Ecuador: The Hidden Paradise Where A Couple Can Live Comfortably On $2,000 a Month or Less
Sell your winter clothes...and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in the Land of Eternal Spring. Every cliché you've heard about living large on little...on even a retiree's budget...is true in Ecuador.
Ecuador lies in the Northwestern corner of South America, bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. At just 175,807 square miles (about the size of Nevada) Ecuador’s small size belies its incredible diversity.
The Andes Mountains form Ecuador’s backbone, and from the top of Mount Chimborazo at 20,600 feet (6,310 meters), the mountains descend on the east to dense tropical rainforests and on the west to balmy Pacific beaches. In between, you’ll find more climates, cultures, and natural wonders than almost any place on earth.
Envision your dream location—an unspoiled beach, a bustling city, university town, quiet mountain village—Ecuador has them all. Choose the place that’s right for you and start enjoying a better quality of life now.
The World’s Best Retirement Haven
In fact, Ecuador has been ranked as the best retirement destination in the world six times in the last seven years due to its exceptional quality of life and affordable cost of living in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index.
Fresh fruits and vegetables—clean air and water—year-round temperate climate—no wonder so many expats living in Ecuador say they feel better than they have in years.
Medical care in metropolitan areas is top-notch with costs a fraction of what you would pay in North America. And now all residents of Ecuador are eligible to join the country’s Social Security healthcare system with premiums of less than $80 a month for a couple.
Ecuador offers special benefits to residents aged 65 and older. Public transportation is half price, airfare (even internationally) is significantly discounted, and seniors receive a monthly refund of sales tax paid. Plus you get to go to the front of the line at the bank and grocery store!
Whether you want to live, invest, vacation, retire, or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture, and affordability to make your dreams come true.
Book your flights and come take a look at all that Ecuador has to offer. The retirement life you’ve dreamed of is here waiting for you.
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My journey to Cuenca, Ecuador began with a discussion with friends in their home by the beach in Panama. We were all disenchanted with the U.S.—the regulations, the taxes… We concluded that there’s no American dream anymore.
For most folks, the perfect way to start a day is with a stroll on the sand or a dip in the ocean. Owning a beach home so that they can do it every day is at the top of many wish lists. Many people think they can’t afford to do that. Understandable: When you take the limited supply of beach property and combine it with strong demand, what do you get? Sky-high sticker prices. But you can still bag a beach bargain in some overseas destinations
From our balcony, aided only by a pair of binoculars, my husband and I sit and watch whales breach, roll, and spout all day long. Before I lived here, I figured that you’d have to hire a boat and go out for miles to see whales—but not here. For some reason—perhaps the famously deep water that makes Manta, Ecuador a major fishing port—the whales come to us. And not only whales. Everything from quaint fishing boats to gigantic cruise ships to old-world “Tall Ships” pass by, providing constant novelty from the comfort of our balcony.
“Hey, where do you want to go eat tonight?” was not a question we asked each other much when we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador five-and-a-half years ago. It wasn’t that we weren’t hungry. You see, while our hometown had other outstanding attributes you’ve possibly read about—great weather, low cost of living, excellent medical care—interesting dining options were few and far between.
Ecuadorians are famously fun-loving people, who party every bit as hard as they work. This is magnified during the winter holidays, when throngs of visitors from Quito descend on the Bahía-San VicenteCanoa corridor on the northern coast for their family vacation. Over the last few weeks of the calendar year, the broad sidewalks of Bahía’s malecón (boardwalk) fill with vendors.
When asked what they like most about their new life in the small mountain town of Cotacachi, Ecuador, Jay and Nancy Keattering reply, “No alarm clock!” The couple escaped their busy corporate jobs in 2014 and can be found still enjoying everything that life in the high Andes offers…a slow pace of life, fresh produce, low-cost healthcare, and great living for under $2,000 a month.
“Every morning I wake up in Quito, it’s with a sense of amazement at how great my life is,” says Rami Amit of his new life in the Ecuadorian capital. “I absolutely love my hometown,” says his wife Daphna of their retirement haven. “Quito offers so many options that it’s impossible to be bored.” This diversity of cultural, entertainment, and dining options enticed the Amits to Quito in the first place.
For almost two years now, I’ve been living with my wife in a beautiful beachfront condo on the Pacific Ocean. That sentence alone might lead you to believe we live an expensive lifestyle. But not so. Thanks to the savings we made in moving our lives to Salinas, I have been able to retire this year at the ripe old age of 57. Here, I am happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoying life to the fullest.
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
“Are you still working?” is a question I get asked a lot these days. Instead of working a steady 40-hour work-week with just a few weeks’ vacation, I’m routinely taking up a third of the year off…while still making a full-time income. I live in Cuenca, Ecuador, where my costs are a fraction of what they would be back home in Nebraska. I can dine out regularly in top-rated restaurants and afford to have a cleaning lady once a week.
Avocados…strawberries…lemons…blueberries…raspberries…fruits I’ve never seen before and can’t name. On any given day of the week, I walk past people selling these things before I ever get to a grocery store or mercado. They sell their wares from wheelbarrows, woven baskets, car trunks and the beds of pickup trucks, huge plastic pickle buckets, and on blankets spread on the sidewalk.
In Ecuador, nature is ever-present. And you can enjoy it fully in the city of Cuenca, where those rivers trail amid mountain surrounds. The colonial churches, grand mansions, shady parks, and fountain-anchored plazas have earned Cuenca world-wide recognition for its beauty. A mild climate makes for comfortable living year-round. Average daily temperatures reach into the 70s F, and the nights are cool and fresh.
“It’s easy to get your Social Security benefits abroad if you wish,” says IL Mexico Editor Glynna Prentice. “Arguably the easiest way to get them abroad is by electronic transfer to your local foreign bank account in the foreign country. However, “not all foreign banks will accept direct deposits of U.S. Social Security checks, so if you want your Social Security delivered to a local bank, make sure to choose one that does,” says Dan Prescher.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in Social Security benefit payments in 2013—an increase of $160 million year-on-year, when compared to 2012. American retirees can receive Social Security benefit checks in almost every country in the world. Statistics reveal that Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their benefits abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
When my husband Mark said, “Let’s go to the Galapagos for your birthday,” I couldn’t help but laugh. The Galapagos Islands, after all, are one of the ecological treasures of the world—and have a price tag to match…or so I thought. But when we used my 58th birthday as an excuse for a five-day, four-night trip there I found out otherwise. The bill? $1,037 for the two of us, including airfare.
Whatever your personal opinion on gun ownership in the United States, there’s no denying that millions of U.S. residents feel a great fondness for their ﬁrearms. So it should come as no surprise that many aspiring expats want to bring their guns with them to their new home. While it’s possible in some places, be prepared for a lot more red tape and tighter controls than you typically face in the States. Bear in mind that gun laws are liable to change, so you need to do your due diligence if you plan to import or buy a gun overseas.
For many people looking to retire overseas, selecting the right country from the many options available can seem daunting. Fortunately, some countries actively encourage expat retirees to relocate there. They offer excellent retirement benefits that can help you truly enjoy these destinations’ great value. To help narrow your choice, here are the three top countries for retirement benefits on the IL beat.
Getting the best of both country and big-city life is a tall order. But in the valleys that surround Ecuador’s capital, Quito, you can have a country setting with green mountains in view at every turn, little brick houses tucked in amid lush gardens… and friendly neighbors who greet you with a smile.
There are many reasons Cuenca has been one of the hottest expat destinations on the planet for the past few years. This UNESCO World Heritage city of a half million residents boasts a temperate climate, low cost of living, top-notch medical care, and proximity to North America—not to mention lots of modern amenities like malls, cinemas, great restaurants and shopping.
During a recent visit with family in the States I was playing with one of my granddaughters who is just learning to talk. We had several activities going at once in the playroom and I told her we were multitasking. She replied, “Yes, we are monkey-tasking.” This malapropism stuck with me because it so innocently describes how our “monkey brain” works away when we have a lot going on.
David and Sandy Kraft were living in a cabin in the small town of Hayesville, NC when one evening David asked, “What do you think about retiring overseas?” Sandy replied, “I’d love it. Where…France…Italy?” “Ecuador.”
Although living in Cuenca, Ecuador, seems like a year-round vacation for me, it’s still nice to get away for a few days to explore other parts of this beautiful country. And one spot that’s well worth a visit is the small coastal village of Puerto López.
When the time came in 2010 to retire and choose the location for a part-time home far from the cold Canadian winters, Michael Keith and Susan Birkenshaw knew exactly where they wanted to go. Five years later, while folks back home battle the biting cold each winter, Michael and Susan enjoy the year-round spring climate (and incredibly low cost of living) in the Ecuadorian mountain city of Cuenca.
As the 2008 recession began to hit home, Philadelphia-born Tom Ewing and his wife Tonya, a Colorado native, lost everything—their business, their cars, and their home. But now, six years after moving to the laidback beach town of Canoa, Ecuador, Tom and Tonya have rebuilt their lives—and created a business building custom homes up and down the central Ecuadorian coast.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
“My husband and I were happily living in Arizona in a retirement community when, in 2008, everything changed,” says Patty Grimm. The ﬁnancial crisis dealt the couple a heavy blow, and they no longer felt they could live the same quality of life on their retirement income. “We knew that if we wanted to keep our nest egg, we’d have to look outside of the U.S. to live.”
Advances in the internet have changed so much about living or working abroad. My wife, Suzan, and I have seen it happen before our eyes. When we first moved abroad in 2001, “instant” messaging was just taking off. If you could get a decent internet connection (which was a much bigger “if” back then than now) you could type a message to someone and get a reply in just a minute or two…which was pretty much “instant” at the time. It was truly amazing for us and for our family and friends back home.
The sun is out and brilliant blue skies with white fluffy clouds—that you can almost touch—overlook my morning jog next to the Yanuncay River. The linear trails, three blocks from our condo, are immaculately groomed with colorful flowerbeds and towering Eucalyptus trees that give off a familiar scent reminiscent of my childhood in California. Along the way fellow joggers greet me with “Buenos Días.”
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in social security payments in 2013. That number shows an increase of $160 million since 2012—and has nearly doubled since 2013. In total, 373,224 U.S. retirees received their social security payments as residents of a foreign country in 2013. Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their social security payments abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
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I love my life in Cuenca, Ecuador. I start the morning with a coffee on my terrace, watching the hummingbirds flit around the feeders that I put up and just enjoying the view. A walk to el centro takes me to the little tienda (store) that sells a pound of Loja coffee (really delicious) for only $3.50, then lunch with friends, and maybe a walk along the Rio Tomebamba or an ice cream cone in the picturesque Parque Calderon.
With high peaks, and stunning mountain scenery, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is known to some as el ciudad de los cielos (the city of the heavens).
Envision a city set high in the mountains. On all sides are views of green-splashed hillsides and snow-capped peaks. In the city itself you’ll find 2.5 million people enjoying art exhibits, museums, and musical events. On weekends couples share bottles of wine over gourmet seafood dinners and families kick around soccer balls in the many leafy parks.
You have probably heard of Cuenca. It’s Ecuador’s most popular retirement haven, home to thousands of contented expats, colonial architecture, verdant parks, galleries, museums, and plenty of bars and restaurants. But that’s just the city itself. Since arriving, my work with a local tour company has helped me uncover some of the best day trips:
As fall arrives in the northern hemisphere, Nicaragua remains warm, with temperatures averaging 79 F. That makes it easy to enjoy the outdoor festivities that sweep the country. The San Jerónimo festival, in the city of Masaya, sees a statue of the country’s patron saint taken from its usual haunt, the church altar, and carried around the town, accompanied by traditional dancers. One of the procession’s highlights is the Mozote y Verga, in which dancers reenact great battles of Nicaragua’s past from the Filibuster War of 1856 to the ousting of the dictatorship in 1979. The event kicks off on September 30.
September is a special time in the South African town of Hermanus. The end of this month heralds the arrival of giants just offshore, as the southern right whales return to mate and reproduce. You can get amazing views of these 50-ton behemoths from your hotel room, or catch one of the many chartered boats for an even closer look. Right whales are famously friendly and will often approach boats…a trait that made them an attractive target for the whalers of old. The waters off Hermanus are home to another, more terrifying denizen of the deep: the great white shark. And this is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with this awesome predator…from the safety of a cage, of course. For around $110, you can even get a cameraman to ﬁlm your dive for you.
Your day starts with a cup of coffee brewed from beans grown right outside your window. Stepping onto the terrace, you look out over rows of hand-planted, organic avocado trees growing lush and tall in the equatorial sun. Beyond them is a patchwork of farms and forests overshadowed by the towering Andes Mountains. Breakfast is eggs from your free range hens, with slices of papaya and a juice prepared from freshly picked naranjillas (think lime mixed with rhubarb) grown on your own patch of land. You breathe in the fresh, clean mountain air and savor the sound of the nearby river and the birds singing on your own peaceful mountain retreat.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
Not long ago I found myself suffering a major sinus infection. My head was pounding and I had a cough that kept me (and my husband) awake all night…I was exhausted. Nothing I was taking over-the-counter was helping. I needed to see a doctor. Unfortunately, I was visiting the States. At the doctor’s office in Omaha, I got right in. I did the interview with the nurse about my prior health history and what my symptoms were.
There is no question that retiring to the right place can dramatically and automatically cut your overall cost of living. Just think about your own monthly budget without the costs of heating, air conditioning, and vehicle maintenance and insurance. Those costs come right off the top of your budget if you relocate to a place with a year-round temperate climate and a good mass-transit system. I know, because I live in just such a place. And it’s wonderful.