You’ve planned for your expat life in the US in a thousand ways. You’ve watched the shows, seen the movies, learned the lyrics to prepare you for an American life. You’re excited to dive and leave your home country behind.
But then you arrive and it’s not exactly like you pictured. The social code is more complicated than pop culture references and it’s not so obvious how to build a new network.
Luckily, a lot of people have done what you’re doing and they’re eager to help. By taking advantage of the vibrant expat community already in place, you’ll not only build a great network in the US—you’ll also open doors that probably would never have been accessible in your own country.
Top 6 strategies for expat networking
Connect with fellow expats
No amount of online research or guidebooks can unlock a new social code the way fellow expats can. They’ll help you communicate effectively, introduce you to their American connections, and serve as a sort of Rosetta Stone to connect the two cultures. Best of all, it’s a community that gives back. You won’t feel like you’re imposing when you ask questions or seek advice.
Know what you’re looking for
Do you want to make friends, scout potential job opportunities, raise money for your startup? Have a goal in mind when you look for ways to connect. By making sure your networking efforts line up with your goals, you’ll avoid wasting your time or becoming disappointed.
Be open to surprises
Opportunities may arise in unexpected ways. Someone you meet socially may end up having a lead on a job. A business colleague may know about the best after-school program for your children. Sometimes the best connections happen by accident so don’t be overly rigid in your strategies.
Focus on gatherings
It’s hard to build a network quickly by targeting one person at a time. Events allow you to meet many people at once, have a variety of quick conversations, and exchange contact information. That’s what everyone is there to do, so you’ll fit right in.
Stick with it
You may be tired after a long day or frustrated when you thought you made a great connection and they never called you back. It’s tempting to retreat after a setback, but you’ll have better success if you keep at it. When you find a group that feels promising, make yourself a regular, offer to help facilitate or set things up. A consistent routine will help you weather the bumps in the road and stay focused.
Don’t beat around the bush
If you’re looking for job opportunities, potential investors, or any other goal, get to the point quickly, including the financial side of the equation. In some cultures, it’s considered more polite to approach such topics gradually, but in the US it could be seen as wasting someone’s time. So feel free to say what’s on your mind.
Proven resources to build your network
- Facebook Groups and Events: It’s no surprise that the world’s largest social media platform can help you connect to new people. You can easily search for groups in your area or virtually, and you can see what’s popular with people already in your network.
- Chambers of Commerce: Many countries have specialized Chambers of Commerce to foster partnership and cooperation with US businesses. These organizations sponsor events and make introductions, and they’re specifically oriented to help expats in the US. You can find many European branches under the EuroCham umbrella. Asian and Latin American nations typically have independent chambers of commerce in the US, including China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and many more.
- Meetup: If you can think of it, there’s probably a group for it on Meetup, so let your imagination be your guide. You can also search past events and attendance to see if a group will be a good fit before you invest the time to attend. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, it’s a great platform to create your own group where lots of people will easily discover it.
- Eventbrite: This site is a go-to for networking events and industry talks, with lots of opportunities in the after-work timeframe, often coupled with a happy hour to make it convenient and convivial for professionals looking to grow their connections.
- Community organizations: Opportunities to meet people aren’t limited to strictly professional forums. Schools, churches, and sports clubs are a few examples of ways to connect with other people who share things in common with you and your family. Keep an eye out for message boards and newsletters with opportunities and events.
- Alumni associations: Even if it has been a while since you graduated, your university affiliation can be an excellent source for networking, especially when you’re far from home. Your alumni association can probably put you in touch with fellow graduates and they may host periodic networking events near you, especially if you’re located in a major city.
- LinkedIn: The go-to professional social networking platform for virtually everyone in the US, it’s less commonly used as an initial point of contact, but once you connect with someone in person, it’s very common to sync up on LinkedIn after that. Then you can follow people as their careers develop and they move from one organization to another. In some cases you can ask for a referral to specific jobs, and you can make yourself available to potential recruiters. It’s also a place where many people post blog articles and thought leadership pieces to increase their exposure and engage with peers. You can also find and join LinkedIn Groups based on nationality, industry, or areas of interest, and more.
- Consulate: Much like the Chamber of Commerce, your consulate is there to help you, and you shouldn’t underestimate the opportunities their diplomatic connections can unlock. An American entrepreneur might have no chance to get a meeting with senior executives at a major US tech company, while an expat might be able to get such a meeting based on the relationship with the consul. Getting acquainted with the consular staff could pay off in significant ways.
- Virtual events: COVID changed the way everyone works and does business, and virtual events are here to stay. Not only do they offer the convenience of attending from home, but they allow you to connect with people from anywhere. As we all know, it’s not quite the same as in person, but the reach is global. Make sure to stay for the networking session after the panel.
- Entrepreneur organizations: The startup culture is full of events and opportunities for networking—as a founder, user, employee, or investor. And there are numerous organizations tailored to expat entrepreneurs. For example, French Founders has 4,000 members and a wide range of resources and events, while Gold House focuses on Asian and Pacific Islanders and ASELA caters to entrepreneurs from Latin America. Many Americans participate in these types of organizations, too, especially those who want to get involved in the international arena.
These are just a few of the places you can turn to build your network. You don’t have to hit everything all at once and you don’t have to limit yourself to this list. Just remember that being an expat may come with both unique challenges and powerful advantages. By staying true to your roots, you can build a network so strong it will soon be the envy of your new connections in the US.
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