It was late in the evening…well after dark…and I had just finished up an interview in the countryside outside of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. The lodge where I was staying was also in the country, but on the opposite side of town. As I slid into the passenger seat of the taxi truck I hesitated, wondering if getting in was such a good idea. I am an adventure-loving traveler. But I’m also a product of a U.S. childhood in the ’80s.
There’s something endearing about Cotacachi, but what that something is, is far from definitive. My husband, Kim, and I each have our own reasons for loving this little mountain town we’ve called home for almost two years. Kim feels the people of Cotacachi make it special. He enjoys leisurely, morning walks into town and loves to stop along the way and chat with shopkeepers. It’s not unusual to find him seated on a park bench chatting with locals. Invariably, men come up to him to shake his hand and elderly ladies often stop to give him a hug. I’m always surprised by how many people know him.
Who doesn’t love the chance to view exotic birds and mammals in the wild? Many people pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity to do just that with African Safaris or treks through Asian jungles. But here in Ecuador, where I’ve lived for four years, sightings of exceptional animals are commonplace. With Ecuador holding four main geographical regions (the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Basin, the Pacific Coast, and the Galapagos Islands) along with dozens of microclimates and pockets of unique ecosystems, the animal viewing can be spectacular.
My wife and I celebrated our 19th anniversary last week. The length of our marriage roughly coincides with the length of our journey of discovery exploring the world (and ourselves) on behalf of International Living. Married in 1997, it took three years of anticipation, trepidation, and preparation before we actually moved overseas, beginning our expat lives in Quito, Ecuador, in 2001.
”I initially came to Loja for the business opportunities, but what I like about it is that you’re in one of the ten largest cities in Ecuador, but still close to nature with parks nearby,” Darnell Dunn says, after he quit his job at Putnam Investments and left Boston for the small city of Loja. ”Also being one only of a few foreigners, you get the chance to integrate into the culture. And I get to know people and families on a personal level because of the small size of the city.”
For many, the American Dream of owning your own home is fast becoming more of a fantasy than a dream. But more and more North Americans are finding their dreams coming true in the quiet town of Ballenita on the southwest coast of Ecuador.
Where do you envision yourself when you think of retirement? If you’re like most folks, at some point you’ve probably daydreamed of spending your post-work years in a city full of culture, art, and history. A place where you could spend the morning strolling through carefully restored centuries-old buildings while gazing at their beauty. Every so often you’d stop to admire a grand cathedral or a stone-block church built in the Gothic style of architecture.
It’s been three-and-a-half years since my wife, Rita, and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador…and in those years we’ve experienced things that would have taken a lifetime to accomplish living back in the U.S. In early 2012, we decided to retire early. Our life in New Mexico was similar to most: hectic, stressful, and costly, with little time for the things we wished we could do. After many discussions about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to do them, we signed up to International Living and began researching.
Have you ever wanted to live somewhere like Beverly Hills but just weren’t rich enough or famous enough? Don’t worry…we have you covered in Samborondon, Ecuador—about a 15-minute drive from Guayaquil airport. This exclusive area is filled with gated communities, shopping centers, theaters, trendy restaurants, and its own branch of the Kennedy Hospital.
When people tell you why they want to retire abroad, a few big reasons crop up again and again: the lower cost of living…escaping the worst of the North American winter…finding a more adventurous life…access to excellent, affordable healthcare. But there are other benefits to embracing a life abroad—benefits most people don’t even think of. Many expats are pleasantly surprised to discover that you can also find a healthier lifestyle overseas—without even trying.
If you’ve watched in disbelief as the American Dream you grew up believing in has seemingly evaporated into thin air, do not despair. Your dream of a comfortable, prosperous retirement is alive and well. It may just be waiting somewhere you never thought to look. That was the case for my wife Diane and me. And it turned out better than we ever could have hoped. We’re just two of the millions of North American retirees who have made their dreams of a comfortable, active, and engaging retirement come true, in one of the many locations around the globe that offer a better lifestyle at a much lower cost of living. And there’s no reason why you can’t do it, too.
My wife, Suzan, and I were in the U.S. for a conference when Ecuador was hit by its biggest earthquake in decades. We learned of it immediately from our friends and neighbors in our hometown of Cotacachi in the Andes Mountains in northern Ecuador, where the quake was felt but caused no extensive damage. The story was different on Ecuador’s northern Pacific coast. Entire towns have been flattened. Hundreds… perhaps thousands… of people have died, and thousands more have been injured or left homeless.
We got as far as the town square in the small village of San Vicente on Ecuador’s northern coast when our car ran out of gas. I pulled to the side of the rutted, muddy road among a huge crush of writhing, smiling people as sultry Latin rhythms shook the windows of the car.
That’s the usual reaction my wife Cynthia and I get when we tell attendees at International Living conferences that we haven’t owned a vehicle since we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, six years ago.
When we were considering the notion of relocating abroad, part of our strategy was to find some special place in the world where as many of the negatives as possible could be eliminated from our lives. That included having to climb into a vehicle every time we left our home. After too many years on the suburbia merry-go-round, we were more than ready for a change.
Three years ago, I left the United States and moved abroad as a divorcée with five kids. As a writer, I could live wherever I had an internet connection. As the breadwinner for a family of six, I needed a lower cost of living to maintain the standard of living I wanted. And, as a mother, I wanted my children to have the enrichment that comes from experiencing a new culture.
It’s 8 a.m. on a typical morning in my oceanfront condo in Salinas, Ecuador. My wife Rita and I have just returned from our morning exercise walk…down the malecon (boardwalk) beside the Pacific, past Chipipe beach and around a lovely old church and back. With that two-mile circuit done, we’re sitting out on the balcony enjoying our coffee and fresh fruit breakfast. The sound of the waves on the sand is accented occasionally by the call of flocks of parrots as they fly by, and by the splash of pelicans diving into the surf for their first meal of the day.
Life is a balancing act, but Dave and Sherry Johnson have found what they’ve been looking for in Cuenca, Ecuador. Before his first exploratory trip, Dave imagined a Third World country with old, worn-out buses, chickens and cargo hanging from every inch, and people riding on the roof. What he found instead when he arrived in Cuenca a year-and-a-half ago was a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets, wrought-iron balconies, majestic churches, and friendly people. And Dave’s first bus ride wasn’t at all like he had imagined; it was a Mercedes bus that he says was more lavish than most airplanes he has been on.
I am a bad traveler. That may seem like a strange admission to make for an expat. Travel is, after all, part of the deal…you can’t really live abroad without traveling—at least to the country in which you plan to settle. And to be sure, I love to see and experience other towns, cities, beaches, mountains…the lure of foreign lands and exotic adventures has not diminished for me during my years abroad.
A recent British Airways survey of 2,000 baby boomers found that their biggest regrets in life are working too much and not traveling enough. This hit home for me, first because I’m a baby boomer myself. I was born between 1946 and 1961. It also struck a chord with me because, for the past 15 years, I’ve been working for an outfit that directly addresses both these issues.
Deciding where to live in Ecuador can be a daunting yet exciting prospect. Though the country is only the size of Nevada, the choices in lifestyle are many. You’ll need to decide if you’re a beach bum, mountain lover, or maybe even a jungle dweller. Do you want to reside in a large metropolis, a small city, or a quaint village? Those are all important things to factor in to your decision and ones that only you can answer.
As my husband Clyde approached the taxi, the driver looked surprised to hear a gringo speaking Spanish. After all, this was the tourist town of Banos, Ecuador, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The streets are lined with little shops that display signs in English offering tours of the quaint little village.
When you move overseas, you don’t just benefit from the better weather, lower cost of living, and the affordable healthcare…you also open up a world of travel possibilities. During our working lives, we’d take those one- or two-week trips, and were lucky enough to see a few highlights.
But when you live in a foreign country, you have the opportunity to use this new location to travel to other countries as well as to explore the place you’ve chosen to live. This happened to me when I moved to Nicaragua.
Last night I found myself in a quaint little restaurant surrounded by low wooden ceilings, heavy timber doors, hand-painted alcoves, and Beethoven’s 9th playing softly in the background. The wait staff was perfectly attentive and my pizza perfectly topped with just the right amount of cheese and sauce.
Just a few short decades ago, Ecuador was off the map for most North American retirees. All that has changed dramatically in recent years, though, as intrepid North American expats began trickling into this small South American country. What they found was a country with pretty colonial towns and cities; miles of golden-sand beaches; an equatorial climate tempered by offshore ocean currents and the mountain terrain to make it spring-like year-round;
Picture yourself in a town where it’s pleasantly warm year round. Winter snows and relentless summer heat seem a distant memory. You can have your pick from the vast array of farm-fresh fruit and vegetables grown in rich volcanic soils. Impromptu parades awash with color and Andean music are par for the course, and in the evenings you can relax with a beer in hand with both local and expat buddies. Or retreat to that farm you’ve always dreamt of, just outside of town, where you can grow your own food amid serene solitude.
If you’re concerned about your financial future or your health…wondering whether you’ll be able to have the kind of retirement lifestyle you dream about…wondering if you’ll be able to afford to retire at all…you really should consider joining us in Quito in July, where you’ll learn all about the benefits, costsavings, and other opportunities that Ecuador has to offer.
As an airline employee, Brian Yates traveled to many places during his career. It wasn’t until he hit retirement age, however, that he considered living abroad. After visiting South America three years ago, he realized Ecuador had everything he was looking for—low cost of living, amazing coastal lifestyle, affordable healthcare, political stability, and an amazing sense of community. Brian chose to live in the small city of Manta, on the Ecuadorian coast, which has hot weather all year round (averaging 85 F during the warm season and 80 F during the cold season), and offers an amazing coastal lifestyle at a low cost.
What attracted me to my husband, Kim, was the fact that he loves adventure as much as I do. We’ve lived in eight cities in Florida and four states from Florida to Washington. Not to mention living and traveling aboard our boat for seven years, during which time we lived in Trinidad and Venezuela. I thought we finally found our cozy little retirement home when we bought our last house in Florida…but my husband still wasn’t ready to settle down, even though we were now retired. He began investigating living overseas and said he wasn’t ready to stop discovering the world or having adventures because we were retired.
Deciding to move abroad requires a lot of courage, more than most people can muster. The next step, choosing specifically where on our vast planet to live, takes meticulous research and brutally honest soul searching. When the circumstances of the economic recession of 2008 led us to the conclusion that retiring early outside the U.S. was our best option, we didn’t simply put on a blindfold and throw a dart at a map. To the contrary, we had many conversations centered around the question, “What do we want?”
“What do you do to stay busy?” It’s a question I am asked frequently about life in Ecuador. There seems to be a fear that once you arrive, get settled in, and explore a bit, you’ll run out of things to do and soul-sucking boredom will set in. But I don’t know a single expat who struggles to fill their time and here’s why. Aside from the day-to-day activities of life—grocery shopping, household chores, and paying bills—the country holds a myriad of ways to fuel your interests and keep you occupied.
It has been almost three years since my wife Rita and I first purchased our oceanfront condo in the popular beach town of Salinas, Ecuador, and just over two years since we moved here to live. Sometimes it’s a bit mind-boggling when we stop and think about how different our lives are now. If I had to pick one of the biggest changes we’ve made that has had the biggest impact on our lives, I would have to say it’s living without a car. Let’s put aside the obvious effect on our pocketbook—to be free of the expenses of car payments, car repairs, maintenance, insurance, and gas—and look at the change it makes in our lifestyle.
Time and again, we hear back from readers looking for a healthier lifestyle overseas. So in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index, we’ve added a Healthy Lifestyle category. Finding a healthier retirement abroad is a key consideration for many expats. And while many countries on our beat scored strongly in this regard, Costa Rica earned top marks.
Dining out is perhaps the favorite activity of gringos. (That’s what expats are called by locals, and it’s not a derogatory term here as it is in other parts of the world.) That goes for Cynthia and me, too. So I’m excited to take you on an all-day culinary tour of Cuenca to highlight some of our favorite places to eat.
If you love colonial architecture, as I do, there’s a little city in Ecuador that will speak to you. Located in the heart of the Cuxibamba Valley, Loja, has two major universities, a law school, and assorted arts and technical institutes, it has a young, vibrant flavor. People are friendly. And they’re happy here.
Just a few months after getting settled into life in Guayaquil, Ecuador, back in 2013, I discovered one of my new favorite pastimes—going on viaje (a short vacation). Guayaquil is a fantastic city to live in if you’re looking for a base for weekend excursions. In the last three years, I’ve never had trouble finding the perfect spot for a trip.
Since Ecuador is known for its rich biodiversity, finding an interesting destination is as easy as throwing a dart at a map. But from Guayaquil, the beaches are definitely the most convenient and relaxing destination.
Just three years ago, I would not have believed it possible. In spite of a family income of six figures, we were still not able to put much toward retirement. We were living in a great waterfront condo in Maryland, but at a cost. Our monthly expenses were over $6,000. Our HOA fees alone were almost $900. On top of that, property taxes were about $5,000 a year. We were happy living there, but I was resigned to working until I was 65, at least.
Four years ago when my family and I relocated to Ecuador, obtaining a residence visa was one of our top priorities. We knew we wanted to stay long-term and a residence visa would allow us to do so without penalties or needing to leave the country periodically. At the time, the process took several months to complete. But now, thanks to a more streamlined process, expats who have all of their paperwork in order can receive their visas within a matter of weeks. And just recently, Ecuador decided to half the cost of the application fee for over 65s (to $25) as well as the cost of a visa (to $250).
So you’ve moved overseas to start a new life. Maybe you’ve left an old job and started a new business—and it’s thriving. Perhaps you are finally living the overseas retirement you always dreamed of. But wherever you go, and whatever you do, if you’re a U.S. citizen, you cannot escape your annual U.S. income tax responsibilities. Luckily, filing your taxes from overseas is as easy now as it’s ever been. And you may even qualify for some great benefits by doing it.
For many retirees thinking of moving abroad, climate is a crucial factor. The climate rankings in International Living’s annual Global Retirement Index is one of the first comparisons many potential expats and international retirees will make between possible destinations. Here are the top countries ranked for climate on the 2016 International Living Global Retirement Index.
It’s that time of year again—the birds are singing, love is in the air, and hopeless husbands are trawling gas stations for that last bunch of flowers. It must be Valentine’s Day—that special day when you spoil the one you love, devote your attention to one another, and escape momentarily from the humdrum of everyday routine. It can be a wonderful time, no matter where you are, but it’s undeniable that some locations have a certain je ne sais quoi that adds that something special to the occasion.