Making friends in a new country

Making friends in a new country

21st July, 2012

A common subject the expats I speak to bring up is how to make friends in a new country. It can make all the difference between fitting in and feeling like a fish out of water.

If you are anything like most people, you first focus will be on getting to you new home, settling in and making a living. Friends tend to be a second thought, and it can be a shock to suddenly realise you’re actually rather isolated. So I thought I’d research the subject and provide some guidance.


Getting familiar with the culture

It helps to research the culture of the country you’re moving to before you go, so you know what to expect. Our special country guides are full of useful information. You might be surprised how many subtle but important cultural differences there are, even in a country that seems, on the face of it, very familiar. Take Spain, where it’s important to learn when to use the informal ‘tú’ and when to say ‘usted’. If you get it wrong, you risk offending older people and those in senior positions. Luckily most people will take your efforts in the right spirit.

Making the first move

As a general rule you can’t go far wrong if you are friendly and approachable, smile and look people in the eye. If you’re feeling shy, it’s a good idea to bear in mind that other people probably feel the same way. They may feel they don’t want to intrude, that you’re already a part of the community and don’t need more friends. It’s often a good idea to make the first move, breaking the ice yourself rather than waiting for people in your new country to welcome you with open arms automatically.

Learning the language

One of your first tasks is to learn the language, or at least give it a go and master enough phrases to support you through shopping trips and everyday transactions. Don’t worry if you struggle, it’s natural to get it wrong and mistakes are often excellent ice breakers. Try out your skills on as many people as you can and your confidence will soon grow.

Asking for help

Throwing yourself on people’s mercy is a great way to reach out. You know how good it feels to lend a helping hand. Most of us feel the same way, and you’ll find plenty of people willing to give directions, explain how things work, make introductions and recommendations and teach you the right words.

Joining in

There may be an expat community in your local area, in which case you’ll have a ready-made pool of people who speak the same language and have the same basic cultural values. But your experience will be a great deal richer if you make inroads into the community and do your best to get involved.

Visit local bars, cafes and restaurants regularly. Connect with fellow parents at your children’s school. Join a club or night class. Go dancing. Learn to play an instrument. Get involved with sport. Volunteer to help local charities. The more you weave local culture in your life, the more people you’ll meet and the better your chance of making genuine friends.

Last of all, be persistent. Don’t give up. Don’t worry too much or over-analyse your efforts at being friendly. And don’t expect to be deluged with new friends straight away. It’s no different to home, in that you will naturally click better with some people than others and find common ground, often where you least expect it. Prepare to learn from others, ask their advice and enjoy the experience. Making friends in a new country can be a challenge but the end result, as with all warm friendships, is worth it!

A final thought

For more useful information on making the move abroad, remember to download our free eBook: The New Expat, which covers medical considerations, family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements and much more.

If you have any questions or thoughts on the points covered in this post, feel free to leave a comment or connect with us @now_health on Twitter.

Interviews with Expats

We are also looking for Expats to share their experience with us on making the move abroad. If you’d like to answer a few questions and share them with our community please send an email to [email protected] and I will be in touch.


Image source: dhendrix73

Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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