Friday, 30 January 2015

Mixing with the locals vs mixing with expats


To some, the idea of settling into a ‘home away from home’ will entail finding a group of like-minded people who are going through a similar process – other expats.  To others, the notion of staying in the ‘expat bubble’ can be a wasted opportunity to explore new people, cultures and customs.

Our 2014 HSBC Expat Explorer survey revealed that expats are deeply torn on this debate.  44% of expats say they tend to go out with other expats more than the locals and in the world’s fast paced business centres, expats love nothing more than to share an evening with their expat colleagues. China, in particular, can be a difficult work culture to adjust to and 42% of expats in the country say they struggled to make the transition. With punctuality of the upmost importance, ‘saving face’ a key concept and gift giving an important part of etiquette, learning from an experienced expat can be vital. As one expat who moved to China from Indonesia told us, “Prepare for a different culture and attitude”. Perhaps that’s why expats in China (70%), Hong Kong (65%) and UAE (64%) are amongst the most likely to find friendship with other expats.


For all the benefits of expat mentors, a healthy number (31%) of expats told us they have more local than expat friends. Learning the local language is a vital gateway to making local friends and learning more about your new host country.  Only 19% of expats in Mexico said they had difficulty learning the language, which is perhaps the reason why an overwhelming 61% of expats in the country say they have more local than expat friends. If you would like tips on picking up the local language quickly, read our blog post on the topic here. As one of the contributors to our Hints and Tips page stated, “Always try to learn the local language. Avoid staying with the expat community only”.  Furthermore, Mexico’s street food scene is widely celebrated, and is also provides a fantastic social hub where locals and expats can mix.  Mexico’s internationally recognised festivals are also a great opportunity for expats to join in and party with locals.    

Inevitably, some expats would agree that finding a balance of meeting locals and other expats would be a good way to approach establishing your social life. One expat gave his advice on achieving this balance via our Hints and Tips page, “Joining the local football team can be a good way to meet locals and fellow expats” (added by Tobi Albisrieden).  Getting to know the locals comes hand in hand with gaining local knowledge about your new area from people who have lived there for the longest amount of time. Another expat told us, “Find any excuse to talk to locals (taxi Drivers, Hairdressers, Waiters, etc.)  It sounds simple but often the best tips and insights will come from them”.

What has your experience of making friends as an expat been?  Leave a comment

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