How to make friends as a new expat – 5 great tips

Friends are the salt of the earth

Making friends in a new country can be challenging. Firstly you’re in the middle of settling in. Secondly, all may be feeling unfamiliar and strange. As you look around it may seem that everyone is busy with their own groups of friends, as a result loneliness can set in quickly.

Been there – got the tee shirt

I’ve spent the majority of my life moving around from country to country, place to place. Over time making friends becomes easier, however, this is true only if you put in the effort. There’s no use sitting there in your new accommodation day after day hoping someone will contact you because that won’t happen. Instead, it’s a case of putting on your big girl/boy pants and get out there and find your tribe.

Friend lessons learned along the way

In some ways making friends in a new country is easier than in your home country. Expat communities tend to be helpful, and supportive to new arrivals, consequently settling in may happen sooner than you think. During my travels as an expat, I’ve made a few clangers of mistakes along the way regarding friends, therefore the following tips may help you navigate the friend finding journey.

Reach out

1. Reconnect with your hobbies and interests to make friends

We all have 24 hours available in our day, and a personal choice of how we choose to spend our free time. No matter how tempting it is to get cosy on the sofa and flick on Netflix, don’t do it! Instead, think of what you enjoy and love doing more. In other words, reconnect with your hobbies and interests. Whether that be on the creative side: painting, writing, or craftwork. Similarly, learning something new, some form of sports, attending classes of any kind. You get where I’m going with this? Sometimes hobbies and interests fall by the wayside, yet they are important for emotional wellbeing. For example:

  • Dance and exercise classes
  • Learning a new language
  • Painting classes or groups
  • Book clubs
  • Meditation classes/groups

Attending or taking part in the above gives you exposure to other people, above all these may be potential friends. So fess up and just do it, no matter how scary it seems!

2. Say yes to invitations even when you don’t feel like it

Invitations will start to arrive, some of which may make you cringe. On a recent move to a rural part in the North of Scotland, I received an invitation to a “bitch knit” evening. Just reading the title made me want to run for the hills. The thing is, I don’t even knit! However, I grabbed the big girl pants again and accepted. Off I went with the required bottle of wine in hand, two knitting needles and some wool.

What a fun night it turned out to be. Not much knitting was done (though I did learn to knit one, purl one). Most of all, lovely acquaintances were made that night. I say acquaintances as it takes a long time to “grow a friend”. After that, it was up to me to keep up contact with this new group of ladies. Lesson learned – don’t be so quick to turn down invitations that sound boring. When invitations arrive, see them as opportunities to meet new people, and expand your circle. Meetup is a great way to meet people who share similar interests.

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

So you’ve met someone fun to be with, shares the same interests, makes you laugh, and consequently enjoy hanging out with. Danger zone friend alert. Remember that expats are constantly on the move. This fabulous friend may just be heading off to pastures new before the year is out. If you have made the classic mistake of dropping all other friendships in order to focus on this one, then you’ll be back where you started. Keep a diverse group of friends and pop your eggs in different baskets.

4. Keep your friends even when you have a partner

Relying on your partner to keep you happy and entertained as an expat is a recipe for disaster. That’s way too much responsibility to place on one person. Besides, your partner may have separate hobbies compared to you. My husband loves Golf and can’t stand reading. From my side, I don’t see the point in trying to nudge or hit a tiny ball down a hole, yet I love reading.

Would he come to a book club? No way, he would rather poke out his eyes. Golf for me? Tried it, got the pink clubs and pink golf bag, however still couldn’t get excited about the ball and hole. What I’m trying to say is that we’re all individuals, therefore not joined at the hip. Above all, nurture your friendships outside the relationship. Make time to see your own friends, subsequently, you’ll both have lots to talk about on date night.

Keep your friends, even if you have a partner

5. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Be truly honest with yourself. Do you judge people by the way they look or speak? Letting go of judging others this way may help you make new friends quicker. People are not the sum total of their tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, hippy clothes. Similarly, they are more than what you see externally. It’s easy to dismiss people because they don’t fit the expectations of how a friend ‘should’ look. Go beyond appearance. Most of all look at the inside of a person, rather than focus on the outside.

It takes a long time to grow a good friend

Forever friends

Good friends are there for you in the good times, bad times, and all the times in between. Though they may be far, always close in the heart. My best friend and I met as expats over 27 years ago, therefore we pick up wherever we left off. Though we may have changed on the outside, we are still in our 20s on the inside.

28 years ago
Now – forever friends

Travel and making friends can be scary, however empowering at the same time. Expat life brings amazing unique experiences. Feel free to reach out and get in touch if you are struggling with settling in or making friends.


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