Expatriate vs Immigrant – What’s the Difference?

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The terms expatriate and immigrant are often misused when talking about individuals who have chosen to live abroad. Either the two terms are used interchangeably or they’re spoken with politically weighted implications on socioeconomic standing, education levels, and impact on the host country. However, the truth is that the difference between the two is much simpler to understand.

The Terminology and Definitions

Let’s begin to explore the difference with basic dictionary explanations. According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary:

  • Expatriate – is actually a verb or adjective that means “to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere” or “living in a foreign land.”
  • Immigrant – is a noun that means “a person who comes to a country to take permanent residence.”

By these definitions, the major distinction that sets the two terms apart is that of the intended length of stay. Immigrants have the intention to remain in their new country permanently, while expatriates are simply living there, implying the ability to return home when their experience is complete.

In our experience, expatriates are individuals who legally reside in a country of which they are not a citizen on an extended but temporary basis. When describing business expatriates, it’s common to include the intention for the individual to be working in the host country in order to accomplish a career-related goal (regardless of pay or skill level).

Immigrants, on the other hand, are legally residing in the host country with the intention of remaining there forever. These individuals are more likely to acclimate fully and work hard to develop a life for themselves in their new country, as opposed to simply embracing the novelty of the new experiences.

The Cultural Impact

With the permanent intentions associated with immigration, it’s common for immigrants to have a larger emotional commitment to their new place of residence. They are more invested in “making it”, so to speak. Expatriates have a conscious or unconscious acceptance that they can always leave and return home. Therefore, they are often known to put less effort into finding ways to belong, creating long-term connections and friendships, and absorbing new values and habits.

This is, perhaps, why the term expatriate often is tarnished by the implication that the individual will not make a true effort to immerse him or herself into the culture of their host country.

Expanding Your Cultural Awareness with Global Coach Center

At Global Coach Center, we work with immigrants and expatriates to expand their cultural awareness and make an easier transition into their new lives. Regardless of whether you are moving to a new country permanently or temporarily, our coaching services and courses are designed to help you minimize culture shock and maximize your experience.

Global Coach Center is your gateway to a culturally connected workplace and lifestyle. We work with clients in every corner of the world to help them succeed in today’s global environment. With an international network of coaches and proprietary coursework, we offer coaching, training, and online classes for global leaders, multi-cultural teams, and expatriates.

Visit http://www.globalcoachcenter.com/ to learn more.

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