How Expats Can Make New Friends Abroad

Alex and I have made our home in two countries where neither of us knew anyone before arriving, the Netherlands and Ireland. When you first arrive there is a lot to do. Along with finding a place to live, there is immigration, tax and banking to sort out. It also takes time to develop an intimate knowledge of your surroundings to shop for necessities. These things are relatively easy, that isn’t to say they won’t be frustrating beyond belief, but it’s all doable in a reasonable amount of time. But making friends in a new country is extremely important to lasting in the long run. Here are some tips to meet some great people!

Challenges of Making Friends in a New Country

Making friends, beyond the occasional drinking pal, can be tough and takes time. Alex and I have found that it takes about 6 months to begin to feel like we have friends and 12 months until we really feel we have a network. That may seem like a lot of time, but when you are in your 30’s and people, including ourselves, are busy with work and life, the process moves slowly. If you’re a college kid, more spare time and alcohol should expedite bonding.

So where do you find people to forge friendships with after college?…Work? Colleagues can be great but sometimes that will only go so far. Alex and I have generally had more success by attending social events of groups we have an interest in.

Social Media

Social media can be a great way to make friends in a new country. Use hashtags on Instagram, Twitter or your favorite platform to find people with similar interests. Give them a follow, comment on their posts and perhaps a connection can forge.

Just remember to be a little careful and don’t stalk people!

Couch Surfing

In Amsterdam, we went to the Friday night meet ups for Couch Surfing. We made some wonderful friends via this network as locals as well as travelers often attend these events. What’s interesting is that not that many of our primary friends came from there, but indirectly because of Couch Surfing.

For example, one night we were out with a CS friend and their couch surfer and we were being loud and speaking English in the suburbs of Amsterdam. An American/Dutch couple overhead us from the table next to ours. The American had been living in Amsterdam around 10 months and was missing the company of other Americans. When football came up in our conversation the Dutch boyfriend jumped in while his girlfriend was in the bathroom. Upon her return they joined our table. This couple became our closest friends in Amsterdam.

Making friends in a new country, Amsterdam
In Dublin we tried Couch Surfing, but being a few years older we personally found it trickier. That isn’t to say we haven’t met some great people via this network though. Two of our friends were met at a beer tasting held by a local couch surfer. If you follow this blog you can tell we love great beer so we find at least one instant connection with everyone at beer tastings!

Democrats Abroad

This time we have made most of our friends, either directly or indirectly via Democrats Abroad. We also attended social gatherings of this group in Amsterdam, but we were younger then so we generally felt a closer connection to Couch Surfing at the time. But here in Ireland when Alex went to register to vote, the afternoon turned into the wee hours of the morning and included an invite to the house of one of members for an American style brunch two days later. We just immediately hit it off with several expat Democrat members.

New Years Eve Amsterdam, Couch surfing friends

MeetUp Offers Great Niche Groups

Alex and I are not necessarily suggesting that these are the best places to meet people, but they are two groups that we share common interests with. They saved us from feeling lonely, which is probably the hardest part about expat life.

Our advice is to find a group that has similar interests to you- be it a book club, running group or knitting group. While we haven’t tried it, is a fantastic forum for an abundance of interest groups to come together for a fun filled time. If it doesn’t work out the first few times, hang in there and try something else.

Making Friends in a New Country Conclusion

We’ve met expats who are chronically lonely, and while going to an event where you don’t know a soul can be intimidating, you can’t sit at home and hope life will come to you. Like most people, Alex and I have our socially awkward moments, and while it can look like we’re at ease on the outside, both of us aren’t always comfortable meeting new people. Luckily we have each other to kick the other in gear.

Have additional tips on how to make friends when living abroad?


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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3 thoughts on “How Expats Can Make New Friends Abroad

  1. You guys, being married, also forgot another key expat meeting necessity while abroad…dating.

    My experiences were mixed at best, but expat groups often offer singles mixers, and there are usually English-speaking expat dating websites as well. The dating websites, just like the ones at home, should be approached with a sense of humor. While I was in Amsterdam, I had one guy from California message me asking me to move there with him where he would take care of all my needs, green card, spending money, plane tickets, etc. I think he must have thought I was a foreigner rather than an American? Other people were quite crude, but here and there you can meet some really good people.

    One suggestion though, I would be quite sparing with the personal information, last names, home address, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc. until you’ve gotten to know someone and met a few times. I did go on two dates with one guy who probably would have been a bit of a stalker had he more information than my first name.

  2. Thanks for sharing those stories and tips Chris! Some good ones! The creepy people you speak of sorta makes me envision the “South Park” episode with Cartmen and Chat Roulette.

    Yes we are out of the loop with the dating world so it’s great to have that extra input on this blog. Cheers!

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