Jackie Lange was still digesting the news of the election results when she got an urgent email from Washington, DC. It was from a retiree in his 60s who was desperate to join one of her relocation tours for people looking to move to Panama.
“Please if there is any room for political refugees we are desperately asking to be added to the 12-10-16 tour,” the man wrote, adding that he and his wife are already trying to sell their house. “We are both too old to fight against the incoming regime. We need a new home and we believe Panama is it.”
Lange says she’s been getting about 100 emails a day like that since Trump’s win. Within three days of the election, she had already sold out two, 30-person Panama Relocation Tours at a ticket price of $2,000 each.
“I knew there were people who would not be happy with the election, no matter which way it went,” said Lange, who has lived and worked in Panama for seven years. “But I never anticipated the absolute fear that people have of this Trump presidency.”
It’s not just Panama that’s experiencing a sudden uptick in interest from Americans who are ready to pack their bags and flee. Canada’s immigration websites famously crashed on election night due to a traffic surge as the election results swung in Trump’s favor.
But not everyone considering expatriation is dreaming of trading in cold New England winters for even colder ones in Canada.
A lot of Americans are looking south to Latin America. It’s nothing new. A 2007 survey by New Global Initiatives, in conjunction with Zogby International, found that more than 3 million U.S. citizens have decided to relocate outside of the United States in the coming years, and another 17 million were seriously considering making the move. The survey showed that Central America ranked second behind Europe among people who plan to retire abroad.
So for some people who have been thinking about it for years, Trump’s win could be the final nudge that pushes them to make the leap.
“I think Trump’s win will be a windfall for Nicaragua,” a U.S. expat who owns a restaurant in Granada told me. “Send us your gringos, gringo.”
Businesses that help Americans relocate to popular locations such as Mexico, Panama and Ecuador are already reporting significant spikes in interest and enthusiasm for their services following the election. The surge in requests for information and expat services suggests that not everyone who threatened to leave the U.S. if Trump won was making empty promises.
But not everyone does it legally. Relocation experts in Nicaragua and especially Costa Rica estimate that most Americans living there do so on habitual tourist visas, without proper immigration status. So Trump’s victory could actually lead to a increase in the number of undocumented immigrants, only they’ll be gringos in Central America.
The phenomenon of expatriation is nothing new. It happens every election cycle to some degree.
“It reminds me a lot of 2004 when Bush was reelected,” says Guy Courchesne, a Canadian expat who lives in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he manages a recruiting agency that places English-speaking teachers in bilingual schools throughout Latin America. He said that the day after the election, 20 teachers filled out job applications and submitted resumes to his website. Normally he gets about two applications per day.
“Teachers in general tend to be left-wing,” Courchesne said. “So they might be seeing this as a chance to explore something new, and hide for a couple years while things change at home.”
Dana Cameron, a visa facilitator in Guayaquil, Ecuador, says since the election she’s gotten around 10 new inquiries a day, about five times more than what she usually gets. And she says previous clients who have already moved to Ecuador are now seeking help with permanent residency and even Ecuadorean citizenship.
“A good percentage of my clients are gay, homosexual, lesbian and transgender,” she says, adding that some of them are “fearful” of returning to the U.S. under Trump.
Something similar is happening in Peru, according to immigration lawyer Arianna Castañeda. She says her clients are eager to expedite the process of getting permanent residency.
“These are folks who have previously flirted with the idea of becoming expatriates,” Castañeda said over Facebook. “But it looks like the election has given them an extra push to go through with this.”
In Ajijic, Mexico, real estate agent Steve Cross says part-time expats who usually divide their years between the U.S. and Mexico are now talking about staying put in Mexico. Cross says he’s getting more requests from Americans looking to buy property in Ajijic, which is known as a peaceful Mexican village.
“People have always come here cause they love the climate and the low cost of living,” Cross said. “But now they’re also telling me they want out of the [U.S.] because of the election…it has definitely unsettled people,” the real estate agent said.
Part of the increased interest in expatriation is cyclical. Every U.S. election produces winners and losers, and one group that wants to leave it all behind. It happened with Bush, and again with Obama.
“We see a 15-20% increase in Americans moving to Costa Rica in the six months after elections, and then it flattens back down,” says Romulo Pacheco, president of Costa Rica’s foreign residents association (ARCR).
He says Costa Rica isn’t really experiencing a Trump surge yet, but will know by next July whether the “Trump effect” will be greater to or less than the “Obama effect.”
There are many reasons why people would consider moving abroad, from weather and cost of living, to affordable healthcare. But Trump’s presidency is becoming a major push factor for folks concerned about increases in hate, racism, bigotry —and the end of Obamacare.
Shalia Martin, a 37-year-old Navy veteran, said that her family of four had planned to move to Ecuador within the next two years. Now they’re planning to resettle by next March. “Trump scares the crap out of me. My family is from Germany and my grandfather fought on the Nazis side, and I just see too many similarities.”
Martin lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, near some of the country’s nuclear weapons sites. She fears her area of the U.S. could be targeted if Trump goes to war.
The veteran, who receives a disability pension, said that she likes the idea of living in Ecuador because it would be an “adventure” for her family. They’ve already visited the country and fell in love with its quaint mountain towns.
Others fear the U.S. will become increasingly and overtly racist under Trump. Mateo, the son of Ecuadorean immigrants and a recent graduate of the University of Houston, says that he always thought about one day retiring to his parents’ native country, but Trump has accelerated that plan. Now he’s asking his cousins in Ecuador about job opportunities there.
Mateo says that the day after the election a group of “white boys” drove around his campus in a pick-up truck yelling at Latinos and assaulting a Muslim girl in a hijab. He asked that his full name be withheld because he is applying for an MBA at the university, and doesn’t want to jeopardize his admission prospects. “Racism has always been around. But now it’s like they feel emboldened and they’re lashing out….I don’t know if I feel safe here anymore.”
Mateo says that if he doesn’t get into the MBA he’ll apply for dual nationality to facilitate a move to Ecuador. “Maybe Ecuador is calling me,” he said. “I’ve been there four times and I’ve always enjoyed it.”
Others say they are moving to Latin America to stay a step ahead of Trump’s plans to dismantle Obamacare.
Mary Kirst, a small business owner from New Mexico, says she has been uninsured for most of her life because she was born with a small hole in her heart. She finally got healthcare access thanks to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which bans insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions. But now, she’s afraid she might lose those benefits under Trump.
“I’m in my fifties and I really need health insurance,” said Kirst, who says she’s considering a move to Ecuador, Costa Rica or Belize.
Leaving is not easy though. Kirst says part of her feels like she should stay and help fight Trump’s plans for America. “I feel like I am abandoning an ideal,” she says.
Jackie Lange, the tour operator in Panama, says she urges folks who are contacting her for relocation tours to not make any hasty decisions.
“This president might be there four to eight years at the most,” she said. “So are you sure you want to leave your friends and your family, and perhaps you grandchildren and quit your job and leave? You really need to think this through.”