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"Immigrant" vs "Expat"

I was just thinking of these two words "immigrant" and "expat", rolling them around in my head a bit yesterday and today. Thought I'd invite y'all to join me.

What are the connotations of "immigrant" and "ex-pat". Who is generally labeled an ex-pat and who an immigrant?

November 20, 2016



Heh, I always thought "expat" is what white people called themselves when their vacation was getting out of hand, while "immigrant" was reserved for darker tourists who are in no hurry of going back... Forgive my cynicism after living in four countries over the past five years.


I think it's more that they are used in different situations. The focus is different. Immigrant focuses on the new country more, while expat is usually used in contexts like 'British expats' or 'Dutch expats'. It focuses on the specific country of origin rather than the new one. As a result, immigrant will be used to talk about all the people involved in immigration to a country, while expat will be talking about a group from a specific country, like you could talk about an expat bar or where expats from X country go to buy Y from said country.

My husband, a fairly recent immigrant to the US from the UK, usually talks about himself as an immigrant if the topic comes up for whatever it's worth. He's been out of the UK for about a year and a half and I don't think he's ever referred to himself as an expat.


"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")."

I think it's anyone temporarily living there and may plan to go back but an immigrant is someone who doesn't plan on returning.
In the grand scheme of things maybe it goes expat-->immigrant-->citizen ?


Or you marry someone from there. :) As have so many others now living in Greece, the vast majority being women. We have tried to give ourselves another name "transnationals" as I recall was one. The "ex" in expat rubs me the wrong way. I didn't abandon my country (the US) there's no "ex" about it. But I don't feel like an outsider in either Greece although I'm still asked where I'm from because they "can tell by the accent".

"Dual national" is another title in use. I'm lucky to have dual citizenship I'd hate to have to decide. But there are times when you feel like "a man without a country" so many habits you brought with you from childhood and so many you picked up here. They overlap and sometimes collide but I think make use richer for it.

And unlike so many immigrants I came to a family, a neighborhood, a community who welcomed me. There were none of the hardships felt by immigrants, strangers in a strange land and unable to return to their homeland.


I think you are misunderstanding the linguistic connotations. The derivation is ex patria - "outside one's native land". The term emphasises the fact that your native land is not the country that you are presently in.


In the UK, ex-pats are what the readers of the Daily Mail aspire to be; while immigrants are who they read about and who, according to the Daily Mail, are the source of all evil.


I agree with lavendeltee. I'm an American who was raised in (and still socialise predominantly in) the Irish ex-pat community, and at least from that perspective it's purely a matter of which way around you want to look at it... the community I know are both immigrants and ex-pats. Some have been here three, four, or even five decades, have obtained American citizenship, have raised children and grandchildren here, etc... they still consider themselves ex-pats as well as immigrants. Others are here on work visas and may or may not stay more than a few years... they too consider themselves both.

Inasmuch as there is a difference, I would say that an immigrant who doesn't desire to maintain their connections with home (be it socially, culturally, etc) would probably not consider themselves an ex-pat... but as completely forsaking your homeland is fairly rare outside of situations of persecution, I would consider the terms largely interchangeable in the general sense.

As with any other term of self-identification, I would obviously respect whatever any individual person wanted to be called... very occasionally there's a particular person in the local Irish ex-pat community who very much prefers "ex-pat" to "immigrant," and I try to be mindful of that. I've never met anyone in that specific community who prefers the reverse, though that could very well be due to the fact that "immigrant" is often a loaded term in modern American discourse.

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