retiring to Ecuador

How Retiring In Ecuador Saved My Poor Ass: Story Of A Economic Refugee

[color-box color = “gray”]What do you do when you have had enough? For our self-proclaimed “Economic Refugee” retiring to Ecuador was the answer. Read on to enjoy this fun tale of discovering freedom.[/color-box]

A Familiar Scene

We’ve all been there.  Working 50 hours a week, we come home late, exhausted. Grab a bag of drive-through Chinese food  that we eat straight out of the carton in the car on the way home because we’re starving having worked through lunch.  At home, we plop on the couch with a bottle of wine, lying that we will only have two drinks and watch something like the Bachelor or non-stop CNN just to tune out our day before we take our Ambien and pass out.

This was not what I dreamed my life would be like in my carefree college days at the University of Florida where my nights were spent drinking beers at my boyfriend’s frat house bouncing around to the Rolling Stones and being filled with excitement of a future career in journalism.  I was blissful with anticipation.

Forty years later, I was pushing the end of a career in fundraising looking at an empty savings account and social security as my financial future.  I’ve had fun,  don’t get me wrong.   I’ve backpacked through Europe, swam with sharks in the Bahamas, volunteered to help women in Nicaragara and Manila and rode the Canadian railroad through the Rockies.  Not bad for a girl born in Shreveport, Louisiana whose relatives think going to the natcidochos fireworks is the highlight of their lives.
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So, What Went Wrong?

Nothing really.  I just did what most of us have done.  Worked, put a minimal amount in my IRA and then pilfered it, gained a mortgage, drove a functional used car, and ordered up enough internet to pay for the Louisiana purchase.

I didn’t think that medical costs would exceed my house payment, that car insurance would dictate what type of car I would drive, that global warming (yes, I believe it’s real) would jump the temperature just enough in Florida that I would be making a choice of being cool or poor (my bill average $300 in summer).  Worked long hours with stressed out people and drank to put our quarrels behind me.  And then one day I woke up and realized I was dying that slow death from a life that was sucking the breath out of me.

I had had enough.  I’d rather be dead than live one more day held hostage to a life that was bleeding me financially and emotionally.   Realizing I no longer wanted to work for mortgages, cars, health care, or to cool my house.  I wanted the freedom of my college days.  So I moved to Ecuador.[/color-box]

Retiring to Ecuador

The decision came quick.  I woke up with yet another hangover, pulled myself out of bed and went to work.  This day, as I was being attacked by a millennial over trivial work crap, I snapped.  Having anticipated this day, I had practised my exit, and even kept a written exit strategy that I kept in my desk’s top drawer.  I walked into the boss’s office, put the resignation on her desk and in true “Master Chef” form lifted my arms and walked away from the table.

Two months later, my husband and I were  unloading five dogs and 4 bags of luggage in a 3 story house we rented for $450 sight unseen (it was beyond expectations) in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Becoming an expat isn’t easy.  You strip away your life and leave it behind.  In my case it was my beloved parents, my siblings, my nephews, friends I’ve had since high school, a neighbourhood I loved, and A JOB.  Mind you, I was not even on social security yet.

So two years later, how did it turn out?  Well, I’m free.

I totally rearranged my life in order to do it, and for the most part, it’s worked.  For my friends and countless acquaintances that ask about my life here, I can now rattle off the ups and downs in minutes.

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Retiring to Ecuador Pros & Cons

The pros:  My healthcare is $82 a month, my rent is $450, no car needed as buses are a quarter, a taxi anywhere in town costs $3 a ride.  I don’t need air conditioning or heat because it’s pretty much 75 degrees every day.  Food is organic because they don’t import much and there are not three fast food restaurants per block to temp me.  I walk everywhere and I’ve lost what the expats call the ‘freshman 20 pounds’ – the reversal of the college trend.

The cons:  I went through 3 months of ‘grieving’ for the life I left behind, only to find the people I loved had moved on without me.  The friends I have in Ecuador are most likely temporary, as the adventurers that try this lifestyle tend to be migratory – moving to other spots to explore.  The lifetime security of friends and family had been weakened.  But as my mom once said, “really, in retirement, no one is going to help you but yourself”  I am taking her at her word.[/color-box]

Freedom Redefined

In Ecuador, my Spanish is weak, but I get by.  I do things I never thought I would be able to do. Simple things, like waking up late and loitering over coffee.   I’ve taught a class on writing your memoirs and now write for magazines and blogs. Remember I went to college for this – and am just now reaping the benefits.  I take long walks by the river with friends without the heat driving me back inside, and stream Netflix long into the night.  I don’t drink – no AA needed – just got rid of the stress.  Did I mention Ambien can be bought over the counter without a prescription for $3 per month (I don’t need it anymore)?  I am finally starting to feel strong – both mentally and physically again.  And on Friday I am going zip lining.  So ha!

There’s no guns here.   Woman walk cows down the street talking on their Smartphones.  It a culture living in the naive 50s but with better technology. The country is much more civilized than I’m used to.  The Ecuadorians are about as nice as people as you can meet, unless they’re driving. The culture has a nice mix of ‘slow’ along with the burgeoning development that comes with being the number one retirement destination in the World.  There are cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial churches dotting streets downtown, and nonstop fiestas.  And there’s no mosquitos or roaches (a big plus for this Florida girl).

You can hang out here in expats bars and restaurants and many do revert to a college like lifestyle.  But I prefer a quieter life, piling in the bed with my dogs streaming Stranger Things.

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A Goal Reached

My goal was to fashion a life where I could live off of $1700 a month comfortably.  And I’ve done that retiring to Ecuador.  Yes, I don’t have Taco Bell, and I don’t have a car to go through the drive-in.  When I feel bored, I volunteer or take a Spanish classes.  Missing Florida? Now I plan vacation trips with friends, rather than visiting them at their homes.  Otherwise it’s too hard to drop into their lives and I don’t like feeling like an imposing guest.

This is not an invitation for retiring to Ecuador.  But I can no longer identify with the problems my almost retired friends have.  I don’t worry about every penny.  I don’t worry about paying for health care.  I eat healthy because there’s no choice.  And I’m finally recovering from life in the states.  Don’t get me wrong – I love my home country.  But I had to get off the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.

Sitting on my porch, looking at a beautiful view of the Spanish colonial town I’ve adopted, I sigh in relief.  It’s not the same life, but it’s a secure life.  One that all the long hours at work in the States could never provide me.[/color-box]

27 Responses

  1. There is so much to be said for lifestyle choices that free up our emotional energy, let us tap into our creative natures, and allow an opportunity to really connect with the people and world around us. Bravo Donna! Your article will encourage others to find their exit into this world as well.

  2. “The Ecuadorians are about as nice as people as you can meet, unless they’re driving.” I had to laugh out-loud on that one. Good Job. Yes, they are about as nice as people as you can meet. I also love being here and it’s nice to hear about your positive appreciation as opposed to the sniveling one often hears about. No it’s not perfect here. Is there anywhere that is? Life is what one makes of it but it makes it easier if we can move to a less stressful Human Zoo, as Desmond Morris might say. Please give your kitty a good scratching behind the ears for me, would you?

  3. How eerily similar to my own feelings. So much so that I would accuse you of getting inside my mind and plagiarizing the publicly sayable things you found there, if it were not for the fact that all of this probably reflects the feelings of a lot of people, not just you and me. Refreshingly and honestly written. Thanks.

  4. Lovely story. I’m in Cuenca right now for my second exploratory visit. First visit was six weeks. This time it’s four month. I return to the U.S. at the end of the month. I’m hoping to return permanently around July 2017.

  5. I love your article.. I sense the realism about your friends and family. My wife and I have lived abroad for most of our adult life. I get what you are saying about your transition and retirement. Thanks again. Really good article.

  6. I have lived here in Cuenca for almost seven years. As far as I am concerned it
    Is my home now. I do not miss much other than good cheese. The pace of life is tranquilo and I am sure it will help us all live longer.

  7. Great article and one I can definitely identify with. Been in Cuenca two months now with many fits of home sickness. Still not settled but also experiencing all of the pros that you mentioned. Your writings were just what I needed to ready today. Thank you.

  8. What a great article. You described it all from start to end and you made us laugh. Ecuador IS a mix of life in the 50’s and high tech stuff and where I live the Ecuadorians are passing you by on their donkey talking on their cell phone. I took a picture one day of a bull standing on a basketBULL court. And this freedom you feel we feel it too.
    Thank you Donna

  9. But, the natcidochos (or as those of us from Center say, Nastidoches) fireworks are a highlight and Shreveport was our big city shopping destination. This article is great and I enjoyed reading about your journey. Welcome to Cuenca and I hope you continue to have a good life here.

  10. Thinking about moving to Cuenca. I am a big crafter and would like to bring my stuff. Would this be a problem? Does Amazon deliver there so I can get my crafting supplies?

    1. Theresa: Amazon doesn’t ship to Ecuador because it uses UPS and UPS doesn’t ship to Ecuador. DHL and Fedex do. Use a reship business. Amazon ships to them and then they ship to you . It will be expensive because of customs duty and shipping costs.

    2. Theresa, my mom is in the same ‘boat’, but you can get PLENTY of crafting supplies here (in Cuenca)! Don’t let that stop you (or delay you) from coming to this beautiful country!! 🙂

  11. nice article from the US standpoint. Thank you. Can’t agree that taxis are only 3$ anywhere in town. If he is talking about IESS helathcare, well, I had it and it can be shambolic at times. Prefer to go private.

    ‘The country is much more civilized than I’m used to. The Ecuadorians are about as nice as people as you can meet, unless they’re driving.’ Can’t agree. Some of my neighbours dont say ‘hi!’. My buddy has been raped (yes a guy). I met a USA woman raped walking her dog at 11 in the morning. Many people don’t keep their word. My ex brother in law was put in jail due to not paying for his kids. I was once robbed at knifepoint at 20h in the evening. Corrupt police wanted to put me in jail. Men and women cheating on their partners and then going to church so no problem there. Don’t want to be negative but we need to look at the whole picture. Indeed, despite all that I still want to stay here. 6 years in Cuenca, 6 expat countries. Have a great day.

    1. OMG! Those are awful experiences! May I ask what part of Ecuador you live in? I’ve experienced more crime (thefts and also being held at knife-point) in very good neighborhoods in Houston/Katy, Texas, but NEVER here in Cuenca. Yes, the police are often looking for a bribe, but we have always been able to talk our way out of that, with the exception of ONE time and that was our fault. We were driving and didn’t have an Ecuadorian driver’s license. We paid the policeman $20 and went on our way. Other times that we have been stopped at a random checkpoint we explained that we knew the law and they backed off. I’ve walked from downtown to home after 8pm and never had a problem or even a ‘feeling’ of being threatened in any way. I’ve walked many times to our corner store from our house at night and never felt threatened either. Crime is found in every city of every country. Just know your surroundings and use common sense.

  12. Donna- I enjoyed that you said it was like the 1950’s. I always look for cookbooks from the 1970’s because I have found that what was in the pantry is what I have available here in Cuenca. Most things I find I have to make from scratch or just do because of the abundance of fresh produce. No canned mushroom soup… just make it yourself. No canned tomato soup, just make it. I married an Ecuadorian in 2000 and can tell you that the learning/adjusting curve will continue. Best of luck and Welcome to Cuenca!

    Michele- Police can ask to see your passport or cedula, but cannot ask for your drivers license. That change happened because of the bribing. Now the Transit police are “free” from bribes. Just show them your last entry stamp on your passport (within the last 90 days) and you can drive with your foreign license… or take the test. It was easy.

  13. Enjoyed your article, Donna. We are also looking forward to moving there, hopefully soon, to get away from the exorbitant prices of everything in the U.S. My husband had to take an early retirement due to the high stress making him physically ill, and also has no social security retirement benefits at this time.

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