Ecuador is very diverse and there is a lot to see and do. But living in a country is very different to visiting. Even if you only plan to stay for a few months, as soon as you lose the sense that you’ll be moving on in a day or two then minor issues start to become more important. Deciding where to live could be a good way to start planning how to maximise the happiness and minimise the stress.
Where to Live
For a lot of people location depends on work opportunities. If you’re volunteering you’re going to be living wherever the organization needs you to be. If you’re sent out by your company you should consult the more detailed information on your destination in the places section . If you’re still thinking about what you can do here, consult the work page in this section.
House and land prices are much lower in Ecuador than in Europe or North America although still quite high when measured against average wages. The lack of space in Quito dictates that much of the residential construction goes upwards so there are many apartments and condominiums. There are more houses in the quieter residential suburbs which cascade down the eastern valleys.
In other cities most construction is low rise but many low buildings function as apartments. In Guayaquil the trend is to maximize the building area and just leave a small patio so there are few private gardens. There are a few nice parks and many more little spaces with swings and benches throughout residential areas. There is a growing trend to live in gated communities along the main routes leading out of the city which have more space and green areas but tend to be quite isolated so you’ll need to have a car to live there.
Along or near the coast there are lots of opportunities to buy land in spectacular locations at good prices (although ownership of land which actually abuts the coastline is restricted to Ecuadorians). Two towns which enjoy a fair range of services are Bahía de Caráquez and Manta.
In the highlands Ibarra, Cuenca and Loja are clean, pleasant towns with reasonable accommodation costs. There are opportunities to live in smaller communities but you should be prepared to play an active role in the community (which means learning Spanish and maybe Quichua).
NOTE: It’s not easy for foreigners to live in the Galápagos and I’m not going to recommend anyone moves there or the Oriente.
While property prices remain relatively low, they are rising and so buying can be a good investment, be it an apartment in Quito, a farmhouse in Cuenca or a place near the beach.
Click here to read more about buying or renting property.
There’s lots of it, it’s not easy to understand and it usually involves visiting and possibly paying off various people who are all keen to hold on to their little job.
Some general pointers: to get something done you have to be there in person. You don’t send off for a driving licence, or a passport or a marriage certificate. You certainly don’t wait to receive it in the post. Wherever possible go and wait in the office until you receive the document or go and hassle them every day. Otherwise you’ll remain on the bottom of the pile and possibly never get processed. Note: the pointless delay is designed to induce payment. Corruption is a big problem here.
Ecuadorians don’t complain much but they do hassle. They push in front of the queue, they try to convince any official to help them. If you can do this and add a hint of (polite) self-importance and a touch of worldly innocence it will advance your cause. You’re not dealing with a well-oiled machine, you’re in a dog fight.
Contacts open doors in business and any official department. If you don’t know anyone, at least start cultivating a good relationship with the person on the front desk because if they don’t want to help you, they won’t.
The alternative to all this hassle is to contract a lawyer who can do a lot of the work for you, probably much quicker, but at a cost. Here is one contact:
Marina Blum Cevallos (my sister-in-law)
Based in Guayaquil
Here are some other tips of help deal with bureaucracy:
• Dress smartly (trousers and shirt/ polo shirt) when you’re visiting an office.
• Check repetitively where you have to wait or go to avoid being misdirected.
• Queue or wait assertively – remember who you are after and don’t let anyone jump in front of you.
• If possible phone or check on the internet before going to the office. Find out exactly what documents you need to provide and how much you need to pay.
• Carry two photocopies of everything.
• Be careful about enlisting the ‘help’ of the tramitadores who hover at the entrance to many institutions. Sometimes it might be necessary to get some help, especially if your Spanish isn’t great, but they’ll need paying. Sometimes they are no use at all and might even rob you. It’s better to check first exactly what you need to do and how clear the process is. If you don’t want their help tell them clearly.
• Don’t hesitate to complain about poor service and especially corruption. It’s the only way things will improve.
Consult the visas page in the documents section for a full list and description of the visas you can apply for.
Renting a car in Ecuador is quite expensive. It’s possible to get everywhere quite cheaply by bus (or taxi in the city) but if you’re living in Ecuador for an extended period you might want the comfort and convenience of your own vehicle. The cost of new and used vehicles is high but they hold their value well (depreciation is no more than $1000 a year).
If you’re buying a used vehicle you should be sceptical and get everything checked by a mechanic – the kilometre counter, the bodywork and obviously everything under the bonnet. It’s very difficult to treat a car with TLC all the time while contending with the standard of driving and roads in Ecuador but it is pretty cheap to get repairs done, even at manufacturer authorised garages.
The only cars which are made in Ecuador are Chevrolet and it’s also cheaper and easier to source parts for this make.
Click here to read more about getting around in Ecuador by bus or car.
Although Ecuador is not quite as dedicated to breeding as Pakistan (where numerous men told me I should aim to have at least six children), the majority of people here still consider it a priority in life to get married and make babies. Ecuadorians tend to get married young. Amongst the people that I know this seems to contribute to quite a lot of very rapid separations and divorces. There’s also quite a prevalent macho culture that considers it’s OK to have a (younger) girlfriend on the side.
Despite this the family is still an important unit in Ecuadorian society. It’s very common for families to go out together, even quite late at night on the coast, and children are welcome in most hotels, restaurants and even the cinema. At parties, you’ll find them sat in a bedroom playing or watching TV.
You don’t often see teenagers out alone in groups at night and the anti-social behaviour that affects more developed countries is far less of an issue here – a fundamental respect for elders still exists. What problems there are tend to occur in the poorest parts of the bigger cities. Children in Ecuador are generally well loved and cared for and are therefore happy. For these reasons it’s a good place to live with your family.
What Ecuador lacks is the organisation and provision of activities and services for children which you may be used to. You can send young children to day care but there are no parent-toddler groups or support networks. I think it is presumed that your extended family provides this. It’s harder to find facilities for changing babies or toilets and wash basins that are designed for children to use. There are parks with play equipment but it’s not always safe to play (the floor is covered with gravel and sometimes shards of glass or trash). There are amusement parks but they’re not as exciting as those in the UK or US. It is simply a poorer country and there are not as many places where you can take and entertain children during holidays.
In terms of language, English is taught in all schools and there are many which are bilingual. It’s possible to put cable TV in English and with films, music and books in English, children can receive quite a lot of exposure. In Guayaquil there are schools which teach Mandarin, French and German, but your options are fairly limited.
Public education in Ecuador is underfunded and generally poor quality. If you’re prepared to pay there are excellent options in the big cities.
Click here to read more about education.
Health / medical facilities
The public health service is in pretty terrible condition but again, for those who can pay there are excellent and inexpensive medical facilities in the country and some people even travel here for operations.
Click here to read more about health services.
Ecuador uses the US dollar and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. It was adopted at the end of the last century after a financial crisis in which several major banks collapsed and inflation was out of control. Although the immediate result was a big rise in prices, it did shore up the financial system and the advantage for visitors today is you won’t have to worry too much about the value of the currency or inflation.
Ecuador was not so affected by the recent US economic crisis because the banks were not exposed to the same level of crisis, and well, the economy is never that great here anyway. It’s not that easy to get a loan in Ecuador and the high interest rates deter many.
For security reasons it’s not a good idea to carry too much money. Visa is widely accepted and you should be fine with Mastercard, Diners, and Amex as well. Bear in mind that you often get asked to pay a surcharge in small shops and many larger retailers offer a discount for paying in cash (contado).
If you’re taking out insurance before you come you should ensure it covers you against illness and injury, theft or destruction of your property. If you are staying for more than one year you will probably need to organise it in Ecuador.
Medical insurance is the most important and costs between $25 and $60 a month (women of childbearing age pay more than men). If you are renting a property check if the owner has any type of contents insurance.
Car insurance is quite expensive but covers anyone who is driving (as long as they have a valid license). Check the insurance details if you are renting a car. You also need a SOAT (Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito) which is a third party cover in the event of a transit accident.
If you need to take out any insurance in Ecuador you can contact my brother-in-law, Wilson Sánchez, for a free quote.
Ecuador is generally a safe country. The people are gentle and there is no problem with terrorism (apart from in the border areas with Colombia where you need to be careful). Quito and Guayaquil have considerable problems with crime and unfortunately robberies seem to be increasing in smaller cities such as Cuenca and Manta.. You need to think carefully about what you carry with you, how you travel (close the windows of your car or take a registered yellow taxi and ask to see the owner’s ID) and who is around you.
In the coastal region there are occasional armed robberies of buses. For this reason it’s best not to travel at night unless you’re using an executive inter-provincial service which doesn’t stop before it’s destination and is therefore safe. Try to watch your hand luggage on all bus journeys.
I’ve never been robbed in Ecuador and I have travelled around the country by bus.
On the coast and in the Oriente it is warm or hot all year round. On the coast it rains hard between December and April and not much at other times. In the Oriente it rains every day. In the highlands there are many microclimates but in general August and September are dry months, January to April is wet and most days you can expect a mix of crisp mountain air, warm sunshine, clouds and showers.
Click here to read more about climate.
In Ecuador you can find a great array of tropical fruit and vegetables. Most are fairly cheap. The best prices are in the markets or where we live the farmers drive round with their stock calling out what they’ve got with a megaphone and selling directly from the back of a pick up. Occasionally you can buy fish in the same way.
Fish and seafood is cheap and generally good quality on the coast. You can often find trout in the highlands. People eat a lot of chicken, some beef, pork and goat and not a lot of lamb. The best place to buy these foods is in branches of Supermaxi or Megamaxi in the big cities. They also have the biggest range of imported goods and by far the most pleasant supermarket shopping experience. The main competition is Mi Comisariato who are sometimes a bit cheaper and Tia who are smaller but have a branch in just about every town (see Tia test ). Imported goods are expensive, especially since the government put up the tariffs in 2009. Therefore if you have a craving for a certain type of peanut butter or whisky you should bring some in your suitcase and make it last.
Click here to read more about food and drink in Ecuador and find specific recipes and restaurant listings.
About 58% of Ecuador’s energy comes from hydro-electric sources ( Source: CENACE ) which is great as long as it rains. At the end of 2009 it didn’t and there were power shortages but that was an exceptional drought. The most important dam is at Paute near Cuenca and a new complex has just been built just upstream at Mazar which will increase capacity considerably. Thermal plants (which burn diesel) are used to cover the shortfall.
In terms of domestic supply, electricity is controlled by several regional branches of a state company who bill users monthly. The basic cost is $0.081 per KWh. The rate increases if you are using more but it’s only $1.1185 for up to 700KWh a month. If you email me I can send you the exact tariff breakdown.
Ecuador produces oil but has negligible amounts of natural gas. However in 2011 the government announced that it had increased production from 35 to 50 million cubic feet of gas a day and would be investing further in the Amistad field (in the Gulf of Guayaquil) to try and reach 80-100 million cubic feet by 2013. Current production is used by the ceramic industry around Cuenca (Azuay province).
At the moment production of LPG is limited by inefficiencies in both capture and refining processes. The government is also investing to modernize and build new refineries. In 2011 it was estimated about 80% of national demand for LPG had to be imported. (Source: LA HORA )
Domestic gas is sold in cylinders almost everywhere - you phone a local distributor and they bring one round. There is very little direct piped supply – it is just starting to be promoted as an option in Guayaquil. Gas is heavily subsidized and costs $2.50 per cylinder.
There is great potential for solar power in the country, especially in the highlands where the temperatures are not so high. However the technology is still quite expensive.
Unfortunately many people in poor areas still don’t have direct access to water. For those that do, it is not always clean enough to drink. In Guayaquil it is supposed to be OK but my mother in law doesn’t trust it so I’ve adopted her policy of boiling everything. We pay $0.38 per m³ + about $15 a month additional charges. Politicians are currently debating new legislation with arguments raging about the role of private companies in the provision of water.
Ecuador has decent communication links across most of the country. Landline telephone connections are fairly reliable. Mobile phone coverage is improving but can be a bit haphazard. The Porta network seems to be the most extensive. You can find an internet café and get a fairly cheap home connection in all towns. The media is either controlled by the government or highly critical of the government. The quality of reporting and broadcasting is variable but there’s a range of national television channels, and both regional and national radio stations and newspapers though nothing in foreign languages. If you want to watch TV to relax you’ll probably need to invest in cable.
Click here to read more about the media.
Click here to read about getting connected with a cell phone, internet or cable TV.
It’s hard not to generalise wildly when considering the people you will be living with but here goes. Ecuadorian people are generally polite and welcoming and will be bewildered but pleasantly surprised that you should choose to live in their country. They are used to living in close proximity, sharing personal information and hearing what’s going on in the neighbouring houses. In other words they’ll gossip to you and about you.
When someone is in trouble a neighbour will show concern but in other ways (driving, dropping litter, making noise) Ecuadorians demonstrate a disregard for all around them, outside of the family. Therefore it’s quite rare to find communities which really co-operate effectively.
Trusting people too much
Applying your standards to an alien culture
Bacteria (especially in humid areas)
Not taking all the documents to an office or making a little mistake on a form
Paying your phone bill a day late.