67 years old
Former educator, currently retired
1) Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in the Chicago area of the United States.
a. What made you move out of your home country?
High cost-of-living, polar winters, hot and often humid summers, windy conditions--all contributed as push factors for leaving the United States.
2) Where are you living now?
I live in Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca is located in the Southern Andes at
approximately 8,200 feet elevation. Despite our high altitude, we never
have snow nor freezing temperatures due to the fact that Cuenca is
just south of the Equator.
3) How long have you been living in Ecuador?
I have been living in Ecuador for over 3 ½ years now.
a. What has been the most difficult experience you’ve had when you were new in your host country?
Not speaking Spanish may have been the most difficult experience. Nevertheless, there are many Ecuadorians who lived in the United States and upon their return provide facilitation services for a fee to expats. The services can include rentals, property purchases, home furnishing purchases, setting up bank accounts, handling visa procedures, etc. Therefore, English-speaking Ecuadorians made the entire process of settlement for me relatively easy.
Since I arrived, the expat community has grown, and more expats have lived here for a longer period of time, so there are many expats who can now be of help as well. The city government also established in the last two years a special security force in El Centro, whose members walk the streets around Parque Calderon. These security members are friendly, competent in English, and help both tourists and expats alike with their questions.
4) Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and
international health insurance were particularly difficult in Ecuador?
What was your experience with these?
When I arrived in 2011, procuring a visa was difficult. The government
office responsible for issuing visas was in disarray. However, that
problem was rectified later that year. Generally, the visa procedure is
much easier to complete today.
There are a myriad of health insurance policies both international and
local, which need to be considered. Many hospitals in Cuenca also
offer their own policies. Health insurance is relatively inexpensive in
Ecuador compared with rates in the United States. The physicians and
medical practitioners spend incredible amounts of time with patients in
Cuenca compared with the time physicians spend with patients in the
United States. Medical care ranks from good to excellent in Cuenca at
a fraction of what the cost is in the states. Ecuador has not yet been
ruined by the philosophy of maximizing profits at the expense of
the customers, clients, or patients. Nor is Ecuador a culture of people
who are quick to sue.
By far, the most negative problem with which I have had to deal as an
expat has been governmental and financial institutional bureaucracies.
Whether here in Ecuador or with institutions in the United States, it
makes no difference. Bureaucrats make up rules as they go along, or
they are often misinformed. Information procured by one bureaucrat
will be contradicted by another bureaucrat working out of the same
office. Handling investment transactions, moving money in-
and-out of countries, complying with both the United States and
Ecuadors’ financial information forms have become much more
complicated than when I first arrived in Ecuador in 2011. The changes
with financial and government procedures and the complications
caused by them are always on-going and never-ending. That, for me,
is the most negative feature in living abroad, and an issue that many
future expats give little consideration.
5) Are you living alone, or with your family?
I am divorced, and I live alone. I have two adult sons. One lives in the
United States, and the other son soon will relocate to the Middle East.
6) Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly
socialize with other expats in Cuenca? How did you manage to find a
social circle in Cuenca?
It was extremely easy to make new friends and meet people in
Cuenca, especially when so many new people were arriving after
“International Living” magazine identified Cuenca as the number one
city for retirement. There was such an excitement in the air among the
new arrivals from 2010 through 2012. At one point, there were three
“Gringo Night” venues, which successfully competed for new gringo
trade, as well as for the dollars of potential gringos who came to visit
and check-out if Cuenca was the right move for them. Expat nights at
this point have run their course. However, there are a number of
restaurants, cafes, and bars that cater to expat crowds. Expats are
generally easy to meet on the streets and will normally be helpful. It is
almost impossible for me to walk the streets of Cuenca, and not meet
someone I don’t know.
I mostly associate with other expats, but I have Ecuadorian friends as
well. I don’t devote sufficient time to the study of Spanish. All of my
Ecuadorian friends speak English, and all but one of them lived in the
United States for periods of time. My Ecuadorian friends speak to me in
English, because we can have a normal conversation in English since
my Spanish is not at a competent conversational level. It is more difficult
for me to understand Spanish when it is spoken to me, than it is for me to
speak Spanish or to read Spanish.
Cuenca has a population of 325,000 in the city proper. There are over
600,000 people in the canton, which is equivalent to a county in the
United States. Cuenca is the big city with a small town atmosphere.
There are about 4,000 expats, and almost all of them are from the
United States and Canada. The expat population has maintained itself
at about the 4,000 number. New people are continuously moving in,
and others are equally moving out. Some expats move to the nearby
hinterlands outside Cuenca, or to other parts of Ecuador. Some expats
indulge their wanderlust, and after they have experienced Cuenca for a
few years move to another country to experience their next adventure.
Other expats return to their home countries, generally because of family
considerations or homesickness. We also have our share of expats who
live in Cuenca just long enough to procure legal residency, and then
return to the states. These expats have no genuine intention of living in
Ecuador, but like to have legal residency in case things continue to
become increasingly politically dicey in the United States. One change
that I have noticed in the past year has been the increase in younger
expats with children who are moving to Cuenca. Until recently, the vast
majority of expats have been in the post-fifty age group.
One thing about the expats in Cuenca is that they are scattered in every
area of the city and in most neighborhoods. Even in neighborhoods
where there are higher concentrations of expats, in none of these
neighborhoods do expats make up a majority of the population.
Geographically, there are no gringo ghettos in Cuenca.
7) What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to
Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador. Many of the cultural activities
are financed by the national government. The many festivals, the city’s
very fine orchestra, concerts, art exhibits, and stage performances are
usually free. The city is resplendent with art galleries, and also has three
major universities. Recently, the expats have been organizing art as well
as stage performances in English. Many expats who may not act, are
participating in painting backdrops, making costumes, applying makeup,
and doing stage work like sound and lights. There is a cornucopia of
dance classes, art classes, book-writing classes, sewing, knitting and
weaving classes, Spanish-learning classes, yoga classes, and cooking
classes. Some expats form their own bands that perform in local
restaurants and bars.
Many expats devote hours to charity or to missionary work. Many social
groups among the expats have been transplanted in Cuenca as well. For
example; fraternal organizations, English-speaking churches, new age
groups, and military veteran organizations have all sprung up in Cuenca
in recent years. Any expats who are bored in Cuenca has no one to
blame but themselves.
There is a plethora of restaurants in all price ranges, and an increasing
number of international restaurants have appeared in Cuenca. We have
an excellent Japanese restaurant, which includes some of the best
sushi I have ever eaten. Cuenca also has some very good Italian
restaurants. Tiesto’s has an excellent world class chef, Juan Carlos,
and offers by far your best meal in Cuenca for Ecuadorian or Andean
food. If you visit Cuenca, Noe Japanese Restaurant and Tiesto’s are a
must. I would like to see some good quality Thai, Indian, Mexican, and
Caribbean restaurants open in Cuenca. We have some Caribbean and
Mexican restaurants, and many Chinese restaurants, but none of them
are very good.
Is there anyone out there in the world, who can bring some outstanding
Chinese cuisine to Cuenca, particularly with high quality dishes of
Schezuan and Hunan?
Because of all the Ecuadorian government import restrictions and custom
taxes, it is difficult for some ethnic restaurants to keep a steady supply of
the ingredients that are essential to the preparation of the authentic flavors
required for their dishes.
Cuenca is very much a walking city, and is also great for jogging. There
also are a number of health clubs in the city. Cuenca lies at the
entrance of the awesome Cajas National Park, which is great for hiking,
camping, and trout fishing. There is literally something for everybody in
8) How does the cost of living in Ecuador compare to the United States?
Generally, the cost of living is about 1/3 rd of what the cost-of-living is in
the United States. Cuenca has the largest middle-class of the large cities
in Ecuador proportionately to its population, which may explain why it
has the highest cost-of-living in Ecuador as well. Rents and home
purchases are a fraction of what they are in the United States.
Utilities are very inexpensive. My electric bill is about sixteen dollars a
month, gas is about twenty-three dollars, and water about four dollars.
These bills are for a 1,700 sq. ft. apartment. Cuenca is said to be a city
of eternal springtime. This is true if one defines spring as it is
experienced in the northern United States. Southerners will generally
find Cuenca, especially during it cool months as too cool. Nonetheless,
we have no central heat or air-conditioning in Cuenca, which saves a
great deal of money in construction costs and utility fees. Homes and
apartments will usually have propane or electric heaters to take the cold
out of the air especially when first arising in the morning during the cooler
months of July through September.
Public transportation is very inexpensive in Cuenca. A three mile taxi
ride is about $1.50. There are over 5,000 taxis serving the city, and the
buses are more than plentiful and often packed during peak hours. The
price of a bus ride is twenty-five cents and half price if you are a senior
citizen. The city is very easy for walking, and more expats get more
exercise now than they ever did when they lived in the states. Not to
mention that walking also saves money. Unless someone is
incapacitated, there really is no need to own a car in Cuenca, which is a
huge savings in itself.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are very inexpensive. Meats are comparable
or somewhat less in price in the supermarkets with the United States, but
they also can be purchased for forty to sixty percent less in the
mercados. Processed foods and imported foods are expensive in
Ecuador, primarily because of the high import taxes placed on most
imports, that is to the degree that those products are allowed into the
country at all.
Ecuadorians enjoy amuerzo, which is a lunch-time break usually from
1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Amuerzos can be purchased in restaurants
for about $2.50 to $5.00 dependent upon the quality of the amuerzo. A
meal will normally consist of a cup or bowl of soup, either chicken or
pork, rice, beans, corn, and/or potatoes. The amuerzos are very high in
carbs, and needless to say inexpensive and very filling. Meals in middle
and up-scale restaurants in Cuenca are about a quarter to half the price of
dinners in comparable restaurants in the states. Alcohol is very
expensive in Ecuador due to the stiff tariffs, and the government taxes
in the endeavor to raise revenue and to discourage people from drinking.
The most costly products in Ecuador are appliances, electronics, and
automobiles. These products are much more expensive than in the
United States. Imported brands, for example, like Whirlpool, Sony, and
Samsung can cost double what they charge in the United States. Brands
made in Ecuador, Peru, or Columbia are of equally good quality, and are
at a mid-range price between American and Asian brand products sold
here, and what is charged in the United States for those brand products.
Finally, people who live abroad need to remember to factor into their
budget whatever traveling they plan to do back-and-forth to their home
9) How do you find the local culture and people in Ecuador?
Cuecanos are a very friendly people, and most will be quite helpful to
expats. Many changes are taking place in the culture like the changes
that are taking place all over the world, but for the most part Cuecanos
are still very family-oriented. Ecuador is still a very Roman Catholic
country. The people of Cuenca take a great deal of pride in their city.
They love its tranquility and its very low crime rate, its natural beauty
enhanced by the four rivers flowing from the Cajas through the city, and
enshrined like the jewel that it is in a valley surrounded by the expanse
of the mighty Andes. Cuencanos delightfully bask in the prestige of being a
UNESCO-recognized heritage site devoted to the preservation of its
sixteenth century Renaissance architecture and buildings which dot the
the El Centro district of the city.
10. Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with
I’ve never had a problem with homesickness. I truly am where I want to
be. I do travel back to the states once or twice a year. I recently visited
with my son who resides on the East coast. My one brother and his wife
and I are planning to meet in New Orleans in early December. Emails
and especially SKYPE make keeping in touch with family so easy today.
I would think that women, especially with young grandchildren who live
in close proximity and spend time with their grand kids, should especially
consider whether or not it is wise for them to move away from family.
These are some of the women who have the most difficult time adjusting
to being away from home.
11. Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the
I plan to remain here in Cuenca, but ultimately no one knows what the
future holds. One of the perks in living in Ecuador is that the country
makes a great way-station to travel to other countries in the Caribbean
and South America. Earlier this year I spent five weeks in Brazil and
Buenos Aries, and I also tipped-toed across the border to Mancura,
12. What tips can you give other expats living in Ecuador?
I guess the one tip to expats who recently moved here or who are
considering moving to this fabulous country would be to do your
homework. Read the blogs of people who live here, and read on-line
periodicals dealing with expats living in Ecuador. Don’t take any one
site as an authority. People have different needs, experiences, and
perceptions so read and discern what may over time become a picture
of what you may think is a fairly accurate composite of Ecuador and
whether or not you think Ecuador would be the right move for you. I
would also recommend that you visit for at least once and for at least a
month to decide if a move south of the Equator is the potentially right
move for you.
Most of all, don’t rush into buying property. Renting is initially often the
better choice. Each expat needs to make that decision for themselves, but
it takes time to know if you will remain here. Also, you need time to know
the market. Otherwise, you will be taken advantage of by unscrupulous
realtors. A number of expats have paid a good deal more than their
property was worth, because it seemed like such a bargain compared to
prices charged for comparable property back in the states.
Someone recently wrote an article in an expat on-line periodical that
encouraged expats to buy a home for $70,000 and then as an
investment rent it out for $1,000 per month. This is nonsense. Any
building in Cuenca that sells for $70,000 is most likely ten or more years
old. Construction codes were not what they are today. Many of these
homes have major plumbing, electrical, and/or roof and window leakage
problems at that price. I have been in older homes were the lights are
frequently blinking on and off, and/or where the electrical wiring runs
exposed along the interior walls and ceilings of the house. Many homes
that are decades old have never had their kitchens or bathrooms
remodeled. These homes usually rent to expats for $300 to $500.
(Notice, I said expats. Cuecanos pay less.) The amount to refurbish them
would be very expensive. Not to mention the very real pain, frustration,
and major inconvenience of dealing with city codes and permits, the
quality and reliability of workers, and cultural and language differences,
especially if you do not have a solid background in home construction.
Even after the remodeling has been made, $1,000 per month is steep
unless you have done very high quality renovations and you most likely
would need to fully furnish the house as well. Otherwise, paying $1,000
per month means you’re a very naive expat.
Get to know the market before you plunge in. No matter how good the
deal sounds compared to what you would pay back home, you still may
be paying a good deal more than you need to. This is also true of
apartment and home rentals. Some expats are paying $1,000 for one
and two and three bedroom unfurnished apartments, often in the same
building where other expats are paying $500 to $600 for comparable
apartments. Some expats enter the market unaware of the overcharges,
and other expats have money to burn, paying the higher prices without a
forethought or a care about how they may be contributing to the purchase
and rental inflation in the city, which has nothing to do with current supply
13) Do you have favorite websites or blogs about Ecuador?
Well, my favorite blog is my own blog, which is called “Cuenca
Perspectives by Jim”, and begins with my first visit to Cuenca in
2010, continues with my moving to Cuenca in early 2011, and covers to
my current time period. My link is:
I would also encourage viewers to read: