Hi IL Experts,
We have decided to retire in South America and have narrowed it down to either Colombia or Ecuador.
Our monthly income will be in the $2000 a month bracket. We would like access to a reasonable level of healthcare an area safe for expats. Is this possible in either country?
Should we retire in Colombia or Ecuador?
Nancy Kiernan – IL Colombia Correspondent
I spent 2 months traveling around Ecuador before I came to Colombia. In Ecuador I discovered several interesting cities and towns, but none of them “spoke” to me. They were nice places to visit, but I could not see myself living there. Finding a place to call home is very personal. What is paradise for one person can be uncomfortable for someone else.
Ecuador and Colombia are geographic neighbors and have many similarities with respect to climate and topography. They both have areas to live in the mountains and on the ocean. And they are both close to the U.S.
Let me tell you why I love Colombia.
This country is just beginning to be discovered by expats as a retirement haven. So, if you are someone who wants to be on the cutting edge, or ahead of the curve, then Colombia could be for you. You mentioned you want to live where there is good healthcare. Of the 191 countries it reviews, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Colombia #22 in the world for quality of healthcare. This is better than Canada that comes in at #30, and the U.S. which ranks #37.
I like the fact that Colombia does not use the U.S. dollar as its official currency as Ecuador does. For me, it diversifies my portfolio. And lately, the exchange rate between the dollar and the Colombian Peso has been extremely favorable. During all of 2016 my spending power improved by 62% over previous years. That meant I could spend 62% less for the same things, or I could buy 62% more things for the same price. This concept of “working the latitudes” (receiving income in U.S. dollars and spending in the local currency) has allowed me to have a very high standard of living for less than $2,000 per month.
Safety is always a concern when choosing a place to live. I live in Medellín Colombia, once one of the most violent cities in the world. Since the death of Pablo Escobar over 20 years ago, the city has transformed into a thriving, vibrant place that welcomes tourists, investors and retirees. In 2013 Medellín was named the most innovative city in the world by Citibank.
I can honestly say that I feel completely safe living here. Of course I take the same common sense precautions that anyone would take in any large city. You don´t flash money, or expensive jewelry. You learn where the “not-so-good” parts of town are, and keep your distance from them. And I am always aware of who is around me.
If any of this resonates with you, then maybe you should call Colombia home.
Jim Santos – IL Coastal Ecuador Correspondent
Wherever you go, you will certainly be away from miserable winters. Most places on the coast are between 75-85F for most of the year, getting just a bit cooler and a little hotter at the height of the seasons. In the many beautiful places in the Andes, you can virtually pick your preferred climate by choosing your altitude.
It is probably best to come out for a a few weeks (or longer) and see for yourself what Ecuador has to offer. There are some sample travel itineraries on our web site at Travel Itineraries, and of course I will be happy to answer any questions.
Edd Staton – Ecuador Correspondent
Thomas, safety and high quality health care are certainly available in Ecuador, especially if you live in or near Quito and Cuenca. And with your monthly budget of $2000 you and your wife can enjoy a wonderful lifestyle.
I have not been to Columbia but hear many good things about that country as well. Your best bet is to visit both places and decide for yourself. Isn’t it great to have options?
Suzan Haskins – Ecuador Correspondent
You’ll be happy to know that you can comfortably retire in either Colombia or Ecuador on your budget and that will likely include a health plan. You’ll find excellent health care in both countries, too, and both countries are safe. That said, it’s important to understand that Latin America is not “America at half the cost.” You need to take a bit more personal responsibility and approach every situation with common sense. The good news is that the quality of life in Ecuador and Colombia can be extraordinary. And it comes with a very affordable price tag. Keep in mind that just as in the U.S., the best health care will be found in the major cities. Personally, I find Colombia overall to be a bit more “developed” and advanced as compared to Ecuador. Ecuador is a bit more “rustic.” It’s hard to articulate this, or to know which might appeal to you personally. I’d suggest you visit them both to get a feel for how they appeal to you—and since they are right next door to one another, that’s very easy to do.
In Ecuador, many expat retirees opt to join the IESS (Ecuador Social Security) health care program. A couple will pay about $80 a month for this and after a 3-month waiting period, all your health care needs are covered. The downside is that because this is a public program there are some limitations. Just as with HMO programs in the States, you can only see doctors who work in the IESS system, for example, and you can only use IESS facilities. The best of those are in Ecuador’s three largest cities, Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca. So if you choose to use the IESS program, you may want to live in one of those communities. The government of Ecuador has graciously allowed foreign retirees to participate in this program but be aware that this could change. The upside is that this is a very affordable plan and many expats use it as a fall-back or emergency plan, and they maintain Medicare back home for routine or planned medical situations. (It’s a very good idea to maintain Medicare if you think you may go back to the States some day.) You can, of course, also opt for private medical insurance in Ecuador, although expats I know who have done this have not had good luck with this option. It can be difficult to qualify if you are over age 65, and some companies have been known to disqualify members or raise the rates after a year or so.
Colombia also has a very affordable health care program. So the good news is that whether you choose Ecuador or Colombia, you’ll be able to live well on your budget with no worries about the quality of medical care in the major cities.
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