Making The Move To Ecuador
Over the last decade, more and more people have been moving to Ecuador to leave what they consider are untenable living conditions in their home countries. Escaping to this small but spectacular Latin American country is a great way to stretch your dollars a lot further then you could back home. Combine affordability with near perfect year-round weather, unspoiled nature, tasty and exotic food, a rich and vibrant culture, and a genuine friendliness of the Ecuadorian people towards foreigners, and you can see why people from around the globe are making the move to Ecuador.
On one hand, Ecuador offers plenty of benefits to expats. On the other hand, there are definitely some challenges that may make some folks think twice about relocating here. Surely, Ecuador represents a heartwarming destination with plenty of hidden treasures to discover. However, if you’re thinking about building a new life here, like many did before you, you might want to consider a few peculiar aspects that aren’t often discussed.
Why Do You Want to Move to Ecuador?
When relocating to another country, indeed, whether it’s Ecuador or Spain, it’s fundamental to consider how flexible and open your views are. Ask yourself: are you amazed by new cultures? Are you going to immerse yourself in Ecuador’s culture with wide-open heart and eyes? Do you know enough about Ecuador? Are you willing to learn Spanish? Do you think you could stand the local lifestyle or are you going to look for your personal America or Europe? These questions may sound a little overwhelming, but they really are the basis of life as an expat.
Can You Live Well On $900 A Month?
Many people who decide to leave their native country are attracted by the idea that life abroad will automatically be cheaper and therefore happier. Apparently, many expats believe that $900 a month would be enough to live a utopian existence in Ecuador, with a comparable quality-of-life as that which can be found in their native country. The reality, though, is that $900 would cover only a very basic life in Ecuador. You would have to live on a tight budget, rent a $250/month apartment, have no car and have no money left for any kind of amenities.
Let’s Get Real!
The true costs of living in a town such as Cuenca or Salinas are directly linked to the kind of adjustments you’re willing to make. “Going local” is the first rule to follow if you don’t want to pay double for imported products. That being said, even if you fully embrace all the local products and habits, you still need to keep in mind those extra expenses that spice life up or that are considered normal in the United States such as eating out a couple times a week, having medical insurance and cable TV would make your ideal $900 budget rise to a more realistic $1,200 (still fairly cheap for a normal life). Living a very frugal life and forgetting entirely about your North American or European habits is the only way $900 would sustain you in Ecuador. A more realistic approach would be to lower your expectations about expenses while getting used to your new way of life, trying to enjoy it as would a native Ecuadorian.
Renting in Ecuador
If you haven’t been to Ecuador, we highly advise you to visit the country first to scout out the various expat communities and other interesting towns throughout Ecuador. Spend at least a few days really immersing yourself in each community to get first-hand knowledge of the local transportation systems, shopping centers, eateries, customs and activities available there. This is only true way of knowing whether a community is right for you.
Once you have settled on one or two particular communities, we always recommend that you rent before you buy. Before you plunk down money on a house or condo in a new place, stay awhile and see if suits your needs.
You can start your search for a rental on the Internet. While you will find plenty of websites out there, most promote short-term vacation rentals in touristy locations, and prices can be quite a bit higher than the local average. Some real estate agents offer rental properties, but it’s not something found often. Rental management is a time-consuming and low-commission business, and it’s not one most realtors typically want to take on.
The classified section of local online newspapers is also a good source (especially to get a feel for prices). But unless you speak the language fluently, we wouldn’t recommend a lot of e-mail back and forth until just before your visit. Also, unless you are dealing with a reputable agency with excellent references, you should never send money to reserve a rental sight unseen. Too many things can go wrong.
If you speak Spanish, you have a leg up on the typical gringo. Your best bet is to take your time and keep your eyes open for signs advertising places for rent. This is what expat Christian White did in Loja: “We strolled past a sign taped to a gate a few days after we arrived in Loja. A quick trip up the elevator, a bit of Spanish and $250 in cash…and we walked out with the keys to our new home.”
Moving Your Household Items
Once you have received your residency visa, you will discover that bringing your household goods to Ecuador represents one of the biggest advantages for choosing the country. Within a prescribed time frame, household goods are allowed into the country duty free. Below are the most up-to-date rules that must be followed. As always, we advise you to consult an Ecuadorian attorney for details before beginning the shipping process.
Option #1: New residents to Ecuador can ship when they have their permanent residence visa stamped in their passports. This only works if the process does not take longer than three to four months. This leaves two to three months to ship, and the shipment must not be delayed. Only six months is allowed after the last entrance into Ecuador, NOT after the time when the visa is granted. If the visa process takes three months, there is only three months of the transit time for the cargo to arrive in Guayaquil.
Option #2: New residents can ship their goods without an approved residence visa. Expats planning on becoming a permanent resident can ship their goods before they have a permanent residence visa but must first pay a guarantee to Ecuadorian Customs to clear their cargo. This guarantee is refunded once they get their permanent resident visas stamped in their passports.
The refund process starts when they show the residence visa in their passport to Customs. The refund is then paid three to six months later. The expat has only six months after payment of the guarantee to show the residence visa to gain the duty free status and obtain the refund. If for any reason the new resident does not have the visa on time or fails to show to Ecuadorian Customs within the six-month period then the money paid for the guarantee is forfeited.
This is the risky part of shipping your goods without the proper visa or not having the proper documentation before coming to Ecuador to apply for a permanent resident visa.
Moving With Your Children
If you’re bringing your children, you’ll be happy to know there are many English-language and bi-lingual secondary schools in Ecuador, including American and British international schools in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil. Keep in mind that using a language preference to pick a school severely limits your choices, which may not be worth it given the short time it takes young children to learn Spanish. In general, you will find the best private schools in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil. There are also excellent universities in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Moving With Your Pets
Dogs and cats traveling to Ecuador need a health certificate issued by an accredited veterinarian and endorsed by the USDA. Dogs need certification of vaccination for rabies, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus and corona virus. Cats need vaccination for calicivirus, feline rhinotracheitis, rabies, and feline panleukopenia. With the proper paperwork, your pets can clear customs with you when they check your bags. Currently there is no quarantine and there are no extra fees to pay.
Bringing Your Firearms
Current Ecuadorian laws state that firearms are not allowed to be shipped with your personal household items when relocating to the country. However, legal residents may buy handguns over the counter in most hardware and sporting goods stores. Perhaps surprisingly, gun crimes are rare in Ecuador. Carrying a concealed weapon requires registration and a short psychological test, given at a local police station. Permits are available to foreign residents as well as to citizens. Check GunPolicy.org for the latest information about firearm regulations in Ecuador.
Bringing Your Car
Owning a car in Ecuador is really not a necessity like it is in the United States. With city bus fares of 25 cents, inter-provincial bus fares averaging $1.25 per hour of travel, and big city taxi fares averaging $2 per short hop, owning a car is just a hassle for many expats.
Importing your car from the States or Europe can be an expensive proposition. Besides the expensive shipping costs, customs import duties are also very high. Our advice is to sell your car before leaving your native country and buy one when your residency is approved in Ecuador.
If you plan on buying a car here, be aware that car prices are much higher here than comparable vehicles in the U.S. And because cars keep their value much longer here, used cars are sometimes as expensive as new cars. Also, car buyers who purchase vehicles valued over $20,000 must pay a luxury tax that adds from 15 to 35 percent to the price.
The plus side is that fuel prices are extraordinarily low because the Ecuadorian government subsidizes the price of gas and diesel. Prices currently run $1.43/gallon and $1.02/gallon, respectively. However, don’t run afoul of the local traffic cops. While enforcement is lax at best, if you are caught going 11 km/h over the speed limit it might cost you three days in jail! Just follow the rules and you’ll be fine.
Ecuador is Expat Friendly
Thanks to a rising economy, affordable living and political stability, Ecuador is attracting more expats than ever before. Dynamic expat communities can be found everywhere from Bahia de Caraquez and Manta on the coast, to Quito, Cuenca and Vilcabamba in the highlands, and lots of places in between. Interestingly, these diverse groups of expats get along much better then they would if they were in a retirement community in North America. Most expats here share a sense of adventure and have taken control of their lives in ways many people only dream of. In addition, there is a good mix of retirees, middle-aged couples with young families, entrepreneurs, and even non-residents expats simply looking to live off the North American or European grid — all of whom have chosen Ecuador as their primary home.
Overall, moving to Ecuador is easier than you think. As more foreigners from North America and Europe realize the truth about this country, it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular relocation and retirement destinations in the world. If you’ve been considering a move – for retirement or simply for a change of lifestyle – and wish to do it in a place that your hard-earned money will stretch further, maybe Ecuador is the right place for you!