Where are the boundaries between travel and residency?

If I go on a one-month work holiday, do I ask here or at Travel?

If I go on a 5-month Erasmus Exchange project, do I ask here or at Travel?

If I spend ⅓rd of my time abroad for family reasons, are those regular visits travel, or might related question fit better here?

  • 3
    I think question is also fit for the non-meta site
    – SztupY Mod
    Mar 12, 2014 at 22:30

6 Answers 6


Travel vs. Residency isn't so much a legal distinction as it is a practical one.

For Travel.SE, the distinction is fairly simple: Is the question relevant to someone who is only traveling?

Regardless of the length of one's stay at a vacation destination, there are only certain questions that are likely to come up. How to apply for a residency visa, how to open a bank account, and how to establish good credit with the local electric company are obviously not among them.

However, whether you're staying for 1 week or 15 years, how to not get ripped off by a taxi driver* is a relevant "travel" question.

I think we can apply a similar standard here, and say that a question is within the scope of "Expatriatism" if it is about how to living outside of your "home country." "Living" is purposely a vague term. How long must one be somewhere to say they "live" there? It's a judgment call. But certainly questions about setting up a bank account, or not being ripped off by taxi drivers* are relevant. How to find the best price on airfare to visit your family back home would not be appropriate here, and should go to Travel.SE.

*I intentionally chose an example that I think ought to be on topic both here and on Travel.SE.

  • 1
    +1 Travel.SE has quite clear rules on what is being on-topic there and what is "too expats". However, still there are questions which are truly bordeline, for instance this one which I just moved from there to here.
    – yo'
    Mar 12, 2014 at 23:16
  • @tohecz: There's nothing wrong with "border-line." In fact, it's best if there is an overlap--that prevents questions from falling between the cracks.
    – Flimzy
    Mar 12, 2014 at 23:17
  • Yep, but being borderline means a risk of little-to-no popularity of your question. And minimizing the width of the border is helfpul to prevent cross-posting (just see how many questions have been asked on all of SO, SU, SF and Unix).
    – yo'
    Mar 12, 2014 at 23:20
  • 1
    For Travel.SE, the distinction is fairly simple: Is the question relevant to someone who is only traveling? Isn't that begging the question?
    – Gala
    Mar 13, 2014 at 8:22

In my opinion this would be determined by whether or not you have to go through the same things that somebody moving to the country would. Examples I can think of are:

  • Setting up a bank account
  • Getting an ID number (Social Security, National Insurance, Municipal Service Number, etc.)
  • Registering your address with the local authority
  • Setting up utilities

These are the types of things every new resident has to go through, and so do many short-term travellers. I've known some Erasmus students who go through the process of registering locally and setting up a bank account, and some who just use their home bank and leave next to no paper-trail when they leave.

Come to think of it, I suppose it's that paper-trail that makes most of the difference in my mind. Tourists don't leave a permanent record, but expats do.


The intent really separates the two. If you're going somewhere to visit, it's travel, to live, it's residency. By live I mean (any / all below)

  • You pay monthly rent / mortgage
  • You open a bank account
  • You need something beyond a tourist visa
  • You are obligated to remit taxes for money earned there
  • You work there
  • You put your kid(s) in school(s) there
  • You've had to go buy clothes there more than once or twice

.. the list can really go on. When your location has become an integral part of your life, you probably belong here.

But, avoid "as an expat" as a qualifier to ask questions that probably belong on other sites, where the place that you currently live has little to no bearing. If I want to book a trip by ship to Malaysia and then off by train to Singapore - I need to go to Travel.

  • I like this informal activity-based approach to the definition. Ultimately the divisions between sites are meant to ensure that questioners connect with experts who have the answers they seek, and I think this allows in just enough of the grey area (exchange students, contractors, aid workers, snowbirds, etc.) that they will be in the place where their expat-like questions can be answered, even if they are not the canonical this-is-my-only-home-now sort of expat. Mar 20, 2014 at 13:45

Both within the EU and elsewhere it's not unusual for people to split residence between countries for part of each year, especially if retired.

In North America, they're called snowbirds - those who head south for the winter. Probably similar in Europe for the warmer places like the Canaries, many would have a seasonally-occupied home (especially Scandavians and Germans).

In many cases, these people have the same questions as expats (except possibly working). They own property, need to have a local bank account, might need some special visa category that allows longer stays, have problems registering cars as non-residents, and so on. (in many ways the problems are often tougher, as they're living there but might be considered non-residents).

So regular season residence (3-6 months every year, probably with an owned property) has more in common with expat issues that with travel.

Maybe a reasonable definition of expat would be one who is at a "home" (or work) outside their own country.


I think the boundary between travel and residency is governed by the laws of the country you are visiting.

The authorities in the country you visit have a strict definition of what is legitimate travel and what is residency (legal or not). For example, you can travel to the USA on the visa waiver program for 90 days, on a business visa for longer periods if you perform certain types of jobs and are not paid as an employee in the USA. This is travel.

Once you start exceeding the bounds of such limited permissions - in duration, or income, then this starts to become residency. The strict terms for this will be determined by the regulations of the country you visit.

  • 2
    That may not be so easy to determine inside the EU/Schengen, where anyone can travel anywhere for any time.
    – gerrit
    Mar 12, 2014 at 21:22
  • @gerrit travel, yes, but you still have to take up residence somewhere.
    – Sklivvz
    Mar 13, 2014 at 0:01

A simple definition?

You become an expatriate when you declare a new residency, primary or secondary, outside of the country of your citizenship, with the intention of creating a home and base of living there.

Travel is being away from your home without creating a new one.

  • By this definition, someone working abroad on a 2-year contract in Dubai might not qualify as an expat because they have "no intention of creating a permanent home and base of living there." Yet they will face all the things an expat faces. Mar 19, 2014 at 17:29
  • @JonathanVanMatre I don't think someone would go to Dubai for 2-years and not build a base of living there. I think your example falls together with types such as military or missionary work abroad. These are very specific types of expat-life, where your life-style is primarily defined by your work and not your surroundings. Mar 20, 2014 at 12:30
  • Yes, but that base is not permanent and the person knows it is temporary from day one. In some cases they may even do long-term work abroad while spouse and children remain at home. It's that word "permanent" that I think is too restrictive. Mar 20, 2014 at 13:38
  • @JonathanVanMatre removed the "permanent" : ) Mar 20, 2014 at 13:40

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