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Conversation Starter: Expat or Immigrant?

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Conversation starter for the week...

In your opinion and to your knowledge, what is the difference between being an expat vs being an immigrant in Portugal (or any other country)? .


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I guess it all depends on context and viewpoint.


I'm a Brit now living in Portugal, so in that respect I am an immigrant to this country. What this means, in reality, depends on context and viewpoint.


- From the official PT State point of view, I'm an immigrant and do not have the same rights as PT citizens.


- But, as in the UK when discussing immigration, different people have different agendas. An immigrant can be a “foreigner nicking all our jobs and scrounging off the state” or “a valued and hard-working member of society”. I've only been in PT for about 2 years, but I don't get the feeling that there is any real discussion of immigration or deep feeling about immigrants here – long may that continue.


- When considering demographics and population change/movement, I will always be an immigrant (even if I were to take PT citizenship, I'd still be an immigrant in this context.)


- In the social context, depending on how much I mix/share within the community, I might be considered an “outsider”, but this could be the same even if someone were to move around within their own country – a “townie” moving from London to the countryside, or a southerner moving “up north”. I remember many years ago I moved to rural Anglesey and my next-door neighbour was another English person. On our first meeting, she indicated she was glad I had moved there as we now had a little “enclave”. Needless to say, there wasn't much ongoing chatting over the fence.


Expat – now there's a term filled with different meanings. In popular culture in the UK, expats are historically portrayed as “White men and their wives running the plantations in India or Africa, dining in exclusive clubs”. More recently, the emphasis has switched to groups of retirees living the life in bars and on the beaches of southern Spain (or a touch more middle-class, living in Gîtes in central France).


This can lead to the term expat being seen in a negative context – people in the UK questioning, with more than a touch of jealousy, why expats pensioners should receive their winter fuel allowance, or even receive the state pension at all.


Whether groups of people from one country living in another should refer to themselves as expats again depends on context. Using the term in a general, neutral sense to refer to a group that share a common characteristic (eg say, the angling community; Doctor Who fans) or who want to discuss shared problems (eg people with a particular illness) is, in my book, OK and acts as an easy short-hand. But, if the term is used by a group to set themselves apart from others, then I'd say that is not a good look.

So, context is all.


Sorry – I've banged on at length, obviously a lazy expat sunning himself in Portugal with too much time on his hands...




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I like to refer to myself as an Immigrant as I have been here a while and am here to stay.

This BBC article is interesting

"But what makes one person an expat, and another a foreign worker or migrant? Often the former is used to describe educated, rich professionals working abroad, while those in less privileged positions — for example, a maid in the Gulf states or a construction worker in Asia — are deemed foreign workers or migrant workers."

sums it up for me

Or an unofficial definition: An expat is someone who lives in a country that is full of foreigners, but (s)he never is one. We all feel a bit like that at times.

Actually, I feel more immigrant/expat than I do Portuguese or even English

Like a limbo national state 😀 

'Bloody Foreigners' is a great book


Posts: 91
Joined: 8 months ago

Immigrant about to turn expat here, I think. I migrated from India to the US decades ago, so I'm considered an "Indian-American" since here all non-whites are usually given a qualifier "African-American" or "Asian-American". But I definitely fit the "immigrant" moniker - came to study/work and became a citizen. Now in Portugal, especially while I still work remotely, I'd probably fit the "expat" model, as commonly defined - no roots yet, family in another country/countries, temporary status, but then if we decide to stay permanently, what happens - do we become immigrants (again)? So I guess I'm saying that intention has something to with it - if you plan to stay forever, you're an immigrant but a temporary resident will always be an expat? 

At a more philosophical level, I think we should dispense with this mess altogether - in an era where we're more interconnected than ever, we should stop using 18th/19th century definitions to control people. If we've done that by uniting countries into bigger groups (like the UK), why not extend that wider? Especially as digital workers become more prevalent, remote working should become the standard and borders should become much more permeable. Pulling up the drawbridge doesn't really work anymore...

Funny story - my daughters have German and American citizenship, and we were returning from a trip and my almost-teenager decided to manage her own paperwork - she presented her German passport at the US immigration counter, and the guy asked her why - she said "it gets me into more countries" - he actually looked it up and was shocked that it was true! So, time for a digital "world" passport 😉 


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Posted by: @zoom

At a more philosophical level, I think we should dispense with this mess altogether - in an era where we're more interconnected than ever, we should stop using 18th/19th century definitions to control people.

Spot on!  

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@thomasribatejo Agree! But then the term "expat" itself has all this history and connotations, so it's fair enough to discuss it here. 

Technically expat implies temporarily moving to another country to work (although of course the term "migrant workers" means the same but sounds very different). 

To me, I consider myself to be an immigrant and eventually hope to become a Portuguese citizen. My impression of people who consider themselves "expats" tend to be the people who only choose to spend their time with other foreigners, generally from their home country (which they still refer to as "home"). I'm conscious of sounding a bit snooty about this, but in reality we all find ourselves in situations with other foreigners from time to time, and either feel more or less comfortable with it. For me it is rare enough that I always feel conscious of it and wonder how we are perceived by others...


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Interesting question Astrid and it prompted me to consider how I see myself. I am moving to Portugal with the intent of becoming a citizen of the country so I consider myself an immigrant.

I think of "ex-pat" in the terms of what other's voiced... an informal status; bringing the lifestyle of the former country with them to the new with no intention of obtaining citizenship.


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For me en EXPAT is someone that lives and works in another country than is mother/fatherland temporarily (not permanently) and usually enjoying tax benefits (here in the Netherlands expats pay way less taxes {10% compared to 48% depending your wages} on their dutch income.

An Immigrant however is for me someone that has left his native country for good and wants to stay in his chosen country for good (no matter if the person is retiring of contributing to the new countries economy)


Thats my 0,02€



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  1. @healthy_move_portugal   I worked in NL for years and heavens don't I wish I'd paid only 10% tax!!   The potential expat benefit in NL is the "30% ruling", under which 30% of your salary is exempt from NL tax.  The rest of your salary gets taxed at the full, standard NL tax rates. 
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@jeanne oh ok, you are right. Now that you have mentioned it a bell rings with that 30% rule...wich is still a lot better than the 48% i pay without that rule...although i came from germany.


At the time (back in 2002) a colleague with that rule and exact same job had 1k more after taxes than me.


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