I’m 57, work remote, and a female. Plus, I’m, like, 5’10” tall and stand out like a huge, pale, middle-aged stork in a land of petite dark-haired Ecuadorians who really don’t mind my being here. It’s been two months since I landed, with no pre-trip to suss stuff out. I just tossed myself into Cuenca (the city I now call home) with my fingers and toes crossed, and everything fell into place like a well-crafted chocolate chip cookie. As I write this, I’m sitting in the middle of a colorful, fragrant garden with a soft breeze blowing and my tea sitting so cozy beside me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Why would a person like me up and relocate to a foreign country I had never visited, give all my possessions away, and risk all sorts of unknown road blocks to sit in this garden? Suffice to say I was done. Like, done done. I’ve hit these moments in life before, we all have. It’s important to listen to them, because they offer a release of what doesn’t work anymore, and the challenge of renewal. To say I was burnt out is an epic understatement, and to say I have slept 10 hours a night since arriving and honestly could sleep more is truth. Have you ever been that tired? In any case, there are many good reasons I chose Cuenca, and a few things I’d rather not have here, but that’s just life.
Pros of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador
Slow and Peaceful
I don’t own a car here, and I don’t want one and neither will you. There’s nothing particularly wrong with having a car in Ecuador, it’s probably fine. Having said that, the public transport system is incredible with an easy bus, taxi, or tram ride, or you can walk anywhere and like it. Why own a car if you don’t need to? Plus, the drivers here honk at everything with great glee so it’s a noisy conundrum of blasting horns that you eventually get used to. And remember, crosswalks are only a suggestion so take no prisoners when you walk out your door.
When they’re not driving, the Ecuadorians are kind, helpful, and will happily tack on a buck or two to the unsuspecting gringo with a warm smile on their face. It’s sort of like the US government saying there’s nothing they can do about inflation, meanwhile the members of congress doubling their profits on higher prices. We all understand these things, so it’s easily forgivable in a third world country when you’re buying papayas.
Cost of Living
Speaking of papayas, they sell for .75 cents at the indigenous ladies stall down the street. Well, unless she doesn’t know you then they are $1. In wholefoods in Boulder, Colorado they went for upwards of $6 for a small, helpless little papaya. Here, they are large, busty, and so sweet you’ll wonder why you ever lived in any other place. That being said, the general cost of living is crazy low. In my previous place, I paid $2200 for a two bedroom that now runs for $2600 and they didn’t repaint the interior. In my garden home, I pay $450 for a two-bedroom apartment with an office (that I adore) and electricity is about $30 a month. That’s it. I know, go ahead and spit up a bit, we all understand.
In coming here, I cut my personal budget by 70%, and my business expenses down by a third. I have an online e-commerce website so certain costs are unavoidable, but my food bill, which took on new dimensions in Colorado, is around $50-80 a week, not counting eating out. Keep in mind, though, that I eat very basic. I’m a health nut and allow myself a cookie once a week, which cuts my food bill waaaaayyyyy down outside the US. You can eat like a king here and burp when you’re done.
Plop Into Friendships
There is an area here called Gringo-Landia. As you probably guessed, it’s populated with gringo’s, mostly Americans. We are sort of like flies; we want to coagulate together and act like we know stuff. Ever thought of flies as know-it-alls? They can irritate the living crap out of you and probably laugh while they do it. Not to be too harsh on we gringos, but really, it’s easy to plop into town and you are instantly a part of the swarm. If you’re not from the US, don’t worry, it’s not an exclusive club in Ecuador-you are welcome to join in the laughter and make fun of stuff.
For me, I prefer to make pals with anyone who isn’t necessarily a part of the club. And as long as you learn Spanish, you can too. There are so many gringos who are retired you’ll start dancing, if that’s your thing. As a remote worker, there is a fabulous remote worker’s visa that’s easy to get, and other visa options to look into if you want to make a lifestyle change. It’s one of the most affordable and easy to live places on the planet, and the weather is postcard worthy.
Cons of Living in Cuenca
Why do Men Pee Outside?
It seems like nearly every day I see some dude peeing outside. It could be on a tree, in a corner of a building, or maybe just where he happens to be standing. I’d like to point out that you don’t see any women squatting in a corner piddling. First of all, keep your wang in your pants, and second, find a bathroom like everyone else. Okay, I’m done venting about that. Given that I’m like 10 feet tall to the short Ecuadorian men, I’ve had visions of thumping them on the head and then giving a broken Spanish monologue on how gross it is to pee in public, but I have controlled myself. I just groan instead.
Bureaucracy Like a Sloth
Governments like to make stuff slow because they think it’s fun. That’s the only reason I can come up with, and here in Ecuador they have mastered the art of monolithic lateness and slow-moving bureaucracy. Everything is slower here, so inevitably you just shrug and get on with life and don’t let it get to you. On the good side, no one expects anything else so it’s okay. For example, I went to the bank to change some dollars into smaller bills and your meant to show your passport but mine was at the visa office for two months. It was supposed to take three weeks, but it took two months. The bank guy took a deep, cleansing breath, and changed my money anyway. God bless him.
Don’t Move Here Unless You Bring Cookies
It’s wonderful in Cuenca. Bring your money, bring your walking shoes, and bring your cookies, you are welcome. The papayas are beautiful, the people are warm, and the life is peaceful, and if you’re a gringo, please download the Spanish translation app on your phone.
I mean, the cost of living decrease alone…….. definitely spitting up a bit. This is not motivating me to unpack the place I just moved into. My brain wants to think up a scenario like yours instead. LOL!!!
You only allow yourself one cookie a week!?! Sigh. I have sooooo much farther to go with that. But thanks for motivation.
Well, this week I had a cookie and a piece of soggy chocolate cake! I’m letting myself make every day wonderful and yesterday that included cake:) Totally worth it!
This is great Suz!!
So glad you’re happy! Love you❤️❤️
Thanks, mom! Love you very much!
Oh, Suzanne, thank you for this vicarious experience of living in Ecuador! It sounds wonderful.
Thanks, Gail! It’s been great, I have to say. Honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made from a lifestyle, mental and physical health standpoint. I hope you’re doing well and best of luck with the upcoming wedding!
I am new, so apologies in advance if you have already answered these questions. First, out all of the wonderful places to relocate to, how and why did you choose Ecuador? Second, did you speak (any) Spanish before deciding to move to Ecuador? Third, is Ecuador in general and the specific town that you chose safe? Fourth, what is your opinion regarding the quality and accessibility of health care over there? And, lastly, how easy/difficult has it been to make friends there? As you might have guessed, I am very intrigued by your move. I am retired and no longer have any familial ties keeping me in the US. Except for a summer study abroad program in London more than 40 years ago, I have never lived outside of the US. Heck, due to family responsibilities and work, I haven’t even traveled outside of the US since 1998. It’s time to start living!
Thank you in advance for your response. I hope that things continue to go well for you and that you enjoy your corner of paradise!
Hi Marcia! Thanks for your message and here are my responses:
1. If you google the top 10 places for retired people or remote workers to live, Ecuador is on that list along with Portugal and other cool spots. I just worked my way through the list researching different aspects of each country. The selling points for Cuenca, are that it’s a beautiful, old city with art and history beaming from it’s pores, lots of foreigners, safety, easy access to healthcare, cost of living, and I have a friend who lives nearby to help me with stuff.
2. I spoke only about 5 words of Spanish before moving here, and I was fine. Download the google translate app and learn how to apologize in Spanish and say you’re a dumb gringo. You’ll be fine.
3. Cuenca is safer than any equal sized US city. There is petty theft so you can’t like leave your wallet on the table and expect to ever see it again, but on the whole it’s very safe and there are lots of single gringo women to hang with. I recommend checking out Amelia and JP on youTube for lots of info.
4. Health care is very accessable and WAYYYYYY better than the US. Read my blog (in the Transformation section) of when I broke my wrist and how that went. Hint: the entire thing including x-ray, treatment, caste, etc cost $200 TOTAL and was so easy.
5. It very easy to make friends. There are lots of American retired women so honestly you will be fine.
6.TIme to start living! Hope this was helpful:) SUZ