Making Friends Abroad
Romantics are the expat type most likely to have local friends. In the Arab Gulf states, expat clubs and associations play an important role in meeting new people.
In the survey, participants were asked to describe their circle of friends in their host country. Are their friends mostly expats, mostly local residents or a mix of the two? Expats who are not mostly friends with local residents then elaborated on whether the majority of their expat friends are from their country of origin or other countries. Where expats meet their friends is another topic of interest, with answer options ranging from work to expat events to bars and clubs.
Expat Friends, Local Friends, or Both?
Overall, one-third of survey participants (34%) say they have mostly expat friends. For women, this percentage is slightly higher (37%) and for men it is a bit lower (31%). Only 16% of all participants report having primarily local residents as friends. Here, men are slightly more likely to have mostly local friends than women (18% vs. 14%). Taking a look at different age groups, expats aged 51 and up are most likely to have a majority of local friends (24%, compared to a global average of 16%). With percentages ranging from 39% to 41%, expats aged 26–40 are the most likely to have primarily other expat friends.
Where Expat Friends Come From
Expats who answered that they have mostly expat friends or a mix of expat and local friends were then asked where exactly these expat friends come from. Overall, 18% say that their expat friends are mostly from their own country of origin. One-quarter (24%) says they primarily come from other countries but ones where they speak the same language or have a similar culture. A further 23% report that their expat friends are mostly from countries where they speak another language. The largest group, 36%, has a fairly diverse group of expat friends.
One noticeable trend is that the likelihood of having expat friends from another country who do not share one's language or cultural background seems to lessen with age. Whereas three in ten expats aged 25 or younger have mostly expat friends that fall into this category, among expats aged 51 and older this number is only 14%.
Where Expats Meet New People
The expats surveyed are most likely to meet new people through work (64%) and through other friends (56%). At the other end of the scale, only one in ten expats meets new people through volunteering and non-profit organizations (10%) or their religious community (9%).
Among all survey participants, 20% of women are currently not working compared to 13% of men. Thus, it comes as no surprise that men are more likely to meet people through work (68% vs. 60%) and professional networking (38% vs. 26%). Men (26%) are also more likely than women (17%) to meet new people at bars and clubs. Women are more likely to meet new people through their friends (59% vs. 54%), via their children (14% vs. 10%), and through volunteering or non-profit work (12% vs. 8%).
The older a respondent is, the less likely he or she is to meet people through nightlife, education, or networking. In terms of nightlife, for example, this percentage sharply drops from 34% for those aged 25 and below to 14% for those aged 51 and above. Meeting new people in one's local neighborhood or through one's partner or spouse becomes more likely with increasing age. Expats aged 51 and up (39%) are almost twice as likely to meet new people through their local neighborhood as those aged 25 and below (21%).
Trends by Expat Type
Romantics (32%) are twice as likely to have mostly local residents as friends than all the other expat types (global average: 16%). On the other hand, Traveling Spouses (45%), Foreign Recruitees (45%), Career Expats (42%), and Foreign Assignees (40%) are the most likely to have mostly expat friends. (Ex-)Students are the least likely to have expat friends from their home country (10% vs. 18%) or a country with a similar culture or the same language (17% vs. 24%).
Unsurprisingly, career-minded expats, i.e. Foreign Recruitees (81%), Foreign Assignees (80%), and Career Expats (79%), are the most likely to make new friends through work. The Romantic (56%) and the Traveling Spouse (49%) are the most likely to find friends through their partner. Expat events are a favored place for Foreign Assignees (42%), Foreign Recruitees (40%), and interestingly also Adventurers (40%) to meet new people.
Trends by Nationality
Swedish expats are the least likely to have mostly expat friends (23%, compared to the global average of 34%). Similarly, only about a quarter of expats from three Asian countries - Malaysia, China, and Indonesia - have mostly expat friends, with percentages from 25% to 28%.
In contrast, almost half of Lebanese abroad (49%) have predominantly expat friends. Four out of ten say their group of expat friends is fairly diverse. Expats from three European countries - Italy, Spain, and Bulgaria - are the next most likely to have mostly expat friends (47–48%).
Swedish expats are also the most likely to have mostly local residents as friends (25%), compared to the global average of 16%. This is closely followed by US Americans, the Dutch, and the Swiss, with 23% each.
Trends by Country of Residence
Compared to the global average of one-third (34%), expats living in Qatar are almost twice as likely to have mostly expat friends (65%). Six in ten expats in Luxembourg (61%) have predominantly expat friends, followed by expats in three more Arab Gulf states: Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. In contrast, expats living in New Zealand are least likely to have mostly expat friends (13%).
South America comes out on top for the places where expats have the most local residents as friends, with percentages ranging from 32% for Argentina to 39% for Peru. By contrast, the Arab Gulf states, as well as Luxembourg, are also among those countries where expats are the least likely to have local residents as friends. In Qatar, the percentage lies at less than 1% and in Oman it is only 4%.
However, it is important to keep in mind that in many of these Arab Gulf states expats vastly outnumber the local residents, which naturally makes it more difficult to make local friends. Indeed, two-thirds of expats in Kuwait (67%) and 61% of expats in Saudi Arabia say it is hard to make local friends. Correspondingly, in these countries expat clubs and associations play a larger role in meeting new people than the global average. In Bahrain, respondents are over twice as likely to meet new people through expat clubs and associations (39%) than the global average of 18%.
In Kuwait, an overwhelming 84% meet new people through work (global average: 64%) and over twice the average make new friends through their religious communities (20% vs. 9%). Of the expats in these Arab Gulf states who have mostly expat friends, these are usually from their home country or a country with a similar cultural background. For example, in Kuwait, nearly two-thirds of expats (64%) either have mostly friends from their home country or from a country with a similar culture.
According to Luxembourg's Statistics Portal 46% of the country's residents are expatriates. This helps explain why Luxembourg has the second highest percentage of expats with mostly other expats as friends.