What’s the difference in meaning between “emigrate” and “immigrate”?

To answer this question, let’s first look at the difference between the simpler words “go” and “come.” These two verbs describe movement, but each one is used in a specific way.

An easy way to remember how to use them is the phrase “go there, come here.” Simply put, we use “go” when we are leaving our current location and moving to a new destination. We use “come” when move from another destination to our current location.

i.e. I go to South Korea for business meetings.
(I leave my current place and travel to a new place.)

i.e. I came home three days ago.
(I left another place and returned to my current location.)

The words “emigrate” and “immigrate” function the same way. One speaks about leaving one’s current country to live in another while the other speaks about coming to a new country from a previous one.

Can you guess which one is which? If not, that’s okay. Let me show you.

  • to emigrate: to leave one’s current country in order to live in a new country
  • to immigrate: to come to a new country to live after leaving one’s previous country

So, if you live in Canada and plan to move to the United States, you would say that you are planning on emigrating.

However, if you have family living in the United States and they speak about your plans, they would say that you plan to immigrate.

Go there, come here. Emigrate there, immigrate here.

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