Moving to a new country is a huge step to take – there are so many things that you have to do to set up your new life outside of your home country! From figuring out banking and phone plans, adapting your diet to the potentially more limited options at the grocery store, dealing with navigating a new public transportation or road system (maybe in an unknown language!), there’s a lot to think about. Although all of these things are important, the only thing that will truly make a new place feel like home is a sense of community. But how exactly do you go about finding friends as an expatriate? 

Unfortunately, finding friends in a foreign country isn’t as easy as making friends at home is – especially if you don’t speak the language! At home, you had school, work, the gym, a random person that you can communicate with on the street (the language barrier really makes it difficult!). But in this new country, you never know if you’re gonna have co-workers who have similar interests or are even in a similar age bracket as you! Maybe you’re the only foreigner at your job. Maybe you don’t have a job! There are so many barriers that make finding friends as an expatriate seem discouraging – but never fear! I’m here to tell you the secrets to building a thriving community of friends during your years as an expat. 

How to make friends as an expatriate: 

Bumble BFF 

No this is not sponsored – but hey Bumble plz hit me up?? And I know it sounds a little bit silly, but if I’m being honest, the majority of my friend group is all thanks to this silly little app. For a little bit of background, I came to South Korea to teach English for a year, and I’m living in Busan. I hopped right on Bumble BFF the first week I was here, and I met up with a lot of girls who were in similar situations! Before I even met up with the girl who has become my best friend here, she was able to help me start my washing machine (it was all written in the Korean alphabet!) I don’t care how introverted you are, everyone needs a friend to help them when you have problems. It doesn’t hurt if they’ve been living in the country for longer than you and can show you the ropes! I have met up with lots of girls from Bumble BFF, and while not all of us have become forever friends, I definitely struck gold with the ones that have stuck. 

  1. Meet your friend’s friends!

This sounds like a given, but it’s something that should still be mentioned! Victoria, the girl I met on Bumble BFF, invited me to a bar, and her co-worker, another girl around our age, invited everyone that she knew. Her male co-worker even sent invites to a few girls that he knew, and we organized a blind girls get-together! The girls that her male-coworker invited have quickly completed our little group of 4, and we never would have met them if it wasn’t for a little bit of faith and initiative! Never be afraid to reach out to people you know ~of~ but don’t necessarily know; you never know when it can pay off in a big way. Never be afraid to politely invite yourself to something you know is going on, even if it is a little uncomfortable or nerve-wracking! Friends are so important, especially as an expatriate, and you have to step out of your comfort zone to find them. Rarely are they dropped into your lap! 

  1. Facebook Groups 

Before coming to Korea, I joined multiple facebook groups of all different types: foodie groups, an all-women’s group, a general group for my city, a hiking group, etc. There is literally a facebook group for every interest, and they frequently organize events and meet-ups. This hasn’t really happened for me as meetups don’t happen as frequently during pandemic times, and South Korea had a 6 person limit on gatherings for a while, but I’ve had success with the hiking group here! Hopefully everything begins to die down soon and these meetups start to happen more frequently again, because facebook groups are an awesome way to meet people. 

  1. Talk to People 

I know this sounds so obvious but sometimes it can be intimidating to put yourself out there! Although I love the Korean friends that I do have, there’s just something so comfortable about meeting people who share your first language as well as the new chapter of life you’re experiencing – so whenever I see a foreigner on the streets here my first reaction is always to strike up conversation! Maybe they’ve established a life here and have no interest in meeting new people, but maybe they’re in the same boat as you! I know that the two girls who approached me during my first week here to tell me that they liked my outfit made me literally so happy when they went out of their way to do that. We exchanged instagrams and they were able to give me so many recommendations of places to check out in the area. One weekend, I saw a group of foreigners in a

bar and decided to go up and join in! We all became fast friends and exchanged instagrams. Fast forward a month or two, and one of them asked if my school was hiring! Surprisingly, it was, and now we are co-workers and bffs. Talking to people will never steer you wrong. Whats the worst that could happen? 5. Fitness Classes 

Another way that I’ve managed to make friends here in Korea is by going to Yoga class every week! Another expatriate that I know is a yoga teacher in Busan, and she frequently hosts English classes and advertises them to other English speakers living in Korea. She hosts fundraisers as well as your typical weekly classes, but every week brings in a new crowd and I’m starting to realize how small the expat community really is in our particular city. We all hang out for a little bit after class, just talking about weekend plans and our weeks at work, and we’ve all even planned a trip for this Sunday to visit the cherry blossom festival up in Jinhae. Check in any facebook groups to find English speaking fitness classes and check some out! You literally never know where you’re going to find your new best friend. 

  1. Expat Bars 

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the local spots as well, but it does kill the vibe when you or your friend tries to go up to someone to say hi and you end up having to bust out Papago or Google Translate to understand each other! Life abroad can get lonely, and a lot the regulars at expat bars end up becoming as close as family. Living abroad as an expatriate can be really lonely, especially around holidays, and lots of bars will provide Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner so that you don’t have to spend it alone. I’ve found a few here in Busan, and between Thursday night trivia, darts competitions wing Wednesdays, UFC on Saturday mornings, and holiday dinners, I’ve made lots of friends and always feel like I have a place to call home. If you find someplace you like, I guarantee they have a facebook page and you can be in in the loop and have lots of opportunities to make friends. 

  1. Go on dates 

This is general advice, as I have a lovely long distance boyfriend, but this has worked for my friends. Often times, one date is all it takes to realize that you’d be better off as friends anyways. Or, if it goes well, meet ~their~ friends, and maybe your people will be there. This isn’t my favorite point, as going on actual dates is

much more scary than Bumble bff dates, and people can be scary and weird sometimes, so be sure to use your discretion and always stay safe, but it is a very effective way to meet people and find friends! 

  1. Be Patient! 

You may meet lots of people, but true friends are hard to come by. If you’re lucky, you’ll find them first thing, like me. Sometimes, it takes a lot longer, and that’s okay! Please never let the lack of people around you deter you from going out and exploring by yourself, by planning trips for you and you alone, from setting up a freaking tripod to take a cute little picture of yourself. There is nothing wrong with learning to enjoy your own company while you actively look for your people who will make this new place feel like a home. 

Good luck! I know you can do it. Put yourself out there, meet your people, find your community, and thrive in your new life as an expatriate in an exciting, new country!