Get useful expat articles, health and financial news, social media recommendations and more in your inbox each month - free!

We respect your privacy - we don't spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

±Compare Expat Providers

Expat Health Insurance Quotes

Foreign Currency Exchange Quotes

International Moving Quotes

We're very social! Follow Expat Focus on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+

Expat Focus Facebook PageExpat Focus on TwitterExpat Focus Pinterest PageExpat Focus Google+ Page

Notify me when new content is added about a country

±Expat Focus Partners


Columnists > Michelle Garrett

Michelle Garrett

What's The Difference Between Expat And Immigrant?

  Posted Wednesday March 14, 2012 (12:10:56)   (20370 Reads)

Michelle Garrett

Did you know that by calling yourself an expat you could be using a politically incorrect term? Or you could be demonstrating your superiority over others? No, neither did I.

Like many expats before me I realised that there may be more than one label for my life overseas and I started wondering what the difference was between expat and immigrant. My initial thought was that technically, an expat is someone who moves somewhere temporarily, maintains his or her foreign identity and will eventually settle 'back home.' An immigrant, on the other hand, is making a permanent move with the goal of making the new place home.

By that definition, does that then make us 'long term expats' people in denial? Is it that we are really immigrants but we just can’t accept we will be in our host country forever? Or is it simply describing a state of mind, therefore letting us off the hook (we can still call ourselves expats if we want)?

And at what point in our longevity overseas do we move from being an expat to an immigrant?

I Googled it of course.

One very frequent answer is that expats are the privileged group, the wealthy Westerners who move to another country. Immigrants are those escaping poverty from the third world countries. One writer went so far as to state specifically which countries/regions fall into what category: “Europeans, Americans, Australians and Japanese abroad are most of the time referred to as expats, while Latinos, East Europeans, Arabs, Africans and Asians are considered migrants.

I have a friend who moved to Spain because she was escaping her poverty in Britain and the standard of living in Spain is much, much easier than in Britain. She calls herself an expat, not a migrant.

I also encountered this answer: “I think the politically correct term is foreign national.

I had no idea I was politically incorrect all this time.

I also found comments and articles written by people who call themselves expats but who are suffering from some sort of label-guilt. Such as this: “It's been easy to label myself as an expat all this time, but I'm starting to think that doing so is almost a racist statement against other legal immigrants, it's like saying ‘I'm better than them’ somehow”.

And I was surprised to read this: “To me the term expat smacks of British (or American) superiority, be it used consciously or subconsciously.”

I had no idea the term expat could be so loaded!

I started wondering if people were over-thinking this.

The dictionary defines the terms like this: Expatriate: Person living in a country that is not their own. Immigrant: Person who has gone to live permanently in a country that is not their own.

From what I understand, 'immigrant' has negative, local connotations in some European countries (France, Spain and Greece, for example).

I can understand why 'foreign nationals' don't choose to be called immigrants there, but what's stopping the rest of us?

The next time someone asks me what my blog is about, if I reply “I write about my experiences as an immigrant in Britain” they'll just look at me like I'm being weird (but trying to be funny).

Do any of you long term expats call yourselves immigrants--if not why not? I simply never thought of it until now.

Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!

Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.

Michelle Garrett
Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there! Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.
Link  QR 

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Aetna International

Our award-winning expatriate business provides health benefits to more than 650,000 members worldwide. In addition, we have helped develop world-class health systems for governments, corporations and providers around the world. We want to be the global leader in delivering world-class health solutions, making quality health care more accessible and empowering people to live healthier lives.

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.

Cigna International

Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.