By Liam Higgins
Cuenca should expect a new rush of expats in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s the prediction of Jim Taschereau, an international immigration specialist.
“Cuenca had its first wave of English-speaking immigrants, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, beginning about 10 years ago and I’m expecting a second wave once the pandemic ends,” Taschereau says. “This is probably a year away, maybe two, but there are several reasons I’m confident it will happen.”
Taschereau is coordinating research on what he calls “voluntary immigration” in a joint project with the London School of Economics and University of Illinois in the U.S. “Voluntary immigration involves mostly retirees, but increasing numbers of younger people, primarily from North America and Europe,” says. “Instead of the traditional pattern of immigration forced by civil unrest, persecution and hunger, this is immigration inspired by a sense of adventure and the desire to establish new life styles. Voluntary immigrants are people of financial means who have the option of living wherever they want.”
According to Taschereau, voluntary immigration had its roots in the 1950s and 1960s in Europe when citizens from the UK began establishing expat enclaves in Spain and France. In Latin America, the trend emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, first in Mexico and then in Costa Rica and Panama. About 2000, Ecuador became a desired destination.
“It seems strange to predict new waves of expats during the pandemic since some expats have returned to their native countries in recent months,” he says. “During times of trouble, there’s some comfort in returning to the nest, so to speak, and my research suggests that voluntary Latin American expat communities have lost 5 to 10 percent of their numbers since March.” He believes the trend will reverse as the impact of the pandemic recedes. “There is a desire for life overseas and that will not go away with the virus.”
Taschereau makes a distinction between voluntary and work-related immigration. “I don’t believe there will be a quick rebound in the number of expats being posted overseas on work assignments. For a number of reasons, it will take years for these jobs to come back and many of them never will.”
Why does he see Cuenca as a soon-to-be reborn expat hotspot? “There is a comfort level in the city that you don’t have in many other Latin American towns, partly because there’s already an established expat community” he says. “There’s the ease of getting around, especially on foot. There’s the new tram, which will be attractive even for those who don’t ride it since it is a marker for good infrastructure. Becasue of the city’s size, there’s also a level of sophistication in such areas as entertainment, culture and dining that many people prefer. Most important, especially for prospective expats considering Latin America, is the safety factor.”
According to Taschereau, who visited Cuenca in September, the crime rate is far lower in Ecuador than in Mexico and Colombia, two other popular expat destinations prior to the pandemic. “The rates of murder and aggravated assault are 400 to 500 percent higher in those countries than in Ecuador and crime rates in Cuenca are substantially below the national average. In addition, the rate of drug-related violence is increasing in Mexico and Colombia and the governments appear helpless to control it. These are things that have a huge impact on choosing a place to live.”
In addition to safety, Taschereau says the residency application process in Ecuador is fairly simple. “Of course, the bureaucracy in the country is terribly inefficient and frustrating but almost all of those who apply are accepted,” he says, adding that application costs are low.
Other advantages of Ecuador are low rental costs, the security of property ownership and respect for civil liberties which, he says, is not the case in some Latin American countries.
What are the downsides to Cuenca and Ecuador? “Before the pandemic, I thought the country’s poor economic situation would be a deterrent but Covid has been a great equalizer. Economies across the region, and the world for that matter, will suffer over the next few years. People understand there will be a recovery period.”
Taschereau says the new wave of expats will have a different profile than that of earlier expats. “Those who came after 2009 were mostly older retirees inspired by recommendations from such media sources as Live and Invest Overseas and International Living. The new expats will be younger, many with families, some of them planning to start businesses or telecommute back to North America and Europe. Proportianately, there will be more Europeans.”
The bottom line, says Taschereau, is that Cuenca is simply a good place to live. “This is my third visit and I like it more each time.”