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Why I Left: My Journey To Cuenca Ecuador Part 3

[color-box color=”gray”][dropcap]Join[/dropcap] us today for the last installment of Ed O’Connor’s article Why I Left The USA: My Journey To Cuenca Ecuador.  If you haven’t read Part 1 you can do so here.  Part 2 of the article can be read by clicking on this link. If you are joining us for the first time, Ed, who writes a monthly column for his hometown newspaper in Middletown, PA – The Press & Journal, wrote a popular and opinion provoking article about his move to Cuenca Ecuador.  Read on to discover one expat’s journey; from his reason for leaving the U.S.  to actually making the move and adjusting to a new life abroad. [/color-box]

Making Comparisons

Being from Pennsylvania I would like to congratulate my home state for being named number five. It was cited as being the fifth most corrupt state in the USA. I formerly lived in south central Pennsylvania, nine miles from the capitol, Harrisburg, and 30 miles from York. In the list of the 100 most dangerous cities in which to live due to violent crime, Harrisburg was number 25 and York was number 33. Keep up the good work!

There are some interesting differences that I have noticed between Cuenca and Pennsylvania. I know these things will not apply to all states, but since I lived in PA I have to use it as a comparison:
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  • All the telephone poles here are made of concrete.
  • Lawns at people’s homes and grass in the parks are cut with spin trimmers. I have seen only one lawn mower and no ride mowers.
  • If I want beer, wine or liquor, I go to a store and buy it – there isn’t a union and state controlled alcohol monopoly.
  • There is one post office in this city of over a half million people.
  • When a product or service of any kind is purchased the price marked or quoted includes tax.
  • Prices in many restaurants include tax and tip.
  • I can get my shoes repaired for a fraction of new price.
  • All financial institutions have armed guards carrying mostly sawed off shotguns – I have heard of no bank robberies.
  • Many pharmaceuticals for which I needed a prescription can be purchased here over-the-counter (the exception being medicines containing narcotics and heavy pain medication). Before I left the USA I went to Wal-Mart to have a prescription filled, cost was $168.00. I could not afford that much. I bought the exact same brand and size here without a prescription for $6.87.
  • Sue is still a name here, not a verb.
  • Children are actually taught here how to cross a street without a crossing guard. Believe it or not, there are no police officers or metal detectors in the schools. Students are well dressed for school in very attractive uniforms and when not in school the males have their pants worn at waist level and their caps have the bills facing front, (imagine that!).
  • Even though the altitude is 8300 feet above sea level and the oxygen thin, I have seen nobody carrying or pulling oxygen devices to breathe – but then I have seen very few smokers.
  • I can tell the difference between the males and females – the females are the attractive ones with the long hair and I have not seen women wearing flip flops and baggy pants that look like pajama bottoms or that they are in clown training with Ringling Brothers Circus.
  • Cars can have tinted windows, lights in the wheel wells and other aftermarket equipment that would be illegal in Pennsylvania.
  • One can ride in the bed of a pickup truck without being stopped by police and ticketed.
  • I hear less police and fire sirens in this city of 550,000 than I did in a town of 8900.
  • The police are in good shape here as they walk, no riding in air conditioned $30K patrol cars, plus there are no 7-11‘s or Dunkin’ Donut shops.
  • Children and adults utilize the parks and are outdoors playing soccer, volleyball and basketball.
  • Voting here is mandatory and one is fined if one does not vote.
  • Political campaigning is strictly limited to 45 days before an election and must cease 48 hours before the polls open.
  • Voting is conducted on the weekend.
  • Doctors here still make house calls. I have my doctor’s personal cell phone number and can call him any time I need him, day or night.
  • Dollar coins are used here almost exclusively instead of dollar bills.
  • I do not have to hear the over used terms and words, “Like you know”, “Awesome” and “Dude” – what a blessing.

               And, Thank God, nobody here cares about Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, or the Kardashians!!!!! [/color-box]

Our Reality in Cuenca

How many times have I heard,

But, Ed, you moved to a “third world country”.  Aren’t living conditions primitive?”

Well, not exactly.

We live in a new 1616 square foot apartment that has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, living room, kitchen and laundry. There are ceramic tiled floors throughout, except for the bedrooms which have hardwood floors. The kitchen has a breakfast bar that can seat six and all the kitchen counter tops are marble. The dining room is large enough to house our table and eight upholstered chairs. In our living room we have 2 full size sofas, a love seat, 2 large arm chairs, tables, lamps and an entertainment center for the 39 inch TV.

All the bedrooms have built in closets, cupboards and drawers with more space than we will ever fill. We have two skylights plus additional storage. [pullquote]Oh, the monthly rent – $350 and hasn’t increased in 4 years.[/pullquote] Our apartment is on the second floor of a three floor building and has an intercom system and electric locks for security. Guests can call our apartment from outside the building and we can unlock the two security doors by pressing buttons in our apartment. And, luckily, we have stopped cleaning our clothes by beating them on rocks at the river ever since we had the electronic, stainless steel, Samsung automatic washer installed.  So, no, we are not “roughing it”.

But, Ed, is the water safe to drink?

Studies show that the water in Cuenca has been rated as the best water in South America. We drink the water straight from the tap.

What a joy it is not to own a vehicle! No payments, no gasoline, oil, tires, maintenance and no insurance. Since I am over 65 I can take a bus any place in the city for $.12. For those under 65 the cost is $.25. The taxi fare runs between $1.50 and $3.00. If one owns a car here gasoline is $1.48 per gallon and diesel fuel is $1.03 per gallon.

A lunch at one of the local restaurants consisting of a bowl of soup, large platter, juice and a dessert costs $2.00.

I walk across the street for a haircut/beard trim – $2.00.

The only tax I pay is on purchases, which was 12 per cent, but has “temporarily” increased to 14% to help rebuild the coastal areas devastated by an earthquake. Since I am over 65 I get all the tax back I have paid by submitting a form with my receipts. I am living tax free.

If one uses the credit unions, (coopertivas), the rate of interest on a certificate of deposit is between eight and 10 per cent. Since we have to pinch every penny until Lincoln’s eyes water, I keep track of every cent spent.


Cost of Living Overview

Yes, the dollar is the currency used so there is no worrying about exchange rates.

Here is what my monthly expenses have averaged:

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Rent: $350

Electricity (includes trash pickup 3 times weekly): $12.08

Water: $8.54
Propane (for hot water, clothes dryer and stove/oven): $4.47
Internet/Phone: $31.16
Transportation: $17.83

[/color-box] How does that compare with your monthly expenses?

What Costs More In Ecuador?

The two categories of items which are considerably more expensive here are automobiles which are roughly 30 per cent more and electronics which can be as much as double the price in the states. To help remedy the difference in the price of electronics a new television manufacturing facility is being built and a new cell phone factory has just opened. The retail price of a new smart phone will be lower, (if, indeed one requires that). I use a phone that I bought for $31.50.

A Look At Health Care Costs

But, Ed, I suppose when you are sick you go to a medicine man?

No, I usually go to the medical clinic that also has a dentist. A visit there is $20.00. Medical and dental tourism is flourishing in Cuenca and one can certainly see why that is happening. Price and service. For example, people can come here for dental implants and pay 75 per cent less than in the USA. Many doctors and dentists here are trained in the USA or Europe.

Since I have been in Cuenca I have lost 20 pounds and three inches from my waist. My blood pressure and blood sugar are the best they have ever been. I attribute those better numbers to a healthier life style, plus the fruits and vegetables are seldom exposed to pesticides and there are no genetically modified foods, (GMO’s). The animals are free range, there is no animal “warehousing” and they are not shot full of growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics.

There is government health insurance but it is NOT mandatory. We are allowed to think for ourselves, a novel concept! One can purchase government insurance, private insurance or no insurance. The government insurance premium is $64.42 monthly and if a dependent is added the additional cost is $12.48. The government insurance covers medical, dental, prescription and hospitalization with no deductibles or co pays.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

From beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador –

Ed O’Connor
Eddy The Ex pat

[color-box color=”gray”]Did you enjoy the tale of Ed’s move to Ecuador? Is it similar to your own tale? Is Cuenca on your list for retirement? Let us know in the comments below.[/color-box]

11 Responses

  1. A few of the “comparisons” in this article are misleading, if not outright misinformation.
    I know for a fact that in other parts of Ecuador, a driver faces fines of several hundred dollars if caught with passengers in the bed of his/her pickup truck. I would assume that it’s the same law here in Cuenca.
    Children know how to cross the street without a crossing guard because those that haven’t learned are dead. As most know, vehicles have the right of way over pedestrians here in Ecuador.
    There are lots of men with long hair. and lots of women who wear excessive makeup. Some apply white powder to their face because they don’t want to appear as having a dark complexion. It often looks rather clown like.
    Police do cruise around in cars. Often times there will be 2, 3, and even 4 policemen in one car, with the lights flashing for no apparent reason.
    Overused English words are not used here because the people speak Spanish. How often have you heard, “no hay”, or “ya mismo”?

  2. Thank you so much for these articles! I am 56 and very interested in Cuenca as a retirement home. I am single, speak Spanish, and also am certified to teach English as a second language. I am so inspired by your story, and eager to take action on my own soon!

  3. Moved here recently, and have lived my life between Chicago and DC. Not “naughty Harrisonburg”

    I found most everything Ed said was accurate, Lorenzo.

    Pricing, parks, police, people, healthcare, cars, utilities, etc.

    I live in a brand new 3br in El Centro, so my rent is higher. But I have yet to take a bus. Walking to everything (I mean everything) is no biggie.

    The only misleading price-point is lunch. $2 doesn’t get you much of one.

    I frequent 9 de Octubre, and $2 gets you a chicken wing, rive, beans, virtual rice and 4oz of whatever hits the pitcher, that day.

    A decent almuerzo is $5-7. Cyrene on Mariscal Sucre probably hast the best $3-5 lunches in town, and I am not affiliated with the establishment.

    All-in-all, it was a nice little 3-part series from an older guy from a small town.

    His perceptions were honezt.

    I’m younger, from inner-city youth, life and businesses. I see things from a differnt vantage point. This is a very small town, and I love it.

  4. Thank you, Ed. Very informative. I am at least considering a visit to Cuenca. I’m guessing you do not live by yourself, and perhaps have family there? I, too, am 65 (or at least will be in a few days). My hesitations for moving there are two fold.

    1. I do not speak Spanish, except for a very few words, por favor.

    2. I am single with no immediate family in my “entourage”.

    But still, I have not ruled out at least checking the place out. I have also read about other places of interest in Ecuador. One tourist-y place nestled in the mountains around the Quito area reminds me a lot of our wonderful resort towns here in western Canada – Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. I can’t remember the name off hand, but friends from where I live go there regularly.

    Thanks again for a great article!

  5. A couple things that we really enjoy are nobody has 2nd amendment “rights’ in Ecuador, a very strong president that is not blocked at every turn by a obstructionist congress .
    So, in a nutshell things get done here in short order and there’s not a lot mass shootings or terrorist threats.

  6. ED – Very much enjoyed your articles on Cuenca and, having visited Cuenca several times to explore the possibility of moving there, I can say that much of what you describe sounds accurate to me. We are now in the process of sorting through too many personal belongings acquired trough the years in preparation for our planned move to Cuenca on or before July 1st next year. I must admit that it is a little more work than I anticipated but, our desire to get out of the totally corrupt police state the USA has become is extremely strong. That .3% increase in social security checks for next year was overwhelming (.1% per year for the last three years). But then, the US government needs the money to buy more aircraft carriers (we only have 12), more tanks, more fighters and bomber, more spy systems, start new wars, overthrow legitimately elected governments it doesn’t like and support the dictators it does like.
    I noticed several negative and rude comments made by two posters to the first article you wrote. My advice would be to ignore them completely. By the tone of their post it was easy to see that they are the type of ugly, ignorant Americans one moves to Cuenca to get away from.
    Thanks again for the articles and will look you up after we arrive.

  7. Now things to know about here you will not be coming here to get a great job and the pay will be at their scale which is very low. They do not hire gringos or older people they are stuck in this thinking. the income is very low. The $350.00 for a rental is not an American rental for sure its run down and no hot water and problems. You can get a nicer one America lie for $500.00 or $450.00 on Gringo Street. I like it here but be ready for cultural changes a lot. The men do not treat women nicely ego problem i call small man ego. When talk to other young women they say they date men out of this country because they are nicer. They have trouble with married men trying to date them too. After a while everyone knows everyone so you know who are not nice people talk here a lot. i mind my business. They have trouble with some men beating their wifes up i am shocked because their wifes are beautiful and nice.

  8. Thanks for a great article Ed. My often stated opinion that the government of the United States is the most dishonest, despicable and corrupt government that has ever disgraced the face of this planet! Now we Have proof beyond doubt in this selection process.

  9. I love hearing other peoples stories about moving abroad, however; it drives me crazy when people don’t know what they are talking about.
    Why do you see so few people with oxygen tanks? Healthcare costs, health lives and maybe because more than 66% of the population in Cuenca is under 30 years of age (according to the most recent census: http://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/wp-content/descargas/Manu-lateral/Resultados-provinciales/azuay.pdf). This is a young population, you will not see the issues that expats with breathing and circulation issues have to deal with.
    While you dislike flipflops and baggy clothes on women, I worry about those who dislike spandex. Baggy clothes are not as cheap as spandex pants, thus fashionistas here in Cuenca have other worries.
    My kids school has both a crossing guard and police, as do the other two I pass on the way to classes every morning.
    Also, I don’t think you have taken the driving test recently as some of your comments on legality of both riding and accessories are incorrect.
    Lastly, I’m sure you don’t hear “dude” often unless you encounter some expats stuck in the 60’s. Most teenagers here speak Spanish, and as a mother of a teenager I can tell you that the same words exist, you just have to know the language. I would be glad not to hear “huevados” on a daily basis.

    I pass three schools (San Jaquin, Las Pencas, and an unknown) every morning and all three have crossing guards and police outside to help.

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