June 3, 2009

What is an expatriate?

Honduran and USA flags
Someone asked why I call myself an expatriate (expatriado in Spanish). I guess because so many people that I know across the internet are expatriates, it hadn't occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with that term.

The dictionary definition of expatriate is here, but the basic, easy definition is this: Anyone who is living in a country other than their home country. It can be temporary, like for a job, an assignment, or a mission, or permanent, like for retirement, love (!) or other reasons. Expatriate comes from the Latin word patria (homeland) and also can be a verb. Repatriate means to go back to the homeland.

Spelling lesson #87: Being an expatriate (often shortened to 'expat') has nothing to do with patriotism or love or lack thereof for their home country. I think that misconception may come about because the word is so often misspelled as 'expatriot', which definitely sounds like someone who used to love their country, doesn't it?

You might also be interested in where US expatriates are located. The Association of Americans Resident Overseas has a list of the top 10 countries as well as an interactive map in which you can view a list of the top 10 countries in each continent (based on 1999 estimates). The global list puts Mexico at the top with more than 1 million US expats, Canada is second with 687,700, and the UK is third with 224,000 US residents. State Department estimated that 6.6 million US citizens live in other countries in 2005.

Figures vary, but about 90% of Honduran expatriates live in the USA followed by Canada and Spain in some order.

Another thing that I find very interesting, and maybe a little telling, is that English-speaking persons usually refer to themselves as expatriates while referring to others who have migrated to their old country as immigrants. The words do have a different connotation, don't they?

Coming up: Immigrants vs. Expatriates
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