It seems like we hear the term immigrant quite a bit more than we hear the term expat. But why? What are the similarities and differences, if any? In a global, social, cultural, and professional context, these words seem to have their unique meanings and connotations. In an increasingly borderless world where globalization literally presents a world of opportunities, just how important are these terms to everyday discussions? Well, in true Fluency Corp fashion, let’s take a look at both sides of the coin.

What is the Difference Between Expat and Immigrant?

The difference between the terms expat and immigrant is not always easy to define, nor are they always distinctive. Some may even use these terms interchangeably. Despite the bit of grey area, there is a difference between the two.

An expatriate, commonly referred to as an expat, is typically defined as a person who lives outside their native country.

An immigrant, on the other hand, is defined as a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

The key difference between the two boils down to their intentions in residing within a foreign country and possibly the length of their stay in that foreign country. An immigrant intends to stay indefinitely, while an expat has no clear timeline as to how long their stay will be. Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

It’s surprising that the definitions of these two words just don’t seem to incorporate its accompanying preconceived notions. In fact, according to their text-book definitions, the difference may appear to be trivial, in comparison to the reality of the use and misuse of these terms.

Which of these Words are Offensive?

By true definition, neither the word immigrant or expat is offensive. Somewhere along the way, however, society has developed its interpretation of the word, linking its contrast to social, economic and educational status combined with preconceptions of classism.

On the flip side, the term expat is associated with privilege and is considered an ideal reflection of the status quo, which is supported by the belief that the decision to live in a foreign country is a lifestyle choice, rather than an attempt in escaping hardship or oppression.

The debate between the two terms has been a long-standing one, but one thing is for sure: depending on who you’re talking to they can both be subjected to their fair share of backlash and individual experiences.

Humor me won’t you?

Take a moment, open another browser and Google the images associated with immigrants – I’ll wait while you do that.

Now, please do the same for expats.

See the difference?

However, these images don’t just exist online, they also exist in our thoughts and in the back of our minds. It appears that we have somehow been wired to accept these innuendos as simply what is.

Common Myths About Immigrants and Expats

Both immigrants and expats experience common stereotypes and misconceptions on how they integrate within a new country. As a result, many of their interactions with locals are impacted by these impressions, which certainly don’t make it any easier.

Here are 5 misconceptions of Immigrants:


  1. Take jobs from locals
  2. Abuse government/health assistant programs
  3. Are low-income earners
  4. Put a strain on the country’s economy

While the perceptions may differ, expats are no strangers to common misconceptions about their lifestyles and their attitudes towards integrating into society.

Here are 5 misconceptions of Expats.


  1. Live a privileged life
  2. Are oblivious to the local economy, politics, and struggles of residents
  3. Have no interest in blending in and socializing with locals
  4. Are given preferential treatment
  5. Frown upon local customs, traditions, and overall culture

How Do Immigrants and Expats Impact Global Mobility?

It cannot go without mentioning that both immigrants and expats play a direct contribution to the growth and development of varying industries in foreign countries, which in turn have a direct impact on the country’s economy.

With global mobility in motion, families, professionals and organizations are moving from one country to another. At Fluency Corp, our objective is always to make that process as seamless as possible. Global mobility is at the forefront of what we do, and helping to foster a smooth transition into any part of the world is our ultimate goal. Yet we also are involved in many language programs for immigrants as well, as clients like Amazon and Google often provide group language training on the job for workers whose second language is English. Kudos to them.

With a wealth of opportunities awaiting in terms of jobs in English-speaking countries (and many other countries), the last thing both individuals and organizations want to feel is limited and apprehensive as to whom they can hire. As a result of the challenges associated with assimilating, many companies require assimilation coaches and/or language classes for these groups.

The term expat and immigrant are both keywords in our industry of corporate language training. Our daily interactions are filled with dialogue from people all over the world who are either moving to a new country or are adjusting to life in a foreign country. As a result, we can share in the first-hand experiences of expats.

One negative connotation of expats that we often hear is in their limited desire to integrate and learn the culture of their newfound home (despite how temporary it may be). Learning one of the greatest aspects of a culture (its language) is a true sign of homage. Despite whichever classification you identify with i.e. immigrant or expat, giving yourself the ability to leverage your communication skills to accept new opportunities can only prove beneficial whether personally or professionally.

Fluency Corp has the pleasure of working with some of the top global companies worldwide who recognize that helping employees assimilate is one of the biggest advantages in overcoming global mobility. When considering the potential risks of an employee’s inability to assimilate, organizations are taking increased accountability. Having a direct impact on successfully preparing their employees to fulfill their assignments, leaves the question of value regarding language learning rhetorical.

What’s the Takeaway Concerning the Definition of Expats and Immigrants?

The debate on what it means to be an expat versus an immigrant will continue to be an ongoing one. The importance is ensuring that as individuals, professionals, organizations, and members of society we play a part in being cognizant of the shared challenges they have in moving to another country. Whether the decision to move to a foreign country is a permanent one or an indefinite one, we can wholeheartedly agree, it’s not an easy one. With this in mind, the next time we use the term expat or immigrant, we must play our part in being vigilant in its use.

Interested in learning more? Then don’t hesitate to contact us for further consultation, feel free to contact us at or (800) 401-3159.