What Is An Expat?

It’s a question often asked by readers so, we’ve asked our experts to share their thoughts with you…

Josephine Brierley – IL Bali Correspondent

Josephine BrierleyI remember way before ever contemplating our move to Bali looking up the word ‘expat’. The world of Google explains it simply, “…an expat or expatriate, is a person living outside their native country”. I remember holidaying in Bali and spotting those I thought were expats and envying their life and how relaxed it all seemed. Turns out being an expat is a bit different for us.

For us, we’re not just living in another country, we’re running a business, employing local people and entrusting them with our dream. Our life in Australia was good, but the long days were wearing hard. Still, deciding to relocate to Bali wasn’t an easy decision. Doing so meant moving away from family and a huge circle of friends that had known us for many years. It meant starting again in every way. But we went for it and we’re so glad we did.

Our first year was so busy with friends and family visiting almost every week we never had time to think we were missing out on anything. Our days were exhilarating, filled with visitors and setting up our new life. Fast forward to year two and the flow of people slowed down. It was then we really made an effort to get to know others who lived here and friendships developed. At the same time, friendships we thought would stand the test of time have waned, I guess life continued for everyone not just for us embarking on a total new way of life. From the beginning we soon realised life as an expat was very different to being on holiday in another country.

Whilst everyday feels like a holiday, our business is our life. We don’t really work as such, unless you count 30-minutes of computer work as a job. Our staff are wonderful and we’re very lucky to be able to sit back and just oversee everything. Still, if anything goes wrong we are there.

It’s taken two years to find a house that feels like a home, but we are finally there, it’s as if everything has clicked all of a sudden. For the first time since selling everything and arriving in Bali with four suitcases we are starting to accumulate our own things again.

We’re making time to travel, see parts of Bali we had never visited before and even some of the other islands within Indonesia. Our local friends and our staff include us in their traditions and Hindu culture. We’ve attended weddings and special ceremonies, dressed up in our traditional clothing, not exactly blending in but accepted warmly with open arms by all of the Balinese people.

Our life as expats is exciting and frightening all at the same time. But isn’t that life in general? I mean no one can tell you what the next cards to be dealt are going to be. Our families have been so supportive but I still shed tears each time I say goodbye. For now, our expat life is where we are meant to be. We don’t know when we’ll return to Australia, but I’m sure one day we will. For now Bali is teaching us gratitude and simplicity, an appreciation to live in the moment, lessons that will forever remain in my heart. Expat life was certainly a good choice.

Michael Cullen – IL Thailand Correspondent

Michael CullenOnce we moved to Thailand as retirees, Vivien and I started calling ourselves expats. We also refer to others, no matter which country they have come from, who like us have moved overseas, as expats.

Just to be sure that I have used the term correctly I went to the internet to check the definition. Wikipedia tells me an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is, “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship – whether they are employed in some way or retired.”

That certainly describes us and many of our expat friends here. Retired and now residing in Thailand for a more affordable life.

Mid-2015 was when Vivien and I finally decided to sell-up, pack-up and take off for a ‘new life’. We’d been investigating and researching for nearly a year, before finally ‘pulling the pin’! In our mid to late 50’s, we figured we were still young enough to take the plunge – and if we did not do it now, when would we? Because as they say, you just don’t know what’s around the corner!

We did not have ‘buckets of cash’ stashed away – just our meagre savings, personal pensions and proceeds from the sale of our assets. That meant our ‘new life’ had to come in well below what it would have cost us as retirees back home in Australia. After nearly two years in our new seaside home of Hua Hin, we’ve certainly proved that a very comfortable (varied and fun) life can be had – and well within our set budget.

Thailand is such a fascinating place and we are loving learning about the culture, cuisine and history. Vivien has immersed herself in learning the language and my Thai cooking skills are developing well.

Travel is high on our ’to do’ list and Thailand offers such diversity. Spectacular beach locations, well known to Thais but not on any well-trodden tourist path. Ancient cities to rival Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. National parks of unique beauty and habitat populated with rare and exotic species. And slowly but surely we are exploring each and every one we can. After all, who wants to sit around when there is so much to see and do!

Thailand is also so conveniently located in the middle of South East Asia. And with Bangkok’s two international airports only 193 kilometres away – it’s so easy! We did our first trip to Myanmar last September and will definitely return – so much to explore and discover! Vivien’s brother and his wife spend part of their year in Langkawi, Malaysia so a road trip there has to be on the cards when next they are in residence.

This expat life is tough, but somebody has to do it!

Rachel Devlin – IL Chiang Mai Correspondent

Rachel DevlinAn expat is someone who wants ‘more’…wants ‘different’. Expats love to view the world in awe and wonder. They often live simple but rich lives and are knowledge seekers. Expats are often interested in making a difference to the country that they live in and they enjoy exchanges with the locals of their chosen country.

An expat has an adventurous spirit and has escaped the ‘daily grind’ lifestyle that their old country offered. Interestingly, expats are never stuck in a rut because there are so many beautiful lifestyle options in their chosen country. Expats love the country that they came from dearly and keep in touch with events and news and friends from their original country, yet can view the world from another perspective.

Barbara Diggs – IL France Correspondent

The term “expat” can have different meanings for foreigners in France. For some, it simply means that you live in a country other than your native one. For others, it means you’re living in another country temporarily–perhaps on assignment for work or just because you feel like it at the moment. I tend to use the broader definition of expat–a foreigner who lives abroad–even though I also consider myself an immigrant.

Whatever the label, I feel that we who chose to live in another country have an amazing opportunity to live our lives in the way we want. Even as we adapt to life in our new country, we are excused from certain expectations that society would demand of us if were we native. Yet we can also sidestep those social rules and demands of our home country that never quite suited us. My husband and I love growing our family in this environment–we feel that our children get the best of both worlds!

Valerie Fortney-Schneider – IL Italy Correspondent

Valarie SchneiderMy great-grandparents were considered immigrants when they arrived in America, but my decision to live in their hometown in Italy marks me as an expat. Is there a difference? Not really, though the term ‘expat’ connotates privilege, means and choice.

My husband and I have chosen to live in a country that isn’t that of our natural-born citizenship for many reasons, but mostly because we wanted to; we wanted the experience and immersion of living in another culture, so we’re referred to as expats. Our neighbours just call us residenti in their fair village…and that’s a more beautiful term to our ears!

Keith Hockton – IL Malaysia Correspondent

Keith HocktonBy definition, an expat is someone who lives in any other country other than his or her own. I use the term ‘expat’ when writing about Malaysia for IL, but I don’t think of myself in those terms, although strictly speaking, by definition, as I’m from Australia and live in Penang, they apply to me. So, although I’m not Malaysian, I do think of myself as a local.

I know Penang and Malaysia better than most. I’ve studied it, I went to school here, I’ve written books about Penang and the festivals that take place in Malaysia and I’ve lectured internationally on its history. I feel comfortable here, accepted.

The visa to stay long-term in Malaysia is called “Malaysia My Second Home”, but for me and for a lot of the other expats who live here under that visa, it’s home, no ‘second’ about it. And even though I have an Australian passport and investments in Australia, I have no plans to move back there. Malaysia ticks all my boxes. I’m lucky to be here and couldn’t think of a better place to live.

Jason Holland – IL Roving Latin America Editor

Jason-Holland ExpatThere is a lot of debate around the term ‘expat’. Some people feel it sets you apart from the local culture to call yourself an expat. But I think it’s a useful term. As someone living in a foreign country, I feel that I am, by definition, an expatriate – an expat. How much an expat immerses themself in local culture is up to them.

The experience of living in Costa Rica and now Mexico has changed the lives of me and my family. We’ve had all sorts of adventures, met interesting people, seen natural wonders… all things we would have never have experiences if we had stayed put at home.

The expat life is not for everybody, as there can be frustrations. And some people can’t make the adjustment to a new way of life. But for many becoming an expat can be the path to fulfillment.

Wendy Justice – IL Vietnam Correspondent

Wendy JusticeAn expat is someone who has chosen to live abroad for an extended length of time. A tourist might rush through a country and see all the highlights on their list and getting a tantalising taste of a new place, but with the intention of returning back to the “real world.” An expat may go to that same country and savour the region for as long as they choose, immersing themselves in the culture and lifestyle without any intention of returning to their home country in the near future. Being an expat is a lifestyle choice and goes way beyond what a tourist would experience. It’s a huge difference, which is why tourists and expats often have totally different mindsets.

I feel as if I’ve been on a holiday for the past 12 years, but I’m definitely not a tourist. I sold my house and car and most of my possessions in my home country and have no intention of ever returning there to live. I’ve lingered for weeks in areas that I’ve enjoyed and I’ve stayed for months and even years in a few places that I especially liked. I’m constantly having new and intriguing experiences and my friends these days come from all corners of the globe.

My life as an expat is exciting, stimulating, unpredictable and fun–and it’s been a true opportunity for personal growth, too. I’ve obtained a quality of life as an expat that I find immensely rewarding and I just couldn’t imagine living in the country of my birth again.

Steve LePoidevin – IL Peru Correspondent

Steve LePoidevinFrom the moment I first moved abroad to teach in China, I considered myself an expat. A decade and three countries later, the label continues to define my wife and myself. At this point we have no intention of ever returning to our home countries of Canada or the U.S. But never say never!

Here in Peru, we are living a laid-back existence in the small coastal surfing/fishing town of Huanchaco. The food is great, the people are friendly and the cost of living is very low. The big city of Trujillo with all its modern amenities is only 20 minutes away. It’s the best of both worlds.

If we decide to stay here forever, I would say we had become immigrants. But the more we travel and the more countries we live in, the more I feel like a “citizen of the world”. And I think that is a good thing.

Sharyn Nilsen – IL Roving Correspondent

Sharyn NilsenThere are a lot of different interpretations of what the word ‘expat’ encompasses but personally, I feel the term applies more to those who settle in one place for an extended period rather than just travelling about. By that definition, my husband Tim and I don’t actually fit into the expat category as we’re ‘roving’ much of the time, except when we stop to regroup now and then in Ho Chi Minh City.

But if we’re not expats, what are we? Travellers, explorers, nomads? At the end of the day, we don’t worry too much about labels. Like us, many of the people we’ve met living and travelling overseas, we have simply chosen a different pathway so we can see and experience other countries and cultures on a longer-term basis. We’re fortunate that we have the time to gain a deeper understanding of where we are than those who only spend a few days while on holidays. After almost eight years of slow travel, ticking off our bucket list, we have no plans of heading back to Australia any time soon. But neither are we about to settle down permanently in any one place. So, if that makes us expats, so be it. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

Tricia Pimental – IL Portugal Correspondent

tricia pimenthalI consider myself an expat because I’m someone who has made the decision to permanently (as much as anything can be permanent in life) live in a country not the land of my birth.
I was asked yesterday by a Portuguese couple and Iranian woman if I would ever move back to the U.S. and I said the answer was no. (I was born in New York and lived all around the country, big cities and in the country.) The only exception to that would be if there were a family situation where my presence would be required, important, helpful, whatever.

Barring that, Portugal is the most affordable, prettiest, laidback country with first world infrastructure and great architecture, historic sites, wine, cheese, beaches and people. Nothing better for an overall place to live.

Kirsten Raccuia – IL Southeast Asia Correspondent

Kirsten RaccuiaFor me being an expat means living in another country, not staying on a tourist visa but actually moving to a new country and living there. Living as an expat pushes you, in good ways and very challenging ways, especially in a place like Asia. It is a different world and to be happy here you must adapt. You can’t come here and expect it to look like home, if you do, you’ll be miserable. I love the challenge of living here, what used to freak me out I now laugh at. It also has made me a better person, more accepting-although I was always that way, I’m even more so now.

I can’t imagine going back to the the U.S., where I’m from. Now I feel like the world really is my oyster and one day, I’ll move on to another amazing part of the world…and another…and then another, but there is no need to go “home.” Even that term has changed for me. It is no longer a place, it’s a feeling and for now home is Penang. And after making the first big move, it’s so easy to move again.

Stewart Richmond – IL South of France Correspondent

Stewart RichmondBeing an expat is living the dream.

My wife Lorraine and I decided to retire to France to immerse ourselves in French culture and have ready access to all Europe has to offer.

We love living in a rural community but there are times when things get challenging, dealing with the language, culture and a different bureaucracy. This is where being an expat can be a little tricky.

But, for us, being an expatriate, doesn’t mean being alone. Here in France, and across Europe, are plenty of expat communities and in the town where we settled there are three other Australian families.

There are also lots of other English-speaking people dotted around and through Facebook groups they are easy to find when you get the urge to speak your native tongue.

When we feel it’s time for our European adventure to wind down we’ll be heading back to Australia, we are expatriates, not ex-patriots. No matter how far we roam, we still call Australia home.

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