Our journey started long before we ever set foot on the soil of Ecuador. For about two years we did research and preparation. First we had to decide which country we would be moving to. We moved to Ecuador in July 2009. This is our story.
Here are some of the expat books we read to make our decision.
Meet 31+ expats from around the world that chose Ecuador.
5 Factors We Considered When Choosing the Country
In this post, you'll learn about the five factors we considered as we choose our new country.
- Climate: Our initial dreams were of sandy beaches and hot weather, but the more we tried to really visualize ourselves in our new location the more we realized that hot humid weather was not for us. A two or three week vacation in that type of tropical climate would be heaven, but week after week, month after month, year after year would just leave us hot, sweaty and exhausted. Not to mention that where there are heat and moisture there are bugs, lots of weird creepy crawly bugs.
- Infrastructure: There were other things to consider as well, like the infrastructure. What kinds of health care facilities were available? How hard would it be to find all the things we would need? Grocery stores, health food stores, pharmacies, shopping centers . . .
- Language was another factor. We wanted a Spanish speaking country because it is so widely spoken; we felt this would open up a world of opportunities for our family. (Update: Since moving, we've determined the best book to learn Spanish – and our readers agree.)
- Cost of living: After everything was said, done and sold, we were figuring we could make it for three years if we could keep our expenses low enough. And if we came up with a means of income during that time “bonus” we would stay longer.
- Safety was very important to us as well. We have a young child, and that brought many considerations into the picture that may not have been important otherwise. Crime rate statistics became a constant point of focus for us.
We looked into many countries, Dominican Republic, Belize, Mexico, Venezuela (Margarita Island), Dominica, to name just a few. For one reason or another we decided against them. We were determined to do our best to make sure that once we relocated to this foreign country we would be able to sustain our stay for as long as possible.
What About Ecuador?
Up next was Ecuador, too hot on the coast, but wait what was this, the Andes Mountains? A city called Cuenca? The checklist was on fire! Infrastructure, health care, spring-like climate, low cost of living, no malaria, hardly any critters, Spanish, no weird natural disasters reported thus far.
That was it, we had our sights set on living in Cuenca, Ecuador.
More reading: Why we sold it all and moved to Cuenca Ecuador
Selling Our House, Car and Business
One of the first things we needed to do after we had decided on our destination was get the visa process started.
When planning on relocating we were faced with a huge question of whether or not to keep everything, putting it in storage, or sell everything. We decided to sell everything, our house, business, car and other belongings – everything that would not fit in our suitcases.
This proved to be a little tricky for us because we were still making mortgage payments. So if our house sold first, we would have to move everything into an apartment while we waited for our business to sell, way too much hassle!
But if our business sold first, we would start eating into the savings from its sale to pay the mortgage each month, cutting into our precious time in Ecuador. This was a very anxious time for us, but as it turns out the house and business sold on the same day!!
Now we were faced with getting rid of all our stuff, and oh yes, we were also homeless. The large appliances went with the house, and the other sizable furniture was sold either online, or to family and friends.
How did we feel as our belongings went walking out the door? Lighter! We found this experience to be very freeing, almost like a purging, a fresh start, and a brand new slate.
My husband’s parents took pity on us, and we stayed with them for about a month. During our last month in Canada we had yard sales to get rid of the mountain of smaller belongings we had collected over the ten years of our married life.
Our daughter jumped into this undertaking with both feet. She sold almost all of her toys and saved the money to buy a special doll to take with her. She found it fun and exciting because we had to order this new friend through the mail, and it came in just in time.
We met with a lawyer to get all of our papers in order, wills, power of attorney and stuff like that. We met with the bank to set up a US bank account, because in Ecuador they use the US dollar, and we needed to be able to transfer money electronically from our Canadian account into the US one. Now we do all that online, and the ATM spits out our money just like back home.
Being here and not having to worry about belongings back in Canada is a wonderful feeling. The ups and downs involved made it seem like an eternity, but it all came together in around eight months. We had some emotional moments as well, but the stress during it all was well worth it.
Us and All Our Stuff: Flying Through the Air (Ecuador Bound)
The flight to Ecuador was exciting and very, very long.
The trip was supposed to take 16 hours with two stops, first in New York, second in Miami and then “up, up and away” to Guayaquil Ecuador. Well, we experienced some problems in the Miami airport, being grounded there for around 11 hours rather than the 3 hours we were expecting.
By the time we finally took off, our appreciation to be heading for Ecuador was definitely heightened. We had a flight time of just over 24 hours!
We had 6 large checked bags and a large and small carry-on bag each – between 400/500 pounds total! Sound like a lot? Well, we had to cram everything we possibly could in, it was our life in those bags! And not one piece was lost.
We stayed overnight in Guayaquil and toured around a bit before taking the flight up to Cuenca in the Andes.
We stayed at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Guayaquil and it felt like home. It was only about 5 minutes from the airport. And bonus, the largest mall in the country “Mall del Sol” was only about a 2 minute walk away. It was huge, very modern and the food court was awesome.
The airport in Guayaquil was really nice and we were very happy to hear that all the announcements were in Spanish and English, because we didn’t speak any Spanish. The plane was also new and clean. We flew up to Cuenca with LAN airlines and had a very good flight.
There were armed guards (with shotguns) at the airport. We had seen them at the airport in Venezuela as well so it wasn’t a big shock to us, but it could be a bit weird if you’re not used to it. A shotgun looks a lot different than a pistol in a pouch.
We talked to our daughter about it beforehand hoping that she would see them as a help, and not something to be afraid of. But when she saw them the look in her eye was still one of surprise, mixed with a little fear and some “should he really be here with that?” and “is everything ok?” thrown in.
The one thing about the trip that stands out in my mind was that we had to walk through a health scanner in the Guayaquil airport. They were checking for fever due to H1N1, I guess it was nice to know that no one on our flight had it, except for me! Joking! We all got a get out of swine flu free card.
When we were landing in Guayaquil our daughter opened her eyes, looked out the window then back at me and said “the plane still hasn’t taken off?!” It was around 4am at this point.
Once we had finally gotten seated on the plane ready for takeoff in Miami her eyes closed and they didn’t open again till we touched down in Ecuador.
Hola Cuenca: Our First Day Living in Ecuador
Taking the flight to Cuenca was very exciting, we had seen so many beautiful pictures on the net, and now finally we were about to see it all for ourselves.
It was a very memorable flight for me, I’ll never forget seeing the Andes rise up out of nowhere. It was truly beautiful to see Cuenca come into view, nestled between the mountains and rolling hills of patchwork farmland. I fell in love with the landscape at first sight.
Cuenca is not a modern city, so it looked very different from the other cities I had seen from the air. Instead of skyscrapers and shining glass, we saw old colonial buildings and the warm sheen of clay tile roofing. The city has a very European feel which I really enjoy, it feels like you’re in a quaint town, rather than a large city.
The plane landed fast and hard, it seemed that the runway was closer to homes and buildings than any other runway we had landed on. It was very easy for us to get where we were going because we had arrangements with a friend living in Cuenca to pick us up at the airport, and drop us off where we would be staying.
We didn't speak any Spanish so having someone help us really put our minds at ease. That same afternoon he took us to the grocery store so we could stock up on necessities.
Less than a week after arriving he also helped us find an apartment, work out the lease contract and fill it with furniture. We found a brand new gorgeous 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 balcony apartment in the suburbs of the city for $250 a month. Things would have been so much harder and time-consuming without his help.
It was hard to believe that we were finally here and settled, but the huge beautiful mountain we saw from our balcony was a constant pleasant reminder. The women dressed in their traditional skirts and braids, leading their cows up and down the road in front of our apartment every day was an interesting reality check as well.
All that was left was to get out and explore the city. I was really looking forward to seeing the architecture, and the culture of the people and places.
Is South America Scary?
Thanks to Western media, we learn that everywhere except home is unsafe and scary. Especially Central and South America – right? The only thing that happens there are landslides, government coups and earthquakes. Crime is outrageously high and people fear for their lives.
Well, yes that's true some places. But why would you ever move there? It would be like going on vacation in the bad part of your city, or retiring in a toxic waste area in your country. Every country has its share of good and bad places and people. Cuenca, Ecuador is our home, and it has less crime and less murders than Halifax – the sleepy capital of Nova Scotia (that's a province in Canada BTW).
Visiting Cuenca's Parque Calderon
One of the first places we wanted to see for ourselves was Parque Calderon. We hopped on the bus and got off somewhere in the city, thinking we had a little understanding of where things were. How hard could it be to find a park smack dab in the middle of the city?
Well, it was two hours walking in the hot sun, in and out of little grungy alleyways hard! Just kidding! We hopped off the bus, saw the beautiful blue-tiled roof of the big Church next to the Parque poking out above the city, and were there in a few minutes.
Check out our full guide to Parque Calderon
It truly is a beautiful park, not just because of how it is laid out, or because of the palm trees and all the beautiful buildings surrounding it. Just feeling the culture of the place is beautiful.
You see young families with their children playing in the spray of the fountain, elderly gentlemen sitting on shaded benches chatting, artistic people sketching characters, and musicians playing their tunes and singing their songs. There are photographers taking pictures for tourists, vendors selling popsicles, shoe shiners and many other interesting people to spy on.
One of the interesting things I enjoy about the park is how tranquil it is. You would think that with all the people bustling around it would be loud and feel crowded, but it doesn’t.
It feels quiet and peaceful; at least it has every time we’ve been there. We often pick up a tasty treat and sit on a bench to people watch.
It’s nice to pop into one of the cafes or restaurants surrounding the park, or peruse the jewelry being sold in the shade across the street.
Sometimes you’ll be fortunate enough to see someone walking by with a gaggle of geese or a few goats. The first time we were at the park we heard a kitten crying but couldn’t locate where it was, it kept crying loud and long until we realized that it was in a wiggling sack slung over the back of a Cholita (what we’ve been told the ladies with the frilly skirts and long braids are called.) We’ve also seen men with their hands full of cute fuzzy little puppies, hoping to prey on the weakness of people like me. Don’t worry I didn’t give in, we had already done so at a local market a month or so before.
The parque is one of our favorite places to relax and soak in la vida.
The next section was written by our daughter, Drew Haines, to share her experience of moving to Ecuador.
My Move To Ecuador: From the Eyes of an 8-Year-Old Canadian Girl
Some people are scared to move somewhere else.
And it can be a little scary; it was for me at first. But my family and I did it when I was only 8. It wasn't too scary :^)! Here’s my story:
My 8 Years in Canada
I was born in the small town of Kentville in Nova Scotia, Canada. When I was 6 months old, mom and dad bought a house in Greenwood (just down the Annapolis Valley from Kentville). That cozy little house was where I grew up. Everything I knew was there: my friends, my family, and my pets. My grandparents lived on the same road.
Life was good. Dad was building a big playground in the backyard for me. We had a place in the back of the playground where I could go to be alone. There was a lot of cool stuff back there! I found an old car engine, and even an old, old, old rusty sword. Me and a friend spent so much time trying to pull out that sword; we were never able to, though. It was sooo heavy!
Why Did We Move?
According to dad we were planning a move Ecuador for two reasons:
- so we could create a different lifestyle, work less and have more time as a family,
- enjoy a new culture and language as a family.
When they told me that we were going to move, I was surprised, happy, and a little sad. Remember, everything I knew was there (in Canada). But, I was only 8 so I didn't feel the same about moving then as I would now that I’m 12.
Anyway, we immediately started searching. When we were deciding on a country, it took a long time. We looked at sooo many different places! We would look at one and then realized it wasn't what we wanted.
Then we would look at another one and see that it was unsafe, and so on and so on. My parents were especially worried because I was ‘coming along for the trip’ to put it that way. But we finally decided on a very good and safe place: Cuenca, Ecuador.
Making the Move to Ecuador
To prepare for the move we sold our house and all our things (everything but a few luggage bags). I sold all my things too and I got the money :).
I sold all my toys (except my favorites) and with that money I bought a Maplelea Girl (made by hand in Canada, not many things are) a beautiful doll that was $100+.
While we sold our house, car and things, we had to stay at my grandparents for about a month. I pity them!
Every inch of the house was covered in luggage bags and loose pieces of things. But, I guess that’s just part of moving!
Then after we sold our house, car, business and things (all in one day) we bought our plane tickets. That was one long flight! My grandparents drove us to the Halifax airport; we said good-bye a hundred times, and left. We took a plane from Halifax to Miami, to Guayaquil, and then finally to Cuenca.
We have lived in Cuenca for 3 years now, and we love it. The culture here is unbelievable. Now I am almost 12, and I don’t want to move back to Canada. At night, I sometimes say to myself that I’ll stay here till I die. It’s so beautiful! But when we first came, we did get culture shock.
See some of my Ecuador pictures.
Here are something’s to watch out for if you ever come to Ecuador:
- Men pee on the street here, and they aren't always discreet.
- We were also surprised to see guinea pigs on roasting sticks. There are also pigs being cooked with them.
- Houses here normally don’t have a backyard like they do in Canada or the States.
These things can be true of other places like Ecuador. Another thought about moving is that in places like Ecuador is that you will most likely get stared at a lot. Especially if you are…
Well, I’m all of the above. At first, it was really annoying to get stared at all the time, every which-where I went. I also got names such as suca (blondie) preciosa (little precious) and other similar ones. But now, I don’t find it so annoying like before. It is still a little annoying, but not as much.
So I guess what I really wanted to say in all that was this:
If you have kids, and are afraid to move because of it: don’t be. Moving here was a great experience that I will never forget, even if I move again some place else. I love it here!
Mom and dad were so right to move here when I was young. The culture here has rubbed off on me. When we went to Miami for a vacation, I got culture shock! I was surprised to see that people there were richer (and looked it) than they are here.
And a message to kids:
Don’t be scared! Just follow your mom and dad and you’ll be fine. You will probably like it! And guess what? You will probably learn the language even faster than your parents.
Well I hope that helped! Thank you for reading!