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What is an Expatriate?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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An expatriate is someone who has chosen to live in a country other than the one in which he or she legally resides. Most often, an expatriate is a citizen of a Western nation who has chosen to live in a non-Western country, such as one in South America, Asia, or Africa. Occasionally, someone who is living in a different Western country than the one in which he or she has citizenship is referred to as an expatriate, but this usage is less frequent.

An expatriate is different than an immigrant in that most expatriates do not plan on residing in their new country permanently, and if they do, they plan on retaining their native citizenship for practical purposes. Immigrants, by contrast, usually plan on residing permanently in a new country and acquiring permanent citizenship there. The word expatriate comes from the Latin ex meaning “out of”, and patria meaning “country”.

Expatriates are often known simply as expats, and they often form their own communities in their new host countries. In areas popular with expatriates, such as parts of Africa and South-East Asia, there are often services such as hotels and cafes that cater specifically to the needs of the local expatriate community. Local and national governments may also be able to offer information and resources to potential expatriates, helping them navigate the sometimes confusing world of long-term visas and work permits. The governments of many developing nations are happy to encourage expatriates with decent liquid assets or a steady source of income, as they view them as a stable financial base.

Expatriates are sometimes looked at negatively, both by citizens of their native country and by citizens of the country in which they have chosen to dwell. Some people refer to expatriates who leave their native country as expatriots, indicating that they have a reduced sense of patriotism reflected in their desire to leave their homeland. Some groups in popular expatriate destinations consider the expatriate community to be a negative force in their country, as expatriates often do not pay into the tax base, are not a part of the armed forces, and may not fully integrate themselves into the local culture.

For the most part, however, the expatriate community is not only tolerated, but encouraged in third-world countries. Many expatriates give back immensely to their host countries, using their relative wealth to support infrastructure and local businesses, and using their understanding of citizens from their native countries to help expand the tourist industry and to mitigate many of the negative effects tourism might have. By acting as an intermediary between tourists and the local culture, an expatriate can help facilitate cultural sensitivity and environmental respect and assist in translation and communication.

Virtually every country on earth has a decent-sized expatriate community, and people interested in moving to a new country permanently or semi-permanently may want to make contact with that community. Many expatriate communities have websites or local meeting places where they share tips and contacts with the curious, and one can usually find them through a quick web search or by browsing a good guidebook for the country in question.

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Discussion Comments
By anon315137 — On Jan 22, 2013

Why don't you retire where you belong and leave that stuff to the young folks? You have medicare here in the U.S. A lady in an earlier post just said you may not qualify for health insurance where you might be going. Maybe a vacation there would be better. A few weeks or a month, but come back home.

By DonnaMaher — On Jun 10, 2012

At the Lake Chapala area anyway, you can get into the IMSS (Mexican health insurance system) for around $250 US/year and approximately $57 for a new application. More information can be found online.

You can choose more expensive options, including helicopter or airplane services for serious emergencies, but in three years, I've not needed anything but a visit to my local doctor who speaks perfect English and is very knowledgeable about medicine.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the amenities and the services available in Mexico. The people are amazing, as well.

By Bertie68 — On May 15, 2011

@PinkLady4 - When senior citizens are thinking about moving to a foreign country,the most common question that they ask about expatriate medical insurance is this - does Medicare cross the borders of the United States? Unfortunately,the answer is a definite "no."

Even though there are many medical insurance companies that offer insurance to expatriates, retiree expatriates run into some problems. They may not be able to meet eligibility requirements and the cost will probably be high. They are higher risk and may have pre-existing conditions. But, this doesn't seem to keep senior expatriates from moving abroad.

By PinkLady4 — On May 14, 2011

My husband and I are retiring in two years. We are thinking of moving to Mexico or Portugal for retirement. So, I guess we would become expatriates.

We want a slower pace of life, a lower cost of living, and lots of sunshine. One thing I'm quite concerned about is medical health insurance.

Does anyone know what retired expatriates do about health insurance? Can we get Medicare?

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