What is an expat? Everything you need to know about living abroad

Written by Nick Grant


Published on 22nd May 2023


Last Updated on 23rd February 2024


Read time: 9 minutes

expat guide

Are you planning to live in a different country? That means you’re set to become an expat. There are many reasons why people decide to reside abroad, from retiring somewhere sunny to moving for a job. Whatever the cause of your move, it’s an exciting prospect, but it also raises many practical and logistical challenges.

At Intasure, we’ve been helping expats with their insurance needs for nearly 20 years. We’ve learned a lot about the pleasures and pitfalls of having your abode abroad in that time, so we’ve put our expertise to good use. Here’s the Intasure guide to help making that big move overseas as smooth as possible. We’ll cover:

  • What does expat mean?
  • How many UK expats are there, and where do they live?
  • How has Brexit changed things for expats?
  • What should be on your “ready to move” checklist?

What is an expat?

An expat is someone who lives and/or works in a different country to where they have citizenship. This is usually temporary and due to work. For instance, if a British citizen moved to Spain for a three-month work post, they’d be considered an expat, since they’re a UK citizen working and living in another country.

Expats also extend to those who have relinquished citizenship in their home country for another country. These expats are considered citizens of their chosen country and will have a residency visa. As such, they usually live and work there permanently. 

An estimated 5.5 million UK people live overseas, and around 2,000 a week join them. Recent studies reveal that at least a third of Brits living abroad reside in Australia or New Zealand. Europe is the second most popular destination, with Spain being the top choice for UK expats. Currently, around 293,500 Brits live in Spain.

What does expat stand for?

Expat is short for expatriate and the definition is “a person who no longer lives in their native country”. The term comes from two Latin words, “ex” meaning “out of”, and “patria”, meaning “country”.

What’s the difference between an expat and an immigrant?

Both words fundamentally mean the same thing — a person who has moved to live in a new country for work or a better lifestyle. It’s the attitude of whoever is using the word that makes the difference. 

So a simple answer to the question “why are Brits abroad called expats?” is “because they prefer not to be called immigrants”. Let’s steer clear of the potential controversy here and recognise the practical truth: if you’re a UK resident who chooses to live in, say, Spain, you’re an expatriate. 

Becoming an expat

Now that we’ve established what it means to be an expat, it’s time to explore the process of becoming one, and how recent events are changing things.

How has Brexit affected expats?

Since Brexit came into effect, UK citizens without residency permits are restricted to stays of no more than 90 days at any one time during a 180-day period. Bearing this change in mind, the UK government advises expats who live in the EU to register as residents where they live.

If you’re planning on moving further afield, there are different rules regarding the length of stay. For instance, UK expats are permitted to stay in Australia for no longer than 3 months during a 12-month period. In the US, UK citizens can stay for 90 days per entry with an ESTA visa, which resets after each visit.

Brits abroad in the EU are also advised to take out health insurance in line with the new country’s rules. For most people, the new UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC) replaces the existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The UK government has issued country by country guidance on healthcare for UK nationals living abroad.

What information and documentation do you need before becoming an expat?

A lot depends on where you’re moving to and how you expect to live there. Some people mix mainly with folks from “back home” and carry on speaking English. Others go native and immerse themselves in the local community, learning the new language. Most expats sit happily somewhere in the middle, but they all have one thing in common: the need for careful preparation when planning the big move.

Rules and document requirements vary significantly from country to country. That’s why it’s always advisable to check with the relevant embassy or consulate for a list of the rules for foreign residents. And allow as much time as possible because documents can take a while to be issued or checked.

Things you need on your checklist include:

  • Visas and residence permits
  • Vaccines for family members
  • Restrictions and taxes on items you wish to ship out to your new home
  • Import taxes for high-value items
  • Vaccines and quarantines for pets

It’s also vital to check that your existing documents are valid and aren’t close to expiration.

Documents you will typically require include:

  • Passports
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Vaccination, medical, and dental records
  • Driving license
  • Insurance policies
  • Academic records and diplomas
  • Employment records
  • Proof of residence
  • Proof of your new job if moving for work

What else do you need to consider before becoming an expat?


You’ll probably want to review all your bank and savings accounts, and notify each bank that you’re relocating. Current debit and credit cards may also need double-checking to see if they’re fit for your new country.


You’ll need to make sure you can drive legally. You may need to renew your driving licence if it expires soon, and get an International Driving Permit before you go. This will allow you to drive while you apply for your new nation’s driving licence. Carry both your IDP and your current licence with you at all times.


For your own peace of mind, you’ll probably want to know where you’re going to live before arriving. Allow plenty of time if you need to sell your current home first, as property sales can drag on unexpectedly. Renting out your UK home is an alternative that may be quicker to arrange. It also gives you the option of moving back if necessary.

Buying property in your new country? Check out our Guide to Buying a Holiday Home Abroad for lots of tips that are also relevant when buying a permanent home in a new place. You may decide that renting is a simpler option, especially while settling in. You’ll be able to explore the local property market much more thoroughly while on the spot, rather than having to do everything remotely.

Living costs

Moving to a place with lower living costs is one of the strongest reasons for becoming an expat. If that’s your situation, it makes sense to discover what your precise living costs are going to be, rather than just working on vague impressions from previous short visits. You may want to check average food and rent or mortgage costs, local taxes plus fuel and utility bills. Compare your findings with current outgoings for a clearer picture of the cost of living you need to budget for.


Perhaps you’re being sent overseas by your current employer, moving to a ready-made job or retiring. If not, you may wish to find work in your new home. Researching the local job market and unemployment level will help you see how easy it will be to find work. It may also be best to check if you’re employable as an English speaker or will need to learn the local language first.


You may need expat insurance, but what kind? This is where the specialist team at Intasure can help. If you’re buying a property abroad, it’s good to know that we have nearly 20 years’ experience in dealing with property insurance policies in overseas markets. Using our knowledge of many country’s regulations, we can offer Expat Insurance policy specifically designed to help protect UK citizens and EU passport holders with properties overseas.

As you plan your move overseas, we’re sure you have important questions about the insurance you need. Feel free to talk to our dedicated UK-based, English-speaking customer service team. Just call 01892 269 073 or click the link below to get an expat home insurance quote.

Get an expat home insurance quote


How many UK expats are there in Europe?

According to UN data, around 1.6 million UK expats lived in Europe in 2019. More recent figures have not yet been published, but with an estimated 2,000 people leaving the UK to live abroad each week, it’s likely this number is much higher in 2023.

What is an expat assignment?

An expat assignment is work that requires someone to move out of their home country into another country. This work could be either temporary or permanent. 

What is an expat community?

An expat community is a group of individuals who have moved from their home country to live and work elsewhere. Expats often group together to support each other, sometimes living in residential areas with shared shops, restaurants, and communal spaces. 

What is an expat job?

An expat job is a position in a country different to your home country. For example, you may be a UK resident who moves to Spain for a new job. This could be on a temporary or permanent basis.

What is expat payroll?

Expat payroll is specially designed to honour any benefits a worker received in their home country, even when working abroad. This can include salary, tax, pension contributions, holiday allowance, bonuses, and more. 


The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited trading as Intasure accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.


Nick Grant is a Business Development Manager at Intasure with 10 years of insurance experience.