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U.S. Expat in Puerto Rico – who’s that?

What’s an expat?

“Expat” has become a common term for an expatriate person and many folks living abroad in retirement consider themselves expats.

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word expatriate (verb) as:

"to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one's native country"

This is quite different from ex-patriot – as it is sometimes mistaken for; on the contrary, many expats are not ex-patriots and are, in fact, quite patriotic.

Since I am already an expat once over (Polish expat), I wonder what exactly I would be considered if I moved to Puerto Rico…

Would I be a U.S. expat? – I think not, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and all its citizens are also U.S. citizens. They, are in fact, free to move to any of the states at will.

Some people move on to skin color as the next designation, like white, black, Indian, etc. But there are plenty of white Puerto Ricans, black Puerto Ricans, and Indian (Taíno) Puerto Ricans. In fact the reality is that Puerto Rico is a melting pot of different races and skin colors – anything from indigenous Indian population to Europeans to Africans to Asians.

I have seen someone self-describe themselves as Puerto Rican like this:

“We don’t classify by race. Actually we are taught that our race is Puerto Rican. Although we know that is actually our nationality & not a race. We know that we are a mix of 3 races and that makes us special & unique so our race is Puerto Rican to us. Some of us are white & some of us are black but most of us are a mix in between. And since there has been ‘mixing’ for almost 500 years on our island, most people cant even identify with a single race.”


Hah….well, then, what is a U.S. citizen that moves to Puerto Rico?

Have you heard the word “gringo” yet?

It is a term usually used to refer to an English-speaking foreigner, mainly an American. In some Latin American countries, it is considered a derogatory term.

In Puerto Rico, a gringo refers to U.S. citizens from the U.S. mainland. It is typically just that, not particularly derogatory – although body language and tone of voice should be considered in making a determination.

I have seen signs in local establishments in Puerto Rico that say “Tuesday is Gringo Night” and all it means is that U.S. mainlanders gather there on Tuesday night.

In the end, I don’t really care what my designation will be in Puerto Rico – I can be a gringo (it does not bother me), I can be a mainlander, or I can just be a human. I’m good with all of that.

What about you? What does expat mean to you?



About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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