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Making life easier for expats – Interview with Malte Zeeck, CEO and co-founder of Internations

Internations is the leading network and guide for expats in 420 cities worldwide, encompassing over 3 million members and hosting over 6000 events per month. Over a decade now Internations has been simplifying the life of expats, offering not just a trusted network, but a community of global minds. Just recently we had the opportunity to talk with Malte Zeech, CEO and co-founder of Internations. Read more about Internations and their future plans in the interview here:

From journalism to entrepreneurship. When did your entrepreneurial story begin and how has the journey been so far?

As I’ve always had a true passion for travel, different cultures, and getting to know new people, the journey that led me to found InterNations began very early in my life: even when I was a child, my parents took us all around the world. Later I joined an exchange program with a high school in Syracuse, New York, did my military service in the Netherlands, and spent two semesters abroad as a student. During my time at university, I also worked as a flight attendant for Lufthansa, which gave me even more opportunities to travel the world. Then, after graduating, I started working as a foreign correspondent and television reporter for international broadcasters such as CNN International, N24, n-tv, and ARD.

In May 2007, we founded InterNations, and the website went online in September of the same year. Naturally, we sometimes struggled as the idea to create a global network from scratch was not an easy one, but fortunately, we have always had great people to support us. Within the last ten years, InterNations has grown from a niche network founded by friends living abroad to the number one community for expats and global minds worldwide.

From a website launched in a Cologne apartment in 2007 to the largest network for people living and working abroad. What inspired you to start InterNations and what is your impression now, after more than a decade of work?

Philipp von Plato and I already knew each other from our time as students at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. After both of us had lived and worked abroad for a while, we met again in 2007. We realized, that — despite our different career paths — we had had very similar experiences abroad: living abroad was very exciting but also very stressful. No matter where an expat arrives, they have to basically start new, explore a new city, find new business contacts, and make new friends. We decided to build a platform to make expat life easier. We want expats to be able to easily connect with other expats online, to ask questions about local life, as well as participate in activities and attend events. They should feel at home abroad, quickly find the information they need, and meet great new people.

Today, we are still as passionate about our goal as we were ten years ago. I regularly attend official events in InterNations Communities all over the world and listen to what our members have to say. When they tell me how InterNations has changed their life for the better, that’s my best experience by far. I find it very rewarding to see that what we do has a significant impact on people’s lives, for example by helping a member find friends, a job, or even their significant other!

InterNations is simplifying expat life by providing ‘all the information you need in one place’. What are the major benefits for joining your platform?

The big advantage of InterNations is that we combine online and offline services. Our members can connect with each other online, find valuable information in the expat guides, and discuss life abroad in the forum, but they also have the opportunity to meet face to face. During regular local events and activities based on shared interests, they can meet, network, and socialize

You have reached 3 million members in 2018 and have secured a presence in 420 cities. With so many networking channels today, how does InterNations remain competitive? What is InterNations’ secret ingredient?

InterNations is unique as a place for expats around the world to meet people in a similar situation and share their particular experience — unlike, for example, LinkedIn, which is a specific platform for job hunting, or Facebook, which is used to keep in contact with existing friends.

In addition to that, InterNations operates on an approval-only basis. You may join the community after receiving an invitation from a current member or by signing up on our website. However, all requests to join are reviewed before access to the network is granted in order to ensure that InterNations remains a network of personal trust, where data security and privacy protection are top priorities.

That way, we also make sure that the majority of our members are expats. Each of our communities consists of about 70 percent of expats and 30 percent global minds, which are often former expatriates, expats-to-be, or local residents with private or job-related international interests. We think that it is very important to encourage local involvement as these are people who understand the respective country and local community best and who are therefore an ideal go-to person for expats who have recently moved and are in need of help,

You have recently opened a new office in Portugal. With offices already in Germany, Spain and Lithuania, what is your particular interest there?

Our new office in Porto will be an important engineering and product development site. There, we will be building the InterNations Services platform to make international relocation a great experience. While we are already offering lots of opportunities to build a social network and gather information, we plan to add services that take care of every aspect of the international relocation process. We want to make sure that moving abroad will go smoothly for everyone, including services around finding accommodation or a job abroad.

Around 6,000 events are hosted every month. How does a typical event look like?

Our local events give members the chance to meet other InterNations members from their community in real life. Almost all the InterNations Communities organize at least one official event per month. In big cities, up to three or four of these events take place each month. They are the ideal opportunity for expats and global minds to get together, network, or just dance the night away.

In addition to attending events, members can join interest-based groups in their community. Here members can meet up with other expats a for special activities on a regular basis. There’s really something for everyone: a free tango workshop, a creative writing group, a truffle dinner, a wine tasting, an indoor rock climbing session, and many, many more.

In 2017 InterNations was acquired by Xing, a leading business network. What is the synergy between the companies and how would you describe the relationship?

Fundamentally, not a lot has changed since the acquisition as InterNations remains autarkic and carries on as an independent brand. However, there are still many synergies between both companies as we benefit from a lively exchange of ideas and learn a lot from each other. With the help of XING, we will expand our Expat Services and work on Business Solutions within the next months, while XING is very interested in our expertise in organizing offline events for members.

From expats’ view, which country offers the most dynamic expat community? What is currently the number 1 expat destination?

Every year we conduct the Expat Insider survey, which is one of the world’s most extensive studies among expats with around 13,000 respondents. In the latest survey, Bahrain takes the lead as the top destination for expats, followed by Costa Rica and Mexico. Bahrain excels at welcoming expats, with 25 percent of respondents feeling at home there almost straight away and 86 percent appreciating the friendly attitude towards foreign residents — in comparison to only 67 percent worldwide. Respondents in Bahrain are also really happy with their careers: 60 percent are satisfied with their career prospects (vs. 53% globally), and another 73 percent are generally satisfied with their job (vs. 64% globally).

What is next for InterNations?

We believe that there are about 50 to 60 million people worldwide whom we’d define as expats and it is our vision to connect all of them. We aspire to be the platform where expats can network, socialize and find trustworthy information and services. Part of that vision is to expand our Expat Services, which I have mentioned before, in order to accompany expats through every step of their journey and enhance their experience abroad.

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Bojana Trajkovska
Bojana Trajkovska
Bojana is a startup enthusiast from the Balkan region. Currently exploring the entrepreneurial community in Italy. Passionate reader and traveller.

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