Find out why this risk-management expert who specialises in analysing the best countries for expats to live moved to Uruguay in March–and plans to be here for the next twenty years.
Glenn Lawrence, 62, and his wife, Karen, a retired pilot, moved to Uruguay in March 2021—after making frequent visits since 2005–to start the next phase of their lives. Glenn’s two daughters were born in New York City, he’s lived in Austin Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. He specialises in financial risk management and is in the process of launching two related online businesses providing guidance in alternative investments like bitcoin and for North Americans looking to live abroad.
Glenn hired me for a half-day private 1:1 shortly after he arrived in Uruguay. The three hours of intense consultation flew by. I was struck by the careful analysis he and Karen had carried out and that had brought him to be sitting across from me at an outdoor table at an Old City cafe. After all he is a professional expat too. In a questionnaire he had filled out prior to our meeting, he’d noted: “We think Uruguay is a very pleasant place to live and to base ourselves. It’s an eye of calm in the global storm”.
I’m grateful that Glenn was generous enough to allow me to interview him to share that evaluation here.
Guru’Guay: You’ve been living in Mexico for over two decades. What took you there and why is it time to leave?
I wanted my daughters to be bilingual. I had a consulting business that afforded travel flexibility so in the late 90s we started spending time in Mexico during summers so our young daughters could attend language school. One summer we chose San Miguel de Allende, and after spending just a short time there I made the decision to move there. That happens to a lot of first-time visitors to San Miguel. I felt being bilingual would give my daughters a real advantage, and I wanted them to have a more universal view of the world.
One of the main attractions for my wife and I was the deep expat social network in San Miguel. I have much more in common with U.S. expats I meet in San Miguel than with people I meet in the U.S.
When the US Patriot act was passed, with its focus on government surveillance to fight terrorism, and with a broader definition of what constituted “suspected” terrorism, I felt better about leaving the U.S.
Glenn Lawrence and Karen in Mexico
Now, after 20 years of being in Mexico, conditions around the world, and especially in Mexico and the U.S., have changed. I wanted to get even farther away from the growing authoritarianism and extreme political polarization in the U.S. San Miguel is still a great place, but it no longer makes sense for the next twenty years of our lives.
Guru’Guay: You have visited Uruguay multiple times and after an evaluation based on your own framework you’ve chosen to relocate here. Which other countries did you also consider?
We strongly considered Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain—and Ecuador and Colombia to an extent. We love New Zealand, and it ranks very highly in our evaluation, but with ongoing businesses with North American and European customers, the time zone difference and the large travel distance would be problematic.
Costa Rica is under threat from climate change. Chile’s great but the areas where we would prefer to live – the wine producing areas – are water stressed. Argentina is a perfect example of a wonderful place to spend time, but not a place to put down roots because of political instability and a poor economic track record over the past many decades.
The south of France is another place that ranks quite highly in our evaluation model. It ranks highly in terms of climate, low water stress, one of the world’s best healthcare systems, and a great food and wine culture.
But as much as we like to spend time in southern Europe, it is vulnerable to climate change and immigration crises. If the climate crisis worsens, if another global pandemic hits, or if another economic crisis grips the globe, an increasing number of desperate people will try to migrate to better areas. And it will likely be ground-zero for such a crisis.
We judged that to avoid the impact of potential global crises, we would be better off in a place with plentiful water, a low population density, and a stable democracy. We’d be better off in a place that produces much more food than is consumed locally, and far away from the migration crises that will threaten Western Europe and North America.
The Guru’Guay Guide to Uruguay
Beaches, ranches and wine country
Written by a Brit with all the contacts and knowledge accrued over almost twenty years living in Uruguay, this guidebook will make your holiday planning stress-free and ensure you have an unforgettable time in one of South America’s least-explored destinations.
Guru’Guay: What excites you about living in Uruguay?
One thing that excites me about living in Uruguay is that it is not exciting! Don’t get me wrong, we like it here. But from a geopolitical perspective, we can do without all the drama and excitement in a place like the U.S.
There are many things to love about Uruguay, including the stability, the laid-back nature of the country, the more egalitarian society, and the lack of political drama compared to places like the USA and Mexico.
Punta del Este excites me. It’s a great city. I’m excited just to breathe the clean air every day. I just feel naturally healthier. And I’m excited by the growing wine industry here. I’m excited by the beautiful rolling hill country in the wine region around Garzón. And I’ve been coming here since 2005 and I’m excited and impressed by the vast improvement in the quality of the local wine.
Glenn Lawrence and Karen in Punta del Este, Uruguay
And I’m excited that Uruguay has embraced renewable energy. I’m a big fan of renewable energy and deal with it extensively in one of my businesses. Besides being clean it is now the least expensive alternative in many places. It makes sense to embrace it and not fight it, and Uruguay is ahead of the pack in that area.
I’m also excited about being on the doorstep of one of my favorite cities in the world, Buenos Aires. I love Argentina, but it doesn’t rank well compared to Uruguay in terms of our evaluation criteria. It’s great to go for a long weekend to Buenos Aires and then come home to the laid-back stability of Uruguay. In fact, Uruguay is convenient for regional travel to Brazil and Chile too. My wife and I love traveling and the southern cone of South America is one of our favorite areas. And Uruguay is the best place for a home base.
Guru’Guay: Your other business is as a risk management expert. What have you assessed as Uruguay’s relative strengths and weaknesses in an increasingly unstable world?
Assessing strengths and weaknesses relates directly to our country evaluation model for our business to help expats. Developing models for evaluating countries is like developing models to assess risk. Yet there’s also a positive aspect to it. We like to think of it is moving toward a better life, not just getting away from or mitigating risk.
Based on our country evaluation framework, here’s a list of Uruguay’s strengths and weakness.
Uruguay’s strengths include high rankings in terms of plentiful sources of water, a temperate climate, political freedom and civil liberties, and corruption (lack of). It is well above average in terms of healthcare, human development, economic freedom, the cost of living (affordability), income equality and sovereign debt. Very few countries score as highly in all these areas.
Uruguay’s weaknesses are that it has no local resources of energy other than renewable electricity production, so it is dependent on petroleum imports. And as a small country, it is not a wealthy nation and does not have the resiliency of a large amount of sovereign wealth compared for example to a place like the US.
In an increasingly unstable world, when measured overall, especially, Uruguay is one of most resilient countries that an expat could consider.
Guru’Guay: In your half-day 1:1 with me, we discussed what you expect to find difficult about living here and I suggested some solutions. What are your thoughts since?
I really appreciated your consultation and I thought that was a very insightful question. No place is perfect, and if you become an expat, it’s inevitable that there will be things from where you’ve lived before that you will miss in your new place.
I’ve learned how valuable it is to be part of an expat network. It is an invaluable resource for learning the ins-and-outs of living in a new place, and it’s a great way to meet like-minded people. San Miguel is one of the easiest places to quickly plug in to that network. So, I was concerned about the best way to go about plugging into expat networks here.
Given that there is not a strong English-language expat network in Uruguay, one of your suggestions was to develop relationships with locals in our areas of interest. We’ve become friends, and will be developing even more friendships, with people who run good restaurants and wineries in the area. They are important focal points for networking and eventually meeting other expats, as well as developing local friends.
Also, dealing with Spanish is challenging here for someone used to San Miguel where many of the Mexicans in businesses and restaurants, as well as medical professionals, speak some English.
Here, there are less English speakers, and Uruguayans tend to talk faster and have pronunciation that’s unique to Argentina and Uruguay. It’s more challenging and frustrating to communicate. To address this, based on your suggestion for a language academy, my wife has started language classes.
As challenging as it is though, I find most Uruguayans to be very friendly and patient with our language struggles. I have been treated with disdain in places like Spain because of poor Spanish. But here, Uruguayans are helpful and get excited when they learn where we are from. They are excited that someone thinks highly of their country and are appreciative that we are here. We like that. Uruguay is a welcoming place.
I hear what Glenn is saying regarding finding reliable English-speaking professionals and service providers. That’s why Guru’Guay is growing our free bilingual business directory every quarter and we point out what languages each professional or service provider speaks.
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