The countdown to those final months before our Big Move abroad was alternately nail biting and happy dance … happy dance and nail-biting. And the back-and-forth between the two quickened the closer we got to the (fill in the blank) ________ date. Stuff like visas, residency permits, immigration interviews, a place to live, shipping, health insurance, and so on. This, of course, will likely strike a chord for almost anyone determined to cross the pond as an expat/immigrant. And the subsequent stages are very relatable too.

Once landed as an immigrant, a whole new phase kicks in … celebrating the “I did it!” or “We did it!” feat. This “honeymoon” of revelling in the newness of new places, new events, and new food then leads to tackling the “softer” less pressing deadline issues of immigration such as driver’s license, taxes abroad, language, schools, doctors, etc.

And as the settling-in continues, the practical things arise that go along with any move, domestic or otherwise … haircuts and dog grooming, handymen, Netflix – and the real BIGGIE: making friends.

Making Friends – the right friends!

As John Donne, English poet, scholar, and priest of the 1600s, so aptly put it, “No man is an island”. That is, we are social animals who rely on the company and comfort of others in order to thrive (not to be confused with merely surviving).

It’s tricky territory, where we take a giant leap from our old life – leaving friends and family behind – to our new life where we have yet to develop meaningful relationships. A few well-chosen friends are key for us to have a successful thriving adjustment.

So how do we find our people? In the expat community, we can attend countless get-togethers, most over drinks and food, which reflect a kind of speed dating atmosphere. But as we know about dating – bars and drinking are not prime avenues for finding a match.

Because we’re just figuring out the lay of the land, discovering the people who resonate with our values and interests and would make compatible friends can often elude us in our new country. So we have to make extra efforts.

When I got here I knew that I most loved to be around people who, like myself – and as corny as it may sound – reflect on what’s truly important in life, being grateful for what I have and looking at the glass half-full. And I know as a therapist, that wellbeing is supported by staying away from gossip and dwelling on “poor me” stories of things gone wrong.

Know thyself

Before we can make friends, of course, we need to put ourselves in places to meet them. And finding venues that attract people with shared interests is a great way to explore this. I’ve met “friend material” through hiking, dance events, meditation gatherings, retreats, and the like.

To discover these groups and events, technology is our best friend. Social media here in Portugal is huge among expats! Generally speaking, I find those over 40 connect through Facebook pages (such as: “Portugal Conscious Community and Events”) and those under 40 follow social groups on Telegram (for example, in my neck of the woods, “Conscious Events⎹ South Portugal” is popular). Let us know your favorites in the comments section.

But before we go about meeting people with the idea of creating meaningful and authentic connections, it’s helpful to ask ourselves some simple clarifying questions of who we are and what we want (and it’s valuable to capture your answers on paper so you can review and discuss, maybe with a new friend!).

- What human qualities do I like?

- What human qualities don’t I like?

- What qualities am I made up of?

- How do I let others see my qualities and what I feel is important about myself? (Often times this can be demonstrated simply by your interactions with others that show, for example, you’re a generous and fair person.)

What are my interests and hobbies? (for example, volunteering might come to mind)

Finding Your “New Balance”

As we turn our attention to cultivating healthy relationships in our new country, at the same time, we want to get creative in staying in touch with our closest friends and family we said goodbye to.

Again, technology is our strong ally. I never used free voice and video calling (i.e. WhatsApp, Signal) much in the U.S. but now it’s a mainstay for keeping connected to the people I love.

With old friends, we’ll schedule a time that works for both of us, generally a weekend day, late morning for them and mid-to-late afternoon for me. Other expats have told me they have a weekly set time for hopping on video calls. (Do you have ideas? Let us know in the comments.)

Also, I’m a big believer in sharing a quick and simple “love note” when I’m reading an article or see something that I know would put a smile on a dear one’s face. I’ll just shoot them a WhatsApp text simply saying “thinking of you …” and add the link or pic snap. It’s an enriching way to send a beijinho (little kiss) from afar.

Friending: Inexact Science

This friend thing is an inexact science but because friendship is so vital to our well-being, it’s essential to know how to cultivate deep connections with the people we’re drawn to. When it feels right and you’re ready to take your friendship deeper, you can begin having conversations about your TRUE self. If the friendship is primed and the person is trustworthy, they will open up about their vulnerabilities too. If they don’t open up, either the friendship isn’t ready, or it’s time to find new friends.

Becca Williams is settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast. Contact her at


Becca Williams is originally from America but is now settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast. Contact her at

Becca Williams