Tap Into the Growing “Expat Economy” in Cuenca, Ecuador

There is a reason why the city of Cuenca is Ecuador’s most popular expat destination. The UNESCO World Heritage site offers an extremely rich cultural life, with an intellectual, artistic, and philosophical tradition that matches its colonial architecture. Temperatures are a major draw, rarely going beyond highs in the 70s F and lows in the 50s F. If you’re looking for an active retirement, you can go hiking, trout fishing, and biking. Take a short trip to the coast for deep sea fishing, wind surfing, or even hang gliding. If your idea of retirement is a bit more tame, just walking around Cuenca’s lovely cobblestone streets is great exercise that invariably reveals new discoveries.

And to top it off, Cuenca is good for your pocket. A frugal single person can get by in Cuenca on less than $1,000 per month.

It’s no wonder then that over 5,000 expats call Cuenca home. And while many of them are happy to fully embrace their overseas retirement, plenty more are taking the opportunity to explore their entrepreneurial side. With such a large expat population, there are so many businesses and services required to cater to North American tastes. Expats run restaurants, offer hair, massage, and aesthetician services, do computer repairs, and sell real estate.

Bernie and Nancy Hemingway from Arizona sell canned food at the local market. They hadn’t planned on creating a business when they first moved to Cuenca, but it became a natural progression.

It started when Bernie had brought his canning hobby and equipment with him to Ecuador. “We started making friends and inviting them for dinner,” Bernie says, “and they kept asking me if I would make and sell them my food.”

Bernie and Nancy became so well known that they now take internet orders and deliver from their kitchen. Their inventory of almost 100 items includes dry mixes, pickle varieties, sauces, and even sauerkraut.

Nancy says, “So many people tell us how much they love using our foods because they know there are no added chemicals.”

“Being a success in business requires a good product that’s in demand,” says former Apple marketing executive Lenny Charnoff. Three years ago, Lenny became the Cuenca distributor for a Quito-based company supplying salmon, trout, shrimp, smoked salmon, tilapia, paiche (an Amazon white fish), duck, and lamb products to restaurants. Together with a business partner—a baked goods distributor—he formed Loaves and Fishes. They sell their produce at a local ferias (farmers’ markets), at a popular café, and online.

Though food businesses are popular for expats in Cuenca, they are far from the only kind.

One Dutch/American woman is a licensed therapist, providing counseling and consulting online, with clients all over the world.

Another North American with a background in the hospitality and resort industry earns her income working online for a famous motivational speaker.

Several others teach English online to a well-paying market of adults in China.

Forty-year-old father of four from Fort Lauderdale, Scott Michael, is a photographer and media developer. “I found that people here are much less interested in commercial media—but there is great interest in self-promotion,” Scott says.

Scott’s Brio Foto, Inc. is a media and interior design firm specializing in interior residential and commercial photography, digital, graphic, and webpage design, and content creation. Scott is a founding partner in the popular YouTube channel “Go Explore Ecuador” and also teaches courses for DSLR Photography and Adobe and Microsoft software programs.

“In Cuenca my work has more meaning and reward than ever before,” Scott says. “I find myself spending hours interacting with clients on subjects not related to the job but rather just life and family.”

Cuenca also has its share of expat artists, authors, travel writers, bloggers, and craftspeople, making things like hand-made paper and silver jewelry.

With fiber-optic internet connectivity and a large but tight-knit expat community, word of any new business spreads fast. Whether your goal is to continue to work full-time, or simply supplement your Social Security income, Cuenca is brimming with opportunity.

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