When is an expat not an expat?

Moving abroad is essentially creating a brand new life – but sometimes we have connections to our motherland whether we like it or not. Many expats feel that how associated they are with their home country is not up to them at all and that the government pick and choose these links depending on what benefits them.


Recently a British expat won an unfair dismissal claim in the UK, despite living and working in Bangladesh. Employed by a British organisation, his connection to the UK was strong enough to be protected under the country’s laws.

Positives and negatives

In this instance, the connection to home was beneficial – but this isn’t always the case. Many other British expats have a negative tie to the country: taxes. Since 2013, the UK has been much more specific about who classes as a resident. This is usually based on how much time an expat has spent in the UK. Even if these trips back to Blighty were for purely personal reasons, if the government thinks you were there long enough, you will be taxed.

With many British expats still considered a resident despite not living in the country, you might think that they hold the same benefits as other residents – but you’d be wrong. Earlier this year, the EU referendum threatened to disrupt the lives of many British expats. But they were not allowed to vote. British law states that anyone who has lived abroad for over 15 years loses the right to vote. So despite paying taxes, these expats could not vote on something that would drastically change their future.

Many expats failed to see the equality in this and attempted an appeal against the Supreme Court, but ultimately the British government failed to honour their ‘connection’ as it had to the expat in Bangladesh. One of these affected expats was 95 year old Harry Shindler, who was denied the right to vote despite paying taxes on his pension. In this case, Harry was an expat and Jeffery was not.

A worldwide problem

But these expatriate issues aren’t limited to Britain. Canadian expats are made to pay taxes if they wish to retain their Canadian residency. In spite of this, those who have lived abroad for five years or more still lose their voting rights. Many of these expats state that if they are choosing to keep their Canadian residency, they should also be entitled to a say in their country’s future. Once again, a country has decided that its expatriate citizens are important enough to pay taxes – but not enough to voice their opinions.

A similar ruling exists in the U.S., with American expats paying an expatriate tax on their worldwide income, keeping them connected to home wherever they are in the world. Luckily for American expats, their government does at least let them vote.

To many people it seems like this so-called connection that ties expats to their native country is largely defined by their respective governments. Your homeland can call on you for help, but there’s no guarantee it will be there for you. So, when is an expat not an expat? When the government tells you so.

Rosy Parrish

Rosy Parrish grew up in Britain and now lives in Madrid. She divides her time between teaching English, writing about expat life, and befriending dogs in the street.

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