By Davy Karkason
Founding Attorney

When it comes to the world of international investment disputes, the topics of appropriation, misappropriation, expropriation, and confiscation are important concepts to consider. The interchangeable use of these four words can lead to confusion. By understanding each term’s distinct meanings and implications, lawyers and international corporations can better prepare for legal proceedings related to international investments. 


At its core, appropriation is a positive concept that involves taking something from one party with their consent and transferring it to another party. In international investment disputes, appropriation typically refers to a government taking ownership of an asset or resource with the owner’s consent to achieve public goals such as economic development or national security. This could include land appropriated for a public park or a natural resource taken over by the government. It is important that compensation be provided when assets are appropriated; otherwise, it would be considered expropriation instead. 


Misappropriation occurs when someone wrongfully takes something without permission from another person or entity. In international investment disputes, this usually involves someone illegally taking assets from an investor or company without their consent. This could include stealing money from an investor’s account or using corporate funds for personal gain without authorization, or taking away a concession without any justification. Unlike appropriation, which is typically considered a positive act, misappropriation is always seen as a hostile act due to its dishonest nature. 


Expropriation is similar to appropriation in that both involve taking ownership of an asset from the owner; however, expropriation does not require consent from the owner, whereas appropriation does. In other words, government expropriations occur when the government seizes private property without providing fair compensation for its use or value. Governments have used this type of action to secure resources such as land or oil fields, and during times of war, to seize enemy property and assets as part of reparations efforts following military campaigns.  International law generally considers expropriations illegal unless they serve a public purpose and provide just compensation for any losses incurred due to the seizure. 

Expropriation is similar to the Taking clause of the United States Constitution (5th amendment). In the context of eminent domain, the government can take private property for public use as long as the government provides just compensation to the owner. Under Just compensation, the value of the property is determined by the fair market value at the time it was taken. In some cases, the government may have to provide additional compensation to cover expenses like moving costs or loss of business. If the government takes someone’s property without providing just compensation, it is considered as “taking without just compensation”. This can give rise to legal challenges, as property owners have the right to seek compensation for their losses.  To learn more about fair and equitable treatment, please visit International Arbitration: Fair and Equitable Treatment – Transnational Matters

Critical Differences of Expropriation and taking without just compensation.

There are some critical differences between expropriation and taking without just compensation. Expropriation is the act of taking private property to which a treaty provides some protection to foreign investors. On the other hand, the Taking clause is protection provided under the US constitution against eminent domain. Expropriation can occur in the international context, while “taking without just compensation” can occur in a domestic context. International law governs expropriation, while domestic laws governs “taking without just compensation. However, under both doctrines, the party committing the expropriation of assets or the taking of private property cannot do so without just compensation (“fair market value”) and both acts must be for public use.

To see these concepts at play, please visit the proper bilateral investment treaty International Investment Agreements Navigator | UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub


Confiscations differ from appropriations and expropriations because they do not necessarily involve the transfer of ownership but rather involve restricting access or use rights over private property without providing fair compensation for those restrictions on usage rights imposed by government actions. For example, when a government prohibits a company from using land without providing fair compensation, it constitutes a confiscation. While confiscatory actions may not necessarily involve the transfer of ownership, they can still result in significant financial losses if reasonable compensation isn’t provided.  


It’s essential for lawyers and international corporations who work with investments abroad to understand these four terms—appropriations vs. misappropriations vs. expropriations vs. confiscations—to protect themselves against potential risks associated with doing business overseas. With this knowledge, companies can plan accordingly by familiarizing themselves with the different types of legal action that can potentially impact foreign investments while ensuring they receive just compensation if foreign governments seize their assets.  

About the Author
As a lawyer and the founder of Transnational Matters, Davy Aaron Karkason represents numerous international companies and a wide variety of industries in Florida, the U.S., and abroad. He is dedicated to fighting against unjust expropriation and unfair treatment of any individual or entity involved in an international matter. Mr. Karason received his B.A. in Political Science & International Relations with a Minor in Criminal Justice from Nova Southeastern University. If you have any questions about this article you can contact Davy Karkason through our contact page.