Expat or Immigrant?

A simple definition of the word Expat, short for Expatriate, is a person who is living outside of their home/native country. A simple definition of Immigrant, is someone who moves to another country to live permanently.

Although, I am often referred to as an Expat by many, even I have referred to myself as an expat at times. I actually fit the definition of an Immigrant much better.

My intentions when I left the United States and came to Germany, were to live here, permanently. I had no intentions of moving back to the States, and still don’t.  We have considered moving to Scotland at some point, but that is still in it’s “distant dream phase” of planning.  Even considering that, I still have no plans to move back to the USA, my native home.

On arrival to Germany, we registered our address, obtained health insurance and notified the Immigration office of my intent to live here.  I have taken the recommended German language courses, and am scheduled to take my A.1 language exam.  I am following the steps needed to make Germany my permanent home.

Now, for me, and many others as well,  the word Expat elicits certain images of  foreign adventures, carefree travels, and meeting exotic people from all over the world.

Why doesn’t the word immigrant elicit positive images for people as well?  Immigrants built the United States, other countries as well.  They built the railroads, they built the cities, and they farmed the land.  Today, they are still tending the land that feeds all of the United States. They are an integral part of the entire workforce.

Yet immigrants are feared.  “They will take our jobs, and they don’t believe in our God.  Their food is different and weird.” are just a few of the ridiculous things that are said, and worse yet, believed by many Americans.

I hear it here too, in Germany.  Often people speak of their concern at the influx of refugees to the country. They are concerned that they will take their jobs, or get benefits meant for Germans. My husband and I remind them that refugees and immigrants are two separate and very different terms.  A refugee is fleeing an often dangerous situation, seeking refuge.  Many refugees want to, and plan to go back to their homeland someday.  An immigrant wants to make their new country their home and live there, permanently.  A refuge many in turn become an immigrant.

We often remind these people that are so negative about outsiders that I too am an immigrant, just like these people they are so worried about.  Frequently, the response we receive is, “Well, you are different.  Your situation is not the same.”

I beg to differ, my situation is exactly the same.  I have left my native country, and plan to make this country my home.  That makes me an immigrant. I am an immigrant.

The only difference I can see, is that I have blonde hair, and blue eyes. But, I am still an immigrant.

I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but I will not be taking anyone’s job here since I am still working on my language skills.  This too is the same as many other immigrants.  I met a lovely lady from Iran in one of my language courses, she worked for many years in her home country as a midwife, a highly trained field.  But here in Germany, she is a house wife like myself, we are both still working on learning the language.  Neither of us is a threat to anyone’s job.  Neither of us receive any benefits, our spouses are able to work here and support us.

So, is this what is comes down to? Irrational and unproven fears of job loss and free money? Fears of different cultures and skin colors?

Is this why I am not considered an immigrant, because I look like a German?



So tell me, what do the words Expat and Immigrant mean to you?  What feelings do these words evoke for you?  If you are living in a foreign country, what do you consider yourself to be?




66 thoughts on “Expat or Immigrant?

    1. I have been so overwhelmed with all of the bile spewing and hate on social media. People that I have known all my life saying things and believing things that I just can’t comprehend. Nearly every person in the USA today is there because of an immigrant. How do they not see this? Why are certain immigrants considered desirable, and others not? Am I so naive to not understand this? I was raised in the same place they were, yet see things so differently.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have come to believe that as human beings we’re wired to hate first. So few of us operate from a place of love and understanding. History repeats itself again and again and we learn nothing. First, we hate everybody who’s different from us and try to get rid of them (under the guise of social and economic reform). Then, if everybody around us looks like us, we find another reason to hate and divide (classism, sexism, etc). Why can’t we all just get along??? It’s exhausting.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved your nod to Expat evoking images of traveling around the world, being adventurous… That is exactly what was going on in my brain when I saw the word. I guess I also think of Expats as political–leaving the US because of policies or (racist/homophobic/sexist) ideologies they can no longer tolerate. Immigrant connotes a LOT of hard work to me. Starting over. Losing everything to begin again somewhere new. It doesn’t sound adventurous–just exhausting. Thanks for picking apart this topic & exposing me to my own implicit bias in language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To me, ex-patriot status is a temporary thing, often well paid. It is a word used to describe rich people who live abroad. I also have the image of an ex-pats being sent by their company for just a few years, and immigrants being more long-term.

    I’m a migrant too – but I have had slightly different shock to you. I have been really impressed with how welcoming Canada is for immigrants. I feel welcome here and the longer we stay, the less I want to return to Brexit-island(!) Canada also has social issues, but they do seem better at acknowledging that (apart from First Nation people) everyone’s ancestors were immigrants at some point!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am an expat..I live in Thailand..We are not rich…just comfortable and live simply amongst our Thai neighbours we have been made very welcome by the Thais and love it here. It is hard to become an immigrant here only 100 invites a year are offered and you need a lot of money to apply…If we still worked it may be an option but wouldn’t give us any more benefits as retirees unless we wanted to buy lots of land etc…A good post which highlights many of the fears people have reguarding immigrants.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a thought-provoking post! In the last few years, these two words have suddenly been the focus lately, and people have been using them without looking up what they mean. I didn’t really think of categorizing myself as either and don’t want to, because Berlin, for now, is my home, but one never knows the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I am really shocked by the behavior and things that people say and do. No sense of respect for others or kindness in their speech. Americans have forgotten in just a few short generations, that all were immigrants. ALL. The struggles that their families went through are long forgotten. It’s so very sad.


  5. Thank you for putting the difference between expats and immigrants in simple lay terms. I often remind others gently, but firmly that all United States citizens come from immigrants. It saddens me that this is even necessary–or that it matters so much. My daughter is engaged to a Greek citizen who hopes to immigrate to the U.S. She is divorced with minor children, so her moving to Greece is not a viable option. I hope all this craziness does not keep them apart. I am happy to hear that you have been welcomed warmly in Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel like skin color has a lot to do with it, at least here in Norway.. Most people welcome eastern European work forces with open arms (particularly Polish and Lithuanian workers) but shun anyone from the middle east or similar. It’s a shame that society has come to that in a lot of places. I guess maybe some people are skeptical because there weren’t really any dark skinned people up here until immigrants started arriving but I really don’t think people should be judged on something that is out of their control.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I can’t really get political on my blog or FB and I won’t do so on yours. Saying that, THANK YOU for this.

    I am a third culture kid/person, basically that means I grew most of the way up in a country that doesn’t match my passport or my parents upbringing.

    I’ve been here so long my daughter doesn’t qualify for dual citizenship just because she has an American mother. I am not American enough. My Dad is, but don’t tell him that.

    I am nostalgic for the old country in the same way I miss my childhood. But if I lived back there now, I would feel WAY out of place.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s the scaremongering and fear associated with the word immigrant that grinds my gears. It’s what the leave campaigners peddled and why the U.K. is now leaving the EU. Lies and fear. Just for the record my hubby and I voted to remain. It’s quite frightening how some parts of the media and certain political parties have propaganda on refugees and immigrants to portray them in a way that cause stigma fear and loathing.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Expat to me is someone that is fortunate enough to be transferred by their company overseas, and this includes things like free or subsidised accomodation, education for the family, etc. In other words a more comfortable existence. I consider myself an immigrant, more specifically an economic immigrant because i came here partially for the money but had to do the heavy lifting to get here.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I wish I could have had the foresight to call myself an immigrant rather than an expat, to begin with. An immigrant integrates, an expat does not (just look at the Brits in Spain!). In my case, Brexit made the decision for me. Brexit has made me an immigrant from the UK. I only hope it doesn’t all go to hell and make me a refugee too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting. I lived in Singapore for three years and considered myself to be an expat. We had no intention of making a permanent move there, it was always the plan to return to the UK. This fear of immigrants is a difficult one. Where wold this country be without the people who come here to work in our NHS and those that come to pick crops from our fields – something that apparently our own people don’t want to do. Then you’ve got the wonderful ‘Windrush’ immigrants who came here to rebuild our country after the war. Where would we be without them all!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. An excellent post – yes, sadly this is the case in my experience too – you aren’t classified as an immigrant because you look like a local. I had this issue in Italy and I suppose here in England too although people can usually tell from my South African accent that I’m not from here.

    My Italian accent was apparently so good that they couldn’t tell and some would even be shocked upon hearing I was from South Africa, saying things like “but you’re too white to be African!” True story.

    I think it all stems from ignorance. From people inexperienced in travel. People who have never experienced being a foreigner in a strange and wonderful land where nobody speaks your language and you have to muddle through with a thick accent to get by. For such people it is an “us and them” world – they don’t realise we are all part of the same race – the human race. We are all one big family.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fear definitely plays a part but I think it comes, also, from the difference between actually knowing someone personally who has immigrated versus the “them” mentality. It’s easy to fear or hate “them” but everything changes when it is someone you actually have a relationship with. And not enough people are willing to make that step.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Good reading – I honestly didn’t understand the definition difference. My son is living in New Zealand with a one-year work visa. He has a college education but chooses to pick kiwi and tend grapes at a vineyard – and he loves it. I’ve referred to him as an immigrant worker but now I know he’s an expatriate. The real point is that we are all people. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Yes. You are not considered an immigrant because you are white and look German. The same here in America. White immigrants are given a pass. Our shameful leader even came out and asked why we didn’t get more immigrants from places like Norway. Let your racism show a little Mr. Trump?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This was a really insightful post. I’m a child of recent immigrants on both sides (mother from Germany, as a matter of fact) and am married to a Cuban immigrant. I guess I’ve always thought of immigrants as people who go move to another country with the intent of “adopting” the new country – learning the language and way of life. Ex-pats I think of people who move to another country for economic or other reasons and choose to settle. Not sure that’s correct though.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I prefer to think of myself as a child of the road – in poetic terms. Expats for me make me think of “moving for work purposes.” When i was in school i was bullied viciously for being an “immigrant” and its a very sore spot for me even today. They would accuse me of stealing, eating ugly food and not belonging. When i’m called an immigrant my feelings are instantly hurt and i become defensive due to stupid school kids, out of the two though, i’m definitely an immigrant and i hope one day i can face that word without feeling like im being attacked.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I think about this a lot as well. I call myself an expat, even though I know I’m an immigrant, because there’s more English-language support for expats than immigrants. At the end of the day, it was hard to find American immigrant groups but I found plenty of expat groups. Most of them truly are expats, but a few are immigrants like myself.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you tried Two Fat Expats on Facebook? It’s a really good mix of different ages. The group American Expats in Germany also seems to skew older; I am definitely one of the younger members and I’m 31.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I often feel the same way. So many of them are stay-at-home moms with nanny’s and housekeepers, too. It’s…obnoxious, lol. But, yeah. At least they speak English. Maybe you can start an American Immigrants in Germany group? I’d join! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I think about this so frequently, especially with the immigration news coming from the U.S. I hate that people make being an immigrant seem like a bad thing. As the child of immigrants and a current expat, it is weird, and very disconcerting, to see how the discussion around the two situations differ.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I am an immigrant. I left Italy with my husband seven years ago to come to Usa and live permanently here. I was a lawyer there and a stay at home mom here. I feel very uncomfortable when I am in Italy and all the people around me talk worried or bad about immigrant. I am one of them but MidWest people have always made me feel welcome and accepted and I am very grateful for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of my family and friends here in Germany are supportive and friendly. But we have listened to many people make comments about foreigners. I remind them that I am an immigrant too. So often they say, “that’s different “ or “you are different “. I tell them that I am no different than any other.

      Liked by 1 person

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