Safety and Security for Expats in Ecuador is critical. Below we have pulled together some thoughts, tips and general strategies for staying safe from our Ecuador Forum and the U.S. Department of State:
Edited Excerpts from the Ecuador's U.S. State Department Country Specific Information Sheet:
There is nobody better at protecting you than yourself. Take some time before you move abroad or travel overseas to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States.
The local equivalents of the "911" emergency line in Ecuador are: 101 (for local police or ambulance, or to be forwarded to other help as appropriate), 102 (for firefighters or ambulance) or 131 (for the local Red Cross). If you are in Quito or Ibarra, you may also dial 911. If you are in Guayaquil, Cuenca or Loja, you should dial 112. The operators typically speak Spanish only.
Expats should be aware that crime is a severe problem in Ecuador. Crimes against American citizens in the past year ranged from petty theft to violent crimes, including armed robbery, home invasion, sexual assault and homicide. Low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – contribute to Ecuador's high crime rate.
Non-violent crimes, including pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, robbery, bag-slashing and hotel room theft, are the most common types of crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Ecuador. They occur in all parts of Ecuador and incidents have increased in the past year. Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in airports, restaurants, public transportation, crowded streets, bus terminals and public markets and grocery stores. Thefts from vehicles ("smash and grabs") have been known to take place not only when the vehicle was unattended, but also when it was occupied, particularly by a single female driver in slow-moving or stopped traffic.
Armed or violent robberies occur in many parts of Ecuador. Thieves and small gangs armed with guns or knives are active not only in Quito, Guayaquil and Manta, but also in smaller cities. In the past year, multiple U.S. citizen travelers have been robbed after using ATMs on the street and when exiting banks. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and flee the scene.
Robberies and assaults involving taxis present a significant safety concern, most specifically in the Guayaquil and Manta areas, but increasingly in Quito since 2009. Carjackings have occurred in both rural and urban areas. Foreigners are often targeted specifically. In "secuestro express," shortly after a rider enters the taxi, the vehicle is intercepted by armed accomplices of the taxi driver, who is normally complicit in the crime. The accomplices enter the vehicle, stage a kidnapping, threaten passengers with weapons (typically guns and/or knives), rob passengers of their personal belongings and then drive to various ATMs to withdraw money using the victims' debit cards. In some recent instances, victims of secuestro express faced physical violence and/or were sexually assaulted.
To lower your risk of being a victim of carjacking or "secuestro express," drive with doors locked and windows rolled up. In the Guayaquil area, the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil both recommend that you use radio-operated taxi companies such as those listed on the U.S. Consulate General's website instead of hailing taxis on the street. In areas other than Guayaquil consider using radio-operated taxi companies or taxis associated with hotels. If you must hail a taxi on the street, increase your security by seeking out taxis that are officially registered and in good repair. Registered taxis in Ecuador are usually yellow, display matching unit numbers on the windshields and the side doors, each printed on an orange placard, feature a taxi co-operative name on the side, and an orange license plate.
Due to the seriousness of the taxi situation in Guayaquil, all personnel working for the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Ecuador have been prohibited from riding in taxis hailed off the street in Guayaquil, even yellow taxis. In addition to yellow taxis, local buses, and other forms of public transportation are also expressly off-limits to U.S. diplomatic personnel in Guayaquil. As an alternative, employees have been told to use their personal vehicles or to call one of the vetted taxi services listed on the U.S. Consulate General's website.
Incidents of sexual assault and rape increased in the past year, including in well-traveled tourist areas. In many instances, criminals targeted women who had become separated from their group. Criminals sometimes use alcohol or incapacitating drugs such as scopolamine on unsuspecting tourists in order to rob and/or sexually assault them.
Murder of U.S. citizens occurs in Ecuador. Often, the suspects or perpetrators of the murders were personally known to the victims. Since September 2009, three brutal murders of U.S. citizens have occurred in Ecuador.
Quito: Stay particularly alert on the crowded streets of south Quito, at the Panecillo, the Historic District and in the areas of El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, and Gonzalez Suarez. Due to numerous incidents in which U.S. government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized in the Mariscal Sucre, the U.S. Embassy has declared certain Mariscal Sucre bars off-limits and now enforces a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees.
Due to the spread of organized crime, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking and Colombian terrorist organizations activity in the northern border region of Ecuador, the U.S. Embassy in Quito advises caution when traveling in this region of Ecuador (i.e. the provinces of Sucumbios, northern Orellana, Carchi and northern Esmeraldas). U.S. government personnel are under strict limitations with respect to traveling alone or over-nighting in these areas.
Guayaquil and Coastal Ecuador: Throughout coastal Ecuador, the rate of violent crime against U.S. citizens continues to rise. In Guayaquil, visitors should exercise extreme caution in the downtown area, especially at night, and at all times in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city. There have been armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil. Guayaquil has experienced an increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with vehicular hijackings, although tourists generally have not been targeted.
If you find yourself involved in a taxi kidnapping and/or robbery, it is best to be non-confrontational and cooperate with the perpetrator. Nothing material is as valuable as your life. Following a criminal incident, U.S. citizens are encouraged to file a "denuncia," or "police report," with the local police and to inform the American Citizens Services Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil.
Leaving the Guayaquil airport, there have been repeated instances of armed robbers following travelers from the airport and using multiple vehicles to cut off and intercept the traveler. There is some evidence that those most at risk are those individuals who appear to be returning from overseas travel laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.
Every year, between 15 to 20 U.S. citizens are arrested for attempting to traffic drugs between Ecuador and the United States, or between mainland Ecuador and the Galápagos. Many of these U.S. citizens claim to have been unaware that they were transporting drugs. As in any other country, do not accept gifts, packages, or suitcases from other persons; even trusted travel companions have been known to take advantage of their friends and family to traffic drugs through Ecuador’s airports.
Political demonstrations occur frequently throughout Ecuador. During demonstrations, protesters often block city streets and rural highways, including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway. Public transportation is often disrupted during these events. Police response to demonstrations varies and has included water cannons and tear gas. All foreigners are prohibited from demonstrating in Ecuador - doing so can lead to your arrest.
Radicals in various locations in Ecuador, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, occasionally detonate small explosive devices that release political literature, known locally as "pamphlet bombs."