Nearshore Americas

Starting from Scratch, Curaçao Aims to Carve Out a Distinct Identity

The Caribbean is filled with countries that claim to offer a ‘multi-lingual’ capability. Haiti had famously staked its attraction argument around tri-lingual capability (English, French and Spanish), and others have argued that despite being native English-based (Belize, Guyana, Barbados and many more), sufficient numbers of professionals can be found in non-English spheres to support global business operations.

Then there comes the interesting case of Curaçao, which is a Dutch speaking nation due of course to its lineage to the Netherlands. But what makes Curaçao strikingly different from the start is a bonafide case around having strength in four distinct languages: Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu. The latter is  Creole language that is widely spoken not just in Curacao but in sister countries Bonaire and Aruba.

The country’s multi-lingual strengths, a historically strong commitment to education and the fact that it remain largely undiscovered in the Nearshore IT/BPO market are the basics of justifying a deeper analysis for those seeking to discover the ‘next big thing’ among the Nearshore upstart nations.

Most of the export outsourcing services in Curaçao currently are built around supporting European businessses.  Of those operations is a firm which provides radiology service and analysis for clients in Sweden.

Key Curaçao stats
  • Population currently stands at little over 161,000.
  • The size of the island is 171 square miles.
  • Major languages include Papiamento, Dutch and English.
  • Inflation in 2018 stood at 2.6%.
  • Unemployment stands at around 21.2%, according to figures from April 2019.
  • GDP per capita in 2017 stood at US $34,829.

Ramon Koffijberg, Director of the Curaçao Investment & Export Promotion Agency (Cinex), tells Nearshore Americas that they are able to “major savings” with this model – and other companies should follow suit.

“By establishing themselves here, they lower their costs and it allows company to offer quick turnaround on radiology analysis,” he says.

Radiologists trained in Sweden are working for the company in Curaçao, it was revealed.

Koffijberg did not reveal the name of the radiology company, saying it was “confidential information” – but he did say it was expanding in U.K. and U.S. to offer the same services.

Benefits of Outsourcing to Curaçao
  • Profit tax for businesses is low – currently stands at 2%.
  • Close proximity to the U.S., Curaçao has the same time zone as New York, making it attractive to companies wanting to Nearshore.
  • Large amount of office space for such a small island, with around 600,000 square meters ready to use.
  • Taxes to employer are discounted as part of a ten-year ruling, giving employers an advantage.

The multi-lingual capabilities of islanders works heavily in the island’s favor, says Koffijberg, and allows the potential workforce of the island to understand not only other languages, but the way other countries – be them in the Caribbean, Central America or Brazil – do business.

“I think because we are a small island and because if you want to get on a plane you need to go somewhere we are very culturally educated,” he says.

“We are one of the few islands in the Caribbean that is multilingual and multicultural, we are an island that is overseas country in territories, and that means that 90% plus of our laws are coming out of the Kingdom.”

He adds that the country is focusing on building business relationships with Colombia – who make up 12% of the population – and because of this, they are able to understand the way the country’s business culture better than others.

And it’s not Colombians, either.

“This island has a mix of Portuguese Europeans, Brazilians, Colombians – who make up 12%, Dominicans,” says Koffijberg.

“The mix here is pretty intense and gives us a lot of standing on how to approach business on different levels.”

“This gives us a good mix of being able to cater to any international company. There are bilingual opportunities, you could find good mix of local people that can help you deliver to an international client base.”

Currently, Curaçao has a number of BPO operations based in the country, mostly from Europe and the States. Many are also from the gaming world, says Koffijberg.

Unemployment stands at around 21.2%, according to figures from April 2019, and there were 297 graduates last year from the country’s main university – the University of Curaçao.

Oil refining, oil storage and international financial services are the most important sectors in Curaçao and the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has a lease on the island’s oil refinery due to expiring this year.

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For companies wanting to outsource to Curaçao, the 2% profit tax is a major advantage, says Koffijberg.

“When it comes to the incentives, there is a 2% profit tax which is very appealing, and an expat ruling which is a benefit to the employer and the employee, will be hired on a net basis,” he says.

“That gives you a very appealing position to come to Curaçao.”

He adds that the country boast a fair amount of office space, too, at around 600,000 square meters, and designated properties that are ready to go.

As for nearby Venezuela, Curaçao has been criticized by Human Rights Watch for not doing enough to help Venezuelan refugees – who can see the island from its coast, which is just 40 miles away.

Koffijberg says that for now there isn’t enough opportunities to dish out jobs to Venezuelans arriving on the island.

“I do believe when the system changes in Venezuela and we can prove the workforce is growing at a rate faster we can handle and we can not find the people we need to service the needs we have we will hire a lot of Venezuelans,” he adds.

Mathew Di Salvo

Mathew Di Salvo is a Colombia-based contributing writer and editor at Nearshore Americas.

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