Loneliness and Other Expat Questions

This month the U.S. Surgeon General published an advisory report on the epidemic of loneliness in the United States. As a recent expat of seven months in Portugal, I have to say the most common question and worry I hear is about meeting people, finding community, and making friends. Especially among solo immigrants, the fear of being lonely is real.

I wrote here about midlife friendships as I was preparing to leave the U.S. As we age, we can begin to find that some friends just don’t fit anymore, and it’s time to let them go. Other friends die — I’d lost six by the time I reached 60 — leaving us too soon. As an introvert, I love my alone time. But, with my history of depression, I know that isolation is not healthy or safe. So I made finding friends my number-one priority as soon as I touched down in my new country.

Source: unknown

But not too many. I can’t handle too many “friends.” I use that noun sparingly and judiciously. I’m more of the adjective.  “Friendly.”

U.S. Report Highlights

Here’s a quick peek at the highlights of the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, which equates the health effects of a lack of social connection with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The following images were taken from Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, 2023.

“Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. Disconnection fundamentally affects our mental, physical, and societal health. In fact, loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges in their lives, and lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily.”

Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives. Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

American Loneliness

Source: http://kristenradtke.com

The U.S. report and its publicity reminded me of a graphic nonfiction book I’d read last year in the States, by author and illustrator Kristen Radtke. Many of Radtke’s observations and personal experiences she writes about in Seek You A Journey Through American Loneliness resonated with me. Radtke writes about three stages of loneliness — in your 20s, in your 50s, and 80s. My 20s saw suicide attempts. My 50s, core-rattling losses. I’m hoping my 80s don’t see the loss of my mind through the Alzheimer’s disease that runs in my father’s side of the family.

“Loneliness is a state of mind which doesn’t always correlate with aloneness.”

“Transactional relationships risk becoming more prevalent as we age.”

“Loneliness isn’t necessarily tied to whether you have a partner or a best friend or an aspirationally active social life in which you’re laughing all the time. It’s a variance that rests in the space between the relationships you have and the relationships you want. Loneliness lives in the gap.”

Kristen Radtke
“Once someone enters a prolonged period of loneliness, they may move into a state called hypervigilance, in which they become especially attuned to rejection, anticipating or imagining it even when no rejection occurs.”
Source: Kristen Radtke, Seek You A Journey Through American Loneliness

When Radtke writes of building false narratives and a hypervigilance to rejection, I can see glimpses of younger me. Not so much now that I’m older, wiser, and badassier (OK, fine…older), but every now and then I still catch myself spinning an unhealthy story that leaves me feeling like the outcast little girl I sometimes was.

“A hallmark of loneliness is shame: since childhood  there are few things more humiliating than being left out. Loneliness  implies a flaw in us like no other longing or sadness does. ‘I’m lonely’ translates to ‘I’m unlovable’ or ‘Nobody likes me.’ It says that you’re a loser.” 

Kristen Radtke, Seek You A Journey Through American Loneliness

It’s no wonder that concerns about forging social connections can be a strong deterrent to moving to a new country for many people, single or not.

Here or There…Lonely or Alone?

So, how to stave off loneliness, make meaningful connections, and develop friendships in a new country where you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and have moved to alone? Obviously, I’m no friendship coach, but I will share again my suggestions as a solo immigrant in a foreign country.

Wherever you are, in your native country or striking out in a new land, social connections are important for our mental and physical health. Loneliness and aloneness are not the same, though. Solo does not mean lonely.

“The more I’ve watched companionless strangers, the more I’ve come to think that these moments are only lonely for those who are observing them.”

Kristen Radtke

What do you think? Does any of this strike a chord with your own experience?

More Expat Questions

Besides the making-friends questions, I’ve received nearly 80 emails, Instagram DMs, and LinkedIn messages with other questions from folks who are planning or wanting to move to Portugal. I’m continually shocked by this result of the Condé Nast Traveler article, Blaxit Global, and Portugal The Simple Life episodes that featured The Hot Goddess blog. Women and men, single and married, midlife and not, have shared with me their stories and dreams of a new life abroad. I am honored. I offer my apologies to the 75 percent of people I’ve yet to personally reply to, but here are my answers to the other four top questions I get asked:


Can I call/meet you to pick your brain? I’m afraid all I know I have shared in detail on this blog. I’m still learning and sharing in these posts as I go, and don’t feel qualified to offer one-on-one consulting services. There are many expats who do offer this personal service for a fee, though.


What are your recommendations for places to live in Portugal? This is so dependent on personal preferences. One person’s paradise can be another’s hell. After just seven months here, without a car, I still have much more to discover about this beautiful country. I know I don’t like city living, so Lisbon and Porto are not for me. I know the wildly popular and hugely English-speaking Algarve region is not my cup of tea. I want to live oceanside, so inland locations are not places I would consider to live. I am a fan of the Silver Coast. Some of my favorite areas here include Foz do Arelho, São Martinho do Porto, and Óbidos. Nazaré is picturesque and popular with tourists who flock there to see the world-famous giant waves. Peniche and Baleal are small and also draw lots of surfers. Caldas da Rainha is a popular area and has a train station. Closer to Lisbon, I also like Ericeira and Santa Cruz coastal towns.


How did you find a lawyer/real estate agent/consultant to work with? I chose not to hire a consultant or real estate agent. I found my home myself, on Idealista.com, and dealt with the ReMax agent who represented the owner. I did hire a lawyer to review the lease. I got the lawyer’s name from another expat who was already living here. Unfortunately, I am no longer happy with that lawyer due to unresponsiveness on other unrelated queries, so I am not referring people anymore. When I do find a lawyer I am happy with, I will gladly share her or his contact information.


What/how did you pack? I wish I had a good answer for this. Truth is, I kick myself at least once a month for not bringing something — usually shoes or clothing because it’s tough to find tall sizes and 10-narrow shoes here. I was ruthless in giving away the majority of my belongings before I left the United States. I bought what I needed when I got here, where just about everything is significantly cheaper. Check out this post for my recommendations for getting your stuff over here. When I go to the U.S. for a visit, I will take two empty suitcases with me to fill with the items — personal artwork and things of sentimental significance — I planned to retrieve after I got settled. I will also stick many large containers of Jif extra-crunchy peanut butter, Garlic Expressions dressing, and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce in those suitcases, along with several jars of a favorite hair oil my Cleveland hairdresser makes. It’s the little things I can’t get here that I miss the most. What’s the best thing I brought with me? Magnetic door/window screens. They’re a must for keeping bugs outside where they belong, since most homes don’t have screens. I ordered mine from Amazon in the U.S. because I wanted to put them up as soon as I arrived, but I could have ordered them here from Amazon Spain.

That’s all for now. Muito obrigada for your emails. I so appreciate the kind words and encouragement. Be sure to subscribe and keep an eye out for my bi-monthly Midlife Expat Learning posts if you are planning or thinking about a move to Portugal. Thank you for reading!

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired

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    • Lacy, yes, you are so right. It is very difficult to meet new people and make new friends as we age, abroad and at home. Thank you so much for reading and commenting ❤️


      • Thanks for your response. I did not realize how loneliness was a factor for older adults. The recommendations that you give for living abroad also applies for domestic travelers.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. “Loneliness lives in the gap”. There, that’s the phrase that encompasses so much, doesn’t it!

    I love this post. I lived on two continents but as a child where my mom made all the decisions, but a lot of it resonates looking back at that time.

    It’s wonderful to live vicariously through your deliciously expressive blog!

    You will have to update us on the dating scene if and when you enter that in Portugal. Might be a very different experience from what you were used to in the US. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Brad, you are dealing with a lot of emotions as you navigate this time of transition with your mother. People who are going or have gone through what you are dealing with can be helpful connections. Are there local support groups? Is there a hospice organization that offers caregiver resources for connecting with others for support? What about church events, if you’re open to that?
      Take care of yourself. Hugs to you. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good advice for a single person in a new country. I can relate to the loneliness info. I discovered you can even be lonely when you live with someone. After I ended up retired at 60, I realized that if I wanted to have conversations etc. I needed to get out with people other than my very quiet husband to help stave off loneliness and depression. Other people and hobbies have kept me sane.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice. Still undecided on moving abroad,but loneliness and distance from family and friends is a primary concern. I am an introvert by nature and have no shortage of interest, but being in a foreign country with no friends or family is scary. I think connecting with others on Facebook and other social media platforms will help to allay my fears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jametta! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Yes, this is a scary thing to do alone. Not going to lie. But you make a great point about making connections on social media.


  4. Thanks s much for this post. Loneliness and it’s impact on mental health and well-being does not get the attention it deserves. Thanks for helping to shed light Natalie. I admire your bravery in moving to a whole-new-country and being deliberate to circle yourself with just enough “friends”. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Goddess, thank you for sharing your comments and insights on the loneliness report. You and other expats provide us with glimmers of hope and “real-time” guidance as we take our first steps on new paths. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about life and culture in eighty plus nations over the last sixty years as a traveler and teacher and I intend to follow your lead by offering a blog this fall that will reference your site of wisdom and learning as I think it speaks loud to venturing boomers, like you, me, and others to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, what a thoughtful comment. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words! Your world travels and multi-cultural exposure give you much knowledge and insight to share. I look forward to your blog! Best wishes on your new path ✨️.


  6. I’m pretty extroverted. Covid was a far more significant challenge (socially) for me than for my introverted friends. We all need some degree of human interaction as it feeds the soul. Of course, how much people need is where things get muddy since we’re all wired differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Pete. Our differing wiring muddies up much. I can only imagine how difficult Covid’s isolation was on extroverts. Human interaction, as you point out, is essential for our health. Thank you so much for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Good for you! Finding your people in a new place is very important, and choosing activities that one enjoys is a ket point to having enjoyable conversations, and possibly friendships!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love your tips for meeting people – they seem good for most any country.

    You had me laughing with, “I can’t handle too many “friends.” I use that noun sparingly and judiciously. I’m more of the adjective. “Friendly.”” How incredibly clever and self-aware! Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks so much for sharing . I will be turning the big 60 this year and look forward to moving to Portugal in 2-3 years . I am single and ready to do me. Loneliness can be wrapped with lots of emotions but if you let it settle you can come out with a true sense of yourself and freedom . Thanks for sharing . I admire your courage .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I can relate to where you are now. You make an excellent point about loneliness, other emotions, and ultimately finding your true self. I’m so excited for you and your journey. ❤️


  10. Excellent post, Natalie! Although my experience (moving from Ontario to British Columbia) pales in comparison to moving to another country with another language, I did experience some of the same concerns with loneliness. Luckily I am also an introvert so I only need a handful of relationships to avoid the “lonelies”, but they have to be deep and meaningful ones…which can be very hard to come by. Superficial relationships make me feel even lonelier, I have found.

    Through blogging (Yes! Blogging!), I had already made some wonderful connections with “my kind of” people who live in my new area so loneliness has not been the problem I anticipated. Did you find some ex-pat bloggers who live near you that you have made a connection with? You may have mentioned this on your blog already – my apologies if I missed it.

    Those magnetic bug screens!!! I just put a couple of them up this week and they are AMAZING. Now I just have to get Bowser to get used to going through them…


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this, Deb! We are on the same page about needing only a handful of meaningful relationships. I know what you mean about the wrong type of relationship feeling even lonelier.
      Great suggestion to look for other expat bloggers near me!
      And those magnetic screens! Couldn’t live here without them. Mr. Smarty Bowser will catch on, I’m sure! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a well-thought, informative and brilliant post, Natalie! Loneliness is a widespread epidemic, and meaningful social connections have never been more important. And you so correct, one has to put themselves out there in order to make friends or friendly connections and close acquaintances. Again, excellent points you make here. Keep exploring and having fun in your new home! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Khaya! ❤️ It can be hard to put oneself out there, and many times I have to force myself to do it, but, as you pointed out, meaningful social connections have never been more important.


  12. I’m with all your other commentators, Natalie, this is an excellent and important post. It’s at least as important for older people who don’t move. Your world shrinks, you may lose your life partner, and you have to build a new life for yourself at a time when you have less energy. You offer many good, concrete suggestions. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Best Post Ever! I don’t want to pick your brain; I want to be your friend. I arrive in Lisbon 6/1 and will travel around Portugal through August. Let’s meet up for a coffee or some vino! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “So I made finding friends my number-one priority as soon as I touched down in my new country.”

    I’m back in my home country after being an expat for a long time and this same rule applies when you have to assimilate back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gilian, thank you so much for reading, and for your insight as a long-time expat returning to your home country. I’ve read about reverse culture shock, and I can only imagine the challenges of assimilating back. Do you have suggestions for other expats returning to home countries? Thank you for sharing! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi. Haha. Yes, it is very challenging. What helped me was I have set in my mind that during the first year, I will refrain from mentioning or thinking, or missing the country where I came from. It was like facing a different direction and never looking back. At least for the first to two years. Everything must be about living and adjusting to the home country. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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