what is an expat

What is an Expat? and How to Become an Expatriate?

What does an expat mean? 

An expat is the shortened version of the word “expatriate” which is defined as “a person who lives outside their native country” by Oxford Dictionary. Aside from this, “a person who lives in a foreign country“ is its Merriam-Webster definition. 

Global Citizen 

At present, for people in the younger generation, there are two increasingly popular terms that can be used interchangeably with “expat”. They are “global citizen” and “global nomad”.  

Actually, a global citizen (or global nomad) is a type of expat who constantly travels the world and works at the same time by using the laptop and the internet connection.     

“Expat” vs “Immigrant” vs “Migrant” 

In accordance with academic Chris Brewster of UK’s Henley Business School, expats, immigrants and migrants are not logically differentiated in terms of skin color and salary level.  

However, most people in both the general public and education industry perceive expats as people who are highly educated and come from the elite society.  

They usually think of other people who do not fall into this perception as immigrants or migrants which, by definition, are actually people who thinks of going and residing in a foreign country for a long period of time while they are not permitted to.  

They are required to return to their home country when they have accomplished their assignment.   

Malte Zeeck, founder of InterNations, one of the largest expat platforms in the world, clarifies that what makes a person an expat or not relies on the underlying reasons why they decide to relocate to a foreign country in the first place. 

He defines expats as people who choose to live abroad on their own whereas economic migrants (or refugees) have to live abroad because it is economically necessary, not because of their own choice. Also, the difference between these two terms is definitely not how much they get paid and not where they originally come from. 

how to become an expatriate

How to become an expat 

Prior to becoming an expatriate, you need to take into account the following factors: 

Visa Requirements 

If you want to become an expat, that means you need a long term visa or a residence permit for your long stay.  

If your company assigns you to work in a foreign country or you are employed in the country, the company will likely deal with the visa acquisition process for you. 

You are recommended to check your visa requirements on iVisa.com as it has great service and offers affordable prices.   

Alternatively, do visit your government website, the government website of your destination country and your embassy’s website in the country where you want to relocate to. 

Living Expenses 

After you have the visa and residency requirements all set up, you need to be mindful of the cost of living in your destination country. The living expenses in some countries are perhaps lower than your home country, which is a good thing. However, the pay there might be less than what you get in your origin as well.  

Numbeo is one of the most popular platforms you should have a look when it comes to figuring out the living expenses in any given country. It is more accurate than other tools because its data come from residents in those given cities and countries. 

Local Language 

Whether it is necessary to be able to speak the local language to live a hassle-free life in the country depends on which country you wish to become an expatriate in. The reason is some nations are more welcoming to foreigners who do not speak their language than the others. For instance, if it is a European country, English is widely used just about any place you visit. However, in accordance with InterNations, if your destination is Russia, then you probably need to speak Russian well in order to live comfortably there as Russia is not as open as other countries when it comes to welcoming expats who are unable to speak Russian. 

Firmness in Your Decision 

Your friends and family might be skeptical about your decision to relocate to a foreign country as they might find it a hassle to think about the life outside of their norm. Therefore, be firm with your decision and think positively. Believe in yourself that your new lifestyle is going to be happy and lovely! 


Get a hold of the rental cost of accommodation in the area you are going to move to by visiting sites such as Airbnb.com or Booking.com. You will most likely get discounts from these platforms if you opt for a longer term stay.  

how to become an expat

Job Opportunities 

Prior to your relocation, ideally you are advised to get your qualifications in place first including what your work experience is, what skills you have and what opportunities in that specific country are. Actually, you can have an online career and pave your own path these days.  

However, if you choose to seek a traditional job, do get in touch with expats in the country and learn the ins and outs of the employment from them.        


You are advised to figure out whether you will need a car. You need to make up your mind on whether you are going to commute or live near your office. You might probably get lucky and can work from home.  

If you happen to live in a city where there are no nearby and convenient transportation modes such as skytrain or subway or bus, then you might need to consider buying a car. This means you need to pass driving tests, get a driving license and settle all the paperwork for expats. 

Overseas Friendship 

You are recommended to venture out and wander around the city as much as you can. You can become a regular at events, markets, street food, theatres or cafés, restaurants, shops or art galleries. There are always people there to help you answer your questions about things you still are confused with. There are also people who are willing to share their native culture and traditions with you. 

Alternatively, if mingling with locals is not your style, try to reach out to expats who you can meet at meetups and networking events held on the platform InterNations or even expat-related events on Couchsurfing.   

Food Culture 

Venture out and try every local food item your chosen country has to offer! Explore the local markets in your neighborhood. Alternatively, check if you can sign up for a cooking class or check with your neighbors which local street food stand or restaurant they love visiting.  

International Health Insurance 

If you are planning to become an expatriate, moving abroad is a big decision and involves much preparation and decision making. 

What to bring? Where to stay? Schools and childcare? Taxes? and definitely international healthcare. 

One thing you should be mindful of is to make sure your medical coverage while living overseas is taken care of before you leave your native country. 

International health insurance (also known as expat health insurance) is very important for people relocating overseas.  

It is vital to make the right decision on your international health insurance because an illness or accident while living overseas or traveling overseas can damage your personal finance. 

It is sensible to get international medical coverage that will cover you and your family.   

After all, although becoming an expatriate presents some issues, getting to learn and explore new things and meet new people is worth the efforts.