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What is an expat?

This might sound like a silly question, but it is something that comes up often when I talk to travellers, so I thought I’d dedicate this weeks post to it.

When it comes to relocating overseas you may have heard the word expat, ex pat or expatriate. There are many words to describe people who move overseas and what’s most interesting to me is the meaning we assign to a word and how it affects our identity. For example, if you are considered an expat compared to a refugee, you’ll be viewed very different by society and others. The options available for you to move somewhere and to set up your base in another country also vary a lot depending your circumstances and how they are defined.

As I did this research, I thought it would be interesting to share some common words to describe people who travel, relocate or move across borders:

  • Expat (short for Expatriate) – a person who temporarily or permanently lives outside their native country. The word actually originates from latin with the rough meaning ‘to be banished from ones country‘.
  • Traveller a person who moves around and lives somewhere for shorter periods of time. Focus on the continued travel and nomadic experience. In some countries the word traveller can be used for Gypsies or people living a nomadic life.
  • Migrant – a person who makes a conscious choice to leave their country to seek a better life elsewhere. They are free to return home at any time if things don’t work out, if they get homesick or if they wish to visit family members and friends left behind.
  • Immigrant – a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.
  • Refugee – a person forced to leave their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced persecution. The concerns of refugees are human rights and safety, not economic advantage.

I find it interesting because as a long term expat, having lived in several countries over the past 14 years, I can identify with many of these words. I’m definitely an expat most of the time (I’m one of those people who can never 100% decide where my home is forever), but I’m also a migrant and an immigrant. I’ve been a traveller during periods of my life, but I guess the main difference is that I’ve often had a base or hub somewhere to return back to after my travels.

I do realise that the word that might stick out in the list above is refugee. I’ve left it on the list with a purpose. I’m fortunate to never have had to become a refugee, and it deeply upsets me to see so many people in this world forced to leave their home, march long distances across boarders and make dangerous journeys, often with no hope of returning back for a very, very long time. They key thing here is being a refugee has little to do with choice, compared to all the other words on the list. A migrant chooses to leave their home and seek a better life somewhere else, a refugee has to in order to survive.

So now I’m curious – what words do you use to describe yourself living overseas in another country? Do you feel that any of the words above relate to how you would describe yourself.