Maya Angelou once said, “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.”
When we travel abroad, one way we can guarantee that we’ll have a good time is by making new friends.
And potential friends are everywhere! They could be strangers riding on the train, drinking coffee at a restaurant or sitting next to you right now!
We just need to know where and how to look for new friends when traveling. Use these 10 tips learn how to make friends abroad.
What kinds of friends should you meet?
Make friends with locals abroad
When you befriend locals, you learn what their culture is all about.
You learn about their customs, traditions, food and overall way of life. Natives give you unprecedented access into the culture. If you don’t befriend natives, you limit your opportunities and understanding of the culture.
The best part of befriending locals? You potentially get lifetime access to their specific cultural knowledge. This helps you become an even more caring and engaged citizen of the world.
But make sure you’re not using this person only for their cultural insights. Friendships are two-way streets!
Make friends with fellow foreigners abroad
Other expats also make for great friends when you’re traveling. They know exactly what you’re going through and can commiserate about the hardships and victories of moving to a foreign country.
It’s so much fun to go exploring with someone else who is just as clueless and curious as you are. This provides the foundation for a solid friendship to form.
Expats can also provide helpful travel tips you might not know about, such as which popular restaurants are the best, how to navigate the transit system and which travel apps to download.
Other foreigners also probably speak English. Since English is the international language, many foreigners who travel can speak at least conversational English. This is especially helpful if you’re not proficient in the country’s native language and are itching to have an in-depth conversation with someone.
But don’t hang out exclusively with other foreigners. The best way to truly understand a culture is engage with its citizens!
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1. Get a local job
One great way to meet people is to find a local job.
Having a job allows you to work alongside the community. You’ll be able to make friends with your coworkers and with your clientele.
Here’s an example: I just saw a blue-eyed, very obvious foreigner driving a local motor taxi in Guatemala. The indigenous Mayan woman getting out of his taxi was so impressed that he was performing this line of work that she stayed and talked with him for almost five minutes after they arrived.
Finding a job abroad is a tricky task, because you usually need some kind of resident or work visa to legally pick up work in a foreign land. Obviously, don’t risk expulsion from the country or do anything illegal.
But if you like loud, crazy environments, you can probably find a side gig as a bartender. NGOs are also good options if you want to help out the local community. You can also check out various work abroad programs. In certain countries, you can legally join a volunteer program without a work visa.
When you become the foreigner working a local job, you elevate your social status and people naturally want to become your friend.
Working in a community gives you a deeper appreciation of what the locals have to go through on a daily basis. This will give you an even stronger bond with natives.
2. Use apps to meet people
Apps are convenient resources for meeting people when abroad.
They facilitate relationships in a way that’s natural and normal, and they help you meet both locals and foreigners when you’re traveling.
Here are a few good apps for making friends abroad:
- Tinder. Many people make the mistake of thinking that this app is only for dating and “hooking up.” But that’s not true. This app is great for meeting anyone in the area. Locals and foreigners both use this app to make new friends. I’ve met so many great people from Tinder that I now use it as my go-to resource when I want to meet people.
- Couchsurfing. Check out this app if you need to find a local to host you while you’re traveling. But Couchsurfing also has a lot of features simply for meeting people. Type in where you’re going and you’ll be able to see people who are in that area and want to meet up. You can go out for a meal, see a movie or if you’re lucky, they may have a couch you can sleep on!
- Backpackr. Backpackr helps you find travel buddies so that you don’t have to travel alone. When you’re in a certain area and want to go somewhere else in town, you can use Backpackr to identify other travelers nearby who also want to go to that other destination. This is a great way to connect with your fellow explorers.
3. Speak the local language
Speaking the local language is the best way—and often only way—to communicate with locals.
Not only is greeting someone in their native language an easy ice breaker, it’s also a way to show that you’re willing to assimilate into their culture. Speaking the local language often makes natives more open to forming a relationship with you because there will be fewer chances of awkward misunderstandings in conversation.
Even if your knowledge of the language is basic, you can still form friendships, although they may be a little superficial. These superficial friendships will give you insight into the local culture, and as you become more proficient in the language, you’ll be able to build on this foundation and form more solid friendships.
When I travel, I always try to learn at least a little bit of the local language. This way I can build friendships with taxi drivers, restaurant servers, barbers, store clerks and everyone else I meet during my day.
You can use a language learning app like FluentU to help you become conversational in your target language. FluentU takes real-world videos—like TV shows, movie trailers, news broadcasts and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences.
Learning through authentic videos also teaches you about local culture. So you’ll learn how to talk about native singers, TV shows and movies in the language with your new friends.
FluentU gives you quizzes and tests to make sure you understand each section, and it has course material that ranges from complete beginner to native-level speaker. And the best part is that FluentU has nine different languages to choose from. So you can travel to Peru this month and travel to China next month, and you’ll be able to make friends in both countries!
4. Use social media
Social media is one of the most useful features of the internet these days. It allows us to connect with people from all over the world, young and old, male and female, local and foreigner.
Social media has inbuilt ways for people to get together and interact. For instance, Facebook has all kinds of groups for people in certain cities. Not only are Facebook groups great resources to find new friends, but members post helpful information in groups about things like visas, work opportunities, housing rentals and social meetups.
Reddit is also a great tool to meet people. There’s most likely a subreddit for the town you’re in or plan to visit. Simply go to that subreddit and let people know that you’d like to meet up with some new friends.
There are also professional, location-based social networks like LinkedIn that help you connect to working professionals in the area.
It’s important to be vocal and proactive when interacting online in these social groups. Being an active and engaged group member is how you’ll find the most opportunities to make lots of friends abroad.
5. Live with people
When some people go abroad, there’s a tendency to want to become a hermit and only interact with a small number of people. Being abroad is intimidating and overwhelming, and there’s a desire to control every little interaction.
But we can’t control everything!
Living with other people helps you to guarantee that each day is filled with some kind of social interaction. This daily communication will ensure that you don’t become a recluse who only talks to people once per week.
And there are many opportunities to live with people. One of the best ways is to stay in hostels. When you reside in a hostel, you’re forced to interact with other curious travelers. As a result, staying there tends to shorten the time it takes for a friendship to blossom!
Hostel friends can quickly become close friends because when you experience new things together, the bonds that form are deeply rooted in this heightened excitement. This makes for powerful friendships.
Other options for living with people include Couchsurfing, homestays and simply finding a house with roommates. There are always opportunities to cohabitate with fellow humans.
6. Pick up new hobbies
Each country has at least one popular hobby you’ve never tried before. Trying new activities is a fun way to mingle with acquaintances.
When I traveled to Myanmar, I noticed that the locals loved to play a game called chinlone. It’s a mix between soccer and volleyball, and one day I decided to give it a try. I was absolutely terrible, but it made for a lot of laughs, and I made a few new Facebook friends.
There’s no shortage of new experiences for you to have when you enter a new culture. Take a class in cooking local cuisine, weaving, swimming… anything!
Try something you’ve never tried before and you’ll be surprised at how much people respond to your ineptitude. They’ll want to become your friend just so they can help you become better at your new hobby.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll become a master basket weaver!
7. Find expat groups
Most areas in the world have some kind of expat community. If there isn’t an expat community in the specific area you’re in, there’s probably one in a nearby city.
Expat groups connect you with other foreigners so you can commiserate about life in this new country and reminisce about what life is like back home.
One of the best things about expat groups is how diverse they are. You can meet people from all over the world wherever you are right now!
Apart from the expat groups based around social media, there are specific groups dedicated to helping expats connect with fellow foreigners in their new city.
Here are a couple good ones:
- Nomad List. This is a great resource for digital nomads and frequent travelers who work on the internet. Apart from it having lots of great information, it’s also a useful way meet fellow expats. It lists all the major digital nomad hubs in the world and supplies a list of expats who are currently there.
- InterNations. This is an international association of professionals and working expats that exists in 420 cities around the world. The company frequently has different kinds of social gatherings and networking events for you to mingle with other foreigners. It also provides lots of resources for expats, such as travel guides and tips on foreign living.
8. Check out local resources for events
Have you ever walked into a cafe and seen a bulletin board with a bunch of fliers on it? Most cafes around the world have those bulletin boards!
Apart from cafes, many restaurants, community centers and hostels also have similar bulletin boards. Here you can find out about local events in the area so you can go and meet people. From bar crawls, to local sporting events, to open mic nights, there are plenty of local events where you make new friends.
I made a couple of really good friends on a free walking city tour that I learned about from a flier in a cafe.
In today’s digital age, there are lots of online blogs and journals devoted to helping people find activities in a certain area. Just type the name of the city + “events” into Google and you’ll probably land on one of these online publications.
These journals not only help you locate local events, they also usually have some kind of forum, either directly on the website or on a social media platform like Facebook.
9. Be open to new experiences
When you travel, try to not be shy. Even if you’re a naturally reserved person, you’ll definitely come to learn that being outgoing will yield much better results in all aspects of international travel.
Go out and talk to people, attend a social gathering or eat dinner at a restaurant with people you met at your hostel. There are endless opportunities for you to make friends if you can combat your natural inclinations to be shy.
I’m a naturally introverted person, so when I travel, I always try to force myself to have as much social interaction as I can handle. I personally need a lot of time for solo exploration, but that doesn’t mean I turn down invitations to socialize!
One time I was staying at a hostel in Indonesia, and I was getting ready to go to sleep. I’d had a long day and was already in bed.
Then a bunch of people came into the room and asked me if I wanted to go out. After some coaxing, I agreed. We went out to a local street market and had surprisingly interesting conversations. I ended up meeting some people who are still really good friends of mine!
10. Speak up in social settings
For the most part, people around the world are friendly.
In most places, you can walk up to a person and strike up a conversation (if you’re in a country where doing so is culturally acceptable). It’s scary to do this because you might feel like you’re intruding, but a quick introduction about who you are and why you’re approaching a stranger is a good way to form a foundation. You can get their phone number or Facebook information and arrange a time to meet up when you’re both free.
I’ve not only had this happen to me, I’ve done it many times myself.
This cold approach works especially well with other foreigners because you’re both new to the country. But approaching a local is also great because if you’re foreign, they’ll immediately find you interesting.
Don’t be afraid to meet people on the street, in a cafe, at a bar or wherever. People are social creatures, and we all love making new friends!
Next time you’re sitting alone at a cafe in Bolivia, don’t be afraid to approach someone who could end up being your new best friend!
My favorite part of international travel is experiencing a culture that is so different from my own. And one of the best ways to do that is by building friendships with the local people.
But our fellow travelers also provide us with great sources of fun, exploration and adventure. So building friendships with these other foreigners also guarantees that we have a great time abroad.
Whether someone is in a Facebook group or drinking coffee at a restaurant, potential friends are everywhere. Now you just need to get out there and find them!
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow Perspective Earth to learn more about him and his work.
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