Immigrant and expatriate: what is the difference?

Sushree Behera

In the modern world, a lot of migration is happening for various purposes. People are not blindly sticking to their homelands and are eager to grab any better opportunity, irrespective of place. 

Generally, many people travel abroad searching for jobs, shelter, and studies. Knowing about any part of the world has been easier due to technological assistance, and hence, people are trying to explore and settle in better places for an easy life. 

Both immigrants and expatriates can be taken as prominent examples of the above. Nowadays, it is common for the natives to have foreigners in their respective countries. Let’s learn more about immigrants and expatriates. 

Immigrant: what does it mean? 

In general terms, an immigrant is a person who travels to another country beyond the native boundaries to live there permanently. News about immigrants often flashes on the channels, and we usually see a negative image of immigrants. However, there’s more to it. 

Immigrants are pictured as infiltrators by many news channels and newspapers. But in reality, immigrants do not enter a country with doubtful thoughts and negative intentions. Usually, immigrants see better opportunities and peace in other countries and travel with hope. 

They travel in search of better colleges, companies, or trades. Immigrants apply for visas and complete the legal formalities before settling in another country. The formalities and travel expenditures drain a lot of resources from a person. 

The ones who can afford it move to another country without any hesitation and live a confident life without any fear. However, there’s another case too. Some people have no money or acquaintances to assist them, so they settle illegally in foreign countries. These are the people who are referred to as illegal immigrants. 

According to the data collected by 5th April 2023, almost 45 million immigrants are living in the United States of America. Almost 15 percent of America’s population are immigrants from various countries. 

Following America are Saudi Arabia and Germany. Many CEOs in countries like America, England, and Germany are immigrants from birth to a different land.  

Expatriate: what does it mean?

Like immigrants, expatriates are also the people who travel to foreign lands carrying a purpose or motive. However, expatriates do not intend to stay in the foreign lands permanently. Expatriates travel from one country to another without being committed to one of them. 

In general, expatriates are people who live outside of their original nation, but they keep on traveling from one nation to another without any intention of settling anywhere permanently. The purpose of an expatriate is taken to be less serious. 

Expatriates often live in foreign lands for a temporary tenure and usually for work reasons. As soon as their work ends, they move out. For example, a certain expatriate can be a citizen of the United States of America but is seen to be working in a US-based firm in Canada. 

Expatriate as a word originates from the Latin words “ex,” which means “outside of,” and “Patria,” which means “someone’s country.” The word itself is a visual representation of its meaning.

According to the data collected in 2020, India has the highest expatriate rate, with more than 18 million people living outside of the homeland. 

Read more: The 7 countries with the fewest immigrants 

Key differences between immigrant and expatriate

Though immigrants and expatriates sound the same, they have a few major differences. Immigrants and expatriates have their differences based on the period of stay, motives, etc. Let’s discuss the difference between immigrants and expatriates one by one. 

Period of stay

Immigrants move to a different country to settle permanently and serve that country for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, expatriates move to different countries without settling in a particular country permanently. Briefly, expatriates live outside their home country for a transient period, whereas immigrants settle permanently in a foreign land. 


Immigrants do not fluctuate and commit to one foreign country for their education, job, or any other opportunity. However, expatriates operate in various countries for temporary work and projects. They also keep traveling for entertainment, aesthetic, and adventurous purposes. The intention of an expatriate is taken to be less serious than an immigrant’s. 

Language and culture

Immigrants usually settle abroad and make a family there. Therefore, the entire family gradually adopts the local language and culture. On the other hand, the expatriates are exposed to a multilingual dimension. The family of an expatriate is more likely to stick to their origin culture. 

These were the major differences between immigrants and expatriates. Their role, purpose, period of stay, and intentions keep them apart from merging. However, a thing to remember is that both immigrants and expatriates are not always liked at first by the natives of where they try to live. 

The natives of a place do not welcome the immigrants and expatriates wholeheartedly. With time and transparency in intentions, they make a place in the hearts of the local population. 

Read more: The 10 countries where it is most difficult to obtain citizenship

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