How to Retire in Ecuador | Baby Boomers
Ecuador has long been lauded as one of the most affordable places to retire in the Americas. However, retired life in this country can be challenging. Here’s what you need to know about launching a new life overseas in Ecuador.
Why Retire in Ecuador
Located in northwest South America, Ecuador borders the world’s largest ocean on one side and the world’s largest jungle on the other. Cutting straight through the country is the world’s longest mountain range. Retirees might choose to relax on the Pacific Ocean beaches or explore the Andes mountains, Amazon rainforest or Galápagos National Park.
The most popular city for expat retirees, Cuenca, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a former Inca capital, and this Spanish-colonial environment is one of the most genuine in Latin America. After hours in Cuenca, you’ve got music, theater, dance clubs, shows and a professional symphony orchestra that is free to all. Plus, the weather is mild year-round, and the cost of living and of renting a home remains affordable.
Living in Ecuador
Ecuador’s infrastructure has improved significantly over the past decade. Important infrastructure improvements include a new airport, a new train service in Quito, a new tramline in Cuenca and greater access to high-speed internet throughout the country. Health care standards continue to improve, while costs remain a global bargain. A specialist visit costs about $38, and a hospital stay costs from $110 per night for a suite or from $60 for a standard room.
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, so retirees who have savings in U.S. dollars or a U.S. dollar-based income don’t have to worry about the changing exchange rate.
Expats in Ecuador
Cuenca is home to one of the biggest and most established expat retiree communities in the world. In Cuenca, you will meet plenty of other English-speaking expats who have made the transition to living in Ecuador and can help you acclimate to retirement overseas. Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, is a large metro area with a well-preserved historic center that provides convenient access to the U.S. If you’re interested in living primarily among Ecuadorians rather than other expats, you might consider the smaller city of Loja, which is known for its music and public art. Nearby Vilcabamba is often called the Valley of Longevity for its long-lived retiree population. However, outside of major cities, you may feel isolated if you don’t speak Spanish. Fortunately, Quito and Cuenca are two of the best places in the world to learn Spanish.
Where to Retire in Ecuador
Your lifestyle could vary dramatically depending on where you choose to live in Ecuador. Here are six top places to retire in Ecuador:
Cuenca. This Spanish-colonial, UNESCO World Heritage city is home to one of the world’s biggest communities of foreign retirees. Some 12,000 American, Canadian and European expats call Cuenca home. Cuenca is a walkable city with an affordable cost of living and some of the best hospitals and medical care in the country.
Quito. The highest-elevation capital in the world, Quito is both traditional and modern. Shopping malls, nightlife and five-star restaurants make this the best choice in Ecuador for a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Loja. Loja is a traditional Ecuadorian city that is home to few expats. If you’re looking for a pleasant, small-town life among locals, Loja, where you could live on a budget of as little as $1,000 per month, is a top choice.
Vilcabamba. Just 30 miles from Loja, Vilcabamba is a rustic small town with a charming town square. Situated in a scenic valley, Vilcabamba is a good option if you’re interested in owning or developing land.
Salinas. Sometimes called “little Miami,” Salinas is Ecuador’s most developed beach destination, and is popular among both Ecuadorians and foreign retirees. The strong tourist trade means there are plenty of restaurants, bars and other services. The downside is that Salinas can be quiet out of season.
Otavalo. Otavalo is a small mountain town known for its colorful local markets. This is a top choice for affordable living in a cool highlands climate.
Moving to Ecuador
Recent changes to the law have made it easier to establish legal residency in Ecuador. The minimum income requirement to qualify for Ecuador’s pensionado visa was recently lowered to one month’s minimum wage, which is around $400. You might also be able to qualify for residency through the country’s investor visa program, which requires an investment of at least $40,000 in either real estate or a local bank certificate of deposit.
If you plan to frequently return to the United States, it’s important to consider the ease of travel. You can reach Quito and Guayaquil via direct flights from points throughout the United States. However, it is not possible to fly directly from the United States to Cuenca.
Health Care in Ecuador
The low cost of health care, which is at least 20% to 25% less than for comparable services in the United States, is one of Ecuador’s greatest advantages. Medical care in this country is not only affordable, but can also be international standard. All Ecuadorians and visitors to the country are guaranteed health care, no matter their ability to pay.
Ecuador’s government has a two-tier public health system: One for members of the Social Security system, which foreign retirees can join as voluntary members, and the public health system that’s open to everyone. Membership in the Social Security health program costs $86 a month and provides full coverage, including dental care, with no exclusions for age or preexisting conditions. To qualify for residency in Ecuador, you’ll need to show proof of private health insurance or of your membership in the Social Security health system.
The Social Security plan provides comprehensive care but has important drawbacks, including long waits to see specialists and for elective surgery and a lot of bureaucracy. Some people additionally invest in private health insurance with a high deductible and low monthly premiums, which can serve as a backup for the Social Security plan when needed.
Outside Quito, the country’s best hospitals are in Cuenca, which has 11 hospitals and clinics with emergency room facilities, as well as foreign-operated facilities focused on elective surgeries for medical tourists.
Challenges of Retirement in Ecuador
Living in a country with a different language and customs can create challenges for retirees. If you’ve never spent time at high altitude, take care to prepare yourself for a visit to Quito, Cuenca or elsewhere in this country’s mountainous regions. Quito sits at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, and Cuenca is more than 8,000 feet above sea level. Altitude sickness is a risk for many retirees, especially those with lung, breathing or heart conditions. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take the first few days slowly. Do not take off for a hike in the cloud forest, for example, until you’ve given your body a chance to acclimate.