Which expat are you?



[NOTE: This this the original post. The updated list is here.]

Ok, so you’ve decided to move to a place without immigrating. You must be one of the following:

Escaping the past

Drugs, heartbreaks, failures, deaths? Leave it all behind and don’t look back. If you’re in a rut, a hole, a mire, join this group of expats who escape the black hole that was into the future of never ending possibilities. Careful though, some of those things you thought you were leaving behind just might be you.

Escaping the future

Running from the rat race, fleeing responsibility, and putting tough decisions on hold in a world of sleeping beauty they enter timeless expat-dom, the kingdom of eternal youth and no cares. Here your language skills that everyone had back home guarantee you a living wage. A little extra effort gives you a career. Sure you get paid in “monopoly money” but what this expat really wants is some space to “figure it all out.”

Working on a project

These expats save up enough to live in the former colonies without working so they can use their time to finally write that book, that masterpiece, that itch that they’ve been meaning to scratch.


Everyone needs English. And you don’t need a degree to teach English in a foreign country you only need, well, English. Also someone has to be managers to all those American companies that are moving down South in the giant sucking sound that is the global market. Moving to another (read: 3rd world) gives a lot oppurtunities that you could never get back home. Are you making lots of money in local currency or next to nothing in dollars? No need to bother thinking about it when you’re so busy filling up your CV (international talk for resume) with goodies.

Corporate Transfer

As far as this guy is concerned he’s still in the states. Small things have changed for him like Cokes come in 1.5 liters or 2.5 liters instead of 2 liters but the rest is the same. After a year he has found no need to expand his 100 word vocabulary, the accent of which makes you cringe.

Important note: This is a pure stereotype of mine. I know no one like this.

Learn the language/dance/music/culture/etc.

Definitely the most fun, interesting, and knowledgeable, this expat generally hangs out with the “locals” and pays local prices too. They have a huge advantage over other expats in this because they immediately make local friends through their interests without trying. Other expats have to wrack their brains wondering if they like chess enough to join the chess club, etc. This expat type rarely sticks around too long before moving onto the next chapter in the story of their life.


This isn’t so much a type of expat as an attribute of any of the above groups. If this is the only attribute you have then I certainly not met you yet. Most retired expats have at least church meetings to go to. They generally hang out with 100% expats. But usually they’re taking classes, doing self exploration, or working on a project of some kind. Only back home do people just retire and do nothing.

Kicking Around

These are backpackers with fear of the road, they travel without moving. Were they travelling too long and just got tired and/or lonely? Did they really want to hit the road but never had the guts to start? Whether they’re living on their parents wallet and just jolling around, they’re close cousins of the future escapists. The big difference is that instead of escaping, they’re living in the present, without a care in the world except which party to go to next and where to find peanut butter.

Did I mistake or leave out your favorite expat? Make my list complete by adding your thoughts in the comments section and I’ll add it to the permenant list.

32 replies
  1. Jen
    Jen says:

    You forgot the “do-gooder”, hungry for attention and honors, who come with the agenda of fixing things. They generally bring little of substance to their destination, and serve themselves more than the people they so publicly help.

  2. exnat
    exnat says:

    Wow. Thanks Jen! I can’t believe I forgot the Save the Worlders. I’ve met a couple folks here like that. They tend to exculpate white guilt by trying to save the locals. Unlike the Learners they’re not so interested in the locals except so far as they need help. In my experience they tend to differentiate themselves from other expats who aren’t volunteering or “contributing”. I don’t know a lot about this group here in Buenos Aires.
    I think this group excludes Peace Corps volunteers and professionals.

  3. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    Which one am I? Probably a mix of escaping the future and escaping the past, with a twist of learning the culture/language whenever possible.

    Which one are you?

    I have to say, a lot of the (but obviously no where near all of them) expats that are primarily here to “Learn the language/dance/music/culture/etc.”, are frequently also the most annoying for me, because they often have terrible superiority complexes. They say things like “I can’t believe your Spanish isn’t better yet!” (when their’s is almost fluent) and “what, you haven’t been to *insert cool place* already?”. (Like wow, I must be some kind of idiot.)

    To which I for some reason shrug, although really I would like to say “yes, but you spend all your time here having fun/learning the language/going cool places (and quite often using daddy’s money to do so) and some of us actually live here, and struggle to get by in the process, so don’t have as much time to do these things.”

    So, for me, they’re not always “Definitely the most fun, interesting, and knowledgeable, this expat”. And yes, I guess I have a chip on my shoulder about this too, probably I would like to be in their shoes for a while…

    Oh, sorry about last night again… I can be a bit of a flake sometimes.

  4. exnat
    exnat says:

    Yeah, I guess it depends on the way they phrase that. What bugs me most about the Learners is that they can fit in so quickly without any of the consequences of being here for a long time. Later I’ll write an article about the different phases of moving somewhere (honeymoon phase, confused phase, establishment phase, etc.) but for now let’s just say they get all the joys of marriage without ever having to leave the honeymoon.

    There are different types of these guys for sure. Some are awesome cause you learn a lot from them. Others throw their coolness in your face. Also let me say it’s different if they’re professionals. I’m talking about people who’re learning this stuff for school or personal exploration.

  5. exnat
    exnat says:

    Thanks, Dalila, I’m glad you think so. I’ve been meaning to write it for a long time and it’s still really incomplete however I thought it would be good just to get something up instead of waiting even longer.

  6. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    Actually, another interesting thing to consider is first the reason why you become expat, but also then the reason why you remain an expat.

    I came to Buenos Aires for part escape, part adventure. And then I fell in love with a girl and have now been here over two years… but to be honest, I think like Karine, I probably would not still be here were it not for my Argentine partner (I may still be here, but it is hard to say as it is such a hypothetical situation).

    And yes, LOVE may indeed be another expat category to add.

  7. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    oh, and COOKIES. that is another category to add.

    I’m sure COOKIE MONSTER came here, and remains here, for the cookies alone. probably keeping Frank in business in the process…




  9. Karine
    Karine says:

    Alright Nathan…. the one missing reason of why I’m an expat in BA is…… LOVE!
    Yeah, you read correctly. Love brought me here. No other reasons than love. I barely did not know anything about South America before falling in love with this Argentine guy who became my boyfriend! So here I am, 2 years after, living as an expat in BA, with my Argentine boyfriend. I have to say that if he was not here, I would have no reason to stay in BA. It may sound strange or sad (selfish maybe?) but he’s the main reason why I’m here. There are no others. I like BA, but not enough to stay here by myself….
    How about Cookie Monster…what’s your reason of being here? Apart from eating cookies and loving them?! 😉

  10. rachel.
    rachel. says:

    those categories were pretty on point. i identified mostly with the future escapist but all of them had something i could relate to. i think it’s pretty easy to shift from one category do the other, don’t you agree?

    the experience of being an expat is very subjective. you think you are so special, and your reasons are the most important and interesting. but if you really take the time to get to know other expats, you see a bit of yourself in them, and them in you.

    either way, expats have always had an important place in the world’s major cities. we are the foreign blood running through the veins of these cultures. you can argue if we have good or bad intentions and effects, but either way, it’s a life less ordinary.

  11. exnat
    exnat says:

    Wow so many good and heartfelt comments. Nice to have the new faces reading too!!! Hope you come back 🙂

    Alan, Karine, Dan: That’s really wonderful. That seems so scary when looking at things from the outside but when you’re in love it’s not like you have a whole lot of options. They say that love is the opposite of fear…

    Rachel: That’s a great insight about the foreign blood. For better or worse we are the cultural emissaries of our countries. As an American I am perhaps the only counterweight to the global culture of MTV and Coca Cola that folks here will get. Speaking personally, I understand exactly what you’re saying because while I wrote this list I don’t FEEL like I’m part of any single one of these categories. I think there’s a little bit of most of them in me.

  12. Frank Almeida
    Frank Almeida says:


    Very well put. I started reading your list and realized that I see in myself a mix of those. Also, at what point do you leave your expat label behind and decide to become an immigrant. Or actually you might not decide it but you end up being one. Some of the people commenting on this list came with the intention of visiting and ended up staying and some of them might even eventually be classified as immigrants. Can you put a date on your wishes to return? Do you still have those wishes?

    Although I love my home city and feel like home every time I go back I don´t feel like I currently have a place there. I for one do not have planned a return to the States. I guess I am an immigrant.

  13. exnat
    exnat says:

    Well, Frank, that’s a really great point. That’s actually something I want to explore. I’m going to start conducting interviews of different types of expats to get their points of view. Next week I have an interview with an immigrant lined up.

    My definition of expat is someone who is living in a country which is not the one they primarily identify with. If you live in Argentina for a significant amount of time and do not call yourself Argentine you are an expat.

  14. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Editor,

    Thanks for saying hi. I’m really glad to have an editor. Finally someone can be held accountable for some of this stuff I write 😉

  15. david
    david says:

    im in ny reading blogs for the hell of it or maybe with a slight thought (after reading so many, i think i will give up on that idea) of writing my own….. and wondering why all of you worry and think so much about being expats why dont you just enjoy yourselves live or stay or be where you are for how ever long it is

    is it because all of you had an unfulled lives before ? now that the ten minute, im in a new place, im so excited phase has worn off, you find you are somewhere else – still unfulled? and now searching the expats blogs of other semi’s (slang term for semi-completes) for an answer to your incompleteness or emptiness? hmm get out, get off

    now im wondering if people here who move to another place inside the usa think of themselves as expats and carry on so much …….hmm think i ll call my friends who moved to brooklyn and see oh expats in brooklyn are you …….?

  16. Nathan
    Nathan says:


    Thanks for the comment. You raise a lot of interesting points.

    I’m really interested to know how the expats you know in New York are different than expats here. However, be careful not to confuse immigrants with expats. An immigrant is someone moving to a new place, taking on the identity of the place. An expat is someone living in a place with which they do not identify. Immigrants to Argentina feel very differently than expats.

    I’m also interested in why you were reading blogs like mine and why you feel like I’m unfulfilled. I think the most interesting part of your comment is how you used the word “just” as in “just enjoy yourselves” or “just stay” or “just be where you are.”

    As far as feeling semi-complete, I dunno. It’s tough to take you seriously. Why were you considering writing your own blog? Why are you reading other people’s blogs? Why don’t you “just enjoy” the summer in New York instead of surfing the internet looking at what unfulfilled people write? Personally, I can’t think of any expat blogs that seem unfulfilled. Mine is overanalytical, nostalgic, angsty, self absorbed and supersensitive but unfulfilled? I don’t think so.

  17. Diva
    Diva says:

    Hi Nathan. This post is great. I do know a lot of “Corporate Transfer” expats, and they are just like you describe them.
    David from new york, andate a la c….. de la lora

  18. monty holamon
    monty holamon says:

    Wow! I have been searching for a “ex-pat” blog that addressed anything meaningful. I failed to find even one. Until now.

    I spent 8 years happily in Costa Rica, without any gringo contact, learning my Spanish and making a new life. But I never found any information out there about how to do it. Or about the traps and the mental or emotional strain.

    Don’t get me wrong, I felt lucky to be in Costa Rica, and learned more about myself than ever before in my life.

    Then I found myself suddenly moving to Uruguay. And a new set of challenges appeared. Lately I have been intrigued by the fact that no “ex-pats” are writing about anything of any consequence, only superficial crap.

    I am amazed and pleased to have found your blog. Thanks. You seem to have the courage to speak about the real deal. I recently told my tango partner that the most freeing and fantastic evidence of real equality in this country is the fact that men kiss on the cheek. I feel like I am finally living among true adults, for the first time in my life.


  19. monty holamon
    monty holamon says:

    Forgot to add this. The ex-pats I reluctantly bumped into in Costa Rica were the Save the World ilk. They were constant complainers, isolated and unhappy.
    I am the Retired group. But I hurry to add,I don’t fit your description. In 10 years I have had only 2 fellow ex-pats as friends. I never, ever invited them to social events with me where I was the only foreigner in the crowd. They simply could not be at ease. And I was embarrassed for them.

  20. Beryl Gorbman
    Beryl Gorbman says:

    I’m a long-time expat living in Merida Yucatan. And I want to add another category. The people who come down here because it is cheaper. When you walk into their houses, it’s like visiting a house in Peoria, only with better architecture. Most of them have never had household help and they treat them with an amateur imperialistic attitude that the locals find hilarious. They also are hell-bent on buying the cheapest of everything, and to them this means scouring Wal-Mart or Costco instead of patronizing local businesses which are, in fact, considerably less expensive. They are virtually all big time meat eaters, which makes their grocery budge as much as it is in the states. There are lots of complaints about the difficulties of finding chunky peanut butter, Marlboros, or the right cat food. They emphatically do NOT want to learn Spanish. They don’t like to tip. Can’t they just go home, move to a remote (cheap) area, and eat tortillas and beans?

    My website, about Merida expat living, is


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