Make-up of the Cuenca expat community is changing, researcher says

Jul 7, 2015 | 9 comments

Cuenca expats are getting younger and becoming more international, says a British researcher. They are also spreading out within the city and beyond, he says.

Will Phillips, who has lived in Cuenca part-time since 2011, says he wants to establish a demographic profile of Ecuador expats in general but is focusing on Cuenca for now. “Cuenca is a fascinating case study because of the rapid growth in the numbers of expats within a relatively short period,” he says. “There is really nothing else like it in the world,” he adds.

Phillips says that there is a high level of turn-over among Cuenca expats, with many leaving as many more move in.

Phillips says that there is a high level of turn-over among Cuenca expats, with many leaving as many more move in.

According to Phillips, there is a great deal of anecdotal information about the size and make-up of the expat community, or cluster, as he calls it, and much of it is wrong. “In general, the word-on-the-street is based on personal observations by a handful of expats that has become widely accepted,” he says.

Phillips says that the anecdotal information says that the number of expats in Cuenca is about 5,000, that they are overwhelming retired North Americans, 80% to 90% U.S. citizens, some of whom are working “second careers,” that the vast majority of them live close to the center of the city, and that they are here because of the low cost of living.

“What I am finding is that this profile, if you want to call it that, is three or four years old, and doesn’t take into account recent trends,” Phillips says. “We’re in the early stages of our project but what we have discovered so far is that there are large numbers of young families coming to Cuenca, many with children. The word-on-the-street profile does not consider this nor does it consider the numbers of Europeans moving in,” he says.

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He says that many in-coming expats are living in out-lying neighborhoods of Cuenca or in the country. “This seems to be the newer trend,” he says.

He also says that there is rapid turn-over of expats. “There are many expats leaving but there are many more moving in,” he says.

Phillips, a 1995 graduate of the London School of Economics, says he has two objectives with his research, which he is conducting with the assistance of two graduate students from the University of Cuenca. “First, I want to establish a profile based on reliable information that can be updated regularly and can be used for a variety of purposes. Second, I want to develop a profile that can be used for marketing purposes, to assist businesses planning to locate or expand in Cuenca. I will also provide information to advertisers who want to reach English-speakers.”

Currently, there is no reliable Cuenca marketing information for businesses, according to Phillips. “I know of a restaurant with expansion plans based on an expat count of 3,000. I also know of a media project, not yet in operation, that is counting on 10,000 expats,” he says.

He adds: “From a business standpoint, this is crazy. These folks are relying on wild guesses. You need reliable data on which to base financial decisions.”

Phillips’ research also includes tourists since they are an important market for some businesses, he says.

Phillips says he hopes to finish his research by early to mid-2016 and will begin working with businesses shortly after that. “At this stage, we’re collecting information and developing models and I don’t plan to discuss specifics of the project until the work is complete. I don’t want to contribute to the erroneous information that’s already out there.”

 

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