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Expat Advice: Moving to Cuenca, Ecuador

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Cuenca, Ecuador

An American woman who moved to Cuenca 2 years ago advises other expats about how to avoid gringo gouging. She also recommends that others moving to Cuenca bring more rain gear and a space heater.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Name three things that you wish you had brought and three you wish you had left at home.

Wish I had brought: more rain gear, especially shoes (low quality shoes here), books (not a country of readers even in Spanish), back-up computer. The best thing I brought was a small space heater.

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What advice would you give someone preparing to move to your area about the actual move, choosing a neighborhood and finding a home?

Most importantly, ask yourself if the place is a spiritual or emotional match Are the values similar? Or are they so different that you are always on pins and needles. Even though there are wonderful people in every country (I've lived or worked in over 40 countries), this is the hardest place for my sensibilities, I am not accustomed to toughness and indifference, so I may not stay. I've given it two years, done my best to fit in. It's also too cold for me, no insulation or heating in buildings. Why not move to the coast? Fewer amenities and not the best idea for a woman alone.

What type of housing do you live in? Is this typical for most expats in your area?

Condo. Yes, most prefer to have an elevator and a guarded place.

How did you choose your neighborhood and find your home or apartment?

Can only afford to rent a room so I rent from another Californian (a blessing) in a mostly quiet building of other North Americans. It is a condo. Met the dear lady I rent from at church.

Are your housing costs higher or lower than they were in your home country? What is the average cost of housing there?

If you have funds, you can afford to live anywhere in the world. Ecuador can cost almost as much as the U.S. because of "gringo gouging" Best way to find housing is not to read paid ads but to first find a neighborhood and buildings you might like, then look for signs and call the numbers directly. It takes an enormous amount of work to figure out which landlords are honest and fair and those who are not. Even if they seem correct, they may turn on you. The name of the game is $$$ and if you are not on a budget, then nothing really matters and you can pay double or more than a local would... This later remark is noteworthy... paying more contributes to the economy, but also creates understandable resentment among locals.

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Comments about this Report

Oct 6, 2014 10:13

This sort of comment is common for US expats.. wherever they go. It comes from the fact that most American who emigrate are not experienced travelers. Their new homes are most often the first experience they have had living outside the USA. We have lived in Cuenca 14 months over the last 2 years. I also visited Cuenca for 2-3 months a decade ago. Our impressions closely match those of the travel writers

Oct 6, 2014 10:40

Sorry..not finished. Non-traveler expats try to live, anywhere they go, exactly as they did back home. They want Pepperidge Farms, Butterball turkeys, McCain potatoes. If these types of foods can be found, it has to be imported, which is very much as importing similar food from Ecuador to the US. It would only be found, with a limited selection, at the priciest stores. It will only be bought by US expats. The fear and the frustration of being unable to recreate the US in another country is labeled "culture shock". Cuenca has an astounding range and quality of fruits and veggies..beyond anything I have seen anywhere on the planet. The seafood is the freshest and four trout rivers run through the town. For meat they lean towards pork and chicken. The beef is good but not aged and cut differently. All food is much cheaper. Everything is cheaper. As for "gringo pricing" that is a new phenomena created by the expats themselves. Bargaining is the world's way of transacting. (How you ever watched the NYSE in action?!!) Yet expats think bargaining is somehow an effort to "cheat" them. But all sales require two parties..someone who agrees to sell and another that agrees to buy..both at the same price. Simply shop around a bit, know prices, and offer what you feel comfortable with. If you do it with a might well make a good friend.

Oct 8, 2014 01:31

She mentions she's glad she brought a space heater. They are readily available in Cuenca-don't waste the shipping cost bringing one.

Oct 10, 2014 04:06

Expat here going on 7 years living in Central America. Gouging is not bargaining. It's an attempt to rip someone off. Bottom line is living as an expat is not for everyone. Culture shock is encountering a different mindset than one's instilled values. It has nothing to do with wanting to replicate life back home. It's a matter of compatibility. No sense on pounding a square peg in a round hole. There are major issues living in a foreign country. You will always be considered an outsider unless you marry a local. You have no civil rights or justice outside your home country. You are vulnerable. One has to consider whether it's all worth it. And don't forget it's not just the local people but other expats in the area. Make sure you are compatible with the people and place before you decide to live there full time.

Sep 1, 2015 14:00

I moved a year and a half ago to Cuena after a visit here the year before. On my visit I located a perfect apartment in a newly finished house in Misicata and leased it on the spot from an Ecuadorian who has lived half his life in the USA and lives above me in this lovely house. The rent is far less than a condo or "gringo complex" here and I get to spend more time with local people, can walk many places to shop, safely, and yet spend time with Expat friends too. I believe any move overseas (I lived in Kenya for several years) is a matter of expectations when it comes to happiness. Unhappy or discontented people with great personal demands will be unhappy anywhere they are. You are NOT in the USA anymore so don't expect to find things the same or all the products you are used to having. But that said, all things necessary are available here. Shop wisely, learn to bargain, and enjoy all this beautiful country and city have to offer. Just relax and be grateful for what you have here. It's an awesome paradise full of adventure in a new culture with a new language and people who embrace us with care and compassion overall. Get to know them. They are mostly happy, good people and willing to help us put down roots as their neighbors and even as part of their families. It's all about expectations and attitude, folks.

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