10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, August 21, 2015

What's the Difference between Foreign GUEST and Permanent RESIDENT Abroad?

There are some big differences between being a guest and being a permanent resident abroad. As a guest it is easy to accept the first price quoted. After all, we’re not staying; money is not on our mind as vacationers; we just want to have fun!  Guests always pay more for everything because, truly, it’s not a big deal; it’s expected that as a tourist (90-day stay) we will pay tourist pricing, so what. It’s not always about money however. It’s about how we behave as travelers. Let me explain.

Frank and I always “go local” when we travel; we speak Spanish; we take the local transportation; we eat in the local eateries; and we shop in the local Mercado's; we know most of the cultural quirks and customs of living in Latin America since we’ve lived here for four plus years now. So we do not consider ourselves guests in Latin America but more like permanent expats. Which means, we behave with a certain amount of confidence when doing things in foreign countries. This self-confidence shows in our mannerisms when for instance, we are looking at rentals or buying produce from the local market.

Group of tourists in El Centro - Cuenca Ecuador
 Where Does the Term EXPAT Come In?

Ecuador opens their doors to foreign guests for full 90-days and if a foreigner decides to put down roots after the visitor stamp is up, they will then need to process a resident VISA. This is why some foreigners have been given the title of EXPAT.

However, technically speaking an “EXPAT” is one who renounces citizenship in their home country and becomes a citizen of another country, which is called EXPATRIATION, and is where the term EXPAT comes from.  But from a world traveler standpoint, the name is given to many foreigners who have left their home country and have moved abroad, whether or not they have renounced their citizenship somewhere else or not.


Once a person packs up their belongings, whether they sell them or bring them with them abroad, and they begin renting permanently, (not just 3 months) they are no longer guests or tourists, but residents; this also applies even if there is still paperwork going through the process stage. If the intent is to live somewhere on a full-time basis then how is that being a guest? 

For personal fulfillment we believe it is necessary and respectful to adapt to the ways of the new land we are moving to, even if that means to negotiate prices. In all Latin American countries, negotiating is what the locals do, and if you are not a guest any longer then it is what they expect you to do too. They will not gringo you if you play the game with them; in fact they will respect you more for it. Watch them grin as you try and negotiate with them; they like it!

Now, when you hear “John and Jane Doe's cost of living is $2,300 and Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s cost of living is $1,300 in the same city or town somewhere abroad then you’ll know that one couple is still living as guests, while the other couple has “integrated into the community”.  This is one reason why cost of living statistics of foreigners living abroad are all over the map; it’s ambiguous at best.

If you think it is all about money and pricing, or how much time spent in a place, it’s not, it’s also about our attitude. Many expats that have been living abroad for several years “feel” like they are still guests in the country they reside in.  A resident abroad can certainly make themselves “feel” like they are a guest where they live permanently, and it is certainly ok to have that feeling...but...

The point is not whether we think of ourselves as guests or not, but that we ALWAYS treat everyone with respect.  That’s all about it. If I were to wonder why some folks still feel like guests when living abroad it would be because they feel disconnected from the local community and possibly even the expat community.

Certainly, not everyone can blend in, speak Spanish in a few years and start living like a local; and we do not expect everyone to do that or even want to do that. Again the point is, foreign residents that live permanently abroad are not guests any longer, although many of them behave like they are still guests; some folks might think because they are “foreigners” abroad then they must be a guest”.  But this is only “a way of thinking” that bases assumptions on their foreignness and goes directly back to our attitude.

What is a “Foreigner”?

When you look up the definition of a foreigner it means “stranger”, an “alien”, an “outsider”.  So then some foreigners who are living as permanent residents may feel they are still guests and is why they often express themselves to others as being guests. It’s perfectly ok to feel this way. However, when looking at this issue from both sides of the apple cart, we see this way of thinking can be disadvantageous to both parties as long as the foreigner is still living abroad, and here’s why.

1. The foreigner will always feel like a guest

When the foreigner always feels like a foreigner they are less likely to learn the language, blend in, interact, negotiate, and feel comfortable in their new home land.  Humans have an inherit need to “fit-in” and it can be disconcerting when one does not feel good about where they live. This is why many foreigners move back to their home country; it’s perfectly fine. They still have the adventure of traveling to a new foreign land and seeing what it’s like living in a totally different cultural environment and that’s great.

2. The locals will always treat the foreigner as a foreigner

When the foreigner continues to behave like a guest, by not speaking Spanish, dressing differently, not living in the same kind of housing and neighborhood, and not shopping and negotiating where they do, etc, etc, they will never get to know you, respect you, and be your friend because you are keeping yourself at a distance from them, not just physically, but mentally, and emotionally as well and that can and does come across as somewhat disrespectful.

Not only that, but your cost of living will be much higher because the guest (tourist) attitude gets taken advantage of in Latin American cultures. For instance when the landlord knows he can get $600 from the foreigner he will gladly skip over the local who can only pay $300, to rent to you instead. Who does this hurt? It hurts everyone.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: “For how long are we foreigners for”? Until we live somewhere abroad for 2 years? Or until we become permanent residents on paper and have an ID card? Until we renounce our citizenship in our home country? Or ?...? 


Using the term “foreigner” is a label, meaning it is only how one feels in their heart and mind, which makes up our attitude. A person can allow themselves to feel like a foreign guest forever and continue to get taken advantage of by the locals, or they can break out of this labeling and realize that they have just as much right to live anywhere they dream as long as they are respectful of the people and culture of their new life location abroad.

When we negotiate, ride the local transportation, dress like they dress, live in a house like their house and enjoy the same restaurants and events as they do, then where is the guest attitude now? It’s gone with the wind and that my friend will make you and them the happiest while living together in the same community. We think life has much more fulfillment when going local abroad. 

Until we write again!

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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, with respect to the technicalities associated with calling oneself an "expat,"...would not the proper term for someone who "packs up their belongings" in order to become a resident be "immigrant"? I know of a certain discussion that argues the loose use of the word "expat" in favor of the word immigrant to be a class issue. Perhaps you can examine the street-level opinions on this in a subsequent blog post. -JM


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