What Is The Difference Between A Foreigner, Immigrant, and Ex-pat?

What Is The Difference Between Foreigner, Immigrant, and Ex-pat?

The terms “foreigner”, “immigrant,” and “ex-pat” are often used interchangeably in everyday conversations, but they each have very different meanings. For those unfamiliar with the nuances of international travel and relocation, it can be hard to truly understand what distinguishes the three and how their unique backgrounds can make a world of difference in both relationships formed abroad as well for potential career opportunities.

A foreigner is born in or from a country other than their own. An immigrant is someone from another country who plans to live permanently in a country other than their own. An ex-pat or expatriate lives and works in a country other than their own. Both an immigrant and an ex-pat are usually considered foreigners.

Table of Contents

Definition Of A Foreigner

A foreigner is someone from another country. Sometimes people will say “the foreigner is not from these parts.” An example of this would be an American who is visiting Vietnam. Or a Canadian that is visiting America.

The dictionary definition of a foreigner is as follows:

“a person born in or coming from a country other than one’s own.”


Normally, a foreigner is visiting, traveling to, or maybe staying in a place without the intention to permanently be in that foreign country. This means that a foreigner is in a country other than their own for a specific period of time.

An example of this may be that somebody goes on holiday to France but is from Germany. Their countries may be close together, but the Germans would still be considered foreigners in France.

Definition Of An Immigrant

An immigrant is someone who comes to live in a foreign country permanently. Immigrants have left their home country, realizing that they will never return to live permanently in their home country again.

The dictionary definition of an immigrant is as follows:

“a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”


Immigrants must undergo all the legal paperwork to stay in their host country. For example, immigrating to the United States can be difficult for most foreigners.

An immigrant will usually change over their passport or have dual citizenship between both countries. This means they will become an actual citizen in the country they are immigrating to.

Most people will immigrate to the United States either for a better opportunity for themselves and their families or because they have decided to get married to an American. Others are forced to leave their home countries due to war or safety issues.

Even if they were born in another country, most immigrants would now consider their new adopted country to be where they are from. If they immigrate to the United States, they now consider themselves American.

Many immigrants may consider themselves to have a dual kind of country identity. Some may say they are “Vietnamese-American,” “Mexican-American,” or “Swedish-American.” Many immigrants and even their children may identify themselves as having a dual cultural country identity even if they no longer hold a passport from their home country.

An example of this is my own mother. My mother was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. When she left Sweden in her early 20s, she came to the United States for a short time to work. She met my father, fell in love, and got married.

Because of her marriage to my father, my mother immigrated to the United States. People would always ask me, “where is your mother from?” This is because she still had a Swedish accent, so even though she was an American citizen. My mother was considered an immigrant and a foreigner living in the United States.

Listen To Our Podcast About Expat, immigrants, and Refugee Explained below or by clicking here.

My mother was an immigrant because she left her home in Sweden to live permanently in the United States. But she was also a foreigner as she originally came from Sweden, not the United States.

But if you ask my mother or any of my siblings, we would all probably say that we were “Swedish-American.” This is because our cultural identity is between Sweden and America

Definition Of An Ex-pat

An Ex-pat is very different from an immigrant. An ex-pat lives overseas but does not plan on living there permanently.

Unlike an immigrant, an ex-pat will keep their citizenship in their home country even though they live and work abroad. An ex-pat can live overseas for an extended period of time; some maybe their entire life.

The dictionary definition of an ex-pat is as follows:

“a person who lives outside their native country.”


So this means that an ex-pat can be working or simply living overseas. The ex-pat will keep the passport of their native country, as most ex-pats plan to return to their own country at some point.

This is different from an immigrant who does not plan to permanently return to their own country. Most ex-pats plan to return to their own countries to live there again permanently. This is where things get a little bit confusing because, as an immigrant, an ex-pat is considered a foreigner.

Both ex-pat and an immigrant are foreigners as they were born or are from another country where they live. A person can be born in another country and not be an immigrant or a foreigner.

For example, my uncle and aunt were both born in China. Both of my grandparents were American. Even though they were born in China, my uncle and aunt were never considered Chinese citizens but were always considered American and American citizens.

You can learn more about ex-pats by reading our blog 8 Main Reasons To Become An Ex-pat And Live Overseas by clicking here.

Differences between a foreigner, immigrant, and ex-pat can sometimes confuse. The main thing to remember is that a foreigner was born or from a country where they are now. An immigrant is someone who comes from one country and plans to live in another country permanently. An ex-pat is someone living or working in a country other than their own.

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You can discover more by reading the blog 6 Tips To Survive and Thrive Despite Uncertainty in Life by clicking here.

What is an Ex-pat or Expatriate?

An ex-pat is someone who lives in another country for an extended period of time. But even among the ex-pats, there are all different kinds of ex-pats and a variety of reasons why a person would become an ex-pat.

You can learn more by reading our blog What is an Expat or Expatriate? What You Need To Know by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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What Is The Difference Between Foreigner, Immigrant, and Ex-pat?