Archive | Expat Lifestyle

Why I left Cuenca…

 

I hear it all the time…

“Man, Cuenca was too da** cold and rainy.  I came south to get away from that.  But the coast is too hot and humid for me, I think Ecuador is not for me.”

You’re right.  It’s freakin cold!

Cuenca doesn’t have eternal spring weather like what you’ve probably read elsewhere online, for me, its more like eternal late fall.  I’m talking late October early November in the midwest here.

Cuenca, Quito and Loja are simply cold.

The coast is hot.

But this is the tropics man, all you have to do is find the right elevation that gives you your ideal year round climate.

Like instead of Cuenca, try nearby Gualaceo, Paute or the Yunguilla Valley.  They all are mountain towns that have warmer, yet not too warm, weather.  For you, maybe just right.

Instead of Quito, which is too COLD for me, try living in one of the lower valleys nearby like Tumbaco or thr Valley of Los Chillos, both have much more pleasent truly eternal spring-like weather.

Instead of chilly, overcast Loja, try more mild, sunny nearby Malacatos, Zaruma or Vilcabamba.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle

21 Things you can ONLY see in Ecuador

That’s the reason we travel, right?

To see stuff we can’t see in our home country.

Well, here are 21 things you could never see in the USA or Canada (or elsewhere for that matter) but you CAN see in Ecuador.

1.  When pulled over by the cops, Ecuadorians tend to get out of their cars and walk over to the cops and try to reason with them.  If you tried this in the US you would be shot dead on sight and left to lie there in your own pool of blood.

2.  Getting honked at while sitting at a red light.  I’ve only seen this happen in Ecuador, and a lot.  If you tried this in the USA you would make the evening news as a victim of road rage.

3.  Self-made speed bumps.  Thats right, especially along the coast, a lot of folks in small towns decide from one day to the next they’re going to make a speed bump.  Usually they are perfectly camouflagued and right at the end of a speedy curve, yes, they’ll rattle your teeth all right.

4.  Unrefrigerated Milk in a box.  I never seen this in the USA, but its commonplace in Ecuador.

5.  Women in high heels in a grocery store.  No, they are not on their way to a wedding or something, Ecuadorian women will put on heels to go grocery shopping.  Better than the other extreme, boy, did I get tired of watching lazy American college girls who roam around all day still in their pijamas.  I for one hope that trend stays in the US.

6.  At 5’6 getting on a crowded bus I can often still see over the tops of everyones heads.  In the US I would be catching the draft of ‘silent-but-deadlies’ on my forehead.

7.  Love motels.  Maybe I was too nerdy but I never saw one of these in my first 20 or so years of life while living in the USA.  Love motels in Ecuador are pay-by-the-hour places with heart-shaped beds, no windows, and all the channels on the TV are p orn.  You go there to do one specific thing and leave.  My first time in one they looked at me funny when I asked if there was a 10 minute rate.  Seriously, in 10 minutes I’m done, showered, shaven and smoking my second cigarette.

8.  Gas station gas pumpers.  This is a long extinct career in the USA.  But every gas station in Ecuador has them.  I guess they think pulling a lever is too complicated for people.  But what is the training like for these people that help you pump your gas?  I can see it now, “OK men, easy and steady, aim high, don’t go crazy with it, if you get it on the rim you’ll hear it from the misses.  And if you shake it more than 3 times you’re playing with it.”  Maybe thats why only men seem to be qualified for this one.

9.  Coca cola in a bag.  So what happens if you order one of those famous, standard $1.75 Ecuadorian plate lunches to go?  That’s right.  They will give you the coke in a bag.  To look as Ecuadorian as possible you need to proceed to bite the corner of the bag and “suck that titty”.  Come on, don’t be a baby, (no pun intended) we’ve all done it at one point, or various points, in our lives.  Other wierd things in bags can also be seen like ketchup, mayonesse too.  Strange.

10.  Carrots larger than a grown mans forearm.  At the sight of one of these massive carrots one female tourist asked me if everything in Ecuador was that big?  Why yes mam it is.

11.  Cars with 100% tinted windows and police-style strobe lights.  This seems to be permitted in Ecuador cause I see it eveerywhere.  Too bad its not permitted in the US or I would have lost my virginity 2 whole years sooner in that parking lot that one time.  Men understand, this is an important monkey to get off your back.

12.  Roosters that crow at midnight.  Anyone that has lived in the countryside of Ecuador can sympathize with me on this one,  Must be the equator, but rooster in the countryside of Ecuador have a seriously messed up internal clock.

13.  Watching the Metro door close with so many people packed in that someones arm is stuck out the door as the tram starts to pull away.  Only in Ecuador.

14.  Beer and dogs on the beach.  Ah, I remember in when I lived in Southern California dogs were quarantined only to a few very specific beaches and beer was a big no no and could even get you arrested.  In Ecuador, Ecuadorians don’t go to the beach to surf, or jog, or any of that lame stuff.  They go to drink beer, and lots of it!  It would be tough to find an Ecuadorian beach without beer and at least a half dozen stray dogs roaming the cuff.

15.  Chicken feet soup.  theres just some parts of animals we’re not used to seeing in our food, or for sale at the grocery store, like chicken feet, bull balls, kidney, and more.

16.  Screwing screws in with a wrench.  Thats right, I’ve seen Ecuadorian construction workers screwing in screws with a wrench.  I swear, give them a shovel and a hammer and they can build you a house.

17.  Leaving your dirty food tray on your table at the mall.  Thats right, just get up and leave it, if you try to throw it away in the bin you may be tackled from behind.  OK, maybe not, but you are putting someones job in jeapordy who is in charge of cleaning the dirty trays.

18.  Watch as an old lady tries to get off a moving bus.  Ahh, only in Ecuador.

19.  The Drivers Ed class where they teach Ecuadorian drivers that stop signs at night really mean, “flick your headlights, honk twice and then drive right through”.  I guess they couldn’t fit all that text on the sign.

20.  The freelance eye-drop seller that tries to sell on the bus, but when he actually puts it in his own eye to show how to use the product he has to brace himself and wince to get it in.  Can I see that health registration again, please?

21.  The floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the handycap stalls in La Escala Shopping Mall in Cumbaya, a suburb of Quito.  I’ve never seen this anywhere and whoever thought of this should be shot.  I mean, come on, who wants to watch themselves and they’re ‘giving birth’ faces as you re sitting there on the pot?  There’s a certain amount of self-respect you lose for youself after watching yourself in this position.

I know, please don’t rush over to Expedia and buy your ticket to Ecuador too fast now, ok?

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle

What Pablo Escobar taught me about life in Latin America

Many people don’t know this about me.

But my first ‘living’ experience in Latin America was when I lived almost a year in Medellin, Colombia.

I was young, 23 years old in fact.

And I have to admit I was mainly focused on going out, partying and chasing women.

But in the breaks from that, I picked up an internship with the Medellin Chamber of Commerce, export division.

While there, as an advisor to Colombian export businesses, I couldn’t help but notice one thing.

There was MAJOR opportunity in Latin America for a ‘gringo’ like me.

You see, day after day I met folks with great products and great ideas, but they needed help penetrating the North American market.

They were clueless.

Heck, they needed a ‘link’.  Someone that knew the culture and knew a bit about marketing to Americans.

No where can I illustrate better this fact than from a 4 minute movie clip from one of my favorite movies, Blow, when the main character (a gringo) meets Pablo Escobar, and goes into business with him.  Watch it here. 

No, I never met Escobar personally, but I did meet quite a few people who were fatherless because of him.  Not good.

And of course, I don’t suggest getting into illegal businesses like the main character did, why when theres plenty of legal ways to make money?  But the lesson is the same.

Which brings me to my point for today.

I’m actually a pretty average guy, average intelligence, was an average athlete, 5’6, soft-spoken, usually not a leader, chances are you’ll have trouble hearing me even when you are 3 feet away… in the USA I’d probably be someones ‘office b*tch’ aka ‘employee’.

But I can attribute any successes I’ve had in Latin America to 3 superpowers.

By superpowers I mean things that set you apart from the pack.

1.  ”Being” a gringo.  As mentioned above, many people in the business environment of Latin America will ‘listen’ to you just because you are from up north, many have a respect that is visible.   You really do have an innate sense of how other gringos think, what they want, and what makes them tick.  Knowledge that someone trying to sell something to them is certainly going to covet.

2. Speaking Spanish.  Take a few months when you first arrive and learn that sh*t.  Really, in order to get the most out of living here like the friendships and business opportunities you’ll need to learn it, without it you can’t be ‘the link’.

3. Knowing marketing, specifically Internet Marketing.  This is undoubtably where the world is going, where the world is, its how businesses get clients, cheaply, and many Latin Americans are not as schooled on this topic as North Americans.  That’s the key in literally anything you want to do down here, import, export, tourism, real estate, etc… Don’t believe me, just check out an Ecuador airlines’ website, (like Tame) even those multi-million dollar guys don’t get it.  The good news is you can learn this skill, often by self-teaching yourself online like I did.

With those three powers you can do some serious damage down here!

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle

Whats it really like living in Olon, Ecuador? – 1 expat response

Ahhh, Olon, Ecuador, one of my favorite beaches on the coast of Ecuador, and certainly a growing ‘expat hot spot’.

Olon is a few kilometers north of Montanita, about an hour north of Salinas (which has the nearest airport), an hour south of Puerto Lopez, and about 3 hours south of Manta.

For me, with its golden cliffs and gentle waves Olon has a special, Californian-laid-back feel, and its got one of the widest beaches in Ecuador making it one of the nicest walking beaches in Ecuador.  Its also unusually green, whereas once you pass the point at the south end of Olon which separates Montanita from Olon, from there south the coast is actually quite dry, brown and arid while from Olon north to Manta the coast is actually quite green and lush.  I know, its strange.

Above all else its great for folks looking for a quiet small town to sleep, yet still near the social scene of rowdy Montanita.

Today lets chat with an expat about what life is really like from the ground…

Enter Mrs. Defrain.  

Why did you choose Olon?

My husband and I had been coming to Salinas and Montanita for about 2 years, and we decided to see if there was anything for rent in the area.  We found a very small unfurnished house in the middle of Olon for rent and we got a very good deal because we signed a year lease.  (We had to supply our own appliances.)

Montanita is a lot of fun, but it is loud.  Very very loud.  My college-aged son likes to visit Montanita when he is here in Ecuador.  Montanita is getting very built up and the available rentals seem to cater to short term visitors.  The town center has had problems with sewage smell, and they are working on that.  It’s a great place to visit but we did not want to live there.

We had never been “beach people” before.  My husband has learned to surf, or as he says it, “push a large board around in the water for a couple of hours every day.”

The beach in Olon goes for miles, from the point on the north end of Montanita, all the way up to La Entrada.  We have a lot of beach at low tide, and even have quite a bit of beach at high tide.  Some beaches in Ecuador disappear at high tide, but not in Olon.

How long have you lived there?

My husband and I have lived in Ecuador since June 2011, and have been in Olon for 9 months.  We still have an apartment in Cuenca, and stay there every once in a while.  We are building a small house here and plan to relocate.

There are some ex-pats who have been in the Olon area for several years, some like us just for a few months.

Tell us a little about yourself? 

My husband is retired.  My career was IT Project Management, but I have had 4 books published and now I am focusing on writing.  We chose to come to Ecuador from the US West for another adventure.  We looked in Thailand, Mexico and Peru.  Ecuador seemed to have the best balance of cost, environment, infrastructure, and proximity to the US.

What are the biggest positives and negatives to living in Olon in your opinion?

Two reasons that we enjoy Olon are the beach and the community.  The Malecon has quite a few thatched roof restaurants to choose from, all with an ocean view.  Olon is very clean and graffiti-free for the most part.

The community here is wonderful.  This includes the ex-pat community as well as the locals.  When you live here, you have to be part of the community.  The area is too small to hide out.  For example, when there is a local wedding or Quinceañera, the street in front of the family’s house is blocked off.  A festival tent is put up, and speakers the size of small trucks are put on a stage.  The whole town gets to experience the event, whether you are invited or not.

Olon, it seems to us, is a town in which not much is hidden away.  People are out on the streets day and night, visiting, sometimes drinking, and often dancing.  There are several events a year in which local dance groups compete against each other.  Because we live near the square, we have seen and heard them practicing the moves for months.

One midnight I heard something besides techno-pop music in the square; it was more traditional Andean music.  I woke up my husband and we watched a dance troop of about 20 people in Andean costumes dancing in their little black slippers, with wide straw hats in their hands.  Then the men bowed, put their hats on their heads, lifted up the ladies and spun them around in unison, and then moved away.  The traditional dancing went on, without conversation, for 4 dances.  Then they turned the music off and walked silently away.  My husband and I looked at each other in amazement.  Another Brigadoon moment in Ecuador!  We have never seen the dance troop since.

We wake up to the smell of bakeries close by, and go to sleep to the smell of grilled meat at Leila’s.  Sometimes the local wild donkeys add their “perfume” to the air.

One thing that is a challenge for us are the stray dogs, or the dogs with neglectful owners.  As dog lovers, we find it difficult to see the condition of these dogs.  One friend is in the process of working with a vet to build a dog shelter, in which injured strays can be taken for treatment.  She is also starting a spay/neuter center.

Approx how many resident expats live in the area?  Are there any weekly meet ups new expats should know about? 

There are Saturday afternoon meet ups in Olon and in Montanita during the high season.  Wednesday nights alternate between Olon and Montanita.  There are many formal and informal get-togethers.  Sometimes the magic just happens spontaneously at a local tienda on the highway.

I am not sure how many ex-pats live in the area, but over the year I am guessing around 200.

The ex-pat community is very welcoming and just plain nice.  There are inconveniences to living here, and we try to help each other.  For example, it can be difficult to get certain greens and veggies here.  Many people have gardens and share seeds and produce.

There are quite a few ex-pats who have built houses here, and they are extremely helpful in providing advice, contacts, and sources.  My husband and I are grateful for our friends and neighbors here every day.

Locals who live in Olon year round are always very nice, too.

What is there to do in and around Olon?

We have a book group that meets monthly, and ex-pat meet ups on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Bird watching is superb.  Beach activities such as surfing, boogie boarding, swimming, and just walking the miles of beach are just outside your door.  You can go outside every day.  What’s a little drizzle now and then?

We usually see friends whenever we walk outside our door.  Visiting is high on our list of fun activities.

Because we live at the beach all year, we are very happy when it’s Monday.  From Monday to Friday morning, we usually have the beach to ourselves, even in high season.

We are never bored, even sometimes when we want to be!

Where do you do your shopping? 

We do the majority of our grocery shopping in La Libertad.  We put ice in the coolers and load up any friends who want to go along.  It is usually 4 to 5 hours for round trip for travel and shopping.  We go about every 10 days.

It’s important to keep a good shopping list, as there is no running back to the store easily.

Some fruits and veggies, as well as eggs, are available locally.

Do you go to Montanita often?  What for? 

We go to Montanita to go to the bank, for surf board repair, and for our monthly Book Group.

What are rental prices like in the Olon area? 

Rental availability depends on time of year.  A rental that is $300 in the off season may be $800 Jan – March.  Longer term rentals are mostly found via social contacts, and are rarely advertised.  It may take a while to find what you are looking for if you are very restricted in what you can tolerate, price range, or location.

If someone wanted to rent a house, my suggestions are:  find any place you can afford for a few months in the area, meet your neighbors and talk to people.  You will probably eventually find what you want.

Understand that there are times in the center of Olon in which sleep is impossible due to celebrations in the square.  Friends that live over a mile away can hear the music.  Sometimes our dog hides under the bed and whimpers, it is so loud.  This is part of the coastal culture and there is no reason to fuss about it.  It is all part of the package:  if you are part of the neighborhood, we are all in this together.

What are average purchase prices in the area?  Know of the prices of any actual transactions? 

We searched for a lot to build upon in October/November 2013.  We bought a small lot about a half mile back from the beach.  Beach front property is available, but it is at least $100 per square meter.  Lots away from the beach can vary, but in Olon at the time we were looking were averaging $40-$50/square meter.  Land up in the hills may be as low as $20-30 per square meter.  Those lots may have additional costs for bringing in electricity and water.

Prices are going up and up.

What businesses does Olon lack and need? 

It would be very handy if Olon had an ATM.  We have to go to Montanita for cash.  There is currently one ATM in Montanita which can give more than $100, and there is a Banco Bolivariano bank with a teller and an ATM (usually $100 limit).  There is often a long line to use either ATM or to get to the teller.

The other business that would be handy is a larger grocery store.  There are small vegetable stands and a mini-Tia which has many staples.  It would be nice to have more variety close by.

Where in Olon would you recommend to live, which sectors?  And conversely are there any areas of Olon or nearby to avoid? 

Olon is very small, as are the towns north of here.  There is a choice between being right in town in Olon, on the beach, or up in the surrounding hills.  It all depends on what you want.

The main thing to understand, in my opinion, is that some of the remote areas just out of town can present access challenges during the rainy season.

Dos Mangas, to the east out of Manglaralto, has very nice lots for sale if you have a car and would like to be more up in the hills.  City water is available quite far up the road.  It is very beautiful, with jungle-like greenery yet only 20 minutes from the beach.

Where do you go for your healthcare needs? 

As far as healthcare goes, there is a doctor on the main square in Olon, and he is open several days a week.  We see him if we have a bad cold or tummy troubles.  Our regular doctor is in Cuenca, where we still have an apartment, so we see him for our regular checkups.  There is a small emergency clinic in Manglaralto, about 20 minutes from Olon.

People who are thinking of relocating to this area should be healthy and mobile.  If you have a chronic health condition in which you need to regular be treated, it is likely that you will need to go to the Salinas area (1.5 hours away) or Guayaquil (3 hours away) if you need to see a specialist.  It is a lot different from Cuenca, where several large, modern hospitals are a short taxi ride away.

People should realize that part of the charm of the area is that it is not yet as dense as Salinas, but that also means that the conveniences and amenities are fewer.  This includes serious health care.

Where do you fly into or out of?

Guayaquil is the closest major airport.  Olon is about a 3 hour bus ride or car drive from the GYE airport.  The roads are new and very good, with a new “cutoff” near San Vicente just opened in the last year.  This saves a lot of miles.  NOTE FROM DOM: JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO FLIGHTS STARTED GOING TWICE A WEEK FROM QUITO TO SALINAS.

Do you have a car?  Do you feel like you need one living in Olon?

People ask us whether it is necessary to have a car to live on the coast in Olon and the nearby communities.  While my husband and I have a car, many of the ex-pats in the area do not.  The ex—pat community is wonderful here, and we all pitch in to help each other.  For example, you cannot take a dog on the CLP bus, so we often car pool to take our dogs to the specialty vet in Guayaquil.

There are very good local drivers for the day if you need to pick up large items, although the saying is “If an item is smaller than a VW bug, you can put it on the bus.”

For about one dollar, you can take a taxi to Montanita.  The bus runs several times an hour during the day for 40 cents.

There is very good bus service to Guayaquil, and in fact if we are just going to Guayaquil for the day we often take the CLP bus.  The CLP is a “4 Star” bus, very clean, and the movies are PG rated.  (I have seen some horror flicks on other buses that have made me cringe.)  The CLP buses can be found at the Guayaquil Terminale Terrestre at window 83.  The cost is currently around $6.00.  It leaves Guayaquil at 5:00, 6:00, 9:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 16:30.  The CLP leaves from their bus station in Olon and goes to Guayaquil at 4:30, 5:30, 9:45, 12:45, 14:45 and 16:45.

Between Olon and Puerto Lopez, or Olon and Salinas, there are currently no high speed buses, but the local buses run all day.

Over the course of the year, what’s the weather in Olon really like? 

We have been told that, weather-wise, this has been a “weird” year.  Normally in January and February, it is hot during the day and heavy rains at night.  We have seen very little rain this Jan and Feb.  Our experience is cool, dreary and rainy June to November, with a few days here and then of brilliant sunshine.  November to May is mostly sunny and very warm, or hot.

We do not have aircon.  We use fans and stay almost comfortable on very hot days.  Some of the ex-pats have aircon in the bedrooms.

My husband and I actually like the off season very much:  the beach is wide open, it is nice and cool, and the town is pretty quiet.  It is a good time to get to know your neighbors.  There were times, though, that we went to Cuenca just for a bit more sunshine.

Any new infrastructure developments in the area of note? 

More streets in Olon have been paved in the last year.  Other towns nearby, including Curia and Las Nunez, have had street paving projects.  Our water is “city” water, and we do not have a cistern.  There are times when the water is turned off, either for maintenance or from usage.  In Olon, as in most of the small towns here, sewage is handled via individual septic tanks.

How do you get internet in your home?  How do most access the Internet, is it tough to get? 

My husband is retired, but I have clients in the US.  I need to have reasonable internet.  We have 2 internet connections at the house:  CNT ($30/month) and Interdatos ($35/month).  We have both so that we generally have one up if the other is down.  Also, I can be working while my husband is talking to family on Skype.

Like a lot in this area, either you can go to Santa Elena to fill out paperwork, or you can have someone help you.  In our case, friends helped us get both internets set up.

How can we get in touch with you if we want to know more? 

Please email Michele at mythprojectecuador@gmail.com.  I can provide info on our book group (second Monday of every month), on the new dog shelter, and any other help I can give.  We are all in this together.  Thanks for listening.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides, Expat Lifestyle

An Ecuadorian Real Estate Tale of Woe

I got this email this week from a subscriber in distress…

A definition of “woe” is “things that cause sorrow or distress; troubles.”

The suggestions that I am about to share are what my husband and I learned from our personal tale of woe as it relates to buying an apartment on the Ecuador coast.

Here are 10 suggestions that we learned on our odyssey to purchasing an apartment.  For example, we learned the hard way that there can be a big difference between the purchase of and the owning of real estate in Ecuador.

We began the purchase process in January, 2011, and gave the final payment for the apartment June 2011.  We are still waiting for the deed almost 3 years later.

Suggestion #1:  Be weary of purchasing an apartment in an unfinished building.  Just because a crew is working on a construction project today, does not mean that they will be there tomorrow, or that the project will ever complete.  (It took 6 extra months to get our interior finished, but it is now finished.)

DOMS TAKE:  THE RULE IN ECUADOR, ´DONT PURCHASE WHAT YOU CANT SEE (UNLESS YOU GET IT VERY VERY CHEAP AND ARE WILLING TO TAKE THE RISK)´ IS A GOOD RULE TO GO BY, SERIOUSLY!  I FOLLOW IT.

Suggestion #2:  A notary is an attorney, but he is not your attorney. A notary is responsible to review each contract from a legal perspective.   That does not mean that they can keep you from signing away your rights, and apparently it also does not mean that they will make sure that real estate law is written into the contract.

Suggestion #3:  Get your own attorney.  Depending on where you are from, you may not be used to bringing an attorney to the closing.  It is vital that you do this.  In our case, our first attorney facilitated many meetings with the builder in the attempt to get our deed.  I am sure he meant well.

DOMS TAKE: I DONT AGREE WITH THIS, ADDING AN ATTORNEY TO THE EQUATION CAN OFTEN BE A COSTLY MISTAKE AND FURTHER COMPLICATE THINGS AS MOST ATTORNIES IN ECUADOR WILL GLADLY TAKE YOUR MONEY WITHOUT HAVING THE SLIGHTEST CLUE OF HOW TO HELP YOU.  ONLY ADD AN ATTORNEY TO THE MIX IF THEY COME HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BY A TRUSTED NEUTRAL SOURCE.

Suggestion #4:  There are multiple levels of meaning in real estate contracts.  There are the written words in Spanish, the literal translation, the verbal explanations to your questions, the actual law, and then real estate law that can be enforced.

For example, there was a clause in our contract about capital gains taxes.  Despite the explanation at the closing, we later learned that the underlying meaning was that we were responsible for the capital gains tax for the entire apartment building up front, not just on our apartment and not just when we sold our apartment.  This meant payment of the capital gains taxes when the builder registered it with the city. At that time, since taxes would need to be paid on all improvements to the bare land, we were on the hook to pay what was expected to be many thousands of dollars. We were able to get this clause in the contract changed later by a different attorney.

DOMS TAKE:  THIS CAN HAPPEN IN ANY COUNTRY, I THINK THE PROBLEM HERE WERE THE THINGS LOST IN TRANSLATION BECAUSE MAYBE YOU DONT SPEAK GREAT SPANISH.  GOOD TO HAVE CONTRACTS PROFESSIONALLY TRANSLATED BY A NEUTRAL THIRD PARTY YOU HIRE.

Suggestion #5: If you are buying any real estate that is under construction, make sure that you include a penalty clause for quality of construction and time to complete.  You must make that penalty large enough that it has everyone’s attention.  You must do this no matter what anyone tells you.  If you cannot get this, then walk away.  Walk away before you give them a penny.

While you are at it, get a penalty clause for delivery of the deed.

DOMS TAKE: BETTER YET DO AS ECUADORIANS DO AND FOR PRE-CONSTRUCTION ONLY AGREE TO FORK OVER A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE PURCHASE PRICE FOR RESERVATION, FOR EXAMPLE SAY $2,000 ON A $60,000 CONDO.  PAY IN INTERVALS AND TRY NOT TO PAY A LARGE PERCENTAGE UNTIL THE PLACE IS FINISHED (ECUADORIANS ARE PARTICULARLY BAD AT FINISHING) AND YOU HAVE YOUR TITLE LEGALLY REGISTERED.

IF YOU LET THEM BULLY YOU INTO PAYING EVERYTHING OR ALMOST EVERYTHING UP FRONT THAT IS THE LAST TIME YOU WILL EVER SEE THEM, SERIOUSLY!

Suggestion #6:  Have your attorney confirm that your building and apartment are legally registered with the city.  Our first attorney said everything was ok, in that the developer owned the lot, the construction permits were proper, and it was legal for them to sell apartments.  None of this was true.  Make sure the attorney shows you the papers.  Then have a different attorney check the papers.  Update: Recently the land ownership, the permits, and the permissions have all been resolved with the municipio.

DOMS TAKE:  THIS IS ACTUALLY EASIER TO CHECK THAN MANY REALIZE IN THE LOCAL MUNICIPAL OFFICES ALL UNDER ONE ROOF YOU CAN RESEARCH BUILDING PERMITS, BUSINESS LICENSES AND MORE.

Suggestion #7:  This is really important.  Do not make that final payment until you have the deed.  Until you have the deed, all you have is a promissory note to someday get the apartment deed.  You need the deed to sell the apartment, as well as to legally rent out the apartment, and to get an electric meter.  The holder of the deed is on the hook to pay the alicuota (home owner’s fees.)  If you are waiting to get the deed, you are not responsible for paying the alicuota.

We had been assured up front that we would get the deed on our apartment 3 days after we made our final payment and took possession.  After we paid the builder the final check and moved in, they told us that we would get the deed “surely within 6 months,” or December of 2011.  We are still waiting as of February 15, 2014.

While we are talking about payment, make sure that the checks are made out to the building company, not to an individual.  Make sure they give you a signed receipt. Cancelled checks are not considered a receipt.

DOMS TAKE:  A GOOD LAWYER CAN OFTEN HELP CLEAR UP TITLE ISSUES, BUT IF A PROPERTY LOOKS LIKE IT MAY HAVE TITLE ISSUES, STAY AWAY, ACTUALLY IT IS EASIER TO CHECK UP ON THAN YOU THINK, EACH PROPERTY HAS A TAX ID NUMBER (PREDIO) SURROUNDED BY OTHER PROPERTIES WITH TAX ID NUMBERS AND THE TITLE IS REGISTERED IN THE PROPERTY REGISTRAR WHICH YOU CAN VERIFY, IF IT IS NOT REGISTERED DONT BUY IT UNTIL IT IS.

 

Suggestion #8:  Be careful of having your visa tied to real estate.  Since we own a promissory note and not an apartment (because we do not have the deed/escritura,) it is fortunate for us that we do not have our visas tied to the apartment.  We have been told that if a visa is tied to a particular piece of real estate, that a new visa would be required if that real estate is sold.  There is a cost in time and money to transferring visas.

DOMS TAKE:  AGREED!  BEST TO GO FOR A PENSIONERS VISA BASED OFF A PERSONAL INCOME SOURCE OR A PROFESSIONAL VISA BASED OFF YOUR COLLEGE DEGREE.  AN INVESTORS VISA SHOULD BE THE LAST CHOICE.

 

Suggestion #9:  It has been our experience that there is no equivalent of real estate title insurance in Ecuador.  Proving ownership of real estate is a problem in Ecuador. Hundreds years of European occupation, various coups and revolutions, discrimination and land confiscations have created a mess when it comes to proving property ownership.  This is a huge ongoing problem.

How gladly I would have paid the few hundred dollars for title insurance.  It would have been far less than the attorney fees we have paid and continue to pay.

DOMS TAKE:  ACTUALLY ITS NOT SO BAD NOR ANY WORSE THAN IN NORTH AMERICA, THE USA WAS ALSO COLONIZED AND HAS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OF OWNERSHIP HISTORY.  JUST DIFFERENT SYSTEM.  ACTUALLY THERE IS TITLE INSURANCE (AMERICAN TITLE FOR ONE IS HERE) BUT NO ONE GETS IT BECAUSE IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE.  I PREFER TO BUY PROPERTIES THAT HAVE HAD THE SAME OWNER FOR A LONG TIME AND BUY FROM OWNERS WITH ROOTS THAT INSPIRE A BIT OF CONFIDENCE AND ARE EASILY LOCATABLE IF YOU NEED TO FIND THEM.

 

Suggestion #10:  Be lucky.  We hired “experts”, we bought from one of the most famous builders in Ecuador, we hired translators, we stayed on top of the process, and we continue to nudge the building owners to do the right thing.  We have been nice, we have been tranquilo, we have been polite pests. We have been impolite pests.  So far, nothing has moved the builder to give us our deed.

DOMS TAKE:  ITS DIFFERENT IN THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES LIKE ECUADOR.  PEOPLE BOTH RICH AND POOR HAVE BEEN ON SURVIVAL MODE THEIR WHOLE LIVES SO THINGS LIKE ´ETHICS´ AND ´DOING THE RIGHT THING BECAUSE ITS THE RIGHT THING TO DO´ DONT EXIST.

THE ONLY THING THEY RESPECT IS FORCE OR THREAT OF FORCE, YOU GOT TO SHOW YOUR TEETH SOMETIMES DOWN HERE.  IT IS WHAT IT IS.

THE GOOD NEWS IS AT LEAST ITS NOT AS INTENSE AND AS ´IN YOUR FACE´ AS OTHER COUNTRIES LIKE INDIA WHERE I HAVE WORKED.  YOUD BE SURPRISED HOW FAST THEY START TO MOVE WHEN YOU STOP BEING THE NICE GUY.

THIS IS ALSO TRUE WITH GRINGOS WHO HAVE LIVED IN ECUADOR A WHILE WHO OFTEN ATTAIN ECUADORIAN-LIKE BUSINESS PRACTICES.  NOT EVERYONE, BUT IT HAPPENS.  DONT THINK YOU CAN TRUST SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE FROM YOUR HOME COUNTRY!  MAKE THEM EARN IT LIKE YOU WOULD ANYONE ELSE.   THIS WAS THE FIRST LESSON I LEARNED LIVING ABROAD WHILE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC.

Conclusion:  Buying property can be a surprisingly simple, painless thing that takes less than a week start to finish (or it can be excruciatingly bothersome like the instance above).  The key to avoid a similar situation is to not buy something you cant see and to only buy properties with a properly registered, easily verifyable and transferrable title.  Hire professional help if you can find a recommended person.

And to learn how to find the unpublished property deals no one else knows about, subscribe to my weekly Ecuador Insiders Newsletter below, you can unsubscribe at any time:

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle

How to bring your pet to Ecuador hassle-free

I know. I get it.

Its not your dog, it’s your hairy kid.

Leave ‘em behind for your big move to Ecuador. No way.

So how do you bring ‘em? Do you just put ‘em on a plane like a human?

Nope.

The process is more involved, but not as challenging as people think.

First, locate the nearest APHIS (US Department of Agriculture) office near you in the US.

There, they will give you the form you need to fill out with the vet and direct you to a USDA approved vet in your area.

At the vet, you’ll have to have your pet get a rabies shot at least 60 days before traveling. Then within 10 days of traveling you’ll have to go back to the vet and have the dog receive about 4-5 more shots including a parasite treatment. You can see specifically what vaccinations your dog or other pet will need to enter Ecuador here.

With the vaccination forms signed by the vet you’ll need to get them notarized and then stamped by the APHIS office, the APHIS certification will cost around $123 per dog.

Then you’ll need to overnight the forms to your nearest Ecuador consulate for a certification by the Ecuador consulate in your home country.

It will cost around $50 a dog for the Ecuador consulate to certify the papers. They’ll then mail them back.

Next you’ll need to talk with your airline.

Generally, if the dog can fit in a small cage that fits under the seat in front of you, you can take it on the plane. I recommend buying one of those (sherpa) flexible cases so they can be squished a little to fit under the seat. The airlines say maximum height 7 inches but they are generally a lenient with this rule. Obviously, with a cage that size even the smallest dogs will have to have their head ducked to fit.

If you have to ship the dog in cargo under the plane know the big difference between DEM WEIGHT vs REAL WEIGHT.

Beyond a certain size the airlines no longer charge by the weight, but instead DEM WEIGHT which is an automatically calculated weight according to the dimensions of the cage, and its pricey! Go for an airline that will let you get by with REAL WEIGHT.

For instance, to ship a 90 pound dog on United in February of 2014 the cost was $500 (real weight), but it would have been closer to $1500 if shipped via DEM WEIGHT.

Upon arrival in Ecuador, you will have to go to the ADUANAS or customs office next to the airport (in both Quito or Guayaquil) to pick up your pet.

Keep in mind on weekends and Ecuadorian holidays the offices close and your dog will be stuck likely with no food until the next working day! So try to arrive mid-week.

You’ll have to take the original BILL OF LADING which you get when you ship the animal in cargo plus the vaccination papers mentioned above, plus your passport, a color copy of your passport and a copy of your tickets or in the case of e-Tickets your boarding passes.

Try to go with the person who bought the air tickets.

You’ll pay roughly $25 to the Ecuador CUSTOMS (Aduana) and $26 to the AGRICALIDAD official for them to release your pet.

That’s it. Fido made it.

More tips for a seemless process:

1. Go with an Ecuadorian, often they will give you less ‘run-around’ if you go with an Ecuadorian with teeth.

2. For certifying your vet papers try the Ecuador consulate in Arizona, they seem to be more responsive and helpful than the majority of Ecuador consulates.

3. Be mindful of the maximum airline limits for the size of your cage, it may not fit in the airplane door! Check with your airline beforehand.

4. Once in Ecuador, get to your final destination by land, because boarding another domestic flight with big pets will be another costly hassle.

5. Apostilles and translations aren’t necessary for this process as long as you adhere to the requirements stated above.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle

How to get your Ecuador drivers license (without taking courses)

After securing my residency visa and cedula this past month the natural progression is to focus on getting my Ecuador drivers license.

Now, Ive lived in Ecuador for two and a half years now without owning a car, or driving even once.

But more impressively, in that time Ive never even felt like I needed a car!

Thats one big reason I chose Ecuador, the public transport is plentiful and cheap.

I remember spending a day recently in Los Angeles (USA), and I didnt even last 2 hours before I felt the need for car.

The thought that scares a lot of people, myself included, is the possibility that Id need to go back to drivers school, even though Ive already spent most of my life driving.

Well, actually, as I found out this week in the Agencia Nacional de Transito in Quito (where you need to go to get your license) folks with foreign licenses dont need to take the required-by-law $200+ driving course for all first-timers getting their Ecuador drivers license as long as they VALIDATE their foreign license in Ecuador.

To validate your foreign license in order to get your Ecuador drivers license in 2014 bring to the “Agencia Nacional de Transito”…

1-Your original and color copy of your license from your home country.

2-Your original passport, color copy of both your ID page and current residency visa.

3-A “Certificado de la licencia” (certificate of License) as retrived from your countries embassy in Ecuador.  If in another language other than espanol youll need to have the document translated by anyone but you and notarized.

4-Original and copy of your CARNET DE TIPO DE SANGRE or blood-type test as gotten from any hospital or Red Cross in Ecuador.

5-2 Passport photos.

6-Fill in the form FORMULARIO PARA CANJE DE LICENCIA DE CONDUCIR which can be retrieved and filled-in on-site at the help desk in the Ecuador DMV (Agencia Nacional de Transito).

When turning in your documents you will also have to take an eye test and basic on-site, written drivers exam.

You’ll then pay $38, and a week later you’ll get your new license, good for 5 years!

Now, you can drive in Ecuador on your foreign license, but only up to 6 months.

And yes, local transit cops will pester you about it (as they are usually looking for a reason to snag a bribe from a foreigner, so don’t give them one!)

There you have it, you can now drive in Ecuador.

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Got mine, now how to get your Ecuador Cedula

After you get your permanent residency visa to live in Ecuador, doesn’t matter which type, could be the investors visa, the pensioners visa, or even the professionals visa…

…you’ll then have 30 days to get your mandatory Ecuadorian “Cedula”, or official ID card.

The visa, or what is stamped in your passport, is the more complex part, the cedula which looks like a drivers license, is just a formality but you NEED it or they won’t let you travel out of the country.

It’s happened to me.

You’ll pass through the airline check in counter, then at immigration they’ll tell you sorry, you can’t board the plane without a cedula (if you are in Ecuador on a permanent residency visa).

Besides, having a cedula qualifies you for a lot of benefits, especially senior benefits in Ecuador if you are over 65.

Even if you are not a senior, you can still get special pricing on certain things, like for one, trips to the Galapagos.

For instance, foreigners pay $465 round trip on Tame to the Galapagos from Quito right now.  Ecuadorians or foreigners which have perm resident status with Ecuadorian cedulas pay only $250.  And foreigners pay a $100 per head park entrance fee, people with Ecuador cedulas pay only a $10 per person entry fee upon arrival.

Getting your cedula is a recently streamlined, easy process and one I just did myself this week in January of 2014.

Once you pick up your visa that same day I recommend you get the document CERTIFICADO DE EMPADRONAMIENTO which costs $5 and only takes a few minutes to retrieve from the same immigration office that gives you your visa, in Quito its the one near the 6 de Diciembre and Colon intersection.

With that document you will need to wait 48 hours and then go to the REGISTRIO CIVIL (Civil Registry) on Naciones Unidas y Amazonas (if applying in Quito).

You will need to bring the Certificado de empadronamiento, your actual passport and a color copy of your passport ID page and a copy of your current residency visa.

Upon entering the Civil Registry, you will have to take a turn and pay $5 to the bank counter that is within their offices there.

You will then go down the stairs and to the windows 24 and 25 and wait for your turn to appear on the screen.

Once you are called they will photo you, take your fingerprints and then in one hour you will receive your brand new Ecuadorian cedula!

No more need to walk around with your passport, in Ecuador your cedula is everything, you can even travel to nearby Andean countries like Colombia and Peru with just your cedula.

And of course, no reason to pay a lawyer to get a cedula for you!

Important changes since early 2013 (one year ago):  

Prefice: About a year ago in Guayaquil I helped a few friends get their cedulas.  And since then things have changed a bit, for the better!

A year ago, after applying for the cedula and getting your photo taken you had to come back in 3-5 days, not anymore, in one hour I got my cedula.

A year ago, they asked for an apostilled birth certificate, they never asked for mine although I still recommend bringing it down.

A year ago, they asked for proof of civil status, a marriage certificate or if you were single you had to do a really annoying hassle of going to a notary and doing a sworn statement saying you were single (declaracion juramentada).  Not anymore.  They didnt ask for me to prove my single status.

PS.  I highly recommend getting yiour cedula in Quito although you can get it in a few other cities in Ecuador.  Just easier.

Keep in mind.  

Unlike countries like the US, your civil status appears on your ID card, and if you are married then ANY legal transaction you want to do in Ecuador like sell a real property or a car you will have to have your wife sign off on it!

But what if your legal wife or husband is not in the picture?

In Ecuador, you are pretty much screwed if thats what appears on your ID cedula card.  Your transaction will be greatly difficulted or stopped.  So if they arent in the picture go for single if you can.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Q&A, Expat Lifestyle

The Myth about Ecuador Border Runs: How to stay longer than 90 days in Ecuador as a tourist

 
Last week, we covered arguably the easiest way to get a residency visa in Ecuador, and how I got one.

The 9-V Professionals Visa, based off your university degree.

No investment, no pension required.

Believe me, compared to most countries in the world, thats easy!

For instance my brother actually married a Thai girl and he still can´t get his Thai perm residency and has to do costly monthly border runs (like a b*tch).

But Ecuador residency does have its pitfalls, like you have to be in-country at least 9 months a year for the first two years or you could lose your visa.

So if a professonal, investor or pensioner permanent resident visa doesn’t work for you the following may be the way to go.

But the wierd thing is even immigration officials in Ecuador will tell you you can’t do it.

But a friend of mine confirmed, in January of 2014, you can.

The prevailing myth regarding Ecuador tourism is you can only be in Ecuador for 3 months a year on the free automatic visa stamp you get when you enter Ecuador.

They tell you you can’t renew your tourist visa.

And that you only have 90 days a year as a tourist in Ecuador, period.

People plan their whole trips (and lives) around this fact.

Bull sh*t!

You actually can stay in Ecuador for up to 9 months a year, or even more, heck, you can stay perpetually as a mere passer-byer or ‘tourist’ with the following strategy…

It’s proven, first hand to me by a close Canadian friend of mine, as of January 2014.

Enter the country initially with just your passport (valid for more than 6 months) and get the free 3 month visa stamp.  With at least 2 weeks left on your visa stamp apply for the 6 month 12-9 ‘Acto de Comercio’ temporary visa.  You won’t have to leave the country.

Then at the end of the 9 months you’ll have to make a border run to either Peru or Colombia, you won’t even have to stay the night just walk across the border, eat lunch, and come back over.

And you’ll get an immediate 3 month free stamp once again.

Then at the end of these 3 months you’re best to get a 6 month student visa (the 12-5) or the (12-10) 6 month tourist visa without having to leave the country.

For instance there are langauage schools in Quito that will give you your registration papers (what you need for the student visa) for as little as $300.

Then rinse and repeat.

Yes, even though immigration officials are quick to tell you tourist visas in Ecuador are not renewable and border runs will not work either.

I got sucked into the lie once.

I still remember my face at an immigration outpost in Loja with 2 days left on my visa when I was told that my visa was not renewable and a border run would not work.  I don’t know why they say it like that with just a shrug.

No solutions.

You just can’t get the free 90 day tourist stamp consecutively.  You have to follow the strategy above.

But no one told me.

So I overstayed.

I had no choice.

And it was a huge hassle to get ‘legal’ again.

Don’t do that.  Stay legal so you can come and go from Ecuador freely and not worry about being able to get back in the country when you please!

Now you know what I didn’t.

So if permanent residency isn’t your thing at least now you know you can stay in Ecuador for much longer than 3 months as a mere tourist!

And for the complete breakdown of how I got my Professional Residency Visa subscribe to my weekly Ecuador Insiders Newsletter below, you can unsubscribe at any time:

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Q&A, Ecuador Travel Guides, Expat Lifestyle

Ecuador residency visa: No investment, no pension… no problem

I can’t think of how else to put this.

But sometimes I really think Ecuador is kind of like your friends slutty sister.

She may look good from a distance, but the more you get to know her, the less you trust her and although you may have a casual fling with her, chances of a serious comitment are slim.

It may be funny to hear this from a so-called ‘Ecuador expert’, but the truth is Ecuador is a great place for that exciting high risk-high reward 10% part of your portfolio but its certainly not smart to sell everything and invest it all in Ecuador.

Don’t do that! Seriously.

I’m sorry but while (currently) Ecuador is a great place to casually live, and a great place to generate wealth, its not a good place to store wealth and in fact, like many countries in the world, I’m afraid Ecuadors heading in the wrong direction. A lot of factors there. Just my opinion.

Opps, maybe I spilled the beans on that one.

Ecuador, really not much different from any ‘third-world’ country, is certainly not a smart place to park $25k in a CD for a right to a residency visa. This past year alone one ‘real’ bank failed (Banco Territorial), and one ‘coopera’ or credit union-type-thing failed too.

People lost money. Not everyone got paid back.

And contrary to popular opinion, its also not smart to base your visa off a real estate investment valued over $25k, cause if you sell the investment, you lose your visa, and boy would it stink to get stuck in a bad investment and miss an opportunity just cause your money was tied up for your visa.

While many of us, either too young or for whatever reason, don’t count on a steady pension in order to apply for the pensioners visa.

Well, fear not, there’s another little-known option many of us qualify for.

And you don’t have to invest a cent. Nor do you need a pension.

Besides, the only investments you should make are good ones, not ones based on getting a residency visa.

This type of visa is the one I got.

I got it, all by myself, with no help from a lawyer (it wasn’t necessary).

Recently too, I got approved last month.

Introducing the 9-V Professionals permanent resident visa.

All you need to qualify is a degree from an accredited university and to have the degree validated by the Ecuadorian institute of higher education (SENESCYT).

Its actually even easier than it sounds.

You see, Ecuador immigration law is actually quite dated. Written several years ago before there was a sizable demand of incoming migrants. And understandly, countries without much incoming demand have more open doors, cause it doesn’t matter, on the flip side, a country like the US has the doors so closed to immigrants they often have to do illegal stuff just to get in and stay in.

Some countries offer a Professional type visa for college grads, like Australia, but only for certain majors, the specialists they need. Which makes more sense than the current Ecuadorian system if you think about it.

You see, if they’ll approve someone from my major, they’ll take, well, anyone.

Why?

Well, my major was .. duh duh …duh duh… Spanish.

Yea. Damn. Think they got enough Spanish speakers in Ecuador?

If anyone were screwed it’d be me right?

Well, I guess not, I guess they needed one more spanish speaker in Ecuador, and one that speaks with a gringo accent.

Cause I got approved.

But anyway, now you see, any major will do as per the current Ecuadorian law.

So why don’t more people go for this permanent resident visa type?

They just don’t know.

But what if you don’t have a university degree from an Ecuadorian recognized institution, nor a pension, nor the money or desire to invest thousands in Ecuador?

You’ve got another option or two we’ll be covering in the next week. So stay tuned.

Now of course, I did run into a few irritating challenges during the visa application process, mainly due to lack of experience, and they almost costed me the visa!

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My 2014 Ecuador bucket list: 48 Must dos off the beaten path

Hard to find such variety in a country the size of Nevada.

Yet most travelers to Ecuador get it wrong by going to lame, overpriced places like the Otavalo market.

Below is my personal Ecuador bucket list for 2014.

Things I just got to do just in case this is my last year in Ecuador (not planning on it but you never know).

1. Relax to the core all day in the hot springs in the high Andes town of Papallacta.  Afterward have a trout lunch.

2. Take a bike tour down the slopes of the Chimborazo, one of the worlds highest active volcanos at 6000 meters.

3. Take a bird watching tour in the world-renowned cloud forests of Mindo with over 400 bird species and get engulfed in thousands of Butterflies at one of the butterfly farms in the area.

4. Have a drink with women about half my age on the infamous cocktail alley of Montanita.

5. Explore the Puyango petrified forest, one of the largest in the Americas along the Peruvian border.

6. See the most remote area of Ecuador, the Yasuni, in the Amazon region before they start their planned drilling, besdies its my best chance to see big Amazonian game like jaguars, anacondas and pumas.  Another less intense option would be to fly to the city of Coca and go in canoe alng the Rio Napo to an  Eco-lodge.

7. Take the train through the high Andes from Ibarra to Salinas (a different Salinas than the one on the coast).

8. Hike arguably the most beautiful area of Ecuador from the Lagunas de Atillo to the largest waterfall in Ecuador, the San Rafael Falls and the Volcano Reventador area.

9. Visit the Saquisili (near Latacunga) thursday market for an interesting more authentic (less touristy) look into indigeous highland life.

10. Go silver bargaining along the main plaza in Chordeleg (near Cuenca) where silversmiths flex their creative muscles.

11. Try hand-gliding for the first time of the cliffs of Crucita or Canoa on the coast.

12. Bike down the entire Ecuador coast from Esmeraldas to Salinas.  Hope I get to do this one.

13. Watch the Tungurahua Volcano erupt at night from the look out over Banos.  Tours can be arranged in one of the many agencies in Baños. Cost $20 per person.

14. Observe the amazing Pink river dolphins as they frollic in the unique flooded rainforest of Cuyabeño in northern Ecuador.  Tours can be arranged once on the ground out of Quito or Lago Agrio.  Anacondas, monkeys and sloths are also possible to be seen.  Canoe Tours start from $40 per person.  

15.  Scuba dive in the crystalline waters of Galapagos off Wolfe Island where its common to see schools of hundreds of Hammerheads and dozens of whale sharks.  2 Dives start from around $130.  Best arranged once on the ground in Santa Cruz Island near the port in Puerto Ayora with local dive shops.

16.  Snorkel with the worlds smallest penguin, gigantic manta rays, big marine iguanas and (friendly) reef sharks off las Tintoreras on the picturesque snow-white sands and turqoise waters off Floreana Island in the Galapagos.  Day tours to Isabela arranged in Santa Cruz start around $65/person.

17.  Eat two buckets of the locally-famous garlic crab at one of the best crabhouses (Manny’s Crangrejal) in Guayaquil, a city known for its numerous crabhouses.  Near San Marino Mall any taxi will know where it is.  $12.

18. Hunt for fossils along the banks of the Nangaritza River, the only river that connects the Amazon to the Pacific Ocean, high in the Condor Mountain Ridge (Cordillera del Condor).  For more try lindoecuadortours.com  $25-50 /person.

19. Deep-sea fish for Marlin and Whale-watch in August off the calm shores of Salinas.  Trips can be arranged in one of the several agencies along the boardwalk.  Cost: Whalewatching from $20 per person, deep sea fishing price varies depending on amount of people.

20. Visit a coffee farm near Ibarra and learn the whole process from harvest to belly.

21.  Hummingbird watch and observe thousands of butterflies in the cloud rainforests of Mindo.  Tours can be arranged once in Mindo. Start from $20/person.

22. Trout fish in one of the surreal apline lakes in the barren Cajas National Park near Cuenca.  Tours can be arranged with Terra Diversa in Cuenca.

23. Go way off the beaten path and discover the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) of Ecuador’s Amazon.  Extreme adventure available through local guides only out of Nangaritza.  Cost: Highly negotiable.

24. Pamper myself with a the natural mud bath in the mud pools in the dry rainforest of Machalilla National Park and spend the night playing volleyball with the local indigenous and later sleeping in one of their tiki huts.  From Puerto Lopez hire a motorcycle taxi and pay a few bucks from them to take you to the indigenous community of Aguas Blancas in the park.  Cost: $10 for the day tour to the mud baths and $10/person for the night.

25. View thousands of Orchid species and hummingbirds along the well-kept trails of the Podocarpus National Park easily reached in a $4 taxi ride from the town of Zamora.  Free entrance to park.

26Get a taste of ancient Incan life by hiking the 10km trek from El Tambo to Ingapirca, ancient Incan ruins and effectively Ecuador’s own “Machu Picchu”.  You can also take a train, taxi or bus which can be arranged out of Canar.  Ruins Entrance fee $6.

27. Get certified as a glider plane pilot in Ibarra through a one month course with a local flight instructor.  They say if you can fly a plane without an engine you can fly a plane with one.  Course starts around $1300. 2013 prices yet to be released.

28.Learn to kite surf with an instructor against the strangly barren cliff landscapes of Santa Marianita near Manta.  Classes can be arranged on site.  Prices vary.

29. Zip-line through a Banana plantation in Machala and learn all the ins and outs of the interesting business with CristyViajes.  Tours start around $20 per person.

30. Fish for Pirana in Laguna Pañacocha, a beautiful black wáter lake backed by cloud forests.  To get there, hire a local canoe where the Rio Panacayu meets the Rio Napo, to get there you’ll need to take a Nuevo Rocafuerte Canoe hired in the town of Coca.  Price varies depending on season.

31. Soak in the odd street water-wars during Carnaval in February in Cuenca where everyone goes around throwing water balloons and soaking random strangers with water guns.  Free.

32. Hike the Quillotoa Volcano and witness the majestic, stunning turquoise-colored lake in the volcano’s crater.  Can be done solo by taking a bus from Latacunga and getting off near the base.  Cost: $4 bus fare from Latacunga.

33. Mingle with sexy locals dressed to the tilt during the 2 hour river-boat cruise on the all-you-can-drink boat ‘Morgans’ which leaves every night from the boardwalk (Malecon) of Guayaquil. $15 per person includes all you can drink.

34. White-water raft and try kayaking for the first time in the lazy to fierce rivers around the city of Tena where the activities have made the town famous.

35. Explore the rarely-visited beaches north of Esmeraldas while at night dancing salsa to afro-latino beats after eating the local delicacy of Shrimp cooked in spiced coconut milk (encocado de camaron).  I’m sure I’ll feel like I’m in the Caribbean.  Cost: $5-6.

36. Visit the perplexing, friendly afro-ecuadorian community of Chota in the middle of the Andes near Otavalo and have a local Shaman (witch doctor) cleanse away my worries.  Cost: $5 bus fare from Quito.

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USA to Ecuador flights for $322, how much did you pay?

Winter is coming up north.

And expats are on the move.

In fact, most expats in Ecuador like the freedom of flying on one-way tickets. You know, not being locked into a return date. I know I do.

Even though on the government sites it says you need a round trip ticket to enter Ecuador, I’ve flown here various times on one way tickets and have been stamped right in, no problem. Sometimes it depends on the airline and departure point so best to inquire first. But on the Ecuador side, Ecuador immigration doesn’t seem to care much.

For this coming December (2013)-January (2014) most round trip air tickets from the USA to Ecuador are running around $600-800.

But the dilemma is most one-way tickets are generally about the same price as the round trips if searched through the major travel sites and airlines.

After extensive research I did for an upcoming trip back home to the USA, the cheapest one-way ticket I’m finding this upcoming holiday season is to fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FLL) to Panama City (PTY) for $78 (all taxes and fees included) with Spirit Airlines purchased directly through their site spirit.com (in early January).

Then from Panama City (PTY) to Quito (UIO) there is a Tame flight for $244 found doing a search on Kayak.com (Also that second week of January) .

Even directly in the Tame offices here in Ecuador they are quoting prices higher than what’s offered by Tame through Kayak.

Total Miami to Quito with all taxes and fees included = $244 + $78 = $322.

And buying the one way fare going back comes out to about the same. If you try and it comes out higher play with the dates, know the days and weeks around Christmas and New Year prices on travel always jump.

So how much did you pay for your air ticket to Ecuador?

Did you beat my find, where’d you buy your tickets? Offline, online (which website and for what dates)?

Share by hitting reply to this email. Thanks. We´d all love to know!

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Hookers unveil truth about cause of coastal Ecuador title issues

“Man, I haven’t done that since I was a 20 year old in college in Waikiki with nothing to do.” I responded as my friend and I walked the dark streets outside a bar we just visited in Quito.

You see, in the US, for a 20 year old, there isn’t much to do at night except get into mischeif on the street, because almost no night establishment will let you in the door.

So one of our favorite past times was to go to this one street in Waikiki where hookers hung out and chat them up. They are some of the wierdest people you’ll ever meet which always made for interesting conversations.

Now here I was, years later in a dark street in Quito with a friend getting egged on to do the same thing as we approached a corner that always had streetwalkers.

“OK, lets do it.” I was never a match for peer pressure.

We picked one particularly hot looking one to chat up. And as we approached we quickly realized this gal was actually a dude (as is usually the case).

Then when she spoke it was obvious. She was a dude. “Hola mi amor.” she began in her deep raspy voice.

“Hey.” I started in Spanish. “So where you from?” I asked.

“I’m from Esmeraldas.” She said.

“Cool, beautiful area, I was thinking about buying a house there.” I continued, trying to break the ice.

“I have a house there.” She followed.

“Oh really, how much you pay for it?” I asked matter of factly.

“I didn’t, it was a land invasion.” She boasted.

Then two of her friends walked over and joined the conversation.

One of them said… “I also have a land on the coast.”

“Got it through a judgement.” She said. (Which is basically a more legal way to claim unclaimed lands in Ecuador.)

The third one piped in… “me too, I have a land in Esmeraldas also.”

She continued, “My father was a comune member, and was gifted the lot, then he died and left it to me.”

Wow, I thought, so there you have it, on the coast of Ecuador it seems like only foreigners actually pay money for the land.

So when you’re about to buy a property, it’s even more important to research the title history, and look smart by asking for the following documents right away so you don’t waste time on a property with possible title issues with various people making claims of ownership (which is COMMON)…

-Copy of the notarized title (Escritura)
- Copy of the property taxes receipt (Predios)
- Certificate from the Property Registry (Certificado del Registrador de la Propiedad)
- Certificate from the Municipality (Alcabalas)
- Receipt of the Fire Department tax (Certificado de Bomberos)
- Municipal appraisal (Avaluo Municipal)

So there you have it, how streetwalkers in Quito enlightened me about Ecuador real estate.

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Hostal El Viajero died, what happened?

You got to be careful in Ecuador when investing in property, man.

You see, you´ve probably lived your whole life taking for granted a right in the US, Canada or Europe that simply is not held as dear in countries like Ecuador.

The right to sleep in peace.

Seriously.

I remember from my time living in the US if a neighbor was making noise at an unpleasent nightly hour the cops often would beat me to the punch and be over there quieting the people down. If not, a simple call and they’d be there within a few minutes.

Not in Latin America. And not in Ecuador.

Call the cops on a noise complaint. Chances are they don’t even show up.

And if they do show up, the locals probably won’t even take them seriously.

Different culture, different place, different values.

The last 4 months I was leasing Hostal El Viajero here in Quito and using it as an auxiliar second location to my primary business Quito Airport Suites, a small hotel near the airport in Quito.

At the beginning, I saw El Viajero struggling so I swooped in and made a deal with the owner who initially didn’t have plans to lease but instead run it himself.

After a few days I realized what I got myself into.

Right next door was a makeshift, illegal (without permits) dog kennel.

As the weeks passed the kennel grew and at any given moment, at any hour, the dogs could be ticked off and trust me, no amount of sound proofing can help against the thunderous roar of about 50-100 dogs yelping.

We filed the complaint with the Municipal.

We complained to local authorities including the police.

We talked to the owner of the kennel.

Nothing helped, months later the kennel remained, and the hospitality business next door just wasn’t feasible.

I really felt bad for the owner, who must have invested well over a hundred thousand in the construction of an otherwise nice building in a good location. As a renter I simply turned the keys back to him and left.

His problem.

Its absolutely essential before you invest in property in Ecuador to study the surroundings and see if the noise level is to your liking. Cause your surroundings are very hard to change later. You’ll also need a little bit of vision to also see what could be in your surroundings later that may be problematic.

Spend time in an area at different times of the day, and actually spend significant time there before investing. Talk to neighbors. Get the real scoop, you’ll be glad you did.

At the very least, noise level is something you may not even think about before investing in countries like the US because its a non-issue, but its something you should think about in Ecuador.

Especially in some areas the countryside of Ecuador… dog barks and roosters are real noise makers.

In the cities, impromptu parties from a rowdy neighbor or car alarms, vehicles braking and horn beeps can also be an issue.

For instance, is a speed bump right in front of your house? If so, then be prepared to listen to the squeel of brakes at any god-awful hour.

Pass on that property.

In third-world countries across the globe, as in Ecuador, you and your investments are just not as well protected as they are in places like the US.

But not one tells you this before buying.

So due diligence is even more important.

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The top 7 can´t miss ´bargain´ hotels of Ecuador

Come on.

Just admit it.

One of the main reasons you are even interested in Ecuador is because you want to improve your lifestyle while at the same time lower your cost of living.

At least the possibility of such intrigues you.

Well, here are my hand-picked top 7 best-value hotels in Ecuador.  Bargain, nice places that should charge a lot more than they are.

Places where you can feel pampered and pay a small fraction of the cost you would back home.

But most of these aren´t easy to find nor easy to book beforehand (many of them don´t even have websites!)

Maybe these aren´t the cheapest choices out there, but they are the best bang for your buck in their given area.  Here goes…

7. Hotel Prado Internacional (Loja, Ecuador).  This hotel conveniently located right on the other side of the river from the old town in Loja is a four star quality hotel at two star prices.  There is an elevator, an elegant, open full time yet often empty rooftop restaurant with amazing food (try the bacon-rapped Filet Mignon in mushroom sauce for $6), a very friendly staff headed by the owner, Lucia, who speaks English.  The hot water is good, WIFI in room and the rooms are elaborately decorated.  Can´t beat the value for price, singles start for $26/night and doubles start around $39/night.

6.  Hotel Canoa Mar (Canoa, Ecuador).  This hotel is right on the beach in Canoa within walking distance of the town center yet just far enough away not to hear the discos blaring music.  The style of the hotel (laced with bamboo) is just what you´d expect from a hotel in the area.  There is hot water, WIFI in room and each room has its own carefully thought-out design… all for $10 per person.  I stay here when I´m in town.

5. Hotel Hugo´s Place (Montanita, Ecuador).  One block from the beach and a girl´s throw from the center of town, this 2013 newly inaugurated hotel in the center of Montanita is hard to beat for the price.  The rooms have a beautiful oceanview and are nicely finished with cement (to prevent noise and critters from entering), WIFI and hot water are available and rooms start at $10 per person ($12-15 on weekends).

4. Copalinga Nature Lodge (Zamora, Ecuador).  No trip is complete to Ecuador without venturing into the Amazon, yet most eco-lodges (like Kapawi) charge upwards of a hundred dollars a night.  Copalinga has beautiful cabins available right in the thick of the rainforest and within a short walk from the National Park Podocarpus.  Amazing for bird watchers, as dozens of Hummigbirds often buzz around you as you dine for breakfast in the morning.  Prices start around $23.50 per person for one of the older cabins available, newer more luxury ones are also available for about double the price.  Worth every penny.

3. Posada del Rio (Cuenca, Ecuador).  For me, the most stunning area of Cuenca is where the old town meets the Tomebamba river.  Thats where I want to be whenever I go to Cuenca, plus you are right in the middle of everywhere you want to go.  Built into a refurbished old colonial, just as you´d expect from Cuenca, the Posada del Rio is right along the river and several rooms have stunning views of the trickling brook.  This is another lodging option with rooms much nicer than what you would expect they rent for, hot water, WIFI and room service is available.  Rooms start around $15 per person.

2. Izhcayluma (Vilcabamba, Ecuador).  As a hotel owner myself in Quito I have the chance to chat with travelers almost everyday, and almost everyone I talk to who has stayed in Izhcayluma has nothing but great things to say about it.  Pamper yourself getting a treatment in the Spa, soak in the pool, horseback ride, bird watch, hike the trails through the green hills or even visit a sugar farm and watch the process of sugar making.  The service is top notch, the grounds well maintained… single rooms with private bath start around $28, doubles $38, shared dorm beds are also available for $12 each.  Hard to beat the value for your buck in Vilcabamba.

1. Hotel Gala (Baños, Ecuador).  This hotel, mainly frequented by local Ecuadorian tourists, has gorgeous mountain views and is right on the edge of the quiant town of Baños.  Its my pick whenever I´m in the area.  The rooms are borderline luxury, some may even hint at four star quality, and are very spacious.  The hot water is good and plentiful and the decoration is elaborate.  You are also within walking distance of the town center and the spas in Baños.  The only drawback is as of writing there is no WIFI, but sometimes its good to disconnect.  All for bargain prices starting around $12 per person.
 

Got a suggestion for this list?  Submit it here to the Q/A forum…

 

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You’re fired! – What happens in Ecuador

“Hey, step into my office for a minute.”

“Don’t sit down, this will only take a second.” I continued.

“You’re fired, get the f**k out.”

OK, so this wasn’t exactly how it went down eariler this week.

But can’t blame a guy for dramatizing once in a while.

If you’ve met me, you know Im a soft-spoken guy, don’t think I could do it like that.

But due to a change in business circumstances, I unfortunately had to let someone go.

In Spanish, as in Ecuador, its very clear cut. Someone either quits (renunciar) or you fire them (despedir).

Theres no wishy washy middle ground like “laid off” or “let go”.

And when you have to let someone go, as I did this week, its a little different down here.

You have to “liquidate” them meaning pay them a final one-time “severance” payment equal to 25% of all the salary you’ve ever paid them plus any unpaid bonuses due to them.

But first, when you fire someone in Ecuador, or if someone leaves your business voluntarily, you have to go see an accountant who makes the official document (Acta de Finiquito) that needs to be filed with the Social Security Department (IESS) and Ministry of Labor (Ministerio de Trabajo).

Then, a date is scheduled when both you and your employee will have to go in front of an inspector where you will have to pay your employee their liquidation (severance) settlement and both sign off.

Theres really no way to get around this legal process nowadays in Ecuador or your employee can sue you.

Except if you hire the right way.

Which I didn’t this time around. In my case, for an employee I hired making a bit more than the minimum wage who worked for me for 3 months, Im going to have to pay her around $450 for her liquidation.

For instance, one loophole i recently discovered that will allow you to legally not pay the extremely costly 25% lump sum severance payment to your employees in Ecuador when you let them go is to hire your employees on a temporary limited time contract… say for one year.

At the end of the year you let them go for reasons of “contract ending” and then you don’t have to pay them the 25% lump sum liquidation of all the salary they’ve earned while under you. You will only have to pay a much smaller amount equal to any unpaid bonuses due to the employee for that year.

You can then do like most and maybe give them a few weeks off and then hire them back.

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Why dont I receive my mail from abroad in Ecuador?

Since moving to Ecuador, I´ve had quite a few things mailed to me from my original home, the USA.

Problem is… at first, the packages never got to me!

Online the tracking numbers indicated they had arrived to Ecuador. But they still never arrived at my home.

So what happened?

Finally, I figured it out.

Whenever someone mails you something from abroad using the general post, even if they mailed it to your exact street address in Ecuador, it doesn´t matter, it will most likely never make it there.

Instead.

Once you´ve verified the package is in Ecuador via a tracking number that is checkable online…

You have to go to the main office of the post in Ecuador (Correos Ecuador) in your city to pick it up. They may tell you that your package is in the head offices in Guayaquil or Quito.

Go with your passport or cedula, be prepared to pay at least a small fee, usually around $5 and you will be able to pick up your package. Having the original tracking number helps but isn´t absolutely necessary.

But careful, if you don´t go to pick it up within a sort time they will send it back to the original home country.

And they will NEVER inform you of any of this.

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Ecuador a safe haven for enemies of the USA?

I recently got this email from a subscriber…

“I enjoy your emails about Ecuador but have become concerned that it  is becoming known as the safe haven of enemies of the United States.  First it was Julian Assange from Wikileaks, and now it is Edward Snowden.”

My response: 

Well, yes, it is becoming a safe-haven, isn’t it obvious!

This is what happens when a leader plays to his own ego instead of doing what’s truly best for the country.

Maybe, being an oil-producing country with plentiful fresh water sources and extremely fertile farmland, Ecuador really doesn’t need the US, but someday it might.

What I do know is there’s quite a few folks in Ecuador whose clients are primarily North Americans (paticularily in the tourism and exporting industries), and if Ecuador starts to garner a bad rap, than yes, these businesses will be hurt.

Now I hate politics as much as anybody and don’t want to get into it but I look at it like this…

Any little guy like myself with leanings toward dorkiness… yet survived middle school in the USA knows it doesn’t pay to tick off a bully.  There’s nothing to be gained from it, you’re best to lay low, mind your own business and let the authorities sort out the injustices.

If I were Ecuador my response would have been to simply not get involved in the “Assange, Snowden” cases.

But does this effect Ecuador as a quality, safe, inexpensive place to live with a mild climate somewhat near the US that accepts foreigners wholeheartedly?

No, not really.

Most Ecuadorians have family in the US, and feel a special bond with Americans so i don’t think rascism towards North Americans will ever be an issue and it will remain a nice place to live despite these very-political occurances.

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Abusive landlords in Ecuador: Ecuador Rental Law

“Come on man, help me grab her washing machine.” My Ecuadorian friend (and roomate at the time) yelled.

“Naw man, even if she did screw me, and I don’t mean that in the positive sense, I’m not about stealing people’s shit.” I responded.

“Thats how we do it in Ecuador.” He responded.

You see, recently a good local friend of mine and myself were renting an apartment in Quito, and the landlord upon finding out we were going to unoccupy the apartment refused to give us back our security deposit.

So my Ecuadorian friend planned on cleaning her out by taking her microwave, washing machine and random other things… but I eventually talked him out of it.

But as a renter in Ecuador, excuse me, as a FOREIGN renter in Ecuador, its important you know your rights cause a lot of people will try to take advantage of you.

It is what it is.

So what exactly are your rights as a renter in Ecuador? 

Well, this week I was interviewing a friend in the Rental Court of Ecuador (Juzgado de inquilinato) in Quito asking just that.

Me: Security deposits, how much should they be, what is legal?

Response: There is no legal limit as of yet but most folks with nicer properties charge two months worth of rent as the security deposit.

My take: Use your status as a foreigner (us foreigners have a good rep of being good renters so use that as you negotiate) and often you can get the landlord down to accepting one month worth of rent.  Some don’t ask any deposit.

If a property owner doesn’t mention a security deposit, DON’T mention it yourself!  If there is no way around a hefty security deposit but you really want the place, most landlords will accept, and I suggest, that you pay half the security deposit up front and the other half after a month or two, this gives you time to evaluate the property.

Me: If I leave my contract early, does a landlord have the right to keep my security deposit?  

Response:  No, absoutely not, not in Ecuador.

Me: If I leave my contract before it expires, and unoccupy the property, can the landlord come after me for the unused time on the contract?

Response:  No, not in Ecuador, generally, if you notify you’re leaving, unoccupy and stop paying, its over.

Me: What can I do if a landlord doesn’t want to return my security deposit?  

Response: Most Ecuadorians just occupy the property for the amount of time the security deposit would buy them, and leave it at that.  You could also sue them through this office (Juzgado de Inquilinato) and you could get a judge verdict within 3-6 months.

Me:  Switching sides a bit, if you as the owner of a real property in ecuador are renting to someone who stops paying their rent, how quickly can you legally evict them and what is the process?  

Response:  Well, its more complicated than in the US where I’ve heard in many states by the 10th day of non-payment you can get the police to come and get  the tenants stuff placed on the front lawn.

Here after two complete months of non-payment you can file a complaint through this office and within another 1-3 months get a verdict to have them legally booted from your property.  In Ecuador, you can not get someone booted from your property just by going to the police, you need a court order.  If the case goes to the court the judge will order the tenant to pay you for all the time they spent in your property without paying.

Me:  Most foreign investors, like myself, are weary of places (like Costa Rica) where squatters or in this case folks that rent your property for a really long time can eventually gain some sort of legal right of ownership of your property?  True in Ecuador or not?  

Response:  No, not in Ecuador, there is not this risk when renting property in Ecuador.  You may run into this a bit when dealing with seemingly deserted, unoccupied land several people claim title too, but not when renting residences or commercial property in Ecuador.

Me: How can you legally register a rental contract in Ecuador?

Response:  By getting a few copies of the signed contract and copies of both parties’ legal ID and bringing it to your nearest JUZGADO DE INQUILINATO, once here we can give you more specific details or requirements you need to register the contract.

That’s it, now hopefully you won’t find yourself trying to lift someone elses washing machine!

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How I lost $49k overnight in Ecuador

Picture this…

You sell your business. And after paying off your debts put the profit in the bank. A cool $49k.

Then you see on the news your bank, one day working as usual, and the next, closed!

And your moneys gone.

No, its not the 1930s, thats exactly what happened to me this week here in Ecuador.

I had my money in a month-to-month CD making 9% APR in COOPERA LTDA, the “credit union” that closed its doors this week.

What happened was the board of directors was accused of money laundering through several accounts by the government which caused a run on the bank. Then two days later the order came from the government to close shop altogether.

All in a matter of 3 days within this past week.

Didn´t matter the cooperative was one of the largest in Ecuador, had been around almost a decade and had 106,000 accounts opened.

Was this a government take-over or a highly sofisticated, well-planned bank ´buy-in´ where an insolvent bank orchestrates their own sudden demise effectively bailing themselves out? Who knows.

All I know is Im out almost $50k, and it sucks.

But now you know what it cost me about $50k to learn, that you shouldn´t have your money in Ecuador banks or cooperatives, at least any significant amounts.

Don´t do it!

There is a reason Ecuadorians don´t trust their own banks and prefer to store their wealth in real estate.

In foreign countries they´re not dumber or less-developed than you, really, everything is the way it is for a reason. You just gotta stick around long enough to learn it.

So one visa type you should throw out is the investor visa based on a CD worth over $25k… screw that! Best to go the route of real estate.

I´ve always believed it wasn´t how much you had in the bank, but your income stream that can make or break you.

This belief will now be tested considering I just lost all my “liquid” savings and am now starting from zero.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Expat Lifestyle, Investor News/Analysis

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