What's the difference between emigrate and immigrate? They seem to have the same definitions in the dictionary but they are antonyms...


  • 3
    Related: Emigrant and immigrant.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 11:54
  • 1
    @JFW: Not to be pushy, but in case you forgot about this question: there's a good answer here, and you haven't yet accepted. Thanks for looking!
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 20:06
  • Sorry! Fixed the problem now. :)
    – JFW
    Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 13:07

8 Answers 8


The difference is fairly subtle

  • To Emigrate is to leave one country to settle in another. (The focus is on the original country)
  • To Immigrate is to come to a new country to live. (The focus is on the new country)

So if I were born in Ireland, and then migrated to the US, all of the following would be true and grammatical:

I emigrated from Ireland.

I immigrated to the US.

(Now the tricky bits)

I emigrated from Ireland to the US. (This focuses on the leaving bit)

I immigrated to the US from Ireland. (This focuses on the arriving bit)

And finally, relatives in Ireland might say:

Dusty emigrated to the US last year. (from their perspective, I left)

While new friends in the US:

Dusty immigrated to the US last year. (from their perspective, I arrived)

  • 1
    I wouldn't describe the difference between emigrate and immigrate as "fairly subtle". One is coming and the other is going. Yes, it's motion, but direction is critical. You provided great examples though.
    – Evik James
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 19:19
  • totally awesome and an easy , simple to understand solution. great going, please keep it up
    – sqlchild
    Commented Mar 19, 2011 at 6:30
  • It's not obvious to me why your new friends would bother saying to the US at all. In my understanding people wouldn't normally use the word unless they were in the country you emigrated to, so it's a pretty pointless addition to the verbiage. There are plenty of instances of immigrated from, and they don't bother saying where you've ended up. I admit it - I just don't like the word. It makes a pointless distinction. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 3:31

To emigrate is to leave here and move to another country.

To immigrate is to leave another country and move to here.


The "e" in emigrate is short for "ex", which means "out". You see it in words like exit (to leave), expire (out of breath >> out of time >> death), exterminate (to drive out).

The "im" in immigrate is a variant of "in", which means in. You see it in words like internal (inside), insinuate (to curve in), input (that which is put in).

This "in" should not be confused with the other "in" which means "not", used in such words as indiscriminate, incapable, and insatiable.

So, to emigrate means to exit a location. To immigrate means to come into a location.

  • Glad you wrote this, since this is how I remember 'immigrate' and 'emigrate'. I'll add that the source language for the "in-" prefix is Latin, and both Latin and Greek supply the meaning for the "ex-" prefix. (Corrections welcome if there is a Gk. source for "in-" as well, etc..)
    – jbelacqua
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 15:12
  • 1
    Similarly, egress and ingress.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 17:56
  • @Jay, you couldn't have given a better example. Thanks!
    – Evik James
    Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 19:26
  • I like this answer!!!!
    – ZSH
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 4:47

Emigrate means leaving a country, immigrate means entering a country. Like "exhale" versus "inhale".


The NOAD contains the following note about emigrate.

To emigrate is to leave a country, especially one's own, intending to remain away. To immigrate is to enter a country, intending to remain there: my aunt emigrated from Poland and immigrated to Canada.

The OED reports that immigrate is chiefly North American.

  • If immigrate is chiefly NA, what do people say elsewhere for 'to move to here (from another country)'?
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 16:31
  • @Mitch: mostly move here. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 10:27

Immigration and emigration have to do with humans migrating between two countries. The use depends on which country we are referring to.

With respect to the US, people who leave the country are emigrants. People who move here are immigrants.


In my experience, as an Indian ex-pat living and working in the UK:

If you're white-skinned and you move to another country you're said to have emigrated. If you're not white-skinned and you move to another country you're an immigrant.


Emigration & immigration are almost equal to product movement internationally:

Export: leaving this country and go to another country — emigration

Import: Leaving another country & arriving in to this country — immigration

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.