When looking at great retirement destinations overseas, low costs and affordable real estate may be well and good, but you need to feel at home. How easy it is for expats to integrate into each country? Do the locals speak good English or do you need to speak the local language? Are the locals welcoming and friendly toward expats, and is there an existing expat community with lots of groups and clubs to join?
Whether it’s through shared passions, shared learning experiences or volunteering, the easiest way to become part of a community or acquire a friendship network is to get involved in an outside-the-home activity. This will help tremendously with integrating.
Check out www.meetup.com to see if they have a branch near your new location. From amateur photography to hiking to book clubs, all kinds of groups want to share their activities with new members. If there isn’t one, why not start your own?
IL’s recently published Annual Global Retirement Index ranks and rates the best retirement havens around the world in eight categories. Below are the countries which received the highest scores in the “Integration” category.
History and Golf in Ireland
While Ireland has its Gaeltacht pockets where locals speak Irish as their day-to-day language, it’s an English-speaking country. Accents vary from county to county—and you’ll hear words and phrases that initially make no sense whatsoever—but you’ll do fine.
From music sessions to quiz nights, community life in Ireland often still revolves around the pub. I’m not saying you’ll make close friendships, but you’ll certainly acquire a wide range of new acquaintances. There’s no reason to be lonely, and you certainly don’t have to drink alcohol if you don’t wish. Read the local newspaper and watch the TV news so you’ll be able to join in conversations about the issues of the day.
Depending on your interests, you should find like-minded people even in small towns. Join the local amateur dramatic society, the golf club or a photography or writers circle. Take advantage of adult evening classes at a local college or become a member of the local history society. My own local group runs winter evening lectures—Archaeology of the Otherworld might not be for everyone, but history is one of my passions. And that’s the kind of way you can connect with people who share them.
Volunteer in New Zealand
New Zealand also has its specific words and phrases found nowhere else in the world, but yes—Kiwis speak English. So there’s no excuse for not wearing jandals (flip-flops), buying bread at the dairy (corner shop), treating yourself to a Hokey-Pokey (a favorite ice-cream) and integrating.
The larger the community, the more activities you’ll find. There are groups and clubs for almost everything, especially if you want to get involved in any type of sport. Even if you don’t, try to learn a little a bit about rugby. If you don’t know who the All Blacks are, Kiwis are likely to think you’re pretty weird.
It’s the outdoors lifestyle and stunning scenery that attracts many expats to New Zealand. If you’ve time on your hands, take a look here. As well as meeting people, it’s a way to discover your local environment. There are lots of single day projects where volunteering is free. For example, every Tuesday conservation volunteers are out and about at different parks around Auckland. The projects might be potting up flax, planting seedlings or setting out pest control stations.
Research what’s out there. Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology offers free evening courses in learning the Maori language. Wellington Zoo seeks volunteers who are able to commit to at least two days per month.
The website www.meetup.com has branches all over New Zealand. I looked at the Tauranga group on the North Island’s Bay of Plenty. It has over 200 members ranging in age from 18 to 65+, with the majority in their 40s and 50s. Upcoming activities include bike rides, a cinema night, beach fun, walking and winery visits.
Make Friends in Malta
Along with Maltese, English is the other official language of Malta. As almost everybody speaks English, you don’t need to learn Maltese to get by. However, if you make the effort, it will give you a closer connection to the local people and their culture. Malta University’s Language School offers regular beginners courses. A 30-hour introductory course (2 x 2-hour evening classes per week) costs €220 ($264).
As Malta and neighboring Gozo are small islands, it’s not difficult for newcomers to meet new contacts and make friends both in the expat and local community.
The Expat Malta Meetup group has 577 members so you should find something in common with at least a few of them. The aim is to help expats of all nationalities to make friends and business connections on the island. Various events are on offer and range from regular Saturday night meet-ups for drinks to comedy nights, book clubs and sporting activities such as cycling and rock climbing.
Social media sites such as Facebook can also point you to groups you might enjoy belonging to. For example, BirdLife Malta. Their adult members activity group recently went for a bird-watching ramble around the Dingli Cliffs, the highest point in Malta.
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