • If you just want to relax, take your book to a bar, café or a park.
  • If it’s late at night, go to the bar and chat up strangers, you never know who you’ll meet. 

These tips are great for meeting friends but might also introduce you to your significant other if you’re traveling solo. 

I met my now-husband by buying him a shot of tequila on a random night out in Panama City. That night, I didn’t want to stay in but had no friends in town to go out with. We were both staying at the same hostel but hadn’t spoken much more than a simple hello.

I grabbed all the guys that were in that night and asked if they wanted to go out. An hour into the night, I invited him for a shot and the rest is history. We even both had our own plans to leave Panama in about a month but decided to enjoy the time together anyways. After going our separate ways, we met back up in Europe and have been traveling together since.

You really never know when you’ll meet your new best friends or your new significant other. So try to push the shyness aside, put yourself out, and find your people abroad.

11. Don't Let Goodbyes Deter You

At our going away dinner in Sarajevo

As an expat, goodbyes are part of the lifestyle.

Whether it’s the goodbyes you’ve already said to your friends and family or the goodbyes you’ll say to new friends abroad, it’s a part of the package that can be tough to swallow. Unless you plan to move somewhere permanently and only make friends with locals and others also living there permanently, it’s only a matter of time before you or your new friend will move. 

Because of this, I’ve gone in waves with wanting to meet new people.

When I first moved abroad in 2013, I was excited to meet anyone and everyone, regardless of if they were a local, an expat like me, or a traveler only in town for the night. A few years into my expat journey, I was working in the tourism industry, so much of this was still true.

But then the goodbyes started taking their toll on me. When I lived in South Korea and Ho Chi Minh City, I still made friends, mainly with my co-workers, but I could sense I was holding myself back. I had the growing attitude of, “What’s the point?,” knowing I wasn’t planning to stay in either place for more than a year.

Moving to Da Nang though, I woke up. I realized how dumb that mindset was and how, yes, while goodbyes do suck, all the wonderful friends I now have around the world have made them worth it.

Sharing your time abroad with a good friend will also amplify your experience and bond you with that person more than you might realize. I started putting myself back out there, not worrying so much if the other person was planning to move soon or not. 

How Will You Make Your New Friends Abroad?

I've lived in a handful of new places now since Da Nang and the energy I have to put myself out there still comes in waves but the moment I remind myself how much better life in general is when you share it with friends, the happier I am with myself when I go on a coffee date or meet up with someone for an after work beer.

Do know that some communities are harder to break into than others and not all countries will be the same but so long as you put in some effort, good will come from it.

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