7 Tips to Forge Friendships and Build a Community When Living Abroad

Embarking on an adventure abroad isn’t just about a change of scenery; it’s also about diving head first into new experiences, from immersing yourself in a vibrant new culture to finding a better work-life balance to often getting back to that treasured physician-patient relationship (without having so many checkboxes, and a bursting in-basket getting in the way). 

But let’s keep it real for a sec. Behind the Instagram-worthy snapshots lies a bittersweet truth: for most physicians, moving abroad also means uprooting—moving away from family, friends, a known community, professional network, and culture.

So how do you make friends and build a community while living abroad?

Here I offer 7 tips to help you build a community of friends and a network of colleagues while living abroad. 

1. Learn the Language

If you’re moving to a non-English speaking country, sign up for in-person language classes near where you live. You can meet fellow students from all over the world who have similarly chosen to embark on a new adventure. 

And yes, you can always take classes online, but now that we’re no longer in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s nothing like meeting people in person, especially when you’re new. 

Two of my good friends now were actually my Portuguese language teachers from the immersion class I took soon after moving! Who knew conjugating verbs could be so much fun? 

2. Immerse Yourself in Activities You Enjoy

Whether you’re busting a move during Zumba or you’re into pottery,  immerse yourself in the activities you enjoy. It’s not just about hobbies—it’s about finding your people!

3. Join the Expat Facebook Group for Your Country or City

This is a great way to get common questions answered by fellow expats and immigrants who are also navigating the same cultural shock and bureaucracy. These Facebook groups often also organize regular meetups that you can take part in. 

4. Go to Every Party!

Got kiddos? Say “yes” to every birthday party and don’t just drop off your kids – go in and get to know the other parents. You may just find your squad with whom you can organize trips to the beach or go for hikes together. This is also a great way to learn how to navigate the local school system or where to enroll in extracurricular activities. 

If you don’t have kids and are invited to a party by a friend or neighbor, go! You’ll meet other locals and learn more about the local culture.

5. Invite Your Neighbors Over

Host your own dinner party and invite your neighbors! There’s nothing as important as breaking bread with those who live near you. 

6. Network with Local Colleagues

If you move to a country where you can work immediately, you’ll be entering a built-in network of colleagues with whom you can also socialize. 

If you’re moving to a country where you won’t work locally, you can still get to know local colleagues in your specialty. Consider emailing the local physicians or researchers in your specialty to see if you can shadow them in the clinic or in the hospital. This will give you a flavor of what it’s like to work locally and help you get to know fellow physicians. 

7. Stay Connected

In the age of WhatsApp, Facetime, and Zoom, it’s easier than ever to text or video call with folks back home. Many of your close family and friends will also love to visit you in whichever cool place you land. So don’t worry; you’ll likely also have visitors. Since moving to Portugal, I’ve had more friends and family visit than I ever had living in Boston!

Bottom Line

It takes time to make friends and build a supportive community, and yes, there are definitely times when you feel lonely. But what I’ve noticed is that if you keep showing up, people warm up, and they really want to connect. 

Now I’d love to hear from you! 

How have you been able to build a community of friends while living abroad? Let me know in the comments below. 

👉 Hungry for more? Sign up for our weekly email here and be in the know about everything related to moving abroad!

Rooting for you, 

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