“Man, this dude is clueless!”
That’s a thought that often passes through my head as I meet new arrival expats in Ecuador.
But if I moved to a new country cold turkey, the same would happen to me.
But after today’s primer you no longer can plead ignorance… here’s what you need to know before you go:
1. Handle your assets correctly.
Sell depreciating assets like cars, if you leave them whenever it is you try to sell them down the road they will be worth less, a lot less! They are just chuncks of metal. Replaceable. And DON’T liquidate ALL your assets and properties if they continue to make you money, what are you going to do with all that cash in Ecuador? Lose it, that’s what. Ecuador is a good place for you but maybe not for your entire savings. That’s just being a plain da** fool.
2. Know what to bring.
There’s a lot of things that are grossly more expensive in Ecuador than in countries like the US. Bring all the electronics, brand name clothes and perfumes you are going to need. Brand name shoes too. Big screen TVs are also much cheaper in the US.
3. Know what NOT to bring.
There’s a lot of things you can easily buy in Ecuador for around the same price as in the US or cheaper. Towels, sheets and things like coffee makers, irons, plates and kitchen utensils can easily be found in your nearest SUPERMAXI or MI COMISARIATO (big box stores in Ecuador). No need to bring!
4. Cell Phones.
Before you leave the US be sure your expensive smart phone is UNLOCKED and accepts insertable SIM cards. If it doesn’t or isn’t, than leave it in the US, cause it won’t be any use to you in Ecuador (which works on SIM cards). I’d say even if it does accept SIM cards I’d still be weary about waving around one of those big fancy Samsung Galaxies or whatever, here in Ecuador, having a nice cell phone makes you a target for thieves.
It’s true, thieves will judge you based on your cell phone, if you maintain a cheapy ‘dumb’ phone you could live in Ecuador for years without anything happening to you. I myslef have a simple ‘dumb’ phone (I know Ecuador too well to have anything else).
Once in country, to pick up a SIM card visit any CLARO or MOVISTAR store and ask if they have any SIMs for sale, its the same in Spanish. Get a Claro SIM if you plan on living in Cuenca or the coast. Movistar if you plan on living in the Quito/Cotacachi/Ibarra area.
The card costs $7, you insert it in your phone and you have an instant Ecuador phone number you can add minutes to in any cell phone shop or pharmacy in Ecuador. Many local street stores also offer the service of adding prepaid minutes (recargas). To get a cheap phone starting around $40 try a mall in one of Ecuadors big cities before going to your final destination… in Guayaquil try the cell phone shops in the bus terminal, in Quito, Id go to EL ESPIRAL shopping center. Don’t buy used phones off the street, they may be stolen.
5. Managing your currency.
News flash.. Ecuador uses the US dollar as the official currency. But it can be very hard to make change in Ecuador, and most merchants simply won’t accept $50s and $100s, so dont bring any bills larger than $20s! Travelers checks are a definite NO NO. Bring an ATM card attached to the Cirrus network and you can withdraw from about any ATM from your US account. For large transfers don’t try to bring it down in cash! Instead, contact your bank in your home country and commence a wire once you have an account to wire to in Ecuador.
6. Opening a bank account.
Most banks in Ecuador won’t open an account for you unless you have a CEDULA and are a legal resident in Ecuador on a resident visa. You could have a friend recommend you to his bank (which helps a lot in Ecuador), also try the smaller banks like Banco Promerica which seem t have more lenient policies about opening accounts. Either way, dont have a lot of money in there, there are only 2 banks I’d trust in Ecuador, Banco Pichincha (the biggest bank in Ecuador and where most the locals have their money) or Banco Pacifico (already owned by the goverment).
7. Finding a place to stay the smart way (don’t make any prior reservations for rentals).
I’m weary about finding rentals online before I arrive in a place, because you really are clueless about the area, accept it. I’ll never forget a few years back when I moved to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. I arranged a rental online before arriving and it was right in the middle of the ghetto, literally on the wrong side of the river in the city. And like most rentals I had alreayd paid a non-refundable deposit plus the first months rent. Dumb.
Not just for the price, but for a lot of reasons I recommend you do it the right way and stay in a cheapy hotel until you learn the area a bit and search on the ground for the rental that is really right for you. You can often strike deals with many of the cheapy hotels in Ecuador to give you a weekly or monthly rate.
8. Getting connected to the internet.
In the big cities of Ecuador, getting connected in your home is easy, just go to your nearest CNT or Claro store and hire the service, within a few days they will be installing the internet in your home, doesn’t matter if you are a renter. Decent plans start around $20 but if you want a faster interent experience pay for one of the plans around $50 a month.
In the small towns of Ecuador the internet is NOT a given so inquire beforehand! If no internet options exist you can always get a Mobile WIFI HUAWEI stick you plug into the wall or your PC from a service provider like Movistar. In that case, if there is cell phone coverage you can connect to the internet. Plans start around $35 a month you can get unlimited internet, but this last option is by far the slowest (almost similar to dial-up).
9. Paying utility bills.
As a renter, you will most likely be required to pay your own electric, water and other bills. The easiest way to pay them is go to the nearest SERVIPAGOS or WESTERN UNION office and pay them cash. Some banks also offer the service, just be sure the bills dont expire or you’ll have to go directly to the provider to pay.
10. Learning Spanish on the cheap.
If you try to learn Spanish in the US or online before coming than you just wasting your time and money. US universities will charge you thousands, private tutors in the US often cost upwards of $20 an hour and you’ll still forget everything they teach you cause you’re not using it. Even programs like Rosetta Stone are not a good idea… in the US you probably paid $400 for it, in Ecuador you can find a copied version for $10. Just sayin…
But I’d pass on all those programs! Instead wait until you are in Ecuador to learn Spanish, and take a class from a local tutor , many would be happy to teach you one on one for around $5 an hour. Once you got a hold on the grammar, try to read the paper everyday, once you got vocabulary, try to watch the TV everyday in Spanish for comprehension and try to make some local friends that only talk to you in Spanish. Any age can learn cheaply following that method.
Have a clear idea of what type of resident visa you want before you come. Ecuador is not a good place to simply border hop continually everytime your visa is about to expire like you can in Thailand or Costa Rica. There is a limit. Get a resident visa based on an investment, job, pension or on something more creative like a religious mission. For any of the above visas bring the required docs with you from your home country… the base are 2 copies of an aposstilled birth certificate, marriage/divorce certificate (if applicable) and an aposstilled police record check.
12. Getting around like a local.
Don’t be afraid to take buses in Ecuador as a new arrival, they are plentiful and cheap and their destinations are marked on the front.
I remember as a new arrival in Spain with no Spanish skills I was afraid to get on the city bus to school cause I didn’t want to get lost with no Spanish skills, so I walked over 30 minutes to school and back everyday in the freezing cold Madrid winter.
Taxis are also cheap in Ecuador but ask how much they will charge to your destination before you get in. Know that the drivers will always say they know where your destination is whether they really know or not, you have to learn to read their body language to see if they really know or not. Ask locals how much a taxi ride should be before approaching a taxi. Also, know that airport taxis are always more expensive and especially abusive so if you can get picked up or take a bus from the airport all the better.
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