The Secret to Making Friends as an Expat

Packing up your belongings, saying goodbye, finishing up at work, and the endless form filling before that day comes that changes your life forever. You sit on the plane heading to the new country, you will soon be calling home. 

When does it become home? 

  • Once your shipment of belongs arrives?  
  • When you move out of the temporary accommodation? 
  • Hand back the rental car?  
  • Figured out where the local supermarket is
  • The currency no longer feels like monopoly money
  • You know the best route to the office or school run? 

Moving to a new country (or simply a new city) forces you to make major life decisions in a matter of days or weeks, which would usually take months or even years of planning. It can be a little overwhelming, particularly if you moved alone, (or your partner is putting the hours at their new office). 

Those first few months/ year I would find myself wanting to talk to anyone, the friendly super market cashier, or people walking their dogs, any opportunity to engage in a conversation - I took it! I wish I had packed up my friends along with all the photo’s and objects that reminded me on the life I had said goodbye too. 

A recent finding from the longest and most complete studies of adult life (spanning 75 yrs) at Harvard. Concluded one major finding:

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

Staying socially connected, with friends, family or a community makes us physically healthier, have a better memory and therefore life longer.  

So surely a city becomes home once we have formed relationships.

5 years on, I have the most wonderful and special friendships, people that have become like family, sharing Christmas, Holidays, births of children and the loss of jobs. I am often asked what I would do differently when moving again, honestly, I think its all about how quickly you can make friends.

Here are my reflections on getting out of your comfort zone, to form friendships in those first few months. 

  1.  Reinvention - expat life provides a fresh start, what kind of person would you like to be? Think about it and then try to find friends that are already living the kind of life you could you see yourself having.  Who you choose to spend your time with influences the person you eventually become.
  2. Friendly Smile - you know those people you have met that are awkward or look straight passed you to see if anyone else is more interesting. Don’t be that person, often a simple smile, warmth and authentic complement goes a long way in breaking the ice. 
  3. Make the first move - all friendships start with a simple hello, go out there and start initiating conversation, have a few questions ready to ask, and then go to parks, yoga classes, the gym, children’s parties, online meet up groups,….. if you feel like you make a connection, get their
  4.  Invite people over - Don’t worry about what people will think of your house, your children, your cooking, often people will come over because they are keen to get to know you, not your house. Buy a cake, or pre cooked meals, don’t stress about the details.   
  5.  Be quick to laugh - use humour, I love meeting people who make me smile and are enthusiastic about life.   
  6. Listen - Learn to ask questions, and then follow up questions, don’t look at your phone, or interrupt (I am particularly bad at this!)    
  7. Don’t take things personally - there will be many a time you aren’t invited to an event, its not personal, rather you weren’t in the right place at the right time. Pick yourself up, forget about it, look for other opportunity to make connections.
  8. Be Yourself - ask questions, listen, show respect and warmth, people want to see the real you. 

Lastly - make the effort to stay in touch with those you have left behind. You will soon learn who are friends that you don't need to see or hear from for months and then a simple email, or phone call and you are back to where you left off. The strength of a friendship isn’t how frequently you meet up, but how much fun you have when you do! 


Are you living in Joburg? Then come along to say hi at our next monthly event. Now you have no excuse not to make friends! 

Have you moved? What are some of your top tips on finding and forming relationships in a new city? Share with us in the comments below