When Susan Schneck tired of the rat race she started looking for other places to live. In her search she looked closely at Ecuador. The climate was good, the culture was great and the cost of living was a fraction of the United States and even countries near Ecuador.
Susan has now lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for two and a half years. She makes her living from putting on workshops and selling books. As part of my ongoing series of expats who found a way to live and work abroad I wanted to hear more of what she had to say about living in Ecuador.
Here is a bit of what she had to say.
How did you end up in Cuenca, Ecuador?
When I realized my job in the US was killing me I came here and retired at 54. I was living off my books and then my teaching pension kicked in at 55. I could retire young. Most people here are in their 60s. Through Americans Retiring Abroad I learned about the three C’s in looking for a place to live as an expat: culture, climate and cost of living. I added a fourth ‘C’ which was community. There are a lot of Americans and Germans living in Cuenca. I speak fluent Spanish, but I just feel more comfortable with the Americans. After all, I am American.
I am a big fish in a small pond here. I give raw food classes to expats. I wrote The Live Food Factor and Beyond Broccoli and now give workshops on how to self-publish and market your own book. Here there is not all the competition there was for workshops in Southern California. Here I can do what I love and still save up a bit.
I have a great condo with a great view. Every day I wake up and I am so grateful for the life I have. I would have to be a millionaire in San Diego to live the life there that I have here. But here I have a penthouse here with the perfect view. In San Diego I always had a tiny apartment. Here I have the big place that is the party place. It feels like a totally new life.
How do you get a visa to live in Ecuador?
You can get an investment visa for a 25,000 dollars investment you put in a CD. If you buy property that is taxable at around 25,000 you can get a visa. As the real estate would be taxable at 25,000 dollars it will however, cost you more than that to actually purchase it. You can get a pension visa if you can prove you make more than 800 dollars or more a month. You can also get a volunteer, work or student visa.
Ecuador has made it very easy for expats. After living in Ecuador for three years you can become a dual citizen. Ecuador does not have income tax so it is really great. This is paradise.
What if someone was 35, too old for a student, too young for a pension visa, how would they go about getting an Ecuadorian visa?
If you can prove that you make 800 dollars or more a month through the Internet or other means you can get a visa here.
How much do Ecuadorian visas cost?
They do not cost anything, but you should hire a lawyer to do it. Even though I speak and read fluent Spanish I thought it was worth paying the lawyer 900 dollars to get my visa done. But because the customer service is not that good here know that just because you pay for a lawyer does not mean that you are going to get what you paid for.
What is the cost of living like in Ecuador?
Ecuador wants to get more gringos here. Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica do too, but now they are getting too expensive. In Costa Rica it is half the cost of living as the US, but in Ecuador it is 20 percent the cost of living of the US. You can live in Ecuador for 800 dollars a month and I know that because I do it.
Groceries can be as cheap as 100 dollars a month here. If you want to live with someone else you can live for 100 to 200 dollars a month. You can get an apartment for 250 dollars a month. Most landlords are happy to rent to gringos. Americans have a better reputation of taking care of places.
You can live like royalty for 2000 dollars a month. If I was in San Diego I would be living at poverty level with that income.
How do you find places to live in Ecuador?
You would go to http://cuencahighlife.com/. There you can sign up for a free newsletter and it is a life saver. Through the newsletter you can find out who has upcoming workshops. You can find out who is going to have garage sales which are not Ecuadorian customs. You can find out which restaurants have jazz. We gringos have a great community. It is really wonderful.
How do you handle health insurance in Ecuador?
I have US health insurance which is supposed to pay 80 percent of locally provide health care. There is an American guy here who sells local health insurance. You can also pay 10 dollars a month to get the Ecuadorian insurance. I am not a believer in the Western Medical treatment. If I got cancer there is no way I would get chemotherapy. The chemotherapy will kill you before the cancer will. In an accident I may have a cast put on but I never go to the doctors for pills or medication and that is why I am so healthy. But if you did want chemo in Ecuador you can get it for 8000 dollars instead of 100,000 dollars in the US. You can get a face lift here for 500 dollars.
How safe do you feel in Cuenca?
It is very safe. Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador. Quito and Guayaquil are not safe. I would not walk home at night in Quito or Guayaquil. I would walk home at night in Cuenca. Twenty four percent of people in Quito and Guayaquil are unemployed. That is one reason Americans come to Cuenca, because it is so much safer. You still have to be aware here. As the Muslims say, “Pray to Allah but tie your camel too.”
How is Internet service in Cuenca?
Great. I have great Internet. Some people have sketchy Internet and that is why I would not live in the countryside. Their Internet is not working half the time. I have a friend that lives in a small town and has to pay 300 dollars a month. I pay 33 dollars a month and it works 98 percent of the time. I paid 70 dollars for Internet access in the US.
What are some of the major cultural differences between the US and Ecuador?
The only difference I struggle with is customer service. The architect says he is going to fix the leaky roof, yet every day something takes precedence over fixing it. There is a custom here of telling white lies. If somebody does not really know how to give directions sometimes they will make something up because they want to save face. I have a maid that was stealing money from me for God knows how many months.
You have to look out for dishonesty or lack of complete honesty here. I had a friend that fell in love with an Ecuadorian man. He lied to her and said he was 50. When she went to marry him she realized he was 60. Now they are happily married, but that is very Ecuadorian. They are very macho. They will cheat on the woman. They expect the woman to wait on them even though they too work from nine to five.
If any gringo comes here and starts a business here they will get all of the business of the expats because the customer service is so much better than that of the Ecuadorians. Ecuadorians are not motivated by being the best or trying to beat the competition. You can’t buy supplements here and you can’t find cheap clothes. With the electronics they charge double because of the import duty – any cars, electronics or even alcohol.
How do you as an expat meet people socially in Ecuador?
The Gringo Tree Newsletter on Cuenca Highlife has a lot of information as to where expats are meeting. We meet at a restaurant every Tuesday night. People come to my raw food classes. Soon after meeting others you will be invited to parties. There are parties here all the time. When I was in California I went to two parties a year. Here they are all the time.
How do expats find jobs in Ecuador?
I know people who come here and teach English nine hours a week just to get their visa handled. There is a big ESL school in Cuenca. Nowadays you can get an ESL certificate online so you can teach. They will pay you 6.50 dollars an hour. If you have a pension on the side you can live really well and you have your visa via teaching English. Some people who only make 600 dollars a month pension they come here and teach English and live that way. With 800 a month you can live well, but you can’t travel. People go back to the US and they take the alpaca rugs or sweaters and sell them there on eBay and make enough money to pay for their trip to the US.
How are expats received by Ecuadorians?
Very well. People are always happy to meet the expats. Latinos are so friendly.
What are some of the creative ways expats earn money in Ecuador?
One woman makes and sells cheese and yogurt to expats. The expats make money by catering to the other expats. They will open restaurants catering to other Americans. One couple makes really high quality bread to sell to other Americans. Expats try to find a niche where Ecuadorians have not found them. There is one American who is going to bring her colonic equipment here and give colonics. I have a friend that does astrology readings. She does it so much cheaper than what she does it in the US.
You have to do it cheaper here than you would in the US. A massage therapist here charges 20 dollars which is much less than what she would in the US. The Ecuadorians charge 13 dollars an hour but provides much lower levels of customer service.
How do others who did not speak Spanish before arriving handle language issues?
I know a lot of Americans that do not have any intention of learning Spanish and still get by.
How is life different for you in Ecuador than it was in the US?
I am free.
What do you mean by that?
I am free from the rat race. I do not have an alarm clock. I can take a bus for 25 cents. I walk most of the days within a three mile radius of my home and that is my life. I have more friends here in two years than I did in 23 years living in San Diego. I am living the life of my dreams.
How is public transportation in Ecuador?
It is excellent. You do not wait for more than five or ten minutes for a bus. Here you can live quite well without a car.
What advice do you have for others that are thinking about working and living in Ecuador?
I would say, “Do it.” Jump into it and do it. Definitely visit before you ship all your stuff here but90 percent of the people who come here and check it out decide to move here and then have no regrets.