Expat, Immigrant, or None of the Above?

The question of who is an “expat” and who is an “immigrant” and how those terms relate to privilege has received some attention lately. This piece is my take on how those seemingly clear-cut lines get blurred a bit here in Korea.

For those of you living overseas, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Expat, Immigrant, or None of the Above?



  1. I classify the Expat as someone who’s intent is to only live in the country temporarily and never considers the country home where an immigrant to choosing to adopt the country as home.

  2. That’s pretty much the traditional understanding, but it seems you have a lot of people these days who move abroad never intending to stay there yet that’s exactly what they end up doing.

  3. It’s interesting how a word, with it’s historical and cultural connotations, can evolve. It’s my understanding that where I live (in Toronto), the word ‘immigrant’ comes with all sorts of negative undertones. Perhaps it’s because there are so many immigrants who have come here so fast, that in some ways, Toronto has gotten worse rather than better. I won’t get into the debate about it, but because of this, a lot of people decide to label themselves ‘expats’ instead, regardless of how long they plan to stay. In any case, these are only labels. Regardless of what you call yourself or what other calls you, I think the most important thing whilst living abroad is to learn and adapt to the culture (adapting doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting your own), accept the differences, be positive, and have fun. And be a contributor, not a burden, to their economy (ha, obvious economics student here)!

    Personally, though it may not be the accurate dictionary definition, I could see both ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ as a long-term or permanent resident outside their home country. But I see someone who labels themselves as an ‘expat’ to always, to some degree, consider themselves a foreigner. An ‘immigrant’ might sooner consider themselves as one of the locals. Also, the word ‘expat’ seems to be used more frequently on blogs. I mean, honestly, it just sounds better than saying “About me: I’m an immigrant in ___”, right? 😛

    1. It’s tricky, the words do have distinctions as far as intent and permanence. “Expat” to me seems to be a mark of privilege to the extent that there is choice involved. Expats often give their motives for moving as adventure or furthering their career or bettering themselves in some way. Immigrants are more often thought to be moving out of economic or political necessity, more subject to events than masters of their own fates. That seems to be some of the baggage that comes along with them anyway.

      In the end, I agree that it’s really just about labels, which don’t interest me personally a whole lot. (Maybe the ability not to care is a privilege? I don’t know 🙂

      THanks for reading and commenting!

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