Many of us move to a new town, country, or even continent every year; often in search of better quality of life or a career upgrade. In 2021, 20% of American millennials lived more than 100 miles from where they grew up, and 10% over 500 miles away. Also, around 8% of 447m EU residents had a different nationality to the country where they lived in 2019. Whether you’re moving across a city or the world; a challenging and rewarding aspect of a new neighborhood is how to find friends; the ones you can go out or share hobbies with, or chill in and chat to.
If only Google maps could highlight the local people we’d click with, like our new favorite restaurant, supermarket or gym!
I’ve personally spent time building communities in two parts of the world far from where I grew up in London. Los Angeles is an 11 hour flight, and Ibiza is 900 miles away on a Spanish island. Although Ibiza is closer, neither support easy commutes to hang out with family or school friends.
A friend recently moved from another continent to Portugal, and asked how I met my friends in Ibiza.
You may believe that making friends as an adult is hard or impossible. In my experience, this is not the case! As we grow older, we often get clearer on who we are, our interests and who we get along with. You’re also likely more comfortable in your own skin. We just have to stay open-minded about meeting new people. I, for instance, met most of my best friends in my 30s, as I spend more time doing things I enjoy in places that I love.
Find one nearby that fosters a community spirit to make new friends. Many of my own international friends are through a members’ club in Venice Beach — the now-closed Habitas.
It’s useful to go on a club tour first and ask about members’ social and networking events. As you walk around, see if you like the feel; whether you’d want to befriend existing members; and note the facilities and events available. A shared cause or interest will likely bring you community.
Some members clubs offer talks or classes. They may have a focus — such as sustainability, wellness, gender equality or entrepreneurship. Some are dog-friendly and others have on-site restaurants and bars. Some, like The Conduit in London, have communal lunch or work tables where sitting there is an invitation for members to introduce themselves.
It’s tough to find friends in your new town if you work long hours and don’t get out much. Instead, see if you can go to a local coworking space at least once a week. This can be great for social and work connections. Here are 93 suggested coworking spots for start-up founders in London; and 130 in the USA.
Otherwise, a coffee shop, cafe or other calm location can be a scene for friendships sparked over laptops. You may start to notice the same remote peers at your workspace or commute and build up the courage to say “hi”. Not only does a change of work space help you meet new people, the variety can boost our creativity and productivity. If you’re interested in knowing the best calm spots in London, you can sign up for my digital guide book here.
Try inviting team mates for 20 minute catch ups to get to know them better; noting whether they have friend potential. Suggest monthly social events for your coworkers; and attend the ones that are being organised by your colleagues.
Networking can help you land a promotion, plus researchers found that those who have friends at work tend to be happier and more productive there. If coworkers have been in the area for a while and you get on well, you could get invites, introductions and local suggestions from your new work pals.
Perhaps going to a cafe or networking event by yourself fills you with mortifying dread. Or maybe you’re worried about new friends seeing your apartment.
Practice, and thinking of the benefits (new connections) vs. the downsides (momentary discomfort), can slowly buff away these fears. Attending events by ourselves can make us more present to our surroundings and who is there, as well as accesible for others to approach us. I often set myself a goal of meeting at least three new people, and sharing contact details with one, at big social gatherings.
It’s worth mentioning here to seek help from a medical professional if social anxiety is overwhelming or chronic.
Ask for compatible friend introductions in your new town. Some of my best friends are locals that other people thought I should meet because we have similar interests or qualities. I often post a story on Instagram when I spend time in a new place. I then get people and place recommendations and to see if anyone I already know lives there. Friends-in-common act as compatibility and quality filters for new friends; and it’s often a joy for them to be a connector.
Getting info and invites from existing local friends for community Whatsapp, Telegram or Signal groups can also be a game-changer. In Ibiza, I’m a member of a few where awesome daily events are posted that I would never hear about otherwise. The movement “Hermanas” also curates Whatsapp groups for thousands of women across dozens of cities around the world. In these, you can find local recommendations, classes, marketplaces, job offers and requests and more.
Having home friends and family come and visit you can also help. Partly because giving them tours of your new area can help you discover your future favourite places. They might also accompany you to local events and classes that you don’t feel like going solo to.
You can search for venues that host activities you enjoy near you. Such as salsa, tennis, meditation, volunteering, yoga or art classes. You’re likely to meet people with at least one similar interest; as well as spend time doing something you love, even if you don’t meet anyone new.
I tend to save my favorite places that I like to frequent with a heart or a star icon on Google Maps. This means that when I’m in an area I can see where I either enjoyed or want to go to nearby.
The MindBody app is also a great resource for fitness, wellness and beauty sessions and studios near you. It saves a list of every studio you’ve visted and can be filtered by location, class or treatment type and the day/time.
Eventbrite lets you filter for specific categories or events near you on general or selected dates. This is a site I use a lot when I travel to big cities in Europe and the USA. Also, like most information, a Google search can also list the nearest concerts, art shows and other happenings near you.
Facebook Events used to be great, but I find less and less is posted there. If you’re into going “out out”, Resident Advisor lists parties and DJ nights that are going on in major cities. If you have any other event websites that are great where you live, please share them in the comments below!
If you can’t find a group or event you want locally, why not start one? It could be a hiking group, a men’s or women’s circle, or a class you can teach. You could hold it in a local space that helps you with marketing if you don’t have lots of people to invite yet; share it on social media or ask friends to invite others. Most of all, it’s a great way to attract people who really like your vibe.
Don’t worry if your group starts small, most events and communities do! I started leading women’s circles in London in 2021 and have met many like-minded friends through it. After sharing about it on Instagram, attendees have invited their friends and the group has steadily grown each month.
Get out and about, make eye contact, and smile at people you think seem nice. In his book “The Luck Factor”, Richard Wiseman shares that our fortunes can correlate with our openness to new experiences — partly because of who we meet during them. If you’re staring at your phone, the ground or have a resting-mean-face, people are less likely to introduce themselves.
Being able to follow your intuition about who you meet is important for this. If you want to work on it, you can read my guide to making intuition your superpower. As women in particular, we can be worried that seeming approachable will invite unwanted attention.
Perhaps consider taking the first step to start conversations with the person next to you after a gym session, or the owner of an interesting local shop. I often find friends in a new town who are teachers of the wellness classes and owners of independent boutiques or market stalls that I admire.
To find friends in a new town takes time for all of us; as we gradually get to know and trust our local community, and they us. It may help to realise you’re not alone, even if you feel like it. There are likely many other newbies in your neighbourhood, and in others all over the world.
Moving to a new town is a brave step to take and can have a huge range of personal and career benefits. If your community starts small, being somewhere new gives us time to just be with ourselves. I’ve found living in new countries resulted in more resilience; I’ve gotten to know and like myself better; and I now have dear friends around the world.
Congratulations on your courage. I hope these suggestions help you make new and lifelong friends wherever you are.
Jessica Warren in a personal development writer, life coach and start up investor. You can find more about her here.