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Expat or Immigrant what is the Difference?

When moving to another country the question might pop up in your mind or in conversations about what you really are, an Expat, like so many Americans say they are, or an immigrant.

In Europe, where I come from, the word immigrant has an unpleasant ring to it. Due to all articles on ‘immigrants moving to Europe” and wanting to walk the golden streets of prosperity preferably without working.
Or as in immigrants who came to Europe in the early ’70s to do the work no other person was willing to do and stuck around for generations.

The word expat has a ring of excitement to it, something exclusive. When you are an expat you likely have a job, move to a country for adventure and exploration, stepping up in your career ladder.

We love to put people in boxes and sometimes we need to fit in a box in order to get a bunch of paperwork done to follow our dream


When I look at the letter of the word and the overall meaning I have to conclude that

  1. an Immigrant is someone that moves to another country with the plan to stay there forever. They leave their homeland behind and want to become a resident in a new country. Now for me, that includes changing nationality as well. Otherwise, it is a half-hearted move. Right?
  2. an Expat is a person that moves to another country with the intention to return home someday. So technically an expat is not a person that applies for the nationality from the country they visit. It is that: a visit, maybe for many years, but a visit. There is a different kind of expats, retirees, workers, students and those that follow an expat worker because of a relationship.
  3. A digital nomad is a different group that does not really fit into these two when it is discussed in the media, yet I want to add it. A digital nomad is someone in between the two mentioned above. The person is not an immigrant for he/she will not stay forever, so is a kind of an expat, yet there is no home to return to. When digital nomadism is done right, you travel forever. Staying short or longer periods of time in one place to work online. As were a regular expat can also work for a company in the country he is visiting.

Having dotted all that down raises the question: What am I, like I said, I do not care much for boxes and yet at the moment, I try desperately to fit in a box for I need some sort of status in Mexico.

  • I am not an expat, for those who require a different (work)visa,
  • and I am not a tourist either, for I want to stay much longer than a tourist is allowed to stay.
  • So I applied for a temporary resident visa. But that makes me an expat again? Doesn’t it?

I have no intention of applying for a Mexican passport and nationality, so technically that makes me an Expat, yet I am not here for work for I can’t work here without an approved work permit, and I work online outside the country, which is allowed. And that makes me a digital nomad again……..

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You simply cannot move abroad without the knowledge of rules set by the Immigration office in the country of your destination

Lucky for us moving to another country the status does not make the entrance requirements. But the other way around. The entrance requirements usually define your status. It is up to you to find out what you need to enter a country and what the best options are the immigration departments offer you, then it is out of your control and up to the Immigration services to approve or disapprove.

In the Philippines, I was always a tourist. That visa was affordable and easy to obtain. Nobody cared that I extended it over and over again, as long as I left the country for at least 24 hours after 3 full years. And many retired people also used the tourist visa, since it was more affordable and easier when it comes to paperwork than the retirement visa.

Would I be living in Spain, within the European Union, then technically, as a Dutch, I would become a European citizen. For I would neither be Spanish nor Dutch and for the paperwork, I would kind of move around in the administration of both countries.

I do understand British people getting worried about their status abroad all through this Brexit process. In which box will they fit? Are they allowed to work without a work permit, can they apply for a tourist visa or Schengen visa?

The moment you decide to move to another country to live there you need to decide what kind of visa you can apply for

Some countries demand older people to buy a retirement visa, and for others that want to start a business, they need an investor’s visa.

The status your visa offers you matters: You are either

  • a tourist,
  • a retiree,
  • a student,
  • an investor
  • or as in my case a temporary resident.

In most countries the moment you have your permanent resident visa you can also apply for a local passport. But in some countries or in some nationalities you have to renounce your own nationality. Not every country allows dual citizenship. And in some other countries on a permanent resident visa, you are even allowed to work locally without applying for a work permit.

Once the paperwork is processed, your status does not matter a lot anymore, unless visa rules change. So you have to stay updated on the changes made in immigration laws. but for the rest, you can call yourself anything you want.

But before you decide to move to a specific country you need to dive into the matter of visa requirements to see if you are allowed to enter the country of your choice and what visa requirements they have.

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Whether you need a visa or not, you need to know the rules for settling down in a country, you might need to register and get a tax number, or health care.

And afterward what your status will be according to that visa and what rules and requirements come with it. As a European citizen, for example, you are free to live anywhere you like within the European Union, but you have to meet certain requirements like registration, healthcare, and tax registration.

If you chose the wrong visa from day 1 you might find yourself limited, or sometimes you chose the right visa but it is too complicated and expensive and you find out you might also do with one of the other visas available.

But in the end, you are just what you are, a pursuer of happiness, looking for utopia, a better life, a retirement spot, a business opportunity, a second chance, love, lesser bills…….an immigrant.


Do you have any questions on Emigration?

READ: Online Advice Emigration


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