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What Is the Impact of Expat Retirees on Historic Latin American Colonial Cities, and How Do Those Cities Affect Expats? Study Seeks Answers


By Johanna Silbersack

A great deal has been reported about the growing number of North American and European retirees relocating to Latin America, but relatively little has been studied about the impact those expats have on their adopted communities. Also largely unreported are the changes that living in foreign cities have on expats.

Understanding the relationship between expat retirees and the Latin American communities they chose to live in is the focus of a National Geographic study being conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina. The study has a particular focus on San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Cuenca, Ecuador, but will also address less developed retirement destinations.

“Historic colonial cities have a special appeal for expat retirees for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Philip Sloane, the Elizabeth and Oscar Goodwin Distinguished Professor of Family and Geriatric Medicine at UNC, who directs the project. “Historic colonial cities have developed infrastructure, picturesque environments, and offer cultural opportunities not found in other communities. Our study’s ultimate goal is to develop conclusions and recommendations that will be helpful to the planning process in other colonial cities,” Dr. Sloane said, adding that the number of Americans retiring abroad is projected to triple in the next decade and a half.

According to Dr. Sloane, the attractiveness of colonial cities to foreigners can be a mixed blessing. “The expat phenomenon, and the expat retiree phenomenon in particular, can stimulate economic development, create new jobs and increase the income of national and local governments who are a part of it,” Sloane says. “On the other hand, social and cultural problems have the potential to arise. Because of this, colonial cities that want to attract North American and European retirees must plan on both how to attract the migration but also how to guide it.”

Sloane and his research team are spending three weeks in San Miguel de Allende collecting information for the study. Most of their time and energy is spent interviewing native Mexicans who work in government, service delivery, health care, and in neighborhood tiendas.

The research team is seeking broad input from retired expats by way of an internet-based survey. “We need many respondents from a cross section of the San Miguel de Allende expat community to make the study successful,” said Dr. Sloane. The survey can be found online at

Survey participants need to be over 55, retired, a native of the U.S., Canada, or Europe, and live in San Miguel de Allende for at least four months a year. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete.

All survey participants who request it will receive a copy of the study’s final report. Dr. Sloane has also promised to provide a copy of the study’s final report to Atención. Dr. Sloane can be reached at The project coordinator, Johanna Silbersack, can be reached at


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