When I moved abroad eleven or so years ago the concept of networking made me cringe – the thought of forcing myself to go out and glad hand people with a false smile on my face because ‘it’s the only way to get ahead’ actually made me nauseous!

But then I learned that networking is not so much about attending tedious functions and being boring, it’s got more to do with being positive and proactive.  What’s more, networking is the number one way for expats to get settled, get sorted and even get ahead.  In this, the expat’s essential guide to networking I will show you how you as a working expat, an accompanying partner or a go it alone explorer can use networking to your best advantage and even enjoy the process.

Why Networking is So Important

You may not know it but before you move abroad you are working within your own little network already.  It is made up, effortlessly, of everyone from your neighbour to your parents, from your work colleagues to your old college friends.  You have people you can call on in a crisis, people who can help out with childcare, those you can lean on when you’re feeling down and probably a whole host of happy souls you can go out and celebrate with.  These people are your network.

When you move abroad you leave the vast majority of these people behind – perhaps just taking your partner along for the ride.  All of a sudden you are cast adrift and you have no idea of where you can turn to find out bus times, where to get the best groceries, how to ask for directions in the new language of your country of choice, or even which school is best for your expat children.  It is at this point that many expats panic and the euphoria of having made a move abroad disperses leaving behind a sense of despair.  But you need not despair because help is readily at hand.

There is not an expat out there who has not gone through what you are feeling at this point, which is why, on the whole, every single expat you approach for support will be only too glad to assist you.  That’s the good news!  But finding these helpful expats and tapping them for support is where the hard work starts.

Networking is therefore essential to keep you sane (!), to help you settle in and find your way around, and for a working expat, networking can really help you get ahead and get noticed (for the right reasons!) in the workplace.

How to Begin Networking

You can begin networking even before you move overseas.  You can get online on the expat forums and the forums dedicated to the country you’re moving to and begin interacting with the more lucid and friendly people who regularly post thereon.  You can read up about what’s what and more importantly perhaps, you can even begin to establish friendship or at least acquaintances before you even move.

If you are open, receptive and intelligent in your questioning you will quickly see what I mean when I say how willing expats are to help and advise.  However, here’s a VERY important word of warning!  Expats whinge – we’re famous for it – not satisfied with earning better salaries, paying less tax, having a freer lifestyle and seeing the world and living the dream we whinge about everything from the weather to the locals, the language to the bureaucracy – it’s just what we do.  So if you come across negativity, don’t be put off making the move if you were formerly committed to it.  Take that which you read in balance and in context and remember that everyone has their own experiences of life abroad and their own interpretation of what makes for a good lifestyle.

When on the forums and online, look around for any mention of expat groups, social groups, sports clubs or events that international citizens are specifically invited to.  Make a date of all of these events and once you land, begin attending anything and everything you have heard about.  Even if the thought of joining a Women’s Group or a British Club fills you will horror, keep an open mind and just think, if you meet but one friendly face, it’s one person more than you knew yesterday.  The best thing about beginning to network is that you begin to get known.  When you begin to get known you begin to get invited to other events, and eventually you will find your way and find your place and find a group or society or even just a handful of friends that makes you happy.

That really is how very simple it is to start networking.

The Benefits of Networking

For an accompanying partner, building up a group of friends can make the difference between loving and loathing your new life abroad.  You will find people who can give you advice and information, you will find pals to go to the movies with, you will get given names of reliable baby sitters or cleaners and you’ll likely learn where the best bargains are to be bagged and which tradesmen to avoid without having to suffer from the benefit of personal experience!

For a working expat, networking works on many levels – for the social side of things, see above!  And from a professional point of view you will quickly learn which companies to associate with, which personnel in your office are to be avoided, which to be trusted, who you can rely upon and who will offer you support and advice to advance your career.  You can use office events to raise your own personal profile, you can show that you are a conscientious and consistent deliverer and that you too can be called upon to give support and assistance to others.

And for those venturing overseas by themselves, all of the above benefits are applicable, coupled with gaining insight into which clubs play the best music, which bars have the most attractive singletons (!), where to go to make friends and what to do at the weekends when couples and families are all busy doing their own thing.

Successful Networking Tips

Initially you may feel that the whole networking thing can only work one way – i.e., you’re a taker seeking advice and assistance and that you have nothing to give in return.  This may be true in the very early stages, but it will not be a situation that lasts.  No sooner will you have started to find your feet than another expat family will land and you will already be in a position to pass on the benefits of your own experiences.  What’s more, you move abroad with all your past experiences and past talents in tow – this means you can be of help and support immediately and you can certainly be a good friend to a new good friend!  Networking works both ways – and just remember this, if someone asks something of you, graciously do all you can to help, because tomorrow it could be you seeking a favour from someone else.

Never forget names and numbers – carry an address book, PDA or business card holder with you.  And never let anyone else forget your name or number either, get some personal cards made up with your details and hand them out freely.  You can even add some personal details such as the area in which you work or would like to work or what you enjoy doing as a pastime, that way people will remember you and they will call you to invite you along to social occasions that you might enjoy.

And finally, try and be friendly and all smiling whenever you’re in a networking situation, whilst you may be feeling despair as you struggle to settle in, a smiling face is a welcoming face and it will be more likely to draw those people to you who can save you and help you settle in so well that you get to the point where you have free time to whinge on forums too.