The Difference Between Expats and Immigrants

Expats and immigrants. Two words for the same thing? Well, think again. Here, we look at how these two words differ all over the world.

Expat, an abbreviation of expatriate, is defined as a person who is living in a country other than that of a person’s upbringing. This term can be used for temporary or permanent residents and comes from the Latin words ex (out of), and patria (fatherland/country.)

The official definition of ‘immigrant’ isn’t too different. It is defined as a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. The word also comes from Latin where migrare means to migrate, or to move from one locality to another.

Right under Google’s definition of the words, we see the first discrepancy. The example of the word in use under expat is “a British expat who’s been living in Amsterdam for 14 years”.

The example for immigrants is “they found it difficult to expel illegal immigrants”.


Anglocentrism of The Terminology

A common example used when showing the anglocentrism of the difference between expats and immigrants including a British and Portuguese person.

If the British national is working in Portugal, they will likely be referred to as an expatriate.

On the other hand, a Portuguese national working in Britain is referred to as an immigrant.

Ironically enough, in the past, the word expatriate referred to an exile so it had a negative connotation. Today, it is immigrants who are seen in a darker light.

The word immigrant, even on the internet, is associated with refugees or people seeking a better life. Often, NGOs and government aid are also associated with this term.

Then there’s expats and expat communities which are considered to be full of wealthy people who choose to move somewhere instead of having to.

Expats are most commonly English-speakers from the USA, UK or Australasia. The definition of anglocentrism is ‘centered on or giving priority to England or things English’.


Breaking Down Stereotypes

Since both ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ have nearly identical definitions, the problem comes from culture and stereotypes.

Another issue is the mere lack of awareness that this is an issue. This is often referred to as white privilege.

It is basically the privilege of not being consciously aware of one’s race and the privileges associated with it because the individuals are so used to having them.

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Perspective: In Prague, an American may be known as an expat, but that won’t be the same the other way around

Growing up in Prague as an upper middle class Caucasian of European descent, I was part of the expat community.

We were a diverse group of people who came from all over the world.

However, we all spoke English and more than half of us were from the USA or the UK.



The word expat is thrown around a lot in the Czech Republic, with being one of the leading English-speaking news sources in the country.

It wasn’t until I left Prague’s expat bubble that I finally understood the anglocentrism of the term.

Now I live in the USA and I am an immigrant. I am now aware of the many privileges that I have as an immigrant due to my skin color, European passports and my international upbringing.

Here in the USA, the word expat isn’t as popular because this is considered a place where people move in search of the American dream.

While many Americans are more than welcoming of immigrants from all over the world, this subconscious thought process is the basis of anglocentrism.

Expat and immigrant are both just words used to describe people who have moved from their homes to live elsewhere.

Both can be a temporary or permanent relocation. However, certain people in certain countries are seen as expats while others are seen as immigrants.

The language itself has ingrained stereotypes and prejudice in today’s society that is hard to break.

Photos: Shutterstock

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