7 tips for making new friends when moving abroad

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One of the things that many people find intimidating when moving abroad is finding new friends. Leaving your friends and family behind is probably one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when starting your new life away from your home country.

In fact, building and maintaining a strong social circle is one of the foundations for a successful, healthy and long life, according to the Blue areas 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 a little persistence, you’ll start to meet new people and find your team when you move abroad. Here are some of our top tips on how to do it.

Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

1. Start building your community before you go

We know that you are going to be inundated with research and planning before you move to your new country. You’ll also want to start sowing your garden of friendship before you arrive.

Social media makes it easy to find groups and individuals who live where you are moving. You will probably be surprised at the many Facebook groups that you will find. You will find people ready to give you advice, ideas, tips and welcome you upon your arrival. As always, make sure the groups and individuals you connect with are fully vetted, and triple-check all tips.

Also join the community pages of your new city. It’s a good way to find out everything from how to pay a water bill when the bus route changes. Here in Cascais, Portugal, we follow the local municipal page on Facebook and the pages of local markets and stores for updates and sales. Even if you have visited several times before moving abroad, it will be very different. Keeping up to date with what’s happening in your area will help you get started quickly.

Footpaths along the dunes of Cascais.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

2. Find people with similar interests and get involved

Are you an artist? Or do you like yoga classes? Maybe you are a golfer or a walker. You will find that most cities that have an expat community have groups that come together to do all of these types of activities and more. You will be surprised by the variety of To meet groups that will be available almost every day of the week. You’ll get off to a good start and find people with similar interests.

Operate your own network for the people who live in your new country. Look for professional relationships on LinkedIn and other social networking sites for people in your geographic or business area. Once you arrive, explore the local parks, markets, shops and restaurants. We have met people in all of these places. Walk your dog, paint, or take a hobby outside. You might even want to create a group to share your interests with others and add to your team.

Weekly market in Casais at the Mercado do Villa.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

3. Be open to different types of friendships

You will probably want to build meaningful relationships when you move abroad. Remember, just like you did in your previous life, you will meet people who will become good friends, some who will become acquaintances and others who may not be your cup of tea. Its good! The good news is that expats generally enjoy meeting other expats no matter where they are from or their interests.

Keep your ears open. You can hear your spoken language and you can easily strike up a conversation. We were in a grocery store when another expat heard us talk about Thanksgiving. She ran and asked where she could find canned pumpkin to make her pie. We all laughed and shared stories.

Getting a haircut can become an opportunity to meet a new friend. Sue 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 advice on local restaurants and shops.

Keep an open mind to meet people wherever you go. Carpool drivers, bakers, artisans, shopkeepers, and people sitting in cafes, shopping at farmer’s markets, neighbors walking their dogs, or exercising – all kinds of people. You will be surprised at what you learn and at the wonderful people you meet.

Wild cat in Portugal.
Wildcat, Portugal (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

4. Volunteering

If you enjoy volunteering, continue to do so after you move. Find a cause that is close to your heart and get started straight away.

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 usually help you find places in your area that might have need your help. You might also have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the language and culture while meeting people who appreciate your help – a great way to make new friendships.

Having lunch or a drink with other after-hours volunteers can take new friendships to another level. And knowing that you are with people who care about the cause you volunteer for is a good foundation.

5. Go alone and together

If you are moving somewhere as a couple, you might tend to do everything together, even meet people. We encourage you to go it alone when you can. You will find that meeting people without your partner can take you out of your home and find new interests that you didn’t even know you had before and give each of you time to explore. It’s also fun to bring new friends and activities that you can share.

While it might seem intimidating if you’re not used to it, going out for coffee or a snack on your own is a great way to meet people. We have many expat friends who first met while on a break at a local bar, cafe or restaurant. It is easier to start a conversation than to interrupt one.

Food and wine tasting at Cascais Portugal Food Lab.
Food and wine tasting (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

6. Learn something new

We sincerely believe that you are never too old to learn something new. Research of American scientist shows that learning and implementing new skills as you age help improve cognitive functions. Maybe even before you go, there are some things you can think of that you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t done yet. Or even things that you loved to do before but stopped along the way.

Taking language lessons with a tutor, improving skills you may have given up on, like playing tennis or taking a tai chi class, will also stimulate your brain and body. As an added bonus, if you take a cooking, painting, music class, guided tour, or other learning activity with a group, you’ll be among the people who have at least one great interest in common with you – maybe be many others. Moving abroad will help you think outside the box, giving you the chance to broaden your horizons as well as your friendships.

Hand painted tiles in Cascais Portugal.
Hand painted tiles (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

7. Get out of your comfort zone

Have you ever dreamed of performing on a stage, making wine, learning to paint, playing the piano or becoming a gourmet cook? When you move abroad, you will have the opportunity to start from scratch and be interested in whatever you want.

When we first moved to Cascais, Sue was invited to a picnic with other expat women in our beautiful local park. At first, Sue resisted, not wanting to go alone.

But she put on her big girl pants, made a delicious giant pasta salad to share (food is the best icebreaker after all), and went for a picnic. She met many lovely expat women, whom she introduced later and we both got to know each other. Now we have a strong group of friends that grew out of that lunch. The group continues to grow 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.

Ladies' lunch pasta salad.
(Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

Pro tip: find the connector

In most groups there is one particularly outgoing and friendly person who usually serves as a catalyst, organizer, and connector. When you find that person, contact them and let them know that you want to meet new people. You will likely have a great new friend and a great resource for meeting other people.

Finding your group of friends when you move abroad takes a bit of effort, but it’s so rewarding. You may need to be more spontaneous, outgoing, and open-minded than in the past. But once you’ve surrounded yourself with the people and interests you love, your new country will feel right at home, filled with wonderful stories, experiences, and friends.

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