How to Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends in Ecuador…

I recently watched the Grammy salute to the Beatles commemorating their performance on the Ed Sullivan show 50 years ago. Yes, I was among the 73 million households glued to the TV set on that historic night.

A song that Paul and Ringo performed on the show, “A Little Help from My Friends,” got me thinking about how getting things done where I live in Cuenca, Ecuador is so much easier when you are open to the assistance of others. And here a “friend” can be someone you just met.

Let me give you a personal example. A few weeks ago I turned 65 and became an official member of tercera edad, which in Ecuador means “third age.” I am now entitled to senior benefits that include discounted airfare, half-price bus fare, and a refund of sales tax up to $160 per month. Plus I get to go to the front of the line at the grocery store and bank!

As part of the procedure for setting up the sales tax refund, I had to go to my bank and get an official letter stating I have an account there. While waiting for assistance I struck up a conversation with a gringo I’d never met who was there for the same document. During our chat he mentioned that he’d learned that all of the bills you turn in for reimbursement must bear the exact same name that’s on your cedula (Ecuadorian ID card).

Yikes! I knew that my name in the system at Supermaxi, our main grocery store, was Edd Staton, not the full given name that is on my cedula. Because of the help of this random stranger I got the info changed this afternoon and didn’t lose a month’s worth of refunds.

When my wife and I moved to Cuenca almost four years ago our visa application process was quite honestly a nightmare. It took us over a year from the time our application was filed until our visa was finally approved. During that time we went through three lawyers and two changeovers in the Immigration office.

We also made the almost tragic mistake of shipping our belongings from the U.S. when we hadn’t found a place to live. Pay close attention here—don’t do this! Through blind luck we found a wonderful apartment but our stress level was off the charts.

Contrast that experience with some friends (we’ve known the wife since high school) who recently relocated to Cuenca from North Carolina. They enlisted the aid of a “facilitator,” a bilingual local with connections. When we got here that meant a taxi driver who spoke a little English, but these days you can find folks who really know their stuff. Because of the help of this facilitator, our friends actually picked up their visas in Miami before they ever arrived in Ecuador.

When we were having lunch together shortly thereafter, they mentioned having trouble finding a suitable residence. I called another friend to set up an appointment for that afternoon—and by the next day they had secured a gorgeous home that they love.

So you see, the help from a “friend” in Cuenca can come from a person you just met…or someone you’ve known for years.

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