What's the ultimate destination for the retiree who wants to live abroad? According to the Annual Global Retirement Index of the publication InternationalLiving.com, the answer is Ecuador.
Every year, the InternationalLiving.com editors evaluate information gathered by experts, who explore countries that are the most popular with American and Canadian retirees. Among the factors they weigh are the climate, the cost of living and how friendly the people are. Ecuador scored high on all of them, and then some.
Dan Prescher, Special Projects Editor for InternationalLiving.com, offered his insights into why Ecuador, the country that he calls home, took top honors this year. While he said in an e-mail that the South American country offers amenities that anyone could enjoy, retirees receive discounts that make life there pleasant and affordable.
"Ecuador is inexpensive for everyone, but especially so for retirees," he said. "Seniors residing in Ecuador qualify for half-price entertainment and local transport, discounted airfares, and refunds of sales tax."
Read ahead to find out more about Ecuador, and see if it's the retirement destination for you.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 18 January 2013
Retirees who move south of the U.S. rarely miss the winter weather, but not all of them are looking for year-round 100 degree temperatures either. Prescher said that Ecuador offers a moderate climate that suits almost any preference.
"The weather is the same all year around—warm to hot on the coast, warm to cool in the mountains," he said. "I live in the mountains north of Quito, the capital, at about 8,000 feet above sea level, and thanks to our location on the equator the temperature rarely goes above 75 degrees or below 50 degrees. I consider it the perfect weather."
The indigenous people of Ecuador are the Quechuas. "They are some of the kindest, gentlest, most welcoming people I've ever met," Prescher said. But he added that the population of Ecuador is varied.
"Ecuador was subject to Spanish conquest," he said. "So, like much of Latin America, the people and culture of Ecuador are a mix of both influences, Native American and European." he said.
If you want to settle down in Ecuador for good, the process of buying a house is straightforward. "A buy/sell contract is drawn up defining both parties' obligations, a deposit is made, and the deed is transferred by a notario, a kind of super notary public who is also a trained lawyer," Prescher said.
Real estate prices are relatively low. "It is still possible to build new residential construction for under $100 per square foot. But remember, this is local construction... cement or red clay brick. There is almost no wood construction in Ecuador."
Prescher said that he sold his car when he moved to Ecuador, for one simple reason—he didn't need it. "Our village is easy to walk around," he said. "If we don't want to walk, taxis are everywhere, and we've never spent more than five dollars for a ride in the village."
Ecuador also has a good mass transit system. "When we go to Quito or other towns from the village, we take the buses, which run constantly and cost an average of $1.00 per hour of travel," he said.
The current president of Ecuador is Rafael Correa, who was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2009, based on what The New York Times called "his combination of asserting nationalistic control of the economy with broadly popular social welfare programs for the poor."
Prescher said that since Correa took office, Ecuador has undergone many infrastructure improvements, including electrification, roads and water projects. "He has also instituted an incremental increase in the minimum wage to bring up the general standard of living for workers," he said.
Some retirees have significant mobility issues which can determine where they can live, and Prescher said that Ecuador provides above-average services for them. "Handicapped accessibility is nowhere near the issue in Ecuador that it is in the U.S.," he said. "Providing handicapped access is still something a builder does out of courtesy rather than through any legal or code requirement."
One thing that even the most conscientious builder can't address is altitude, so Prescher recommends that those with respiratory issues take this into account. "The capital is at 9,000 feet above sea level, and most of the popular mountain towns are above 5,000, so people with respiratory issues prefer the coast, which is very similar to southern California's coast," he said.
If a retiree is considering dropping anchor somewhere, it had better have easy access to modern health facilities. Luckily, Prescher has nothing but the highest praise for those in Ecuador.
"I've had occasion to use the health facilities in Quito, and they are world-class, as are the hospitals in Guayaquil," he said. "I'd stack up the facilities and doctors in Quito against any place in the world, including the U.S."
So how's the food? According to Prescher, you would be hard-pressed to go hungry here for lack of options. "In Quito and Guyaquil, you can get any type of food in the world," he said. "Up here in the mountains, we rely on the local mercado for fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, and pork in abundance."
The cuisine varies slightly closer to the water. "On the coast, the same fresh fruit and vegetables are complimented by a huge variety of fresh fish," he said. "Ecuador is a small enough country that we also get very fresh fish up in the mountains, brought up daily, and there is also trout raised locally. In short, the food is great."
As much as a retiree may want to get away from it all, a little homesickness is inevitable from time to time. Prescher said that there are enough English-speaking people and American franchises, such as Burger King and Subway, to stave this feeling off should it arise.
"There are several hundred expats who live in and around the village, and many of them operate businesses such as restaurants, bars, translation services, and of course, real estate sales," he said. "This is even more true in Cuenca, another mountain town, which now has a few thousand English speaking expats living there."
No country is perfect, and Ecuador has its share of strife and plight. "Ecuador is a relatively poor country compared to the U.S., with some grinding poverty, so flaunt wealth and ignore personal and property security at your own risk," Prescher said. "Ecuadorians themselves commonly have gated doors and windows and high walls with security systems, so follow their example if you prefer to own lots of expensive goods."
He stressed the importance of recognizing the difference between the U.S. legal system and the Ecuadorian legal system. "Law in Ecuador and most of Latin America is based on Napoleonic or civil law instead of English common law, and there is a huge difference," he said. "One of the first things we think people need is a good, local, English-speaking attorney, and fortunately there are many to choose from in Ecuador."