How to make friends in Dubai and Abu Dhabi: 7 tips after moving to the UAE

Moving to another country is an opportunity to meet people, but it can also feel extremely daunting

Making friends in a new country can be daunting, but there are plenty of ways to meet people. Getty Images
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For many people, arriving in the UAE is an exciting-yet-daunting process.

Not only are you moving to a new country, but there's often a new culture to embrace, job to start and social circle to build at the same time.

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.

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 Meetup 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 Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

Whatever your interest, there's a Meetup group for it. From board games to coffee, music to crypto currency, there are a host of social groups across the emirates that meet regularly to socialise, practise and discuss their hobbies and passions.

Platforms like Meetup 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 substantial 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

Apps can be used for more than just finding a romantic connection. 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 veterans looking to expand their social circle. Just like with dating, apps can be a less scary way of approaching people at first - giving you the chance to chat before meeting in person. Bumble BFF and Friender are a good place to start.

4. See colleagues outside of work

After-work activities like pub quizzes can be a great way to bond with colleagues. 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 well with, it’s worth suggesting an after-work activity, a coffee break 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 in, start asking around.

5. Find a gym buddy

Gyms are big business here in the UAE, with new ones 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

Social media groups are a great place to turn to when inevitable first-time queries pop into your head. Good restaurants? Try Best Bites Abu Dhabi. 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 meetings. People are also generally extremely helpful, so don't be afraid to message someone separately to 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
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 lots of ways to volunteer. From regular beach cleans to early morning turtle patrols, these altruistic activities will keep you safe in the knowledge that in addition to socialising, you will also be doing something worthwhile in the process.

A version of this article was first published in 2019