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Project Xpat: When Do You Become An 'Immigrant'?

Flags of the globe

You are an American living in another country. Are you a tourist? An expatriate? An immigrant?

When does a visitor morph into something more? When does your home-away-from-home become your home?

The United Nations reports that more people than ever are living in countries other than their own. In 2013, some 232 million people — about 3.2 percent of the planet's population — were migrants. The U.N. defines a migrant as "any person who changes his or her country of usual residence" and a long-term immigrant as someone who lives in another country for more than a year.

"That officially makes me an immigrant, albeit a transient, professionally migratory one," says Shane Horn, 35, an American teaching a course called Global Perspectives at the Nazarbayev Intellectual school in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. And one question he poses to his class: What is the difference between an immigrant and expatriate?

The two terms, Shane says, "are mainly used to delineate uneducated, labor migrant workers from skilled, professional migrant workers. The former are commonly referred to as 'immigrants' whereas 'expatriate' is reserved for the latter."

But, he adds, "all immigrants are expatriates, and all expatriates are immigrants."


As part of Project Xpat, NPR asked Americans living abroad to answer — in 10 words or less — the 10-word question: What does it mean to you to be an expatriate? Here are a half-dozen answers:

Sheela Lai
/ Sheela Lai

"Examining privilege, navigating third culture, appreciating home." — Sheela Lai, 23, India


John Tynan
/ John Tynan

"Searching for familiar comforts in unfamiliar places." — John Tynan, 51, China


Maryann Reid
/ Maryann Reid

"Guts, a bit of crazy and a lot of vulnerability." — Maryann Reid, 38, United Arab Emirates


Rosie Tobin
/ Rosie Tobin

"Being asked 'Do you know Goldie Hawn?' " — Rosie Tobin, 20, India


Emily Zhao
/ Emily ZHao

"To best open your mind past Western-centrism, leave the west." — Emily Zhao, 19, China


Helen Howard
/ Helen Howard

"Living my dream of seeing the world, experiencing real freedom." — Helen Howard, 39, England


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.