What is an Expat or Expatriate? Living Life Abroad

Steve Cummings

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Expat or Expatriate

The feeling of living abroad comes with nuances. The people you meet, the food you eat, the culture you dive headfirst into, and the biggest thing that comes out of it would be the experiences you have living life overseas.

Now the question comes down to what is an expat or an expatriate? Expat is a shortened term for expatriate. If we want to dive deep into this question, let's set up what the words mean. 

What is an Expat or Expatriate?

An expat has left their home country and resides or lives in a different country. These people may have left their homeland to live or work in another country. The meaning can mean the same as an immigrant or a migrant, but expatriates typically live in a country temporarily but can be done permanently.

So if you are backpacking Europe for six months without coming back, does this make you an expat? Yes, it does! How about living in South East Asia teaching English for a year or two, and maybe you decide to stay indefinitely? Once again, you are an expat. What about if I want to retire abroad? That, too, makes you an expat. 

An expat is just a good word to describe those that have left their home countries to reside in another country. 

Many people I have met while living abroad experience wanting to stay overseas. They love their home country, but their new adopted country is the place of good living, new opportunities, and possibly a better place to live. As expatriates living in other countries, they find that they can have a high standard of living and do not come home. Even though they may have citizenship in one country that will try to grab some permanent residency in another country. 

How Many Expatriates Are Around the World?

People have tended to move around the world throughout the history of man. As of now, there are around 258 million expats, and by 2050 an estimated 405 million people will be expats: about 9 million American expatriates and another 5 million British expatriates living overseas.

As the world becomes more digitalized, people will work abroad in lower living areas while getting paid a decent amount. Retires will be able to leave the higher cost of living countries and move to a country with excellent health care, low cost of living, and a good expat community. 

The possibilities are endless. 

Is an Expat an Immigrant?

As we see many more expats going abroad, there must be a distinction between expats and immigrants. 

An immigrant is someone that goes to live in a foreign country permanently. Immigrants have a goal in mind to live permanently in a new country. You saw this in the U.S.A., where droves of people would immigrate from Italy, Ireland, Germany, and England to stay in a new land and make a home there. 

These days, there is a negative connotation with the word immigrant. People find that immigrants have come from Third world countries and will bring crime and danger to their country or come illegally. It is a fear that media or political figures can propagate to create fear. 

It is that fear of newcomers or even xenophobia that is being produced. As an expat, you need to know that even if you immigrate somewhere, you may not always be welcome because you are a foreigner. 

Let's make things clear. An immigrant comes to reside in a foreign country permanently, and an expat is in a foreign country temporarily or permanently. They are the same thing. 

So migrant workers are considered expats, but most people call them migrant workers, which has a negative connotation. 

In Asia, migrant workers come from all over. Indonesia and the Philippines send plenty of migrant workers all over, and typically people look down on these people like sometimes we may see in the U.S. They are expats, but when most people think of expats they know the color of the skin and make the distinction. 

Becoming an Expat

Never fear; being an expat is a very adventurous thing to do. Leaving your home country, local food, family, and friends is not an easy task. Going to a new country where the food is different, the customs are different, and the foreign language can bring on some culture shock to many people. 

Even if you look similar, you may not fit in right away. It is all about adapting, creating community, and enjoying the new life. 

Why Do People Become Expats?

There are many reasons people may become an expat, from learning a new language to going to school, or most likely because a job relocation has sent you abroad. Other people are looking at retiring abroad to take advantage of low-costs in other countries. 

Some people are looking for different job opportunities. Being an English teacher abroad offers many opportunities to travel, earn a good living, and live a new adventurous life as an expat. 

Working abroad can be the perfect excuse to become an expat. A job may send you to live in different countries. The days of living in the country that the big companies reside in are still a part of this world, but many of these companies have branched out worldwide to create opportunities in new countries. 

Google is one of the largest companies globally but holds a large office in Taipei, Taiwan, offering opportunities for engineers to relocate and work in new locations. 

Microsoft is not just located in the U.S.; it is located in many parts of the world. 

As many companies start to build offices worldwide, more opportunities for jobs begin to open up. 

Many countries offer opportunities for professionals to migrate and use their skills to help out with a need. One popular destination for teachers would be New Zealand. Before the pandemic, New Zealand was heavily recruiting foreign teachers to fill a need, and therefore it had become an excellent destination for expats to flock to. 

What is it Like to Live as an Expat?

It would help if you got accustomed to many things as life is much different. Here are a few things to remember if you want to live as an expat. 

New Culture

In a new country, several things may be different. The culture and social etiquette will differ from where you came from. Even if you are from the U.S.A. and decide to live in Australia, you will find various things people say other food, and you may even find it strange of their different customs. 

It is part of being an expat. You leave to experience new cultures and new places to share different ways they do things. People also have various superstitions that may be strange to you or even foods you may not be accustomed to trying. It is time to learn about some of these customs and learn from locals. This will help them adapt to the new country and live an expatriate life. 

In Taiwan, we have a food called Stinky Tofu. You may smell it as you walk through different night markets, but it is fried tofu that has fermented. The stinkier it is, the better. 

As you can see, many different things may throw you off, but living as an expat, you must be willing to learn and accept the newness of other people. 

Meeting New People

As an expat, one needed thing is to create a community of people. It can be hard leaving your home country and going to a new place. Community is vital for your mental health and the experience you will have in your new location. Loneliness can happen when you live in a new area or culture and do not know many people. 

It is time to meet some new people and create new friends. Meeting new people can come from meet-ups, colleagues, people in your class, or even finding places you know other expats may be like concerts, religious services, or bars. You can even find a good expatriate community to get connected.

Mett-ups are a great place to meet people and other foreigners. You can have similar interests and create a community. 

As an expat, you will be meeting new people anyway. It is a great thing to broaden your spectrum of people you know. The people in my community vary widely by different cultures and countries. I am have built a neighborhood full of people from Asia, Africa, South, and Central America, from down under, and of course, North America. It is fantastic to meet so many different people and learn from them. 

Learning New Things

As an expat, you will have the ability to learn new things. New things you may know can be of the following:

  • A new language
  • Eat new food
  • New hobbies and activities
  • New cultures
  • Create New experiences

Being in a new place allows you to open your mind to many new things. The people will be different so you will learn a new language, eat fresh food, interact with new people, and learn a new custom. 

Living in Asia, I have learned all sorts of things about the Lunar New Year and the cultural aspects of how people live. This is part of the experience that will last a lifetime when traveling. 

Take advantage of your time as an expat and learn something new. Life is short, and there are so many things to experience. You never know what may happen. 

Facing Fears

As we step out of our comfort zone, we need to have the courage to face our fears. Living as an expat you must face your fears.

The time as an expat can be a scary one. You wake up, and you are no longer in your home country. The people around you look different, sound differently, and everything is different. At this point, you need to embrace the fear and conquer it. 

Having fear and not facing it will create significant homesickness that will send you straight home. Facing these fears will allow you to grow. 

Expat life is not for everyone. If you can face the fears of living in a new country, then you can survive and enjoy your time. 

Health Insurance

I find a common thing with expats is knowing if they will be taken care of through health insurance. Health insurance is a big deal for so many people. In many different countries, health insurance can come from taxes, be expensive, or be cheap. It all depends on where you live. 

There are many different types of health insurance to look at. There is national and private health insurance. A lot of countries have both private and public options. The health plans can be easily paid for to make life easier as you live as an expat. 

My top 7 countries for health insurance would be as follows:

  1. France
  2. Mexico
  3. Spain
  4. Malaysia
  5. Portugal
  6. Taiwan
  7. Costa Rica

I wrote an article about the best countries with expat health insurance. So make sure to click the link if you want to find out more information.

Having health insurance is vital to staying safe as an expat. You cannot always go home for health insurance, so the home country you live in will have an excellent system to choose from. 

How to be an Expat

If you want to become an expat, here are some ways to get started. 

1. Research

It cannot be overstated that you will need to research before you leave your home country. There is a saying, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” That is very true for becoming an expat. It would help if you had a plan.

Research places you would like to live—Research the places, customs, food, jobs, health insurance, and housing before leaving. Without doing research, you may be thrust into a situation that does not feel ideal. If you do not want any regrets, do your research. 

You will need to see what type of visas you may need. Check out if you need a work permit to work in a country. If you are a U.S. citizen, you will need to check out what U.S. taxes you may have to pay or see if the foreign earned income exclusion or the Foreign Tax Credit helps you out with eliminating any double taxation. 

As a retiree, you may want to move to certain countries like the Czech Republic because of how cheap it is to live there. I know I have researched how to move to Portugal because it is a beautiful place to retire overseas. 

Research what medical insurance may be in the country when you plan to move abroad. Knowing can help you make a good decision. 

2. Connect with Other Expats

Creating a community is enormous. The first thing you can do is find some Facebook groups or even someone on the ground you can connect with to help your adoption into the new environment. 

Connecting with other expats is something you should do to be acclimated to the new country. One of the worst things is having a sense of loneliness. So make sure to connect with others. 

3. Just Go!

It is time to make your decision. Make a decision somewhere. Pack your bags and sell all of your things. Tell the people around you and book that ticket. 

When traveling or living life, you will understand that the experiences are enormous. People put off doing things, and 5-10 years later, they are full of regret. So take a leap of faith and go. It is easier just making the decision and going with it. 

Final Thoughts:

Living in a foreign country can be quite hard. It is not for everyone. Leaving your country to live in another country away from the people in your life is a huge decision. Most people do not realize that once you face that fear, you have made one of the best decisions of your life. The experiences you will make as an expat will be massive. 

As you live abroad, you will learn many new things about yourself. The fantastic thing is that you will grow as a person. 

You can live in an English-speaking country like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or another place to make life easier. That way, you will have less of a culture shock since you will be able to understand some of the words that are being spoken. 

Maybe you will want to immigrate to another country. The opportunities are endless around the world. Take this opportunity to research and find one of the best countries to live and go to. Use your skills, collect miles and points to travel cheaply, book your flights, and live that expat life.

Would you ever consider being an expat?

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