Moving to Ecuador

Good folks move overseas for a variety of reasons – adventure, retirement, employment opportunities and better investment value, all meet the criteria.  Ecuador is no different.  This is a brief primer of things you will want to consider, get to know and accomplish, prior to taking the big leap and moving to Ecuador.

The first thing anyone should consider is the obvious…the most basic – “why”?  Why do you want to uproot an entire current lifestyle and move abroad?  Are you looking for a warmer climate?   A better (or just different) quality of life?  More affordable living options?  Greater career rewards and opportunities?  Maybe, it is just plain fascination with a uniquely different culture?  Review that reasoning in depth, because each individual answer will take you on a uniquely different path, as you explore the moving process.  Such an in-depth analysis exceeds the scope of this simple article, especially since the aforementioned exploration will lead to uniquely different revelations, on an individual basis.

Once you have firmly grasped the motivation for “making the move” – and selected Ecuador, of course, as your final destination – tailor an Internet search narrowly focused on the specifics of what is motivating your particular move.  Keep in mind, however, that while the Internet provides a plethora of information, it is deceivingly weaved in with an equal plethora of disinformation.  Point is not to make the distinction immediately, but to gather enough information to become better informed as to “life in Ecuador”.  Just make sure to always carry a huge “grain of salt” to liberally disperse and, by all means, question everything.

So, decision well in hand and now better informed as to the Ecuadorian lifestyle, what next?  For starters, patience.  A hasty decision to relocate abroad often leads to regret and future challenges.  Take your time to think and explore.  Evaluate positive and negative aspects and outcomes.  Then, get ready for the critical phase of your journey.  You must place “boots on the ground” and visit Ecuador.  Experience the lifestyle for yourself.  However much time you imagine such an exploration will take, at least, double it!  My personal advice is that anything less than an initial month, just doesn’t cut it.  A few weeks, barely scratches the surface of getting to know any area and sub-market.  A few days, doesn’t even accomplish that.  If you are merely a tourist, you can enjoy a whirlwind tour of 8 cities in 14 days.  If you are planning on relocating, you need a different plan.

I can’t emphasize enough, the importance of the preceding.  The success rate of those that truly explored their local Ecuadorian market in detail and those that did not is the difference between night and day.  If relocating for employment, you will likely know where you are to be assigned or where you would like to work.  Spend the entire 30 days just exploring that specific Ecuadorian city.  If you are moving here for any other reason, let that Internet preparatory research pay off.  Narrow your choices to no more than 3-4 locales and then spend at least a week in each, more if possible.  Even then, a second or third trip is advisable to further narrow the diverse lifestyle choices that Ecuador offers.

Once you have settled on your perfect slice of life in Ecuador, well researched, visited and fully thought through carefully, it is time for the dreaded word of “Immigration”. Funny that for many people, “immigration” is something that happens to someone else, when trying to settle in one’s respective home country, not something one personally endures.  Time for your first, of many, likely changes.

The immigration process is manageable and does not have to be an excruciatingly painful experience.  The key, however, is preparation.  The more organized you are and the less you try to “fight the system”, the smoother the process.  Ecuador offers a variety of Visa options, which will be covered in detail, within a future article.  For now, the key is to begin by either hiring an Ecuadorian attorney or Ecuadorian “Visa facilitator” to assist with the process.  I guarantee you that along the way, you will hear at least one story, of the guy bragging about how he “went it alone” and things worked out just fine.  He is likely correct.  It can happen.  However, for every story like that, I have 10 of folks that “went it alone” and it ended up in disaster.  Take the time and hire a good attorney or facilitator.  You will never regret it.

As an minimum, you should have the following documents at the ready, for the Ecuadorian immigration process:

1)  Passport from country of origin;

2)  Birth certificate;

3)  Marriage certificate (if applicable);

4)  Divorce/custody papers (if applicable and especially if traveling with children);

5)  Medical certificates (can vary);

6)  Educational certifications (especially for those entering Ecuador on Employment Visas);

7)  Veterinarian certifications for all pets;

8)  Pension documentation (if relying on it for verifiable income);

9)  Social security certifications (if relying on it for verifiable income);

10) Criminal back ground check.

Start to locate those document, or obtain them, as early in the process as possible.  It will save much time and headache, as the process accelerates.

Once you have been approved to enter Ecuador by Immigration, prepare for the one part of the process, I cannot even remotely camouflage will be an absolute nightmare – moving your belongings from point A to point B.  My advice, right from the get-go, if you can part with something…part with it.  Unless it is a family heirloom, offers extreme sentimental value, or can be actually classified as a true work of art, consider leaving it behind.  Packing suitcase, as many as needed, and leaving the rest behind is the suggested course of action.

If my position seems extreme, consider that the whole household move process is expensive, time consuming and the industry is little regulated.  The quality of international moving/shipping company can vary dramatically, with service within the same company often varying dramatically from day-to-day.  If you opt not to heed my warning and do want to hire an international moving/shipping company, please investigate each carefully, never agree to a contract unless the company can provide verifiable satisfied clients, which actually now reside in Ecuador, and always have a trusted attorney review the contract, before signing.  Lastly, always make sure that the contract includes a “door-to-door” clause, which means that upon Customs arrival in Ecuador, your shipping company has a sub-contractor at the ready in Ecuador, to take your belongings to your home site, permanent or temporary.  Quality movers in Ecuador are the rare exception, not the rule, and you do not want to start running up Customs storage fees.  They can start at $150/day and run up from there.

So, now you are in Ecuador…fully legal, suitcases or box loads in hand.  For many, this next step will have already been concluded.  For a smaller percentage, the search now begins.  Locating a permanent place to call “home”.

As a 30-year veteran real estate investment consultant, few will be surprised with my caveat that working with a real estate industry professional is essential.  The real estate purchasing process, even in one’s home country, can be sufficiently daunting.  Trying to do the same in a foreign land, with foreign rules, for many in a predominantly foreign language is not the way you want to go.  Still, in a country like Ecuador, where there is no National Real Estate Association, National Review Board, National Ethics Panel or anything similar, you really want to check the credentials of the alleged “real estate professional”.  Many folks who are now real estate professionals, here, last week were bartenders, taxi drivers and semi-retired, back in their countries of origin.  Per say, nothing “wrong” with that, but it does call into question the professional depth of experience and industry knowledge, especially since they might be plying not only a new trade, but a new trade in a foreign land.  I think it is a fair question to ask, “What makes someone a qualified real estate professional, capable of addressing specific client needs, within the real estate market of Ecuador?”

Likely the best way to find a real estate professional is to interview a minimum of 3-5 candidates.  Relying on random lead referrals is acceptable, but will not likely yield your best results. Often recommendations are made, regardless of protests and assurances to the contrary, simply because someone is a friend, needs the work, or there is a mutual financial arrangement at hand.  It is just the way things are done.  Best advice, interview several and ask the hard questions.  Settle on 2-3 and spend a day with each out on the field.  Test their market knowledge, level of service and access to market inventory.  Then, and only then, are you likely to be fully prepared to select the best fit, as a professional with which to work.  One might find this a wee bit surprising, from someone in my industry, but not every real estate professional is “right” for every client, and not every client is “right” for every real estate professional.  Find someone knowledgeable, who makes you feel comfortable and with whom you enjoying working.  Your home shopping experience will be so much the better for it.

Well, there (or “here”) you are.  All moved into that perfect home in Ecuador, belongings finally in place.  Sipping that first cup of java, freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice, chamomile tea, or whatever your preferred morning beverage.  With your legal residency now  firmly in hand, you are ready to embark on a new adventure, regardless of your original motivation for the move to Ecuador.  This is your newly found destiny.  Come awake every day to a new inspiration. In short…carpe diem!