At the four-star Hotel Estelar la Fontana in Bogotá, a hundred wealthy Colombians are learning how to send their money to the U.S.—and fast. Crammed shoulder to shoulder on leather chairs, the crowd admires slides of waterfront properties in Miami. The real estate could be an investment, a second home or the start of a new life. A one-­bedroom sells for $1 million, more than 300 times the annual minimum wage in Colombia. Some gasp at the price; others, it turns out, can afford it.

On this morning in March, a real estate agent walks his prospects through the nitty-gritty of visas. “It’s sad we’ve come to this,” a man whispers. He’s referring to the dash for an exit after Colombia elected Gustavo Petro, a leftist former guerrilla who quickly moved to raise taxes on the rich. Maikol Di Pietro, a lawyer with Colombian and Italian citizenship, is looking for an apartment for his mother and, eventually, one for himself. “Things are changing,” he says, “and not in a good way.”

As every major country in Latin America shifts to the left in reaction to widening inequality, capital is flying out of the region. Wealthy and, increasingly, middle-class investors are looking for a Plan B in case of more economic and political upheaval. People and corporations in the region’s five largest economies pulled roughly $137 billion out of their countries in 2022. That number—preliminary data from the Institute of International Finance, a group of banking institutions—is 41% higher than the 2021 figure and the most since 2010.

Although no one tracks where the money is going, popular destinations include the Dominican Republic, Panama, Spain and the U.S. Since 2020, Mexican investors have spent more than €700 million ($774 million) on Spanish real estate and construction. Colombians have bought as many as 500 Panamanian properties in the past few months alone, estimates Samuel Urrutia, who heads real estate company Colliers International Group Inc.’s unit for the region. The superwealthy buy property in New York or Madrid, the “rich rich” go for Miami and the “just rich” look to Panama or the Dominican Republic, he says.

Still, no place has felt the impact more than Miami, a city whose history and development are so interwoven with its neighbors to the south that it’s often referred to as the capital of Latin America.

At Related Group, one of Miami’s largest developers, foreign buyers, most from Colombia and Mexico, have purchased $600 million in real estate since late 2021. Last year, Colombians alone bought 1,222 Miami-area properties, a 30% increase from the year before and the most since the Miami Association of Realtors started tracking foreign buyers in 2019.

Each time a leftist gets elected, money pours into South Florida, says Raul Henriquez, chairman of Insigneo Financial Group LLC, a wealth manager in Miami. Over the past five years, his firm’s assets under management have swelled roughly sixfold, to $18 billion. About 40% of Chile’s 180 or so family offices have a foothold in the U.S., almost all in South Florida, according to José Luis de Dios Crispi, managing director of Kaiross Corp., a Chilean financial consulting company; each is investing $30 million to $40 million a year stateside, mostly in real estate. (Chile's Finance Ministry says less money left the country over the last year, and foreign investment picked up.)

Often called a “pink tide,” this shift toward socialism dates to 2018, when Andrés Manuel López Obrador swept into power in Mexico. Leftists prevailed in Argentina in 2019, Chile and Peru in 2021, and Brazil and Colombia last year. “This is a historic event we’ve never before seen—the entire region has gone pink on us,” says Talbert Navia, co-head of the Latin America practice at law firm Winston & Strawn, who’s advised corporations and private equity firms since the late 1980s.

But José Roberto Acosta, a senior Colombian finance official, says it’s simplistic to tie his country’s money outflows to the left’s rise. His government “defends a free-market economy and is respectful of private property,” he says. In his view, money is leaving because of higher interest rates on relatively safe U.S. government securities, as well as a search for lower taxes.

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of 1.7% in Latin America this year, slower than in other ­emerging markets. Mauricio Cárdenas, a former Colombian finance minister, says capital flight is playing a role and could make it difficult to enact socialist policies. The rich leave, the economy suffers, inflation rises and unrest intensifies, he says: “It’s a vicious cycle.”

Almost every major currency, aside from the Mexican peso, has plummeted in value against the U.S. dollar—which has added to inflation, leading central banks to raise interest rates and making it harder for businesses to borrow. In Argentina, the peso has lost more than 70% of its value since early 2020, and inflation is rising at a 100% annual rate. In Chile, the shift by wealthy families toward investing in the U.S. has made it more difficult to find funding for startups, says Dios Crispi, the consultant. “They’ll tell me, ‘José, I love the business, but unfortunately, we’re investing only overseas,’” he says. “For us it’s so sad.”

Ever since Cubans started fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist regime in the 1950s, Miami has attracted wealth from the south, along with northern retirees and businesses drawn by Florida’s warm weather and lack of income and estate taxes. But the latest diaspora of Latin Americans originates from many more countries, adding to an influx of U.S. wealth that accelerated in the pandemic. Miami has become a kind of Wall Street South, luring hedge fund managers such as billionaire Ken Griffin, who relocated the headquarters of his company, Citadel, from Chicago. Apollo Global ­Management, Blackstone and Goldman Sachs have moved staff from New York.

Now, Miami is courting Latin America’s elite in high-end restaurants and at sporting events. Alex Horn, managing partner at commercial and residential real estate lender BridgeInvest, says he organized its annual investor day at the Miami Open tennis tournament, sponsored by Itaú Unibanco Holding SA, Latin America’s largest bank. “A lot of our investors, both from South America as well as New York, were going to be here to watch it,” says Horn, who moved to Miami from Brazil as a child.

The latest émigrés flock to places such as Elcielo, a hushed 13‑table Colombian restaurant on the banks of the Miami River. For $258 per person, it serves 20-course meals over three hours. Elcielo won a Michelin star last year.

For most of the eight years since its opening, business was sparse, says chef-owner Juan Manuel Barrientos, who also has restaurants in Bogotá, his native Medellín and Washington, DC. Now tables are booked days in advance.

Like many longtime South Florida residents, Peter Bermont, managing partner of a Raymond James & Associates wealth advisory unit in Coral Gables, has stories of strangers showing up at his door, asking to buy his home. Not long ago, Bermont’s golf club had to run promotions to recruit members. These days it has a waitlist 11 years long.

Mariano Borges fled Argentina in 2013. He chafed against restrictions on his property development company, as well as the inflation eroding his wealth. Borges began a business in Mexico, buying land in touristy Playa del Carmen, just south of Cancún. Last year he moved to Miami, joining a cohort of Latin American real estate businesses now prospering in the city. Muscular and covered in tattoos, Borges, 51, lives in a $10 million home steps from the ocean and drives a Lamborghini.

Borges’s company, Menesse International, is building a 400-unit apartment tower, as well as a smaller high-end condominium project, in the city’s desirable Brickell neighborhood. “In the U.S., the laws and requirements are clear,” he says. “You want a permit? OK, I need to see this, this and this. You want a loan? OK, show me this. You want to be in a place where the risk is less. So if a crisis comes, you’ll know, OK, it might slow down for a while, but you’re not going to lose everything.”

Two miles away from Borges’s home a sign advertises Ora by Casa Tua, now a parking garage but soon to be 460 luxury apartments. A local developer, Edgardo Defortuna, will market it heavily to Latin Americans. Over the past year, his sales force has been traveling regularly to Colombia and Mexico. The ­company has also scheduled four trips to Brazil, where the tax-the-rich plans of newly elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are creating customers for the developer. It’s the most interest he’s seen from the region in four decades of business. “There are only two types of people, the ones that move to Miami and the ones that want to move to Miami,” Defortuna says.

The Monday after Petro, the former guerrilla, won Colombia’s presidency in June of last year, “you see Colombia, Colombia, Colombia on our sales report, and we immediately put together a sales trip,” says Nick Pérez, a senior vice president at Related Group, which has built or rehabbed more than 100,000 apartments in the Miami area. Pérez’s father, Jorge, born to Cuban refugees and raised in Argentina and Colombia, founded Related and is often referred to as the city’s “condo king.” Within weeks, Related sales associates flew to Bogotá, pitching projects during lunches at the city’s Four Seasons hotel.

One of those developments, the St. Regis, a 150-unit condo project in Brickell, is just off ­scenic Biscayne Bay. Designed by the prominent architect Robert A.M. Stern, the apartments feature $15,000 refrigerators and come with white-gloved butlers. A two-bedroom starts at $3.5 million. Years from opening, it’s already attracting interest from the south.

In March a buyer from Mexico tours a model apartment with Catalina Martínez, a real estate agent from One Sotheby’s International Realty. Her customer, Cristina, who asked to be identified only by her first name for security reasons, owns apartments across Miami. Now she’s putting down a deposit on a four-bedroom. It will be a refuge for her family if they no longer want to be in Mexico under the López Obrador regime. “You never know,” she says. “It could be like what happened in Venezuela.”

Back at the four-star hotel in Bogotá, Carolina Pacheco, a Miami real estate agent, introduces the crowd to the joys of her city. Born in Colombia, she’s there with a team of two dozen colleagues from EXp Realty for a three-and-a-half-day tour of Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla. “Many thought I was crazy when I said how many of us were flying down, but the need is real, and we need to advise them,” she says. She’d already made 60 sales from a visit in November. Now potential clients, booklets in hand, evaluate the Miami and Orlando projects on display and speak to bankers offering mortgages and attorneys specializing in immigration or taxes.

Yelitza Avendaño and Juan Eduardo Vaamonde, who have a consulting business, are looking to make a move to the U.S. The couple left their native Venezuela nine years ago for Colombia. Now they’re seeing signs of history repeating itself. “The currency weakens, inflation is on the rise,” Avendaño says. “We already lived through something similar once, and we know we don’t want it happening to us again.”

They still own apartments in Venezuela that they want to sell. They’ll fetch $10,000, maybe $20,000, apiece—a fraction of what they’d pay in the U.S., where they have relatives in South Florida. “The bad thing is the prices,” Avendaño says, noting that “$700,000 is too much.”

Others don’t think so. By the time Pacheco leaves the hotel, she has several signed contracts. She’d planned to spend the weekend relaxing, visiting friends and family in the coastal city of Barranquilla. Instead she holds back-to-back meetings and fields calls as word spreads that she’s in town. In all, her group pitches to 450 people across the country. Pacheco expects to return every three months.

The following week, a client from Colombia she’d met in Barranquilla pays her a visit in Miami. He’s there to buy an apartment downtown. Days later he returns to snap up a second. All told, he spends $1.4 million.

Fieser, a Bloomberg editor, and Jaramillo, a reporter, are based in Bogotá.

—With assistance from Felipe Marques, Valentina Fuentes and Rodrigo Orihuela.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.