A few years ago, I found myself as a solo retiree with an expensive California condo mortgage to pay for, along with excessive property taxes and increasing monthly homeowners’ association fees. Added to my woes, my subcompact car was ready to give up the ghost and needed to be replaced.
Month by month, it was becoming harder and harder to live only on my fixed Social Security benefits and retirement pension. I was feeling trapped, with high anxiety—how was I ever going to continue to live like this? How could I survive? Something had to change, for the better, and needed to do so quickly.
Then I remembered hearing and reading about how other North Americans faced similar dilemmas and moved overseas to other countries, where retirees could live in comfort and safety while stretching their thin finances. That’s when I first became familiar with the label “expat,” for expatriate.
With a little research online and from books borrowed at the library, it became apparent that one could indeed succeed in leaving financial anxieties back home and, as the old saying goes, start with a clean slate. In my research, the country of Ecuador in South America kept popping up time and time again.
So, in February of 2014, I flew down to the capital city of Quito and attended a three-day conference hosted by International Living. Along with some 350 other inquisitive souls, I was introduced to the country of Ecuador. There was something for everyone—affordable places to buy or rent along the tropical coastline, or up high in the cooler Andes Mountains. Stores where locally grown food was abundant and cheap. A healthcare system that did not cause patients to fall into bankruptcy. And local groups of other expats living nearby, ready to spread out the welcome mat.
Top on the list of favorite retirement cities was Cuenca, a high-altitude, modern city of over half a million residents, with an estimated 5,000 expats. After a three-day real estate tour, I sold off my Californian condo and bought a newly built condo in Cuenca. My three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-story condo (at 1,500 square feet) cost $115,500 and get this—my annual property tax was $88 in 2015…it was $55 in 2016…and this year I paid $44…compared to $4,800 annual property taxes back home.
And talk about having the senior citizen discount kick in. Under Ecuadorian law, all citizens who reach 65 years of age (called tercera edad for third generation) and have a cedula (national identification card) get to enjoy substantial reductions with the expenses of daily living.
I recently turned this magical age, and my bus fares were lowered to 12 cents per ride, instead of the regular 25 cent fare. My annual property tax will be halved down to about $25, and all notary fees are now free, saving hundreds of dollars. My water bill is discounted by 50%, dropping down to an average monthly fee of $3.85. Every six months I can turn in my receipts and receive a maximum refund of $105 per month for any sales taxes paid, which is deposited directly into my local bank account.
A year ago, I fell ill and my neighbor carried me into his car and rushed us to the government hospital. I was too weak to even sign any papers, but showed the attending nurses my cedula and, eight hours later, walked out without spending a dime. Even the medicines from the pharmacy were free. Another time, I went to a private hospital and had an MRI scan, costing $250 out of pocket. The neurologist charged me $35 for the initial exam and the follow-up appointment was free, which is normal with the doctors here.
So, did I make the right decision, to retire and move into Ecuador three years ago? You bet. I no longer feel anxious and worried when I review my finances. It is very comforting to know that I can now occupy my mind with what fun activities I will do daily, rather than how I would try to survive day-by-day if I had stayed back in the U.S.
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