Whether you’re moving to another country or you know someone who’s relocating, you’ve probably heard yourself or your friend being referred to as an “expat” or an “expatriate.”

Thankfully, the word expat isn’t full of negative connotations. In fact, far more it, because being an expat often indicates that you have a great sense of adventure, have traveled further afield than others, and have adopted another country as your home.

In this article, we’ll explore exactly what an expat is, how they’re different to migrants, and why someone might want to become one of these elusive characters.


What is an Expat?

Expat is a term derived from two Latin words – the prefix “ex,” which means out of, and the noun “patria,” which means native country, home country, or fatherland. In days gone by, an expat would be someone who left their home to live in another country.

Even though this definition remains largely the same today, our increasingly connected world does mean there are a number of different reasons why someone might travel abroad. This makes it a little more difficult to answer the question, “What does expat mean?”

Nevertheless, the word expat is generally used to describe someone who lives permanently or temporarily in a country that’s different to their nationality or the one they were born in. In most cases, an expat will choose to leave their home country to further their career or fulfill a personal ambition or dream – rather than moving due to an economic or political necessity.

This process of moving to another country is known as expatriation.


Expatriate Definition

In reality, there are no legalities involved in the term expatriate, or expat for that matter, which is why it’s used to describe people from all types of backgrounds. However, it isn’t usually associated with permanent migrants or people seeking asylum – something we’ll explore in more detail next.

Instead, “expats” meaning is commonly associated with someone who has intentionally moved to another country in a bid to create a new life for themselves. And perhaps more frequently, this relates to retirees who are looking for new experiences during their later years.

Expat is also used when describing the financial circumstances of someone who isn’t residing in their birth country – someone who may also be described as a “non-resident.” This group of people either have a tie to a particular country or spend a certain amount of time there – but without being classed as a “tax resident.” That’s why you may also hear people referring to “expat pensions” or “expat tax,” whereby specific financial rules can be applied to a group of individuals that have a common denominator – they’re expats.


How is an Expat Different from an Immigrant or Migrant?

This is often quite a touchy subject, as many feel as though different groups of people are stereotyped into these various groups. For example, some feel as though the term “expat” only applies to Westerners who are looking to work or live abroad.

Equally, some people who live in a new country prefer to be referred to as migrants as they feel the expat definition will imply they have less intention to immerse themselves in the local culture. People often suggest that expats tend to stick together, creating their own communities, and this can create negative stereotypes – hence why some will avoid referring to themselves as an expat.

However, strictly speaking, all migrants are expats and vice versa – the term you use just depends on which you prefer. There isn’t a right or wrong way to refer to yourself or others who are living in a foreign country, but you may find that someone would rather be deemed a “migrant” or “compatriot” than an “expat,” for example.

The important definition, though, is how being an expat is different to being a non-resident or resident, as this makes a huge difference to how you pay your taxes and what benefits you can claim. Each country has its own sets of rules for expats which will determine their tax status – and it’s important to seek the right advice before moving to make sure you know who you should be declaring your income to.

Hopefully, we’ve come close to answering your question, “what is an expat,” but, as you can see, it isn’t a clear-cut definition that can be used in all moving-abroad cases. Rather, the term expat largely relies on how you perceive the term and should also be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Everyone within a group of expats will differ vastly and everyone should, therefore, be treated as an individual.

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