What’s ahead for expats after coronavirus — in Ecuador, in Cuenca and around the world?

Jul 2, 2020 | 59 comments

By Liam Higgins

One expert predicts Cuenca will continue to attract expats because of its quality infrastructure and cultural sophistication.

And just as important: “Will a lot of expats go back to their home countries?”

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Post-pandemic, travel will be more difficult for all expats.

Another issue emerging is the imposition of travel restrictions between countries. “We saw it this week when the EU announced that residents of most countries, including the U.S., will not be permitted to enter EU countries,” Masters says. “This is a situation that could continue for a year or more.”

So, what is the future for retiree expats and younger people moving overseas looking for new opportunities?

“According to Masters and John Holtz, a half-time Cuenca expat, there is more than one answer to the question. “Within a year or two, I expect the number of older, voluntary expats to actually increase,” says Masters. “One reason is economic conditions in North America and Europe. In the coming recession, many people will take a financial hit and some of them will be looking to relocate to places with lower costs of living.”

Holtz, a former sociology professor who studied international migration, agrees but says there could be a minor outflow of foreigners before the next wave of newcomers arrive. “Retirees living overseas, like everyone else, are rattled by the pandemic and some of them are unsure of their futures. I think some will go home to be closer to family and familiar health care options but I don’t see a mass exodus. In Cuenca, I know of two couples who returned to the U.S. before lockdown to be near doctors and hospitals they knew.”

Two recent polls of expats, one in Mexico and a second in Spain, suggest that few intend to go home. “In Mexico, five percent said they planned to leave while four percent in Spain said they would,” says Holtz. “About the same number said they intended to spend more time in their home country but did not plan to give up their foreign addresses.”

So what about expats in Cuenca and Ecuador?

“I think we’ll follow the international trends and it’s possible Ecuador will attract more new expats that other countries because of its low cost of living and the use of the U.S. dollar,” Holtz says. “Life here is comfortable for most expats and the travel distance and expense back to North America is manageable.”

About Cuenca specifically, Holtz believes the expat community will expand. “This is a good place to be and it was getting better, in my opinion, before the pandemic hit,” he says. “In the last five or six years, the city has attracted more Europeans and fewer North American retirees, the city’s foreign affairs office tells us. I think this will continue but I also expect, for economic reasons, a rebound in the number of U.S. citizens moving here. I think Cuenca and Quito will attract the largest number of new expats to Ecuador because of the quality of infrastructure, cultural sophistication and ease of travel”

One concern for Holtz before the pandemic was the financial crisis Ecuador faces because of low oil prices and other factors. “Suddenly, that seems less important as the entire world will experience a pretty bad recession. The playing field has been leveled, so to speak, and expats will understand that there will be a few years of hard times. Yes, things will be bad in Ecuador but we’ll have a lot of company.”

Expats in Ecuador and elsewhere could also face changes in immigration policies. “I expect to see more health requirements develop out of the Covid crisis both in terms of health insurance and in entry requirements. I think countries could exclude applicants with serious health problems and they may add maximum age limits. This will be more the case in Europe than in Latin America, I think.”

One group of expats that may be reduced in number by the pandemic are what Masters refers to as “tourist expats.” Travel will be difficult for many months, maybe years, to come, he says. “Unfortunately, air travel in particular will be a major pain in the ass for a while and part of the joy of travel will be lost. I think expats who do a lot of traveling, relocating from country to country, will be affected by this ‘new normal’ and their numbers will decline.”

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