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What is an expat?


Expat– This term is Rising in Popularity as More People Identify Themselves in this Rapidly Growing Group

And it appears that many Americans have no idea what an expat is, or have a misconception about what the terms means and the people who identify in this group. This article aims to give the facts about what an Expat is, and to clear up any misunderstandings surrounding the members of this niche group of people.

What is an Expat?

Expat is short for, “expatriate”. Now, before any judgements are made, it is important to note that an expat doesnt necessarily have any ill feelings towards America or Americans. In fact, an expat doesn’t even have to be American.  The most basic definition for expat is the following:

“An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).”

That being said- an expat, or expatriate is anyone who is spending an extended period of time residing in a country which is not their native country. The exact length of time one must spend out of their native country to fall into this category is a fuzzy area, but, generally speaking, the term more often refers to people who have chosen permanent residence outside of their native country.

Immigrants or expats?

Herein lies the biggest controversy surrounding the term. If you look at the term from a technical standpoint, there is basically no difference between an expat and an immigrant, outside of the fact that expat can also refer to people living outside of their home countries on a temporary basis.

By the literal definition, the two are synonymous, but the term has come to have its own implied subtext. Depending on which side of the fence you stand, the term, “expat”, may come with a slightly negative connotation.

The subtext regarding expat refers to country of origin. Since the term originated from the west (namely the US), it is most often used by westerners who leave America and Canada to live elsewhere. People who identify with this term tend to be Americans who have left US soil to explore life beyond our borders. Most often times within the community of self identified expats, the word has a positive connotation and brings about thoughts of wanderlust, exploration, expanding world view, and traveling abroad.

However, some groups have labeled the term a racist double standard- citing that the term implies that  white westerners are “expats”, while everyone else is an “immigrant”.

The connotations and subverted meaning of the word is at the discretion of the user. For our purposes, we will use the literal definition, and say that immigrant, and expat are basically synonymous.

How many expats are there?

Recent statistics suggest a record number of expats living world wide. Currently estimated around 232 million (3.2% of the world’s total population), the population of expats is forecasted to continue to grow substantially over the next few years. The majority of expats come from underdeveloped countries, with the highest population coming from India. Expats are often people who are seeking out better economic opportunities, or fleeing from government conflicts, escaping persecution, or just trying to find a better life for themselves.

Expat Culture

It is not uncommon for expats sharing a country or city to find each other and form bonds of friendship and community. Birds of a feather- so to speak. We see this in the various “little [insert country name here]” around the nation.

American expats tend to have a wider digital based community, with countless links to advice columns, social meet ups, travel guides, and more. While expats from other countries tend to stick together in terms of residing near one another; American expats tend to define their culture by creating a huge digital network that is incredibly active and continues to grow.

Why is this relevant?

Moving to a new country is hard. It is hard for anyone, from any walk of life. We take and need more from our community and culture than we imagine. Nothing makes us more aware of how much our culture effects us than spending a month or two surrounded by something completely different. Fear of isolation is one of the biggest mental obstacles you have to overcome in order to take the plunge and move abroad. It is important to know that there is a group of people who can empathize with your struggles; in fact, many of them have been through similar situations. When moving to an entirely foreign country, it is good to know there are places to turn. You aren’t alone.

Some Good Expat References:


In the end-

Expats are group of people who have taken a huge step and left their own home countries to reside, either temporarily or permanently, in a different country. Their origins and reasons for leaving their home countries may be different, but expats share in the unique struggle which coincides with entering an entirely new country or culture.

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