A guide on how to find pen pals in later life
Last reviewed 3rd November 2023
7 min read
‘How do I find a pen pal’ has become a more common question in recent years, and many aren’t even sure what a pen pal is.
In a world where many of us only speak to strangers on social media, meaningful connections are becoming more sought after. Having a pen pal is a great answer to this.
Writing to someone you don’t know in person is a fantastic opportunity to learn about different communities. It gives you a chance to hear from people with a different perspective on life.
In this guide, we explain what a pen pal is, why they can be such a great thing to have, and how you can go about getting a pen pal of your own.
What is a pen pal?
A pen pal is a person you build a relationship with by writing to them and learning about each other’s lives. You get to meet a new friend and build a genuine connection with someone – all from the comfort of your own home.
This can be really useful if you’re over 50, as sometimes it can be difficult to meet new friends in person. And finding this meaningful connection can help with struggles such as boredom, depression and loneliness by creating new, happy memories.
What are the different types of pen pal?
There are three different types of pen pal, depending on how you want to communicate with your new friend:
- Snail mail:The traditional type of pen pal, where you write a physical letter to somebody in a different community or country at a fixed address. If you want the classic pen pal experience, this option is for you.
- Email: If you prefer a more modern version of the pen pal experience, you can exchange emails with your new friend. It's quick, free and may be easier if you communicate with someone far away.
- Digital: Instant messaging and services such as HelloTalk are also available if you want faster and more frequent conversation with your pen pal.
Whichever type of pen pal you want, there are plenty of people out there who would be happy to begin having a conversation with you!
How to get a pen pal online
Nowadays, it’s easier to find a pen pal than ever before. The internet is the easiest way to search for the type of pen pal that suits you.
Whether you want a pen pal in a specific part of the world, or with a specific interest, there are many ways you can find people you want to connect with.
Listed below are some of the most popular sites for finding pen pals, although this list is only a small sample of the many options you can find online:
Global Penfriends(www.globalpenfriends.com opens in a new tab) is a family-friendly site where you can connect with someone over lots of exciting conversation starters.
Maybe you want to learn about a new culture or begin learning a new language? In which case, connecting with someone in a foreign country could be the beginning of not only a new friendship, but a new skill as well.
Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals
Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals(Facebook pen pal group opens in a new tab) is a Facebook group with over 44,000 members. It offers a wide network of potential pen pals for you to get to know before you even give them your address.
As a member, you simply post a call for a pen pal and other members who are interested can comment on your post. The group is carefully moderated to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for all members. And being based on Facebook, it gives you another avenue to connect with your pen pals.
Pen Pal World
Pen Pal World(www.penpalworld.com opens in a new tab) lets you connect with over 2,900,000 people from around the world. You can customise your profile to find pen pals you’d enjoy talking with the most. All you need is an email address and you can connect with people of all ages and nationalities.
A free profile allows you to speak with three pen pals each day. A VIP membership of ten cents a day lets you speak with up to 50 people every 24 hours.
If you want a pen pal with a shared interest, Compatipal(www.compatipal.com opens in a new tab) helps you to connect with like-minded people. It’s a great way to find more potential friends you have things in common with.
Once you’re signed up, you can use instant messaging to speak with people as often as you like. You can even form groups as you make connections.
Postcrossing(www.postcrossing.com opens in a new tab) is a project where you don’t write actual letters (physical or electronic) but instead communicate with your pen pal using postcards.
You simply ask for an address and postcard ID, send your new pen pal a postcard, receive one back, and register their postcard’s ID. Then repeat the process to make even more pen pals!
By doing this with more and more people, you can quickly gather a collection of postcards. This gives you something physical to remind you of the people around the world you’ve connected with.
How to find a pen pal offline
If you don’t want to search for a pen pal online, there are plenty of ways to discover a connection the traditional way. After all, pen pals existed long before the internet did. Here are three ways you can find a pen pal offline:
Communities and local clubs can be a great place to find pen pals, either by ads or just talking to people. Check your local community centres to ask about any pen pal schemes. Even if they don’t have one, they can likely point you in the right direction.
Friends and family
No-one said a pen pal has to be a complete stranger. Ask your friends and family if they know someone who might be interested in making a new pen pal.
Lots of people have relatives living abroad. Or perhaps they know someone who can’t get out of the house often, who’d be delighted to get a letter asking how they are. And having a shared acquaintance can be a good icebreaker!
Schools and councils
Government bodies often have programs that encourage people to reach out to others overseas.
This can help people expand their horizons and build good relationships with other communities. Why not see if your local institutions have partnered with another city or village to write to each other?
What to write in your first pen pal letter
Writing your first pen pal letter can be important, as it's your potential pen pal’s first impression of who you are. Here’s a breakdown of how to write your first letter, and how to ensure you make the best first impression with your new pen pal:
Tell your new pen pal the essentials
Before telling your life’s story, it’s best to explain who you are and why you’re writing to them in the first place.
Introduce yourself and be sure to mention your age, sex and location (both city and country). If you’re on one of the websites mentioned above, your first letter should confirm what’s included on your account profile. This can be reassuring, and lets them build a picture of who you are.
Mentioning how you found their information is also important, as it lets them know you're a legitimate pen pal and not a scam sent out to lots of people.
Finally, tell them why you decided to write to them. Out of all the potential pen pals, you were interested enough in them to reach out and start a conversation – so let them know what made you make that decision.
Talk about your own hobbies and interests
This is where you can speak more about yourself and what interests you have in your life. Common interests are a great way to build a relationship with your pen pal.
Try and mention anything you think they’d find interesting – be it a skill you have, a hobby, or maybe a fun experience you had that involves their culture. You can also bring up any interests mentioned in their profile.
Common ground will make future letters easier and more engaging, so be sure to mention lots of things that make you who you are.
Ask some questions
Remember that you want your pen pal to write back to you, so be sure to ask them some questions about themselves in your first letter.
These questions can naturally lead on from something you mentioned about yourself (“so what hobbies do you have?”). Or they can be something you genuinely want to ask them (“what’s it like living in ‘....’”).
Ask about anything that interests you, but try to make it something they can write a fun response to, or would enjoy writing about to a stranger.
Don't try to force people to write back
Writing to a pen pal should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. Focus on making your letter as friendly and fun as you can, and they’ll write back if they want to. If they don’t respond, simply try again with a new pen pal.
Pen pals are a tremendous way to build new connections in later life and reach out to people you wouldn’t normally meet. But they’re not the only way to connect with a new community or friend.
Face-to-face get-togethers can help break up the day-to-day and prevent loneliness. Take a look at some of our other articles on how to grow your friendship group in later life: