Eleven years ago Dan Prescher and his wife, Suzan began working with internationalliving.com. With internationalliving.com they lived and worked in many countries and cities throughout Central and South America. Although they loved all the places they lived, they especially enjoyed Ecuador. When they found an apartment for $50,000 overlooking an Andean mountain peak in a little town north of Quito, they decided to settle in. Now with their living expenses hovering at a little over $1000 a month – they don’t know why they would leave.
Here is a bit of their story…
How does your quality of life in Ecuador compare to that in the US?
The US, along with whatever else it may be, is the most convenient place on earth. You can get whatever you want, at any time you want, anywhere you want with a phone call, and there are not a lot of places in the world like that. Ecuador is certainly not like that. You leave some convenience behind when you live in Ecuador. Internationalliving.com always encourages people to take a close look at what kind of convenience they are willing to leave behind and if that kind of convenience is very important to them they probably do not want to live in Ecuador, Panama or Mexico where things are a little harder to get. That being said we do not feel like we have given up any meaningful quality of life to live in Ecuador.
We have a lot of fresh food to eat. We have a lot of sunshine. The weather is absolutely perfect year round. We can find good quality healthcare for a fraction of what we can find it in the United States. Property taxes are ridiculously low. If you want to instantly cut the cost of your living in half in exchange for not having the convenience of having 12 kinds of stuffed green olives available at your local grocery store then living here is definitely something you may want to consider.
Do you feel safe there?
We live in Cotacachi. We call it the Mayberry of Ecuador. We walk the streets at night without worry. However, like all places the more money that comes the more crime there is. Crime grows in proportion to the amount of money around. A lot of expats are unfamiliar with local laws and customs and that makes them feel unsure. The last place we lived was in the Yucatan. Mexico has a terrible rap in the US. There is a horrible drug war going on, but where we lived the murder rate was the same as murder rate in Montana. It depends on where you live. It is hard to talk about safety on a country wide basis. You have to go state by state, city by city. Washington DC has a higher murder rate than Mexico City.
During your years of traveling in and out of Ecuador how did you deal with the visa?
Before we decided we wanted to buy a place here we came and went on a tourist visa which was perfect. You can buy property in Ecuador on a tourist visa, and then we did we decided we wanted a Residency Visa. The investment in the property helped us qualify. We enlisted the help of a lawyer in Quito to do the paperwork as it was something we did not want to manage ourselves.
What are the costs associated with immigration lawyers in Ecuador?
I can’t remember. I would imagine we spent $1500 to do it.
Are other options for visas for people to live in Ecuador aside from the residency visa?
There are 12 different kinds of visas. They are pretty easy to find on the Ecuadorian Embassy’s website in the US. Ecuador’s visa requirements are also listed on internationalliving.com. You can get Ecuadorian visas as a pensioner or as an investor if you invest a minimum of $25,000 in real estate. You can also come as a technical expert, as a student or on a religious visa. The 9-I, 9-II and 9-IV are the most popular visas for immigrants in Ecuador.
What do you spend every month to live in Ecuador?
We get by on $1200 to $1400 a month.
What does this $1200 to $1400 include?
Our monthly budget includes our HOA fees, gas, water, electricity, Internet and satellite TV, food, transportation, some entertainment. Everybody’s budget will differ depending on how often they eat out, how much they travel, where they go, what they like to do, etc. But for us, this covers the basics.
What are the other countries that have immigration policies which would allow for people from the US or other countries to do what you and your wife are doing in Ecuador?
Throughout most of Central and South America they have wanted expats to come with their money and they have not had extremely restrictive immigration laws. However dealing with the bureaucracy in these places to get the correct visas can present the normal bureaucratic frustrations and challenges. Like governments anywhere, if they can make a law and require a piece of paper to be stamped they will do it.
The relationship the US is having with Central and South America is changing and so the immigration policies in Central and South America are changing a little bit as well and in that they are getting a little tougher, but for years they have welcomed expats, and I don’t see that changing much.
What is the premise behind internationalliving.com?
For 30 years it has been just about the same – that you can live a happier, healthier, more relaxed life, with better weather for a fraction of what you’re living on right now in the US. Thirty years ago our audience was primarily retirees who had to make their pension go as far as possible. They could immediately cut their cost of living in half or more living abroad and still have a great life and not have to give up that much in return. For someone on a fixed income it is kind of a no brainer.
Now our demographic is getting younger and even people with kids who really do not know if they can afford retirement or healthcare in the US are interested in looking abroad to see the options available to them.
Why do you think people are happier, healthier, more relaxed outside of the US?
For one thing they are out of the consumer economy. They are not being bombarded all the time by sales pitches for new cars, new homes and buying the latest and greatest gadgets. That does not exist in a lot of the third world. At the very most basic level, you can live quite happily on a couple of dollars a day buying fish and fruit if that’s the kind of person you are. It is a relaxed lifestyle. You do not spend nearly as much.
We know people who live on $1000 a month or less and have a fine life and do not have to worry about the next meal or how much they will have to pay for the next dental examination.
Is this estimate of $1000 a rough estimate on monthly budget per person or couple? I am assuming this includes everything rent, food, utilities and so on, correct?
That’s an estimate for a couple, in my experience. A major factor would be renting versus buying. We own our condo outright, so rent is not included in our budget. If you need to or want to rent, that will change your budget. Again, budgets depend completely on how much you personally want to spend, what you need, what you can get along without, etc. One size does not fit all, but I think our example is pretty typical.
Could you give me an idea of how much a dental examination would cost in Ecuador?
It averages about $35 – $40 here for per exam in my experience.
What are the most amenable countries for expats?
For retirees Ecuador has been at the top of the list for a couple of years. The value for the dollar here is about as good as it is anywhere on earth. Panama is also on top of the list. They have had expats there for a 100 years with the canal. A million US expats by some estimates live in Mexico. We lived in three different places in Mexico and loved each one of them. Colombia is becoming more popular. In Uruguay things aren’t quite as inexpensive, but you can go and have a good lifestyle, have a great time, and in some cases still spend less than in the U.S.
What about Asia, Europe and Africa for expats?
If money is no object, France is always on the top of the list for quality of life, but it’s also possible to live there for a lot less than you might imagine. It just does not get better than French bread, wine and cheese in the French countryside. We also have correspondents in Ireland, New Zealand and Thailand. Vietnam has a lot to offer. Some places are more expensive than the US. Some are farther away than Central and South America. Due to their proximity to North, Central and South America they are very popular.
Are finances the primary driver which cause people to want to be expats and leave the US?
Yes they are and they always have been, especially in the last couple of years. Nobody knows what is happening with medical care and social security in the US and it is forcing people to make decisions on what they want to do. But it also has to do with people realizing they have options outside of their country.
People start to realize they could find a place to write that book they have always wanted to write or open that B & B or museum or art store they have always dreamed of. If they do not have the money to do it in their own country or if they do not want to deal with US regulations then they can do it another country. People here have opened restaurants, breweries and import and export businesses. The ability to have these business opportunities is another huge driver for people to live in other countries. Sometimes people get to a certain age and they want to do something different and they realize they have the opportunity to do it somewhere where it is cheaper and the weather is better.
Is there something someone who is now 45 or 55 could be doing to prepare themselves to retire in another country?
We always recommend people do the research about the countries they are interested in. A lot of people just have the feeling they want to live in Belize, where the national language is English or Panama because they know other people who live there. If they identify those places in their research we recommend they spend as much time as possible, for as long possible to make sure it is a place they can deal with. Being a tourist in a place is a lot different than being a resident. If you can spend four, five or six months or even a year somewhere you might find out that the banking system or the traffic are something you cannot deal with. So try before you buy if you possibly can.
It is also good to remember that this does not need to be the last move of your life. We have lived in seven places in four countries. We have become serial re-locators.
What about the people who have no idea on where to start in narrowing the list down?
I might be biased, but I think the internationalliving.com has more stuff on international living than anywhere else online. You can do research country by country on our website. We have events all over the world, and even in the U.S. Do the research. If you end up crossing countries off the list or the whole idea off the list because it is not for you – that is fine but the only way to find out is by doing the research.
What is the most common reason people decide not to do it?
Comfort. Staying where you are no matter where it is always more comfortable and reassuring then going somewhere else. It takes an adventurous spirit and tolerance for novelty and risk to be an expat. Moving from Texas to Oklahoma can be traumatic. Now imagine moving to another country, with another language, culture and government. Suzan and I like it because it keeps us on our toes. There is something new and novel that happens every day and if you do not have an appetite for that it can keep you where you are and that is fine.
Do you find that younger people, families and retirees are looking for different things when selecting countries?
Kids change your requirements, your medical requirements change your requirements and your tolerance for discomfort change your requirements. Suzan and I are long gone from living by a jungle stream in a cabin. We like Internet and satellite TV and a good Thai or Indian meal when we feel like it. It boils down to what you want and what you feel you can and cannot do without.
How are you with language?
My Spanish is not excellent, I am ashamed to say. We learned our Spanish by getting around in taxis, getting food and talking to our local friends. Language schools are good, but there is nothing like getting thrown into the pool and learning to swim. The challenge is that once you can get where you want to go and eat what you want to eat the temptation is to stop advancing and not get fluent, but you will miss out on a lot. I encourage everyone to get functional in the local language as quickly as possible and then get fluent because you can be a part of the community.
How is Internet there?
It’s been fine in every location we’ve lived. It will go out every now and then and that is just what you need to expect, but it is not a deal breaker.
What are the options if someone wants to earn a living or have some kind of job in Ecuador?
If you can make some kind of living online you can do it from anywhere – consulting, copywriting, editing. We have a guy by the name of Winton Churchill and he specializes in teaching people to do what they love but do it online. Things you would not think people could make a living online doing – such as being auto mechanics and nursing – he is showing them how to do it and make money online.
A lot of people are doing bed and breakfasts and restaurants. Everywhere you go there are expats selling real estate. The important thing is that you are not breaking any laws doing what you are doing. If you are making money in the country you have to stay right within the laws. As US citizens you can be taxed on all of the income you make all over the world. You absolutely have to stay honest with the US no matter where you are.
Doesn’t the US give tax breaks to expats?
Yes. You still have to file taxes but you can file an exemption for making money offshore. There are certain requirements you have to meet, but it doesn’t mean you do not have to file. It is a good exemption. Right now it’s a little over $90,000 a year.
What are the particular cultural differences you struggle with?
The thing Americans run into is the ‘mañana’ attitude or maybe a particular lack of efficiency. In the US when you walk into a place you expect the person behind the counter to help you with your problem immediately and sometimes that is not how they do things here in Ecuador. It can be very frustrating to try and pick up the phone and get things done. In much of Latin America you make a phone call to make an appointment to talk to a person to make another appointment. Expats need to relax and adopt the Latin American attitude that if it does not get done today that is ok. They also need to know that mañana does not mean tomorrow. It just means not now. It means whenever in the future it is convenient to get it done. It could be tomorrow, next week or never. It is difficult for Americans to understand. Business is not at the top of the agenda here. Family is. Family first, then church, then community. A lot of Americans will come down and hire someone to do something for $50 and expect that will buy the loyalty and presence of that person until the job is done, but if that person’s nephew is having a baptism they will go to it and make the excuse later because that is what is most important to them.
Are there concerns from a property ownership perspective that the Ecuadorian government would go south and you would lose your property?
Are you talking about repatriation of property from foreigners? I think a lot of those stories are old and are circulating around the Internet. We have the right of imminent domain in the US as well. I probably know more people in the US personally who had to get out of the way of a building project than I know people who had to get out of their property outside of the US. It does happen. There can be title problems but you can get title insurance. If you are careful, do the process right and hire the right lawyer to work for you, you can avoid a lot of those problems. I don’t think anyone in the government here is going to come and repatriate my $50,000 apartment. I do not know why someone would do that.
What keeps you there?
I am talking to you right now looking out my sun porch window at a 15,000 foot mountain over a big green valley in the Andes. It is probably 70 degrees right now and it is bright and sunny. The air is fresh and I paid $50,000 dollars for this apartment. It is like having a place in Aspen or Boulder. The scenery is that nice and we are living here on $1200 – $1500 a month. I don’t know why I would leave.