Moving to another country can be a daunting task. It can mean dealing with a new workplace and new colleagues, perhaps while also wrestling with an unfamiliar language and different customs. Meanwhile, you may need to adjust family life to your new location, find a school for your children, and settle into a new social scene. These are all challenging tasks, and one of the biggest wellbeing issues reported by expats is isolation. This was obviously a major problem during the pandemic, but it can afflict you at any time. It can sometimes be hard to keep a healthy social life going, whether with fellow expats or with locals.
Establishing a social circle
Research undertaken by leading bank HSBC, back in 2011, highlighted expats’ concerns in establishing a new social circle. 41% of the participants surveyed by researchers said that maintaining social contacts was their primary concern when moving abroad. This was a particular worry among female respondents, but men can also benefit from social contacts, especially once they have reached middle age. Books like Billy Baker’s We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends and others address what is increasingly coming to be seen as a social problem. Health insurers have described loneliness as ‘the new pandemic.’ HSBC says:
“A strong social circle that consists of people both from your home country and from your expat destination can help you to settle in more quickly and feel a true sense of belonging.”
If you are relocating because your partner’s work is taking the family abroad, as a so-called ‘trailing spouse’, you can run the risk of becoming isolated in the home. Not all spouses can get the right work permit to enable them to take up employment locally, and childcare can make this impossible, too. Mums often find social circles at local international schools, but what if your children are not of school age?
HSBC recommends participating in sports, joining professional organisations, and seeking out expat clubs and groups. Voluntary groups and language exchanges can be valuable, too. But if you have small children, finding the time to engage with these groups can be difficult.
Using technology to connect
Times are changing, and new technology can help battle feelings of isolation. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home via platforms such as Zoom or Skype is one option. However, although this can be invaluable in maintaining those vital contacts with your loved ones back home, it does not and should not replace face-to-face contact in your new location. The good news is, digital assistance is growing beyond Zoom. There are a number of new apps available which are designed to help you make those in-person connections.
Expat Focus has heard from the designers of one such app: MatchFamilies. MatchFamilies is based in Germany, where over 6,000 families are using it. The company has already held a number of in-person events.
Their goal is to help families improve their social life and be part of a supportive community by making it easy to find friends and make a connection. They advertise that families can:
- Find families nearby that perfectly match theirs
- Chat with them and arrange meetups, hiking trips, picnics or whatever they like
- Attend local family-friendly events as an entire family, chat with other adults while kids play
- Explore local activities for families, get tips and recommendations from their local community
The app is aimed at families who would like to expand their social circle and meet other likeminded families to make friends. This is especially beneficial to people who have just moved to a new country.
The app is free and easy to use. You first need to indicate your first and last name, gender, email address and password. The app will then send you an email to verify your email address. You need to follow the link from that message to verify it. After that you can log into the app with your credentials, fill in your profile, and start using the platform. You can also use your Apple, Google or Facebook ID to sign up.
MatchFamilies is free to download and use. Here are the main features available free of charge:
- Explore suggested family profiles
- Search for compatible families nearby
- Chat with matched families and arrange meetups
- Access all content in our Community Board
The App also has a Premium subscription (€3,99/month), which allows users to:
- Search for families/couples in other cities and countries
- See who liked your profile
- Like and send a personal message even before matching
- No advertisements
MatchFamilies is currently available in Germany and the Netherlands, with a plan for further rollout in the near future.
Other useful apps
MatchFamilies is not the only meet-up app on the market. There are others, aimed, for example, at individual travellers, which may also be useful for expats resident in a country. One such is Eatwith, focusing on food experiences with local people, and it’s available in more than 100 countries. Go to the app, select the city you’re visiting, and see what food experiences are available.
Meetup also connects people who share passions and hobbies – from sport to learning a language to simply chatting, Meetup is available in cities like Berlin, London and Tokyo.
UNBLND is a worldwide social network that connects people, putting you in touch with like-minded people based on interests and hobbies (it’s based on the word ‘unblind’ and is so called because it is initially anonymous, with no profile pictures). Similar apps include Vingle and Patook. OneRoof allows you to connect with your neighbours.
And, of course, don’t forget our Expat Focus Facebook groups to connect with other expats in your host nation. You can find links on the Expat Focus website.