Types of Expatriates in 2023

What are Expatriates and What are the Reasons for Expatriation? Only 16% Look For a Better Life. What about The Rest?

What Is the Definition of an Expatriate?

An expatriate is someone who has moved from their native country to live in another country. The term is often used in the business world to refer to workers who have been sent by their employer (usually a large company or government) to another country for an extended period of time.

The word expatriate comes from the Latin word “ex” and the Greek word “patria,” both of which mean “out of one’s native land.”

Traditionally, an expatriate is considered to be someone who stays abroad for at least three months, although this definition is flexible. While it is possible to be an expatriate without being a diplomat, most expatriates work in foreign countries on behalf of their native country. Expats are not a homogenous group, and there are at least 6 very distinct types of expatriates (more about it in the next paragraphs).

Moving Out, Working Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity Cover
This is the first chapter from the book Moving Out, Working Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity

What are the reasons for expatriation?

There are plenty of questions to answer when you are moving out. Instead of asking which one of the types of expatriates we are, our doubts are about more trivial things, like:

Expatriate man. Understanding the reason people move abroad helps to answer what does expatriation mean.
Understanding the reason people move abroad helps to answer what does expatriation mean.

● Will my money, or salary, be enough?

● Where will I live?

● Can I speak their language, or at least learn it without a headache?

● What will I do with my belongings? Should I sell or ship it?

● What about the bureaucracy or the visa procedures?

● What should I do in case of getting sick or if i need emergency care?

I had been in these situations several times in my life. In another article, I wrote about some of the troubles that expatriates experience. But here you will learn how to understand what you are, so you can look for the correct answers. This is the very first step for anyone moving out from home

After you learn to identify where you are among the types of expatriates, it may shock you to know that people move abroad without thinking about it! It may be the reason so many of them come back frustrated.

Periodically the network InterNations promotes The Expat Insider, one of the biggest worldwide surveys about immigration and emigration. They made a convenient division of the expats into 6 types.

Reasons for expatriation: The 6 types of expatriates.

Photo of an expat in a suit. An expatriate is someone who has moved out of the country for a few reasons, and for each reason, there is a different type. Which one is yours?
An expatriate is someone who has moved out of the country for a few reasons, and for each reason, there is a different type. Which one is yours?

1. The Optimizer: Representing 16% of the total, they moved from their home country to abroad for a better quality of life, cost of living, political, religious, or safety reasons. The majority of them are men (56%) and are in a relationship (66%).

2. The Explorer: They make 12% of the total, and moved because of the appeal of living abroad, or because they were looking for new adventures and challenges. Their numbers are quite balanced between men and women, and just a small minority have children.

3. The Foreign Assignee: Making 10% of the expats, they went abroad by request of their existing employer after a career advancement or job assignment, and the large majority of this type of business expatriate are men in a relationship.

4. The Go-Getter: Representing 21% of the respondents, they moved out to start their business, to find a job opportunity, or were recruited locally. Common to see in places like the United States. The majority are well-educated men in a relationship.

5. The Travelling Spouse: This 8% of the whole expat community are the ones moved to follow their partners to a new host country. If most of the types until now are male-dominated, in this one, women are an absolute majority: 86%.

6. The Romantic: The last category represents 12% of the total. They moved to the country of their partners. Most are women in a relationship, but there are a significant number of men in this category (me included).

One interesting thing here is that the categories are not definitive. There are plenty of cases where Foreign Assignees become Go-Getters when they spot an opportunity and change from employees to employers. The Romantic also often is part of another category besides their current one.

When I moved to Chile, I was a Foreign Assignee, the same as when I moved to Qatar. My life in Poland started as a Romantic, but almost after my arrival, I also turned into a Go-Getter by starting my business. Henceforth, categories and types of expatriates should not limit or make you think you will always belong to only one of them. Eventually, expatriates will move from one to the other.

Conclusion: Reasons for expatriation and The 6 types of expatriates.

The 6 types of expatriates are:

  • The Optimizer (16% of the total)
  • The Explorer (12% of the total)
  • The Foreign Assignee (10% of the total)
  • The Go-Getter (21% of the total)
  • The Travelling Spouse (8% of the total)
  • The Romantic (12% of the total)

Have in mind that each of those types of expatriates has its own goals and dreams. Each of them have also their advantages and disadvantages. A Travelling Spouse or the Romantic may not feel as alone as an Explorer, while the Foreign Assignee, with the guaranteed income source from his job, will take less risk. 

There is also a type not represented above in any category: individuals moving away to evade their families and domestic problems. My best guess for their absence is that they are short-lived. When you move away to escape from your private problems, you will not solve them at all. You are just making it even more difficult to solve them by distance when it gets unbearable.

There is another important characteristic you will discover when understanding your type: if you are a provisional or long-lasting expat.

The first is someone planning to live abroad for a certain, pre-established number of years, like many migrant workers. The second type is a person who is moving out with a long-term plan or permanently. A foreign assignee or explorer most likely will be a provisional, unless they fall in love with a local or start their own business, becoming, respectively, a romantic or go-getter, two long-lasting types.

Are your plans in your new country temporary or long-term? Are you moving out just to progress in your career and then return home with a bigger salary or are you willing to build a new life outside?

The first secret of life abroad is to know yourself by answering those questions. You cannot follow the other rules, especially the numbers 2 and 3, before defining who you are. You cannot research what is better for you or what are your goals if you don’t know what you are looking for. The answer to these questions not only will make you feel more comfortable and secure, but they will be a basis for better expatriate life.

Ask yourself why you are leaving. Ask yourself if you are planning to come back soon. Then, you will have self-knowledge enough for the next steps.

If you are planning to live abroad, it is a good time to check the things to buy before moving out, but if you already live abroad, I recommend this simple but life-changing advice for expatriates.

Independent of what you are among the types of expatriates, you can save money with the hacks from this book.

Levi Borba is CEO of expatriateconsultancy.com, creator of the channel The Expat, and a best-selling author. You can check his books here, his other articles here, or his Linkedin here.

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