In Brazil you can find all of the First World attractions we have back in Europe, but it has the pace and attitude of a developing country, which I’m attracted to.
Editor's note: With the eurozone experiencing deflation for the first time since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, and its unemployment rate unchanged at 11.5% for November, we thought it relevant to bring back this story, first published last October, on why young Spaniards are moving to Latin America.
Twenty-five percent unemployment, a dismal economic outlook and faith in the government at an all-time low. If it sounds like a recipe for failure for anyone with aspirations of building a career and a life, for Spaniards, that’s exactly what it is.
But rather than grit their teeth and hope to stretch their money and career prospects until the crisis wanes, some are taking matters into their own hands, leaving Spain and heading not just to Europe, but to Latin America, where language barriers are few and opportunities are plenty.
There, they are prized for their European education and background, and they are wooed with big salaries and the promise of moving quickly up the corporate ladder. Many Spaniards who’ve made the move find themselves surprised by the mix of modernity, opportunity and comforts of home in countries like Peru, Chile and Brazil.
Some 700,000 Spaniards left Spain between 2008 and 2012, according to research from Fundacion Alternativas. Figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute show that another 547,890 people left in 2013, although officials say just 79,306 of them were Spanish nationals born in Spain. They’re following a wave of Latin Americans who themselves migrated to Spain in the late 1990s but went back home as Spain’s recession lingered on and on. Those returnees have, in large part, spurred a wave of migration from Spaniards who had no connection to the American continent before.
While their numbers are “still very modest… immigration of Spaniards going to Latin America has risen a lot,” said Jesus Fernandez-Huertas Moraga, a Spanish researcher at the independent academic think tank Fedea.
From unpaid intern to head of media
Angel Lopez, 26, is one of them. The Alicante native arrived in Lima, Peru, in March, 2012, and went from an unpaid internship at Spain’s former Canal 9 TV station to a job as the head of media for a large educational company in Peru two years later. He’s now a regular fixture in televised debates, and frequently tours Peru as a keynote speaker on issues related to advertising and marketing.
“I left Spain earlier than many people of my generation, but I was working in a…television station that everyone knew was closing, I had almost completed my studies, and I thought, if I stay, I’ll be lucky to be a paid intern or trainee at 30,” he said.
Angel Lopez works for National Radio of Peru in Lima. (Radio Nacional del Peru)
It took Lopez a few months to adapt to a different culture, but the common language helped and Lopez said his life has “turned around 360 degrees in terms of opportunities and professional growth.”
Both family and friends were initially leery of the move. Lopez said there was “widespread ignorance” in Spain of what Peru was really like several years ago, with plenty of Spaniards viewing the country as a simple place of “mountains, traditional costumes and tacky TV shows.” He believes that vision has changed dramatically as the number of Spaniards in the country increases.
“If a few years ago we numbered in the hundreds, now there are thousands like me, and there are many Spanish companies bringing their business to Peru every day,” Lopez said.
That could be in part because Peru, and other parts of Latin America, sits squarely on an upward growth curve. While the International Monetary Fund projects Spain’s economy to grow in 2014 at 1.2%, it predicts Peru’s economy will grow at 5.5% , Mexico’s at 3%, Chile’s at 3.6% and Panama’s at 7.2%. Toss in a lower cost of living and the opportunity to leapfrog up the corporate ladder, and the attraction for Spaniards is even clearer.
The Spaniards are coming!
In several Latin American cities, locals commonly joke that not since the colonial days have so many Spaniards turned up with one ticket, two bags and the dream of a better life.
For 38-year-old Ana Bobo, that dream was birthed from a nightmare — near bankruptcy and the loss of her marketing agency in Madrid when her core market (public administration) saw a 50% decline.
Ana Bobo visits Chile's Lakes and Volcanoes District. She moved from Spain to Chile in January. (Ana Bobo)
“By the beginning of 2013 I was counting my days,” she recalled. “I just kept thinking about my future and as I began talking with people in Spain I realised there was no longer a place for me.” Bobo, who speaks Spanish and English, set her eyes on England, Peru, Colombia and Chile.
“There were not many opportunities [in England], so I focused on Latin America where there are more opportunities not only for jobs but for quicker growth,” she said.
Bobo flew to Santiago, Chile, last November to see if its economic prosperity and reputation as a safe city for expats and locals was real. Impressed (and wooed by several job offers) she returned in January to take a job as the marketing and development manager of a financial and operational leasing company. She’s encountered less cultural challenge than she’d imagined, said she hasn’t sacrificed her quality of life and earns a salary that’s two- to three-times what she thinks she could make in Spain these days.
“The European brand is still a huge advantage here,” she noted. “If you have the skills, you have the advantage.”
Government statistics show that immigration into Chile, Latin America’s wealthiest country, more than doubled last year with 5,739 Spaniards obtaining either temporary or permanent residency. By comparison, in 2005 only 3,700 Spaniards moved to the whole of Latin America, according to statistics compiled by The Economist.
One foot in each door
Javier García-Ramos had always wanted to live in South America, so when the economic slowdown in Spain stifled his professional growth, the Madrid-native made “a bold move” and relocated to São Paulo. The 44-year-old serves as director of mergers and acquisitions at a boutique Brazilian advisory firm.
That was two and a half years ago, and García-Ramos said the laidback Brazilian lifestyle has suited him.
“In Brazil you can find all of the First World attractions we have back in Europe,” he explained, “but it has the pace and attitude of a developing country, which I’m attracted to.”
Spaniard Javier Garcia-Ramos attends a football game at Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã Stadium (Javier García-Ramos)
What’s more, his colleagues were patient as he learned Portuguese and he’s earning more money than he did in Spain. Now, he asks himself whether he will make Brazil his home, or set in motion an eventual move back to Madrid.
It’s a spot many Spaniards now living in Latin America find themselves in, with one foot in each door.
“My ideal move right now… would be a position at a Spanish multinational,” he said. “It could be based here in South America or Madrid, but I would always have the possibility of going back to either in the future.”