How Facebook Has Become a Staple of Expat Life

All relationships mature and evolve, and the one that I’ve had with Facebook is no different. In no way is this more apparent than in how I’ve used the social networking site during my two stints as an expat.

When I left New York for Brazil in 2010, I relied heavily on Facebook to keep in touch with friends back home. The only people I had as “friends” were people I knew in real life, and it never occurred to me to use the service to interact with anyone with whom I wasn’t already personally acquainted. I posted rather frequently, and enjoyed seeing my friends’ reactions to what I’d shared.

Over time, however, I began to use Facebook differently. And, in a potentially troubling sign for Mark Zuckerberg and company, data shows I’m not alone. By the time I became an expat for the second time in 2014 when I moved to Singapore, I was hardly sharing anything anymore on Facebook, instead preferring to use other channels of communication. I’d developed concerns about the privacy of my data, and the site had started to feel too impersonal.

But, before going, at the suggestion of a friend of a friend, I joined several Singapore expat Facebook groups, introducing me to a world that I never knew existed. Even before I set foot on the plane, I had answers to questions about housing, childcare, expenses, and the feeling I had tapped into a distinct community.

Facebook estimates that there are 92 million expats registered with the service, or about 7% of total users. It doesn’t publicize any figures of how many expat groups exist, nor of how many users participate in these groups, but even a cursory look at the numbers shows quite staggering figures. It’s not uncommon for groups in large expat cities to have membership in the tens of thousands (the “Dubai expat community,” for example, had more than 47,300 members at last count), but even groups in cities not traditionally considered expat hubs fare well. (All 2,200 expats in the “Blantyre, Malawi Expat Social Group,” here’s looking at you!)