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Immigrant or Expat: What’s in a name?

Immigran expat map

Of all the things to be concerned about regarding a potential move to Central America, I’m thinking about our status. I don’t mean where we are in the process or what our social status is. I’m wondering whether we’ll be considered an immigrant or expat.

I know that sounds odd, but I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about our motivation to move outside of the States. I mentioned that in part, we wanted to see what life would be like as expatriates. For some reason the conversation stayed with me and I kept thinking about the perceived differences between the words expatriate and immigrant.

Expatriate typically refers to someone living outside their native country. Usually the term carries the connotation that the person in question will eventually return to his or her country of origin. An immigrant on the other hand is a person who leaves their home and travels to another country in order to become a permanent member of the population. An immigrant is making a permanent change to his residency, with no plan to return to his country of origin.

I have no interest in getting political on a travel blog, but the idea of being an expat or an immigrant caused me to think about our pending move a bit differently. I began to wonder how Costa Ricans view immigrants, especially those from the United States. Are we truly welcome in their country? Or do they view expats/immigrants like so many of us tend to view those trying to get into the U.S?  Is the term expat just a snobbish way of saying immigrant? I find it unfortunate that the word immigrant has become somewhat of a pejorative in the U.S. It’s unacceptable that there are those who boil it down to skin color. If you are white you are an expat and if you are brown you’re an immigrant.

Although our immigration system is far from ideal, it is a bit more progressive than some countries. Costa Rica has a fairly strict immigration policy. Even after establishing residency, Brenda and I won’t be allowed to be employed. The only way we can generate income is if we start our own business or purchase an existing one. Also, one of the requirements is that we need to show proof of an income stream. The government of Costa Rica doesn’t mind you moving to their country, they just want to make sure you are a productive member of society. Can you imagine the shit storm if a politician proposed something like that in the U.S? You can live here but you can’t work and you must provide proof of income.

As I wrote earlier, I don’t want this to get political. There is enough of that going around these days. What I want to do is continue to reflect upon how Ticos will view us while we are visitors in their country. We want to be respectful of their culture and try to assimilate the best we can. Our objective is to explore and enjoy their beautiful country as much as possible. And while we are still living in the States, maybe reflecting on this topic will give me a new perspective on those coming to our country.

Thanks for checking us out!

Scott and Brenda

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