The best places in the world to meet like-minded expats

March 3, 2010
Pattaya, Thailand

One of reasons that a lot of people are hesitant about making a move overseas is because they’re concerned about being isolated. The world can be a cruel place, especially to newbies.

Sure there are the nomads out there who want to be left alone with their little slice of paradise in the middle of nowhere… but most people crave some human interaction from time to time, especially from like-minded souls.

I’m one of those people. I enjoy the company of interesting, like-minded, and well-rounded individuals.  This is the chief reason that I’ve encouraged kindred readers to join us in the private Atlas 400 group, whose next gathering is coming up next month in Panama. I’ll be there.

On the subject of social interaction, I think Panama is one of the easier places in the world to meet people, both foreign and local. Despite Panama being a Spanish speaking country, the English language is absolutely pervasive, particularly in Panama City and Boquete.

It’s easy to meet anyone, and with the exception of a handful of elitist gringos who think too highly of themselves for having lived in the country for so long, most people are actually quite friendly and welcoming.

As a rule of thumb, the more ‘international’ a city is on a per-capita basis, the easier it will be to meet like-minded, English-speaking expats who are at your level.  Panama City has about 50,000 expats and roughly 1 million locals.  Boquete has a population of about 20,000 with at least 5,000 expats.

By contrast, as city like Shanghai has 300,000 expats and 17 million Chinese people, most of whom do not speak English.  You get the idea.

I’ve honestly found both Phuket and Pattaya, Thailand, which are fairly small cities of about 100,000 each, to be among the most international cities in the world on a per-capita basis.

Here in Pattaya, for example, I have gotten to know people from 6-continents– a Russian movie producer, a French investment banker, a Norwegian surgeon, Canadian entrepreneurs, a retired Australian footballer, an Indonesian factory owner, Yemeni medical tourists, Sudanese vagabonds, and a lovely topless sunbather from Peru.

In fact, Pattaya is the only place in the world that I have been to where on a single block you can see a dry cleaner’s sign in Arabic, a restaurant shingle in German, a real estate billboard in Russian, a newspaper kiosk in Thai, a travel agency in Mandarin Chinese, and a Go-Go bar promotion in English. It’s really amazing.

Just recently I was having lunch in an Arabic restaurant owned and operated by former Iraqi soldiers of the elite Republican Guard. When I looked around and saw Russians, Europeans, Africans, Arabs, and a handful of Jewish tourists eating large meze plates, I thought that I must have stumbled upon the center of the universe… or some strange version of MLK’s dream.

In these sorts of ultra-international locales, breaking the ice is as simple as asking the question, “where are you from?” Be prepared for long answers.

Other places that you may want to consider are Singapore, Hong Kong, Qatar, Capetown, Dubai (though it’s a bit pretentious), Georgetown (Malaysia), Punta del Este (Uruguay), Hanoi (Vietnam), Colima (Mexico), Medellin (Colombia), Cuenca (Ecuador), and just about any mid-sized city in Brazil (Natal, Florianópolis).