The Expat’s Guide to Meeting People and Making Connections

Expats are a fortunate breed. Unlike back in the U.S., where making friends is often very difficult in adult life, people who live abroad have a built-in group of potential friends in their new country. It’s like being in seventh grade again, surrounded by classmates, or at camp. You won’t be drawn to everyone, of course, but you don’t have to start from scratch like you do if you move to another state.

If you live in another country, you may have already met others like you, since expats are good at organizing social events. Still, if you want to accelerate the process of meeting people, whether you’re at home or on the road, here are 10 ideas to help you connect with folks and form a tribe, no matter where you live.

1. Join Couchsurfers

Couchsurfers is a free international online organization, dedicated, as they put it, to “changing the world, one couch at a time.” Although it started out as a way for hosts to put up travelers for the night, it’s become much more than that. For example, you can do what my husband, Barry, and I do—request that you meet up with another couchsurfer just for coffee.

Couchsurfers sometimes get together to meet each other. In Guanajuato, Mexico, where we live part time, we hosted a gathering at our home for other local couchsurfers and visitors.

Not only hosts, but people passing through, log in to the site. Although most members are in their 20s, plenty of older folks belong too, and if you prefer to meet someone your age, just filter the age range. That said, we’ve had wonderful times with young people. For instance, recently in Brasov, Romania, we were invited to drink schnapps and coffee in the garden of a 30-something couchsurfing couple and their jazz-pianist Romani friend. We were more than twice their ages, but discovered—not for the first time—that age was irrelevant.

2. Join Meetup

Meetup is a website designed to bring together people with common interests. When we spent a month in Girona, an hour north of Barcelona, we found meetups for people who wanted coffee and conversation, meetups for folks interested in trying out different restaurants, meetups for hiking, mountain biking, bridge, learning Spanish, and more. If you don’t see a meetup that interests you, you can create your own.

3. Sign up for a Language Class

A language teacher can be a portal into your new community. When Barry and I studied Spanish in Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala, we met local Spanish teachers who not only taught us the language, but invited us into their homes, asked us to spend Christmas with them, and more. And if you enroll in a class, you’ll also meet the other students, who usually come from a variety of countries.

4. Take the Initiative

In Trabzon, Turkey, we invited the reception clerk and other hotel guests to a gathering on the rooftop terrace. We’ve invited Spanish teachers, Airbnb hosts, and neighbors over for a coffee or glass of wine at our place. In the case of Airbnb owners, we all find it funny that we’re inviting them over to their own place!

5. Promote “Intercambios

This is a Spanish word meaning swapping language practice. Intercambios are common in Spanish-speaking countries, but you can organize them anywhere. It’s simple: you and the other person meet in a cafe and each practice speaking in each other’s language. You might speak in their language for 30 minutes, then they in yours. You each give corrections as needed.

6. Take a Class or Workshop, or Attend a Conference

I’ve met people of all nationalities at yoga, Pilates, and drawing classes, as well as at an annual writers’ conference I attend in Mexico.

7. Go Outside, Ideally to a Park or in Nature

Jessica Finley, a fellow in the field of health geography at the University of Minnesota, found that people feel more comfortable approaching strangers in parks and natural areas than on city streets. In our case, it’s proven true. We’ve made lasting friends in the outdoors: a dear British friend while hiking across England, a French couple while cycling in France, and a Dutch couple while swimming in a bay in Cuba. In Guanajuato, we often meet people while hiking.

8. Join Expat Groups

Check out whether the community you’re moving to has an online expat chat group that will alert you to events where you can meet folks. For example, I googled “Medellin expats” and found several links to chat groups and websites offering information for expats.

9. Look for Affiliate Groups

Find out if the organizations you’re affiliated with in the U.S. have sister chapters abroad. I’ve met people in different countries at Unitarian fellowships, Friends meetings, meditation groups, 12-step meetings, Toastmasters, and business networking groups. It’s proven to be a great way to find like-minded people.

10. Volunteer

See what nonprofits exist in your new home, and offer your services. Or create your own volunteer project. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Mexicans while leading workshops on creative writing to seniors, and wellness to working moms. A friend who lives in San Miguel teaches Pilates to seniors.

Thanks to the internet, it’s easier to meet people today than ever before. All it takes is an email address, a sense of initiative and a spirit of willingness, and you can meet people anywhere you go.

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