Expat? Immigrant? Refugee?

I never gave the terminology much thought until a friend send me this article here. “Expat” (short for expatriate) seems to be the most commonly used term I have heard. There are Facebook groups like Expats in Panama and websites like expat.com and the term is commonly used in conversation and seems to apply to any foreigners, most of whom intend to make the move permanent.

But according to the article an expat is someone who lives in another country temporarily and plans to return to their home county at some point. Often, in the past, they were relocated for work and it wasn’t  always their choice. Now the term expats implies more wealthy and mobile people who have the option to live in another country if they wish.

Someone who plans to stay in the other country indefinitely and make it their permanent home is an immigrant. That would be me. People move to other countries for various reasons, economics, greater opportunities, different lifestyle, etc. But to qualify as an immigrant according to the defininitions presented, the move is permanent.

Then there are refugees and asylum seekers. We have seen plenty of them recently in the Mid East, and now the huge caravan making their way north into Mexico. Many people feel they have no economic opportunities to support themselves and their families, and other fear for their very survival. We can joke that we are refugees escaping things we don’t like in our home country but it’s nothing like people leaving everything they have known, often to make dangerous and difficult journeys into the unknown just to survive.

Words don’t change your life in your new country. It’s just some terminology that’s interesting to think about.

Other than that, just life in Panama…. it’s height of rainy season so we have been getting a lot of rain, though most mornings are sunny and bright. I like it when everything is lush and green even if I get muddy working in the yard. We are getting over colds. There has been a stomach flu and some bad colds going around in Boquete and we seemed to have picked up the cold, which thankfully doesn’t seem to be the one that comes with weeks of coughing.

Even living in “paradise” you have the challenges you would face anywhere, the occasional illness, chores and errands, etc. We had an earthquake a few days ago. We were both standing in the kitchen when I thought I felt something, and then things started rattling on the shelves. It didn’t seem like a big deal but it got everyone talking. In general, Mother Nature is very easy on us for which we are thankful, and life is good.


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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2 Responses to Expat? Immigrant? Refugee?

  1. Felipe says:

    Interesting observation. In a way words could affect how you feel about being in a place if the word people use to describe your situation in their country makes you feel unwelcome. There was a fight of words on what to call people who left New Orleans for Houston after Katrina. I won’t repeat the horrible things I heard them called. Like any new group in a community, they were blamed for all Houston’s ills. I don’t live there now, but Houston had plenty of problems before the new folk arrived.
    After Vietnam my hometown wasn’t always so friendly to the Vietnamese that settled there. I think individuals are more welcome than a large influx of people from one area.
    When I was in Panama City I spoke to a few people from Venezuela. They said most Panamanians were OK with them but they were starting to have some hostility directed to them.
    I love your attitude to Panama. I’m sure your positive attitude to being there and that you embrace the local culture and people are part of why you’re received so well. We can all learn from you.


    • So people leaving New Orleans for Houston weren’t very welcome? Thayt’s too bad, and even worse that they were subjected to yet another devastating hurricane.
      I think what you say about individuals is important. When you know someone as a person, probably not unlike yourself in many ways, it’s much easier to like and accept them unlike a group who can be seen as less than people, undesirable for whatever reasons.
      Here it seems there is a negative attitude towards Venezuelans and Colombians who are seen as coming illegally and taking jobs from Panamanians, much like the Mexicans in the US. When people are suffering it’s understandable that they look for a better life. Just don’t come here and upset things for me and my friends!
      I genuinely like these people, and I see the smiles when I tell them how much I love being here. I suppose it’s easier to welcome someone who already likes you.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments


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