Thousands of foreigners have already chosen Ecuador as their retirement haven, and at least a hundred more move to Ecuador every day. International Living has named Ecuador the top retirement haven in the world six times in the last seven years. International Living makes its choice based on several factors including climate, cost of living, culture, health care, and other important considerations. Retirees in Ecuador can experience peace of mind and a sense of security on several levels.
Of course, financial security is a major draw for those planning to retire in this exceptional South American country. The fact that money takes you further in Ecuador is just one of many reasons to consider retiring here, however. Although “living large on little money” or “settling into the lap of luxury,” even on a pensioner’s budget, might seem like clichés, such observations reflect the reality of retiring in Ecuador, one of the most affordable places to live on the planet.
People love the fact that they can live a fairly extravagant lifestyle in Cuenca (with a main home in the city plus a country home or beach property) for $22,000 a year, with extra money left over for travel, hobbies and luxury purchases.
Ecuadorian food prices are among the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Everything is cheaper in Ecuador, from property to the services of a full-time maid or gardener, to general utilities.
Within Ecuador, retirees become part of the community with relative ease. Foreign visitors and residents are treated with respect. Locals welcome them into their circles of friends. Retirees blend harmoniously into the local scene and their new way of life.
Ecuadorian Real Estate
There are no restrictions on foreign-owned real estate in Ecuador. Indeed, buying property could qualify a retiree for residency. Real-estate taxes and transaction fees in Ecuador are among the lowest in the world. All taxes are based on the municipal value of the property, which is normally much lower than the actual sales price.
Of course, real-estate prices depend considerably on the area and property type. Residents can rent luxury apartments for reasonable prices or even build a home with a limited budget.
- 50 per cent off on public transit, airfare, electricity, water, phone service, and cultural and sporting event tickets
- Eligible for refunds of a significant portion of the 14 per cent sales tax
- U.S. expat retirees do not have to pay Ecuadorian taxes on Social Security income. There is no need to worry about receiving Social Security benefits while living abroad. Monthly benefit cheques can be direct deposited into a U.S. bank account and withdrawn safely and easily from banks and ATMs throughout the country. Ecuador has adopted the U.S. dollar as its currency.
- Low property taxes and frequent discounts
- 50 per cent off airfare for round-trip tickets to the U.S. for flights originating within Ecuador
- Free domestic landline phone service (does not include long distance service)
Within the larger centers, traffic can be congested, so many opt for public transportation, which is very affordable. A bus fare within Cuenca, for example, is 25 cents. Expect to pay $1.25 per hour for bus travel between cities (the two-hour bus trip from Quito to Otavalo costs around $3, for example).
Taking a taxi about town will only set you back $2 or $3. A trip from the airport to the center of Quito could be in the range of $20-$30.
It is easy to travel to and from Ecuador. Located just outside Quito, the impressive Mariscal Sucre International Airport has plenty of shops, restaurants, and a baggage claim area that is rarely congested.
Three local airlines serve all the large cities and many smaller locales in Ecuador. A short flight will get you from one area of the country to another. Ecuador has 35 airports, but its two main airports, Quito and Guayaquil, are the only ones which handle international flights.
*Editor’s note:* Please be aware that there are currently delays in and out of Cuenca’s airport, and ground transportation is recommended.
Ecuador is known for its temperate and varied climate, a diverse mix across its main regions: coast, sierra, and rainforest. There are wet and dry seasons in the different zones, but the temperatures remain fairly constant over the course of the year. Due to the country’s location on the equator, residents enjoy 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness throughout the year.
Ecuador’s Natural Beauty
From its snow-capped volcanoes to the dense Amazon jungle, to the Pacific beaches and famous Galápagos Islands, Ecuador possesses astounding natural beauty. Considering that Ecuador covers a mere 0.02% of the global land mass, the country offers amazing diversity and is home to 10% of the world’s plant and animal species.
With sunken Spanish galleons off its shores, legends of lost ancient wealth, and current mineral exploration, Ecuador is renowned among treasure hunters.
Yet this country’s real treasure, however, is its people. They have different lifestyles depending on whether they live in jungle river towns or coastal fishing villages, isolated cattle ranches, ancient haciendas, or even large colonial cities. Due to Ecuador’s compact size, travelers can observe several unique ways of life in a single day.
Things to Do
Ecuador provides opportunities for countless activities and forms of entertainment, including traditional events. With more than 28 indigenous groups speaking over 10 languages, evidence of this country’s heritage fills its marketplaces and festivals.
A wealth of hand-crafted goods are available at local markets, especially at the well-known Otavalo fair. Popular items are weavings, wood carvings, painted ornaments made of bread dough, dress pins, leather goods, textiles, and many other local crafts.
Ecuador’s remarkable culture is also evident in the country’s music and dance festivals.
This fascinating country offers varied cultural opportunities. Larger cities, such as Quito and Cuenca, offer symphonies and ballets and attract artists from around the world. Museums, historic places, and ancient churches are just a few of the interesting places to visit in Ecuador.
The natural world of Ecuador offers unlimited experiences such as…
- Whale or bird- watching
- Rainforest trekking
- Volcano hiking
- Whitewater rafting
- Horseback riding
- Scuba diving
…and much more fun and adventure!
Modern Life in Ecuador
Major cities, such as Cuenca, Quito, and Guayaquil, have all the latest conveniences, from cell phone service to internet connection. In fact, much of Ecuador is equipped for modern life. Obviously, cellphone service or WiFi can vary according to the location.
For example, valleys in the Andes can have spotty service, and cell phones will not work in remote areas of the Amazon Basin. The country’s mobile phone system, however, is always undergoing improvement.
Satellite and cable TV with an abundance of English language shows and sports networks are available in most areas.
The larger city centers will offer the most convenience and latest technology. However, some retirees still choose to settle outside the main centers and enjoy other advantages, such as even more favorable rental rates.
Ecuadorian Health Care
The cost of health care is up to 90 per cent lower than in the United States, and doctors are known to make house calls at an affordable rate. A variety of health insurance options are available for foreigners. Legal residents of Ecuador can take advantage of public health insurance.
“Ecuador is one of the most affordable places in the western hemisphere that has good services and infrastructure….The value for your dollar is incredible,” says Dan Prescher, the Special Projects editor for InternationalLiving.com, who settled in Ecuador after traveling extensively through Latin America.
Recently, the federal government enacted sweeping legislation offering free health care for expat retirees who become legal residents on a national level. Full medical coverage for only $70 a month is a new health care option for Ecuadorian residents. Ecuador’s national healthcare plan (managed by the country’s Social Security administration) is removing age and pre-existing medical condition restrictions for those who want to join the system on a voluntary basis.
“Voluntary” membership is open to all citizens and legal residents. Besides health care, voluntary members of the system are also entitled to other Social Security benefits, including low interest loans for home purchases, funeral expense assistance, and unemployment benefits. Although joining the government program is not for all expats, it is a great option for those who might not be able otherwise to obtain low-cost health insurance.
Retirees who do not participate in the government system can purchase private health insurance if they meet the qualifications. This decision by the Ecuadorian government is extremely good news for would-be retirees. The new health system provides full medical coverage including doctors’ visits with no co-pays or deductibles, dental care, and free or discounted prescription medicine. In case of emergency, members can go to any hospital in the country and the government will pick up all expenses.
Although most routine medical services are provided at Social Security hospitals and clinics, it is also possible to receive treatment at several private healthcare facilities under contract with the government. Now legal residents have access to free and improved healthcare. In addition, many private pharmacies have agreements with the government for this program.
The healthcare system in Ecuador is consistently ranked as one of the best in South America. Since 2008, Ecuadorian healthcare has seen an increase in new hospitals, clinics and equipment, upgraded facilities, the addition of new technology, and double the number of doctors on contract with the system. The big cities, such as Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil, have numerous hospitals and specialists in different fields, as well as U.S. and European-trained doctors.
Impressed expats who have used the improved government system report excellent care and substantial savings. Many English-speaking private practice physicians work for the Social Security health system and can prove invaluable in making arrangements for their expat patients.
Obviously, the quality and availability of services can vary between cities and towns and rural areas where residents might have to travel to facilities in larger centers.
Ecuador is quite welcoming to visiting foreign seniors. The country offers some of the most relaxed resident visa options in the world. Everyone gets an automatic 90-day tourist visa when they arrive in Ecuador. From there, they can apply for a six-month extension (12-IX visa). Check with the nearest consulate about current terms and requirements.
Permanent Residency Visa Requirements
Obtaining residency in any country requires going through a specific bureaucratic process, and Ecuador is no different in that regard. Research and prepare carefully before moving to Ecuador. After arriving in the country, take all the remaining steps to meet the required deadlines.
In order to obtain permanent resident status, retirees often apply for a pensioner visa. They need to show a minimum income of $800 per month to obtain a pensioner 9-I visa or invest $25,000 in local real estate, such as a residence, or in an approved financial instrument. They must also show a police report from their home country and, if married, a copy of the marriage certificate. The visa application documents must be authenticated by your home country and then translated into Spanish after arrival in Ecuador.
Once retirees have their residency visa, they are required to stay in Ecuador for at least nine months a year for the first two years. After that period, they can leave the country for a longer length of time.
Permanent residency status means that…
1. Retirees do not pay any taxes on foreign income.
2. Retirees could import their household goods duty-free within six months after obtaining residency.
Retiring in Ecuador
It is estimated that between five and ten thousand American expats (mostly retirees) now live in Ecuador. With its high quality of life, Ecuador is a land of opportunity and an affordable and beautiful retirement destination. There is something for every retiree in Ecuador.
The best advice for people planning to retire in this charming country would be to make an initial observation trip. See if Ecuador suits your hopes and dreams. The statistics show that it has worked — and is working — for many, and an ever-increasing number are interested in this retirement paradise.
A new life in a unique country with new friends, a distinct culture, a laid-back atmosphere, and the opportunity for awesome adventures while enjoying a low-cost luxury lifestyle is waiting for you. Retiring to this extraordinary South American country is a win-win situation. Welcome to Ecuador!
Please note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the Ecuadorian sales tax as 12 per cent. It is 14 per cent. (Monday, July 11, 2016.)