The Expat’s Guide: How to Make Friends as an Expat
You’re in a new place and don’t know anyone (except maybe your partner), so how do you fit in? How do you find that group of friends? How do you make friends as an expat?
You might wonder how you made friends at home. But then you realize that you met them at school, work, or some fitness class. Maybe you made friends from other friends, too. But now you are starting over. It’s a challenge, but not an impossible one, to make friends in a new place!
Use an app to make new friends
Everyone knows about the dating apps and the friends apps, but what about couples trying to meet other couples for platonic friendships? I’ve often wondered about this. As a couple with no children, how could we meet other people like us? Well, the good news is that Megan, a fellow American expat in Amsterdam, felt a similar way but with kids, and she actually DID something about it. She created the Party of 4 app! You can see other couples’ names, ages, jobs, university, kids or no kids, interests and hobbies. And they’ll be close to you as well, so you could be making neighborhood friends, too! It’s similar to other apps where you swipe if you’re interested in getting to know them, then chat in the app and meet in real life when you’re ready. It’s inclusive, so it’s for all couples! Love that. Learn more about this couples friendship app. You can find it for the iPhone right now but the Android release is just around the corner!
(article continues after my YouTube video on how to make friends as an expat)
Making new friends at meetups
I knew literally one person when we moved to Amsterdam, and that was a friend from high school from a long time ago…and I had not seen her since. It was so nice to see her again, but she doesn’t live in town so we couldn’t hang out much. This meant I really needed to find my own new friends, so first thing I did was join Meetup.com. We are lucky that it’s easy to meet people in Amsterdam because there are many meetups scheduled and quite a few for expats. We knew that we wanted to meet the locals as well as other Americans and other expats, and this was a great place to start!
We decided on the bowling event to try this meetup thing. To our surprise, the event had people from all over the world, including locals! Throughout the evening, I became friends with an Indonesian woman who lives here permanently, too. Amsterdam is full of beautiful diversity and it’s so nice to be part of that!
The great thing about meetup.com is that there is something for everyone! There are dedicated expat groups, groups for runners, readers, eaters, and everything in between. I think it’s safe to say there is a group for every kind of person out there.
Want more expats posts? We have them all right here for you!
Find people who do what you do
Depending on where you are settling, there might be a travel blogger near you! I follow a few of my favorites and I saw Agness from etramping.com was in Amsterdam for a while. I sent her a message and we met up one day! We now try to stay in touch regularly and I love to see what she writes about the city I live in and adore as she continues to travel the world.
Meeting up with people who are constantly traveling is so much fun! Danika and Chris from No Destinations have been by many times and then they decided to move here! I feel so lucky to meet some of the nicest people and get to show them Amsterdam and help them fall in love with it, too.
As I continue on this blogging journey, I tend to see most of these friends at conferences, but it’s still great to have a group of people you relate to when you’re traveling around!
Redditors are everywhere
Fair warning, I have not actually been to the Amsterdam meetup, but there is a meetup for Redditors each month which I have heard good things about. If this is an option in your area, I would suggest you take advantage of it! And knowing Redditors, they are a pretty social bunch, so I’m sure you can make friends even before moving. So put out those feelers and see who you can meet.
Just talk to people
We went to an expat fair not really knowing what to expect. I mean, the idea that there are so many people who want to connect with people like us was a little confusing. But there they were: dentists, housing options, alcohol companies, agencies with the city, realtors, the list goes on and on! We met our friend Tiffany (an American) at this expat fair because she was working at the event. The funny thing for us was that she mentioned she didn’t have any American friends at the time. I feel like we meet so many Americans all the time! But making friends is a different story–not everyone you meet must become a big part of your life. That’s okay! Somehow we meet Tiffany and became friends, then we had Thanksgiving and Christmas together. I am very grateful for her friendship! Sometimes you just need someone a little more like you to talk to, you know?
Special movie nights, interesting festivals (like wine!), World Pillow Fight Day, etc. are all fun events where you can be social, talk to people and build that new circle of friends. The key is to put yourself out there and in a position to see new people that you may not otherwise run into. You’ll be surprised at what might happen!
Sports clubs are a great place to build friendships
I’ve never been a big sporty active person but I have many friends who are. What’s better than joining a running group, yoga class, dance workout, or even a bowling league to make friends? You’ll get close to people pretty quickly if there’s something you can attend each week. Soon enough, you’ll be meeting up for juices and movies outside of your initial group with people you’ve really connected with.
Take a language class
Moving to a new place can be super stressful. There’s so many things people don’t think about and what people forget to tell you. I’ve written two posts on these topics called What they don’t tell you about moving abroad: Part one and Part Two. One of the things you’ve probably thought about but might be nervous about is learning a new language. It’s intense for sure. But through that shared struggle, most tend to find some friends along the way. Bonus: practice buddy!
You’ll definitely make new friends at work
It’s inevitable. You’ll make friends at work. I’ve always tried to separate my worlds…I call them my bubbles. Work bubble, school bubble, family bubble, spouse bubble, friend bubble, networking bubble. But, you know…the world isn’t black and white and you could work with some pretty amazing people. I absolutely adore some of my colleagues and I’d say they are the best part of work. Working with people you trust and who “get” you is pretty spectacular.
Invest in industry organizations
There are a few interesting organizations in Amsterdam and you will likely find similar ones in major cities around the world! Toastmasters is one that people tend to really enjoy. They meet lots of great people and brush up on public speaking skills. Then we have clubs like the Amsterdam American Business Club which is super active and works with businesses around the city. Do a Google or Facebook search for clubs that might appeal to you.
Find a foodie group
If something like this doesn’t exist in your city, make it happen! It may take a little bit of digging to find something, but when you do, it can be a great way to try new restaurants, new cuisines, learn how to cook, etc. I just love the possibilities this offers. Even if you already have a friend and they invite a friend, then they invite a friend.
Join Girl Gone International
Are you a woman who loves to travel, is an expat, or just loves being around those that do? Then Girl Gone International is a wonderful and inclusive group to be part of. In Amsterdam, they organize through a Facebook group which makes it all super convenient. Ours will gather for brunch or after work drinks mostly, but other events pop up as well!
Internations is made for expats
Internations is made specifically for expats which has its pros and cons. I’ve never been to an event because I’ve done so many of the other events above, but many people really enjoy it because it’s super active and they seem to organize unique events. This is a great place to network and get your name out into your new city!
Make online friends
Find people in your city online and build a friendship there, first. Join the relevant Facebook groups, follow people you like on Instagram and Twitter, and make a time to meet up. Being a blogger, I meet lots of people this way. Use your common sense and don’t do anything creepy. But when you genuinely find people you think you click with, it’s nice to hang out in real life.
Meet your friends’ friends
This is my favorite way to meet people. Use the above methods to meet a few great people and grow from there.
Overall, just make an effort to be social. Since we moved, I’ve made acquaintances/friends from business owners, friends of friends, and fellow Yelpers, so you never know where you will make that connection. Whether making new friends in Amsterdam, or anywhere in the world, there are always opportunities. Don’t just sit at home — go meet people!