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Expatriate French voters queue in Lausanne, Switzerland for the first round of the presidential election of 2007 Election presidentielle 2007 Lausanne MG 2757.jpg
Expatriate French voters queue in Lausanne, Switzerland for the first round of the presidential election of 2007

An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person residing in a country other than their native country. [1] In common usage, the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers, which can be companies, universities, governments, or non-governmental organisations. [2] However, the term 'expatriate' is also used for retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles. [3]



The word expatriate comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("native country, fatherland").


Dictionary definitions for the current meaning of the word include:

  • 'A person who lives outside their native country' (Oxford), [3] or
  • 'living in a foreign land' (Webster's). [4]

These definitions contrast with those of other words with a similar meaning, such as:

Migrant :
  • 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford), [5] or
  • 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's); [6]
  • 'A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country' (Oxford), [7] or
  • 'one that immigrates: such as a: a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence (Webster's). [8]

The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can be seen[ by whom? ] as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy, with many asserting that the traditional use of the word "expat" has had racist connotations. [9] [10] For example, a British national working in Spain or Portugal is commonly referred to[ by whom? ] as an 'expatriate', whereas a Spanish or Portuguese national working in Britain is referred to as an 'immigrant', thus indicating Anglocentrism.[ citation needed ]

An older usage of the word expatriate referred to an exile. [3] - compare emigrant. Alternatively, when used as a verbal noun, expatriation can mean the act of someone renouncing allegiance to their native country, as in the preamble to the United States Expatriation Act of 1868 which states: 'the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. [11]

Some neologisms have been coined, including:

The term "expatriate" sometimes appears misspelled as "ex-patriot". Anu Garg has characterised this punning spelling as an "eggcorn", [17] which refers to the phenomenon of idiosyncratic substitution of similar-sounding words, to create a new word or phrase with a different meaning, which still remains plausible when used in the same contexts as the original.


Since antiquity, people have gone to live in foreign countries, whether as diplomats, merchants or missionaries. The numbers of such travellers grew markedly after the 15th century with the dawn of European colonialism and imperialism.[ citation needed ]

Types of expat community

In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of steamship or train. People could more readily choose to live for several years in a foreign country, or be sent there by employers. The table below aims to show significant examples of expatriate communities which have developed since that time:

GroupPeriodCountry of originDestinationHost countryNotes
Australians and New Zealanders in London1960s-nowAustralia/New ZealandLondonUnited Kingdom
Beat Generation 1950sUnited States Tangier Morocco
Beat Generation 1960sUnited StatesParisFranceSee Beat Hotel.
British retirees1970s–nowUnited Kingdom Costa del Sol SpainArguably immigrants if permanent.
British retireescurrentUnited Kingdom Dordogne FranceArguably immigrants if permanent.
British Raj 1721–1949United Kingdom Princely states IndiaOften referred to as "Anglo-Indians".
Celebrities and artists1800s–nowvarious Lake Geneva Switzerland
Film-makers 1910s–nowEuropeLos AngelesUnited States "Hollywood"
Jet set 1950s–1970svariousvarious
Lost Generation 1920s–30sUnited StatesParisFranceSee A Moveable Feast.
Modernist artists & writers 1870s–1930svarious French Riviera France
Oligarchs 1990s–currentRussiaLondon [18] United Kingdom
Salarymen currentJapanvariousSee Japanese diaspora
Shanghai French Concession 1849–1943FranceShanghaiChina
Shanghai International Settlement 1863–1945United KingdomShanghaiChinaPreceded by British Concession
Shanghai International Settlement 1863–1945United StatesShanghaiChinaPreceded by American Concession
Tax exiles 1860s(?)–nowvarious Monte Carlo Monaco
Third culture kids currentvariousvariousIncludes 'military brats' and 'diplobrats'.

During the 1930s, Nazi Germany revoked the citizenship of many opponents, such as Albert Einstein, Oskar Maria Graf, Willy Brandt and Thomas Mann, often expatriating entire families. [19] [20]

After World War II, decolonisation accelerated. However, lifestyles which had developed among European colonials continued to some degree in expatriate communities. Remnants of such communities, for example, can still be seen in the form of gated communities staffed by domestic servants. Social clubs which have survived include the Hash House Harriers and the Royal Selangor. Homesick palates are catered for by specialist food shops, and drinkers can still order a gin and tonic, a pink gin, or a Singapore Sling. Although pith helmets are mostly confined to military ceremonies, civilians still wear white dinner jackets or even Red Sea rig on occasion. The use of curry powder has long since spread to the metropole.[ citation needed ]

From the 1950s, scheduled flights on jet airliners further increased the speed of international travel. This enabled a hypermobility which led to the jet set, and eventually to global nomads and the concept of a perpetual traveler.[ citation needed ]

Worldwide distribution of expats

In recent years, terrorist attacks against Westerners have at times curtailed the party lifestyle of some expatriate communities, especially in the Middle East. [21]

The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine, since there is no governmental census. [22] The international market research and consulting company Finaccord estimated the number to be 56.8 million in 2017. [23] That would resemble the population of Tanzania or Italy.

In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.[ citation needed ]

As of 2019, according to the United Nations, the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million, or 3.5 per cent of the world population. [24]

Business expatriates

Long among the complexities of living in foreign countries has been the management of finances, including the payment of taxes; here, a 32-page IRS publication from 1965 for Americans living abroad Publication 54 Tax Guide for US Citizens Living Abroad, 1965.jpg
Long among the complexities of living in foreign countries has been the management of finances, including the payment of taxes; here, a 32-page IRS publication from 1965 for Americans living abroad

Some multinational corporations send employees to foreign countries to work in branch offices or subsidiaries. Expatriate employees allow a parent company to more closely control its foreign subsidiaries. They can also improve global coordination. [25]

A 2007 study found the key drivers for expatriates to pursue international careers were: breadth of responsibilities, nature of the international environment (risk and challenge), high levels of autonomy of international posts, and cultural differences (rethinking old ways). [26]

However, expatriate professionals and independent expatriate hires are often more expensive than local employees. Expatriate salaries are usually augmented with allowances to compensate for a higher cost of living or hardships associated with a foreign posting. Other expenses may need to be paid, such as health care, housing, or fees at an international school. There is also the cost of moving a family and their belongings. Another problem can be government restrictions in the foreign country. [27] [28]

Spouses may have trouble adjusting due to culture shock, loss of their usual social network, interruptions to their own career, and helping children cope with a new school. These are chief reasons given for foreign assignments ending early. [29] However, a spouse can also act as a source of support for an expatriate professional. [30] Families with children help to bridge the language and culture aspect of the host and home country, while the spouse plays a critical role in balancing the families integration into the culture. Some corporations have begun to include spouses earlier when making decisions about a foreign posting, and offer coaching or adjustment training before a family departs.[ citation needed ] According to the 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey Report, 88 per cent of spouses resist a proposed move. The most common reasons for refusing an assignment are family concerns and the spouse's career. [31] [32]

Expatriate failure is a term which has been coined for an employee returning prematurely to their home country, or resigning. About 7% of expatriates return early, but this figure does not include those who perform poorly while on assignment or resign entirely from a company. [33] When asked the cost of a premature expatriate's return, a survey of 57 multinational companies reported an average cost of about US$225,000. [34]

Reasons / motivations for expatriation

People move abroad for many different reasons. [35] The realisation of what makes people move is the first step in the expatriation process. People could be ‘pushed’ away as a reaction to specific socio-economic or political conditions in the home country, or ‘pulled’ towards a destination country because of better work opportunities/conditions. The ‘pull’ can also include personal preferences, such as climate, a better quality of life, or the fact that family/friends are living there. [36]   [37]

For some people, moving abroad is a conscious, thoroughly planned decision, while for others it could be a ‘spur of the moment’, spontaneous decision. This decision, of course, is influenced by the individual’s geographic, socioeconomic and political environment; as well as their personal circumstances. The motivation for moving (or staying) abroad also gets adjusted with the different life changes the person experiences – for example, if they get married, have children, etc. Also, different personalities (or personality types) have diverse reactions to the challenges of adjusting to a host-country culture; and these reactions affect their motivations to continue (or not) living abroad. [38] [39] [40]

In this era of international competition, it is important for companies, as well as for countries, to understand what is that motivates people to move to another country to work. Understanding expatriates’ motivations for international mobility allows organisations to tailor work packages to match expatriates’ expectations in order to attract and/or retain skilled workers from abroad.  

Trends in recent years among business expatriates have included:

The Munich-based research firm InterNations conducts a survey of expat opinions and trends. [55]

Academic research

There has been an increase in scholarly research into the field in recent years. For instance, Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research. [56]

S.K Canhilal and R.G. Shemueli suggest that successful expatriation is driven by a combination of individual, organizational, and context-related factors. [57] Of these factors, the most significant have been outlined as: cross-cultural competences, spousal support, motivational questions, time of assignment, emotional competences, previous international experience, language fluency, social relational skills, cultural differences, and organizational recruitment and selection process. [58]

Literary and screen portrayals


Expatriate milieus have been the setting of many novels and short stories, often written by authors who spent years living abroad. The following is a list of notable works and authors, by approximate date of publication.

19th century: American author Henry James moved to Europe as a young man and many of his novels, such as The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Wings of the Dove (1902), dealt with relationships between the New World and the Old. From the 1890s to 1920s, Polish-born Joseph Conrad wrote a string of English-language novels drawing on his seagoing experiences in farflung colonies, including Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900) and Nostromo (1904).

1900s/1910s: German-American writer Herman George Scheffauer was active from 1900 to 1925. English writer W. Somerset Maugham, a former spy, set many short stories and novels overseas, such as The Moon and Sixpence (1919) in which an English stockbroker flees to Tahiti to become an artist, and The Razor's Edge (1944) in which a traumatised American pilot seeks meaning in France and India. Ford Madox Ford used spa towns in Europe as the setting for his novel The Good Soldier (1915) about an American couple, a British couple, and their infidelities.

1920s: A Passage to India (1924), one of the best-known books by E.M. Forster, is set against the backdrop of the independence movement in India. Ernest Hemingway portrayed American men in peril abroad, beginning with his debut novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926).

1930s: Graham Greene was a keen traveller and another former spy, and from the 1930s to 1980s many of his novels and short stories dealt with Englishmen struggling to cope in exotic foreign places. Tender is the Night (1934), the last complete novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was about a glamorous American couple unravelling in the South of France. George Orwell drew heavily on his own experiences as a colonial policeman for his novel Burmese Days (1934). Evelyn Waugh satirised foreign correspondents in Scoop (1938).

1940s: From the mid-1940s to the 1990s, American-born Paul Bowles set many short stories and novels in his adopted home of Morocco, including The Sheltering Sky (1949). Malcolm Lowry in Under the Volcano (1947) told the tale of an alcoholic British consul in Mexico on the Day of the Dead.

1950s: From the 1950s to the 1990s, American author Patricia Highsmith set many of her psychological thrillers abroad, including The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). James Baldwin's novel Giovanni's Room (1956) was about an American man having an affair in Paris with an Italian bartender. Anthony Burgess worked as a teacher in Malaya and made it the setting of The Malayan Trilogy (1956-1959). The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960) was the best-known work of Lawrence Durrell, who was born in India to British parents and lived overseas for most of his life.

1960s: English writer Paul Scott is best known for The Raj Quartet (1965-1975) dealing with the final years of the British Empire in India. John le Carré made use of overseas settings for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and many of his subsequent novels about British spies.

1970s: In The Year of Living Dangerously (1978), Christopher Koch portrayed the lead-up to a 1965 coup in Indonesia through the eyes of an Australian journalist and a British diplomat. A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1979) by Robert Drewe portrayed an Australian out of his depth while working for the UN in South-East Asia.

1990s: In both Cocaine Nights (1996) and Super-Cannes (2000), J.G. Ballard's English protagonists uncover dark secrets in luxurious gated communities in the South of France.

2000s: Platform (2001) was French author Michel Houellebecq's novel of European sex tourists in Thailand. Prague (2002) was a debut novel by Arthur Phillips which dealt with Americans and Canadians in Hungary towards the end of the Cold War. Shantaram (2003) was a bestselling novel by Gregory David Roberts about an Australian criminal who flees to India.

2010s: American novelist Chris Pavone has set several thrillers overseas since his debut The Expats (2012). Janice Y. K. Lee in The Expatriates (2016) dealt with Americans in Hong Kong. Tom Rachman in his debut novel The Imperfectionists (2010) wrote of journalists working for an English-language newspaper in Rome. [59]


Memoirs of expatriate life can be considered a form of travel literature with an extended stay in the host country. Some of the more notable examples are listed here in order of their publication date, and recount experiences of roughly the same decade unless noted otherwise.

Medieval: In The Travels of Marco Polo (c.1300), Rustichello da Pisa recounted the tales of Italian merchant Marco Polo about journeying the Silk Road to China.

1930s-1960s: In the first half of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), George Orwell described a life of low-paid squalor while working in the kitchens of Parisian restaurants. In The America That I Have Seen (1949), Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb denounced the United States after studying there. In My Family and Other Animals (1956) and its sequels, Gerald Durrell described growing up as the budding naturalist in an eccentric English family on the Greek island of Corfu during the late 1930s. In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969), Laurie Lee told of busking and tramping in his youth across 1930s Spain.

1970s-1990s: In Letters from Hollywood (1986), Michael Moorcock corresponded with a friend about the life of an English writer in Los Angeles. In A Year in Provence (1989), Peter Mayle and his English family adapt to life in Southern France while renovating an old farmhouse. In Notes from a Small Island (1995), American writer Bill Bryson described a farewell tour of Britain.

2000s: In A Year in the Merde (2004) English bachelor Stephen Clarke recounted comic escapades while working in Paris. In Eat, Pray, Love (2006), divorced American Elizabeth Gilbert searched for meaning in Italy, India and Indonesia. In the early chapters of Miracles of Life (2008), J.G. Ballard told of his childhood and early adolescence in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s.


Films about expatriates often deal with issues of culture shock. They include dramas, comedies, thrillers, action/adventure films and romances. Examples, grouped by host country, include:


Reality television has dealt with overseas real estate ( House Hunters International and A Place in the Sun ), wealthy Russians in London ( Meet the Russians ), British expat couples ( No Going Back) and mismanaged restaurants ( Ramsay's Costa del Nightmares ).

The final decades of the British Raj have been portrayed in dramas ( The Jewel in the Crown and Indian Summers ). Diplomats on a foreign posting have been the basis for drama ( Embassy ), documentary ( The Embassy ) and comedy ( Ambassadors ). British writers in Hollywood have been the subject of comedy ( Episodes ). Other settings include British doctors in contemporary India ( The Good Karma Hospital ) and a series of British detectives posted to an idyllic Caribbean island ( Death in Paradise ).

See also

Related Research Articles

International student Foreigner temporarily re-located for the purpose of tertiary study

International students, or foreign students, according to the OECD are "those who received their prior education in another country and are not residents of their current country of study." In 2020, there were over 5.6 million international students, up from 1.6 million in 2000. By 2020, the U.S, U.K., and Canada received around 40% of international students. The United States counted almost 1.1 million. United Kingdom had more than 550.000. There were 503,270 & 463,643 international students in Canada and Australia.

Relocation services, employee relocation, military Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or workforce mobility include a range of internal business processes to transfer employees, their families, and/or entire departments of a business to a new location. Like other types of employee benefits, these processes are usually administered by human resources specialists within a corporation. In the military, these processes are administered by the Transportation Management Office (TMO) and Personal Property Shipping Office (PPSO).


Repatriation is the process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value, or a person—voluntarily or forcibly—to its owner or their place of origin or citizenship. The term may refer to non-human entities, such as converting a foreign currency into the currency of one's own country, as well as to the process of returning military personnel to their place of origin following a war. It also applies to diplomatic envoys, international officials as well as expatriates and migrants in time of international crisis. For refugees, asylum seekers and illegal migrants, repatriation can mean either voluntary return or deportation.

Migrant worker Person who migrates to pursue work

A migrant worker is a person who either migrates within their home country or outside it to pursue work. Migrant workers usually do not have the intention to stay permanently in the country or region in which they work.

Transnationalism is a scholarly research agenda and social phenomenon grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the receding economic and social significance of boundaries among nation states.

Foreign-born people are those born outside of their country of residence. Foreign born are often non-citizens, but many are naturalized citizens of the country in which they live, and others are citizens by descent, typically through a parent.

Australian Canadians

Australian Canadians are Canadian citizens or residents with Australian ancestry. There are three groups of Australian Canadians, including Australian immigrants to Canada, descendants of Australian immigrants to Canada, and Australian expatriates residing in Canada. According to the 2016 Census, there were 42,315 Canadians who claimed full or partial Australian ancestry. Historically, most Australian Canadians lived in the western states of Canada, however in 2016, the most popular cities for Australian immigrants are Vancouver and Toronto. While the number of Australian Canadians is quite low relative to other countries, the number of Australians on working visas in Canada is extremely high.

English-language radio refers to radio stations that broadcast primarily in the English language and are located in countries where English is not an official language or majority language. Often referred to as "English-speaking radio" or "Expat radio" the broadcasts enables expats, vacationers and travelers to listen to radio in their native language while traveling abroad. The idea is that stations broadcast in English to popular holiday destinations such as Pattaya or the French Riviera or places with high expat communities. English language broadcasting also takes the form of military-backed radio such as the American Forces Network. However English-language radio based in foreign countries has to now compete with the introduction of internet radio and satellite technology that has increased listener's access to English-language radio based in "home" counties.

Reverse brain drain is a form of brain drain where human capital moves in reverse from a more developed country to a less developed country that is developing rapidly. These migrants may accumulate savings, also known as remittances, and develop skills overseas that can be used in their home country.

International SOS

International SOS is a health and security services firm, which counts nearly two-thirds of the Fortune Global 500 companies as clients, and takes around 4 million assistance calls every year.

Relocation (personal)

Relocation, also known as moving, or moving house, is the process of one or more individuals leaving one dwelling and settling in another. A move can be to a nearby location within the same neighborhood, a much farther location in a different city, or sometimes a different country. It usually includes packing up all belongings, transferring to the new home, and unpacking, as well as administrative or bureaucratic tasks, such as changing registration data, change of insurance, services, etc.

Existential migration is a term coined by Greg Madison (2006) in Existential Analysis, the journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. Madison's term describes expatriates who supposedly have an "existential" motivation, unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration. ‘Existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.

Global workforce refers to the international labor pool of workers, including those employed by multinational companies and connected through a global system of networking and production, immigrant workers, transient migrant workers, telecommuting workers, those in export-oriented employment, contingent work or other precarious employment. As of 2012, the global labor pool consisted of approximately 3 billion workers, around 200 million unemployed.

The term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment. The term is often associated with people involved in an expatriate assignment but is also used by academia on domestic assignments. Other terms may include expat partner, military dependent, and accompanying spouse.

There are at least 34,000 Britons in Turkey. They consist mainly of British citizens married to Turkish spouses, British Turks who have moved back into the country, students and families of long-term expatriates employed predominately in white-collar industry. There are also a few English retirees and pensioners who choose to live in the country after retirement, currently numbering up to 1,000. Many British firms are active in Turkey; consequently, many British employees working in Turkey are originally stationed by companies and multinational corporations back home, and can be seen serving in capacities such as general managers, marketing consultants and financial directors. They tend to be involved in sales, marketing, technical and human resources departments.

Following the partition of Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, the percent of foreigners in South Korea has risen to 3.4%, or about two million of the total population. North Korea largely remains ethnically homogeneous with a small Chinese expatriate community and a few Japanese people.

Most expatriates in the United Arab Emirates reside in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A number of expatriates settled in the country prior to independence. The UAE is home to over 200 nationalities. Emiratis constitute roughly 20% of the total population, making UAE home to one of the world's highest percentage of expatriates. Indians and Pakistanis form the largest expatriate groups in the country, constituting 28% and 12% of the total population respectively. 461,000 Westerners live in the United Arab Emirates, making up 5.1% of its total population.

The right of expatriates to vote in elections in their country of origin varies depending on the legislation of an expatriate’s country of origin. Some countries grant their expatriate citizens unlimited voting rights, identical to those of citizens living in their home country. Other countries allow expatriate citizens to vote only for a certain number of years after leaving the country, after which they are no longer eligible to vote. Other countries reserve the right vote solely to citizens living in that country, thereby stripping expatriate citizens of their voting rights once they leave their home country.

An international assignment is an overseas task set by a company to an employee. Companies that engage in international assignments are mainly multinational corporations (MNCs). MNCs send employees from the home country to a different country for business operations at overseas offices or subsidiaries. These employees are called expatriates. International assignments can fulfil a number of key organisational functions and are viewed as development opportunity for organisations to build a global and mature workforce. As a result of globalisation and the saturation of domestic markets, international assignments are a strategic tool for organisations to compete successfully on the global stage and achieve specific organisational objectives. These organisation missions are a key way of developing global perspectives. They can encourage diverse inputs into decision and develop shared values within the Headquarters, home country and subsidiaries. International assignments are a component of the training and development activities of international human resource management. Other main activities include human resource management in the global environment, selection, performance management, compensation and repatriation.

Social capital is the product of human interactions and relationships, which occur between individuals and social networks. Therefore, it can be summarized as the shared links, understandings and values that allow individuals and groups to trust each other, and therefore, to work with each other in society.


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