Successful collaboration begins with a shared language, hence the need for a glossary. This joint effort of contributors from several teams ensures, on the one hand, terminological and conceptual coherence across not only our theoretical approaches, but also the qualitative case studies and quantitative research conducted in OPPORTUNITIES. On the other hand, our glossary facilitates communication between the academic side of the project and the fieldwork conducted by NGOs, uniting our teams working from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Senegal.

For more information about the Structure and Objectives of the Glossary, click here...)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary an expatriate is “a person living in a country that is not their own.” The word originates in “mid 18th cent. (as a verb): from medieval Latin expatriat- ‘gone out from one’s country’, from the verb expatriare, from ex- ‘out’ + patria ‘native country.’’’ As a verb expatriate means (1) “to drive (a person) away from (his) native country” or (2) “to withdraw from one’s native country” (see the first two definitions provided in the Oxford English Dictionary). It is the second definition that informs our understanding of expatriate in modern migration studies, i.e. someone who has left his or her country or someone who lives in a country that is not his or her place of birth. In this sense all expatriates are emigrants, but emigration in this context is associated with notions of ‘life style’ migration or ‘privileged migration.’ Expatriation, then, refers to voluntary mobility and migration of the well-off and highly skilled rather than mobility and migration of poor and low skilled workers. Narratives on/of migration serve to illustrate the difference between the terms migrant and expatriate. While migrant is the general term for someone who moves his or her usual place of residence, an expatriate, or expat for short, is a specific type of migrant who has moved from his or her country of birth or nationality usually for professional or educational reasons. The term expat is also used to refer the large number of retired people (and their dependents) of high income countries who live outside their country of birth. The privileged position of expats is starkly demonstrated in countries like Singapore or rich Arab oil exporting states which rely heavily on highly skilled as well as low-skilled immigrant labor. A similar privileged attribution of the term expat is granted to highly skilled migrants in some European countries like the Netherlands. European, American, and other ‘white’ migrants in Africa, Latin America, and Asia – basically all those coming from the global ‘North’ – are often referred to as expats to distinguish them from other poorer and low-skilled migrants coming from the global ‘South.’

⇢ see also: Highly skilled migrantMigrantMigrationMigration and identityNarratives on migration

References and further reading:

BBC. 2016. The Difference between an Expat and an Immigrant? Semantics. BBC. URL:,their%20stay%2C%E2%80%9D%20he%20says.

Green, Nancy L. 2009. “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept.” In American Historical Review. 114.2: 307–328.

Kunz, Sarah. 2019. Expatriate or Migrant? The Racialised Politics of Migration Categories and the ‘Space inbetween. Discover Society. URL:

Kunz, Sarah. 2020. “Expatriate, Migrant? The Social Life of Migration Categories and the Polyvalent Mobility of Race.” In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46.11: 2145–2162.

Nowek, Adam. 2020. The Difference between Expats and Immigrants. Expatica. URL:

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