How To Make Friends in the US (When Relocating)

“I am a university student from Germany and have just come to the US. I am hoping to meet some like-minded people and make friends, but not sure how to. Any tips on how a foreign exchange student can make friends in the States?”

Traveling to another country or relocating can be exciting but also challenging. Language and culture barriers can make it hard to communicate and connect with people, and some people find it difficult to fit in when they come to the US.[1] With time and effort, it’s possible to overcome these barriers make new friends, which is one of the best ways to make the adjustment to the US easier.[2]

This article will provide tips and strategies on how to meet people and make friends when traveling in the United States or if you are relocating.

1. Learn the social norms and customs of the US

One of the hardest aspects of moving to another country is adapting to a new set of customs and norms.[1] There are some aspects of life within the US that may be very different from what you are used to in your home country. Understanding what these are can make it easier to adjust and adapt to American culture.

Some things to be aware of when traveling to the US are:[3][4]

  • Tips are generally not included in your bill at a restaurant or bar, and it’s customary to leave between 15-20% tips for whoever served your food and drinks.
  • Most people in the US only speak English, so this will be the best way to communicate with people.
  • Americans tend to like their personal space more than people from other cultures, so be careful not to get too close (stand about 2 feet away from someone).
  • Too much eye contact can make Americans feel uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know them or aren’t in a conversation with them.
  • Small talk is common among people in the US, and asking, “how are you?” is a polite gesture and not always an invitation to engage in a deeper conversation.
  • Americans tend to be casual in the way they dress, talk, and interact with one another unless it is a professional or formal setting.
  • Americans don’t normally talk about emotional, sensitive, or controversial topics (i.e., money, sex, politics, etc.) with people they don’t know well.
  • Smiling and being friendly with people is the best way to form friendships with people in any country, including in the States.

2. Get involved in activities you enjoy

By getting involved in activities or events you enjoy or are interested in, you are likely to meet other like-minded people, which can make it easier to relate and connect with them. Getting out and being more active and social also helps you get used to the culture and lifestyle here.

Here are some activities that are available in most towns and cities in the US:

  • Recreational sports leagues (like soccer, softball, or tennis)
  • Physical exercise classes at local gyms or parks
  • Classes that teach cooking, art, or other hobbies
  • Volunteering opportunities

3. Take English classes

Because most people in the US only speak English, mastering the language will make it much easier to adjust to life in America. One good way to improve your English is to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults, which are offered at many colleges and community centers.

These classes are often low-cost or free to attend and help people improve their English while also teaching them about American norms and culture. Another upside to attending an ESL class is that you will likely meet other foreigners who have recently moved to the United States, and some may even be from your home country.

4. Find people from your culture

America is often called ‘the melting pot’ because it has many citizens who have immigrated from other countries. In most cities in America, you can find a community of people who are from your home country, or at least a community of people who speak your language.

Finding people from your home country can ease feelings of homesickness and also make it easier to find friends who can relate to your experiences. Searching online for local expat groups, look on meetup.com for relevant meetups, or joining Facebook groups for people from your country or culture.

5. Go online to meet people and make friends

Many Americans use an app to make friends. Friend apps like Bumble or Friender are popular and easy to use. These apps also help to match you with others who have similar interests and hobbies, making it easy to meet compatible people. Sites like Meetup and Nextdoor are also great for meeting people in your neighborhood and wider community.

6. Ask people for help when you need it

When you first come to the US, you will probably have a lot of questions about how things work here, and this can be a great way to meet people and start conversations with them. Many people will be happy to answer questions or lend you a hand if you need it, and sometimes, this can even lead to deeper conversations or an opportunity to make a new friend.

Here are some ideas about how to ask for help:

· Ask a neighbor for directions to the store or to tell you about the neighborhood

· Ask a coworker to show you around the office or help you with a task

· Ask people you meet for recommendations about where to eat, shop, or what to do

7. Seek out people who are open-minded

Unfortunately, not all Americans are receptive and open to forming friendships with people from other countries. According to research, people who are more open-minded are more likely to be open to friendships with people who are different from them, including foreigners.[2]

One way to find open-minded people in the US is to go to places, events, and activities that attract open-minded and creative people, including expat groups, art classes, or events hosted by local colleges.

8. Make the first move and ask people to hang out

Many Americans struggle with social anxiety and feel shy or nervous about making the first move to get to know someone better, and this may be even more true with people from another country.[4] This may mean that the only way to make friends in the US is to make the first move in starting conversations with people, asking them questions, and inviting them to hang out.

Here are some casual ways to ask people to hang out:

· “I was planning on going for lunch in a little bit. Would you like to join?”

· “We should get drinks sometime.”

· “Do you know of any fun activities going on this weekend?”

9. Get to know the people you see often

People tend to form friendships more easily and naturally with people who they see and interact with often. Striking up conversations with coworkers, neighbors, or people who go to the same church or gym as you can sometimes be a great way to begin making friends in the US. If you have a dog, go for walks in the same park several times per week. Dogs can be good icebreakers, as many Americans love talking about their pets.

If you have children, try talking to the other parents when you drop your child off at school or when you pick them up. You could also join the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA) as a way of meeting other parents.

Because you’ll see each other a lot, it will take less effort to interact with people you see often. In some instances, these people can also introduce you to other friends in their network. It’s OK to tell them that you are looking for new friends. Most people will appreciate that you are trying to get a social life and build a social circle from scratch.

10. Be patient but persistent when making friends

In America, friendships often take time to develop, so it’s important to be patient but also persistent.[4] It can take time, effort, and energy to develop a close friendship with someone, so don’t expect to make best friends with someone in just a few weeks. Instead, start out slow and steady by showing interest in people, taking the lead in asking them to hang out, and making an effort to stay in touch with people you meet.

11. Know when to cut your losses

Unfortunately, not all of your initial efforts to make friends will work out. Over time, it will become clear which people are ‘friendship’ material and which are not. Some signs that people are or are not ‘friendship’ material are outlined below.

Signs of a good friend Signs of a bad friend
Shows interest in getting to know you Shows little or no interest in you
Responds to you when you text or call Does not respond to texts or calls
Makes an effort to spend time with you Makes little or no effort to see you
Treats you kindly and with respect Is sometimes rude, mean, or critical
Is consistent and follows through Is flaky, inconsistent, or cancels plans

Final thoughts

Even though language barriers and cultural differences can make it harder to connect, it’s possible for people from other countries to make friends in the US. If you get out, talk to people, and make an effort to spend time with people, you are bound to make friends.

Common questions about making friends in the US

Why is it so hard to make friends in the US?

Americans are generally individualistic, meaning it can take more time, effort, and persistence to get close with them. Also, many Americans feel anxious or shy about social interactions, especially with people they perceive are different from them.

What are the best ways to meet people in the US?

Join activity groups for like-minded people and bond over shared activities. Make an effort to talk to people you see on a regular basis and invite them to hang out. Friend apps can be great ways to meet people, and social media can help you find activities and events near you.

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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