Finding Friends Abroad: The Best and Worst Countries
Finding friends is one of the first things expats think about when moving abroad. When you have to leave your friends and family behind, it can cause a sense of displacement and loneliness. Regardless of your destination, having a genuine and supportive friendship is important in helping you settle in. Whether they are an expat friend who is in the same boat as you or a local friend that can help you navigate the ways of local life, developing a support network is key to every expat’s well-being.
Yet, globally only 47% of expats find it easy to make new friends abroad according to the Expat Insider 2020 survey — a global survey conducted annually by InterNations.
The Best Countries for Making Friends
Having never dropped below second place in the Ease of Settling In Index of the Expat Insider survey, expats name Mexico as the best country for finding friends for the third year in a row. In fact, five in seven expats (71%) agree that making local friends is easy, a significantly higher percentage the global average (42%). One US American expat tells us, “Mexican people are incredibly helpful and kind.”
What is more, Mexico offers a wealth of socializing and leisure activities, with 84% of expats being satisfied with them. Public holidays such as Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Mexico’s Independence Day celebrate local traditions. However, expats can also enjoy the local culture on a daily basis: music is everywhere, played by mariachis and bandas, while markets and museums exhibit the endless artistic and historic heritage of Mexico.
The country also seems to offer a great quality of life to people living there. About nine in ten expats in Mexico (91%) claim to feel happy with their lives in general, compared to 76% globally. It is no secret that warm weather, beautiful sites and wildlife, as well as being surrounded by wonderful people, can vastly improve your life.
Bahrain may be the smallest country in the Middle East, but the island nation certainly has a lot to offer. The extensively diverse and welcoming population is much loved, with 84% of expats describing the general population as friendly, and more than three-quarters (77%) saying that it is easy to settle into the local culture.
Bahrain is a great destination to move to if you have a family: 95% of expat parents describe the local attitudes to families with children as positive. The island also offers a wide range of leisure activities for kids to enjoy, from water parks to entertainment centers.
If you find learning a new language daunting, there is also no need to worry about a language barrier: 93% of expats find navigating life in Bahrain easy without speaking the local language, compared to 54% globally. One North Macedonian expat even mentions “the welcoming local people and the multicultural environment you can find almost everywhere” as some of the highlights of living in Bahrain.
Ecuador is a country with a lot of wildlife, and many cultural heritage sites: places such as the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes are found well within its territory, as well as the Galápagos Islands and its capital, Quito, which are both included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
This country is also popular among expats, as over four in five (83%) claim to feel at home in the Ecuadorian culture. But feeling at home only comes naturally if settling in and making new friends is easy. Luckily, this is also the case: 70% find making local friends easy here, and a Canadian expat names “friendly people and relaxed living” as Ecuador’s best feature.
What is more, Ecuador is the happiest country with 86% of expats being satisfied with life in general, compared to 76% globally. This might be the result of the good weather, a wide range of outdoor activities, cultural richness, and Ecuador’s friendly population.
With 10% of the Amazon Rainforest in its territory, Colombia is a wildlife hotspot like Ecuador. This country is also the third largest exporter of coffee after Brazil and Vietnam, and the world’s leading source of emeralds. However, these natural resources are not the only thing this country offers: it ranks among the top 10 countries for finding friends for the fourth year in a row.
Colombia is among the favorites of expats when it comes to settling in abroad with nearly four in five expats (78%) finding it easy to get used to the local culture. The social key points of said culture seem to be a relaxed lifestyle and spending quality time with your loved ones. No wonder expats find this easy to get used to!
“The friendliness and positive attitude of the local Colombian people,” as an Indian expat puts it, seem to be a highlight: 66% of expats agree on the fact that it is easy to become friends with local residents, compared to 42% globally. This attitude extends to foreign residents with 85% of expats stating that they are generally welcomed with open arms, and even 41% say they could not be friendlier.
The lifestyle and people in Panama have convinced many expats of living there. This country ranks first in the Personal Happiness subcategory, and especially excels here with over four in five expats (82%) being happy with their life in general. Finding friends is a walk in the park according to 64% of expats, compared to 47% globally.
When asked what they love about living in Panama, a US American expat points out “our community in Boquete is a strong one, where everyone helps each other”. Integrating in this community also seems to be an easy task, as 64% say making local friends is easy in Panama and 79% confirm feeling at home in the local culture.
Also, out of the expats that found love in Panama or moved there with their partner, an astonishing 94% confirm feeling happy in their relationship. This also makes Panama the best destination worldwide for relationships — must be the beautiful natural scenery and the endless variety of romantic activities!
The Bottom 10 Countries for Making Friends
On the other end of the ranking, Denmark (58th), Kuwait (57th), Sweden (56th), Norway (55th), Switzerland (53rd), and Finland (51st), have always ranked in the bottom ten of the Finding Friends subcategory. In fact, Japan (54th) is the only country joining the bottom ten for the first time in 2020, with South Korea (52nd), the Netherlands (50th), and Austria (49th) completing the list of the ten worst countries for making friends.
When moving to a new country, expats are generally concerned about whether they will easily integrate and be accepted into a new community. So, when locals are generally unfriendly to foreign residents, it can be daunting for expats who are trying to feel at home abroad. When making new friends is proven a challenge, it makes the process of settling into a country more difficult because having good friends can provide you with support and a sense of belonging.
That is why 48% in Kuwait, and 40% of expats in Denmark and Sweden also struggle to feel at home in the local culture.
While the global average of expats who are unhappy with the general friendliness of the population is only 17%, a much higher percentage of expats in Nordic, and German-speaking countries, as well as Kuwait, have reported unfriendliness towards expats. A German expat shares that in Denmark, “it takes a few years to get into contact with locals and make something close to what you can call ‘friends’, and even those friendships are fragile,” with one in three expats there (33%) sharing that concern. Additionally, expats in Kuwait find the locals even more unfriendly towards foreign residents (50%), followed by Austria (38%) and Czechia (36%).
The Difficulty of Making Friends in Nordic Countries
The dark and long winters are not the only thing that the Nordic countries have in common. Denmark — the worst ranked in the Finding Friends subcategory — as well as Sweden, Norway, and Finland make it difficult for expats to find friends. More than half of expats in Denmark (58%) consider making friends challenging, and 30% say that they could not have struggled with it more. Sweden follows, with more than five in eight expats living there (63%) also having difficulties with finding friends. A Spanish expat shares that, because of how reserved the Swedish culture is, “it is really difficult to make Swedish friends”. She even points out the following: “It always feels like there is a ‘wall’ between you and them, and it takes a lot of time for them to feel relaxed and open up.”
In Denmark and Norway, 29% of expats respectively have negative views about socializing and leisure options there, as well as in Sweden (30%) and Finland (20%). It is unclear if these results are heavily linked to very sparse sunlight and cold winters, but 50% of expats in Denmark and 38% of expats in Sweden complain about the local climate and weather conditions.
The Lack of Friendliness in German Speaking Countries
Apart from the language and geographical proximity, Austria and Switzerland also have in common that they are difficult places for expats to make friends. More than half of expats in Switzerland (54%) share this concern, as well as 44% in Austria. Expats in German-speaking countries are also unhappy with the general friendliness of the population — this is the case for 32% in Austria, as well as 26% of expats in Switzerland.
A Long Way to Go for Kuwait
Coming in last in the overall ranking, Kuwait is the least favorite destination for expats according to the Expat Insider 2020 survey. When it comes to making friends, it occupies the 57th position out of 58 countries, ranking only slightly better than Denmark in this subcategory. When asked about their experience of making Kuwait their new home, an expat originally from South Africa points out the “lack of hospitality and unfriendly nature of locals” as a major problem, and 54% of expats in Kuwait agree that this is a difficult place to settle down in.