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An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person residing in a country other than their native country. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers, which can be companies, universities, governments, or non-governmental organisations. However, the term 'expatriate' is also used for retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles.
These contrast with definitions of other words with a similar meaning, such as:
- 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford), or
- 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's);
The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can thus be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy, with many asserting that the traditional use of the word has had racist connotations. For example, a British national working in Spain or Portugal is commonly referred to as an 'expatriate', whereas a Spanish or Portuguese national working in Britain is referred to as an 'immigrant', thus indicating Anglocentrism.
An older usage of the word expatriate was to refer to an exile. Alternatively, when used as a verb, 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 says, '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.'
Some neologisms have been coined, including:
- flexpatriate, an employee who often travels internationally for business (see below);
- inpatriate, an employee sent from a foreign subsidiary to work in the country where a business is headquartered;
- rex-pat, a repeat expatriate, often someone who has chosen to return to a foreign country after completing a work assignment;
- sexpat, a sex tourist.
Since antiquity, people have gone to live in foreign countries, whether as diplomats, merchants or missionaries. The numbers of such travellers grew markedly after the 15th century with the dawn of the European colonial period.
Types of expat community
In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of steamship or 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:
|Group||Period||Country of origin||Destination||Host country||Notes|
|Australians and New Zealanders in London||1960s-now||Australia/New Zealand||London||United Kingdom|
|Beat Generation||1950s||United States||Tangier||Morocco|
|Beat Generation||1960s||United States||Paris||France||See Beat Hotel.|
|British retirees||1970s–now||United Kingdom||Costa del Sol||Spain||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British retirees||current||United Kingdom||Dordogne||France||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British Raj||1721–1949||United Kingdom||Princely states||India||Arguably colonists.|
|Celebrities and artists||1800s–now||various||Lake Geneva||Switzerland|
|Film-makers||1910s–now||Europe||Los Angeles||United States||"Hollywood"|
|Lost Generation||1920s–30s||United States||Paris||France||See A Moveable Feast.|
|Modernist artists & writers||1870s–1930s||various||French Riviera||France|
|Salarymen||current||Japan||various||See Japanese diaspora|
|Shanghai French Concession||1849–1943||France||Shanghai||China|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863–1945||United Kingdom||Shanghai||China||Preceded by British Concession|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863–1945||United States||Shanghai||China||Preceded by American Concession.|
|Tax exiles||1860s(?)–now||various||Monte Carlo||Monaco|
|Third culture kids||current||various||various||Includes 'military brats' and 'diplobrats'.|
After World War II, decolonisation accelerated. However, lifestyles which had developed among European colonials continued to some degree in expatriate communities. Remnants of the old British Empire, for example, can still be seen in the form of gated communities staffed by domestic workers. Social clubs which have survived include the Hash House Harriers and the Royal Selangor. Homesick palates are catered for by specialist food shops, and drinkers can still order a gin and tonic, a pink gin, or a Singapore Sling. Although pith helmets are mostly confined to military ceremonies, civilians still wear white dinner jackets or even Red Sea rig on occasion. The use of curry powder has long since spread to the metropole.
From the 1950s, scheduled flights on jet airliners further increased the speed of international travel. This enabled a hypermobility which led to the jet set, and eventually to global nomads and the concept of a perpetual traveler.
Worldwide distribution of expats
In recent years, terrorist attacks against Westerners have at times curtailed the party lifestyle of some expatriate communities, especially in the Middle East.
The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine, since there is no governmental census. The international market research and consulting company Finaccord estimated the number to be 56.8 million in 2017. That would resemble the population of Tanzania or Italy.
In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.
Many 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. 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.
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 short-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.
- Local companies in emerging markets hiring Western managers directly.
- 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.
- Diversity is becoming more of an issue. Consulting firm Mercer reported in 2017 that women made up only 14 per cent of the expatriate workforce globally.
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.
19th century: American author Henry James moved to Europe as a young man and many of his novels, such as The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Wings of the Dove (1902), dealt with relationships between the New World and the Old. From the 1890s to 1920s, Polish-born Joseph Conrad wrote a string of English-language novels drawing on his seagoing experiences in farflung colonies, including Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900) and Nostromo (1904).
1900s/1910s: German-American writer Herman George Scheffauer was active from 1900 to 1925. English writer W. Somerset Maugham, a former spy, set many short stories and novels overseas, such as The Moon and Sixpence (1919) in which an English stockbroker flees to Tahiti to become an artist, and The Razor's Edge (1944) in which a traumatised American pilot seeks meaning in France and India. Ford Madox Ford used spa towns in Europe as the setting for his novel The Good Soldier (1915) about an American couple, a British couple, and their infidelities.
1920s: A Passage to India (1924), one of the best-known books by E.M. Forster, is set against the backdrop of the independence movement in India. Ernest Hemingway portrayed American men in peril abroad, beginning with his debut novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926).
1930s: 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).
1940s: From the mid-1940s to the 1990s, American-born Paul Bowles set many short stories and novels in his adopted home of Morocco, including The Sheltering Sky (1949). Malcolm Lowry in Under the Volcano (1947) told the tale of an alcoholic British consul in Mexico on the Day of the Dead.
1950s: From the 1950s to the 1990s, American author Patricia Highsmith set many of her psychological thrillers abroad, including The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). James Baldwin's novel Giovanni's Room (1956) was about an American man having an affair in Paris with an Italian bartender. Anthony Burgess worked as a teacher in Malaya and made it the setting of The Malayan Trilogy (1956-1959). The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960) was the best-known work of Lawrence Durrell, who was born in India to British parents and lived overseas for most of his life.
1960s: English writer Paul Scott is best-known for The Raj Quartet (1965-1975) dealing with the final years of the British Empire in India. John le Carré made use of overseas settings for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and many of his subsequent novels about British spies.
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.
2000s: Platform (2001) was French author Michel Houellebecq's novel of European sex tourists in Thailand. Prague (2002) was a debut novel by Arthur Phillips which dealt with Americans and Canadians in Hungary towards the end of the Cold War. Shantaram (2003) was a bestselling novel by Gregory David Roberts about an Australian criminal who flees to India.
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.
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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.
1930s-1960s: In the first half of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), George Orwell described a life of low-paid squalor while working in the kitchens of Parisian restaurants. In The America That I Have Seen (1949), Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb denounced the United States after studying there. In My Family and Other Animals (1956) and its sequels, Gerald Durrell described growing up as the budding naturalist in an eccentric English family on the Greek island of Corfu during the late 1930s. In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969), Laurie Lee told of busking and tramping in his youth across 1930s Spain.
1970s-1990s: In Letters from Hollywood (1986), Michael Moorcock corresponded with a friend about the life of an English writer in Los Angeles. In A Year in Provence (1989), Peter Mayle and his English family adapt to life in Southern France while renovating an old farmhouse. In Notes from a Small Island (1995), American writer Bill Bryson described a farewell tour of Britain.
2000s: In A Year in the Merde (2004) English bachelor Stephen Clarke recounted comic escapades while working in Paris. In Eat, Pray, Love (2006), divorced American Elizabeth Gilbert searched for meaning in Italy, India and Indonesia. In the early chapters of Miracles of Life (2008), J.G. Ballard told of his childhood and early adolescence in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s.
Films about expatriates often deal with issues of culture shock. They include dramas, comedies, thrillers, action/adventure films and romances. Examples, grouped by host country, include:
- Austria: The Third Man.
- Belize: The Mosquito Coast.
- Cambodia: City of Ghosts.
- China: The Painted Veil.
- France: An American in Paris, Before Sunrise, Charade, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Good Year, Killing Zoe, Midnight in Paris, The Moderns, Ninotchka, To Catch a Thief.
- Hong Kong: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
- India: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Carry On Up the Khyber, Outsourced, A Passage to India.
- Indonesia: The Year of Living Dangerously.
- Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun.
- Japan: Lost in Translation, Mr. Baseball.
- Morocco: Casablanca, Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky.
- Spain: Barcelona, Sexy Beast, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
- Saudi Arabia: A Hologram for the King.
- Thailand: The Beach, The King and I.
- Uganda: The Last King of Scotland.
- United Kingdom: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Straw Dogs.
- United States: Borat, Coming to America, Crocodile Dundee, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
- Unnamed/various: Before Sunrise and sequels, Eat, Pray, Love; The Ugly American; The Wages of Fear.
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Reality television has dealt with overseas real estate (House Hunters International and A Place in the Sun), wealthy Russians in London (Meet the Russians), British expat couples (No Going Back) and mismanaged restaurants (Ramsay's Costa del Nightmares).
The final decades of the British Raj have been portrayed in dramas (The Jewel in the Crown and Indian Summers). Diplomats on a foreign posting have been the basis for drama (Embassy), documentary (The Embassy) and comedy (Ambassadors). British writers in Hollywood have been the subject of comedy (Episodes).
- Alien (law)
- Asylum seeker
- Domicile (law)
- Economic migrant
- Ethnic enclave
- Existential migration
- Foreign born
- Foreign worker
- Global mobility
- Human capital flight
- International student
- Migrant worker
- Permanent residency
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