Am I an Expat or Immigrant?

The question of “Am I an Expat or an Immigrant?” is something I ask myself pretty frequently. I feel as if it is a question a lot of people who are in my situation ask themselves. I refer to myself as an expat but I am not here on a temporary work visa, I plan on staying so that would technically make me an immigrant. So exactly where do I fit?

Let’s first look at the definition of both terms:

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an expatriate is “to withdraw oneself from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country” and “to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere; also: to renounce allegiance to one’s native home country.”

Merriam-Webster also defines an immigrant as “a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.”

Since the definitions are so clear, why is there such confusion between the two words & why are the so interchangeable?


All of us who choose to move abroad, I feel, go with the realization that you have no idea how long it will be for. What if you come here with your family on a 2-year work visa that ends up being extended? What if you are like me, applying for a spousal visa that needs to be renewed every 2-3 years, and your extension gets denied? What if you come for a semester abroad and love it and decide to stay? There is the intent of being one title but can quickly change to another.


The word immigrant seems so formal and disconnected from your original land. I think this is why so many people use the word expat even if they are truly an immigrant. If you choose to leave your home country for new experiences then you did not cut ties with where you come from. You might even go back often to see family & friends. Just because you choose to not live there anymore does not mean you have cut it out of your life completely.


I use expat more than immigrant even if by definition I am an immigrant. We plan to stay in Denmark, raise a family & continue our days in this country but life does not always go according to plan. We have no idea what will happen for us in the next weeks, months or years & that is why I think to identify myself as an expat. I do not plan on adding a new citizenship to my name, I am in touch with my home country often and we have no idea where the future will take us. I will call myself an expat or an immigrant or a foreigner depending on the context of the situation because I am all of those. I am someone who left where they came from to live a life somewhere else and I am happy to say I do no matter what word defines it.

Are you living abroad? What do you call yourself?

Let me know in the comments below!

Am I an Expat or an Immigrant?

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