From New York City to Small Town Ecuador

“The view from my terrace is spectacular in every direction. I am surrounded by mountain peaks, stars, and fresh, clean air.” Former New Yorker, Mindy Dickinson, lights up as she describes her new home in Cotacachi, Ecuador, just two hours north of Quito.

After a career in big cities as an immigration lawyer and college professor, Mindy explains, “Going forward into retirement, I wanted a healthy lifestyle, low-cost living, and a fresh page.”

“I was going to move to Cuenca because I’d read so much about it in International Living. But just a few days before I left the U.S. there was an article about Cotacachi and I decided to check that out first. I was curious about this charming town of 8,000 in an Andean valley between two volcanoes.”

She found Cotacachi to be just the right fit. “Life is oriented toward being outdoors. The weather here makes it amenable to being out every day of the year. You can walk to the family-run corner store to get eggs, milk, and all of your basic needs. In some ways, it feels like going back in time. People seem more relaxed and friendly.

“Many people describe Cotacachi as ‘tranquilo’ (peaceful) and I wholeheartedly agree with that,” Mindy says. And if she temporarily desires the excitement of a crowd, South America’s largest outdoor market takes place every Saturday in Otavalo; a $0.35, 15-minute bus ride away.

The eternal-spring climate of Cotacachi enables a year-round growing season. “I was pleasantly surprised to find a daily produce market,” says Mindy. “The variety of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is amazing. In the U.S., lemons were three for $2. In Ecuador they are $0.10 each. Fruit seems to have a more intense flavor too, since it hasn’t traveled so far before you purchase and consume it.”

Mindy supplements her retirement income in several ways. “A month after I got here, I found a studio where I could teach yoga once or twice a week. I charge $5 per person and often have a mix of expats and Ecuadorian clients. During my whole career, this had always been my ‘other job.’ Now I can focus on helping people turn off their cell phones and breathe.”

Mindy also started volunteering to teach English at a local school for adults, and now she gets paid for that too. “Learning the language isn’t necessary, but it is helpful to get to know people and to find the best deals.” Mindy says there are many apartments for $300 to $500 a month that compare to the one she left in the U.S., which was $1,300 a month.

“Depending on what you ‘need’ and the standard you expect, it is possible to live on $1,000 to $1,200 a month. Expats are required to buy public health insurance, which costs between $90 to $120 a month or more, depending on your age and coverage needs. Be prepared to pay out of pocket for everything at first (but costs are low). As with everything, do your research,” Mindy says.
“I feel I’ve received better medical attention here than in the U.S. Doctors treat you like a whole human being, taking the time to sit and talk during appointments. And if you need a specialist, Quito is only two hours away.

“People are people everywhere,” she says, “but there is more of an emphasis on family and being connected with each other here in Ecuador. In this small town, I feel like I have an affectionate adoptive family.”

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