There are a number of ways to become an Ecuadorian resident, or to stay in the country for extended periods, and the process usually only takes a few months to complete. Our recent experience is that the process has become a little more complicated and time-consuming than in the past, but it is still considerably easier and less expensive than those in most other Latin American countries.
Staying on a tourist visa
When you enter Ecuador you will receive a passport stamp, commonly called a T-3, allowing you to stay in the country for 90 days within a one-year period from your date of entry. Because of changes in Ecuador’s new constitution, residents of all countries, not just those from North America, Europe and other Latin American countries, receive the stamp. Until early 2009, most visitors were able to leave Ecuador at or before the 90-day mark granted by their T-3 stamp and return later and receive a new T-3 stamp, granting them an additional 90 days. This is no longer the case.
If you wish to stay more than 90 days within a year, go to an Ecuadorian consulate in your home country or to an immigration office in Ecuador and apply for the 12-IX visa. Often referred to as the Tourist, Commercial or Sports Visa, this allows you to stay in Ecuador for up to 180 days in a year. If you are planning to apply for permanent residency, you are required to have the 12-IX visa when you file your application. Requirements for the 12-IX are included later in this chapter.
Why get a residency visa?
While both non-resident and tourist visas can keep you in the country for extended periods, only the resident visa will allow you stay on a permanent basis and to import your household goods duty-free. We strongly recommend that you consult an Ecuadorian immigration attorney if you decide to pursue residency. While it was possible to navigate the process without legal assistance in the past, those who have tried to go it alone since 2007 have often become frustrated by the bureaucracy and were forced to hire an attorney to complete the process. A good attorney knows the latest rules, has contacts in the Quito immigration office and can handle the detail work smoothly. On average, a couple will pay about $1,500 in legal costs for the service.
Absences from the country
The resident visas outlined below will grant you permanent residency, meaning you’ll be allowed to come and go from Ecuador as you wish with one notable exception: in the first two years of your residency you cannot be absent from the country for more than 90 days per year. Although there are no official rules after the first two years, most attorneys recommend that, to maintain your residency in good standing, you not leave the country for more than 12 consecutive months.
Six varieties of residency visas
Although the vast majority of foreign residents hold either 9-I or 9-II visas, there are total of six to choose from.
9-I: Pensioner Visa: For retired persons who receive pensions from their native countries (pension from a stable source, of at least $800 per month). This includes Social Security or other government or private retirement sources, an annuity or income from a trust.
9-II: Investor of Real Estate or Securities Visa: For real estate and securities investors who are investing at least $25,000. In the case of real estate, the $25,000 must be based on the municipal value, not on the purchase price.
9-III: Industrial Investor Visa: For investors in industry or investors who wish to export agricultural products, livestock, or minerals—provided they bring capital the equivalent of at least $30,000.
9-IV: Legal Representative, Work Visa, or Religious Visa: For foreign local agents who possess unlimited power of attorney to represent a company in Ecuador, provided that 80% of the company’s local personnel are Ecuadorian. It also applies to technicians or technical experts under indefinite work contract with a company established in Ecuador, and members of religious organizations. (An indefinite work contract is one which does not have a specified term.)
9-V: Professional Visa: For professionals with university degrees recognized by an Ecuadorian university, who wish to practice their profession in Ecuador. Should the applicant’s profession not exist in Ecuador, the degree must be locally certified. The applicant must also fulfill the Ecuadorian requirements for such practice, such as bar exams, etc.
I: Economic Dependence Visa: For individuals who are economically dependent on a spouse or a blood-related family member with an approved immigration visa.