What Is An Expat?

An expariot has a special status abroad. He or she lives may live there permanently and has more or less resigned from a former life back home. There can be many reasons why someone makes the big move to leave one’s homeland: a broken heart, a sense of adventure, boredom—who knows! The point is that they have elected to embrace another culture in another place.

Gertrude Stein was an expat in Paris, Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, Henry James in England, and Bobby Fischer in Ireland. Some of these famous people died in their borrowed locales. Others returned better and wiser for having had the experience.  How does one decide to adopt another country or even take on a new citizenship? It is like the call of the wild. Something about a foreign realm beacons. It could be the atmosphere of “otherness” that makes life more appealing. It could be the people, the sites, and the sounds. But this all sounds a bit romantic. Sometimes it is to get a better job or live well on a lower income as you can do in Costa Rica or Thailand. It could be for the favorable tax treatment of income. Whatever the cause of the new status, there is some benefit perceived for relocation.

An expatriot loves being in the know in their new home. It feels good to welcome visitors and show them around. It feels special to speak another language and partake of a different cuisine. Even if an American is working in a US-based subsidiaries, life outside its walls is unique and colorful. A tourist is often at sea while traveling and needs guidance and instruction. The culture is alien, but intriguing. He expat, by contrast, fits in and feels comfortable with other mores and other lore.

Traditional expatriation has taken a bit of a different turn of late. It is practical and expedient for companies to send experienced people abroad to manage local labor.  Their job could entail recruitment, operations supervision, and export finance. Americans in such situations may stay only a few years at best, and since they did not relocate by choice (as it was not self-initiated), they may shun local customs and practices, keeping their own by preference.

Millions of people, in effect, live outside their home country as the opportunities are knocking loudly. The decision to be an expat is economic. Dubai boasts of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Data shows foreigners dominate the population. It is similar in Singapore where 40% of the inhabitants of urban centers come from other countries. Thus, an American, for example, could find an enclaves of people from “back home” most anywhere. It helps adjustment and acceptance. Only the bold can step into the shoes of a foreign worker and feel right at home. Learning the correct behavior and attitude toward work of the host culture can be challenging. There may be vast differences in modes of communication. Normally assimilation proceeds at a matter of course, but it is always relative, and some real effort at adaptation is required.