Unveiling InterNations: Expat Life and Global Connections – An Interview with Founder Malte Zeeck

InterNations Founders and Co-CEOs Philipp von Plato & Malte Zeeck

InterNations Founders and Co-CEOs Philipp von Plato & Malte Zeeck
Photo courtesy of InterNations.

October 2023

Embarking on a journey into the vibrant world of global connections, we delve into the visionary mind behind InterNations, the colossal expat community that has redefined the way we navigate life abroad. In an exclusive interview with Malte Zeeck, the founder and co-CEO of InterNations, we uncover the origins, evolution, and unique attributes that have propelled this platform to become the beacon for expats, internationals, and global thinkers alike. From personal anecdotes to revolutionary milestones, join us as we unravel the story of InterNations and how it’s reshaping the way we bridge cultures and build meaningful relationships across borders.

1. What inspired you to create InterNations? Was there a personal experience or a gap in the market that motivated you to start this platform?

My co-founder Philipp and I met in the late 1990s when we both enrolled in an MBA program at the same university in Switzerland. Not only did we share the experience of living and learning abroad as two German students in a very international environment; but we both dreamed of starting our own business one day.

But after we graduated, we wanted to gain some professional experience first and ended up pursuing very different career paths. While I was working as an international TV reporter in Europe, Latin America, and South Asia, Philipp became a consultant for global bluechip companies in several European countries.

Our paths crossed again in Germany in early 2007. That was when we realized that, our different careers notwithstanding, we had one important experience in common: being an expat. Every time we moved to another destination for our jobs, we had to start all over again. Make new business contacts, find new friends, sort out the basics of life abroad … it was often tedious and time-consuming.

And 16 years ago, social media was still in its infancy. For example, Facebook was mainly known as a student network since it had only been open to everyone aged 13 or older for less than a year. So, we thought that there should be a dedicated community for people living and working abroad to network and socialize. A community that would make life abroad easier for expats.

That’s how the idea of InterNations was born. We officially founded the company in May 2007, drafting the first version of our website and coming up with a detailed business plan. In September 2007, we were finally able to launch the site.

2. How has InterNations evolved and distinguished itself in the world of expat communities and social networking platforms?

From what started out as a network of friends living abroad, InterNations has by now grown into the world’s largest community for expats, internationals, and global minds. Today, we have around 5 million members all over the globe.

When we started out 16 years ago, we had thought of InterNations as an online network only. Our members were supposed to connect through messages and share information on life abroad in forums. We had underestimated people’s need to meet in person and make friends. So, in 2008, we launched our first in-person events, which have become our trademark.

Today, InterNations organizes around 4,000 events worldwide every month. They help our members feel at home abroad, whether they move to Buenos Aires, Berlin or Beijing. Besides the bigger official events, we offer activities in special interest groups, be it for movies, business networking, or hiking.

What sets us apart is that we are truly global, while other expat communities are limited to one specific city, region, or country

And our events make us stand out from other social networks. I personally believe that the best way of making meaningful connections is actually talking to other people face to face.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we did start offering online events as well because our members worldwide were subject to restrictions Especially in places with strict lockdowns, these events helped our members through some tough times. We’ve now kept these virtual gatherings as they help members in smaller or remote places to participate in our global community life.

3. InterNations has grown into a global community with millions of members. What strategies did you employ to scale the platform and attract such a diverse user base?

Word-of-mouth recommendations are a really helpful asset when it comes to attracting new members, especially with our in-person events. If the members are happy with our events and activities, then they will not only be back next time; they’ll also bring along their colleagues, partner, or friends.

Apart from that, expats may also have heard about InterNations in connection with our Expat Insider survey, one of the world’s most comprehensive studies on life abroad. More than 12,000 respondents share detailed information on working conditions, healthcare, housing, living expenses, the overall quality of life, and the ease of making friends. Thanks to Expat Insider, many expats will know us as experts on living abroad, as our survey’s cited by more than 1,000 international media outlets per year.

InterNations banner
4. Building and maintaining an engaged community can be challenging. How does InterNations foster meaningful connections among its members and encourage active participation?

It’s the mix of bigger, official events and meeting people with similar passions in our groups.

Some expats may feel that they have to give up their favorite hobbies when moving abroad, so interest-based groups really help with this. For instance, joining a cycling, board game, or history lovers group can make you really feel at home.

All our events are hosted by our InterNations Ambassadors and Consuls. The former bring people together at large InterNations Official Events at least once a month, and the latter are in charge of our smaller get-togethers called activities. They’re friendly, motivated people who have a knack for networking and who just want to have fun doing what they love.

If you’re new to InterNations in general or to a specific community, you might feel a bit nervous about just showing up at one of our events, though. That’s why we’ve also introduced special Newcomers’ Events in our bigger communities. There, you’ll get to join some ice-breaker games, get to know some of the local Consuls and Ambassadors, and get to mingle with other new arrivals.

5. In recent years, digital privacy and security have become major concerns for online platforms. How does InterNations prioritize the privacy and safety of its members’ personal information?

Today, users’ personal data and information on their behavior is often mined for advertising purposes or even sold to third parties as a means to boost revenue. But that’s a no-go for us. Instead, we rely on our premium membership fees and corporate advertising partners. We make sure that these advertising partners sell products and services that are relevant to people moving abroad. Protecting our members’ data is very important to us.

Many people are also wary of being targeted by trolls or scammers on social networking platforms. We try to prevent abusive behavior by screening membership applications. If you aren’t invited by someone who’s already a member of our community, you need to be approved by our Support Team first. This way, we want to ensure a safer and hassle-free community. On top of that, InterNations offers the usual functions to protect our members’ safety and privacy, such as features to block other members or to report any kind of behavior that violates our community guidelines.

6. Could you share some success stories or testimonials from InterNations members who have benefited from the platform in their expat journeys?

Berin from the InterNations Istanbul Community: “InterNations helps you meet new people and makes you feel like you’re a part of a big family. You can find lots of opportunities to enjoy hobbies or interests together.”

Angel from the InterNations Astana Community: “People I met at events organized by InterNations helped me find myself more quickly in a new city. They shared their experiences with everyday life abroad, which isn’t easy in a new place.”

Ranim from the InterNations Cairo Community: “InterNations helped me build my own business networking group, gain loads of international friendships, and make amazing connections.”

7. Looking ahead, what are the future plans and goals for InterNations? Are there any exciting features or initiatives that you’re currently working on?

We want our members to feel part of a vibrant, international community. And to achieve that, we constantly work on more and more diverse events that embrace difference, making expats feel at home in one of our communities around the world, wherever they are and wherever they come from.

The goal is that if you live in a city with a lively InterNations Community, you’ll always find some exciting upcoming events in your calendar!

To support that, we’ve recently added some new filter options in our events calendar. Members who live close to other cities with InterNations Communities can now easily see the events in these surrounding cities as well. So now there are even more opportunities to meet other expats and global minds.

In general, we believe that the global expat population is evolving; demographics are changing, there’s more variety and people move abroad for many different reasons. In order to be able to also offer the expats of the future a valuable platform and community, we’re currently doing some research on global trends in this area.

About InterNations

With about 5 million members in 420 cities around the world, InterNations is the largest global community and a source of information for people who live and work abroad. InterNations offers global and local networking and socializing, both online and face-to-face. At around 4,000 events and activities per month, expatriates have the opportunity to meet other global minds. Online services include discussion forums and helpful articles with personal expat experiences, tips, and information about life abroad. Membership is by approval only to ensure we remain a community of trust. InterNations is part of the NEW WORK SE, a group of brands that offer products and services for a better working life.

As we conclude this illuminating journey into the heart of InterNations, you’re invited to step into a world of shared passions, engaging activities, and the warmth of diverse friendships. Embark on your very own expat adventure by joining the InterNations community today. Let your story intertwine with countless others, where each connection is a chapter waiting to be written. Welcome to InterNations – where the world becomes your community, and every interaction is a chance to discover something new. Join us and make your global journey extraordinary.

Postcards from the Road