Cuenca expat scene is ‘changing before our eyes’ as more young families and Europeans move in

Aug 4, 2018 | 6 comments

By David Morrill

Cuenca is changing before our eyes, becoming more multicultural and more cosmopolitan.

A young expat family on the bank of the Tomebamba River.

A young expat family on the bank of the Tomebamba River. Photo credit: El Comercio

That’s the assessment of University of Edinburgh researcher Calvin Evans, currently in town conducting interviews.

“The changes are happening fairly rapidly due to the influx of Europeans and to Ecuadorians who are returning from Europe and the U.S.,” says Evans, who is working with faculty members at the University of Cuenca on his project. “This is a very dynamic situation and is a fascinating subject for research,” he says.

According to Evans, the focus of attention for many years has been on North America retirees moving to Cuenca. “This is still the largest expat group with about 5,000 to 6,000 by most estimates,” he says. “The arrival of this group has been widely reported by the international media for several years. What hasn’t received much notice is the more recent phenomenon of younger people and people from countries other than the U.S. and Canada moving in.”

He adds that Cuenca has the largest community of native English-speaking residents in South America.

In total, there are about 8,000 legal residents in Cuenca if you count all immigrants from non-Latin American countries, says Evans. The largest contributors to the growth, besides the U.S. and Canada, are Great Britain, Australia, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. Other nationalities represented in significant numbers are China, Czechoslovakia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and India.

Counting those from Latin America countries, particularly those from Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Cuba, the number of foreign residents swells to about 14,000, although about 2,000, almost all Colombians, have official refugee status. “Then there are the Venezuelans, most of whom do not have legal status but are given special consideration by the government due to conditions at home,” Evans says.

North Americans, mostly retirees, have been the big expat story in Cuenca for several years but that may be changing.

North Americans, mostly retirees, have been the big expat story in Cuenca for several years but that may be changing.

“When I started my interviews, I was focusing on the North Americans, who were mostly middle aged and elderly,” Evans says. “Then I began noticing all the other nationalities represented here and came to understand that this is probably the trend of the future. The gringos may not be the biggest story for much longer.”

Evans believes that that there are between 500 and 1,000 younger expats in Cuenca, most of them arriving since 2013, mostly from the U.S. and Europe. “Many of them have children and local schools tell me that the number of expat children they enroll is growing,” he says.

Evans says that the expat groups from France and Germany are the fastest growing, with about 500 and 400 respectively.

He says his studies of North American expats show rapid turnover. “There are many in this group who are returning home, mostly because of family considerations, bad health and poor preparation for expat life. On the other hand, there seems to be more North Americans moving in than leaving.”

He adds: “One issue that interests me is the growing multiculturalism of Cuenca. On a per capita basis, Cuenca may be the most diverse place in Latin America.”

Article was revised and updated from previous post.