Cuenca Ecuador: hotspot for U.S. retirees

Posted on June 3, 2017 • Filed under: Ecuador / Jim Wyss
CUENCA, Ecuador

To casual visitors, this colonial town in southern Ecuador looks like it was torn from the pages of history. With its cobbled streets, soaring cathedrals and bustling markets, it exudes a lazy, old world charm.

But Cuenca is also on the cutting edge of a very modern trend: providing a safe haven for U.S. retirees who have found themselves unwilling — or unable — to live out their golden years at home.

The growing wave of ex-pat seniors is not only upending notions about retirement in the hemisphere but reshaping the face of communities throughout the Americas. And the trend is expected to grow as waves of baby boomers exit the workforce ill-prepared for retirement.

Best known for the Galapagos and providing asylum in its London embassy to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Ecuador is home to 2,850 retirees receiving benefits, according to the U.S. government. But that number doesn’t tell the full picture. The city of Cuenca recently conducted a census that found its municipality alone was home to almost 10,000 foreign retirees, most of them Americans from Texas and Florida.

In Cuenca, a city of about 350,000 people, they’ve found robust public transportation, an extensive museum network, solid healthcare and markets bursting with fresh fruits and produce. It’s a place where their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath apartment costs less than $400 a month. They’ve found that for about $1,500 a month, they can live a solidly upper-class lifestyle, dining out frequently and traveling.

“In the United States, we couldn’t afford to go anywhere,” Susan explained. “We were having to stay home.”


But city officials say Cuenca is something of an accidental hotspot.

“Cuenca never wanted to attract retirees,” said Ana Paulina Crespo, the director of international relations for the municipality. “In fact, we’re facing lots of problems over how to deal with a phenomenon that we aren’t responsible for creating.”

The city is trying to combat local fears that the retirees are both driving up land prices and bleeding the public healthcare system, she said. And the language barrier has become a source of local irritation. Some restaurants and even neighborhoods seem like English-only spaces.

“Cuencanos are feeling like strangers in their own city,” she said.

Starting in about 2009, Cuenca became a viral sensation on retirement websites. International Living, an influential publication, ranked it the top ex-pat retirement site several years running. As newly arrived retirees began blogging, there was a snowball effect. Read Full Article

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