Cultural Integration

How to avoid losing friends when moving abroad

Leaving behind friends is one of the biggest downsides to moving abroad, but these simple tips will help your relationships survive the distance.

Losing friends

By Sophie Pettit

Updated 29-2-2024

Moving abroad is never an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to leaving behind your close friends and family. Whether you are departing your home country to embark on a new chapter abroad, or you’re already an expat and starting afresh once again, the emotional impact of losing friends can be significant. You might also receive some surprising and varying reactions from your loved ones when you announce your decision to move abroad. For instance, some might be instantly excited and supportive of the idea, while others might feel disappointed or even resentful.

Of all the things you need to sort out before you move abroad, dealing with pushback from friends and family is one you perhaps didn’t expect would give you so much grief. But moving countries doesn’t have to bring an end to the relationships you worked so hard to build; especially when there are easy ways to stay connected when you are away. Here are some simple tips to help you keep your friendships alive and kicking.

Reassure your friends they aren’t abandoned

Feeling abandoned is never a pleasant feeling, but you might have to face the reality that some friends may feel this way when you announce your plan to move overseas. This might be especially true of your closest and long-time friends with whom you share the strongest connections. Some may express anger or frustration, while others may even make a pre-emptive strike and stop speaking to you once reality hits. You shouldn’t take this personally though; it may be their own way of protecting themselves. After all, they may be choosing to abandon you before you can abandon them.

Two friends hugging

The reaction of friends can, of course, depend on the nature of the place you live in. In large expat-centric cities, for example, your nearest and dearest might be more accepting of the transient nature of the community than in more remote areas. Those who aren’t so used to friends coming and going, on the other hand, might expect the people they love to stay in their lives for the duration – and feel pretty bitter if they don’t.

Whatever reactions you receive, the important thing is to reassure your friends that you are not abandoning them; you are simply moving on. Staying connected from this moment on is very important. Take them out for coffee or dinner, talk to them about how you can stay in touch and visit each other, and with time, they will hopefully come round and support your decision to move. If not, then perhaps this isn’t the kind of friendship worth holding on to – which brings us to the next point.

Don’t be afraid of letting go

It might sound harsh, but learning how to let go of friendships that no longer serve you is an important part of being an expat (or an immigrant) – and a human. It is inevitable that we lose touch with certain people when we move abroad and begin a new chapter. Some might promise to stay in touch but don’t, while others might appear to never have the time to chat, email, or visit.

Woman alone on the couch

In today’s fast-paced world, we are all so busy with our jobs, social lives, families, and hobbies, that finding the time for maintaining friendships takes work. It is down to the willingness of both parties to put in the time and effort the friendship needs to survive.

Therefore, don’t be afraid of losing friends who can’t or won’t commit to keeping the connection alive. This can feel sorrowful to begin with; after all, you likely shared some fantastic times together and clearly get on well. But life is short, and if you allow yourself to let go of friendships that won’t survive the long-haul, you are actually doing both of you a favor. This simply frees up more time to invest in those friends who are willing to make the effort, as well as making new ones where you have moved to.

Use technology to stay in touch

This tip might sound blindingly obvious, but it’s surprising how quickly people fall out of touch when they move abroad. After all, if your friends follow the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ way of thinking, they may struggle to keep up with you if they don’t see you regularly. This is where modern technology can save the day. With so many messaging apps now on offer, it is easier than ever to stay connected to our loved ones. You might be thousands of miles apart, but the Internet makes the world feel a lot smaller.

Man videocalling friend

Whether you schedule a weekly Skype date, make a random WhatsApp call on the off-chance that your buddy answers, or share fun articles or videos on Facebook, keeping friendships alive is easier now than ever.

Scheduling time in advance to check in on your friends is a great way to stay consistent and not let your hectic schedules and conflicting time zones get in the way. But if you can’t wait to share that hilarious clip with them, just bear in mind the time difference before you accidentally wake them up in the middle of the night with a spinning squirrel compilation.

Be old-school and send a letter or gift

As fantastic as modern technology can be, no one can deny the joy you feel when you receive a hand-written card or gift from your friend overseas. Whether you make this yourself or buy it at a store, just sending it shows that you are thinking of them even if you don’t talk that often.

Sending postcard

This idea doesn’t have to be limited to just their birthday or Christmas either; often the most random and unexpected treats make the biggest impression. You could send your friend a postcard or souvenir from your new home country, or a gift that will remind them of a special time you once shared together. While a Skype date is lovely, sometimes you just can’t beat the good old-school approach.

Rekindle old friendships and embrace new ones

If you are moving back home after living abroad for some time, one of the biggest advantages you can enjoy is being able to rekindle old friendships. This can be particularly helpful if you are struggling with reverse culture shock and feel a bit out of touch during the repatriation phase.

Friends reuniting

Having a close and trusted friend on hand to lend a supportive ear can help you during this challenging transition; especially if that friend has lived in other parts of the world too and shares your love of travel. Moving back home also means that the people you have kept in touch with only sporadically can now become frequent visitors and closer friends than they have ever been in the past.

After all, as the saying goes: when one door closes, another one opens.