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What is an Expat or Expatriate?

Home Blog What is an Expat or Expatriate?

Avin Talabani

Transformation Manager

What is the definition of an expat or expatriate?

An expat – which is short for expatriate – is simply someone who lives outside their native country (the country they were born in). They may be temporarily or permanently living there for a variety of reasons including work or retirement.

Technically, it means the same as immigrant or migrant, but the term expat carries certain connotations. We take look at what expat life is like, particularly when it comes to accessing healthcare abroad.

Did you know the EHIC is being replaced for UK residents?
Learn more about the UK Global Health Insurance Card

Why do people become expats?

According to a survey by expat community InterNations, jobs are the main reason people move abroad, including:

  • finding a job yourself
  • being headhunted by an international employer
  • being sent by your employer
  • moving for your partner’s job

In terms of becoming an expat as a result of retirement, Spain leads the way in Europe with some changes expected to this as a result of Brexit.

What is the difference between an expat and an immigrant?

Expat v immigrant? There is actually no difference between the two. They are the same thing – people who move to another country for work or lifestyle reasons. Sometimes expat is used to describe people who have moved abroad for professional careers or retirement, whereas immigrant tends to be used more widely.

Where are the most popular expat destinations?

According to the InterNations Expat Insider 2020 report, expat life in the Iberian Peninsular destinations – such as Spain and Portugal – was voted among the best in the world. Valencia in Spain was particularly favoured for its climate and healthcare.

Switzerland was ranked as the number one expat destination in HSBC’s Expat Explorer 2020 survey.

Overall Living Aspiring Mindset
Switzerland 1st 4th 1st 7th
Singapore 2nd 3rd 3rd 10th
New Zealand 3rd 2nd 10th 1st
Germany 4th 9th 4th 8th
Spain 5th 1st 27th 3rd


Respondents cited Switzerland’s quality of life, political and economic stability and good schools as key factors. Other destinations popular with expats include:

  • United Arab Emirates
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Germany
Why do people become expats?
See the top 10 reasons here

What is expat life like?

People tend to make assumptions about expatriate life, from the sun-seeking fifty-somethings retiring to Spain, to the businesswoman moving to Singapore for a career opportunity. Like anything, however, expat life varies according to where you choose to live, as well as the type of work you do and whether you move alone or with your family.

Some of the key differences to expect according to destination include variations in services such as healthcare, education and freedom of movement. Mental health is an important subject for most of the expats, too.

What is healthcare like for expats?

Health, fitness and healthcare are often cited as significant factors when deciding to move abroad. For example, in the HSBC Expat Explorer guide, Spain ranks at number one for physical and mental wellbeing. Expats who qualify for public healthcare in Spain pay around a quarter of the total cost. Read more about how to get a COVID vaccine as an expat here.

As with most key services, healthcare varies according to where you choose to become an expat. For example the Czech Republic is known for its quality healthcare, but you only qualify if you are a citizen or are employed by a Czech employer.

Due to these variations, expats’ insurance is popular for those looking for additional peace of mind around international healthcare.

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What does Brexit mean for expats?

Since Brexit, many countries in Europe require British expats to become official residents in order to access public services including healthcare. There are a number of requirements needed to become resident and not all expats will qualify.

For Britons travelling in Europe, a Global Health Insurance Card replaces the EHIC for accessing healthcare while visiting EU countries.

It’s also thought that Brexit will have an impact on the expat population in Europe. An InterNations survey in 2020 found 35% of expats were aged 51 or older. However, following Brexit, the number of younger professionals is expected to rise, and a large number of British nationals are expected to return to the UK.