An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person who
resides outside their native country.
The term often refers to a professional or skilled worker who intends to return to their country of origin. However, it may also refer to
artists and other individuals who have chosen to live outside their native country.
'A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country' (Oxford), or
'one that immigrates: such as 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 be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy, with some commentators asserting that the traditional use of the word "expat" has had
An older usage of the word expatriate referred to an
exile. Alternatively, when used as a verbal noun, 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 states: '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'.
The term "expatriate" is sometimes misspelled as "ex-patriot", which author
Anu Garg has characterised as an example of an
Types of expat community
In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of
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:
The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine, since there is no governmental census. Market research company Finaccord estimated the number to be 66.2 million in 2017.
In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2% of the world population, lived outside their home country.
As of 2019, according to the
United Nations, the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million, or 3.5% of the world population.
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.
A 2007 study found the key drivers for expatriates to pursue international
careers were: breadth of responsibilities, nature of the international environment (
risk and challenge), high levels of
autonomy of international posts, and
cultural differences (rethinking old ways).
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. Research suggests that tailoring pre-departure cross-cultural training and its specific relevance positively influence the fulfilment of expectations in expatriates' adjustment. 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. About 7% of expatriates return early, but this figure does not include those who perform poorly while on assignment or resign entirely from a company. When asked the cost of a premature expatriate's return, a survey of 57 multinational companies reported an average cost of about US$225,000.
Reasons and motivations for expatriation
People move abroad for many different reasons. An understanding of what makes people move is the first step in the expatriation process. People could be ‘pushed’ away as a reaction to specific socio-economic or political conditions in the home country, or ‘pulled’ towards a destination country because of better work opportunities/conditions. The ‘pull’ can also include personal preferences, such as climate, a better quality of life, or the fact that family/friends are living there.
For some people, moving abroad is a conscious, thoroughly planned decision, while for others it could be a ‘spur of the moment’, spontaneous decision. This decision, of course, is influenced by the individual’s geographic,
socioeconomic and political environment; as well as their personal circumstances. The motivation for moving (or staying) abroad also gets adjusted with the different life changes the person experiences – for example, if they get married, have children, etc. Also, different personalities (or
personality types) have diverse reactions to the challenges of adjusting to a host-country culture; and these reactions affect their motivations to continue (or not) living abroad.
In this era of international competition, it is important for companies, as well as for countries, to understand what is that motivates people to move to another country to work. Understanding expatriates’ motivations for international mobility allows organisations to tailor work packages to match expatriates’ expectations in order to attract and/or retain skilled workers from abroad.
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. It is common for an expat to cost at least three times more than a comparable local employee.
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. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of international assignments consisted of long-term assignments (greater than one year, typically three years). In 2014, that number fell to just over half.
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.
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.
Mercer reported in 2017 that women made up only 14 per cent of the expatriate workforce globally.
The Munich-based paid expatriate networking platform
InterNations conducts a survey of expat opinions and trends on regular basis.
There has been an increase in scholarly research into the field in recent years. For instance,
Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research.
S.K Canhilal and R.G. Shemueli suggest that successful expatriation is driven by a combination of individual, organizational, and context-related factors. Of these factors, the most significant have been outlined as: cross-cultural competences, spousal support, motivational questions, time of assignment, emotional competences, previous international experience, language fluency, social relational skills, cultural differences, and organizational recruitment and selection process.
Literary and screen portrayals
Expatriate milieus have been the setting of many novels and short stories, often written by authors who spent years living abroad. The following is a list of notable works and authors, by approximate date of publication.
18th century :
Persian Letters (French: Lettres persanes) is a literary work, published in 1721, by
Montesquieu, relating the experiences of two fictional Persian noblemen, Usbek and Rica, who spend several years in France under Louis XIV and the Regency and who correspond with their respective friends staying at home.
Graham Greene was a keen traveller and another former spy, and from the 1930s to 1980s many of his novels and short stories dealt with Englishmen struggling to cope in exotic foreign places. Tender is the Night (1934), the last complete novel by
F. Scott Fitzgerald, was about a glamorous American couple unravelling in the South of France.
George Orwell drew heavily on his own experiences as a colonial policeman for his novel Burmese Days (1934).
Evelyn Waugh satirised foreign correspondents in Scoop (1938).
1970s: In The Year of Living Dangerously (1978),
Christopher Koch portrayed the lead-up to a 1965 coup in Indonesia through the eyes of an Australian journalist and a British diplomat. A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1979) by
Robert Drewe portrayed an Australian out of his depth while working for the UN in South-East Asia.
2010s: American novelist
Chris Pavone has set several thrillers overseas since his debut The Expats (2012).
Janice Y. K. Lee in The Expatriates (2016) dealt with Americans in Hong Kong.
Tom Rachman in his debut novel The Imperfectionists (2010) wrote of journalists working for an English-language newspaper in Rome.
This section needs expansion. You can help by
adding to it. (September 2019)
Memoirs of expatriate life can be considered a form of
travel literature with an extended stay in the host country. Some of the more notable examples are listed here in order of their publication date, and recount experiences of roughly the same decade unless noted otherwise.
abcdeThomas, David (2014). Essentials of International Human Resource Management. London: SAGE. pp. 188–189.
^Thomas, David (2014). Essentials of International Human Resource Management. London: SAGE. pp. 190–193.
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^Andresen, M., Bergdolt, F., & Margenfeld, J. 2012. What distinguishes self-initiated expatriates from assigned expatriates and migrants? A literature-based definition and differentiation of terms. In M. Andresen, A. A. Ariss, M. Walther, & K. Wolff (Eds.), Self-initiated expatriation: Individual, organizational and national perspectives: Routledge.
^Inkson, K., & Myers, B. A. 2003. "The big OE": self-directed travel and career development. Career Development International, 8(4): 170-181.
^Selmer, J., & Lauring, J. 2010. Self-initiated academic expatriates: Inherent demographics and reasons to expatriate.
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