I will turn 51 in June and my husband is turning 57 in 2 weeks. Our 5 year anniversary in Ecuador is on May 21; I will let you all do the math.
Join Canadian Expat, Dodie Schadlich, in her weekly column for “Off the Beaten Path”. Read on to hear about how thinking outside the box can pay dividends when it comes to retiring early.
Considering that we are not independently wealthy, not old enough to collect our pensions, our surname is not Gates and we do not have great investor type minds, one might wonder how folks in their middle 40s, or early 50s in my husband’s case, can make a life in Ecuador.
The great majority of people we have come to know are retired, either medically or the old-fashioned way, known as the 65-year plan. Collecting a pension each month that they worked long and hard to earn. It may be simple Social Security or CPP, which is Canada’s equivalent; both of which are sufficient amounts to qualify for a Visa. In any case, this group makes up the largest group of expats we know.
The retirees are not always in their 60s. There are certainly some younger people collecting pensions, either from injury or because they were able to collect supplementary retirement pensions.
We have also come to know some savvy young folks that made some great investments over their years, and others that have inherited money. Using their income to build a new life for themselves down in Ecuador, even having children and families, living a life very different from retirees.
There is also a small group of 20 and 30 somethings that followed family down to Ecuador and try to earn their way by working regular jobs for Ecuadorian wages. It seems to be a struggle for sure, trying to maintain a North American life on Ecuadorian wage rates, but many seem to be making a go of it even if they struggle from time to time. This way of life tends to work best for those with a decent grasp of Spanish, otherwise their opportunities are limited to gringo owned businesses that have mainly English speaking clients.
Various people from the above groups may choose to build businesses while they are here. The reasons for this vary, from following their dreams to financial need, to boredom. Restaurants, photographic services, importing items, real estate companies, investment properties, BnBs, tour companies, driving services, translation and visa facilitation, the list of possibilities is too large to list here. If you can dream it, you can list it here. Often if you do not speak Spanish, the customer base will be much smaller and limited to the expat groups unless you can hire locals or learn the language to offer services to a larger mix of foreigners and Ecuadorians.
There is another group, which Randy and I fall under, and that is those that bring their jobs with them. I have worked for the same company for 14 years now; 5.5 years of that has been remotely. Our lifestyle is very different from the above groups. This often means we do not participate in many of the expat social events as my work hours often conflict during the weekdays. It is a small price to pay to be able to experience life in paradise at our age.
Punching a time clock while staring at the ships bobbing gently on the horizon is hardly considered demanding work. My husband and I feel very grateful that we were able to follow our dreams a little younger than some. My job allows us the flexibility to work remotely, while my husband builds our beach side vacation rental business.
Although I have to clock 40 hours each week, I receive very little sympathy from my coworkers while logging in from the terrace overlooking the ocean. The physical office is located on the west coast of Canada meaning my work hours are adjusted for the time zone difference. This leaves the fabulous, cooler mornings to run errands, walk the beach, putter around the property or to take care of my growing to-do list with the charity work.
Don’t get me wrong, the role and responsibilities of my job are stressful and demanding and I have set hours to be logged in, focused and available. What I no longer have is the commuting time…in the snow. The dress code is completely gone and I find myself in a bathing suit with a little cover up, more often than not.
I have my choice of where to sit and work; either the desk in the home office, front porch with the ocean view, sitting in the deep shade at the bar, or hanging in the hammock. My mood and my workload on any given day will dictate which location to choose.
Lunch break will find me on a yoga mat or in the pool for a cooling dip. The coffee break allows me some time to stretch, walk the property, pick a mango or banana from the tree with a fresh coffee in hand.
Technology is bittersweet sometimes; I find it frustrating, complicating life in so many ways, but on the other side, as I lay in my hammock with laptop in hand, a dog on each side of me I realize how technology has allowed me the flexibility to pursue my dreams while we are still energetic enough to build our business.
The remote workplace has its pros and cons for sure. It is not all positive and I could write another whole article about working remotely; the good, the bad and the ugly.
I cannot talk about working remotely without a most honourable mention to my employer. Without their vision, their faith in me and not only their blessing to follow our dreams but their encouragement, this would not be possible. I had worked in the office for over 8 years, Monday thru Friday, however, my client list is located across the country and rarely would I meet anyone in person so there was really no transition for them. It was extremely important to me to make this remote workplace successful for everyone. Not only for my own personal gain but for the potential future of others in our office that may want or need the flexibility. I was the first to work remotely and now there are 6 of us that are consistently remote workers and the owners of the company will also periodically do so as well; with their goal to be full time remote one day.
To make this move to Ecuador, my husband had to give up his management position and take on the exciting but stressful, the fabulous but frustrating, immensely important task of building our business. The process was certainly complicated as he tried to wrap his head around the cultural differences, construction nuances and language barrier. Not an easy task for sure, but here we are nearly 5 years later, he has found his groove and the heart he poured into it is apparent to all that walk through the gates.
We purchased a beautiful but run down piece of property, steps from the beach and he turned it into a beautiful, peaceful and tranquil oasis that we share with our vacation rental guests. Our vision and my husband’s hands have created something that literally takes my breath away some days as I stroll through.
I have been asked, how we keep such a schedule. I have to smile, as I really do not have an answer. We made many life adjustments like giving up online games, giving up smoking (which took up an unusual amount of time) and just recently I gave up social media. Giving up that one thing sure gives me a lot more time in a day! It was to be a 30-day hiatus, but I think I may extend it. I have a few more important things to do without wasting my time mindlessly flipping through my newsfeed. Time has become far more precious to me these days.
If I can offer a bit of advice to those of you sitting home, working away, researching Ecuador and wondering when you will be able to make the move, it would be to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.
Look at your daily role and responsibilities realistically, and ask yourself what can and cannot be done remotely. Look at the whole picture with the goal being to make it work rather than simply creating a list of reasons why it won’t.
Once you determine what can and cannot be done, make a plan around it. Perhaps you may need to give up one task, but offer to take on another.
Present the plan to your employer and remember it needs to benefit them and not just you so really look at the whole picture from all angles. Test it out by working remotely from home for a few months. This will ease you both into the routine and give you a chance to work out the kinks. Fix those problem areas before making the big move and the next thing you know, you will be laying back in a hammock, taking care of business.
Whatever your dream is, do not be afraid to go after it. Remember to find the reasons why and ignore the nagging voice in the back of your head, named fear, that quickly lists all the reasons why not. Breathe deep, move forward.
Ciao Amigos- Hope to see you in Ecuador one day.