Short for expatriate, the word expat almost sounds as if it’s used to describe someone who has been banished from their country forever. With its Latin origin, “ex” which means “out of”, and “patria” meaning country or fatherland, it’s understandable that this word could have been used to describe banishment in some far reach of history. Wikipedia the term and you’ll find reference to expatriatism as a civil right, as in the U.S. Expatriate act of 1868 – though it’s alongside phrases and terms like exile, denaturalization, and “the renunciation of allegiance”. As more modernly defined by the Urban Dictionary, an expat is simply: “A person taking up residency in another country. Now most commonly used as term for those working in companies outside of their home country such as these with regional position and their family”.
Why all these mixed signals? Patriot is not the same thing as patriate, but there seems to be negative connotations with the term expatriate, or “ex” anything for that matter. As more and more people make the leap to retire abroad or simply leave their home country in search of greener pastures (that’s us, right here), these definitions seem a little lacking. What do expats really do? One thing that is for sure, whether you’re working with your home company abroad, working with an international company abroad, a retiree in search of a place to settle with cheap living and even cheaper healthcare, or permanent wanderers such as ourselves, you are an expat. There’s also the sad reality of some expats going abroad to indulge in things that are illegal in their home country and loosely enforced elsewhere – but we won’t get into that here. What is for sure, is that the lifestyles led from expat to expat are almost always different.
How Many Expats are There Exactly?
It is undeniable that there are a growing number of expat communities popping up across the globe, even though the exact number is unclear. Some of the only data that’s even close to an accurate number comes from the United Nations Population Division, showing that in 2015 there were over 240 million migrants that can be counted internationally. It’s important to note though, that this is only the number of people that can be counted as migrants, or working outside their home country, so the actual number of expats around the world doing other things are not accurately reflected. The census used to generate this data also placed emphasis on the foreign-born populations in a given country who had gained citizenship, which only counts the child and not the parents. Basically, the number of expats out there is high, but hasn’t accurately been counted.
Does Being an Expat Mean That You Never Return Home?
Expatriatism can mean you’re living abroad either long term or short term, and of course you never have to turn your back on anyone at home altogether. As a matter of fact, if you have strong family ties in your home country like we do, it is extremely important to stay in contact regularly and visit as often as you can. Keeping your personal relationships alive is so important when you’re experiencing things like culture shock or homesickness, and this happens to everyone. Leaving our family and friends was the most difficult part of our decision, and will never cease to be difficult. So if you’re considering going expat, these are things to consider carefully. You can find more information on culture shock and homesickness here, and here, respectively.
On the upside though, your journey can open doors for your family and friends to visit you abroad as well, which can prove to be a damn good time! Luckily for us, Carly’s mom also loves to travel, and came to spend Christmas 2016 with us in Costa Rica for her vacation. Having never backpacked before, or been to such a country as Costa Rica, it was an excellent experience for her. For us, it was a breath of fresh air and a real treat to spend time with her. It was nice to feel just a little closer to home for a couple of weeks. We had a marvelous time, and had so many amazing experiences traveling together. Those eternal experiences and memories would have never occurred if we had stayed put.
What Being an Expat Means to Us
When we decided to leave our Colorado home for good nearly two years ago (at the time this was written we’ve been on the road just five months), we were miserable working depressing jobs that left us feeling unhappy and like we were doomed to work ourselves into bad health to pay the bills for the rest of our lives – all in hopes of retirement someday. We’re sure millions of other people have felt this way, and many still do. Some other factors, such as political ones we will never be discussing on this blog, one outrageous doctor bill, and the need for a good long chunk of vacation time all contributed to us taking the plunge into a new expat lifestyle altogether. Becoming expats was actually a better economical choice for us, as our bills are a quarter of what they were at home and we are now reliably insured for the first time in years. Making the change has also provided us with one hell of an opportunity to quell our wanderlust and see the world while we search for the one place that we can never leave.
Something we keep in mind however, is that being expats does not mean we have run away from our problems, nor does it mean we have expected our leave to magically make our lives problem-free. There are tons of things we still have to do as both travelers and expats. We still have to keep on top of things like culture shock and homesickness, travel visas, daily transport, getting used to different currencies, taxes and finances, typical grocery shopping, getting clean water, etc. The list gets steadily bigger when you are looking for housing – permanent or not. As expats and travelers, daily life can be somewhat of a struggle to get a good handle on too. Really, it is all about what pace you are comfortable with and how you want your days to be. Just like life back home, there are good days, and bad days. Things won’t always go as planned. Some days you will want to get up at 5am and tackle every new adventure you’ve been putting off; other days lazing by the beach all day with cocktails and a good book nearby is the way to go. Expatriatism is never a cure-all for us, but rather a better means to be happy. We feel our lifestyle has also given rise to a greater sense of freedom, and has freed us from a normal, more “conventional” life.
Expat Communities are Everywhere
In the past five months, we have learned that expatriatism equates to a strong sense of community. Though you’re considered an expat in your home country, you are indeed an immigrant in the country you’re living in – at least at first. There are pockets of expats in every country and nearly every city we’ve visited so far, and we’ve only barely tapped the surface. Each group we’ve encountered has overwhelmingly strong bonds as an “underground” community in the place, and are always welcoming to newcomers. Furthermore, these networks of expats show an appreciation and respect for the countries they’ve immigrated to. Many expats, temporary or permanent, are involved in local community affairs and at times have strong relationships with locals. These principles of community, in our opinion, define an expat – rather than someone who just resides outside of their home country.
All in all, there are different lifestyles that come with being an expat, and therefore how you choose to be an one determines your definition of the term – i.e. full time or temporary, humble retiree, employee abroad, or permanent wanderer. Being an expat does not necessarily mean that you have turned your back on your country, it simply means you have chosen to live somewhere else. Still, the connection of an expat lifestyle with community, locality, and the importance of relations at home remain the same, not matter which path you choose. As for us, we’re elated to be out here, exploring this big beautiful world of ours, on the lookout for the perfect places to settle.
Have questions regarding expatriatism? Feel free to contact us, and we will be happy to help!