Some people choose jobs, some jobs choose people.
Take “Journeyman Jack” Abercrombie. He’s based in Cumbaya, Ecuador, and is an expert on life as an expat the way few are. He can help you give birth to your dream of moving to Ecuador, facilitate the transition with ease, and then, when circumstances dictate it’s time to move on, help extract you painlessly.
He was part of one of the early convoys trucking critical supplies to the earthquake zone after April 16, basically going wherever he was needed, responding moment-to-moment until June 6. Since then, he’s spent roughly 20 days at home and 10 days on the coast, dedicating his resources — with a little help from his friends — to earthquake relief. His successful GoFundMe campaign has more details.
But this article was originally written before the quake. Its purpose is to introduce you to him. In his words, this is why Journeyman Jack does what he does:
“Especially for those who’ve never travelled long or far out of their home country: if you think it’s tough coming in to a new one, it’s just as tough, if not tougher, to get out.”
And that’s something not too many folks think about before they arrive. According to Jack, that’s one of the essential thought processes that should be included in making a decision to change from one life to another: What if it doesn’t work out?
Within six months of moving to Ecuador, most North American expats have a pretty good idea of how much planning goes into making a smooth transition from “home” to here. Unfortunately, it’s too often in retrospect. These are hard-earned lessons gained by trying to negotiate through the obstacles inherent in adjusting to day-to-day living in a wildly different culture. The big realization, often, is how little they’d known about what it would take.
Jack’s starting point is always his love and respect for Ecuador. He doesn’t go out of his way to “sell” you on the idea of making a move, nor does he fill your head with all the obstacles. It’s all about helping you to become more aware so you can make your best choices.
In order to do that, he has to know people and how to work with them. He’s extremely affable, has a disarmingly soothing drawl that easily lapses into booming laughter. He’s open about what he has experienced, good and bad, and perhaps most important, he’s curious. He’s curious about who you are, what you’re hoping to accomplish by coming (or going!) and takes the time to help you troubleshoot based on your own needs, means and preferences.
Jack was a journeyman sheet-metal worker in the U.S. for 20 years, thus the handle. He went on to be a buyer and seller of heavy equipment, with assignments all over the world. He arrived in Ecuador in 2008. Like so many others, he was faced with economic challenges that compelled him to make a major life change.
He got his Ecuadorian Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and continued selling heavy equipment, which is how he learned one of his first, crucial lessons. “I can sell anywhere else but Ecuador,” he said. “The atmosphere for business is stifling!”
Then, his uncle came to visit, requesting that he show him around. So they hopped on Ecuador’s bus system and spent a few weeks traveling and learning about the country. Little did he know that this would be a new start in more ways than one — in Bahía, he met one of his uncle’s friend’s daughters, Andrea. A few weeks after he left, the friend called him. “Why haven’t you been calling my daughter?” he asked. They’ve been together since.
Within a couple of years, he found himself being called on more and more to show folks the ropes. He traveled, and made connections around the country that form the basis of his relocation services business — which is, essentially, a network of friendships.
Jack’s role, for those who seek him out before they make the leap, is to educate, facilitate and transport. He organizes a custom travel itinerary, ideally, an exploratory trip of twelve days.
By 2013, he had developed a comprehensive orientation service. He helps new expats learn about housing, and connects them with facilitators in the areas in which they hope to settle. He advises them on the goods they should bring and the ones they should leave at home, and picks them up personally from the airport.
That, coincidentally, was around the time his uncle decided to leave. That was his first real “extraction,” and it opened his eyes to many of the things that are important to consider in advance.
Once you move here and get settled in it’s like anywhere else; you relax and, unless you make major efforts otherwise, you accumulate possessions.
And then “it” happens. Suddenly your business is called back to Florida. Your three-year contract as an English teacher gets cut in half. Someone at home becomes seriously ill. For some, the inability to learn the language and integrate is the deal-breaker. One day you realize the grass really IS greener elsewhere, so you decide to pull the plug.
But you also realize that you now possess property, pets, investments, maybe a car. Cleaning up after yourself often takes a lot of time, effort and money. It is not just a matter of hopping on a plane, you must disentangle yourself first.
Jack estimates the average cost to make a clean transition out of Ecuador is about $7,000.
To his surprise, in 2015 he extracted as many people from Ecuador as he midwifed into it. Today, he’s acting as a counselor for many expats still on the coast. This is his advice for people thinking of making a move, in either direction:
- The stress you experience coming and adjusting is inversely proportional to your experience traveling and living in foreign countries
- At first, travel light and find alternatives to taking a container
- Really investigate embargo regulations before bringing your belongings
- You can usually do well on ten to fifteen bags per couple taken by plane
- Bringing pets is a process. It’s very specific, and can be a nightmare
- None of the people he has “midwifed” have brought cars with them
- Rent for a year before buying. Investigate every aspect of your intended neighborhood. “See that sun come up and go down for one year first.”
- Experience the rainy season before you decide
- About 1/3 of the people he’s midwifed, he’s ended up extracting
- Downsize to your original 10 to 15 bags
- You just don’t take a car back with you
- There is a process you must go through to cancel your Ecuadorian Resident Visa
- There is a process you must go through to untangle your investor’s visa and retain your money
- You must transfer power of attorney for any properties you leave behind
- Bringing pets out is a process. It’s very specific, and can be a nightmare
Do you have an exit strategy? Let us know why or why not!