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Expats v Immigrants? What’s the difference?

The word expat is a shortening of the word expatriate. According to expatriate means:

–verb (used with object)
1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one’s native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one’s country.

6. an expatriated person: Many American writers were living as expatriates in Paris.

1760–70; < Medieval Latin expatriātus (past participle of expatriāre to banish), equivalent to ex- ex-1 + patri ( a ) native land + -ātus -ate

I think today most expat consider the word to mean ‘withdraw from residence in one’s native country’ rather than being banished or even to withdraw allegiance. Many expats are very patriotic and moving abroad does not mean that you can no longer be patriotic.

The other side of the same coin is the word ‘immigrant’. defines this as:

a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

So, expats and immigrants are technically the same. A recently post on expat or immigrant has made me look closely at the differences in the connotations between the two.

I feel that I am both when I live abroad, an expat from the UK and an immigrant in my new country. It is amazing how many expats do not consider themselves to be immigrants despite going to live permanently in another country. I think that is mainly because in their native countries expats and immigrants are treated very differently.

Expats are usually wealthy retirees off to live a life of luxury in the sun. Immigrants are poor people come to take advantage of the UK’s generous benefits system. Usually the word immigrant is closely followed by the word illegal but even just being an immigrant is considered ‘suspect’ sometimes!.

It’s a good job that in the typical UK expat countries the Brits aren’t treated the same.

Are you an expat or an immigrant? What’s the difference? Have you been treated badly in your new country?


  1. Jeff

    Sweet article as always, Sarah! Thank you for the link to the Patriotism post!

    I’m like you – I feel I fit both definitions. And for me, I never consider a move as my last. I equally enjoy both the transition and the sense of settling in for a while.

    Everything’s cool in moderation, even permanence. 🙂


    • Kevin

      After over 20 years in the Southern hemisphere, the ideal Christmas for us has bemoce a mixture of the old and the new: this year, we had the traditional turkey dinner with family members, Christmas carols, and gift exchange. But isn’t it wonderful to do it on the patio on a warm summer evening! The one thing I always miss is Christmas cookies cookies; it’s too hot to heat up the kitchen with baking. Maybe next year

  2. Sarah

    Thanks Jeff. I just feel like I am both sides of the same coin an expat and an immigrant.

    I think I would like to settle down someplace but also travel. I’ve moved around so much in the past 10 years that a permanent base would be nice!


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