What’s Your Expatriate Definition?

Everything Expat, Our Perspective

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.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is co-editor of LivingAbroad.in - and is working to make it the best resource for current and future expats. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of GringosAbroad (Find Your Next Adventure in Ecuador) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

12 comments… add one
  • Joanna Mar 16, 2013, 5:32 pm

    Hi Dena,
    I read a statistic somewhere that most expats return to their home country after only 3 years. There seems to be various reasons for this but I think the main one is inability to adjust to the new environment and realization that no matter where you live, you take your problems with you. I would agree with Wikipedia’s definition. I was born in Poland and now I am living in USA. So, I guess I am already an expat. My husband and I are planning on moving again to somewhere in the Latin America for retirement, so I don’t know what that will make me, a double-expat? I would define success as being happy no matter where I live. So, I’m a happy Polish expat in US and will be even a happier one in Ecuador, perhaps?

  • Abinas Jagernauth Mar 16, 2013, 5:47 pm

    In my opinion an expat is someone who resides temporarily in a country other than the country of his birth. What is temporary is not only based on the facts and circumstances, but more importantly, on one’s mindset. If one thinks about returning to his homeland at some point, then one remains an expat regardless of how long one has resided in the particular foreign country.

    I live in Canada, am a Canadian citizen, and do not consider myself an expat or foreigner even though I was not born in Canada. Now, were I to move to Ecuador…

  • Stewart Mar 17, 2013, 7:07 am

    Technically your reader is probably right, but I remember since my high school days reading Ernest Hemingway and my teacher describing him and his “artist friends” as “expats”. This was when he lived in Cuba (before Castro’s govt.) and in europe.

    I don’t think they renounced their citizenship so for a while now it’s a popular loose translation to call yourself an “expat” living in a foreign country. For USA citizens you still have to report to the IRS each year for taxes.

    At least that;s what my taxman tells me.

    Best regards,

  • Jakob Mar 17, 2013, 3:02 pm

    I renounced my citizenship of birth. I do not consider myself an expat. I think that if you go as far as to renounce your original citizenship your new country of citizenship becomes your “patria”. The expression “expat” puts you outside of the society you live in which in the case of having the citizenship of that country you are not, so it is not an adequate definition. If you are a citizen of a country it is your country. If you renounce the citizenship of your country of origin you are a foreigner in your country of origin and will be treated as such, make no mistake about it. I am treated as any other foreigner in my country of birth.

    I tend to view people living in a country other than their country of citizenship as “expats”. One of the main problems with generalized definitions of migratory currents as so often in society is that it always only covers the classic case of someone who was born and grew up in one place, then moved to a different place at some point of their lives. They do not really cover a case like mine of someone who has lived in and integrated into multiple countries/cultures, is fluent in the corresponding local dialects, and has burned through 3 different citizenships with little emotional attachment to their country of birth. This is the problem of trying to classify people by definitions.

  • Abinas Jagernauth Mar 17, 2013, 5:12 pm

    I agree with Jakob’s excellent explanation. People move around quite a bit nowadays and some settle in foreign countries making it their home. Some prominent, and not so prominent Americans are giving up their US passports for tax reasons. And it’s not only Americans. The famous Canadian songbird Shania Twain has been a Swiss resident for many years now.

  • Austin Mar 17, 2013, 7:12 pm

    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.

  • Charless Caywood Apr 6, 2013, 9:42 pm

    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

  • Kerri Feb 27, 2014, 11:16 am

    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”.

    • Bryan Haines Mar 1, 2014, 7:51 am

      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”.

  • Tim L. Nov 14, 2014, 1:06 pm

    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 Nov 14, 2014, 1:31 pm

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


  • Ibps Jul 17, 2016, 4:16 pm

    Awesome post.

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