“Immigrant” vs “Expat”: Coming to Terms



The world we live in is getting increasingly smaller. Whether it’s your shoes made in China, your power produced in Norway, or your phone “designed” in California, globalization is an increasingly apparent fact with which some people are now struggling. Because with that globalization comes people moving between borders and the internationalization of our cultures. Immigration is a hot button issue for many, but why is it okay for certain people to live abroad? Don’t the same rules apply? I’ve written before about my opinion regarding the terms “immigrant” vs “expat”– and this is how I imagine the argument would go.

An “IMMIGRANT” came uninvited! But an “EXPAT” is welcome.

Man, those immigrants- who wants them?! Why do THEY think they can just show up here and we’d roll out the red carpet? Then they want to have children and try to put down roots for future generations- NOT WELCOME!

But an EXPAT, well! Thank our lucky stars that they decided to come here! They could have gone anywhere else for work/love/a year to “find themselves”, but we’ve tried to be the best host possible for them. And hey- maybe someday down the road we’ll visit their country! Better make sure they remember how nice and fun we were, should that day come.

An “IMMIGRANT” took our jobs! But an “EXPAT” has highly specialized skills.

You see it on the news all the time, about how those immigrants are working for pennies on the dollar (or euro). They come here, often illegally, and take jobs from your neighbor’s neighbor or whoever, and then leech off the system when their done. Why are we paying for these immigrants to come here and take from us?!

Expats, though- they have the knowledge and skills we just don’t. Maybe it’s because our educational system is lacking, or they come from a well-to-do area where it’s easier to learn these skills, or it’s just a matter of speaking a language better than you. Either way, we better learn their language if we want to keep up!

An “IMMIGRANT” is unintelligible! But an “EXPAT” doesn’t need to learn your language.

Hey- it’s OUR country, and it’s OUR language. Why won’t those damn immigrants speak it? When they come here fresh off the boat and have to go through the immigration process, they better learn it damn fast if they want to figure out how to find a place to live, a job, or even seek medical help.

For expats, it’s different. I mean, it’s well known that English is the lingua franca. Heck, everyone here already speaks it- why should they bother to learn our language? Besides it’s not about the language, it’s about the cultural exchange!

An “IMMIGRANT” is “weird”! But an “EXPAT” is “exotic”.

Now I’m not a racist. I want to make that explicitly clear. I have tons of immigrant friends. Immigrants love me. But sometimes… they’re a little weird, no? They smell different. You can’t understand them. Their religion is wrong. They wear funny clothes. They don’t look like us.

But those expats- they wear mysterious scents! They have a fun accent! They celebrate Christmas earlier! They have trendy styles we should imitate! They’re exotic! I think we’ll all remember that one summer we had that one expat friend (who we’ve never heard from again). And should the day come that you decide to visit them, I guess they’ll remember you?

An “EXPAT” won’t stay- but an “IMMIGRANT” wants to.

You know what I like about expats? They come for a short period of time, and then go back where they came from. I mean- I can appreciate expanding horizons as much as the next guy, but there’s a limit. At least these expats know when they’ve worn out their welcome. After they’ve worked our high salaried jobs, used the systems set in place to benefit our citizens, and driven up the cost of our reasonably priced housing, they LEAVE!

But immigrants, they… well, they come from places they can’t always go back to. Sometimes it’s because life there is hard, other times it’s because they want something different, other times it’s because their home… isn’t there anymore.  So they come to our country looking for a better life. They work any job they can (often low paying), they try to fit in, they want to share their culture and form an international society. But who wants that? Who wants someone that actually wants to be a part of our world and contribute? No, I’d take an expat any day…

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2 thoughts on ““Immigrant” vs “Expat”: Coming to Terms

  1. I don’t see it…..seems you are overthinking it. Perhaps Immigrant is not the word you want to use…..refugee, illegal, etc; then I could see your point. The term immigrant implies (to me anyway) coming over legally and in a controlled manner .


    • Where I’m from immigration, legal or otherwise, is a huge talking point (ex.: Trump’s wall). In general the term is used to describe someone lower class from another country that’s “different”. I recognize there are other places where immigration is not as big an issue but the point of my article is to show that, in my opinion, the only real difference is that an immigrant wants to stay while an expat plans on leaving.


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