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What’s Your Expatriate Definition?

Seems like a simple enough question. What is an expat? It doesn’t really sound that complicated. What is the definition of expatriate?

Expatriate Definition

Who is an Expat?

A reader asked this question:

“Why are people who simply choose to live another country called expats? A true Expat is an individual who has renounced their citizenship from the country in which they where born? Am I correct?”

What’s Your Expatriate Definition?

Good question. Does an expat have to renounce citizenship to actually be one?

For the last number of years, we have been describing ourselves as expats.

But I remember thinking of expats as people who actually abandon their citizenship and claim/receive it in another country.

Are You An Expat? Well, Do You Live Abroad?

In expat communities (that is, communities of foreigners – either actual or social) the foreigners refer to themselves as expats.

Seldom do they call themselves a foreigner – they are usually expats or gringos. Is Gringo offensive? In Spanish, though – expats are either called extranjeros or gringos.

It seems that some want this term to be for members of an exclusive club. As if only those who have renounced citizenship can call themselves expats. According to the definitions we found, it is one of the correct meanings. But it isn’t the commonly used one – at least among expats themselves.

According to Wikipedia, an Expatriate is:

An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (meaning: out of) and patria (meaning: country, fatherland).

According to Merriam Webster’s entry for Expatriate:

 to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere; also : to renounce allegiance to one’s native country

I like Wikipedia’s entry the most – it seems to sum up the common understanding of the word.

Expatriate definition

What’s your expatriate definition?

What Does It Take to be an Expat?

Is something else required to be an expat? Is it just a legal status? Or the fact of living in another country? Maybe the better question is:

What Makes a Successful Expat?

What do you think? What factors are involved in an expat being successful?

How is success as an expat defined? Is it just that they stay in their new country? Or does integration and happiness come into play?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Sunday 17th of July 2016

Awesome post.

Tim L.

Friday 14th of November 2014

I've lived in multiple countries and none of the expats I knew or know would consider this word to have political implications. I think if you've renounced your citizenship, maybe you should be called an ex-patriot. If you're from the USA anyway. That's probably what Fox News would call all of us.

For most people, it just means someone who is living abroad.

Bryan Haines

Friday 14th of November 2014

Like many terms, I suppose it depends on who is using it - and the tone.



Thursday 27th of February 2014

Interesting discussion. I never really thought about it much until reading articles in your site. Though I've heard the term expat and understand the definition, I never felt it applied to me. I guess the word has more of a political feel, but not as strong as someone who has defected. I have been living in Ecuador (with my husband, we were both born in the US and have each traveled abroad) for over 10 years. We got our residency visa a couple years ago. (That was a lot of work!) But I don't feel that label "expat" fits on me. Maybe because I don't have strong ties to any particular country. I wouldn't necessarily call my "homeland" "mi patria". There are obvious pros and cons to living here or there. We can't change where we are from, but we can choose where we are and thus influence where we will be in the future. I guess I view myself as "a temporary resident in a foreign land". KW

Bryan Haines

Saturday 1st of March 2014

You make a good point. The term does have a certain political overtone. Although technically (according to some definitions) all non-citizens are expats, we refer to ourselves as "gringos" or just foreigners. I haven't heard a Spanish equivalent to the term expat. In Spanish we are referred to as "norteamericano" or "extranjero".

Charless Caywood

Saturday 6th of April 2013

I worked in many different countries for over 25 years and those of us who were not native in that country were referred to as expats. I guess it was just a shorter name to describe us than using foreigner. We certainly did not give up our native citizenship which ever country that may have been. However, we were always in the guest country legally and were required to keep our visa current.

My wife and I just watched the episode of Bryan and his family on House Hunters International TV program last night. We enjoyed it so much we watched it twice, especially since we plan to move to Cuenca


Sunday 17th of March 2013

It is indeed difficult to explain what an expat is. The word 'expat' is anachronistic. It harkens back to colonial days. Countries like Holland, Spain, Portugal, England, just to name a few, had colonies. Colonizers living in their colonized countries were called expats. Someone who can live in another country other than their country of origin and not be a citizen of the country where they live. They were not belongers like the 'natives' but visitors with certain powers and rights. I'd like to see the word 'expat' assigned to the garbage box.