Ecuador has long been a popular destination for expats seeking their next adventure, repeatedly ranking as one of the best countries in the world for expat living in the Internations Expat Insider survey. With the country as a whole stealing first place in 2015 and third place in 2016, Ecuadorian cities like Cuenca, Quito and Manta continue to attract great praise and admiration from the international community.
Known for offering a high quality of living that is as low-cost as it is comfortable, Ecuador also scores plenty of points for being an easy place to settle in. So, what are the key things to know before you pack your bags and make your way to Ecuador?
The visa rules and types of visa available for expats heading to Ecuador changed dramatically in 2017. The two key categories to remember are Temporary Resident Visa and Permanent Resident Visa, which can either be non-immigrant – for example working or student visas – or immigrant.
Only immigrant visas allow you to bring in your belongings duty-free, and this must be done within six months of receiving a two-year temporary visa. If you’re planning to stay permanently in Ecuador, you’ll need to get the two-year TRV first, which can be renewed later if needed. The minimum amount of time you must have lived in Ecuador before you can apply for a permanent visa is 21 months.
For pensioners looking to retire to Ecuador there is a specific Pensioner Visa, for which you will need to prove a small lifetime income. And for spouses and children of visa holders, there is a Dependent Visa – altogether there are several different varieties of PRV, so be sure you know which is right for you if you’re planning to make your move a permanent one.
Settling in to Ecuadorian life is easy, but you’ll need to have some understanding of the Spanish language in order to really fit in. While the alternative mother tongue, Quichua, is spoken in some areas, Spanish will help you to be understood wherever you are.
If you plan to spend most of your time with other expats, you won’t need to be totally fluent – but when it comes to organising your property, healthcare and day-to-day services, you’ll thank yourself for picking up the basics before you go. With any language, immersion is one of the best ways to learn, and it’ll be easiest to pick up colloquialisms and common phrases once you’ve arrived, but to make your move as easy as possible try to use apps like Duolingo or Babbel rather than relying entirely on translation services.
If you aren’t able to visit before your move to house-hunt properly, arrange a temporary place to stay for your first month or two in Ecuador while you look. A typical tenancy length is at least one year but often two, which is a long time to live somewhere you aren’t keen on if you’ve committed from afar or rushed into a contract.
Rental laws in Ecuador do not permit things like automatic yearly rent increases, so familiarise yourself with the rules in case you need to contest something later down the line. It’s relatively easy to find cheap accommodation across the country, with apartment rental prices starting at less than $300 per month. “Furnished accommodation can cost up to $200 a month more than unfurnished” says Susan Schenc, author of Expats in Cuenca, Ecuador. So if you’re planning to stay for a long period of time it’s likely that choosing an unfurnished property and buying your own things will work out cheaper.
If you’re planning to purchase property, it’s important to note that you will need a lawyer and cannot try to organise deeds and paperwork yourself. It’s also difficult for expats to secure a mortgage during their first two years in Ecuador, so be prepared to wait until your permanent residency visa is organised before you can purchase.
Depending on where you plan to move to, healthcare in Ecuador ranges from high-class to non-existent. It is now compulsory for expats to have health insurance and many choose to pay for voluntary membership in the national healthcare system known as Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social, or IESS. It’s also common to organise specialist international health insurance policies that can assist in getting access to the best care, and helps people to avoid unexpected
If you’re living in a bigger city like Quito or Cuenca, you’ll never be far away from a fully-equipped hospital and range of medical services. But in rural areas and coastal towns it may be a long journey to get to help when it’s needed, and though the cost of services is much lower than the equivalent in somewhere like the USA, this doesn’t mean that you can always get what you need.
Having a good grasp of the Spanish language is a must if you plan to rely on public healthcare, but going private is largely recommended as the public system is sometimes lacking in medicines and diagnostic tools that would be considered run-of-the-mill in other countries.
Pets can enter Ecuador via the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito. If you have a beloved family pet or service animal and wish to move it to Ecuador with you, this can be arranged – but certain criteria will have to be met to prevent an unplanned separation.
To avoid your pet being put into quarantine for any length of time, ensure that they are vaccinated for rabies between three weeks and a year before entering the country and have rabies titer test results ready to show. Dogs should also be vaccinated against distemper, canine hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvovirus and leptospirosis, while cats will need jabs for rinotraqueitis, panleukopenia and caliciviruses.
While you won’t need an import permit to bring a dog or cat with you, all other animals do require one. If you’re travelling from the USA or Canada, you’ll also need a Veterinary Certificate for Ecuador.
If possible, it’s obviously a smart move to visit Ecuador before a relocation to get a feel for the culture, climate and lifestyle. Ecuadorian culture is friendly and laid-back – expect that appointments will usually be behind schedule, with many things taking place in a less organised fashion than some expats are used to – the mail system in particular is notoriously slow.
It’s usual to greet passers-by with “Buenos Dias” or “Buenos Noches”, and is considered rather rude not to ask someone like a store worker or waiter how they are before you start requesting goods or assistance. And when it comes to paying for goods and services, have cash ready. Bigger grocery and hardware stores, hotels and restaurants will often take credit cards, but outside of this you’ll need a pocket full of US dollars and Ecuadorian centavo coins to make purchases.
“What draws many to Ecuador is the low cost of living” says Susan, “the costs of food, housing, and transport are very low, about 25% that of the USA”. Whether you’re shopping for groceries or eating out, food is cheap and flavourful, with Ecuador’s Amazonian location lending itself to a wide range of fresh exotic fruits and vegetables. Likewise, transport is so pocket-friendly that many expats choose not to buy a car after arrival, instead opting to take buses and taxis everywhere due to their low cost.
There are plenty of free museums, Latin music shows and outdoor activities to enjoy, and lively expat communities in places like Cuenca organise clubs and events to make finding new friends easier. From the Andean highlands to the world-famous, wildlife-rich Galapagos islands, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of things to do in your free time – but a steady stream of firework-fringed celebrations throughout the year will entertain those for whom the stunning scenery isn’t enough.
Whatever your reason for moving to Ecuador, with a little pre-planning it won’t be hard to make an international relocation effortless.