Expat: Permanent or Temporary State?

spanish_housingIf you’ve read some of my recent guest posts for the Expat Hub you might be thinking that I’m unhappy with my so called ‘expat lifestyle’.

While I would understand if you’d gotten that impression, in reality nothing is further from the truth.

I love my life, and I love living in Spain – I just struggle with viewing myself as an expat.

Let me try and explain…

The commonly agreed definition of an ‘expat’ is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country/culture divergent to the one they were born and brought up in.

Sounds pretty simple, and if we use that definition then I am indeed an expat.

And if we take a closer look at the definition of ‘residing’ (the act of establishing or maintaining a residence in a given place) my status as an expat is solidified as I own a residence in Spain.

So what am I on about?

Well, let’s dig deeper. Residency is not just a simple term, but a concept which heavily affects the legal rights and responsibilities that are available to a person, including their eligibility to vote/stand for political office/access government services and their responsibility to pay taxes.

And this is where I start to wonder if I am an ‘expat’.

My partner and I never planned to become residents of Spain (or of any other country) when we decided not to live in the UK. We simply thought that we would base ourselves in Spain and see what happened. Our business remains in the UK, we pay tax in the UK, we still have a property in the UK and we remain on the electoral roll. Our plan now is to start spreading our time between the two countries more evenly, eventually returning to the UK full time before pushing up the daisies.

None of this ‘fits’ with my image(s) of being an expat.

Historically, when I think of ‘expats’ I always picture the expat communities portrayed in films and books (think Hemmingway). I envisage colourful characters sipping gin and tonics as the sun sets (and I always place them in India for some reason!)

However, more recently I have begun to think of expats as retired people, or younger couples with families who are building a new life for themselves: businesses, schools, friendships etc.

But in my mind I don’t fit with either my old or my new perception of the term ‘expat’.

I’m just taking time out, seeing where life takes me – in effect been a resident of nowhere for the time being, which may sound mad but is actually possible, although not easy!

You see, it comes down to a concept known as ‘Settled Purpose’. If you’re British, it’s possible for HM Revenue and Customs to take the view that you have left the UK for a ‘settled purpose’. This makes you, for all intents and purposes, a non-UK citizen. When it comes to determining whether you have left the UK for a settled purpose they take into consideration your family, business, professional and investment activities. The guidelines are a little complex, as even if you’re spending less than 91 days in the UK spread over as much as four UK tax years, they may still view you as a UK resident if they decide you have not left the UK for a settled purpose.

But this fits our situation much more accurately. Being resident of nowhere would also mean that I get to avoid being labelled, something I dislike as much as belonging to any sort of club or group!

So what do you think?

Do you see yourself as an ‘Expat’?

Leave your comments in the Forum!

Chris Marshall
This post was written by
Chris has lived and worked in the UK, USA and Spain before settling down in Almerimar, Spain in 2003, where he spends his time time running Almerimar Life, writing on a freelance basis for a number of papers and clients blogs, broadcasting regularly on a number of radio stations and along Sands running ALStrays - a cat re-homing and transport project he set up with his wife, which also transports dogs to the UK and throughout Europe