Expatriate or immigrant?

Are you an expat or an immigrant?


The differentiation between these terms has sparked considerable debate over the years. A quick Google search on the term ‘expatriate vs immigrant’ threw up 899,000 results! Needless to say I haven’t read them all, but from what I have read it seems that some people do get a bit defensive about being referred to as ‘expats’.

So, I checked out the words in a dictionary…

Definition of expatriate

  1. living abroad, esp. for a long period
  2. a person who lives outside their native country: ie British expats in Germany
  3. to expel or remove (a person) from his or her native country
  4. to withdraw (oneself) from one’s citizenship or allegiance
  5. an exile (archaic)

I presume it’s the last three definitions that some people take an exception to. Fair enough.

Definition of immigrant

  1. A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.

It seems the difference is clear; the word ‘permanent’ in the definition of immigrant indicates a clear intention to remain in their chosen new country. For expatriates this is not actually specified and possibly, but not necessarily indicates their intention to return to their home country at some point. Unfortunately, in recent times, ‘immigrant’ has taken on negative connotations in some countries.

But I’m not here to debate the use of either word. For this site I chose the word ‘expat’ because it is short. That is all.

Regardless of your classification preference, if you have children and are relocating overseas, you will find information here that I hope will be of use to you. Even if you have already moved, your children will grow and their needs (and yours) change very quickly. Choosing schools, learning languages, enhancing social skills, encouraging emotional well-being and plenty of other challenges and triumphs are covered in this website.



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I also explain why I use the word ‘expat’ when it still upsets a lot of people – it will make sense when you listen, I promise.

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  1. Ah, the eternal question! I would say that you are right in picking out permanence as the key difference. Our archive collects the stories of those who are temporarily in another country – of course, some eventually end up staying permanently, but their early experiences would still count. I would also say that “expat” has also taken on some negative connotations for some – people sometimes eschew it in favour of other terms instead such as “global nomad”, “world citizen” and the like (or try to avoid using labels at all). But for convenience’s sake, we also use “expatriate” and “expat” because they are the best umbrella terms for us. Our organisation name could get very long otherwise! But it can then be more difficult to reach out to those who reject those words – do you also experience this?

    1. Thank you for your comment!
      I haven’t personally found any problem with the use of the term ‘expat’ but I am aware of many people who prefer other options. But why use three words when one will do?! Also, to me, global nomad gives the impression of one who travels constantly and doesn’t apply to those who have moved overseas on a more permanent basis.

      And then of course we could go on to discuss the ‘trailing spouse’ terms… accompanying partner, supporting partner? It’s never ending 😀

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