Immigration on the Rise
Immigration to Uruguay is on the rise as the rest of the world is beginning to see what Uruguayans have known for decades: nestled between the mountains and the sea lies a tranquil country that holds the delicate balance between historic and modern, urban and rural, accessible and away-from-it-all. With many in the Baby Boomer generation diving into the golden years of retirement with money to spend and energy to travel (not to mention a slumping economy back home) they are thinking outside their home country when considering where to live and invest as their working days wind down. But Uruguay is not just for the Boomers! Its solid economy, stable political climate, and enthusiastic encouragement of foreign trade make it a great place for those looking to lay down roots and build a life. With the big-city pulse of Montevideo, the chic vibe of Punta del Este, the mellow small-town feel of Piriapolis, and everything in between, Uruguay packs a lot into such a small country. The ex-pats who move here come for reasons as diverse as the country itself.
Meet Smith and Nancy Holt from Colorado Springs, Colorado. They maintain a home in Colorado, but recently bought a second home in a development just outside of Piriapolis here in Uruguay. Colorado can get very cold from November-March, but with a second residence in Uruguay, the Holts have the perfect place to escape the winter chill. Smith and Nancy each have several reasons for choosing Uruguay. For Nancy, Uruguay’s charm has much to do with the atmosphere. She says, “The climate is very, very enjoyable. It’s warm without being humid, and the people are very friendly. We just like that kind of an atmosphere, where we can come and just relax.” Smith is quick to add that security was a big sticking point for him—especially with a winter home that is not inhabited year-round. “If you’re only going to be here three or four months out of the year, you need to be concerned about a house anywhere—not just in Uruguay. And Uruguay, relative to most other places, certainly is very safe. But still, you like to know that your house is being looked after,” he says. The Holts were able to find this sense of safety and security within their development, and can be away from their Uruguayan house for several months at a time without concern. And about the house itself: the Holts did not settle for anything less than excellence when it came to design and construction. They were able to get the quality of house they would have expected in America with beautiful architecture designed for ease and comfort in its setting. When asked what she likes best about her house, Nancy is describes many features one would expect to find in a fine modern dwelling in an ocean-view development stateside. “Well, it’s just very open, we have lots of light. It’s very cozy, but at the same time is feels spacious. I like this kind of décor where you have lots of white and the big windows that we can look out and the windows we can open, so we have lots of ventilation. The house to me is just perfectly, perfectly comfortable,” she says. Smith adds, “We’ve only run the air conditioner up here on the upper floor one day, because we just open up the windows and the deck door and we get a nice breeze up here. We really prefer the fresh air from the outside. And as Nancy said: beautiful views and lots of light. We like sunlight—a bright airy place, and that’s exactly what this is. Construction is excellent—we’re very pleased with the house.”
Beyond enjoying their home, when in Uruguay the Holts are continually amazed by the convenience and accessibility of the town close to where they live. Unlike in many Latin American countries, in Uruguay it is easy to find the familiar comforts of home: fully stocked groceries, easy access to shopping essentials, and small luxuries like high-quality salon and beauty services. Smith raves about the two towns closes to their house: Piriapolis and Punta del Este. He says, “There’s a great supermarket. We just came back from one of the meat markets, and the prices blow you away they’re so low. We have access to everything…and with downtown Punta Del Este only 35 minutes away, we lacked for nothing since we’ve been here, and don’t expect to have a problem.” Uruguay is a meat-lover’s paradise, and the Holts have been quite impressed with the quality of meat available for such low prices. Smith says, “If you go to the Carniceria—the meat market—they’ve got excellent beef, chicken, at rock bottom prices. Or you can go down to the port and get a really superb fish at prices that I don’t think Americans realize exist.” Nancy could hardly believe that they got two grass-fed rib-eye steaks for $2.60 USD. Nancy and Smith have a great time at their local farmer’s market, and Nancy loves the huge selection of produce and meat. “It’s a fabulous market. Anything that you can find in the states, you can find there. The vegetables, the fruits and everything is there that you expect to see in a large supermarket in the United States,” she says. Smith chimes in, “Quality is excellent. You can’t find better quality produce than what exists here in the farmers markets. And the produce in the supermarkets is good, too.”
Beside the excellent food options, Nancy recalls some of her favorite places to go for a relaxing day on the town; “We’ve gone to the beach, we’ve gone downtown and had coffee on the rambla, and I think I’ve had the best manicure and pedicure I’ve ever had. I got it done at Hotel Argentina, and I have to say it was superb. I can’t say enough about how much we enjoy just going down and walking on the rambla because it’s just such a beautiful oceanfront area.”
The Holts have taken advantage of their easy access to the rest of Uruguay with day trips through the countryside. Smith was pleased to find that Uruguay is not only beautiful, but also easy to navigate; “The roads are excellent; there’s never a situation where you are far away from a gas station. There’s really very little difference as far as access and ease of movement between what one finds here and what one finds in the United States.” This ease of travel is great for the Holts as they are quite active and enjoy exploring the natural beauty of the varied Uruguayan landscape as well as the man-made attractions of the cities and towns.
And what about navigating the cultural atmosphere of Uruguay as Americans not fluent in Spanish? Smith asserts, “We have found the only thing we deal with—and we’re dealing with it very well I think—is that there’s a language difference. But we’re working on our Spanish, and we’ve found that that is not a barrier in any way, shape or fashion, either. People are very tolerant and will work with you.”
As more Baby Boomers like the Holts discover Uruguay’s ease of living and natural beauty, residency requests for the country have increased three-fold. While the application process has become slower due to the influx of applications, it is still quite simple to apply for residency. Uruguay does not have immigration quotas, nor does it discretionally reject applicants. Uruguay’s residency requirements are easy to fulfill for most people coming from North America and Europe, with the basics being: a clean police record, an income of at least 500 USD per month, and a Uruguayan address where the applicant stays for over 6 months per year. For more information on residency requirements, see figure 1.
With the increase of applications, Uruguay has established some new precautions to make sure the ease of immigration is not abused. The three main red flags for the immigration department are: phony proofs of income, gaps in police record information, and those looking to gain residency as a means of acquiring a Uruguayan passport in order to gain entry to another country they could not enter with a passport from their home country. To prevent these abuses, the Uruguayan immigration department is beefing up its system, requiring better documentation of income and clean police records, and requiring applicants to leave their homes in Uruguay for no longer than six months at a time. Even this slower application process does not result in a delay of access to the country. Upon submission of the residency application, applicants are issued a “temporary cédula” or temporary national ID card.
Uruguay’s immigration and residency policy is defined by an ethos of hospitality to foreigners looking for a new place to call home. As long as an applicant can meet the simple and relatively minimal requirements set forth by the Uruguayan government, he or she is all but guaranteed residency. With the easy lifestyle, political and economic stability, and the hassle-free immigration process, Uruguay’s North American and European ex-pat population is likely to rise even higher in the coming years.