The latest article about moving to Ecuador seems to epitomize everything wrong in such reporting so I’m going to step through the misrepresentations. Let us begin with the title, “Why You Should Retire to Sunny Ecuador.” First, the article is not about Ecuador but about Cuenca, and there is absolutely nothing sunny about Cuenca. We don’t see the sky for days at a time and when we do it is far more often than not a patch of blue here and there. This is a cloudy city and though my travel in the rest of the country is limited it has always been cloudy in Quito and along the coast as well when I was there. Perhaps they have sunny months but I’ve not been there when they do.
Next consider this whopper, “There is a lively and vibrant restaurant scene and loads of cafes, galleries, and bars. At its heart, Cuenca is a college town with 6 universities including the beautiful University of Cuenca campus in the center of town. And, bonus…. a lot of people in Cuenca speak English.” There is no “lively and vibrant restaurant scene.” Cuenca roles up its sidewalks at eight. There are some nice upscale restaurants true but there is nothing that would reasonably pass for a “scene.” And at heart, Cuenca is definitely not a college town, not even close. The University of Cuenca is not in the center of the town but away from the center and it is not a source of intellectual life here. There are a number of universities but the same can be said for other cities in Ecuador. They have virtually no impact on life here. And to say that “a lot of people in Cuenca speak English” is an outright, unabashed lie. Perhaps the single most identified reason so many who spent tens of thousands to move here return to North America is the fact that almost no one speaks English.
I won’t blame the writer for quoting the new figure of 8,000 expats living here but I would still like to see the methodology the university used. My belief is the number remains fixed at 4,000 and may be falling.
I also won’t dispute what the expat realtor said as he’s got that right, but keep in mind that his company sells real estate. It’s in his economic interest for people to move here. This is nearly always the case in articles like this, the writers talk to those who make themselves available because they want to hype Cuenca.
Nearly everything the writer says about healthcare is wrong. It is true that there is a healthcare system here for the indigent but it is about what you’d expect. Long waits, nobody speaking English, average to mediocre care. Getting private healthcare insurance if you are over 65 is nearly impossible and what few policies exist are very, very limited. This leaves the national healthcare system, IESS, to which I belong. The government has just expanded it dramatically even though the hospitals and doctors are complaining they weren’t being paid before the expansion. Then, to try and balance its budget, the government has stopped paying its 40% contribution. You can imagine what that’s going to mean. For expats the reality is that you will buy good healthcare out-of-pocket and while it will be cheaper than in the U.S. it won’t be $100 a year, not even close. What a joke. A friend had a stroke and so far has paid more than $20,000 for care.
She got real estate prices and taxes right, and it is true you can buy really lovely, modern property here. What the writer didn’t tell you is that the quality of construction is substandard. Housing is not properly vented and mold is a serious problem in even the most modern buildings after a few short years. She also didn’t tell you that housing has fallen 30% or more in the last two years and that expats who bought before that are upside down in their apartments and houses. She also didn’t mention that real estate is notoriously difficult to sell or that when you export your money back to the U.S., with or without a profit, you pay a 5% tax on it. Almost everyone down here rents.
Her observations about getting around are generally right but, again, there is much she leaves out. Take this, “With so much of Cuenca being walkable it doesn’t make sense to get a car…” Now it happens that I agree. I can afford a car but elect not to have one. Traffic is just awful. But to say that Cuenca is “walkable” is laughable. The sidewalks here are dangerous. Slips and falls are common. Knee and hip surgery among expats is almost too common to comment on. Crossing streets is treacherous and exhaust from diesel buses and trucks makes breathing very difficult.
Food in Cuenca is not “excellent.” It is acceptable and healthy but no one raves about their dining experiences here. I happen to enjoy Ecuadorian food but I assure you that among expats I am in the minority. And yes, food is inexpensive, but not if you go to the better restaurants where you will pay prices very close to what you’ll pay in North American.
It is true that few people come to visit you here. It is not true that getting to the U.S. is easy. It is expensive and time consuming. True, Quito to Miami is a snap but how many of us are going to Miami? And you have to first get to Quito which is at the other end of the country. I know expats who travel back several times a year but they are the decided minority. Most of us rarely go back.
Our writer concludes with some accurate observations about living here. Cuenca is used by some as a base to see the rest of South America and I take no issue with that. But what is never reported in these articles is that the return rate for expats retiring here [remember the name of the article] is 90% within four years. This after people have spent tens of thousands in moving here and setting up their household, believing they’d spend the rest of the lives here.
I just wish so many of these travel writers didn’t think it was their job to pitch an adventure. Cuenca has its virtues which is why I live here, but there are many downsides as well and they deserve equal billing.