Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 September 2020

Seven ways to make friends and meet new people after moving to the UAE

Life in the UAE is one big boat, and we’re all in it together

Making friends after moving to a new country can be daunting, but there are plenty of easy ways to meet people in the UAE. Delores Johnson / The National 
Making friends after moving to a new country can be daunting, but there are plenty of easy ways to meet people in the UAE. Delores Johnson / The National 

For many people, arriving in the UAE is an exciting-yet-daunting process. Not only are you moving to a new country, it often means embracing a new culture, starting a new job and building a new social circle.

Making new friends can feel scary, especially for those arriving alone. Luckily, the great thing about living in a place like the UAE is that we all already share some vital common ground.

Most people you meet will understand what it feels like to be new and slightly daunted. Most people will be empathetic and welcoming, going out of their way to offer advice and include you in social situations. You will not be judged for striking up conversations with strangers or sending someone a message on social media. Life in the UAE is one big boat, and we’re all in it together.

There are plenty of ways to meet people, and have fun while doing so. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Find a Meet Up group

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 21 JUNE 2016. Members of the Table Top Cafe meet at the Sky Lounge in Gloria Hotel, Media City. Table Top Cafe is a new tabletop gaming community set up in Dubai to promote gatherings over board games. The members meet up several times a month in different cafes and restaurants to play games like Chess, Mahjong, Dungeons and Dragons, socialise, learn new games and hold competitions. LtoR: Awab AlShwaikh (Iraq), Filippo Cipriani (Italy), Agnes Koltay (Hungary) (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) ID: 17281. Journalist: Afshan Ahmed. Section: National. *** Local Caption *** AR_2106_Table_Top_Cafe-07.JPG
There are regular meet up groups around the UAE, like this one at Table Top Cafe in Duabi's Media City. Antonie Robertson / The National

Whatever your interest, there’s a Meet Up group for that. From board games to coffee, music to photography, there are thousands of social groups across the emirates that meet regularly to socialise, practice and discuss their hobbies and passions. Platforms like Meet Up and InterNations will show you the calendars for your areas, and you can search for the groups that interest you.

Away from the more specific groups, there are regular meet ups for new arrivals, singles and parents, giving people the chance to mingle and make friends. Most groups are free to join, and are a great first step for all new arrivals.

2. Join a sports team

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - August 18: Members of a dragon boating club off shore from the Mina Seyahi hotel in the Dubai Marina, on August 18, 2008. The members meet three times a week to practice their rowing skills. In this photo Michael Wong (left) and Phil Co (right) lead the way. (Randi Sokoloff / The National) *** Local Caption *** RS019-DRAGONBOAT.jpgRS019-DRAGONBOAT.jpg
Sports like Dragon Boating can also be sociable. Randi Sokoloff / The National

While there is plenty of serious competitive sport here in the UAE, there is also a huge social league culture. Many people join sports teams when arriving for the sole purpose of making friends, and it truly does not matter if you have never played before or haven’t played in years – there is a league to accommodate all levels and abilities.

From netball to Gaelic football, dragon boating and tag rugby, traditional and non-traditional sports from around the world are played here. Many teams host regular socials and mixers, and take part in competitions around the region. Not only will you get to meet plenty of new people, you’ll also be keeping fit in the process.

3. Download an app

Limiting your time online could help you to be more productive. The National
Apps can be used for more than just finding a romantic connection. The National

Apps have become the go-to dating method for many people around the world, but they are not just for romance. Many traditional dating apps also offer a friendship option so it is not uncommon to use apps in this capacity. You’ll find many people in the same boat, from new arrivals to people who have lived here for a while and are looking to expand their social circle. Just like dating, apps can be a less scary way to approach people at first, and give you a chance to have a chat before meeting in person. Bumble BFF and Friender are a good place to start.

4. See colleagues outside of work

A team ponders a question at a Karnataka Quiz Association meeting this month. Amirtharaj Stephen for The National
After work activities like pub quizzes can be a great way to bond with colleagues. Amirtharaj Stephen for The National

It might sound like an obvious one, but the friends you make in the workplace can be invaluable when arriving in the UAE. While in your previous jobs and countries, you may have chosen to keep your work and private lives separate, many offices here have a more sociable nature. If there is someone you get on with well, it’s worth suggesting an after-work drink or a working lunch, if they don’t ask you first. Many offices also have quiz teams or sports teams, so once you’re settled, start asking around.

5. Find a gym buddy

The 28-day Advanced Primal Transformation course at Haddins Gym at Zayed Sports City in July, 2013. Delores Johnson / The National
Gyms like Haddins at Zayed Sports City are a great place to meet new people. Delores Johnson / The National

Gyms are big business here in the UAE, with new openings popping up almost every week. Whether you’re looking for a traditional studio, or something more specific such as CrossFit, HIIT, spin or kick-boxing, there are plenty of options across the emirates. Many offer classes or boot camp programmes which can be a great way to get chatting to people, especially if you go regularly. Many residents are open to finding a gym buddy, not only to make working out a little more bearable but to also help keep them motivated. Haddins Gym in Abu Dhabi is particularly friendly and sociable, as is Warehouse Gym in Dubai. Concept gyms like F45 and Barry’s Boot camp are also great for meeting people, as they tend to draw a regular and committed crowd.

6. Join social media groups

Instagram is rolling out an update to allow users to report fake posts. AFP
There are plenty of helpful groups on Facebook that can also be a great place to make friends / AFP PHOTO / Manan VATSYAYANA
Instagram is rolling out an update to allow users to report fake posts. AFP
There are plenty of helpful groups on Facebook that can also be a great place to make friends / AFP PHOTO / Manan VATSYAYANA

Social media groups are a great place to turn to when any of those inevitable first-time queries pop-up. Good restaurants? Try Abu Dhabi Best Bites. Advice on the best schools? The Real Mums of Dubai will have the answer. There are dozens of helpful UAE Facebook groups, and they can do more than just answer your burning questions. From women’s groups to vegan pages, you’ll find dozens of forums on Facebook and Reddit that regularly advertise real-life meets. People are also generally extremely helpful, so don’t be afraid to message someone separately and strike up a conversation that way.

7. Volunteer your time

Abu Dhabi, March 23, 2018. Beach clean up at Lulu Island by volunteers. Victor Besa / The National National Reporter: Nick Webster
Beach clean ups can be a good way to socialise and do something worthwhile.Victor Besa / The National

There is no better way to find like-minded people than through volunteering. Having a shared cause you are passionate about will give you an instant way to bond, and plenty to keep you talking. Here in the UAE, there are plenty of ways to volunteer. From regular beach cleans to taking part in early morning turtle patrols, you can be safe in the knowledge that you not only might find a friend out of it, you are doing something worthwhile in the process.

Updated: October 2, 2019 03:29 PM

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