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- The Gringo Identity Question: Expat or Immigrant
“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.” Ernest Hemingway
Over a week or so ago, I was standing outside my apartment building in Mexico City.
Late at night, I was just waiting along for my tea to be ready in the kitchen next to me.
While waiting, a Mexican neighbor known as "Andrea" began making small talk with me.
Soon enough, another Mexican neighbor known as "Jimmy" came along.
He was getting stuff ready as the guy was set to be moving soon out of the apartment.
He had bought a little shelf unit and was going to be leaving it outside while also finishing up some laundry at the same time.
To my surprise, the thing only costed 40 bucks. Down where I live, you can get some VERY cheap furniture being left and sold on the street.
Anyhow, as he was handling his business, he took part in our conversation.
Early on in the conversation, he made a comment about the Haitians you see in our neighborhood as I wrote about here.
Over the last few years, Mexico City has seen a noticeable amount of Haitians and Jamaicans arrive to the city.
And Jimmy said something along the lines of "they seem like good immigrants. Most of them anyway. A few bad ones but mostly friendly."
Later on over the next hour or so, the conversation continued onto other unrelated topics.
At one point, it turned to my time in Mexico.
Though they both knew that I had some time in Mexico, it was a slight surprise to Jimmy at least that my time in Latin America has come around to 7 years almost.
To which he asked me something along the lines of "do you have plans on going back?"
And I answered that I don't have any plans and like living here.
The conversation carried on from there.
Now, to be fair, we don't know how Jimmy sees me before or after I answered that question.
Over the months here, it has rarely come across to me as if Jimmy sees me as a tourist or a student in Mexico.
As I wrote here, he had no idea what I did for a living until recently.
But, during that conversation, it came across to me that I was seen as a "student."
Which, to be fair, isn't the worst assumption because any foreigner like me in THIS neighborhood where I am is usually a student.
That's really the only reason anyone like me would live here.
But student, I am not.
Though one could wonder why Jimmy sees any Haitian as "an immigrant" that isn't a student but sees me as a student.
And, had he known I wasn't a student from the beginning of my time here, what else would he have assumed I could be?
Would he have or does he now use the term "immigrant" to describe me?
Perhaps he thinks I am an "expat?"
He has moved into a new building by now anyhow.
In short though, it has never been my impression that Jimmy has ever seen me as someone "permanent" to Mexico.
Maybe a student and perhaps an expat.
But never the impression that I am "an immigrant."
And, truth be told, plenty of Mexicans don't naturally see us as immigrants either.
"Us" being folks who were born in "the first world" and who moved to some Latin American country like Mexico.
For more examples of Latin Americans acting surprised or confused at the sight of a "gringo immigrant," check out this article here.
Though, to be fair to Jimmy, I am only ASSUMING (based on our past interactions) that he doesn't see me as an immigrant.
On the flip side, you have those who assume that us gringos who instead call us "expats" instead of "immigrants" are just contributing to white supremacy because "we don't want to be seen as the same as non-white immigrants" as you can see in this popular article on the term "expat" here.
"Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue."
Thus, as you can see, it's part of life as a "gringo expat" or a "gringo immigrant."
Whichever word you prefer to call me.
Am I an expat or an immigrant?
In the words of the famous Zoidberg...
Though not everyone agrees as we have seen with a few examples already.
Some folks would perhaps classify me as only an expat or only an immigrant.
Not to mention those who are quite hostile to using the word expat for anyone.
And why are they hostile?
Outside of accusations of white supremacy, what other arguments could be used against using the word "expat?"
And why can't I be seen as an "immigrant" like those Haitians in my neighborhood?
Do we have any differences in life that separate us?
Well, among "expats," it's a topic that can be a little bit sensitive if you haven't guessed by now.
But we will cover all of the arguments I have ever heard or read regarding this topic.
One argument at a time.
And, just so you know, this is going to be a very long article because I have come across a lot of arguments.
So, for those who wish, I included a "Table of Contents" below to help you navigate the article.
Feel free to skip around checking out each argument separately or read the whole article in its entirety.
And, if you have any agreements or disagreements with my perspective on any of the arguments below or have your own points to consider, please drop a comment below in the comment section.
Anyway, we will begin with a quick acknowledgment on the expat experience before getting deeper into the topic.
But let's get to it now!
Expat Differences Across the World
It should be said first that "expat experiences" or what is commonly observed among expats likely varies by QUITE A BIT (with some similarities) between regions of the world.
As you can tell already, much of this article has a "Latin American" focus.
However, other regions have their differences when it comes to the expat experience.
Like expats in countries around Africa or Asia where supposedly the standards to get citizenship are basically very high or impossible.
Or how, as you can read in the comment section here, the expat scene in parts of the Middle East might seem different than in Mexico.
"An example : many westeners living and working in the UAE are generally called “expats” when they make much more than they would in Europe or North America whereas arab and/or Asian workers in that same country are called immigrants. The same can be said of Total’s French Or British workers in places such as Nigeria or Venezuela : they make more than what they do at home, this is the company’s incentive to send them there."
In short, this is nothing more than saying that you should keep in mind that the expat experience can vary greatly by region and also by the individual in which their life experiences will produce different observations than what others hold.
My experiences come simply as a young man in his 20s who lives in Latin America (with most of my experience in Mexico).
Having said that, let's now get to how the terms "expat" and "immigrant" are defined.
The Definitions of Expat & Immigrant
Before we go forward, we should try to define what is expat & immigrant.
Keep in mind though that the definitions will have some difference with how a lot of people define the words themselves.
Regardless of that gap anyhow, here are the definitions.
The Definitions of Expat
Definition 1 from this source here: "Denoting or relating to a person living outside their native country."
Definition 2 from this source here: "Someone who does not live in their own country."
Definition 3 from this source here: "A person who lives in a foreign country."
For those curious, we also have the Latin roots of the word expat as you can see here.
"It's a shortening of expatriate, which is first recorded much earlier, in the 1760s, and comes from the Latin expatriāre, meaning “to banish,” from ex-, “out of,” and patria, “native land.” The popularity of the word has increased greatly since the 1990s."
The Definitions of Immigrant
Definition 1 from this source here: "A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country."
Definition 2 from this source here: "A person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently."
Definition 3 from this source here: "A person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence."
For those curious, some of the roots of the word immigrant can be found here.
"From Latin immigrans, present active participle of immigrāre (“to migrate into”), from in- (“into”) + migrāre (“to migrate”)."
So, as you can see, the actual dictionary definitions show that one CAN be an expat & an immigrant at the same time.
This is often a point that, as we'll see soon enough, quite a few people either don't know or are hostile to with their thinking that one can't identify with both terms.
Here's a good quote that summarizes it well from this article on the term expat here.
“I’d add that “expat” and “immigrant” are not mutually exclusive. Rather, expats are a subset within the immigrant category. I consider myself both an expat and an immigrant.”
Similarly, you can take that further. For example, you got sexpats, inpatriates, dispatriates and other subsets within the expat category!
Still, while these are the dictionary definitions, it's to be said that there are typical ideas of what an expat and immigrant look like and people have their own definitions for what should be called expat or immigrant.
An Academic's Definition of Expat
In writing this article, I wanted to include as many perspectives as I could find. Right away, I found another way that expat is defined more specifically by an academic in this article here.
“Yvonne McNulty, a senior lecturer specializing in human-resource management and expatriation at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, developed a definition of the word in 2016 with her colleague Chris Brewster, outlining a series of “boundary conditions” one must meet in order to be classified as an expat: In addition to living outside one’s home country on a non-permanent basis, an expat must also be legally employed to live and work in the country where they are based. They must also not be a citizen of that country.”
While the previous definitions only defined it as just living outside of your country, we can clearly see other criteria listed as being necessary to call yourself an expat according to this academic.
- Living outside your home country non-permanently.
- Legally employed to live and work there.
- Must not be a citizen.
Now, if we were to compare these standards to the dictionary definitions above, then the first standard isn't very accurate.
If we understood expat to be just someone who lives outside their country, then they can be both an expat and immigrant as said before.
Regardless though, I'm not against this type of thinking to look at expats as being non-permanent and not seeking citizenship. Without question, if you have gained citizenship in another country, the term "immigrant" would be more appropriate even if you can apply the dictionary definitions of both terms to yourself.
However, one thing I do disagree on with these standards is the second requirement: be legally employed to live and work there.
The reason why I am willing to give some credit to the first and third definitions is because they do reflect a reality on the ground: those who gained citizenship are more likely to use the term immigrant than expat and also, from my observations, most people tend to not necessarily define themselves by both terms. I usually see most people sticking to calling themselves expat, immigrant or just not defining themselves by any term at all.
But, in giving credit to the other two standards because of how they reflect reality on the ground to some degree, the second standard doesn't reflect reality WHATSOEVER.
You got plenty of folks who would be considered expats that have overstayed their visas and are technically illegal. They quite likely intend to leave the country in the future and not come back. But not always anyhow. Regardless, they are usually seen an expat.
But then you have the standard of being "legally employed to work."
If someone has gotten that approval from the government for a work visa, they have residency. There are plenty of people who live in other countries as expats who do not qualify for residency but live outside their home country.
The process to get residency can be difficult and exclusive to some degree.
Simply put, it doesn't reflect the reality on the ground regarding how many (though not all as plenty do have work visas also) live as expats down here.
Such a standard seems out of touch in many respects. It almost makes you wonder if the academic in question has ever been an expat or is just talking from their university office.
Reminds me of this quote here that I stumbled across when reviewing how others see the expat life.
“First there’s that seemingly innocuous prefix ‘ex’, which turns out to be freighted with insinuation. Its emphasis is on what you have lost, left behind, and are now excluded from. You are defining yourself by absence. Then there’s the stem of the word – that pesky patria (fatherland). Patriotism and patriarchy are bedfellows, both of which I would cross the street to avoid.”
Like what is this person talking about?
The patriarchy is now invoked?
Billy Madison - Everyone is now dumber
Typical of some people to casually make very odd and weak connections to make something look bad.
As we'll see soon enough later in this article, there's a lot of oddball opinions about expats and what our lives are like from either academics who have never been expats or activist bloggers looking to make weak links between the lifestyle and assumed evil.
Anyway, while I find logic behind some of those standards, that second one is one I disagree with quite a bit.
But the issue I have with the second standard in a way represents a tricky situation for everyone to properly define and come to agreement on what an expat is.
Complications with Defining Expat
Right away, there is a laundry list of possible scenarios that we can imagine that help us see how it's not always so easy defining everyone as an expat.
First, we should remember that not everyone necessarily knows what their "native" country really is.
That might sound silly but it is a reality for some people.
For example, you have those who were born in Mexico but were brought into the US at a young age. They might've arrived at age 2 or age 8. Is Mexico or the US their "native" country? If the individual returns to Mexico to live here, is this person an expat or simply returning to their home country?
Also, what about children who, for whatever reason, were brought along with their parents to travel the world constantly? Go from one country to the next?
While that kid's country might be a place like the US, they could've left the US at a young age like 7 and just rarely returned except for week trips to see the grandparents during the holidays.
That would definitely impact their sense of identity I would imagine.
Here's an interesting video on that topic.
So, to summarize, I think the following questions do complicate matters when taking into account how the definition of expat requires you to be outside of your native country:
- Is citizenship required for it to be your native country (even if have lived there most of your life since being a kid but don't have citizenship)?
- Did you have to be born in that country (even if you weren't really raised there)?
- How about kids who were always on the move around the world for most of their lives and never spent much time in "their native country?"
Finally, when discussing the distinction between immigrant and expat, we have the obvious criteria of "having permanently" relocated.
That can be tricky though.
For example, are permanent residents immigrants even if they don't intend to live there permanently? Just for the length of the residency and go back home.
While that doesn't sound very permanent, they are legally classified as a "permanent" resident.
Also, can the immigrant be "seasonal" so to speak?
For example, in the US, plenty of people call folks (legal or illegal) who come to our country to seasonally work in agriculture as "immigrants."
While these folks are also often called migrant workers or seasonal farmworkers, plenty of people do call them immigrants also even if they don't have plans on living in the US permanently and/or only spend part of the year in the US.
Finally, how many years does one have to live in a country before it is "permanent" enough?
Is 5 years enough? How about 10? Surely 20 works!
We could say that "well, it depends on their intentions then," but, for a lot of people, they might not even know themselves how many years that they plan to stay in the country.
And intentions don't always mean everything.
What about someone who intends to live in Colombia permanently but finds themselves gone after 10 years.
Does the word we use to describe such a person get demoted from immigrant to expat because it wasn't actually permanent?
Some questions to consider with some being easier to answer than others.
Or are there other terms that someone might prefer to use for someone like the above?
Alternative Titles to Expat: Perpetual Tourist & Economic Refugee
There are other terms that I hear people prefer to call us instead of "expat" or "immigrant."
Sometimes, people use these terms because they wish to not call us expats or immigrants and sometimes they understand that someone could be both an expat or immigrant and the alternative term that they prefer.
First, we have "perpetual tourist."
A perpetual tourist is basically someone who lives on a tourist card or tourist visa and does visa runs to stay in the country legally for years.
As we saw in the "academic's definition," someone like her wouldn't see a perpetual tourist as an expat or immigrant even if they intend to live here for decades (never gonig home until they are forced to).
You can say that because her definition excluded those who are legally employed to live and work here.
While it is a gray area as to the legality of a perpetual tourist to live here given some would consider their behavior to be bending the rules, you can't argue though that they are legally employed to work here.
On a tourist visa, they are not.
For me personally anyway, I think a "perpetual tourist" could be an expat and an immigrant.
After all, if they live here for years with maybe an intention to go back, they are definitely an expat. They've been here for years!
And as for immigrant? You know, you got folks who do live down here for decades perpetually on tourist visas.
What the hell are they then when they clearly don't want to go back?
On the flip side, if legal status is required to be an immigrant, then what do you call all of the illegal immigrants in the US who have spent years or decades up there?
Why do they get to be called immigrant but not the perpetual tourist on a tourist card spending decades down here?
Makes no sense.
Second, we have another term that some prefer to call us instead known as "economic refugee" as you can see here.
Now the logic behind the idea of calling us an economic "refugee" is because plenty of expats do live in places like Mexico primarily because of the low cost of living.
Yes, they'll tell you that they live here because of "food, sunshine and nice people."
While there might be things that they like about Mexico (assuming it's not BS as many do talk shit about Mexicans behind their backs and sometimes for good reason), it is true that, for many, those aren't the real reasons for why they live here.
For a lot of people, the low cost of living really is one of the, if not the, biggest motivation.
Be it the grandpa who wants to retire but will only get $1,250 a month...
Or the young 20 something year old kid who wants to be a "digital nomad" where his annual income doesn't exceed the IRS Standard Deduction but yet sells Gumroad courses on Twitter about how to "make money online, live like a king in Colombia. "
In fact, most immigrants that I've met in the US (all of them really) were wealthier than most of the expats I've met here in Latin America (though, as I'll always say, my experience might not reflect yours and I am younger and young people tend to not have as much money).
Of course, not EVERY expat is like those above and might have other reasons to live here.
And, truth be told, there is SOME similarity between these "poorer" expats and illegal immigrants coming to the US looking for work.
In that they are both trying to exploit a USD exchange rate by either spending their USD in Mexico or working for USD in the US to send back to their family that'll spend it in pesos (or just save the cash themselves).
But does this make the "poorer" expats who live here for those financial reasons to be "economic refugees?"
Well, let's look at the definition for "economic refugee."
"An economic refugee is a person who leaves his or her home country in search of better job prospects and higher living standards elsewhere. Economic refugees see little opportunity to escape poverty in their own countries and are willing to start over in a new country for the chance at a better life."
By this definition alone, I'd say that your typical expat isn't an economic refugee.
For one, you do have more comfortable expats that have plenty of money but still prefer to buy a home to live in Latin America. They are not escaping poverty.
Second, how many of the young 20 something year old kids are escaping poverty versus choosing to live on more modest means because they'd rather have a life of fun abroad than working in an office back home?
Third, if the requirement to be an economic refugee necessitates that we get a local job and that employment opportunities are better down here, then MOST expats are NOT "economic refugees."
Maybe 0.01% are when we consider US State Department Officials that got a nice job in a US Embassy in Brazil, corporate representatives of Canadian mining companies or something like that because maybe the job they have down here is better than what they'd get back home somehow.
....Though they'd still not be escaping poverty, huh?
But given that 99% of the local job market is realistically not available to us down here and how most jobs pay shit down here, we aren't coming for better job opportunities.
At the very least, we do have the "higher living conditions."
Though, if we're being honest, you do have plenty of poor as fuck expats who are just too lazy to get a good job in the US, live in poor as fuck areas and are content not living on much.
Better living conditions for them?
You know, I live in a questionable neighborhood myself so who am I to judge?
If they're happier, sure. But, on a material basis, it's a bit questionable to say the least.
Still, I'd say most expats, if they do it right, have higher living conditions here.
So, for many reasons, I find this term to not at all reflect the typical expat.
Or ANY expat that I know.
And, from my impression after going over all the arguments, it is obvious to me that much of this debate really does have the following issues:
- Outdated perceptions of what expats are like based on how expats used to be.
- Ignorance of how the expat experience can vary dramatically with many living very different lives (especially if the person defining us has never been an expat).
- Some desire to find a a "woke" way of looking at expats that doesn't reflect many of us.
- How changing times make it more difficult to properly define us.
Let's look a little more though at that last point.
The Original Expat
Before we look at how the idea of the expat has changed over time, let's first get some context for earlier examples of expats and where the term might have originated.
Of course, I'm sure there have been numerous individuals in history who would qualify under the definitions above of "expat."
Going back centuries.
Regardless, when people talk about the history of the term expat, there are a few examples that are more commonly cited that we will bring up just so you are aware of them.
First, one of the earlier examples of expats I could find was something called "Shanghai International Settlement" in the 1860s as you can read here.
From what it says, you had American and British enclaves in Shanghai during that time period.
Second, I've also read other people applying the term "expat" to the opponents of Nazi Germany that had their citizenship evoked and where their families had to expatriate as you can read here and here.
Or this interesting article here titled: "Exiles and Expats in Switzerland: From Albert Einstein to Tina Turner"
Obviously, one can already see quite a difference in that type of expat escaping Nazi Germany and the stereotypical image of an expat today that involves an old man having some tequila at a beach in Mexico.
.....Quite personally, I find it odd myself the idea of applying the term to opponents of Nazi Germany but I'm just reporting what I've seen online.
And, perhaps over the years, you've had that type of image of an expat sitting on the beach become more common.
Perhaps inspired in part by the "expat package" where professionals would be brought into another country with quite a few benefits as you can see here.
"In the good old days before the global financial crisis, a job posting to Asia’s financial hubs of Singapore or Hong Kong often included a lavish benefit package with an allowance for housing, a car and schooling but those days are gone, say recruitment experts.
“A common misconception exists about the prevalence of expat packages in Singapore but they have almost become a thing of the past,” said George McFerran, director at careers website eFinancialCareers."
"A decade ago, when companies were quickly building a presence in Asia, doling out incentives to lure top talent was the norm. However, with Asia’s economic resilience and multinational companies attributing increasing strategic importance to the region, there’s little no shortage of talent willing to relocate."
This idea that this is where the term "expat" might have originated from can also be seen referenced in this article here.
"The “expats” who slip through my test would be the exact ones who probably created the term — multinational executives who are on assignments abroad. The ones who would rather be at home if it weren’t for the money would not be “expats” under my definition. But if they’re not there permanently, they’re not “immigrants” either."
Though, after some more research, it seems that might not be accurate.
The above is worth pointing out though because I have seen the above example referenced many times in other articles. Perhaps it could be said that the term became more popularized with that executive group but it doesn't seem like that is where it came from originally based on some very brief research.
According to this article here, the term perhaps came from a poem.
"The book was a brutal evisceration of Americans living abroad, specifically in Paris, that made expats out to be selfish rich brats who scorned humble American ideals in favor of unrestrained hedonism abroad. The first use of the word “expat” was in a poem of the same name written by British poet D.J. Enright in 1962."
Though that does seem a bit confusing to me given the Ernest Hemingway quote near the top of this article.
Finally, we have this other source here from Merriam-Webster:
"The first known use of expatriate was in 1768."
In short, you can clearly see some confusion online regarding when exactly this term was first used ever and when it started to actually become more popular and used regularly.
Still, at least with many of the examples above (outside of individuals like Einstein escaping Nazi Germany), we can also clearly see how the term often had certain associations with it: rich people, upper class, elites, etc.
Be it those pesky rich Americans living in Paris or the executives.
But, beyond all of those examples above, you've had numerous other incidents involving people living abroad that I have seen online referenced as examples of "expats."
Among the examples I could find online, people seem to cite any of the following groups as examples of expats also.
- The Lost Generation or Beat Generation that moved to Paris
- Tax Exiles that moved to places like Monte Carlo, Monaco
- The Japanese diaspora (Nikkeijin) that exist around the world in various countries and have been called expatriates also.
Among many other groups throughout history!
So, leaving it at that, let's now look at how today is different and how current perceptions of the term expat might be outdated as times change.
Only First World Expats Going to the Third World?
In short, the reality on the ground regarding who can and does travel these days versus the 1950s changes greatly the perceptions of what expats are.
In many of the examples we saw in the last section, it was clear that it was often those with more wealth and usually (though not always) white individuals who got to be expats.
First, we have the ability to travel abroad with this quote here:
"“Cranston said, noting that prior to the 1990s, it was much less common for Westerners to live and work abroad."
Is this true nowadays?
Not at all!
While the term "westerner" is often used for those beyond just the US, we have this number here:
"8.7 million Americans (excluding military) live in 160-plus countries.
If all these Americans were placed in one state it would be the 12th most populous state in the US (right between New Jersey and Virginia)!"
Then when it comes to the total amount of expats that come from any country on the planet and not just "Western" countries, we have this information here:
"According to a new research report published by Finaccord, the total number of expatriates worldwide amounted to around 66.2 million in 2017. This figure has grown at a compound annual rate of 5.8% since 2013, given that there were around 52.8 million expatriates in that year. By 2021, Finaccord forecasts that the number will reach around 87.5 million."
"Moreover, the relative size of the expatriate population within the total worldwide immigrant population, as defined by the UN, has also grown from 24.4% in 2013 to 25.7% in 2017, and is predicted to increase further to 28.5% by 2021."
"Meanwhile, across 25 major outbound countries researched (i.e. expatriate countries of origin), India generated by far the largest group of expatriates resident abroad in 2017, with the GCC states a major destination, followed by China and Canada."
Interesting enough, seemingly plenty of expats come from non-western countries? Reminds me of this screenshot here ofone claiming to be from a non-western country and is an expat.
But it also depends too on how one defines "expat" for we have this source from this website known as Internations here showing a map of the most common nationalities for expats. India is on the list but not many other non-western countries.
Important Notice: I did not make this map and I do not own it. This map can originally be found on Internations here.
So, when you do look at these lists of where expats come from, the information is going to vary depending on, from how I read it, they define "expat."
At any rate, the idea of expats only coming from the west primarily continues on here.
“When applying this label, income and skill level are less relevant than the power relationship between the two countries. People are often considered expatriates, a term which is perceived by most as connoting a higher social status, if they come from a country that is “equal” or “higher” in terms of GDP or international reputation, than if they come from one that has a “lesser” status.”
And, when it comes to the quote above, I like how they frame it: "power relationship between two countries."
That's an interesting way to frame it.
While expats can come from any country and you do increasingly have expats coming from many non-western countries, obviously coming from a country with a stronger passport to travel will help.
It's all relative.
The British man will have easier travel opportunities than the Mexican.
The Mexican, while bitching about how he has to go through more hoops to travel than the British man, can travel more easily than the Guatemalan (who gets deported from Mexico trying to get to the US but said Mexican ignores that so he doesn't feel privileged to the Guatemalan).
The Guatemalan probably has a weaker passport than maybe someone from Afghanistan (if I had to guess).
And the dude from Afghanistan maybe has a better time than the North Korean when it comes to travel.
But all of the above is true just like how, contrary to what the author of that quote probably wanted to say, you CAN have "immigrants" from "first world countries."
Here's one such example in the comment section of this article here.
“I came to live in the UK from the United States temporarily for 1 year to do my Master's degree and legally in all my paperwork and visa applications I am called an immigrant. I gained "immigration permission to study in the UK." Nothing about expats, I am still an immigrant by law, no pretending, even though it's only 1 year.”
And, out of curiosity, I checked to see if expats ever choose "first world" countries.
One way to figure that out was to simply check Facebook.
Are there expat groups for foreigners in "first world" countries?
Now, to be fair, there PROBABLY are less self-identified "expats" in "first world" countries than places like Mexico for example.
At least from what I know from my experiences in life and also based on some brief one hour research into which countries have bigger "expat groups" on Facebook (if that is any indication anyway. A small one, to be fair).
Still, as society changes, I'm sure we'll see more self-identified expats going to "the first world" or choosing to live in "the non-first world" with even more expats coming from "the non-first world."
How the Expat Scene Changes
It should be said that there have ALWAYS been limitations on being an expat when you don't have a job waiting for you in another country or a retirement income.
Young expats like me who got began traveling back as 2014 had to be more creative in finding ways to fund it online, with grants or whatever else.
And let's not even get started on expats who started in the year 2008, 2000, 1990, etc.
Nowadays though, as I said before, times ARE changing as remote work is becoming more common due to, in part, the Covid situation and will likely become more common as you can see here:
"According to one estimate, nearly 36.2 million Americans could be working remotely by 2025."
Obviously, not all of those people will choose to live abroad.
And plenty of employers will take issue with having their workers living abroad because some of them are controlling pieces of shits that hate the idea of their workers enjoying life on a beach in Mexico.
But also, to be fair to them, there are supposedly tax complications when your workers are not the "freelancer" type and are living abroad.
On top of that, we have Joe Biden's nice words to "get people back into the office."
Putting aside Biden anyway, I'm sure other politicians and powerful people in spots like NYC probably hate the idea of remote work for this reason here.
"Businesses have discovered during the pandemic that they can function with nearly all of their workers out of the office, an arrangement many intend to continue in some form. That could wallop the big property companies that build and own office buildings — and lead to a sharp pullback in construction, steep drops in office rents, fewer people frequenting restaurants and stores, and potentially perilous declines in the tax revenue of city governments and school districts."
Regardless of these challenges though, we will likely see the opportunity to become an expat expand to millions of more people around the world as remote work becomes more common.
Even as I wrote here, you have some Latin Americans looking into this opportunity to be expats or "digital nomads."
Or how you can find groups of Latin American expats online like in this link here, here, or here as some examples.
We even have this video here of a dude from Argentina having spent 20 years outside of his home country.
As I have said, it's not JUST folks from the "first world" who are expats and, as regions like Latin America continue to grow economically, I'm confident we'll see even more who either live an "expat" lifestyle and/or identify as such.
Side Point: Out of all of the videos to watch in this video, I recommend that one. Pretty interesting perspective.
Even if westerners are more common among self-described expats, it's not JUST westerners living abroad as we have seen with the information above and as you would see if you lived abroad.
Expats Are Only Wealthy?
At any rate, all of the above is just ONE example of how those who write about expats are not familiar with expats.
....Or maybe they only interview those that can afford the nicest luxury apartments of Polanco?
For, as you can see in a already cited article here, you have people trying to make the claim that the expats of today are the expats of yesterday.
“The historical class associations with the term are reflected in how it’s used today. “A stereotypical image of the expat is someone sipping a gin and tonic by the pool at sunset,””
This is a very typical way of thinking that some folks do in which their understanding of the subject in questioned in greatly influenced by its historical characteristics.
While the past often can greatly influence the present (like if we were to discuss how Jim Crow Laws influence racial socioeconomic inequality today), not everything in the past influences the present in the way they think it does.
How does the fact that, historically speaking, most people who were expats tended to be financially comfortable (where we primarily think of the millionaire executives) influence who are expats today?
It doesn't for the most part.
While wealthy boomers can give more inheritance money to their grandkids to become expats, the fact is that almost every single expat I have met were not from wealthy backgrounds.
In fact, many I've met were poor as shit or came from middle class backgrounds.
Let me introduce you to a few of them.
For one, I remember a Canadian gal named Chloe who is an expat. Grew up in a fucked up home where she was molested. Works as a cam girl. She isn't a millionaire executive.
Second, a guy I know named Blayde. He's from a poor as fuck background in West Virginia. Didn't inherit any money. His parents were not rich or even middle class. He's does various odd jobs on the internet to get by and now works on email marketing. He's not a millionaire executive.
Third, you have myself. Now, to be fair, I've had family help. Definitely didn't come from the poorest neighborhood of Gary, Indiana. Still, there were some things in my childhood that weren't so pleasant and I don't live a very fancy life. I don't live in the nicest neighborhood (far from it, even some Mexicans can be scared to live where I do). I work in affiliate marketing. I don't have that much money though. I'm not a millionaire executive.
Fourth, as you can read here, I met an alcoholic German in Mexico City not too long ago. He was on a mission to find his Costa Rican wife. Apparently spent time in Latin America for a while now. An expat, I guess you can call him. While how he earned his bread was a mystery, he also lived in a house full of Haitian immigrants. Suffice to say, he didn't have money. He is not a millionaire executive.
Fifth, I went to some "expat" event not too long ago and met some Latino dude who is an English teacher. Makes just slightly over 1,000 a month (forgot the exact number right now as I type this). He is not an executive millionaire.
And I could go all day!
As a side point, it's funny anyway how people take shots at us expats for how we "couldn't make it back home" but yet frame us as being in the same room of executive millionaires of the past who had their expat packages to live here.
Reminds me of this article I wrote here about how people bitch at us for gentrifying neighborhoods but yet bitch at us for not always acting as their personal ATM machines when we find issue with "the gringo price."
Which is it then?
Are we poor or do we have Patrick Bateman level wealth?
Now, to be fair, you do got expats like this couple in this video here that can buy a huge house.
House Hunters Video
You got others who DO have some sick family money beyond the help I have gotten in life where basically life is just a cake walk.
And, above all, we can only speak from experiences.
In my own experience, the vast amount of expats just DO NOT have the money these writers on The Atlantic think we do.
The range of expats does go from alcoholic/drug addicts living a "not so fancy life" to the wealthier representatives of Canadian mining companies.
Plus everything in between!
But, as I said, that is ONLY my experience.
To my surprise, as you can see here, the "average" income per expat is supposedly much higher than I ever imagined.
Standing high with an average expat supposedly earning $111,957 USD.
With even CNBC stating that being an expat can increase your salary by A THIRD as you can read here.
Obviously, I have been scratching my head.
But then, as I read more into the mainstream media idea of how much money they think we expats earn, I found this article here by Forbes.
And what were the places where expats earned the most?
The list of best places to earn a high income as an expat were (none of them in Latin America):
- San Francisco
- New York City
- Los Angeles
- Hong Kong
Obviously, there is a part of me that wonders if their research is over representing expats who actually got real jobs abroad and are paid real wages (not those who are remote workers, freelancers or those struggling to get a business off the ground).
And, on top of that, you do wonder, as I said near the beginning of the article, how much of a role does "location" matter in distinguishing between my experience as an expat and their studies on our incomes.
For, as you can see in the cities listed above, NONE of them are in Latin America and most are in fairly well-developed cities that are mostly located in what most consider "the first world."
In the same way that an oil executive somewhere in the Middle East will probably make more than a typical English teacher in Xela, Guatemala (or any of the other odd jobs expats get themselves in while living in Latin America).
Hell, even an English teacher in Saudi Arabia is going to usually carry a bigger wallet than quite a few expats in Latin America (though not all but teaching English there supposedly pays well).
At any rate, you get the idea.
Some regions of the world have more opportunities to make money than others.
And expats can be poor as fuck alcoholics to very successful businessmen.
In my experience only, your typical expat isn't necessarily poor (though not rich usually) but you got plenty of poor expats down here also.
Therefore, the idea that we expats live "very wealthy lives" is bullshit when you are talking about all of us (with some regions having noticeably poorer expats than others).
And, as I said, with the changing times that we have, we'll only see more normal people become expats (probably not AS poor when remote work becomes even more common).
And those from not just the US but also non-western countries becoming "expats" more commonly as we have already seen in the information shown way above.
The Racial Demographics of Expats
Finally, while I have taken shots at the idea that all expats come from rich backgrounds or only western countries but what about the race of the expats?
How many are as white as people say?
Well, there's a few ways to look at this.
First, I can only speak from my experience. From what I have seen, the majority are white. Granted, if we were talking about those from "western" countries, that shouldn't be a surprise given that most people in the west are white.
In the same way that, oddly enough, every expat that I have met from China or India happened to be Asian or brown looking.
Still, in the case of the US anyway, I imagine the amount of non-white expats that we'll see in the future will change given each generation is increasingly not white.
Having said that, this is where you could perhaps argue that historical legacies influence who is an expat now.
Obviously, if you are a 70 year old white boomer, you'll have more money than a typical 70 year old black boomer given Jim Crow laws were around during their time.
Though the writers of The Atlantic and writers of other articles never mention that. It doesn't cross their minds. They only look at "white millionaire executives" of the past and think "white millionaire executives now."
Still, as shown in the examples above and all of the people I've known down here, you don't need to be from a solid background to be an expat given all the poor or middle class folks I've met here.
But money obviously is going to make it easier to be one and there is racial inequality in the US for sure. Perhaps it's best to say that those inequalities influence more strongly the race of older, retired expats versus young expats of today.
At any rate, given the changing times in the coming decades, you will see even more non-white expats down the road from the US and from non-western countries. Countries that continue to grow economically like China or India will send more of them eventually (among many other non-western countries in the world).
Anyway, are there any specific numbers beyond speculation about the future and my personal experiences when noticing the race of other expats?
From what I could tell online, no.
I couldn't find any studies looking at the race of other expats.
Though there were those online who disagreed with the idea that non-white expats don't exist.
There were online websites or communities for non-white expats, digital nomads and travelers.
For example, you have this podcast called "The Black Expat" here.
And you do have this popular blog here (among others) that promotes hooking up abroad for black dudes.
Not to mention very popular Youtube channels online that focus on travel & dating abroad for non-white people.
For those who don't speak Spanish, that last video is titled "Living in Japan: To Move to Japan. Latino Expats."
Anyway, outside ALL of the online content showing non-white people being expats, digital nomads, simple travelers or whatever else, let's get back to finding numbers.
As I said, I had trouble finding any real numbers on the amount of expats who were non-white.
So I did the next best thing!
I went to my Facebook Expat groups to Mexico (2 of them) and pulled out my calculator.
Then I simply went to their membership list and went through the first 200 people of each group (400 total).
It's not the most scientific way of doing things but it's the best we got since I couldn't find any actual studies on this.
Obviously, not every profile had a profile picture showing the race of the member and so I skipped those.
And some were actually Mexicans. If I saw someone who had their profile listed as being born in Mexico, I skipped that.
So on and so on.
Anyway, what did the numbers show?
Was every expat as white as Buddy Holly or Ed Sheeran?
In the first group, 79 out of 200 were not white. That is 39.5%.
In the second group, 72 out of 200 were not white. That's 36%.
At any rate, that's the best I could do when it comes to finding numbers on this.
In the future, maybe I will join random expat Facebook groups in countries around the world beyond Latin America and do more studies.
In fact, maybe I will do that. That's a "note to future self" to remind me to get on that at some point whenever I'm editing my articles.
In short anyway, the idea of us expats just being white, wealthy & from the US is absurd.
Regardless of if a majority are white and from "western countries," that still ignores how MANY are not.
And, again, don't get me started on the claim that we are all wealthy. That's annoying as fuck to hear. A vast majority of us are NOT the millionaire executives of the past.
Fuck off with that bullshit.
At any rate, let's take this subject further by looking at other standards people have used to qualify who is an expat or not.
Other Standards for Expats
Given the length of this article already, I'm going to try to keep it short when going through other standards I have found online.
First, we have a website called Expat Chronicles that has a few tests on what it means to be an expat vs. immigrant.
One of their tests as you can read here is "do you want to have local citizenship?"
I'd generally agree with this.
And I like how he phrases it.
"Do you WANT citizenship" versus "can you QUALIFY for citizenship?"
After all, you have plenty who are illegal immigrants in the US who want citizenship that can't QUALIFY for it.
Similarly, you have plenty of gringos who would LOVE to get their "Latin American green card" as I wrote here but can't qualify unless they knock up a local chick.
Putting aside anyway how even illegal immigrants working in certain fields get called immigrants despite not wanting citizenship, I generally agree with this standard.
If you WANT citizenship of the country you are living in, that's a very solid sign that you probably are acting as an immigrant than an expat.
Second, you have another test by Expat Chronicles as you can see here about "where would you earn more money?"
Compared to other articles discussed today by other websites, I can greatly appreciate how Expat Chronicles actually hits at certain points that would be appreciated by someone who either lives abroad as someone from the US and/or wants to be an immigrant.
Points made here that actually reflect how some people down here think.
We all know, as I wrote here for example, that you got gringos who have gotten broke living down here in Latin America and decide to go back for "the dollars."
Trying to make it work down here but ultimately you got to take "that break" from Latin America to beef up your bank account with dollars to spend in pesos later on.
Something that someone from The Atlantic could not appreciate because THEY are not expats!
And so this question of asking "where would you make more money?" has a lot of relevance.
Third, what about assimilation?
As we know already, there is this idea that expats don't assimilate.
Personally, as I wrote here, I think the idea is retarded because plenty of immigrants around the world don't assimilate as people tend to stick to their own (not taking into exceptions).
Doug Stanhope -- Immigration
Personally, I understand why people don't assimilate entirely. It's retarded to ask that. Nobody forgets their roots. But some degree of assimilation should be expected like trying to learn the local language (trying doesn't mean being native sounding).
Still, I don't think you need to assimilate to the extent that some critics want to be an immigrant as that's not how it works practically.
Fourth, what about renouncing previous citizenship? I've heard some say that, in order to be an immigrant, you need to give up previous citizenship.
Again, I'd say that nobody really forgets their roots and leave it at that.
Fifth, some will say that expats generally have certain advantages like easier travel with better passports and less likely to be impacted by gentrification (or promote it actually).
“A more current interpretation of the term “expat” has more to do with privilege […] Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.”
While I don't agree that this is true for all expats, I'll let it slide here.
It's not a requirement to be an expat as plenty don't fit the description above but I do get what they are saying.
They are making more of a generalization that they might not realize is not true for all expats but there's smoke behind the fire to some extent.
In the same way that, if we were in the business of defining "stereotypical characteristics" of immigrants, I'd say it's more common for them to be taking local jobs than expats in Latin America (even when you factor in immigrants who start businesses or expats who take jobs down here).
Generalizations are generalizations and shouldn't be seen as always true but I don't always mind them either as long as we understand them to be just generalizations with SOME truth behind the statements.
Sixth, what about economic independence?
Or "freedom" as digital nomads call it.
There's an idea out there that you aren't a real expat unless you have "economic independence."
In practice, this usually involves being self-employed with some form of online income that you can do remotely anywhere in the world.
Personally, I find this idea to be retarded.
Not the idea that it'd be cool to have remote income but that you need remote income to be a real expat.
There's plenty of people without remote income who make it as expats obviously.
Seventh, we have the topic of entitlement and privilege of the children that expats and immigrants raise.
We have this quote here to show us what I mean.
“Then, does the difference between expats and immigrants lie in our entitlement to the languages we brought along with us in the move? Expat children often attend schools featuring the language they speak at home. More often than not, these international schools offer monolingual schooling, which means that it’s fine for younger expats to remain monolingual. Immigrant children generally attend schools featuring the local language. These local schools also offer monolingual schooling, which means that first-generation immigrants must, in principle, become multilingual. What happens in practice, though, is that these children often find themselves discouraged to stick to any other language than the mainstream one.”
In short, I agree a lot and disagree a tiny bit with this quote.
From my impression, I think the author is strictly talking about children of US Embassy staff?
Because, while I never had children in Latin America, I could only imagine that raising them down here as an expat would mean that they'd have to learn the local language (Spanish).
If I was just a US Embassy employee where I wasn't going to be in country for very long, then maybe I wouldn't care as much if they learned Spanish.
Otherwise though, I'd imagine that, even if I could afford putting them into a top school that taught English, I'd ABSOLUTELY want them to learn Spanish also.
......Wouldn't they have to if they had a Mexican mom and were raised in Mexico?
On the flip side, I would also definitely want them to learn English as that is my native language and I can more easily afford sending them to a private school for that purpose.
But I genuinely can't comprehend how said children could be raised in Mexico without learning Spanish anyhow.
Still, there's a lot of truth to what the author is saying from that I have heard from other expats also.
Like the immigrant kids not wanting to learn the other language (like Spanish) if you raise them back home perhaps.
Or how expats generally, even if they aren't millionaire executives, can afford nicer schools for their kids usually.
In short, I largely agree with the broad strokes of what he is saying but find his portrayal of children of expats to not be learning the local language (perhaps because I can't imagine raising kids down here as an expat/immigrant and not have them learn the local language).
Eighth, you have jobs, welfare & taxes.
The distinction here being that many believe that only immigrants take jobs, welfare & don't pay taxes.
Well, truth be told, plenty of expats (at least those riding out tourist visas) don't pay taxes.
Jobs? While both groups have folks taking local jobs, it is obviously immigrants in the US who take jobs more commonly than "expats" or "immigrants" in Mexico.
....Unless said "expats" or "immigrants" in Mexico are from other poorer countries like Haitians working for Uber Eats in Mexico City or they are folks who got a good job contract as a journalist for the NYTimes, US Embassy, a big corporation, an English teacher, at a hostel, etc
Welfare? Well, I don't know about that. I always heard conservative complaints about immigrants in the US taking welfare but I never heard anyone bitch about expats or immigrants in Mexico do the same (be it folks from the US or Haiti). I don't know enough about the subject though to comment but it's another distinction that some folks make.
At any rate, as you can see here, it's another attempt at trying to define "typical" characteristics of expats vs. immigrants.
Ninth, we have this interesting argument here about privilege.
The idea being that if Mexicans don't have as much privilege in the US as Americans have in Mexico, then we can't call ourselves "expats."
Personally, I find the argument a bit odd because the author then calls the French & Korean people she has met "expats."
If I had to guess on top of my head, I'd be willing to bet both French and Koreans have more privilege in Mexico than Mexicans have in their respective countries.
At least if we were to consider things like who would bring with them a stronger currency to the other person's country, who has a stronger passport, if their skin color (at least with the French anyway) would make people assume better things about them, etc.
While the US and Mexico have more history together (ignoring the French attempts to impose a monarchy in Mexico), I'd consider this argument invalid because the usual French and Korean person have more "privilege" in Mexico than a Mexican in their countries.
The only other interpretation I can make of this argument is maybe the author "granting" them the right to call themselves expats because maybe they acknowledged their privilege?
Which seems like an odd way to go about it.
Does that mean I need to get on my knees in Mexico and cry out "FORGIVE ME MEXICO!!! FORGIVE ME FOR MY PRIVILEGE!!!"
I'm sorry I'm white. I'm sorry I'm male.
....Only then can I be an expat like the Korean and French family that she knows about?
Anyway, those are all the distinctions I can find online regarding how people see the difference between expats and immigrants and how they define those terms personally.
Some points more valid than others.
Let's move on anyway now from expats to ideas about what immigrants look like.
No White Immigrants? All Poor?
Having covered now the oddities in how expats are portrayed, what about immigrants?
In the online conversation where people try to critique the use of the word expat, they often frame it as "people think only expats can be white, wealthy & come from the first world and everyone else is an immigrant!"
Is that true?
Well, as we have seen, that's very much NOT true about expats.
But what about immigrants?
First, we should acknowledge something.
The fact is that, historically speaking, you've had plenty of white immigrants and you got plenty now. We will cover soon enough the white immigrants that have always existed historically later in this article.
When speaking of immigrants of today, there ARE plenty of white immigrants but a key difference is that the countries that have the most people leaving to be immigrants tend to be places more people want to leave (due to war, poverty, lack of good jobs, climate change, etc) and those places tend to have more non-white people than white people (with exceptions like Ukraine and Russia now).
Take this list here for example: You have 8 out of the top 10 countries receiving migrants that are majority white and only 2 out of the top 10 that receive migrants are majority white (and those 2 are also in the top 10 for receiving migrants at the same time).
Now, you can argue what historical conditions led to that but it gives context anyway as to why most immigrants or migrants in the last few decades are non-white (with plenty of white ones to be fair).
And that's on a worldwide scale.
Obviously, this can be a difficult question to answer when we take it to a worldwide discussion. The immigrants moving to France are not necessarily the same as those moving to the US.
Different conditions will result in different immigrants of various nationalities & backgrounds moving to different countries.
Regardless, let's just focus on the US for now because I don't get that many readers from France and also I'm not going to break down for you the differences in demographics of immigrants to every single country on the planet.
If you want me to do that, I can pass you my Paypal. The fee will be $10,000 USD.
Not Venezuelan Bolivares...
So let's break it down then when it comes to the topic of race & wealth of immigrants.
Are they really as poor and non-white as people say?
When it comes to income, are immigrants in the US poor? Is that why they are different from expats? One is poor and the other is rich?
Well, according to Pew Research here, we got some interesting numbers from 2018:
- The median annual personal earnings per immigrant: $31,900.
- The median annual household income: $59,000.
- Percent living in poverty: 14.6%.
- Race of U.S. Immigrants: 17.7% are white and not Hispanic.
Then, when it comes to the broader US population, we have these numbers.
- Broader U.S poverty rate is 11.4% as you can see in these 2020 numbers here (when Covid hit actually).
- The median personal income in the U.S. is $35,977 as you can see in 2019 numbers here.
- Median Household Income in the U.S. is $67,521 as you can see in these 2020 numbers here.
So what can we make from this?
First, while immigrants seem to be less wealthy on average than non-immigrants in the US at least, they aren't really that much poorer on average.
It's a bit misleading to claim that they are all poor or that all expats are rich.
In fact, we have this odd quote here that I found online from this article here.
“Yes, that’s because, as Laura María Agustín says in the interview with Howley, ” ‘migrants’ travel because they are poor and desperate, ‘expatriates’ travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites.”
As I've said twice now, I will admit that maybe my experiences do not reflect the experiences of everyone.
Having said that, most of the expats that I have met around my age range were not "cosmopolites."
I am, being from a small town in Iowa, not a cosmopolite.
Nobody I know is.
And while the quote is about migrants, I'd say that, in the context of the article it is quoted in, that they'd believe the same about immigrants too as being "poor."
When yet, as I said before, most immigrants I met in the US were either average income or were the type to go to a private school where financial aid & scholarships were not necessary because the parents could pay full tuition.
Obviously, most immigrants to the US can't pay something like that without going into debt (like most Americans also).
At any rate, this framing of "expats as rich" and immigrants/migrants as poor is dumb as fuck.
Completely out of touch with my reality.
And, if you look into the comment section of that article, some folks agree with me!
“Thanks for writing from your experience. As a proud immigrant from North America to my new home country, I can say that I don't relate to your experience at all. My new home country's immigrants only make up 1% of the total population (compared to the US immigrants making up 13% of the total population) and yet my home country, based on voting statistics, is very opposed to immigrants. I'm a proud immigrant who came to this country with $100 to my name, whose education and experience from the US is not recognized, works manual labor, and works hard to learn the new language (quite frankly, I have to in order to survive). I'm not alone in my discrimination here (many stories on that if you're willing to listen), but it was my decision to immigrate here. So, it's my responsibility to make it work.”
Second, we have race in which people like to say that only non-white people are classified as immigrants.
As we saw, 17.7% of immigrants in the US are non-Hispanic white.
Obviously, it begs the question what percentage would be white if we counted Hispanic white people also.
After all, is this dude brown?
Nick Fuentes video
Granted, Fuentes (Fuentes? Where does that come from?) isn't an immigrant himself but a lot of his heritage is Latin American as you can see here.
Among anyone else of white Latin American heritage who either is an immigrant or was a child with Latin American ancestors.
Of course, if we were to stick to the idea that only white people are expats and never have any other term thrown onto them, then what are we calling Ukrainians escaping Ukraine these days in 2022?
Well, I thought it was only non-white people who got titles not as fancy like refugee!
Not to mention the mainstream media calling Russians in the US "immigrants" and not "expats."
.....Among all the other white people who moved to places like the US who get called immigrants.
Wow, what happened?!
I thought we white people were ONLY called expats when we moved to other countries!
I sure suppose that these writers on The Atlantic and BS blogs don't know what they are talking about, huh?
And, beyond the topic of if any white people ever get called immigrants, let's go back to the topic of wealth & immigrant status.
Is the Maid an Expat?
Next, we have this interesting quote here.
"Are maids expats? Yes they are
“It’s not about the colour of your skin, and it’s not about the salary that you earn,” says McNulty, an expat researcher and senior lecturer at the school of human development and social science at SIM University in Singapore.
“Are maids expats? Yes they are. Are construction workers in Singapore that you see on the building sites expats? Yes they are,” she says."
Similarly, I've heard people try to say that the Venezuelan migrant who left home because he needs to find better opportunities to feed his family in other Latin countries like Peru, Colombia or Mexico is an "expat" also.
Here are some videos I found where some folks from Venezuela are called expats (despite those claiming that NOBODY calls those from "the third world" expats).
Is the maid or the Venezuelan migrant an expat?
Well, if either party is an immigrant, then, by definitions used near the top of this article, they'd technically be expats also.
But nobody thinks either party as an expat.
You might argue for racist or classist reasons (and we'll look at those points near the end of this article).
And, truth be told, trying to think of why the maid or the Venezuelan migrant ISN'T commonly as seen as an expat has made me see some validity to the "classism" claim.
While you do have poor expats to Mexico and richer (and white) immigrants to the US, perhaps it could be said that, if you come from a VERY poor background from a poorer country where you had to leave because of no opportunities or violence back home, then you won't be seen as an expat?
Because, as I mentioned way above before, I have seen and read about "expats" or "digital nomads" from "poorer" countries (who were not white either).
At any rate, if we were to stick to the dictionary definition of the word expat, then they are expats technically perhaps.
Even if literally nobody (not even themselves) would use that term to describe who they are.
I guarantee you that the theoretical maid or the Venezuelan migrant begging for money in Bogota are not going to expat events and identifying themselves as "expats" when asked what are they.
Still, to be fair to the Venezuelan migrant begging in Bogota or the maid, I wouldn't protest if either wanted to stick to the dictionary definition and call themselves "expats."
If they wish to do so, then whatever. Not something that gets under my skin.
This is a good example anyway that does show the inconsistencies in defining the expat.
The comfortable Mexican who makes remote income and lives abroad (as fewer as they are) might call himself an expat (of any skin color).
The poor expat from the US might call himself an expat (of any skin color).
But the poor person from a poorer country (who might be escaping REALLY bad conditions)?
Like the Haitian working Uber Eats in Mexico City or the Venezuelan maid in Bogota?
That's where nobody uses the word expat.
Perhaps putting that all together helps us a little more in finding common characteristics of expats.
Now, to be fair, when blogs talk about this supposed injustice regarding why some groups get labeled expats and others get labeled immigrants, they aren't just talking about the reality on the ground but also they talk about the sentiment.
The Negative Stereotypes of Both
When I speak of "the sentiment," I'm referring to the reason why some folks online believe that us expats call ourselves expats and not immigrants.
Their logic basically breaks down into "we don't want to be called immigrants because we associate negative stereotypes with the word."
While that is bullshit, it's a bit ironic that the same authors that might claim as such also show how specific expats actually don't like to call themselves expats due to stereotypes about that word or how the same articles admit to negative perceptions of said word "expat."
Here are two examples.
Example 1 Here.
“Personally, I don’t want to call myself an expat because I feel that it would indicate that I see my country of origin as better than the country that I’m currently in, and that I couldn’t consider this new country my home. Anyone who knows me are aware of how much I struggle with the concept of home and that I don’t really know how to relate to Sweden in that regards. By calling myself an expat, I feel like I would emphasise my relation to Sweden rather than my relation to the country I’m currently in. Therefore I prefer to call myself a foreigner, as it is the most neutral term that accurately describes my emotional (and legal) status here.”
Example 2 Here.
“Cranston said, noting that prior to the 1990s, it was much less common for Westerners to live and work abroad. Many of those who did were compensated with generous benefit packages that included high wages, housing, and schooling for children. This legacy has informed how people have come to understand the label, and why some feel uncomfortable identifying with it at all.”
So, as you can see, the idea of the "expat" and all its stereotypes might not be so positive either for those looking for a term to identify as.
Still, there are negative stereotypes about both groups that your typical person might not like as you can see here.
- Immigrant: The type to "steal jobs," suck resources from government programs, don't earn much money, don't assimilate and just serve as a leech on the economy.
- Expat: Are privileged, have no interest in making local friends, no interest in local culture and oblivious to the financial struggles of locals, given special treatment by locals and judge the locals for their faults seen in their culture.
And, truth be told, I realize more and more how similar the negative stereotypes are between "expats" and "immigrants" as I give more thought to it.
We both get bitched at for not assimilating enough,not learning the local language well enough, for taking local jobs (yes, some poorer expats do take local jobs) and so on.
And, even if we assumed said gringo is privileged, that obviously isn't a very positive thing either given you have, as we have seen with previous quotes, those who wish to distance themselves from that because they perceive that as a negative?
On top of that, immigrants in the US at least have institutions and politicians tripping over themselves to appeal to them.
CIA Woke Recruitment Video
Though, to be fair, the US is different and immigrants in most countries don't have this level of pandering (where, in the US, even Donald "fuck the Mexicans" Trump felt the need to make this image below about taco bowls).
Do anti-American politicians (or any politicians) in Latin America feel the need to tell us how much they like hamburgers & hotdogs? And why is it someone like Trump feels the need to do so? Could it be that Latino immigrants in the US have more political representation than gringos down here?
Of course, you can say that the US Government has more influence on the region than vice-versa but the interests of the government (and big business) don't always align with common people like me.
Either way, I will agree that generally being seen as an immigrant is seen as worse than an expat when it comes to reality on the ground.
For example, us expats are generally assumed to have more money typically than immigrants and you have those who, at least to white expats, treat us better for our skin color.
Though, on the flip side, being seen as having more money can make you an easier target and you have those who are racist towards white folks down here also.
Still, regardless of who wins the "pissing contest" of which term has more negative stereotypes, it is a bit of a pointless topic given most people (expats & non-expats) don't care about this topic & most expats don't call themselves expats out of some fear of being associated with the stereotype about immigrants.
Let's expand more on that below.
"We Expats Are Above the Filthy Immigrants!"
In discussing both expats and immigrants, this is a very common argument you hear as to supposedly why we expats don't use the word "immigrant" to describe ourselves.
“Westerners don’t like referring to themselves as immigrants because the word “immigrant” has such nasty connotations. (…) An immigrant is an unwanted job-stealer, while an expat is a foreigner who could be leaving any day now. An immigrant is on a desperate search for a better life. An expat is on an adventure. (…) Our usage of these words reveals a certain double standard. Whether you’re an expat or an immigrant depends not on your residency plans, but on the relative wealth of your native country.’
The argument really being that we expats just sit around our Spanish colonial homes in Latin America, sip on some whiskey and laugh out loud (lol) the following:
"oh my goodness, those poor BROWN immigrants are so poor. We WHITE expats are SO much better! HAHA jaja HAHA jaja HAHA jaja HAHA jaja HAHA .... !!!"
While this might seem like a shock to every non-white person with an inferiority complex or every white liberal who constantly is trying to convince the former that some form of racism is at work, let me reveal to you a little secret:
Most expats -- regardless of their politics -- do not think about immigrants in other countries.
Most of us are just trying to live our lives like anyone else.
And to say that we refuse the term "immigrant" because we don't want to be seen as poor brown people is some strong ass projection stemming from either your said inferiority complex or from the requirement at your job to publish another article inventing shit about race at Vice or least you be fired (publish or perish brooooo).
How about, instead of talking about expats from your computer, you actually go meet some?
Most expats don't call themselves expat because they are trying to think of themselves as above immigrants from other countries.
They do so because of two reasons:
- They don't see themselves as living in said country long term (maybe 1 to 5 years at most).
- They are simply using another word others have used and aren't giving much thought as to what that word means because it seems to be socially acceptable and don't really give a fuck about what word to use to describe their new chapter in life living abroad.
Take this guy for example.
But what's even stupider is how folks claiming that we don't want to be seen as immigrants when some of us do!
"We Don't Want to be Immigrants"
This is another argument you see sometimes like you can see in this screenshot here.
The idea being that, perhaps a bit similar to the last argument, that we foreigners don't ever want to be immigrants.
Personally, I DO want to be see as an immigrant and accepted as such down here by broad society.
That doesn't mean I want to relinquish being American.
I will always understand my roots and, as I live down here longer, feel greater identity with them.
But, on the flip side, I also want to be accepted as an immigrant to society down here also.
Other foreigners I know who have actually gotten residency want to be seen as such also or at least make better progress than I do on getting residency (they have more money than I do, forgive me for being poor).
Not to mention those you can see online saying that they are immigrants or at least not expats from Mexico to Europe (and probably other areas of the world also).
Clearly, not everyone is against the idea of being an immigrant!
Still, it's a retarded argument I see made by those who either are foreigners projecting their own feelings about their own interpretation of their life down here or bitchy locals who have an insecurity complex and think that every foreigner looks above the idea of being an "immigrant" when never having spoken with an expat themselves.
Still, to be fair to this argument, I will admit in saying that I am maybe not like most expats because, while I do wish to be seen as an immigrant someday, I know most expats don't (perhaps for the 2 reasons I see most commonly above).
How Many Expats Call Themselves Immigrants
Obviously, there is going to be limited research on how many expats call themselves "immigrants."
While academics love to research the most specific topics that nobody beyond their dissertation committee will read, it can be hard to sometimes find that specific information.
To my surprise, there is some information online regarding how many expats call themselves immigrants.
So what's the numbers?
Well, you can find the article on the topic here but I'll just leave the numbers cited below for those curious who don't want to click on the link above and then move on.
"I carried out 115 interviews with Americans, and collected 900 responses to a survey about Americans’ experiences of migrating to and living in Europe. Some of the participants, often those who had married local nationals and did not intend to return to the US, clearly identified as immigrants – but most did not. They largely understood “immigrant” or “migrant” in a 19th century American sense – a permanent immigrant to the US who needed to leave his or her home, had cut off ties with his or her home country, and set about integrating into America."
And, to be fair to that source, they do give even other reasons beyond the two that I wrote regarding why some expats don't call themselves immigrants (like how some believe you need a certain degree of assimilation that they don't have).
Regardless, it should be said also that it's not just expats who don't use the term "immigrant" for themselves but also locals who won't go that far either.
A lot of the discussion so far has been on the failure of expats to adopt the term but none so far on the locals that most people online seem to ignore (perhaps because most people writing online about this topic haven't been expats with a desire to immigrate down here).
"They Don't Even See Us as Immigrants."
This is probably one of those points that often doesn't get much acknowledgement from that I can see online.
So, if you paid attention to the beginning of this article, you might have noticed a sentiment that I have encountered many times over in Latin America.
That is where many of the locals down here don't even see you as an immigrant but see other people as potential immigrants.
Now, to be fair, you got xenophobic people in every country who cry out "GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY!!!"
Putting those people aside (because it's bigger than them down here), the fact is that, in my experience, most Latin Americans don't see us as immigrants because they aren't as accustomed to the idea of "people from the first world" becoming immigrants in their country.
Let's be real here for a second.
If you went up to 100 Latin Americans where this person below was to say "I am an immigrant," I'd bet you that, even if they are welcoming to her (which they probably would be), they'd deep down find it a bit confusing to hear her say "I am an immigrant."
Of course, not all of Latin America is the same.
If I had to guess, this white as fuck chick with her blonde hair would probably get more acceptance to being "an immigrant" in areas that have more white locals.
Think Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, etc.
Areas where someone as white as her (and I'm thinking areas with either a VERY high black or indigenous population) would probably have more people who find such a scenario confusing.
But there are other reasons for why someone like the chick above would have issues being seen as an immigrant beyond just areas with relatively few white people (where we aren't necessarily aliens from Mars to the locals).
For one, when compared to the US, we obviously have a lot less people actually wanting to be immigrants down here.
Second, for that reason (among others), the typical foreigner a local meets is a tourist to begin with.
Third, you don't have national politicians who are competing to be President of the country pandering to us like you got politicians in the US pandering to immigrants up there.
We can debate all day about why gringos have less political representation in countries like Mexico (which I have theorized in another article on my blog) but that obviously would make people down here less familiar or caring about our individual circumstances with living down here.
Fourth, you will notice that some Latin Americans have a harder time accepting the idea of a "gringo immigrant" because of their limited experience with them and harder inability to understand why anyone from "the first world" would come to live down here.
With all the stories of immigrants moving up north (from their country or a neighboring country), why would ANYONE want to move down here from up there?
Simply put, for Latin Americans with little experience knowing gringos (and ESPECIALLY for those meeting gringos living in crap neighborhoods like myself), it can be a "confusing" question to say the least.
Sometimes they become "bewildered" at the idea as I wrote here.
Not in a negative way but just a confused "what are you doing here?" way.
Fifth, to be fair to Latin Americans, you also have plenty of gringos who live in "bubble" communities.
While immigrants across the world tend to not assimilate as much as their kids, you can't deny the simple fact of living in a bubble is going to increase local ignorance about people like you as it limits their interactions with foreigners if you only live in exclusive areas.
And, to be fair, there might be other reasons for why folks down here are less open to the idea of the "gringo immigrant."
Regardless of what other reasons might be out there, the fact is that the majority don't see as such.
Unless you are talking about a local who you are familiar with personally and who isn't xenophobic against you.
Or unless you are referring to locals who live in areas with a heavy gringo population (which isn't most of Latin America).
So it's a bit ironic to me how people bitch about us expats calling ourselves expats over immigrants when a vast majority of people down here do NOT see us as immigrants.
They DO see us as separate from society.
Even if you tell a local -- in HIS language -- that you have spent almost a 4th of your life down here in Latin America, he STILL will wonder "WHEN YOU GOING BACK HOME?!?"
But not in a negative way! Just in a "I don't see you as being permanent here because it wouldn't cross my mind. Surely you are going back home, right?"
Consequently, said Latin American will treat you as a guest no matter what (even if you were naturalized).
I've heard of gringos getting naturalized and still being treated as a guest, outsider or whatever else.
Not an immigrant.
So, in short, it's a bit retarded to me when people bitch at us expats for calling ourselves "expats" instead of "immigrants" when many of the locals don't see us that way or treat us that way and would need a few mental hoops to jump through (and maybe a bit of tequila) before reaching that point.
Which, as I said before, not every local is like this. It truly just comes down to how well they know YOU and how many "gringo immigrants" they have been exposed to.
But, as I got thinking about this, I think there's another detail at work that helps people think of us as immigrants or expats.
And that detail has to do with the amount of time that said COMMUNITY has had in whatever part of Latin America.
The Time of the Community Matters for Determining Immigrant Status?
This is only a small theory of mine but it's one that I've come to believe more and more as I read online how people TALK about foreign groups of people living in Latin America.
Remember how I said previously that Latin Americans living in areas with more foreign immigrants tend to be more exposed to the concept and more understanding of the "gringo expat?"
Well, compared to areas with NO "gringo immigrants," that's generally true.
But one could argue that maybe time matters also.
How LONG has said gringo community been living in that part of Latin America?
Let me show you some examples to hit directly at what I'm talking about.
First, we all know that a large expat community lives in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
Are they called expats or immigrants by Latinos?
Well, we have this book here titled "Puerto Vallarta de película: Cine, imaginario urbano y desarrollo local" by Marco Antonio Cortés Guardado
"Primero, por las veces que ha sido mencionada como una de las mejores destinos turísticos del mundo, pero también porque, como ya se anotó, en ella radica una comunidad internacional importante de expatriados, provenientes principalmente de Estados Unidos y Canadá y que califican a San Miguel como una excelente ciudad para vivir.”
And, when speaking of Mexico more broadly, we have other articles or videos online by Latinos or Latin Americans referring to us as expats also as you can see with this article here by Leyla Santiago of CNN.
"Al sur de la frontera, los estadounidenses expatriados tienen una opinión distinta de México."
Or plenty of videos online made by Latin Americans discussing the topic of "expats" or "expatriados."
Beyond Mexico, you can see the same thing in other Latin American countries referring to foreigners of today from "the first world" as being "expats."
And, while I'm sure there's plenty of articles written by Latinos or Latin Americans calling us "expats" or "tourists" instead of "immigrants," I think you get the point by now.
In contrast though, I asked myself this question: were foreign groups of the past called or called right now "immigrants."
People a bit like me (but in the past!).
Well, I got thinking about the topic after I saw this on Twitter here.
And so I began looking into how foreigners of the past were referred to.
Not necessarily those millionaire executives that we discussed already...
But more about those immigrant or "colonialist" communities that settled in Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, etc.
When discussing how we foreigners are labeled, what about them?
Well, to keep it short, all of the content I could find online basically refers to them as "immigrants" or "colonialists" like the screenshot above.
And, to be fair, similar to "expat" and "immigrant," one can be both technically from my understanding.
Anyway, here's some examples of these white immigrants from typically "first world countries" of decades ago in South America being called immigrants.
From the video description: "Nueva Germania was founded by German immigrants looking to start an Aryan colony in the late 1800s. It failed, but remnants of German culture remain."
From the video description: "Nicknamed "The Germany of the Carribean", the town was founded in 1843 by German immigrants. At the time, residents of the Kaiserstuhl region who were invited by Venezuelan authorities in an effort to develop its agriculture."
Video description: Basically discusses a group of religious Russians who fled to the US and then later relocated to Mexico many decades ago to avoid mandatory service in the army. Founded a community called "la Colonia Rusa."
Quick comment: Wow, 500,000 Irish immigrants, huh? And I thought there were NEVER any white immigrants historically! How strange.
As a side point, I guess it's an interesting thing to contemplate how people who bitch about only white people being called expats tend to bring up the history behind the term and then say that white people are ONLY called expats and nothing else.
After all, how ELSE are Argentina or Uruguay MAJORITY white (over 90% actually)? Where did THOSE white people come from? Not just from Spain but MANY European countries (like Italy). Not to mention all the other areas of Latin America (like Chile or Southern Brazil) that took in LOTS of WHITE immigrants.
And so we know that, as we have seen with Ukrainians and Russians of today (among other white immigrants out there) and as we can see with how people label white immigrants to Latin America for over a hundred years ago, we know that white people, as a group, have typically never looked down on the idea of identifying as immigrants.
And so, as we speak of today and not the past, it has been said that there ARE people who NOWADAYS move to Latin America like those videos shown above and aren't called immigrants.
What's the difference then between those of the past and those of today?
Does time play a role in how we see these folks?
Perhaps it's easier for many to look at past communities of foreigners as "immigrants" and some of those of today as "expats."
While that might seem illogical when we consider the history of the use of the word "expat" under the section "The Original Expat" as discussed way above, I don't think it is necessarily.
It's possible to say that the word "expat" was not as popularized as it is now (verifiable in my opinion) but that it was used by some in the past also.
On top of that, it's easier to call someone in the past an "immigrant" than someone currently living in another country because sometimes we don't know if someone's current time in a country is permanent or not while we can look at the life of someone in the past and more easily identify them as an "immigrant" by how their whole life played out.
And on top of that, due to the changes we have seen over the years, one could see why more people are "expats" today instead of being called "immigrants" like many (though not all) of them would have been over a hundred years ago.
As I said before, you simply have the option of travel being more widely available to many people and so those who just wish to live abroad for a year or two do so and don't see themselves as immigrants (being permanent).
While, when discussing the importance of time, perhaps the word "expat" has simply become more popularized over time versus how many people used the term back in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
If the term was as common as then, how many would have adopted the term? And would they have moved abroad just to "travel" instead of immigrate given how much more difficult it was for the typical person?
At any rate, the importance of "time" in how we see this topic is something I have found interesting as it relates to this topic.
But, as I said before, it's all bit silly, isn't it?
Because, at least all the expats I know personally, none of us actually refer to ourselves as "expats" in real life even if, for conversations such as the one being had in this article, the term will be used.
But in real life? I can't remember a single foreigner I met down here, as of right now anyway, calling himself an expat.
Could such a term be outdated?
Is the Term Expat Outdated?
It's a question to ask because, among all the other foreigners I know, none of us call each other "expats."
Granted, none of us refer to each other in other labels like "immigrants" either.
Still, it does seem like an odd debate just because it's a term that seemingly few actually use in real life and a term that only a few get offended by.
But, even if you could argue that it is not outdated, let's at least challenge now just how "bad" the term really is.
Why is Another Term Bad?
When I first began doing research for this article, I was a little bit confused as to why the term expat is bad.
The more I did research though, the more I found myself even more confused.
The basics from what I understand regarding their anger is this:
1. Historically, those who called themselves expats were white, from more developed countries and more financially successful.
2. Those who didn't fit those three descriptions above were not usually called expats historically.
3. Those who don't fit those three descriptions RIGHT NOW are not called expats (which is objectively not true as this isn't the 1950s).
4. The term expat has less negative connotation than immigrant (true but expat has negative connotation as proven already).
5. And those who call themselves immigrants don't wish to be seen as poor as them with their negative stereotypes (which is assuming that no expat wants to be an immigrant or that is their motivation which are false assumptions).
So where's the issue?
Even if we were to assume that the assumptions from 1 to 4 are true (which not all of them are as proven already), why wold that make number 5 bad?
After all, who wants to be associated with a group of people that have a negative stereotype about them?
Can you blame them?
I don't want to be associated with negative shit either.
Why not focus instead on removing any stigma surrounding the word "immigrant" instead of bitching about those who use what is basically a more specific word for immigrant (expat)?
Either way, I just don't see issue with a term that has a certain stereotype behind it and a certain connotation.
In the same way that the word "gringo" tends to come with the idea of a white dude and, in some contexts, can come with a very negative or racist tone depending on how the word is used.
Similarly, I don't see the term "expat" to be a bad word just because there is a stereotypical image behind what an expat (just like gringo) looks like and a connotation behind it (which, for expat, can be good or bad as already discussed).
It really just comes down to how the word is used when it comes to seeing it as bad or good.
But given that most Americans aren't as comfortable with using words like that compared to Latin Americans, you'll always have those up north bitching about this word "expat" while most actual Latin Americans (outside of kids of the elite who want to "practice their English" with foreigners) don't give a fuck about this topic.
Of course, one other reason for why some don't like the term is, as discussed before, due to the perceived power imbalances between any "typical" countries where expats come from and any "typical" countries where immigrants come from.
A Greater Term For Winners
Next, we have that old argument already discussed about "unequal power relations" between different countries.
And that is, according to the author of that quote, the explanation for understanding the term "expat."
While I don't entirely agree with the idea that only expats come from the wealthiest countries based on my experience, I have to at least ask "why would this be a bad thing?"
Granted, to be fair, the author didn't apply a negative connotation necessarily to that "power imbalance" when talking about how folks from "the first world" can be expats and those from "the third world" are immigrants.
Even though, many times over, that is proven false also but, if we were to generalize, we can kinda see where said author is coming from.
Regardless, I have to again ask the question: what is the issue?
Who cares if people from more powerful countries get a better title?
Look -- I'm a believer in Capitalism.
With a Hard C, motherfucker.
All about that competition.
If your country turned out to be more powerful than most other countries (first world vs third world), then OF COURSE your people get a fancier title known as "expat" versus "immigrant."
After all, which country landed a person on the moon?
The US or Paraguay?
We, as Humanity, have to incentivize countries to do better.
That comes with competition to out compete other countries.
When some countries do better, they get rewards!
Like their people -- of ANY race (as the US isn't 95% white anymore. This isn't the 1950s, you racist progressives) -- getting fancier titles.
"Expats" versus "immigrants."
For example, we have Japan rising up in the world and joining the ranks of "the cool kids" where you got articles now referring to their citizens as "expats" as you can see here.
"‘Language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching"
Don't like it?
Well, suck my red, white & blue cock.
Team America video
Until your country can stop SUCKING dick and start getting its dick SUCKED, then maybe you can call yourself an EXPAT.
And only then it gets COOL rewards like fancier titles for its citizens such as "expats."
I don't make the rules. I just tell it how it is.
In all seriousness though, I have seen people from numerous and less wealthy non-western countries get called expats BUT, if we were to believe that only wealthier citizens of the world get the title, then I'd see no issue either way for the reasoning above.
Just compete better and you'll get a nicer title!
At any rate, let's touch on some last minute topics that I didn't feel like making entire sections for but do feel are worthy of mentioning briefly.
Last Observations About the Expat Debate
Finally, let's begin to wrap this up by quickly pointing out common observations I've come across when reading into the debate surrounding this topic.
These are nothing more than observations about points made that I found online about this debate that I don't think deserve a separate section dedicated to them alone. So just to run through them quickly as this article is already long enough (and thanks if you somehow read it all!).
First, I have noticed a common trend where people online seem to care more about this issue way more than most people in real life.
As I hinted at before, few people I have met actually refer to themselves as "expats" and most locals (outside of upper class fresa types) seem to give a shit about it.
It almost makes me feel like this whole debate is retarded to have to begin with.
In all likelihood, the ones who get bitchy about those calling themselves expats probably use the term "Latinx" unironically also.
Second, as you can see here, it's the observation by many that those who get bitchy about the term expat probably just want to control others.
A behavior where you use social justice BS to act on a moral high ground, feel better about yourself and to judge others while trying to police their words.
Third, to what degree are the expats who feel negative about the term "expat" actually are self-hating gringos?
They tend to have this type of "let's be more humble" attitude.
Some would see it as self-hating.
Either way, their argument isn't driven by logic but more by emotion, of a drive to be humble, to pander to the locals that they see as perpetually poor and maybe to feel better about themselves by their own self-interpretation of how humble they think they are.
Like this quote here.
“Personally, I don’t want to call myself an expat because I feel that it would indicate that I see my country of origin as better than the country that I’m currently in, and that I couldn’t consider this new country my home. Anyone who knows me are aware of how much I struggle with the concept of home and that I don’t really know how to relate to Sweden in that regards. By calling myself an expat, I feel like I would emphasise my relation to Sweden rather than my relation to the country I’m currently in. Therefore I prefer to call myself a foreigner, as it is the most neutral term that accurately describes my emotional (and legal) status here.”
For some, I can't say. If it comes from a true point of concern to not come across as arrogant, then I can get that.
For others though (the more narcissistic gringo who uses social issues as a weapon to beat others with to feel better about themselves on social media), then it's a person that is simply a nuisance.
Fourth, is the term "classist?"
Well, based on the history we have seen, there definitely appears to be a history of upper class people getting to call themselves expats.
The typical executive millionaire.
However, times change and, like I said, you got comfortable or rich immigrants moving to countries like the US and you got poor as fuck or normal income expats moving to places like Mexico.
I wouldn't call the term "classist" because the reality is that it's not a term exclusively for just rich people and you do have plenty of non-poor immigrants.
Though, as I said before, you do notice at least that the poorest immigrants from poorer countries escaping extreme situations never get the label "expat."
Fifth, is the term an example of white supremacy?
As I said before, this is a common talking point.
Reminds me of this quote here from a famous Guardian article that went viral on the topic.
“Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.”
All of the arguments though made in this paragraph have already been deconstructed in various sections above.
How most locals don't see us as immigrants anyway, how few use the term expat in real life to describe themselves, how those who do call themselves expats aren't doing it because they look down on immigrants, how you got plenty of non-white expats and white immigrants, etc.
On top of all of that, you also have the argument in that quote above that white people will deny their privilege.
Which I find a bit ironic given that, relative to other groups of people, I find expats to be more likely to lean left and bend over backwards more than others to tell others how they have so much privilege.
Be it the type to bitch at other expats for using the term "American" to describe themselves or the term "expat."
Finally, a certain line of thinking that I have noticed that a few make regarding how this is "white supremacy" is based on some type of logic of the following (if I had to paraphrase it):
Basically, because white majority countries like the UK, US, France, Spain and others have dominated the world at the expense of non-white countries over the last 500 years, their citizens are more easily able to travel abroad and call themselves expats while non-white people who go to their countries have a harder time staying there, get kicked out more often, discriminated against more and don't get to call themselves "expats" but instead "immigrants.
There's a few things to say here.
For one, I agree that we do have an easier time living abroad, there is more discrimination against immigrants in places like the US (even if you have discrimination against us down here) and so on.
Also, it is true that countries like the US, UK, Spain, France and others have taken advantage of and had a role in the lesser development of non-white countries.
Having said that, as I wrote here, the people who think this way tend to ignore the local conditions on the ground that made these countries less ideal to live in and also the local corrupt politicians or dictators that made them so.
The type to say "x dictator was supported by x country" while conveniently ignoring that x dictator was a local that was also supported by "x local financial elite" and "x local military full of local soldiers."
It is necessary to discuss the role of other countries in regards to international inequality but there also needs to be more acknowledgement of fucked up local actors and other conditions that have made things the way they are.
Next, your average citizen in those countries like Spain had little to do with what was going on. The fact is that your average citizen throughout world history has had little role in influencing their government (even in countries like the US as you can see here).
"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
Also, as said before, you have PLENTY of non-white expats or immigrants from countries like the US, UK, France or wherever else. We don't have 1950s demographics and, on top of that, you have non-white expats from "third world" countries also these days (whose countries did not fuck over other countries in the name of white supremacy or whatever ideology you want to pin on every military endeavor).
Finally, it's a bit of a weak argument to say that those who call themselves expats are participating in "white supremacy" due to the history of their countries because there's a difference between adopting a term that everyone uses and exploiting other countries.
In the same way folks -- of any skin color -- from those countries like the US also benefit from a stronger passport.
Using that passport doesn't mean you are engaging or promoting "white supremacy" in the same way that calling yourself an expat doesn't either.
And, as I said before, plenty do wish to be immigrants and using the term "expat"isn't meant to be a way to look down upon those who do get accepted by that term. That would just be your inferiority complex at work if you think so because you clearly haven't spoken to many expats.
After all, some just adopt the term others use because "why not" and some truly don't see themselves as immigrants because they only wish to be in the country for maybe a year.
So, for all those reasons above, calling yourself an "expat" isn't white supremacy.
Sixth, one of the reasons for why some people might think "white supremacy" is because of racial resentment in my opinion.
Basically, it's just some author who lives in a society where he can shit on white people all day without any pushback against his racist tendencies to portray white people as constantly looking down or feeling superior to him?
.....Could that be projection?
Either way, this type of racial resentment is something I've noticed in the writing of a few, like in that Guardian article, when it comes to this topic.
Seventh, it should be said that there is some degree of pandering going on here also.
How many people who write about this topic truly care about it?
Those who might be just trying to push out their latest woke article because they are paid to do so.
Or others who are just using the argument as a way to take shots that actually come from a place of racial or maybe financial resentment also as I said before.
Anyway, let's now step away from the debate and make it more personal by turning the tables around towards me as it relates to this topic.
How I See Myself: Expat or Immigrant?
A few days ago, I finally got my dad on the phone for a simple conversation.
Such a call usually takes two years of waiting.
At any rate, he was critical about my time in Mexico as I wrote here.
Though, to be fair to any family member critical of my decision to live here, I do agree with their concerns mostly.
One concern that I don't agree with is the "you aren't Mexican" concern.
A concern he expressed during the call.
Saying "you ain't Mexican. You don't belong there."
Now, to be fair, he's right in that I'm not Mexican. I'll never be Mexican in the eyes of the locals nor do I wish to be Mexican.
Anyone who has read my blog that I feel a great pride in being American (and that pride only increases over time living outside of America).
Regardless, I don't see him going up to random foreigners in the US -- of any origin like Mexican, Chinese, etc -- and saying to them "you ain't American. LEAVE!"
In the same way that, oddly enough, Mexicans who bitch about gringos in their country due to similar notions of "not belonging here" seem to get angry when Mexicans in the US are told the same.
Personally, I think it was just another random argument because he legit doesn't want me living in Mexico for various reasons.
In response anyway, I said "plenty of people move out of their home country. Our ancestors left Ireland. Why can't I immigrate to Mexico?"
And his head snapped.
"IMMIGRATE?!?!" he shot back.
After 5 years in Mexico and 7 years in Latin America, that word "immigrate" apparently took him by quite the surprise.
Have I though "immigrated" to Mexico?
Am I -- legally or illegally -- an "immigrant" to Mexico?
Well, during our conversation, he did call me an "alien" in Mexico.
So I guess the word expat is no longer appropriate for me?
And it all goes back to that question -- what am I personally?
An expat or an immigrant?
Why not both?
Well, it's hard for me to answer.
For one, I NEVER refer to myself as either during normal conversation with basically anyone on a day to day basis.
I don't walk up to random people and introduce myself as "Matt the expat" or "Matt the immigrant."
The former sounds too snobby to the local Mexican and the latter would equally cause confusion among the Mexicans, like Jimmy in the beginning of the article, as most aren't accustomed to the "gringo immigrant" even if we DO exist down here.
On top of that, I've never been the type to attach myself to labels.
Still, what am I?
It's a good question!
It's tough to say.
Putting aside previous concerns already mentioned, it should also be said that my future in Mexico is "in question."
I'll be honest in saying that the only way I will EVER have a long future in Mexico beyond the years I already have is to marry a local and/or have a child with a local.
There's no other way I can have a future in Mexico for decades to come.
Now, given I am young and wish to have a family someday (and not just some 60 year old expat), then the above is possible.
Otherwise, I'd have to pick some poorer country like Nicaragua or Paraguay to "immigrate" to in the long term.
Or perhaps Chile as they aren't too strict either as Mexico with its rising standards for residency.
And, at least with Chile, I have always romanticized the idea of moving there to find a happier life for various reasons.
But, given my time in Mexico over half a decade now, I can VERY easily see myself moving back and making it work to live here forever.
At any rate, I am definitely an expat at the very least.
....But an immigrant?
Well, if we understand immigrant to mean someone who is permanent, then I might be an immigrant if I stick true to those desires to return to Mexico after a few years of traveling that I want to do.
And, like I said, I can VERY easily see myself returning to live here again after a few years of traveling.
You know, if it wasn't for the local bias against gringos being immigrants, I'd probably call myself an immigrant.
Deep down, I feel as such.
If you knew my life, I'm not a tourist whatsoever.
I have ABSOLUTELY no desire to move back to the US and will do everything to stay in Latin America.
I've told my sister that "I'll probably die down here."
Not in a suicidal way but in a general "this is where I'll live until I kick the bucket in 60 years."
And, at least right now and for many years, that's how I've always felt.
An immigrant to Latin America more broadly then?
That's probably more accurate than saying a specific country as I plan to travel soon enough for a few years and then pick a place to settle down in.
That place quite likely being Mexico, Chile or maybe Paraguay if I can't make the first two work legally.
....So an immigrant?
Deep down I feel so but that's all I'll say.
Though, as I said, it doesn't really matter because the topic isn't one that I care much about in the sense I don't take great importance to fitting whatever your standards are for being an expat or immigrant.
I'm not one to introduce myself with either term so it's almost a non-important topic on my end.
But let's now finally ask the biggest question of all to hit directly at the point of this article.
The Final Verdict: What is the Difference Between an Expat & Immigrant?
This is purely just my opinion obvious but I see the question as being able to be answered in two different ways.
First, we have the dictionary definition obviously.
Using the dictionary definitions way above, I'm in agreement with the idea that the term expat is a "subset" of a type of immigrant but the difference being that an immigrant is here permanently (or with the intentions to be so anyway) while an expat is simply living outside his country (while maybe with the intentions to be permanently away also).
Therefore, you can be an expat and an immigrant.
The Venezuelan hotel beggar in the street is, by those definitions, technically as much of an expat as the retired gringo having spiced rum on the beach.
Having said that, there's obviously the social understanding of the word that, if we're being honest, has much more importance than the dictionary definition when it comes to real life interactions.
Within the social understanding of the word, I'd like to say that few think of the Venezuelan beggar as an expat.
And I'm being generous with saying "few" because, to my surprise, I was able to find a bit of material online calling them expats.
Out of curiosity, I looked up how poorer immigrants from other countries like Guatemala or Nicaragua are called and they are not as commonly called "expats" (I couldn't find any examples).
So you would think then that those not from "the first world" are typically seen as not expats?
But, oddly enough, I have seen online AND in real life folks from countries like India, China, Argentina, Brazil and other places be called "expats."
The one thing they had in common was not escaping the shittiest conditions possible (war, destitute poverty, etc) and, like other expats, finding a way to make money online or get a DECENT job abroad with a desire to travel for the benefit of travel (and not because they feel like they HAVE to leave their home country).
But, if these same expats from "not first world countries" end up living in a "first world country," then they typically don't identify as an expat and are typically not seen as such by others.
When it comes to race, the majority are white but PLENTY are not.
When it comes to wealth, it's been my impression that expats in certain regions (like in the Middle East) seem to make quite a decent penny but those in other regions (like Latin America) are more of a mixed bag where plenty are poor are fuck, alcoholics and whatever the fuck else while others are wealthy representatives of Canadian mining companies.
And all in between!
In short, it's a bit hard for me personally to "nail it exactly" with an exact definition as to what is an expat given all the nuances I have seen to the topic.
It almost makes me feel like saying it's just one of those "you know when you see it" type scenarios.
The homeless Nicaraguan singing a song outside a restaurant in San Jose, Costa Rica? NOT AN EXPAT.
The brown Guatemalan lady who works at a hotel in Houston while living there illegally? NOT AN EXPAT.
The white Ukrainian who fled war to live in the US or Guatemala (as shown in the video way above)? NOT AN EXPAT.
The white Polish man who lives in the UK working at a restaurant? NOT AN EXPAT.
RUSSELL PETERS / POLISH PEOPLE
The "white passing" Mexican son of the Mexican President living a fancy life in the US because of the connections of his dad? NOT AN EXPAT.
AMLO Loret son in Houston
What about a more "modest" Latin American living in the US as a computer programmer (of any skin color)? NOT AN EXPAT (probably not but maybe if this person went to expat events, identified as such and so on).
Maybe an Argentine (of any skin color) moving to another "non-first world country," joins expat groups and works online doing whatever? IS AN EXPAT.
How about a black American of normal means who moves to Peru as a Youtuber? IS AN EXPAT.
Maybe an aspiring alcoholic, relatively poor American who moves to Mexico? IS AN EXPAT.
Or a wealthier Canadian representing a huge business and making over 100,000 in some other country of the world (preferably a lesser developed country than where he came from)? IS AN EXPAT.
An American moving to England with a job already lined up and a work visa? MAYBE AN EXPAT (looks like it -- according to an expat I know as you can see below).
In short, when answering from a "social" understanding of who is an expat, I truly think the better way to approach is to lay out examples and ask "is this an expat? What about this person?"
It's easier that way in my opinion and perhaps, in a way, it helps us notice certain trends of who is or is not an expat from a "social" sense and not strictly by the dictionary definition.
After all, I tried to come up with a one sentence description to describe "who is the expat" but the truth is that, after writing all this out, I simply noticed WAY too many odd inconsistencies regarding who people were labeling as expats or saying who isn't an expat.
Still, if I had to try to summarize it in a sentence based on what I have seen from the many examples above and in real life, I'd summarize it as following (despite the inconsistencies):
An expat can be an immigrant also but not necessarily, can be of any race or ethnicity, is someone who can move from a richer country to a poorer country while rich or poor, can move from a "not first world" country to another "not first world" country as long as they aren't escaping poverty or violence but can't typically move from the "third world" to "the first world" (though those who are upper middle class can sometimes get away with labeling themselves as expats while moving from "the third world" to "the first world" while the poorest like Honduran migrants and richest like the son of AMLO don't usually) and said expat can also move from the "first world" to another "first world" country.
Now, to be fair, one might argue "that is quite a long sentence."
I TRIED TO SUMMARIZE IT IN ONE SENTENCE!
At any rate, all of this discussion now, including the examples above the summary afterwards, should ONLY be seen in the "social" sense of the word.
As I said, if we stuck to the strict dictionary definition, literally everybody in the examples would be an expat.
So it's a complicated manner and a little bit harder to define who is an expat and who isn't.
Not as easy as the journalists of The Atlantic or The Guardian make it be where we just say "ONLY WHITE AND WEALTHY PEOPLE WHO GO TO THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES ARE EXPATS!"
Anyway, putting aside who is defined as an expat or not specifically or how plenty of locals wouldn't see us as immigrants, I would stick to the dictionary definition anyhow when it comes to defining the exact difference between an expat and immigrant.
We can do "tests" to better distinguish between the two terms like the Expat Chronicles articles but I'd prefer to keep it simple (even though the tests mentioned were pretty good in at least pointing out real world characteristics of these groups).
Anyway, that's all I got to say!
Got anything to add yourself?
This article took me a while to write up as I had to dig through all of the arguments I could find that people were bringing up.
If you got anything to add that I didn't catch or have an opinion on anything expressed already, please leave a comment below.
Follow my Twitter here.
And enjoy this standup bit on "white immigrants" here.
White Immigrants | Russell Peters
Thanks for reading.