Now that we have made the decision to try life in another country, there are several questions people often ask us about the choices we’ve made. For your convenience, here are the answers to the top 10 most asked questions…
1) Why Ecuador?
Cuenca, Ecuador, the city we have chosen in which to live, is a beautiful colonial city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cost of living is low, the people are friendly, and the food is fresh and organic. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, and uses 110 volts (e.g. American plugs and voltage). There is an extensive bus network, so no car is necessary, and a quarter takes you anywhere in the city. High speed internet and inexpensive mobile phone service is available everywhere. There is always a festival, and there are plenty of other American expatriates to help make the transition easier. If all that is not enough, Cuenca has been ranked by International Living as the best place in the world for Americans to retire overseas. It almost has *too* much acclaim for our liking, and it’s growing rapidly.
2) What’s the weather like? Isn’t it really hot there since you’re on the equator?
Although the equator runs right through Ecuador, making much of the country very warm, Cuenca is high up in the mountains. The weather here is described as “perpetually Spring-like.” The average daily high is 60-70. Due to the surrounding mountains, the clouds come and go quickly, and there’s always a chance of a passing shower in the afternoon. At over 8,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains, the sun is strong. We always take sunscreen and an umbrella wherever we go.
3) What are you going to do down there?
We have officially retired, so our time can be spent however we desire. There is lots of socializing to do among our friends here (Ecuatorianos and gringos), plenty of working out at the local fitness parks and hill-climbing to get to our house, and we’re both learning Spanish. Other than that, Elliott is hard at work on some cross-stitch designs, while catching up on movies, listening to all the music he can soak up, and getting back into cooking. Stephanie is learning to bake at high altitude, experimenting with cooking from scratch with the local foods, rekindling her love of frequent flyer miles, and reading. She wants to start volunteering soon too.
4) Is the healthcare any good there?
The healthcare in Ecuador rivals that of the U.S., but at a fraction of the cost. A 45 minute visit with a dermatologist, for example, will cost only $25. An MRI with no insurance costs only about $250 AND, you get your results the same day. Many medications that are prescription-only in the States, are available over-the-counter from your local pharmacist.
5) You’re really giving up your U.S. citizenship?
We have no plans to renounce our U.S. citizenship. We currently have permanent resident visas for Ecuador. If we stay in the country for three years, we will be eligible for Ecuadorian citizenship. Since we would be applying for Ecuadorian citizenship *after* having our US citizenship, our American passports are safe. (Having Ecuadorian passports would allow us to travel more easily and cheaply to much of South America where it can be expensive for U.S. visitors. It would also get us into Cuba, which Elliott is excited about.)
6) How’s your Spanish?
It’s improving, but it still needs much work. Stephanie follows a daily schedule of studying, while my most useful phrase is still, “Mi Español es terrible.” Fortunately, the locals are very patient, and really appreciate it that we’re making an effort to learn the language.
7) How can you afford to do this?
The short answer is that we worked and saved very aggressively for a long time. For years we chose to forgo many things such as cable/satellite TV, convenience stores and smart phones. We spent very carefully and lived below our means. Even here in Cuenca, we need to adhere to a budget, but the cost of living combined with excellent interest rates in Ecuador means that we should just be able to pull this off. If not, there’s always online contracting.
8) Where is it/how long does it take to get there?
Ecuador is in Northwestern South America surrounded by Peru and Colombia. Cuenca is in the South central part of Ecuador, in the Southern Sierra, due south of (and in the same time zone as) Philadelphia. We fly into the bigger city of Guayaquil, which is about a 4 hour flight from Miami, and then there’s a 3.5 hour bus ride up winding mountain roads to get to Cuenca. There are some other options we can tell you about when you’re ready to plan your visit.
9) How’s the food?
The local food is great. The markets are bursting with produce, and everything is organic and incredibly inexpensive. The big meal of the day here is lunch. A lunch combo called an almuerzo costs around $2, and includes a giant bowl of soup (the soups here are fantastic), rice, some kind of fish or meat, and if you’re lucky, beans or vegetables. There are all kinds of ethnic restaurants, including Indian, Thai, and Mexican. For Stephanie there’s even a pizza place whose strombolis rival those of the best in Southeastern PA and NJ.
10) What do you miss most about life in the U.S.?
We miss our friends and family the most of course. I think I will miss being able to order anything I like online and have it arrive in a few days. There are no big-box retailers like Best Buy or Walmart, so we have to plan carefully when we go shopping. Certain items, such as electronics, are very expensive here, and Chinese knockoffs of brand-name clothing and electronics are everywhere. The nearest beach/ocean is a good five hours from us. On the other hand, the availability of fresh, local food is amazing, we have a Walmart-like store called Coral where we can go if I start to miss shopping, and there is great mountain hiking only a half-hour away. But I will definitely miss the Cheesecake Factory!