What is an expatriate? The definition of an expatriate varies and while many living abroad choose to call themselves expatriates, others wonder what the difference between an expatriate and an immigrant actually is?
So who exactly is an expatriate? What does it mean to be an expatriate and why do we choose to identify as an expatriate?
My answer is short and simple:
If you make an overseas move to one country, where you are looking to settle down for the long term and build a life for yourself, you are an immigrant. Some of my South Asian relatives who migrated from the Indian Sub-Continent to the United States and Canada definitely refer to themselves as immigrants. They were not sent abroad by their work or a company they worked for; they chose to migrate to greener pastures out of their own initiatives and ambitions, and thus rightly call themselves immigrants.
Interestingly, my father-in-law who migrated from Italy to Germany in 1969 was called a “migrant worker”; in German he was called a “Gastarbeiter” which literally means “a guest worker” even though he ended up staying for good. He thus went from being a guest worker to an immigrant who has lived in Germany for over 40 years.
My husband and I call ourselves “expatriates” because it reflects the temporary or short-term nature of each expatriate assignment or each country stint. In some assignments, it accurately reflects the salaries and tax implications too, since we are “expatriated” with a home base and home leave calculated for us. There is also that nomadic aspect of the expat lifestyle which makes it different from being an immigrant or a guest worker. There is of course, the possibility that an expatriate stint becomes long term and turns you into an immigrant, but that is usually not the initial intention or premise. As an example, our most recent expat postings have been Denmark (4 years), Singapore (almost 3 years) and Dubai (2 years and counting).
So the definition of an expatriate in my books is quite clear. An expatriate is someone who leaves home, to go work in a different country, on a short-term or time-bound work contract. This person goes abroad usually through his/her job or company back home, who decide to expatriate him/her. After the agreed duration of the assignment, this expatriate will either return home or be expatriated potentially to another destination.
So now let’s test out this definition:
Is a Filipino nanny working in Singapore for a few years to earn some money, an expat?
Is a Pakistani labourer working for a construction company in Dubai and sending money back home, an expat?
Is a German corporate executive working in Vietnam an expat?
Expatriation is not defined by or limited to race, color, ethnicity or nationality. Here in Dubai, I am lucky to have a Pakistani gardener who helps us tend to our garden and the plants within it. His main job is to keep our grass alive in over 45 degree summer temperatures in the desert, where grass rarely survives. We sometimes have chats as he prunes my bougainvillea; we are both living away from home, dreaming about it, talking about it and feeling homesick perpetually.
You see, we are both expatriates.
About the Author:
Mariam is an eternal expat who 15 years, 7 countries and 3 continents later, is embarrassingly a seasoned expert at getting lost in every new city she calls home, and butchering words in every new foreign language she picks up along the way. She is the founder of the blog And Then We Moved To and writes mostly about life as an expat, trying to raise her multilingual and multicultural children in her East-meets-West marriage and of course traveling the world.