Are you an immigrant or an expatriate?

September 29, 2015
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There seems to be a lot of misinformation on the difference between an expatriate and an immigrant, many people concluding that the difference is about race, and that simply isn’t the case.

People argue Americans living in Mexico, or anywhere overseas, are always considered expats, while foreigners in the U.S.A are called ‘immigrants’ to distinguish a lower class of person.

Expatriates can be from any country, race, or skin color. An expatriate (expat) is a person who goes to a foreign country to live temporarily or permanently however has no intention of becoming a citizen of the new country. Expats also overwhelmingly are retirees and not those seeking to work in a foreign country; however that is changing in a global economy where foreigners relocate with their companies.

Immigrants can also be from any country, race, or skin color. I am an American living in Mexico, however by definition I am an immigrant because my intention is to obtain my Mexican citizenship (2 more years), establish roots, and continue working here without any plans to return to the U.S. as a citizen. That is the meaning of an immigrant, someone seeking to change their homeland vs. just living in a foreign country.

Of course we are all victims of generalizations. Because most foreigners in Mexico come here to retire and do not apply for citizenship they are generalized as expats, even though some of us are immigrants. The same concept holds true for Mexicans, or any other foreigners, who move to the United States. Most foreigners in the U.S. have the intentions of becoming citizens and establish roots; therefore they are all generalized as immigrants, even though there are some expat foreigners also in the U.S. mix.

I recently read a comment on a news story where someone said they were not going to call Americans in Mexico expats, because Americans call Mexicans immigrants in the U.S.A. It’s important to note that misusing a word simply because everyone else does, does not change the meaning and by doing so you are just not using the English language properly.

Please, call me an immigrant in Mexico. I don’t want to be called an expat. However, I also do not want expats to be called immigrants, because they are not. The choice to become a citizen of another country is a personal choice based on a deep love and respect for your new country, that kind of deep love and respect deserves to be honored with a unique name.



That is not to say people who choose to live in Mexico but not become citizens have less love for the country, but it is like a marriage. You don’t need to be married to show you love someone, and marriage does not prove a stronger love, but it is just a different commitment that deserves its own identity.  Not being married and living together is known as domestic partners to establish the difference from marriage. Immigrant and Expatriate also have a distinction that needs to be honored, on both sides of the border.

Yes, there are expatriate Mexicans living in the United States, and expatriates should be identified separately from immigrants. Foreigners living in the U.S. are overwhelmingly classified as immigrants because most foreigners enter that country with the purpose of working, starting a new life, and the dream of becoming an American legally through citizenship. That just isn’t the same dreams of the majority of foreigners who come to Mexico, even though we do exist.

So now, next time you tell someone you are an expatriate you know if you are using the word properly. Expatriates and immigrants are not the same thing, they are about legal status, and the intent for living overseas, and they are not defined by nationality or race.

Immigrant – A foreigner living in another country with the intent to change their citizenship, or have already changed their citizenship.

Expatriate – A foreigner living in another country without the intent or desire to change their citizenship.

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These are the opinions of the writer and may not reflect the opinions of Vallarta Daily News or its partners.

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