An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than their native country. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers, who can be companies, universities, governments, or non-governmental organisations. Effectively migrant workers, they usually earn more than they would at home, and more than local employees. However, the term 'expatriate' is also used for retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles.
The word expatriate comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("native country, fatherland"). Dictionary definitions for the current meaning of the word include:
- 'A person who lives outside their native country' (Oxford), or
- 'living in a foreign land' (Webster's).
These contrast with definitions of other words with a similar meaning, such as:
- 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford), or
- 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's);
- 'A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country' (Oxford), or
- 'one that immigrates: such as a: a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence (Webster's).
The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can thus be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy. For example, a British national working in Spain or Portugal is commonly referred to as an 'expatriate', whereas a Spanish or Portuguese national working in Britain is referred to as an 'immigrant', thus indicating Anglocentrism.
An older usage of the word expatriate was to refer to an exile. Alternatively, when used as a verb, expatriation can mean the act of someone renouncing allegiance to their native country, as in the preamble to the United States Expatriation Act of 1868 which says, 'the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'
Some neologisms have been coined, including:
- flexpatriate, an employee who often travels internationally for business (see below);
- inpatriate, an employee sent from a foreign subsidiary to work in the country where a business is headquartered;
- rex-pat, a repeat expatriate, often someone who has chosen to return to a foreign country after completing a work assignment;
- sexpat, a sex tourist.
Since antiquity, people have gone to live in foreign countries, whether as diplomats, merchants or missionaries. The numbers of such travellers grew markedly after the 15th century with the dawn of the European colonial period.
In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of steamship or train. People could more readily choose to live for several years in a foreign country, or be sent there by employers. The table below aims to show significant examples of expatriate communities which have developed since that time:
During the 1930s, Nazi Germany revoked the citizenship of many opponents, such as Albert Einstein, Oskar Maria Graf, Willy Brandt and Thomas Mann, often expatriating entire families.
After World War II, decolonisation accelerated. However, lifestyles which had developed among European colonials continued to some degree in expatriate communities. Remnants of the old British Empire, for example, can still be seen in the form of gated communities staffed by domestic workers. Social clubs which have survived include the Hash House Harriers and the Royal Selangor. Homesick palates are catered for by specialist food shops, and drinkers can still order a gin and tonic, a pink gin, or a Singapore Sling. Although pith helmets are mostly confined to military ceremonies, civilians still wear white dinner jackets or even Red Sea rig on occasion. The use of curry powder has long since spread to the metropole.
From the 1950s, scheduled flights on jet airliners further increased the speed of international travel. This enabled a hypermobility which led to the jet set, and eventually to global nomads and the concept of a perpetual traveler.
Worldwide distribution of expats
In recent years, terrorist attacks against Westerners have at times curtailed the party lifestyle of some expatriate communities, especially in the Middle East.
The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine, since there is no governmental census. The international market research and consulting company Finaccord estimated the number to be 56.8 million in 2017. That would resemble the population of Tanzania or Italy.
In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.
Many multinational corporations send employees to foreign countries to work in branch offices or subsidiaries. Expatriate employees allow a parent company to more closely control its foreign subsidiaries. They can also improve global coordination.
However, expatriate professionals and independent expatriate hires are often more expensive than local employees. Expatriate salaries are usually augmented with allowances to compensate for a higher cost of living or hardships associated with a foreign posting. Other expenses may need to be paid, such as health care, housing, or fees at an international school. There is also the cost of moving a family and their belongings. Another problem can be government restrictions in the foreign country.
Spouses may have trouble adjusting due to culture shock, loss of their usual social network, interruptions to their own career, and helping children cope with a new school. These are chief reasons given for foreign assignments ending early. However, a spouse can also act as a source of support for an expatriate professional. Families with children help to bridge the language and culture aspect of the host and home country, while the spouse plays a critical role in balancing the families integration into the culture. Some corporations have begun to include spouses earlier when making decisions about a foreign posting, and offer coaching or adjustment training before a family departs. According to the 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey Report, 88 per cent of spouses resist a proposed move. The most common reasons for refusing an assignment are family concerns and the spouse's career.
Expatriate failure is a term which has been coined for an employee returning prematurely to their home country, or resigning. One study found that the expatriate failure rate is put at 20 to 40 per cent by 69 per cent of executives with multinational corporations.
Trends in recent years among business expatriates have included:
- Reluctance by employees to accept foreign assignments, due to spouses also having a career.
- Reluctance by multinational corporations to sponsor overseas assignments, due to increased sensitivity both to costs and to local cultures.
- Short-term assignments becoming more common. These are assignments of several months to a year which rarely require the expatriate family to move. They can include specific projects, technology transfer, or problem-solving tasks.
- Self-initiated expatriation, where individuals themselves arrange a contract to work overseas, rather than being sent by a parent company to a subsidiary. An 'SIE' typically does not require as big a compensation package as does a traditional business expatriate. Also, spouses of SIEs are less reluctant to interrupt their own careers, at a time when dual-career issues are arguably shrinking the pool of willing expatriates.
- Local companies in emerging markets hiring Western managers directly.
- Commuter assignments which involve employees living in one country but travelling to another for work. This usually occurs on a weekly or biweekly rotation, with weekends spent at home.
- Flexpatriates, international business travellers who take a plethora of short trips to locations around the globe for negotiations, meetings, training and conferences. These assignments are usually of several weeks duration each. Their irregular nature can cause stress within a family.
- Increased scholarship and research. For instance, Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research.
Literary and screen portrayals
Expatriate milieus are the setting of many novels and short stories, including works by:
Memoirs of expatriate life include those by authors such as:
Films have also been made about the subject, often dealing with issues of culture shock experienced by expatriates. Examples, grouped by host country, include:
- Austria: The Third Man.
- Cambodia: City of Ghosts.
- China: The Painted Veil.
- France: An American in Paris, Before Sunrise, Charade, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Good Year, Killing Zoe, Midnight in Paris, The Moderns, Ninotchka, To Catch a Thief.
- Hong Kong: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
- India: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Carry On Up the Khyber, Outsourced, A Passage to India.
- Indonesia: The Year of Living Dangerously.
- Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun.
- Japan: Lost in Translation, Mr. Baseball.
- Morocco: Casablanca, Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky.
- Spain: Barcelona, Sexy Beast, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
- Saudi Arabia: A Hologram for the King.
- Thailand: The Beach, The King and I.
- Uganda: The Last King of Scotland.
- United Kingdom: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Straw Dogs.
- United States: Borat, Coming to America, Crocodile Dundee, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
- Unnamed/various: Before Sunrise and sequels, Eat, Pray, Love; The Ugly American; The Wages of Fear.
Television programmes made about expatriate life include comedies, dramas, documentaries and reality series, such as:
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