Defining the difference between expats and immigrants

Defining the difference between expats and immigrants

Defining the difference between expats and immigrants

Stereotyping of foreigners happens whether one likes it or not, but is there a real difference between expats and immigrants over and above their duration of stay?

The - offensive to many – stereotyping of expats as white, middle class and wealthy as against literally every other non-permanent resident of any world country is a benchmark best avoided, but expats do come in different classifications. However, in this modern world, the term ‘immigrant’ tends towards negative perceptions whereas the word ‘expat’ confers a kind of privilege, suggesting a ‘class’ differential, again negative but in a more subtle way. Both immigrants and expatriates have been known to stay permanently in a chosen foreign country, but those in white collar jobs are unlikely to call themselves ‘immigrants’.

Another easily disproved stereotype is that all expats are successful in their jobs and therefore wealthy as a result. Tell that to a British couple who’ve chosen to live in Mediterranean resort or a French village simply because life there is affordable on a small pension and the weather is far better. In addition, many recent reports from expat professionals on extremely high salaries state they’re having a hard time making ends meet due to the ever-increasing costs of international schooling for their children, private healthcare insurance for the entire family and soaring rentals in the most desirable locations.

This next expat demographic is annoying for many reasons including its inaccuracy in this tech age as, nowadays, all expats are definitely not middle-aged or old! China, the Netherlands, Estonia and many other expat startup hubs are crammed with brilliant young tech geniuses not long out of uni and running their own businesses creating tech innovations unimaginable a decade ago. Also not to be forgotten is the fact that younger people nowadays can’t wait to get out of the mess their parents have made of the world and don’t mind where they end up as there’s always teaching English or digital nomadism to fall back on when funds get low. Sure, there are still expat retirement communities all over the world, but they’re now the exception rather than the rule.

Another stereotypical expat description assumes almost all expat families send their kids to international schools. Yes, it’s a favourite with expatriate parents simply because local schools almost always operate in the local language and don’t adhere to Western educational standards. If fees are part of a relocation package, that’s fine, but the majority of expats can’t afford to pay the extortionate costs unless bursaries or scholarships are offered. The final stereotype tells it all, as it’s all about the money expats bring in and which immigrants by definition can’t. This one causes a lot of usually unpleasant issues, and should be dumped as being prejudicial at best and damaging at worst. The most important lesson to learn if you’re heading overseas to work is that generalisations don’t solve anything.

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