Rus Tourism News

The Best & Worst Countries for Making Friends Abroad

Finding friends is often a major challenge for people moving abroad: only 57% of expats worldwide find it easy to make new friends abroad, and an even lower share of 45% say that making friends with local people in their new country of residence is easy. These findings are part of the latest Expat Insider survey, one of the most extensive studies about living and working abroad, annually conducted by InterNations, the world’s largest expat community. Based on the data of more than 18,000 respondents, InterNations now compiled a ranking of the destinations where it is easiest and hardest to make friends as an expat.

The survey reveals that Mexico is the best country for making friends abroad, followed by Bahrain, Serbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uganda, Colombia, Taiwan, Israel, and Portugal. The results highlight the positive impact that a good social network can have on people moving abroad: expats living in nine out of the top 10 countries not only find it easy to make friends, they are also substantially happier with their life than the global average. Only Serbia does not follow this pattern. In fact, with 92% of expats saying that they are happy with their life, expats living in Mexico are the happiest in the world.

At the other end of the scale, expats in Kuwait (68th out of 68 countries), Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Estonia (59th) find it hardest to make friends in their respective host countries. Similarly, those living in nine out of these countries are also below-average happy with their life in general — only expats in Estonia exceed the global average.

Top 10 Countries for Making Friends

  1. Mexico
  • 82% find it easy to make new friends
  • 77% find it easy to make local friends
  • 92% are happy with their life in general

After consistently ranking in the top 3 since 2014, Mexico comes first again for making friends abroad in 2018. Over four in five expats in the country (82%) find it easy to make new friends (vs. 57% globally), while 77% express that making local friends is easy, too (vs. 45% globally). The ease of forming friendships could be due to the friendly attitude towards expats: 90% rate this factor positively (vs. 66% globally). “I love the local people, their culture, and their openness,” states an expat from the USA. Maybe this is also what makes expats in Mexico happiest in the world: 92% of respondents are happy with their life in general (vs. 76% globally), and 40% state that they could not be any happier (vs. 21% globally).

  1. Bahrain
  • 77% find it easy to make new friends
  • 68% find it easy to make local friends
  • 88% are happy with their life in general

Bahrain rose from 6th to 2nd place out of 68 countries in relation to finding friends abroad within one year. Now, 77% of expats find it easy to make new friends (vs. 57% globally), and 68% say that making local friends is no problem either (vs. 45% globally). This might be due to the general friendliness of the local population, as 92% of expats rate this factor positively. Exactly three in five (60%) even find the Bahrainis extremely friendly, which is double the global average (30%). The lack of a language barrier might also help with making friends: while more than one-third (34%) find it hard to learn the local language (vs. 45% globally), an impressive 94% agree that it is easy to live in Bahrain without speaking it (vs. 46% globally). “There is no need for the local language,” says an expat from India.

  1. Serbia
  • 73% find it easy to make new friends
  • 79% find it easy to make local friends
  • 71% are happy with their life in general

Featuring in the Expat Insider survey for the first time, Serbia comes in 3rd out of 68 countries for finding friends abroad. The majority of expats (86%) finds the local attitude towards foreign residents friendly (vs. 66% globally), with one respondent from Romania describing the local population as “open, friendly, and helpful”. In fact, 79% of expats find making local friends easy (vs. 45% globally), and almost three-quarters (73%) are also happy with the ease of making new friends in general (vs. 57% globally). It might be no surprise then that close to half the expats in Serbia (47%) state they are mainly friends with local residents, which is the highest share in the world together with Brazil.

  1. Costa Rica
  • 76% find it easy to make new friends
  • 73% find it easy to make local friends
  • 84% are happy with their life in general

After claiming the top position in 2017, Costa Rica now only comes in 4th out of 68 countries for expats finding it easy to make friends. However, it still seems to be an excellent location for socializing, thanks to its extremely friendly local residents: close to nine in ten expats (89%) find the Costa Ricans generally friendly, exceeding the global average by 20 percentage points (69%). In fact, 60% even say that they are very friendly, which is double the global average (30%)! One US American expat shares that “the friendliness of the people” is one of the best things about living in the country. Maybe that is the reason why around three-quarters of expats find it easy to make local friends in particular (73% vs. 45% globally) as well as new friends in general (76% vs. 57% globally).

  1. Ecuador
  • 77% find it easy to make new friends
  • 67% find it easy to make local friends
  • 86% are happy with their life in general

After ranking 11th place in 2017, Ecuador finds itself in the top 10 countries again for making friends, achieving its best rank since 2015, when it ranked first for finding friends. Expats not only find it easier to make local friends (67% positive ratings in 2018 vs. 57% in 2017), but also do not seem to struggle with finding new friends in general: 77% rate this positively, compared to just 57% globally. Maybe it is thanks to their great friends that four out of five expats (80%) say that they feel at home in the local culture. This is 20 percentage points higher than the global average (60%). One American shares: “I knew I belonged in this community instantly upon arrival.”

  1. Uganda
  • 75% find it easy to make new friends
  • 68% find it easy to make local friends
  • 81% are happy with their life in general

Ranking among the top 10 countries for the fourth consecutive year, Uganda has always been an excellent destination for expats looking to find friends easily. In fact, the latest Expat Insider survey shows a seven-percentage-points increase in terms of the ease of making new friends (68% in 2017 vs. 75% in 2018). What is more, an expat from the USA shares that the local residents in Uganda are “incredibly friendly”, and more than half the respondents in the country (52%) agree that the general friendliness is very good (vs. 30% globally). It might be helpful that living in the country without speaking the local language seem to get progressively easier: while 80% said it is easy in 2017, 89% of expats agree now, with 61% saying that it could not be any easier. Uganda ranks third place in the world in this respect, only behind Bahrain (94% positive ratings) and the UAE (87%).

  1. Colombia
  • 73% find it easy to make new friends
  • 73% find it easy to make local friends
  • 84% are happy with their life in general

Close to three-quarters of expats (73%) find it is easy to make both new friends (vs. 57% globally) and local friends (vs. 45% globally) in Colombia. In fact, 35% of expats say that their friends are mostly local residents, which is close to twice the global average (19%). What might have helped is that 57% of expats living in the country say they speak the local language fairly or even very well (vs. 46% globally), and for another 17% it is their mother tongue (vs. 11% globally). “It is not easy to learn the language, but tutors are inexpensive and widely available,” shares an expat from the USA. Three-quarters of expats (75%) also feel at home in the Colombian culture, compared to just 60% of respondents globally.

  1. Taiwan
  • 76% find it easy to make new friends
  • 63% find it easy to make local friends
  • 86% are happy with their life in general

Taiwan returns to the top 10 after missing out in 2017, gaining seven ranks in 2018 (15th in 2017). More than three-quarters of expats (76%) find it easy to make new friends in the country, which is 19 percentage points more than the global average (57%). In part, this might be due to the great access to socializing and leisure activities: more than four in five expats (82%) are happy with this factor (vs. 66% globally). Additionally, 63% of expats say that making friends with the locals is no issue, either (vs. 45% globally). “The locals are friendly even if I can only communicate with them through smiles and nods,” shares an expat from the Philippines. Other expats in Taiwan seem to agree, as 92% rate the attitude towards foreign residents as friendly (vs. 66% globally).

  1. Israel
  • 73% find it easy to make new friends
  • 66% find it easy to make local friends
  • 83% are happy with their life in general

Israel has gained an impressive 17 ranks within one year, coming in just 26th out of 65 countries in 2017 but ranking among the top 10 countries for making friends now. An above-average share of expats in Israel find it easy to make both new friends (73% vs. 57% globally) and local friends (66% vs. 45% globally). “They are easygoing and friendly people,” says an expat from the Netherlands. In fact, 75% of expats find the attitude of the Israelis towards foreign residents friendly (vs. 66% globally), and more than two in five (41%) think that they could not be any friendlier (vs. 28% globally). Maybe it helps that there is barely any language barrier: while close to half the expats (46%) find it hard to learn the local language, 64% agree that it is easy to live there without speaking it. This is 18 percentage points more than the global average (46%).

  1. Portugal
  • 75% find it easy to make new friends
  • 64% find it easy to make local friends
  • 89% are happy with their life in general

Portugal ranks 10th in terms of finding friends in the latest Expat Insider survey. Close to two-thirds of expats (64%) find it easy to make local friends in the country (vs. 45% globally), and 75% say that making new friends in general is easy, too (vs. 57% globally). “Portuguese people are incredibly friendly and welcoming,“ shares an expat from the UK. “It is very easy to adapt to life here.” In fact, 82% of expats feel at home in the Portuguese culture, which is 22 percentage points more than the global average (60%). It might help that the Portuguese seem to be extremely welcoming towards expats: close to nine in ten respondents (87%) find the attitude towards foreign residents friendly (vs. 66% globally), with over half (52%) even saying that the local attitude could not be any friendlier (vs. 28% globally).

Bottom 10 Countries for Making Friends

Over the last five years of the Expat Insider survey, Norway (62nd in 2018), Saudi Arabia (64th), Switzerland (65th), Denmark (66th), Sweden (67th), and Kuwait (68th) have always ranked among the ten worst countries for finding friends as an expat. In addition to these countries, Estonia (59th), Austria (60th), Finland (61st), and Germany (63rd) land at the bottom of the list in the latest survey. This shows an interesting regional trend: it is hard to make friends in all Nordic countries as well as the three German-speaking countries.

Looking at Estonia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, expats seem to struggle a lot with getting to know the local population: 48% of expats in Estonia, 57% in Saudi Arabia, and 65% in Kuwait find it hard to make friends with locals, compared to just 36% globally. In fact, an above-average share of expats in Estonia (28%), Saudi Arabia (40%), and Kuwait (59%) find the attitude towards foreign residents even generally unfriendly (vs. 19% globally). One Indian expat living in Kuwait is particularly disappointed by “the mentality of the local community towards expats”. While it seems to be slightly easier to make new friends in general in Estonia (25% find it hard vs. 25% globally), this is not the case in Saudi Arabia (35%) and Kuwait (44%). Maybe this is the reason why expats in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are also particularly unhappy with their life: about one-quarter of those living in Kuwait (27%) and Saudi Arabia (24%) say they are unhappy, compared to 11% globally. In Estonia, just 10% of respondents say they are unhappy with their life in general.

Sweden Is the Worst Nordic Country for Making New Friends

The Nordic countries perform badly when it comes to finding friends, with all four ranking in the bottom 10 since 2015. Expats in Sweden seem to have it particularly hard: more than half of them (51%) find it difficult to make new friends, which is 14 percentage points more than the second-worst Nordic country, Finland (37%), followed by Denmark (36%) and Norway (34%). What is more, almost one in five expats in Sweden (19%) think that it could not be any harder to make new friends, which is the highest share in the world, followed by Denmark (18%). One Chilean expat living in Sweden shares how she finds it “difficult to meet and make local friends even at work”. Considering this struggle, it might be understandable that an above-average share of expats in Norway (15%), Finland (16%), Denmark (18%), and Sweden (26%) are not happy with their life in general (vs. 11% globally).

Expats in German-Speaking Countries Find the Local Residents Generally Unfriendly

It is Switzerland’s fifth consecutive year in the bottom 10 countries for making friends, and Austria and Germany have not performed much better in past years. Close to one-third of expats in Germany (30%), Switzerland (30%), and Austria (31%) find the respective local population generally unfriendly, compared to 17% globally. One American expat even shares that the “general unfriendliness of the people” is one of the worst things about living in Germany. Large shares of expats in Austria (48%), Germany (56%), and Switzerland (62%) find it hard to make friends with local residents (vs. 36% globally). In fact, 26% of the respondents in Switzerland even say it could not be any harder, which is twice the global average (13%). It might be the lack of social relationships that leaves expats in the German-speaking countries unhappy: 13% in Austria and 14% in both Switzerland and Germany say they are generally unhappy with their life (vs. 11% globally).

Iuliia Tore



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