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What is an Expatriation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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An expatriation is when someone moves out of his homeland to reside somewhere else. This term has a more strict legal meaning that involves renouncing citizenship and taking up citizenship in a new country, but it can also be used more generally to refer to people who are living overseas. There can be legal repercussions to expatriation, depending on the nation one is leaving and the nation one is moving to.

Historically, expatriation involved forcible expulsion of citizens or denial of citizenship. For example, some nations have revoked the citizenship of deserters during wartime, leaving them stateless. In the modern era, the legal authority to strip people of their citizenship and forcibly expatriate them is limited. Instead, the decision is usually a choice made by the citizen.

In the loose sense, expatriation involves living and working abroad, not necessarily with the intent to remain abroad. Many multinational companies post their employees overseas for varying periods of time, as do national governments with their diplomatic corps. While an expatriate, a person retains the right to vote in her or his home nation and may have tax liabilities at home, in addition to tax liabilities in the nations where she or he is working.

More formally, expatriation involves leaving without the intent to return, and a renunciation of citizenship and allegiance to take up citizenship in a new country. Certain nations view nationalization or military service in another country as a sign that someone wishes to abandon citizenship. It is also possible for naturalized citizens to be stripped of their citizenship if they remain abroad too long or become naturalized in another country, in some cases.

Consultation with an embassy or state department can provide more information about expatriation. It is important to be aware of any legal ramifications before making a move, so that people can plan ahead. People who want to keep their citizenship at home, for example, may need to take steps to protect their interests, such as returning home periodically.

Movement between nations has been a common theme throughout human history. Historically, expatriates often gathered in enclaves in their new environs with people from their home nation. During the 1920s, for example, a group of American artists and writers lived in Paris to enjoy the fellowship of people from their home nations and produce their art, while also experiencing the environment of a foreign country. They were known as the Lost Generation and included such greats as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. Some other notable communities of artists in various regions, from Cuba to South Africa, feature large numbers of expatriates who have gathered to form international communities with close ties.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Apr 22, 2011

I think expat communities are growing globally. I like to buy international foods and groceries and often run into online expat grocery stores. I think it's a sign of how more and more people are moving across the world.

By discographer — On Apr 21, 2011

Something I find really interesting is when the children of expats end up moving back to their country of origin. I've actually met a few people who have done this. One acquaintance is now in India. She was born in America to Indian parents who moved to America permanently in the late 60s. She grew up in America and visited India only a few times.

About five years ago, she found a job opportunity in India and hasn't returned since. She says she's happy and plans to stay. I think this is so interesting. Maybe her parents had left back then due to riots or lack of jobs but as circumstances change and countries develop, it's becoming easier to live in other places.

By burcinc — On Apr 18, 2011

Expatriation doesn't appear to be as rigid as before, although some countries are very strict about it.

I have cousins who live in Germany and their children were born there. They worked in Germany for more than twenty years until they decided to take German citizenship. They took the decision because they wanted to buy a house there but German law only allows German citizens to buy houses.

They still visit us every other year or so and their ties with the U.S. very much remain. They hadn't moved there with the intention to stay forever, but I guess it will be that way now.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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