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As an Expatriate “Expat” living in a foreign place the first question you are asked once you get past what’s your name is invariably ‘so…. why did you choose Cuenca Ecuador?’
Funny, when I was still working it was ‘so…. what do you Do?’
I always hated that question because in five seconds or less the person you were speaking with either lit up or checked out without having any interest in who you are as a person, what your beliefs were etc. It was always a matter of filtering by profession who was worthy of talking to or spending time being seen with.
Why here? Is a definite step up in opening questions. Although after repeating the answer two, ten, fifty times I long for a question like, so what was the first thing you ever ate that turned your tongue purple?
However since it is a common question by people here and from curious folks not here this is my answer to the question of why did I choose Cuenca Ecuador ?
I chose Cuenca for a variety of reasons. And I think it is important to let you know that I wasn’t looking for somewhere better. It was just time to make changes in my Life as a whole. I was not unhappy where I was. I wasn’t trying to escape anything. On the contrary I really liked where I lived.
But I wanted to travel, and I wanted to experience different things, and I, like many other people in the US, was watching the rising cost of healthcare, the likelihood that Social Security would be defunct before I ever collected, and questioned if my retirement funds could last, could I put enough away in the remaining years of realistic working I had left in me, and what would the cost of continuing to work 80+ hours a week be to my health?
And this was paramount to me – if I continued to work like I had been all my adult life, when would I get to enjoy the “what I have worked so hard for”?
What’s the point of working full time, whether that is 40 or 80+ hours, and rarely or never actually taking the vacation, or worse finally getting to go on vacation but still having to do work email, meetings, papers, review that deal, teleconferences or….while you are on vacation? Being so wrapped up in work that by the time you are able to relax enough the time off is almost over?
Or having the popular stay-cation? What a crock is that? You are so far behind in all your projects outside of work that you can’t justify taking time off to go and enjoy yourself so you stay home to get things done?
Ummm, no. This girl wanted off the merry-go-round.
I had a dream in my 20’s that I would retire before I hit 50 and preferably by the time I was 40. Well, I didn’t quite get there, but I am not 50 yet and here I am in beautiful Cuenca where it is sunny today with flowers blooming outside in my yard, dogs at my feet patiently waiting for me to stop typing because…hello?….. sunny, ball, walk, river, park…..why are we inside?????
So, why Cuenca Ecuador?
When I stopped to think about the never ending question of if-not-this-what? of my life about 3 years ago (2015ish), I knew I wanted to make a change. I was in a job that I enjoyed (mostly), I had a rental house with a good tenant, money was being put aside, I lived in a beautiful area with plenty to do and it wasn’t expensive to do things (I wouldn’t have wanted to try buying a house because housing was rising dramatically, but I already had that taken care of so….), my partner had recently retired, and life in general was good. But….
I worked 80+ hours a week which was far less than I had been doing the year prior. I frequently put in time on the weekends. The year prior I worked in excess of 4700 hours with no days off at all for more than nine months (2080 hours = a regular 40 hour a week FT job). I hadn’t taken a vacation in over four years.
My boss went on several vacations a year and the majority of my co-workers were able to take vacations. People I worked with, with far less responsibility than I had were getting raises and I was getting the excuse of, well you are better off then they are so you don’t get a raise so that they can have one. wtf????
My partner had just retired, although he hadn’t really wanted to he did. But I was working way too flipping many hours for us to do anything or go anywhere. When I was home I was so tired and mentally exhausted I was unable to function in any creative or other productive way. And….
When I wasn’t at ‘work’ or working at home, I was working with clients. Yup, pretty much all day every day I was working. Not ideal. And most certainly not life affirming or healthy
So, every year in October I review the previous year and put my upcoming year in perspective – what do I need to take care of, what do I want to learn, accomplish, do I need to make changes to my income, where money is going etc. In looking at the financial year in review and projecting forward, I ran a calculation of what my hourly return on investment on myself was.
That’s always an eye opener to realize how little you actually make when you take your salary + benefits and divide by the amount of time you actually put into your job vs the 40 hour week your package is based on. I then looked at how much I was netting in profit after all expenses were deducted, and looked at what it was actually costing me to stay employed.
Employed in a J-O-B versus doing something independent. Hands down – independent won out. Not a surprise and I had known this for a long time.
So then I carried that forward to staying employed until retirement age of 65. In the remaining working years what was the maximum, and the average I would net. Then I compared that to what I could earn working far less and independently. Its thought provoking. If you haven’t done this type of exercise I really encourage you to do it.
In the background, I have wanted to travel and have been reading about other countries for a long time. I had seriously wondered about living in Portugal, and that is somewhere I still want to spend a good chunk of time in. So on the weekend that I was doing this review, I happened to watch an episode of House Hunters International.
Sitting on the couch with laptop, spreadsheet and calculator while the show runs in the background. The lightbulb clicked. It was less expensive to live somewhere else add in work independently equals better Life, more financial stability and able to make change NOW. Not at 65 or later, and I still have my health, am young, and…..
Next step, make a spreadsheet.
What else? I am an analytic, linear thinker by nature so I analyze.
On my spreadsheet are:
- cost of housing (buy or rent)
- property and other taxes
- utilities – both cost and reliability – excellent Internet was a must
- clean water
- reliability of goods and services – is there a plentiful supply of local food vs relying on Import
- cost of living both in getting set up/large purchases and day to day Life expenses
- medical availability/variety/and cost – of both insurance and usage
- easy in and out to the US and other countries
- roads and infrastructure
- culture – the local customs and what’s to do there culturally
- view on education and school structures
- things to do
- geography of the place specifically and what’s around it – leads to what else is available to do there
- government stability
- attitude of locals toward people from other places moving there
- money – what type of currency and stability
- how they treat and think of women
- singles v marrieds
- social acceptance in general – do they hate on anyone?
- bugs and other critters – everywhere has these but I didn’t want to move somewhere and have to worry about poisonous things magically appearing inside my house, or being eaten alive by mosquitos
- pets – attitude toward pets/vet care/medication and surgery availability
- import of my pets, do they have to be quarantined, etc
- cost to visit both for my own research and for future visits of friends and family
- can I do a business there
- what is employment in general like
- and a happy factor column (how do I feel when I am there)
I researched many countries and came up with a short list of Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Argentina. I ruled out European anything because at the time Europe was falling to hell in a hand basket. Countries gone bankrupt, talks of Brixit, and….there was just too much uncertainty to go there then
Latin America seemed a better general option. I never considered the oriental countries to live but do want to do extended travel there at a later time. In my mind the language would be much harder to learn. That is probably not true, but that’s what my thought process was at the time.
So then I looked into each of these areas more closely and spent some considerable time in good internal thought, projecting as to what I wanted the next several years of my life to look like. Did I want to walk on the beach, climb a mountain, be in a city with a cafe around the corner, a small rural area, did I want to finally actually do a donkey farm (I love donkeys – it’s just one of those things…), or go to museums and symphony more often….
I decided I wanted to live in a mid sized city not something huge but not rural either. I wanted easy accessibility to beach, mountain and or other geography. I did not want hot, humid, or even dry heat if it was actually hot. I wanted spring like most of the time. I wanted to be in an area with plenty of history/culture and performing culture and I wanted to be in an area that values the creative process.
Lower/stable cost of living, good utilities, medical and all the things that make up the big cost/life items are a given within this analysis process – if they weren’t there it was crossed off the list.
The weather narrowed the initial list down considerably and not wanting to live at a beach but want one closer by also narrowed the list down. On paper and by what I was reading Ecuador seemed to hit the most buttons positively and really I found nothing that was negative and no deal breakers.
Then thinking forward, I also looked at retirement benefits and how each area dealt with senior citizens. I am not there yet, but let’s face it – we all get there at some point. Ecuador has a very generous set of benefits for retired aged persons.
Next, I need to visit. It happened that the following Spring (2016), International Living was having a conference in Quito, Ecuador specific to those thinking about living there. It wasn’t overly expensive and I was able to add on a 3 day real estate tour in Cuenca at the same time. Done. I booked the trip and went.
I loved Cuenca, not so much Quito. Quito reminded me of Southern California. No thanks. Been there done that. Cuenca was clean, charming, surrounded by green, people were friendly, looked like there was plenty to do there, and there was good variety of housing types, availability, and…..
At the conference I also learned of Loja and Vilcabamba which sounded promising. Once I got home and did a little more research on those areas, I realized that Cuenca was the better fit for me.
So on paper Ecuador and Cuenca look great. First impression and visit were positive. Time to go back and explore the town a little more. It ended up being just short of a year later when I went back, this time for two weeks just in Cuenca.
I toured neighborhoods, talked to people who had moved from the states, met with a number of professionals, looked at a lot of real estate (some to buy and mostly to rent), went through lots of stores to see what was really available there and what the cost was, and just spent time in the town and area. Loved it
I had decided before I went that I wanted to rent not buy. The Visa process is 21 months before you are officially not a long time visitor, and although the tour was good I wanted to actually live here for a while and experience the flow of Life before committing to a more permanent residence location.
I ended up finding what seemed like the perfect house. Its a block and a half from the river, with a beautiful park on both sides of the river and in both directions for miles, I can walk to downtown in 20 minutes, I can get a cab at my doorstep, and the Tranvia (if it ever actually gets finished) will be just a 5 minute walk from here. I have a grocery store, several tienda’s and the largest of the Mercado’s all within 7 blocks (less than a 10 minute walk). Best of all I have a fenced yard – happy doggies!
I rented the house in June (2017), and at the time was hoping to move at the end of August. I had already been in contact with my realtor to put my house on the market, and I needed the time to pack, phase out of my job, train a replacement, and get here.
I didn’t move until mid November, because well Life Happened at home. Funny how that works…..
I have now been here four months and I love it more every day.
Now that I am (mostly) unpacked and settled in, I am starting to work with a charity organization that benefits dogs and cats, I am spending a lot of time in the training and working with my two dogs, am going on day trips and exploring the city, taking lots of photos, have joined a photography club, taking a Spanish class, and enjoying the freedom of clarity to make intentional choices and experience the abundance surrounding me.
The biggest challenge so far has been to not get involved in too much and to take it slow and let things organically materialize. There is so much to do, so many things available to be involved in, but in doing too many things all at once, the doing would become job like. And that’s what I was changing, right?
In recap this is why I chose Cuenca Ecuador:
- It was easy to bring my dogs, no quarantine, its a dog friendly area, and good vet care is readily available and affordable
- Great weather, conducive to doors and windows open and time spent outside, comfortably
- The town is a good size, approximately 700,000 residents in the metro area
- Geography, the town itself is in a valley and is beautiful, it is about 3 hours from the beaches, it is at the base of the Cajas mountains with parks, lakes, hiking and backpacking, and many artisan villages within a few hours so there are lots of day trips available. The Amazon is a few hours away and there are many things/tours do there. Also the Gallapagos Islands, Peru and other areas are easy to go to and not far by bus, car, or plane
- Transportation – I don’t need a car here. Taxis are inexpensive, there are many buses, I can walk pretty much anywhere in town, car services for longer trips are inexpensive, long distance bus is comfortable and inexpensive, there is an airport here and it feeds into two International airports each an hour flight away. And at some point the Tranvia will actually get done (its a lightrail that runs through town)
- Cost of living (big expenses like housing, medical insurance, medical care, utilities, and taxes) are MUCH lower than in the states
- Utilities, water quality and Internet are reliable, safe, clean and inexpensive
- Culture – there are in excess of 380 local festivals in the Azuay Province where Cuenca is located. Cuenca has a very good symphony (and the performances are free), there are lots of art and history museums and galleries, community theatre, multi plex movie theaters, many places for a variety of music and other entertainment, an International choice of dining, and….
- Abundant choices of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood all fresh and local (you know if its not because they apologize and tell you like its a bad thing they are selling it). And pastry, chocolate (cocoa is a large crop here), coffee (also a large crop here), fresh dairy and….really I was here at chocolate and coffee!
- Language – the primary language is Spanish and the second is English. I arrived with maybe 10 words of Spanish and I couldn’t tie them together in a sentence. I have had really no issues with the use of a translator app on my phone. There are many ways to learn, schools, private tutors, small groups, etc – and just getting out and trying. Many locals speak English or at least enough that your one word and theirs can equate to enough of an understanding to get it done. You should plan on learning though and not remain ignorant the entire time you are here
- Money – the US dollar is the currency here, so that was easy.
- Cost of transportation back to and from the states is inexpensive and there are several routes available
- Education is valued here and the country pays for locals to attend school all the way through college. There are four Universities and several specialty colleges in Cuenca. I have been told there are 11 (?not positive on that number). And more throughout the country.
- The people are friendly. Most are open and welcoming to new people moving here. There doesn’t seem to be any real negativity toward any group of people. Women are treated with respect. It is still fairly new for women to be primary earners, but they are most certainly the head of the family and household and more and more are getting an education and entering the workforce.
- Older people/senior citizens are treated well and with respect. If you are of retirement age there are a whole host of benefits you are entitled to
- Interest rates on savings and cd’s are GOOD here. Think 3-9.5% depending on your account, and it depends more on the time of investment than the amount invested so everyone can benefit from the rates here
- And so much more…..
If living somewhere new, making a change in work/income or just getting out and exploring and doing some travel is on your brain and heart I really encourage you to get out and make it happen. My process was really painless overall.
You can read these posts to get a better feel for the entire process of moving here:
In may ways moving to this new country was not much different than moving to a new state and in other ways it’s been like what it is – a whole new country. So far it’s been an adventure and I can’t imagine that will change any time soon!
If you were to consider moving to a new country where would that be? Let me know in the comments below and let’s chat about it 🙂