Expat or Immigrant, a matter of opinion

Embracing life in Spain Credit: Margouillat Shutterstock

Strolling through the streets of Spain, a familiar debate among European residents often arises: are they expatriates or immigrants?

Breaking down labels

Traditionally, “expatriate” is often associated with temporary stays, while “immigrant” suggests a permanent move and integration into the local culture.

However, Dana, originally from Russia, dismisses the need for labels. “I don’t believe in those terms,” she says, “I think in our modern world, where one can live wherever they want and not necessarily stay in one place all their life.”

For her, the choice to live in different places should be seen in a more normalized way. “It doesn’t mean they [residents] haven’t settled. It’s just our new reality,” she adds.

In contrast, Kamila Ptaszyńska, a 30-year-old from Poland, confidently identifies as an immigrant, since her deep personal and professional connection to Spain aligns her with long-term plans to stay.

“I live and work in Spain and I hope to spend many more years there,” said Kamila.

Kamila Ptaszyńska

Similarly, Laura Kemppi, 29 who is Finnish, also sees herself as an immigrant. “I thought about this for a while, but then I came up with the answer,” she said, “The reasons why I think I am an immigrant is that I live in Spain, I work in Spain and I pay my taxes in Spain.”

Laura Kemppi
Credit: Eeva Roots

On the other hand, Marcello, 34, from Italy, prefers the term expatriate. He believes the distinction often relates to social class and nationality.

Is it about class?

“To me, an immigrant sounds like someone who is not accepted in the country where they are, and also someone who is running away from their home country,” he explains.

The different points of view show that the choice between “expatriate” and “immigrant” is more than semantic, it reflects personal narratives in society about identity, belonging, and class.

Is there too much control over what we say?

Paula who is Scottish understands the concept that the word expat is unacceptable to some but said “It’s a bit like 1984 by George Orwell and it’s a thoughtcrime to use language which everyone understands but has now been redefined as something different.

“I believe that when one refers to an expat it’s really a simple short word which means someone who has moved from one country to another but nowadays it’s supposed to evoke the concept of colonialism and theft of identity and natural resources.

“Personally I think that’s nonsense but unlike some, I don’t want to tell others what they can or can’t say.”

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Written by

Talyta Franca

Talyta Franca, Class 2026, Northwestern University in Qatar.