Written by Sara Chaca, Attorney – Abogada
April 3rd, 2019
Whether you’re planning for your retirement or just planning for a nice life ahead, you may very well consider moving abroad, so that your money stretches further. This is especially true if you have less saved than you’d hoped, as well as if your pension check or Social Security payments are too small for a comfortable retirement in the United States, Canada, Europe or Australia. In fact, even if you have enough saved to retire in an expensive place, you may be feeling adventurous and interested in living somewhere new, regardless.
Ecuador is considered one of the best places for retirement (and general living) in the world, each year being ranked in the top 5 countries (often taking the #1 spot) for the past now 10 consecutive years and counting. Your money in Ecuador (that being the US Dollar) can buy much more than elsewhere, and depending on your situation, you may even be able to afford things outside of your capabilities in your home country. If you’re interested in spending your days exploring the attractions, streets and nooks of a new city, admiring the Spanish colonial architecture as well as the beauty of the Andes mountains, and aren’t daunted by dealing with cultural differences, then Ecuador may be an ideal destination for your retirement.
Why so many Persons & Retirees Have Fallen in Love with Ecuador
Ecuador is a small country, about the size of Arizona. It’s located on the northwest coast of South America. The pace of life in Ecuador is slower than that of the US, and there’s plenty to do with your extra time. You can relax on beautiful Pacific coast beaches, hike the Andes mountain ranges, and explore rainforests and islands.
There are many financial advantages that come with moving to Ecuador, especially for retirees. Seniors aged 65 and up can take advantage of many discounts in Ecuador, even if they’re foreigners. These include 50% discounts on public services such as phone service, electricity and water. Seniors also get this discount on public transit and sporting event tickets, and receive refunds of part of the country’s 12% sales tax on goods and services (known as “IVA”). Expats from the US and other countries don’t ever pay Ecuadorian income taxes on their Social Security or pension(s), nor on any other income that is earned or received outside of Ecuador in any capacity. Property taxes are low, and Seniors aged 65 and up often receive discounts on their property tax as well. The official currency in Ecuador is again the US dollar, so exchange rates are never an issue.
Ecuador’s location on the equator means a moderate climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. Furthermore, with the mild climate, heating and cooling costs are low or even non-existent (think cities such as Cuenca, Cotacachi and Vilcabamba).
Virtually everything is much cheaper in Ecuador (with the sole exception generally being for appliances and electronics), so you may be able to take your lifestyle up a couple notches and afford housekeeping or even a vacation home (or at least vacations at that). Various sources put the annual cost of living in Ecuador somewhere between $12,000 and $24,000 (i.e. $1,000 – $2,000 per month for comfortable Expat living): in any case, it’s vastly lower than the cost of living in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Plus, organic produce costs a fraction of even conventional produce in the US.
In Ecuador, as in many other places around the world, getting residency in a new country can be frustrating. These bureaucratic processes often take a while, so it’s important to do all the research and preparation before moving, and understand all the steps you’ll have to take once you arrive in Ecuador so that you don’t miss any deadlines.
Retirees generally apply for a Pensioner Visa in Ecuador (a.k.a. Ecuador Retirement Visa or Ecuador Pensionado Visa), in order to obtain their residency in the country. You’ll need to demonstrate either a minimum income of at least $800 per month from Social Security or another form of pension, plus you’ll also need an additional $100 per each familial dependent whom will also move to Ecuador attached to you.
Alternately, if you invest approximately $40,000 into a Bank CD or Real Estate in Ecuador (currently a $39,040 minimum investment as of the published date of this article), plus an additional $100 per each familial dependent whom once again will also move to Ecuador, you can qualify for an Investor Visa in Ecuador (a.k.a. Ecuador Investment Visa or Ecuador Real Estate Visa).
Besides that, there are other still options for foreigners to move to Ecuador, such as on a Professional Visa based on their University Degree (especially for Degrees earned in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia), the Amparo Visa in the case that the foreigner married/marries an Ecuadorian Citizen or preexisting Ecuadorian Resident, in addition to several other forms of Residency options and Tourist Visa Extensions, beyond the 90 day automatically received Tourist Visa that is granted to the vast majority of foreigners immediately upon their arrival to Ecuador (that not however being the case for persons from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and certain others).
Naturally, as with moving to any country, it’s a bit of process to relocate to Ecuador, and so you’ll be well served and do yourself a favor to work with a competent and well-recommended Ecuadorian Immigration Attorney.
You always have the option of paying for private health care, but as a legal resident of Ecuador, you’ll qualify for public health insurance. You can sign up for the government’s health insurance plan regardless of your age or health. Recently, the process has been streamlined and people can now apply online. Premiums are very affordable: just around $75 per month as of the published date of this article, plus only $13 more per month to include coverage for a spouse or other dependents (i.e. children). This public insurance plan provides free doctor visits and emergency care, as well as free and reduced price prescriptions.
As the health care system experiences some growing pains, there can be longer wait times and occasional shortages, and as a developing country, Ecuador doesn’t have equal access to high-quality care throughout the country, and so in the bigger cities such as Cuenca, Manta and Quito, expats have better options with doctors and specialists and doctors who were trained in the US or Europe.
If you choose not to participate in the government’s health care system, you do have the option to purchase private health insurance, as long as you qualify. You’ll still generally pay around 10% to 25% of the cost of health insurance in the US, and medications are quite commonly 90% cheaper than in the US. It’s also possible to hire in-home care if necessary, especially in Cuenca.
Places to Live in Ecuador
Expats have settled in a wide number of cities and towns across Ecuador. Here are some of the most popular options, as follows:
Ecuador’s third-largest city is its most popular destination for retiring expats. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has a general population of around 350,000. There are about 8,000 Americans calling Cuenca home, as well as around 12,000 international expats, and growing as per both Expat population segments. It’s possible to manage day-to-day without knowing much Spanish, but it’s also very easy to find a place to learn, as there are language schools throughout the city, and adding at least some basic Spanish to your vocabulary will definitely enhance your experience, so that you can more easily interact with the locals.
At around 8,400 feet above sea level, Cuenca may for some take a little getting used to. You may experience altitude sickness (which can appear as mild flu-like symptoms), until you adjust in some days to weeks at most usually for generally healthy individuals. Temperatures are moderate, with typical highs in the lower 70s and lows in the lower 50s year round (naturally being in Fahrenheit, such that the temperature range is often similar to San Diego, CA in that respect). Annually, rainfall is about 28 inches. Cuenca’s infrastructure is some of the best in all of Ecuador. The city has a large shopping mall (plus several other small to medium sized malls), four universities with international students, and there are well more than a dozen hospitals in Cuenca to choose from. It’s also home to the Mariscal La Mar International Airport, making travel convenient.
Cuenca is great for expats, reported San Diego native Susan Schenck, who moved there in 2010. It is safe and has a vibrant culture, with an ideal climate, and an active expat community. Schenck also reported spending less than $800 a month. This is on the low end, however, since many sources put monthly living costs around $1000 to $1500 (sometimes more) per month. Naturally, it’s quite variable, all depending on what location and way of life you’re interested in. Still, in any case you won’t pay much for transportation, because you can walk easily in most parts of the city, plus buses and cabs are very inexpensive. If you prefer to buy rather than rent, a reasonably sized property can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 and up.
You can learn more about living in Ecuador generally, and Cuenca particularly, at the website GringosAbroad.com, created by Canadian expats Bryan and Dena Haines.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is the second-largest city in the country, with a population of nearly 2.7 million. If you’re looking for culture and entertainment, you’ll find quite an assortment in Quito. There are museums, theaters, and concerts, as well as nightclubs and shopping. Apartments are available for rent from $400 a month.
Certain expats may resonate with Quito because it’s a large city. There are also direct flights to the US, which is great if you’ll be visiting home frequently: it’s only four hours to Miami, and you can get flights straight to Houston, Atlanta, and New York as well.
Quito has all the variety of a large American city. Some areas may be considered dangerous, but that’s not true of the city as a whole. It also has a beautiful old-town area that has been recently revitalized, plus boasts beautiful colonial churches and other buildings. Parque Metropolitano is about 17 times as large as Central Park in NYC. The weather is generally moderate, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s.
This lesser-known city in southern Ecuador is known for its music scene. It has a small expat community. With comfortable weather year-round, Loja is a great choice if you prefer a smaller city that is easily walkable and has a very low cost of loving, around $1000 a month all in. Like many other cities in Ecuador, the weather is moderate year-round and has lots of beautiful Spanish architecture.
If city living isn’t your thing, you have other options in Ecuador. There are great towns throughout the country. Bahia de Caraquez is a popular vacation town on the coast, and the small towns of Cotacachi and Vilcabamba have a lot to offer as well.
Living in a Developing Nation
While there are a lot of upsides to a retirement in Ecuador, keep in mind that it still being a developing nation, it’s important to be aware of some of the difficulties you may face. Ecuador has the same issues that many countries deal with, including at times some political and economic instability (though the US Dollar as its sole currency largely mitigates any issues related to inflation or devaluations). There are places in the country without well-developed infrastructure, and in certain areas, you may need to take additional precautions with water to avoid getting sick. It’s also important to make sure you’re working with reputable companies and people if you’re making any investments in Ecuador (i.e. Ecuador Real Estate sales).
Some people have a hard time adjusting to the slower pace of life in Ecuador. The languid pace can come off as laziness at first, so it can be hard for type A people to get used to everyone around them taking their time. Learning to relax is a vital aspect of life in Ecuador, whether you’re living in a major city or a smaller town.
It’s always important to do your research no matter where you’re thinking of retiring. A great source for some more facts is Nicholas Crowder’s book “100 Points to Consider Before Moving or Retiring in Ecuador”, which has an American’s perspective on the country.
The Bottom Line
Ecuador has a lot to offer: scenic environments, beautiful weather, and a low cost of living. You’ll find English-speaking communities of expats, and beautiful places to explore, from lush rainforests and majestic mountains to world-class beaches.
If you’re on a very limited budget, your money will go much farther in Ecuador, and you’ll be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. If you have more money available, you can even gift yourself a lifestyle upgrade. You’ll also do well to have a sense of adventure, and a willingness to go with the flow if you decide to retire in Ecuador. Many expats will tell you that they definitely made the right choice and are loving their new lives in this beautiful and vibrant country.
Sara Chaca (Attorney – Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.