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“I don’t like being called an ex-patriot,” my friend Jack said. He’s a former elected official and about as red-white-and-blue as they come. His wife is a former trial judge. But now they’re retired and living in Ecuador…for the adventure, the pleasurable lifestyle, and the lower cost of living.

Gently, I explained to Jack that he is definitely not an ex-patriot. And he never will be…

Jack is an expatriate. As the dictionary explains, the word “expatriate,” which can be used either as a noun or a verb – refers to the act of moving from one’s home country. If you’re from the U.S. but you live in Canada, for example, you are an expatriate.

So what is an ex-patriot? According to The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, there is no such word. But dictionaries commonly refer to a patriot as “a person who loves his country, zealously supporting and defending it.” So it stands to reason that an ex-patriot is someone who no longer cares much about his or her country.

I have yet to meet an expatriate who fits that definition. Sure, we may moan and groan about what’s going on at home, but that’s how our system works. We’re allowed to do that and it doesn’t mean we love our country any less. In fact, I’d say it shows how much we care.

To set the record straight, you don’t give up your U.S. citizenship when you move overseas. Instead, you’re given a visa that allows you to spend time in the new country.

Most countries offer a variety of visa options to foreigners, from tourist visas that allow you to be in the country for a limited amount of time (usually 30-90 days) to a resident visa if you opt to live there full- or part-time. You may qualify for a student or humanitarian visa, for instance, if you attend school or do volunteer work. If you’re employed by a multi-national or national corporation, you’ll qualify for a work visa.

Those of us who aren’t looking to work will most likely apply for another type of residency visa. In many countries, if you buy real estate or invest in a financial instrument of some kind, you’ll qualify for an investor visa. If you can prove you have a pension or enough income to support yourself, you may qualify for a retirement visa. (Panama offers one of the best retirement programs in the world with a host of enticing benefits.)

And yes, some of these visas can lead to citizenship in that country, if that’s what you’re after.

In many ways, moving to a foreign country is about as easy as moving to another state these days. But it comes with far more benefits – and adventure is definitely one of them.

So if this idea of retiring overseas is something you’ve been thinking about, maybe it’s time to take the next step? At the end of the day if you find it isn’t for you, you can always go back home. But nothing ventured is nothing gained. And there’s a lot to gain by living the “expat” life.

Along with her husband, Dan Prescher, in 2001, Suzan Haskins sold everything she owned and moved south…far south, in fact…to Latin America where she lives and writes on behalf of International Living magazine.

Photo of an American flag above Montana, United States, via Flickr user mrbendy.

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