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

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

Sometimes, it can be confusing as to the difference between a foreigner, an immigrant, and an ex-pat. Each of these can seem like the same thing, but they are actually quite different.

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

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 someone who is visiting, traveling to, or maybe staying in a place without the intention to be in that foreign country permanently. 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 they are from Germany. Their countries may be close together but the German’s would still be considered a foreigner 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 a immigrant is as follows:

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


An immigrant would need to go through all the legal paperwork to stay in their host country. For example, to actually immigrate to the United States can be quite difficult for most foreigners.

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

In fact, 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 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 foreigner who was living in the United States.

Listen To Our Podcast About Expat, Immigrant, 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 and not from 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 is someone who 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. In fact, an ex-pat can live overseas for a long 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 someone who is 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 in time.

This is different than an immigrant that does not plan to return to their own country permanently. 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 an ex-pat and an immigrant are foreigners as they were born or are from another country from where they are actually living. A person can actually be born in another country and not be an immigrant or be 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 find out more about ex-pats by reading our blog 8 Main Reasons To Become An Ex-pat And Live Overseas by clicking here.

The difference between the words foreigner, immigrant, and ex-pat can sometimes get confusing. 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 who is living or working in a country other than their own.

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Living with uncertainty is perhaps one of the hardest parts of living life. But, not everyone handles uncertainty the same way. Here are 6 tips you can use to deal with the uncertainty in life so that you survive and thrive in life 1) look uncertainty right in the eyes, 2) stop trying to control others, 3) learn to accept uncertainty as a part of life, 4) learn to focus on what you can control in life, 5) find healthy ways to manage stress and 6) use meditation and religion to deal with uncertainty.

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?