By Liam Higgins
Cuenca’s municipal transit authority estimates that more than 500 foreign residents 65 and older purchased pre-paid city bus cards in 2017 at the discounted rate of 12 cents per ride. Full fare is 25 cents.
“It’s a fabulous deal that proves age has its benefits,” says Cuenca expat Jim Wilkins. “I understand the fare is going up in a couple months and the ride will cost me another two or three cents. I believe I can handle it.”
Wilkins says the 50% discount on international air fare is the biggest benefit for him and his wife. “We travel back to New York twice a year to see our family and the discount saves us thousands of dollars,” he says. “We’re planning a trip to Spain later this year that we could not have afforded without the savings. The discount actually works out to about 30% or 40% since we still have to pay the taxes and airport fees.”
Wilkins and wife also take advantage on a variety of other discounts offered by private companies and the local and federal government, including breaks on taxes and utilities, and reimbursement of taxes on food and household items. “Not counting the travel, we saved almost $1,200 last year, which is a significant amount of money in Cuenca,” he says.
Wilkins says his largest savings come through refunds for food and medicine purchases.
The price breaks are available to all Ecuadorians 65 years and older, as well as to expats who show a cedula or passport confirming their age.
According to Wilkins, who has assisted several of friends in taking advantage of the tax discounts, the paperwork and bureaucratic hassle are worth the return. “There are rules you have to follow that seem intimidating at first,” he says. “It’s similar to claiming tax deductions in the U.S. You have to be able to document what you’ve paid, keep your receipts, and you have to keep up with the changes in the rules which seem to happen on a regular basis.”
Besides the estimated number of expat seniors buying city bus passes, there are no statistics showing how many expats take advantage of other price and tax breaks. “We only keep a record of the total number of passengers who receive the discount, both Ecuadorians and foreigners,” says an employee at Latam Airlines, who says that hundreds of discounted flights are sold each month in Ecuador to North America.
The cantonal property tax office in Cuenca says about 25% of tax bills are discounted each year under the senior discount.
Wilkins says he has no qualms about accepting the discounts. “I have discussions with other expats who believe they should only be for Ecuadorians and I say no, check the law. They are for all residents 65 and older,” he says. “As a resident, I support this community and this country through taxes and volunteer work and other efforts, and feel entitled to what I receive under the law. If the government decides to change the system, I would certainly understand. Until then, I will continue to take advantage of what they offer.”