Are you an expat or an immigrant?

Are you living abroad?

How do you call yourself- an expat or an immigrant? Maybe even a foreign national?

Do others (people or government of the country you reside) portrait you in the same way as you call yourself?

The issue is quite complicated but really important. According to Wikipedia:

An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies. However, it can also refer to retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country.

An immigrant is a person who moves to another country. Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalised citizens, or to take-up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.

A foreign national is a person who is not a citizen of the host country in which he or she is residing or temporarily sojourning. However, in the European Union, a foreign national is a third country national, i.e. someone who is not a citizen of any of the member states of the European Union.

Looking at these definitions one may think “I’m all of it- an expat, an immigrant and a foreign national”. On the paper, he is right. They are quite similar or even the same. However, in reality they are not. Each of them carry specific connotations and assumptions about race, ethnicity, class, education or privilege. Sounds crazy in 21st century? Yes, it does…

Expat is a term reserved exclusively for a certain group of people- white people going to work or live abroad (Americans, Europeans, Australians). Most authors believes it applies to all white people, but I strongly disagree. I am white European, living abroad, but I’ve never heard anybody labelling me as expat. I will go back to that issue later in the article.

Expat carries a connotation of superiority, being above others, while immigrant “is a term set aside for inferior races”, for lower class/ethnicity (have a read here Koutonin in The  Guardian). According to Koutonin, it’s “an outdated supremacist ideology” and I fully agree with him. To be honest, I didn’t even know the word ‘expat’ in English until I read an article many years ago about British expats in Spain. I had to look into dictionary and find the meaning. I was surprised I’ve never learnt that word before. Then I realised I know similar word- immigrant- so I thought they both can be used alternatively. Well…. not always.

Expats are North Americans, Europeans and Australians, while Asians, Middle Easterns, Africans and South Americans are mostly considered as immigrants. A highly educated PhD academic from India will be a highly qualified immigrant in Europe whereas a German worker (bartender) or a British retired person in Thailand will be always regarded as expats. In my oponion, it’s a preconception that derives from colonial times when white people used to have all privileges of the current world and used to be the well-educated ones compared to people from other races/ethnicities. It’s shocking that division still exists in the 21st century!

Some academics quarrel that it’s not about the colour of your skin, country of origin or economic status/salary that you earn. However, the general public standpoint is quite opposite. Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, the world’s largest expat network says “for people that we today call expats… living abroad is rather a lifestyle choice than borne out of economic necessity or dire circumstances in their home country such as oppression or persecution (…) That’s what differentiates them from refugees or economic migrants and not their income or origin.” ( more about it here Nash at BBC) Great view!!! It means, a relatively well off person from India who decides to stay in London for a longer period of time is expat, because it’s their lifystyle choice. Am I right? I wish more people think like him 🙂

As I wrote before, I am white European, living abroad, but I’ve never heard anybody labelling me as expat. Well… because there is division even within white race, particularly among Europeans 😛 Expats are only those who hail from western Europe. People from Eastern Europe (like me, from Poland) who live abroad are always considered as immigrants- doesn’t matter why they moved to another country.

I didn’t relocate to England due to economic reasons or any religious/political oppression. I relocated because of Love 🙂 I had a very good life in my country. I had my own apartment and Master of Law degree. However, I moved to Britain and I’m immigrant here. The government and public labels me like that. I don’t mind, but sometimes it does have an impact on my life- a negative impact. I guess I prefer to be recognised as a foreign national living in the UK. It might sound strange, but ‘foreign national’ term isn’t viewed so pejoratively as term ‘immigrant’. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me, but I know it is a big problem for others, so it’s worth a discussion.

There is more than one label for life abroad. Some of them are more or less politically correct, some of them are even racist when used inappropriately. You choose who you are and just be happy:) I would call all of us The Abroaders who belong to The Abroaders Club 🙂 I came up with this name in one of my previous posts- Why do we move abroad?

We don’t have to be divided by certain terms. We are all equal regardless of race, religion, sex, social status, gender, age and political views. We are all global citizens 🙂

Have a great day all global citizens!

“Immigration, a lexicon. You are a ‘migrant’ when you are very poor; ‘immigrant’ when you are not so poor; and ‘expat’ when you are rich.”

Laila Lalami



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Life Abroad in Mixed Marriage / Interracial Family- the fabulous fusion of cultures, races, religions and many more-travel, food & parenting :)

29 thoughts on “Are you an expat or an immigrant?

  1. Hello from another white immigrant 👋 I would call myself an economical migrant bc I came to Norway (from Ukraine) because of work and money opportunities. Love came later, much later)))

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Marlena, nice to meet you too. I am totally in the Abroaders Club 🙂 You have an interesting discussion of expat vs. immigrant, something I have been writing about recently too. Is it that with some years of living abroad, we start to analyze the differences in the Abroaders Club? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Totally agree! I think, over the years while living abroad, we experience and encounter so many different situations and we learn so much about ‘us’ that analysis of our life and our status just comes automatically 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting points. I guess I’ve always considered expats to be temporary and immigrants to be permanent, regardless of country of origin. Since we’re only here for a set period of time, we haven’t really immigrated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Amanda,
      That’s a very good point. Lots of people think in a similar way.
      However, some people are considered to be immigrants although they live abroad only for a certain, short period of time. On the other hand, there are expats living abroad even 50 years 🙂
      World is sometimes strange 🙂


  3. Very interesting read. It made me wonder how I actually view myself. Having lived in Britain for the last 13 years, I have not really thought about it before. Strange really. I have never seen myself as an immigrant nor have I seen myself as an expat. Our friends keep telling me that they see me as a Brit and don’t really look at me as a foreign national. I think the best way to describe how I see myself – I feel European living in a European country.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Sonja 🙂
      Label or term in not important. Many people (including me in the past) don’t ever think about it. The only thing that’s important is how you feel who you are.
      You have already found the perfect way to describe yourself- you are a European (like me 😛 ). Keep it up and be proud of being European 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just discovered you blog, loved his post! Such an interesting discussion… I’m German/Polish and live in the UK. Usually I refer to myself as an immigrant, as I understand the term simply to describe a person who moved to a different country of which they are not a native of. I only sometimes use the word expat, mostly when I refer to my lifestyle here, as you mentioned as well… Definitely food for thought, great post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot Olivia 🙂
      As I wrote before, it’s really a very very deep topic and I touched it just a little bit. I believe we are who we feel we are and we shouldn’t be categorised by others. However, immigration is highly sensitive political issue these days so this topic is becoming more and more important.
      I just wanted to create a discussion and probably find out what are other people’s thoughts on it.
      Thanks for your comment as well 🙂
      Btw: What a fabulous fusion you are: Polish-German living in the UK 🙂 🙂 🙂


      1. Yes you are right, it’s becoming a more and more prominent topic nowadays. I’m always interested to see what other people think about it and how they see themselves if they are immigrants/second-generation immigrants/ etc. But in the end, we are all just humans of this world :)!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great! Thank you so much for your opinion.
      I do believe you should be the one who define yourself. You should have the right to say who you are. Unfortunately, we are often labelled upfront by government or general public and it’s not always the same ‘label’ we would like to call ourselves.
      I’m very happy you choose who you are and don’t let others to define you 😀


  5. Having read this, I now find it strange I’d never considered the terms before. Up until now, I’ve spent almost as much time in my wife’s native Japan, as she has in Australia. I do remember her asking me what “expat” means upon reading it somewhere, but not once have either of us used the term aside from that, nor any others.

    Interesting quote, the “Immigration, a lexicon….” bit. I’d never once considered the terms….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Nathan 😀
      Wow, what a fabulous fusion you are with your wife 👫
      How do you call yourself when you are abroad? Do you define yourself in the same way the government and general public (of a particular country you currently reside in) calls you?
      It’s just semantics. However, sometimes those divisions have a deeper meaning. They can affect people’s life. Certain terms like ‘immigrant’ undervalue skills and personality of people from particular countries/races/ethnicities.
      It shouldn’t be like that.
      We are all equal at the end 😀


      1. There are logistical issues that must be sorted in terms of visas and all of that sort of stuff, and so I guess that we might be defined under certain terms in certain paperwork, etc., but I don’t remember ever stopping to think about which term people might use to describe her in my country. I get what you’re saying in regards to the different terms and what those terms imply, or rather, why someone’s nationality might lead people to use a certain term or another, but I guess what you wrote just made me realise that I’d never thought of it. Nor had I thought of the meanings you described. Quite interesting…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m sorry for a late reply, but the last few days I’ve been extremely busy with Peppa Pig and George Pig (birthday party for my son) 😛
          To be honest, I’m really happy I made somebody think of something they have never thought of before. That’s one of the reasons why I write- to bring awarness about certain issues or just to create a discussion about particular topics.
          Thanks a lot for your comments! I do appreciate them.
          I hope you will sort your visa stuff soon and will be a happy expat, I guess 🙂
          Have a lovely week ahead.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Interesting take. I never thought about the different terms and what they might classify in regards to people but now I have some food for thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very interesting. I am not white or from a first world country but I consider myself an expat and not an immigrant as I don’t have any plans to settle in one specific country. Preconceived notions aside, perhaps it can also be about how we define ourselves? Or shall I say, perhaps it SHOULD be about how we define ourselves. You have definitely given me something to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This topic is quite sensitive, politically sensitive as well.
      I’m white European, but I’m always an immigrant in Britain. However, I’ve got a Polish friend who lives in Dubai and she is an expat there. So, it’s up to many many factors- not only those mentioned in my post. It’s also depends on the place you relocate you, on your intentions- whether you want to settle there for good or not. I just touched this topic a little bit, but I’m planning to write more about it in the future.
      And yes, you are completely right. We should define ourselves who we are, but unfortunately, it usually doesn’t happen. It’s hard to fight with the label given us by government/media/general public. It sticks to you…
      Anyways, it’s just semantics. At the end of the day, who cares 😛


  8. Thoughtfully written. Here in the U.S., we’re encumbered by many fellow citizens who don’t understand the concept of “inclusiveness,” to say the least. For your information, I rarely hear the term expat used in the States except in a business context for people on assignment here or abroad. The term “immigrant” is weighted with negative power now, but please don’t think the news reports you see represent all Americans. The most negative and violent views receive the attention. All the best to you, and thanks for visiting Under Western Skies.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Brad!
      Thanks a lot for your comment. I didn’t write my article due to currect political situation in the USA or UK or overall in the world. I just have lots of thoughts in my mind and whenever I have a bit of free time I write. That’s the topic I’ve chosen now.
      Of course, I don’t believe everything that is said or shown on TV. However, the term ‘immigrant’ is viewed quite pejoratively not only recently, but for quite a long time (maybe forever, who knows?)- look at so many waves of immigration throughout our history. On the other hand, the term ‘expat’ has rather positive connotations.
      My article talks mostly about semantics and how these terms are perceived by an average person/public. This topic is very deep and broad, I just touched it a little bit 🙂
      Have a lovely weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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