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Moving to Ecuador: 14 Things to Know Before Moving to Ecuador

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in Ecuador offer advice to newcomers and people considering a move to Ecuador about clothing, sunscreen, renting before buying, gringo pricing, Ecuadorians politeness and much more.

Moving to Ecuador:  - 14 Things to Know Before Moving to Ecuador

What to Wear in Ecuador

A newcomer asked about what clothes to wear when traveling to Cuenca and Quito. "Ecuadorians don't where shorts. You would definitely stick out as tourist in shorts. More appropriate at the beach," replied one person. Another member elaborated, "Layers are the way to go. Decent walking shoes or closed toe sandals, like Keen Rose sandals are great. I usually wear jeans, a nice quick dry top like icebreaker, and a light fleece jacket that can be stuffed into a light day pack. In Quito, you should always have a brimmed hat handy, as the sun is intense. You can pick up a cheap fedora like hat at a discount clothing store (all over the place in centro historico). I did not go with a conventional Panama hat 'cause I lose stuff like that easily. I also found an inexpensive poncho is easier to throw in a day pack and more effective than an umbrella. Casa del Mill Desportes has them for about 8 bucks."

Ecuadorians Have Mastered the Art of Politeness

An expat in Ecuador said, "The MAJOR adjustment that most gringos find hard, is POLITENESS on all occasions - no matter how frustrating the situation. It's the political mastery of being courteous, friendly, and gracious without being overly intrusive. It's the art of being firm and polite and not 'losing it' when confronted by bureaucratic obdurance and incompetence. It's learning the secret of being a good neighbor without being nosey. And finally, a shocker for North Americans, it's learning to greet everyone, when entering a room. In private settings, people either gently (emphasis on gently) shake hands or embrace and give a light kiss on the cheek. Even, for example, when entering a doctor's waiting room, it is customary to greet everyone else with a 'Good Morning' or 'Good Afternoon.' People here are polite, and friendly but know how to keep their distance."

Moving to Ecuador

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Start Learning Spanish Before You Move to Ecuador

"If you don't speak the language and don't or can't learn (it is MUCH harder as an older adult!) adjustment will be so much more difficult. You will find yourself by default associating only with other expats. This is not a judgement, it is just a fact," remarked one expat.

When a soon-to-be expat asked how important it is to learn Spanish, one member replied, "In my opinion it may not be mandatory but if u do not speak Spanish you are left out of a lot unless you strictly interact with English speakers. Many times gringos who do not speak Spanish one misses out on opportunities and information that a Spanish speaker has access to. In my opinion the more Spanish you speak on arrival the easier it is to settle in here and also are more accepted by the locals who mostly do not speak English. Good luck and welcome to beautiful Ecuador."

Ecuador's UV Index Should be Taken Seriously

Because Ecuador lies on the equator, the sunlight hits Ecuador head on and there are 12 hours of daylight year round. This is a pro for those who suffer from the winter blues, but pack lots of sunscreen, wear hats and avoid too much exposure to the sun. "I used to walk a lot during the day along the river and to El Centro in Cuenca and almost always got sunburnt. Cover yourself as much as possible, wear a hat and suncreen lotion. It doesn't always work because at least in my case it comes off when I sweat. Even along the coast when it appears overcast and cloudy, the UV rays are very strong," commented one expat.

Research Your Healthcare and Health Insurance Options Before You Move

Even healthy, young expats face unforeseen medical emergencies and illnesses. Don't move to Ecuador without first having a healthcare plan in place. Will you pay out-of-pocket? Buy expat health insurance? In our article, 9 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in Ecuador, we cover topics such as the quality of medical care in Ecuador, participating in Ecuador's national healthcare system, opting to purchase expat health insurance for use at private hospitals and clinics, the availability and cost of prescription medicines and more.

As an expat in Ecuador, health insurance is an important consideration. Take a minute to get a quote from our expat health insurance partner, Integra Global.

Beware of the Suicide Shower

Don't always accept things, because 'that's the ways it's done here'. Sometimes common sense should prevail. One expat explained, "I had a major scare a few days back- the electric shower in the apartment I am renting just caught fire- crackling, popping sounds, sparks everywhere and burning fumes. I slipped and fell trying to get away from the sparks. The crackling sounds continued until I manually switched off the power breaker. Since I live alone, I am really worried about the threat of electrocution. The shower is still not repaired but I am told that even after repairs the threat might still exist- since there is no 'grounding' here and improper connections. I am not an expert - just want to know what precautions I can take not to get electrocuted- rubber mat on the floor, rubber slippers?"

One expat wrote about suicide showers, "This is one of the jaw droppers in Ecuador for people from the north. I'm afraid gringos bring with them the thought that 'They' must know what they are doing. They do not. If it wasn't for how easily this could kill people it would be comical. I have a couple of times ended the inspection of a potential rental in Ecuador because they had one of these. Dangerous? Absolutely. The acceptable level of risk of electrocution in a shower should be zero! I've been playing with electricity for about 65 years and I am still alive. That's because I respect electricity. Respect in this case is educated fear. Avoid any shower with one of these!"

Another expat described a solution, "Get a new plumber!!!! We had experienced the 'Widow Maker' in many places we looked at but we had ours replaced in as a conversion when we added a hot water tank for $800. The tank was more than the conversion. Import taxes were the killer on the hot water tank... total deal $800. It got my interest when my wife upped my life insurance... LOL"

"I have learned to live without a 'hot' shower in Machala - which, being on the coast, is much warmer and in the summer, the water in the ubiquitous blue holding tanks get warm to hot by late afternoon. I've lived in warm climes, most of my life, and am used to using little or no hot water in the bath. Were I living in the Sierras, I'm not sure I would be as amenable to living without hot water," said one expat. Yet another member added, "I did the cold shower my last couple of months at the last house in Vilca because the LP heater died and the landlord was broke. Anyway, cold showers build character traits, stoicism mainly. The rubber mat is not a solution."

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Gringo Pricing

"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," wrote one member in a report about moving to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Rent for At Least a Year Before You Consider Buying Real Estate in Ecuador

"I want to especially chime in on buying right away. I think it's a big mistake and a sure way to overpay for a property. Get down here. Rent and see how it goes. Renting your flexible to pull up stakes and try a different area. Plus after your here a while you will have a better idea what property should sell for. Not the gringo price you would certainly pay if you bought right away. Once your here a while and make some friends you will better be able to judge what locals are paying for houses." Another expat agreed saying, "Rent as said above for at least a year, if not more. I've been here for 8 years now and without wanting to put a downer on things, the foreign couples that are still here with no previous connection to the country during that time is low. Actually thinking about it, the longest is 3 years. Those that bought and then decided to leave (eiither back home or somewhere else) found it very difficult. Those who were renting were not constrained," advised one expat in a post about preparing to move to Ecuador."

Do Not Buy Real Estate that Hasn't Been Built

"Having lived here over eight years and owned 3 properties, 1 on the coast 2 in the sierras, If they are just starting construction after 10 years it's almost a guarantee that it will never be completely finished. There is a reason those properties are for sale. Travel the coast and check out the sites that a few homes were built and abandoned. Sites that were sold and never started. There are more than a few. Remember, this is Ecuador not Kansas and for the most part once you put money down it's not yours anymore. There are a few exceptions to this rule but not many," cautioned one expat in a discussion about gated beach communities in Ecuador.

Setting up Social Security Direct Deposit to an Ecuador Bank

When a retiree thinking about moving to Ecuador asked about having Social Security checks direct deposited into an account in Ecuador, one expat replied, "Living in Ecuador for three years and have used BofA to deposit my SS and withdraw money via ATMs with no problem. Have yet to open an Ecuadorian Bank account. It would [be] convenient for auto pay for utilities and such, but, being retired, I stand a few minutes in a line to pay utilities, etc. hasn't killed me. Just make sure you have ATMs available that honors BofA withdrawals and you've notified BofA that you will be traveling internationally so they won't block your withdrawals. In addition, if your BofA withdrawal limit is $1000 per day, but the local Ecuadorian bank limit is $200 per transaction, you will have to do 5 transactions to get your $1000."

Another expat added, "I cannot speak directly to social security, but I work online for a US company and receive my direct deposits in a Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account. They charge nothing for the account and if you need to use an ATM that charges a fee, they will refund it to you - I don't think Bank of America does that. Charles Schwab is also much easier to deal with if you need to do an international bank wire. They charge $25 for that instead of an average of $45 at other banks."

Yet another expat advised, "I then went to the Federal benefits Unit at the Embassy in Quito and verified that Banco Guayaquil and Produbanco were in fact approved for DD. The Quito office no longer handles the SSA issues, so we need to go to the SSA Regional Office in Costa Rica. They will send you a copy of SSA-21 which is used to set up DD, change of address to Ecuador and to opt out of Medicare Part B," explained another expat.

Banking in Ecuador? TransferWise is an online account that lets you send money, get paid, and spend money internationally. With a TransferWise account, you can send money abroad, get paid in other currencies, and spend abroad on the TransferWise debit Mastercard.

If You're Not A Resident, You Must Show a Return Ticket When Entering Ecuador

According to the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington D.C., most visitors staying up to 90 days do not need a visa. However, these visitors must show a round/onward trip ticket upon entry. If you do not know when you'll be leaving (within the 90 days), one expat suggested a good work around, "Buy a bus ticket to Peru, or Columbia. You might want to visit them anyway. I believe you may be able to get a refund if you do not use them. Cheap anyway. Also if you leave Ecuador for a visit to the neighbors, you will not be charge for the time out of the country against your 90 days."

Some people will say that they were never asked to show their return ticket. Here is one expat's view on that, "A return ticket is required, just as it is in most countries. If you are a gambler, go ahead without one. One of three things will happen. Some airlines will not let you board without one because they do not want to risk having to fly you back at their expense when you are turned away in Ecuador. The second thing that may happen is that they fly you to Ecuador and then you are turned away by immigration and sent home. The third thing that can happen, is that immigration will not bother to check for your return or on going ticket and you are able to continue on your journey . They tend to spot check about 1 in 5 travelers for return or continuing tickets. Do you feel lucky, well do you. Just get a bus ticket out of Ecuador. Cost about $12. Or just throw the dice and test your luck."

What to Bring When Moving to Ecuador

"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," commented one expat. Another said, "I wish I had brought: Electric blanket, Thermos, underwear, More vitamins. I wish I had left: Dress shoes, Dress clothes, Sweaters."

Moving to Ecuador soon? Crown Relocations owns and operates over 207 facilities in almost 54 countries. Their global network means they're unique in the relocations business and they're able to use Crown crews and vehicles wherever possible. Get a quote online by May 25, 2019 and you'll be entered to win 1 of 5 $250* Amazon gift cards.

Fill Out Customs Declarations in Spanish

"One thing I learned from painful experience, about having goods shipped to me in a foreign country, was to make sure that the shipping information and customs declaration was filled out properly IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE COUNTRY RECEIVING IT. The majority of the Aduana here are NOT bilingual! Many a package has languished in customs because they couldn't or wouldn't understand English o.n the forms and parcel. Be sure you have a shipping company who ship to Ecaudor frequently and know how to get goods to the customer here, promptly, cheaply, and with a minimum of hassle," advised one expat.

Jobs for Expats in Ecuador

10 years ago, most expats moving to Central and South America went with the idea of finding TEFL jobs. While those jobs still exist, one expat warned, "Lots of expats do teach English...but most do not make much salary. Until you learn Spanish quite well jobs like translation are out. Working with advanced speakers on the fine points sounds your area. Aside from that... start a business if you have the entrepeneral flare. If not and without fluent Spanish its not encouraging. Also, the more dense areas with a tourist industry will have more people interested in learning English. These areas too will have more rich locals who want to give their kids a leg up with English."

Another expat offered some great advice to younger expats saying, "Rather than trying to compete in the Ecuadoran business or labor market - especially, since your Spanish language skills are not at a competitive level - why not secure a job that lets you work from anywhere in the world on your computer? There are many expats who make very good livings from their homes tele-commuting via internet. I have a friend who lives in Hong Kong, works for a Brazilian company and handles clients in New York, Miami, and London. The only downside to his job - according to him - is the various time zones when doing business - since everything is done either on line or on Skype. If you had something like that in place, it would take a big worry off your back AND provide proof to the Ecuadoran Authorities that you'd be able to support yourselves here."

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Nov 28, 2018

First Published: Nov 28, 2018

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