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The story so far: although the subject of expat questions has been raised in the past, we haven't really given much thought on them and the issue is still controversial.

So let's have this debate. Forget about official Stack Exchange pronouncements (there aren't any), forget about the site's current policies (the one sentence in the FAQ is vague, not really followed in practice, and not clearly rooted in the community's opinion), forget about any proposal on Area 51 (they have no bearing on what this site's community decides). Should expat questions be on-topic on Travel Answers?

In your answer, please define what you mean by expat, because different people use the word in a different sense. Or if you prefer, don't use the word expat, just say what you think should be on-topic and off-topic. In the range from making a day trip to moving all your life and changing citizenship, where does Travel Answers draw the line?

Here's a non-limitative list of topics to consider:

  • Working holidays, internships, …
  • Visas allowing study or work (which do not necessarily allow long-term stays)
  • Participating in local life: driving and car registration, opening a bank account, health insurance abroad, learning the local language, …
  • Connecting back to your home country while on the move (e.g. voting, taxes, …)
  • Medium-term accommodation (between hotels/hostels and getting your own place)
  • Moving a large amount of belongings
  • Progress towards citizenship
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    slippery slope – hippietrail Aug 17 '13 at 4:25
  • @hippietrail How so? “Slippery slope” implies getting closer to something bad. So please write an answer to explain what bad thing expat questions make us closer to (and please do explain what you mean by expat questions when you do this). – Gilles Aug 17 '13 at 10:42
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    "Forget about official Stack Exchange pronouncements (there aren't any)" - err...a staff member declared them off-topic, that would be one. "forget about the site's current policies" - er, what, we should start accepting sports too? We have SE staff and current policies for a reason - they've evolved over time, and where they stand is what the community/staff have made the site mature into. Ignoring those is not a good start. – Mark Mayo Aug 18 '13 at 5:46
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    @MarkMayo This has already been explained in the other thread: there was no official pronouncement. A person who happened to be a staff member gave her personal opinion. The current policy (whatever it is) was not given serious thought and does not reflect any agreement of the community, so if we say “XXX question is on/off-topic because it is on/off-topic”, that's circular reasoning. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 8:13
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    @hippietrail: really? Give some concrete explanation: what are you afraid of? – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 11:51
  • @MarkMayo, so far we have one two year old post from former staff, that explicitly mentions a defunct proposal. Sure, there's another proposal now, but that doesn't make Dori's post any more current. Also, "should we start accepting sports?" isn't an argument. Finally, can you rephrase your last point, because it's confusing to me: "they've evolved over time"? Is that supposed to mean they should stop evolving now? – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:01
  • @Shep: Give us some concrete explanation about why you are afraid of a separate site for expatriates. – hippietrail Aug 18 '13 at 12:06
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    @hippietrail, because that site doesn't exist yet. In addition I think it will sap useful "expat" advice from Travel (and thus keep information from travelers). – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:10
  • @hippietrail, also, throwing the same question back doesn't answer the question. My question still stands. – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:11
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    So you are happy to decide on our behalf that our reason for not including expat questions is fear rather than the reasons we actually gave you. So I ask are you afraid of trying to bring a site for expats into existence? – hippietrail Aug 18 '13 at 12:23
  • @hippietrail We should take this in chat. I have no idea where you're getting this whole idea of fear from. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 12:26
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    @hippietrail, this isn't about fear: personally I'm afraid of travel being less useful because we're throwing away useful posts. As for expats, it doesn't exist yet, and I'm afraid it will never be terribly useful if it does get created. – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:29
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    soo tempted to vote to close this as off-topic because it's about expats ;) – Mark Mayo Aug 18 '13 at 14:14
  • OLD question, but just popped up in my sidebar. Now, there IS an expat group. However, I have had at least one question that I couldn't decide which group to put it in, and no one else could persuade me either way. How long must one stay in one place to be considered an ex-pat instead of a traveler? – WGroleau Jan 13 '16 at 4:16
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This is a topic that has been discussed in detail, on meta and on the chat room, since the inception of the website. There has been a lot of debate on whether travel and immigration should be kept on the same SE site - even I initially was on the side of merging - but overall the consensus, through SE staff and the community, has been that they should NOT be merged. To those who are new to this community or didn't follow the discussion early on, it might appear that we haven't "given it much thought", so I'll try to explain the rationale here and give a history of how this decision came about.

The first reason is that StackExchange is a network of vertically-integrated Q&A sites. The idea is to have separate websites for a specific subject area. When Travel.SE was launched, just like every other StackExchange website, there were no pro-tem moderators or elected community moderators. Instead, moderators from within StackExchange staff are appointed to see each beta through it's initial phase. At the time, Dori was a StackExchange staff moderator, and through discussions in chat and meta, her judgement was thus:

Expat questions are different enough from travel questions that they have their own proposal: Immigration. The on topic questions there appear to be more oriented towards moving and settling in, and those would be considered off topic here.

There was a proposal on Area51 for an "Immigration" site to cover expat questions, which failed to get enough support. This was respawned as the Expatriates proposal. So while the current stance is that immigration / expat - in general, long-term stay - questions are off-topic here, we encourage those users to support the proposal on Area51.

Let's define "long-term" first. Some people think "immigration" or "expatriation" means permanently moving to a different country. It doesn't! In strictly legal terms, "immigration" doesn't necessarily mean becoming a citizen of a country. "Long-term" is any travel where a person is legally considered the resident of a country or is issued a visa classified as 'long-term' visa by the country being visited. Under this definition, these topics are ON-TOPIC:

  • Tourism
  • Business travel
  • Working holiday

These are OFF-TOPIC:

  • Students
  • Immigrant workers
  • Permanent residents
  • Citizenship

Why are long-term travel questions considered off-topic? It basically boils down to these:

  • The legal / paperwork long-term travel are significantly different: Any sort of long-term stay typically requires much stricter requirements. For instance, as a student currently in the UK, I'm considered a resident of the UK (legally) by both the UK and my home country (India). I get special rights as opposed to short-term travellers in terms of healthcare, voting rights (I get to vote here as a passport holder of a Commonwealth country), et al.
  • Expats may be good at answering travel questions about a specific country, but not the other way round: I could be considered as living as an expat in the UK and Singapore, so for questions about two countries I can answer travel-related questions more easily because I have hands-on knowledge. However, travellers in general are unlikely to know details when the situation is reversed.
  • Rules related to those on long-term travel visas and the kinds of question likely to arise are likely to be different from those relevant to travelling: Across all issues where there's an overlap with travel - such as accommodation, communication, transport, paperwork - the rules are different from those applicable to short-term travellers, hence it gives rise to a different type of questions which is NOT a good fit for this website. (See examples on the Expatriates proposal to understand what I mean.)

Yes, this a judgement call that was initially made by a StackExchange employee, and then carried forward by the community and its moderators. But it's a justified position to have. Unlike other websites, Travel.SE is NOT a forum and in trying to be something for everyone, we'll end up with a site that is so diluted that it attracts neither travellers nor expats.


This whole current controversy started off due to the closure of this question: Can I use “Récépissé de demande de carte de séjour to re-enter” to France?

I am student in France but I am not French. During the holiday, I came back to my country. Before I came back, I have received the "Recepisse De Demande De Carte De Sejour" in the form of paper from Préfecture finistere. My school told me that I can use it to reenter to France. Is it true?

And the top-voted answer:

The récépissé is a "receipt of request for residence"

The facts of this case are clear as to why this a "long-term" question: the OP is clearly, as a student AND as demonstrated by the answer, someone who is considered a resident - even if temporarily - under French law. Rules for this are very likely to be different from, say, someone on a multiple entry Schengen visa trying to return to France. Hence, this was closed as off-topic.


I hope the explanation above makes the situation clearer. I finally got time during the weekend to write out a comprehensive answer. As a moderator, I want to make sure that the community's voice is heard on all issues but on this occasion I feel the decision take with regard to that particular question which was closed as well as on the broader issue of whether questions related to long-term travel are off-topic here is justified.

UPDATE: I forgot to add another point. I was involved with the Travel.SE Area51 proposal during its commitment / definition phase, and that was another point the community raised there about not wanting to have expat / immigration questions.

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    Yes, a hundred times yes. – Mark Mayo Aug 18 '13 at 5:43
  • Ugh, you've completely ignored parts of Gills' post: there was one post by one former SE staff, so far we have nothing else to go on. Why do people keep bringing that one comment up? – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 11:50
  • @Shep I hope you read my full explanation as to why the policy was carried over and why long-term visa questions are significantly different from travel. – Ankur Banerjee Aug 18 '13 at 12:05
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    "Expats may be good at answering travel questions about a specific country, but not the other way round", yes, I read the rest of the paragraph, but I still don't understand what "the other way around" is. It sounds like you're saying we should exclude expert advice because the general audience can't give them advice on their specialty. Don't we want expert advice? – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:06
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    @AnkurBanerjee, yeah, I read the whole thing. Is there something wrong with asking about one particular point? (I recognize that it's a complicated issue, but each point should be able to stand on it's own) – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:07
  • What about refugees and political exiles? They have to travel to get to the new places they will live. – hippietrail Aug 18 '13 at 12:09
  • @Shep No I haven't ignored it. The fact that Dori is no longer a staff member is irrelevant; at the time the decision was taken, she was the de facto moderator of this website. She stated her reason, i.e., expat questions are significantly different, and I have given reasons as to WHY they are significantly different. Like I said, this topic might seem undebated to those who didn't follow the discussion early on, but it has been. – Ankur Banerjee Aug 18 '13 at 12:10
  • @hippietrail I'm guessing this in relation to the Edward Snowden questions? Refugees, before they are granted asylum, aren't really considered residents hence they should be off-topic. – Ankur Banerjee Aug 18 '13 at 12:11
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    @hippietrail, are you trying for reductio ad absurdum here, or are you serious? – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:16
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    @Shep, are you claiming that all expats are travellers? That being an expat is an act of travelling? – hippietrail Aug 18 '13 at 12:19
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    @hippietrail If someone who happens to be an expat asks a programming question on Stack Overflow, we wouldn't say “it's off-topic because you're an expat”. So if someone asks a travel question on Travel Answers, why would we deem it off-topic just because he's an expat? – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 12:23
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    @hippietrail, not a bit. Personally, I don't care how we define people. I think there are questions that are only useful to expats, and we could debate closing such questions. But questions from expats, can easily be useful to travelers, thus I don't need to decide who is an expat and who isn't, if the question could be useful to travelers, it should stay. – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 12:24
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    @Gilles I gave my rationale for why the specific case of that closed question is an expat question rather than a travel question. I also explained WHY non-travel visas are different. The mere fact of residency significantly changes the relevant rules and it was felt by SE that it would dilute the quality of this site, and this is something I agree with. – Ankur Banerjee Aug 18 '13 at 12:28
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    @Gilles: I've said exactly the same thing multiple times. Not every question asked by an expat is an expat question. Not every question asked by an expat on travel.SE is a travel question. We should accept travel questions from expats, we should not accept expat questions from expats. Questions about the terms and conditions of residency applications are not travel questions but expat questions. – hippietrail Aug 18 '13 at 17:03
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    @AnkurBanerjee, I'm a bit confused by this part about merging travel and expats: "overall the consensus, through ... the community, has been that they should NOT be merged", your post proposing merging is now +4 net votes. 4 isn't a big number, but I'd hardly call it a consensus against merging. – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 17:11
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I think we should allow "expat" questions, with the understanding that they should be limited to medium-term travel (no changing citizenship, starting businesses, etc.).

The first reason to allow these questions is that they could be useful to other travelers. While there are some expat questions that have no relevance whatsoever to Travel, many are in a gray zone, and closing them is a shame.

The second reason is these medium-term travelers themselves.

SE sites benefit hugely from the "power-users", who harvest many upvotes daily because they know the subject very well and want to share what they know. Medium-term travelers are potential power-users. Almost by definition, they can offer a much deeper perspective than short-term travelers. They may not offer much help if you're just planning a weekend in Paris, but for longer travel (i.e. backpacking) they are pure gold. We should be doing everything we can to pull these people in. Even just looking at the the expats proposal, there are some questions that would clearly be useful to travelers (even some comments that questions would be better suited for Travel), on subjects ranging from health insurance to cost of living to local communities. On the Travel side, there's an example where the poster explicitly mentions moving to another country, and nonetheless generates useful information for the site.

So far I've read a few arguments against medium-term travel questions, but none of them seem very compelling to me:

  • The "Staff Moderator" argument: I strongly encourage everyone to actually read the post this is based on. It's one short opinion from someone who was SE staff. More importantly, it's over two years old. We've heard absolutely nothing from SE since, and for good reason: they want us to evolve on our own. One principal of SE is that we can make the rules here, there's no reason to get hung up on a judgment call from former staff.

  • The "Vertically-Integrated" or "dilution" argument: The philosophy of SE is that sites should be narrow in scope. This makes a lot of sense, it would be annoying to sort through posts asking about installing a kitchen sink when we're trying to debug C++. But there's clearly a limit within established SE sites: SO allows questions about C++ on the same forum with questions about Perl, they just use tags to sort them. They do this because when a site becomes too narrow in scope it limits potential synergy between related subjects. We can absolutely create a or , and users are free to filter them.

  • The "Slippery Slope" argument: My interpretation (correct me if I'm wrong) that if we allow medium-term questions, we'll have to allow questions which have absolutely no relevance to normal travelers. I don't see why this has to happen: we're still in charge of this site. Maybe there's another slippery slope here, in that we could be mobbed by expats and expatiate-specific questions if we allow medium-term travel. This one is a bit more subjective, but personally I'd put up with a few filterable tags if it could get us some resident experts in various countries.

  • The "Community Consensus" argument: There are often references to some kind of ethereal "community" that doesn't approve of expat questions. Unfortunately, I don't see evidence for it. When asked what to do about immigration qustions, one poster proposed merging expats with Travel, and had positive votes. In addition, in an earlier discussion on this subject, the most popular answer was in favor of allowing expat questions. So in the most concrete terms we can hope for, the community has shown that it favors expat questions.

I recognize that allowing medium-stay questions would go against precedent on this site, but allowing flexibility and pulling in new users is also what makes SE work so well. There could be hundreds of veteran travelers who would be more than happy to trade wisdom for upvotes, and they aren't going to come here if we close their questions just because they smell like expat.

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    As a counter-point, many of the power users on this site are expats, so I don't see us as being unwelcoming to them. If anything, we are unwelcoming to people who want to become exapts, because I feel that's a different group and don't have as much to offer to a travel website. – Ankur Banerjee Aug 18 '13 at 19:51
  • well, there's certainly a scale here: I'm only arguing in favor of medium-term travel questions, since I think there's quite a lot overlap with travel. When we exclude student visas, temporary residence, etc from this site, we loose a lot of those questions. – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 20:11
  • some edits, hopefully I've made my point more clear: I don't really care about the definition of "expat" vs "tourist", so I've tried to remove those references – Shep Aug 18 '13 at 21:15
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    I am a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. considering working in another country. I wanted to ask some questions about the process of travelling to and working in another country. My first thought was "Hey I know there is a Travel.SE, let me see what's posted there." I have since committed to the Expat proposal; my point is just that as an average person thinking about working in another country, Travel.SE was the natural choice for a place to browse/ask questions (especially since I had never heard the term 'expat' before). The fact that this traffic to the site is unwanted seems curious to me. – FGreg Jan 10 '14 at 16:45

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