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William Russell Blog - What is an Expat or Expatriate?

One common question we often get asked is, “what is an expat or expatriate?”

The word “expat” is a contraction of expatriate, which derives from the Latin word “expatriatus”. In medieval times, an expatriatus was someone who had left his or her home country to live somewhere else. So in today’s culture an expatriate is exactly that; someone who lives in a different location than that which they were born and brought up. In this article, we cover the definition of the word, how many expats are there, and what expat life is like abroad.

William Russell Blog - What is an Expat or Expatriate?
A Expat friends sitting and laughing with each other at a roof bar in Bali, Indonesia / GETTY IMAGES

What is 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.

In general, expatriates are considered to be people who are residing in their host country temporarily, with the ultimate intention of returning home at a later date. However, in recent times, more and more expatriates have left their home country and found that they can experience a higher standard of living and a better of quality of life abroad and, for this reason, many of them never return home.

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How many expats are in the world?

The mass movement of people around the world is arguably one of the biggest stories of our time. Today, approximately 258 million people live outside their country of birth. By 2050, that number is expected to jump to 405 million.

As Europe and the United States debate whether and how much to welcome newcomers, many of their own citizens are also on the move—with, for example, 9 million Americans and more than 5 million Brits living outside their country of origin.

Some movements are voluntary (say, for a good job opportunity); others are driven by war, persecution, or environmental crisis. The reason for the movement gets reflected in the language used to describe the movers—whether they’re economic migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, or just foreigners.

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Becoming an expat

There are many reasons why people become expatriates. For some it is due to work reasons, others fall in love with a person or a place, and others still seek a different life from that which they have been accustomed by living overseas.

Why do people become expats?

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

Getting a job abroad is one of the main reasons people become expats

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. Read our guide on top ten reasons why people become expats.

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What is the difference between an expat and an immigrant?

Expat v immigrant? Does it matter whether you are coming from a richer country, or how long you intend to stay? At what point are you an “immigrant” instead?

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.

William Russell Blog - Top ten reasons to become an expat in 2021 - Young woman on double decker cable car-Hong Kong
Young expat woman on double decker cable car in Hong Kong / GETTY IMAGES

What is an 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.

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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.