Thursday, April 28, 2011

Am I an expat, really?

It took me over 35 years of living in Israel before I took on the name of expat. But can I really claim this title after having lived abroad for so many years?

If it weren't for this blog, I probably wouldn’t have adopted this title even now. In my online search for similar ramblings by Canadians living abroad, I discovered the term expat (expatriate). The dictionary definition of expat is "someone living in a country that is not their own country". But this definition leads to even more questions.

What do we mean by "their own country"? Is this defined simply by citizenship? I have dual citizenship: Canadian and Israeli. Am I now a Canadian expat when living in Israel, but  an Israeli expat when living in Canada? Or maybe it is defined by which citizenship came first. In my case it was Canadian, but my children were born both Israeli and Canadian –as they were born in Israel to a Canadian father. Can they then be called Canadian "expats", even though they have never lived in Canada? And what if we had moved half a year after their birth in Israel to live permanently in Canada - which country would they then call their own?

Confusing, eh?

So, who deserves the term "expat"? And when can you begin to call yourself an expat, and when should you stop? Perhaps this all comes down to "nationality". Can nationality really be imported or exported? Take me, for example. Why should I still be considered Canadian after living abroad for over 35 years? It appears that this is exactly the type of question that Canadian legislators have recently begun to ponder. In 2009, they passed new legislation by which individuals can now become Canadian citizens by descent only if one of their parents was either a native-born citizen of Canada or a foreign-born but naturalized citizen of Canada. This new law limits citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada, whereas before there was no such limit. And maybe they will soon go further than this. By law, you can become a naturalized Canadian citizen after living a certain number of years in Canada. Why then shouldn't there be a law where you become a denaturalized Canadian citizen after living a certain number of years abroad? I mean – fair is fair.

Personally, I am quite happy that my children are automatically recognized as Canadian citizens, because of me. I see this as one of my better gifts to them, even though they may never end up living in Canada, and their experience of Canadian culture may only be limited to their father's nostalgic ramblings and their short visits to the mother country. One might then ask – "Do they have a Canadian identity?"

Does identity come with citizenship? And do we lose identity when we lose citizenship?

In my expatriate searches, one of the most refreshing sites that I have come across, so far, is "I was an expat wife" - . Upon moving back with her family to Canada, Maria defines herself as a Canadian repatriate. This opens up a whole new Pandora's box of possibilities.

I don't know what I am. Call me what you will. In recent deliberations over a few pints of Guinness with fellow expats (not only Canadian expats), we came to the conclusion that the longer you are away, the lesser chance you have of ever finding your way back. Somewhere along the line, there is a cutoff point. The problem is: none of us ever read the fine print.


  1. Your post resonated in my expat [of the British kind] mind.

    If I may add to your questions: When the cutoff point has been reached, do we then become ex-expats? And would "ex-expat" not apply also to someone who returned to the country from which he/she had become an expat, and if so, how would one distinguish between both types of ex-expats?

    David, you certainly opened up a Pandora's box, resulting in worries I never thought I had.

  2. Hi David

    What a great topic.

    I think that the term expat has evolved and its meaning always changes and will probably keep changing.

    Once a person who relocated to another country permanently was called an immigrant. The term immigrant is not so popular anymore and many prefer to call themselves expats

    And if I continue Ron's point - what will be called someone who relocates to different countries every few years and in between returns home.

    Will they be - expat then repat then expat again and then again repat? It's a roller coaster


  3. The most sad situation here in Portugal is most of typical repat citizens, means portuguese were working abroad and came again to my country didn´t develop themselves a lot...and globalization economic culture principles are literally based on american way style (states) or german style, otherwise oversight any effort from human beings in the world trying to preserve "act global, think local"...All the best David. I will follw your blog. Abraços

  4. It seems, as Ron and Sharon pointed out, that the terminology hasn't yet caught up with the changing realities. In this digital age, we live in a much more global society, where geographical location is much less binding. Thus relocation may be much more temporary. Or we may be more prone to believe that it is temporary. 35 years ago, I came to Israel for six months, and I am still here.