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Expat Life

I am NOT an expat!

Please don’t call me an expat. I’m an immigrant.

Maybe that realization came to me because I grew up with three of four grandparents who emigrated from Europe to the United States in the earlychl walt logo 1900s. While one grandmother was born in the U.S., her parents emigrated from Europe. I never heard them talk about being “expats” from their former countries. They never used the word expatriate — or expat. They described themselves as “immigrants.” They were proud of that term.

To them, being an immigrant meant that they not only had moved to, but had adopted a new country as their own. They started a new life in a new situation in a new country. That’s what I’ve done with Ecuador. My wife of 46+ years feels the same way, but I’ll only speak for myself. She is eloquent in her own right.

While I currently maintain U.S. citizenship, I plan on becoming an Ecuadorian citizen after living here the required three years.

Immigrants to the U.S. in 1904.
Immigrants to the U.S. in 1904.

I am not living in Ecuador to “test it out,” or to see how it will work out for me. I am in Ecuador for my lifetime. I did not leave the United States to get away from something. I moved to Ecuador to get to something. My wife and I had lived full-time in a motor home in the United States for about four years before deciding to relocate to Cuenca. We traveled to and explored all 48 lower states, visited five provinces of Canada and visited Mexico — albeit only near the U.S. border. We had also had the great fortune to spend some time in Hawaii and Alaska, so we had experienced all 50 states, either for work or for play.

During our lives, we had visited five of the seven continents and several Polynesian islands. While we did not spend extensive time at all of them, we did get a feel for what was available to us. We were ready for a new adventure, and Ecuador was it. We decided to emigrate from the United States and immigrate to Ecuador.

To me, “emigrate” and “immigrate” are terms that denote permanency. That is what my intention is.

When I listen to political news from the United States during this election cycle, I never hear talk about all of the expats from Mexico, Central America or South America living there. I hear about immigrants. There is some evidence that one of the main differences Americans see between expats and immigrants is the color of the skin one has. There are some studies that indicate this is so, and a lot of opinion pieces that suggest that race is moot. It may be an interesting question, but one that isn’t important to me. If it is to you, why not post an article about it? is always looking for provocative pieces.

For me, what I consider myself to be has less to do with how I look than how I consider my life. If I were to remain an expat, I would believe that I am only a citizen of the United States, living as a citizen of the United States in Ecuador on a temporary basis. I would expect to retain the customs, attitudes, language and relationships I learned and developed in the United States, and eventually return to the United States to live. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.

Because I consider myself an immigrant, I can honor my history as a citizen of the United States while moving forward to develop a life as a citizen of my new country. I don’t have to constantly compare the way things are done here with how they were done in the United States. I can gladly take part in the customs of Ecuador without trying to decide if they are better or worse than the ones I left. I can cheer, without guilt, for the Ecuadorian team when they play the United States.

I am learning to speak the language of Ecuador and the idioms and slang of Cuenca. I remember my grandmother saying to my grandfather, “speak English, you are in America now!” And, my wife and I smile at each other every time one of us says to the other, Habla Español, tú vives en Ecuador ahora. Yes, we are speaking more and more Spanish at home now, but we still resort to English when necessary. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.

I will never be a true Cuencano, but, as I learned from my wife, who, humorously says she was a gringa, but is now a “grin-cana,” I am becoming a “grin-cano.” I am no longer solely a gringo, but am transitioning. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.

During a conversation with an acquaintance here in Cuenca, I realized that I now have more friends who are native Ecuadorians than I have among the expat community in Cuenca. I certainly don’t avoid gringos, but I don’t seek them out, either. I am more comfortable in restaurants, stores and venues that cater to Ecuadorians than in ones that have a clientele that is primarily expat. I learn more about my new life from interacting with Cuencanos than I do from interacting with expats. I prefer to experience the Cuencano life rather than the United States life in Cuenca. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.

None of my grandparents ever went back to “the old country,” even for a visit. That was due primarily to the cost and difficulty of travel in their day. Luckily, I have the ability to make the easy trip from Ecuador to the United States whenever I want. However, after a trip next year to take care of some family and financial matters that can’t be easily handled from here, I have no need to make the trip on a regular basis. I miss many of the family members, friends and acquaintances who still live there, but my life is now in Ecuador. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.

Some of you who have read this far might have some negative feelings about what I am saying. Please understand that I am not judging anyone else’s behavior, attitude or thought patterns. I say, without malice or judgment, and with affection, I don’t care how you want to live your life. That is totally your business! If you prefer to be an expat, be an expat. If you prefer to be an immigrant, be an immigrant. If you don’t want to think about the difference, don’t! What you consider yourself to be really isn’t important to me. I hope you live your life as you want and enjoy the choices you make. My way is not the better way, it is only the better way for me.

Yes, I have immigrated to Ecuador. I have started a new life here, and am truly enjoying the benefits, challenges, and even the liabilities. No one ever said that life is easy. Life is an adventure, and adventures lead somewhere — to somewhere that may be undefined, but one that is exciting!

Please do not call me an expat! I am an immigrant!


35 thoughts on “I am NOT an expat!

  1. Me gusta, y considero que hay muchos caminos en la vida, para recorrerlos y vivirlos. Me alegro que ustedes los estén recorriendo y disfrutándolos. Bienvenidos, me gustaría conocerlos y disfrutar de sus experiencias.

    1. huh????
      If you want to communicate on an English language ‘paper’, please do in English….or why bother?

  2. According to Miriam-Webster:

    the word “Expatriate” is actually a verb or an adjective and means someone “living in a foreign land”.
    the word “Immigrant” is a noun and means “a person who comes to a country to take permanent residence”.

    It remains to be seen what you are to be honest. You are free to leave and travel with your US passport as you wish. Many people come to EC and Cuenca with the intent to stay and then leave.

    So I honestly do not understand the point of this article or why you are so sensitive about it. There is plenty to read online about the difference of expat vs immigrant..

    1. MW dictionary: emigrant: noun – a person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another. not sure why you brought up the verb/adverb usage. im & em are like inhale/exhale. seems to me if he wants to be categorized as an immigrant, it only solidifies his desire to be a good Ecuadorian citizen. I agree with him. if you have a permanent visa, then you are indicating a desire to live here permanently. whether you’re successful is really irrelevant.

  3. Very nice article! I had only heard of the word “Expats” as a temporary working abroad person. I was very surprised to hear this term being used for/by all the gringos. I wouldn’t wanna be called a gringo, nor expat. I’m a citizen of the world. A world without boundaries and borders.

  4. Looks like I started something!
    Thanks if you picked up on my comment here; you have done a great job “fleshing out the bones” as I could not have. You said it all!
    I came here not to live the gay old life but to help orphans, et al, as a permanent resident and eventually an Ec. citizen, with all that we have, literally, invested here in many ways.
    This is already home, and we already consider ourselves Ec. and Cuencanos. As we are reaching out sacrificially and otherwise, we hope they will accept us as well in contributing to making this a better community, from our condo to our new country.

    1. You give yourself too much credit. This topic has been bantered about well before you arrived.

    2. no way you are a Cuencano unless you were born there, sorry it just is not so. I have lived in Vermont (but not born) for 30 years and no way am I a Vermonter. I also have family in Cuenca one of which is my daughter, married to a true Cuencano, but she is not, despite mastering Spanish years ago and living there 7 plus years and truly in the culture. . Nice try.

      1. I always tell people I’m a Cuencano because I’m going to die in Cuenca, but if you don’t want me to be that, Bill, I’ll stop———- as long as you invite me to your next Barbecue.

        1. your invited of course, just stating an opinion which why we are here. I guess I am a bit sensitive because having spent the majority of my life in Vermont, I am not, and never will be a Vermonter. Some people will say it takes three generations. Anyway we agree on more than we disagree, but even that does not matter. One of my best friends and I disagree on many things but who cares we remain buds 25 years later

          1. Interesting, Bill. My closest friend is a world renown academic psychiatrist and he insists I’m crazy. However, he has always remarked that he has never seen another person that has as many genuinely close friends as I do. He claims that the average man goes through his life with only 3 such friends (thus I think he’s crazy) and I have a few dozen. Many of them go back 60 years with me. I guess I cling to things like friends. Another friend that has now passed on used to say that right off the bat, people will either love me or hate me. My shrink buddy insists we all want to be loved and that’s another reason I think he’s nuts. I don’t really think I care that much.

            I’m tight with high up officials in Vermont. I’m going to look into seeing if I can get them to officially declare you to be a Vermonter. Same problem exists many places. Coloradoans claim to be considered native if they have lived there continuously since 1965. Please don’t ask me how such an arbitrary date was selected. I don’t have a clue.

  5. Well said Walter!
    Those who wish to stay in Cuenca, Ecuador or any other place different from their born citizenship should be embracing the customs, culture & people of the place they are currently living whilst still honoring their roots. It’s a blend & sharing to me, not one or the other.
    I applaud your efforts & love reading your thoughts. Keep writing!
    Newburyport, MA

  6. I too live in Ecuador as a permanent resident and immigrant. As a Canadian, I am so unfamiliar with the words expat and patriot or expatriot. Canadians just don’t use those words. Canada is also a country of many immigrants, my family also and immigrants, migrants are words we use. I do not look to go back to Canada nor to recreate any of the life I had there. I do look to share my life with my neighbours and other Ecuadorians, as well as any new comers.

  7. Very well written, and I agree with every point you make.

    As for myself, I still think about being an expat after 6 1/2 years. That’s because I sort of “fell in” to living here, having come to volunteer for 12-18 months and deciding to stay. My wife and I also have many, many more Ecuadorean friends than U.S. friends here. In fact, the family we share a house with is honoring me today for Father’s Day – their honorary father.

    I still pull for the USA when they play Ecuador, much to the chagrin of the 14-year-old we live with. But, then, I also pulled for the New Orleans Saints the entire 30+ years I lived in Texas. Still do. I’m loyal that way.

    Enjoy your new life. I know I’m enjoying this stage of mine. I also know I’ll never stop appreciating things about the U.S. even as I appreciate and enjoy things about Ecuador.

  8. Great positive viewpoint. I especially agree with your statement that you “did not leave the United States to get away from something. I moved to Ecuador to get to something.” I often say it myself. Those who flee the US because they think it’s about to collapse, or the dollar is, or that Barak Obama is an evil Muslim, are unlikely to find the solution they seek in another country. Learning the language and immersing yourself in a new culture with both respect and enthusiasm delivers a rich experience like no other.

    After nearly four years in the Andes of northern Ecuador, and plenty of prior experience in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere, I can’t imagine returning to the States even for a visit if I can avoid it. Again—not because I dislike it there, but because I love it here, and there is so much left to explore. And then there’s the rest of South America. I’m busy here! Family and friends are welcome to come down and visit, just as long as they’re willing to risk getting hooked on Ecuador.

  9. Why not immigrant. Immigrants usually move for economic opportunity and expats (some call glorified tourists) move to try and live better for less on their social security checks, which is another form of economic opportunity.

    However, you can’t have it both ways. if you going to stop referring to yourself as expats, you certainly need to stop calling yourselves “guests”.

    1. As you know, Nards, I’ve been on the “We’re not guests in THEIR country” bandwagon since Christ was a corporal. Who cares who said it first? I’m sure it was Cranky Old Charlie who has been here longer than the mountains, but even he doesn’t care who takes credit for originating the concept, as long as you embrace it now.

        1. I have roving hit squads out as we speak, looking for stragglers that still hold that view.


  10. I agree with the sentiment but much less vehemently.

    Brown skinned people are often “immigrants” while light skinned people are often “expats.” *immigrant* can be pejorative while *expat* not (except by misguided folks thinking it means *not patriotic*.)

    There is also the question of permanence, but no one knows the future (how long one might stay in residence). Before moving to Cuenca I found myself calling myself an immigrant to Ecuador. It seemed more honest. My intent is to stay here and I have lived here long-term in the past.

    Well-written post.

  11. Excellent article Walter. Great writing.

    Anyone can expand their thinking, their scope of perception. Every one of us is a citizen of this Planet. All boundaries are Totally Artificial. “Countries,” and their “borders” are the temporary constructs created by fearful, insecure humans, at one particular tiny moment in time. All the countries and borders that exist today will no longer exist at some time in the future.

    Far better to lay claim to your sovereignty as a Citizen of the Earth. The sooner that a vast majority own this level of reality, the sooner we get past many of the pathetic frictions that burden us today.

    1. I agree. At the moment I am not an immigrant, as I haven’t settled somewhere, but “expat” is a term that is pretty exclusively used for westerners from privileged countries (I have heard it used for western Blacks and Latinos, but usually it applies to the white of us). I’m a traveler at the moment, and at some point I will be an immigrant. The world had the largest number of displaced people ever last year. In some ways we have joined this worldwide diaspora. Like it or not, we have more in common with the other displaced than with those who still live where they were born.

  12. to me an immigrant is someone who runs away fro extreme poverty and terrible living condition basicaly from a shity place to a much better place,I am one,from Eastern Europe.In NYC immigrants are called Bannnana Boat people,meaning they are illegallas that hid in a ship bringing bananas and once in the port they would jump into the harbor and arrive wet and with nothing in their pockets.So pleas dont call me an immigrant ,at least in my case.I am an EXPAT.An expact is a person that leaves his country of plenty meaning he has a good financial standing in his country and he arrives to another country with means to support himself financially ,no need to jump the boat,without outside help.Expat sounds PROUD,RICH,Immigrant is a banana boat shithead.You can look guys at whatever dictionary you want,As of now this is what immigrant vs expat stands for.

  13. I agree. At the moment I am not an immigrant, as I haven’t settled somewhere, but “expat” is a term that is pretty exclusively used for westerners from privileged countries (I have heard it used for western Blacks and Latinos, but usually it applies to the white of us). I’m a traveler at the moment, and at some point I will be an immigrant. The world had the largest number of displaced people ever last year. In some ways we have joined this worldwide diaspora. Like it or not, we have more in common with the other displaced than with those who still live where they were born.

  14. Hola! I am writing on behalf of an Edmontonian couple looking for a long lost friend. If you are “their Walter”, could you please contact me? Gracias!

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