By Sara Chaca
To borrow a page from the great American poet, Robert Frost, and his possibly most famous poem known as “The Road Not Taken”, when moving to Ecuador, virtually all Expats are plagued with the very necessary decision of, WHICH RESIDENCY VISA PATH SHALL I CHOOSE???
Well luckily, that choice, while certainly not one to be made on a whim, can in fact happily be made over say, a bottle of wine..
In this article, I, Attorney Sara Chaca, will very simply discuss the 4 (or 5 as you’ll see..) most common Ecuador Visa Types, covering each of these Residency Visa options, point by point, in an easily understandable and straightforward manner, so as to be both practical and actionable for anyone desiring to move to Ecuador (or to even perhaps change one’s type Residency Visa for monetary or work reasons).
The more “technical aspects” of the various document types, such as required Background Checks, Apostilles, Legalizations, Ecuadorian Consulate Certifications, Notarization/Translation of Documents, Plane Ticket Booking Requirements, Dog & Cat Importation, Cash & Gold Transport, etc., were already previously covered by me in another recent article that I wrote, which is readily available to be sent via email by me to any Expat who wishes to request same be forwarded to them.
That all said, let us delve right into the heart of the matter, with a general review of each of the presently available Ecuadorian Visa types for Ecuadorian Residency purposes. And in so doing, please note that the following Ecuador Residency Visa options are available for BOTH Ecuadorian Temporary Residency as well as for Permanent Residency in Ecuador, which naturally is/are fully dependent on how long and in which way(s) an Expat qualifies to reside in Ecuador..
1. & 5. – “Pensioner Visa (Retirement Visa) / Rentista Visa”:
The Pensioner Visa, as you might already have guessed, is by far the most common type Residency that Expats apply for when moving to Ecuador. Because, it is simply hinged on the fact that the Expat has a “Guaranteed Pension” for life that is issued or provided by either Social Security, a prior Public Employer or past Private Employer (even “Life Only” Annuity Contracts issued by typically Private Insurance Companies also serve just fine for obtaining the Pensioner Visa itself). For this type visa, one just needs an original “Pension Benefits Letter” from the issuing institution, stating that the Beneficiary (i.e. the guaranteed monthly income recipient) is receiving a minimum of $800USD per month that is promised for life to the Beneficiary (an additional $100 per month for life is necessary in the case of any Dependents of the Beneficiary who are also moving to Ecuador, such as the Beneficiary’s Spouse, Children or Grandchildren).
The above mentioned “Pension Benefits Letter” can NOT usually be one that is printed off of the Internet or issued by snail mail once per year or quarterly. Instead, it generally must be one in which the Beneficiary either visits in person or calls to the local Pension office (i.e. an in person visit to the local Social Security Administration or a phone call to one’s former Public Employer or Private Employer, etc.), and this Pension Benefits Letter is usually required to be signed by an authorized representative of the Pension office. As well, the name of said authorized representative should also be printed legibly on the Pension Benefits Letter (if possible) and/or a “Stamp” be provided from that such office, at the bottom of the Pension Benefits Letter, so as to add some, “pomp and circumstance”, to the authenticity of the Pension Benefits Letter. Please note that this additional requirement of a “Signature and/or Stamp” is simply to further certify the sanctity of the Pension Benefits Letter for the Ecuadorian Immigration Ministry, and has nothing whatsoever to do with any personal preference of mine as an Immigration Attorney.
** Aside from the Pensioner Visa, it is important to note for purposes of this article, that a very similar type visa for Residency purposes is called the “Rentista Visa” (this is the “de facto” #5 of the most common Residency Visa types, even though it can’t/won’t be indicated as a formal #5 Residency Visa type by itself in this article..). The Rentista Visa, under the new Ecuadorian immigration law, is itself SUPPOSED to allow virtually any person who has a current recurring non-guaranteed income from any source (i.e. from either their job/work, business or client consulting, real estate rentals or trust distributions), to be able to apply for Residency in Ecuador on that basis. Technically, the Rentista Visa applicant’s income requirements are subject to the same exact monthly income requirements (monthly income amounts) as with the Pensioner Visa mentioned above; that being a minimum of $800 per month, plus an additional $100 per month for any Dependent, such as the Beneficiary’s Spouse, Children or Grandchildren. The difference however, is that with the Pensioner Visa, mentioned above, the income must be guaranteed for life, whereas with the Rentista Visa, the income does not have to be guaranteed for life, and therefore a person’s income can/will vary from year to year (even perhaps varying month to month) as to the amount of the person’s once again non-guaranteed income. As this “technical #5 Residency Visa type” is the NEWEST type visa that is now available for Expats, it is still subject to interpretation/reinterpretation by the Ecuadorian Immigration Ministry (to date, very few “Rentista Visas” have been issued, due to much confusion surrounding the issues cited above, though the basic “Pensioner Visa” type indicated above (which is once again ONLY applicable in the case of Guaranteed Pensions for the rest of one’s lifetime), is and has been issued at a frequency of often dozens per day across the various Immigration Ministry offices throughout Ecuador). **
2. “Investor Visa”:
This type visa is the second most popular, and is one in which someone who does not have a Pension sufficient for a Pensioner visa, simply INVESTS money in any Ecuadorian Bank Account as their qualification for moving to Ecuador, OR who Invests in any Real Estate Property in Ecuador (or technically even in any actual Business in Ecuador – though that “sub-type” of Investor Visa necessarily has more requirements that vary based on the form of actual Business Investment..). For the more general form of Ecuador Investor Visa type, one only needs to invest a minimum of $39,400 in an Ecuadorian Bank Account at the time of this writing (plus $500 additional is necessary to be invested in the case of any Dependents who are also moving to Ecuador, such as one’s Spouse, Children, or Grandchildren). Alternatively, instead of investing in an Ecuadorian bank account, one can instead invest in any Ecuadorian Real Estate Property with a minimum “Tax Assessed Value” of $39,400 at the time of this writing (plus $500 additional in “Tax Assessed Value” of the Real Estate Property is necessary in the case of any Dependents who are also moving to Ecuador, such as again in the case of one’s Spouse, Children, or Grandchildren).
If one elects to go the Bank Investment route, then their above mentioned $39,400 (or so) investment amount in an Ecuadorian Bank Certificate of Deposit (Ecuadorian Bank CD) is at all times 100% guaranteed insured and protected by the Ecuadorian Government in the event of Bank or Financial Cooperative default (similar in function to the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Guarantee in the US). The Investor typically earns 6-9% interest per year on their invested money (naturally this fluctuates yearly and also from bank to bank), and if the Investor ever decides to leave Ecuador or become a Citizen of Ecuador, then the Investor can and will take back 100% of their own personally Invested Funds (as it is ALWAYS the Investor’s own money, regardless of how or where it is invested).
If one instead chooses the option of a Real Estate Property purchase in Ecuador, then as stated above as an alternative to making an Investment in an Ecuadorian Bank CD, so long as the “Tax Assessed Value” is equal to or greater than the above mentioned $39,400 (i.e. the Tax Assessed Value depends on things like the purchase price of the property, the Municipality’s evaluation techniques where the property is located, and improvements or dis-improvements to the property as the case might be), then this will generally also qualify one for the Investor Visa in moving to Ecuador.
Though for either type Investor Visa, it is mandatory now for each Visa applicant to show a minimum of $394 MONTHLY RECURRING INCOME FROM ANY LEGAL SOURCE as of this writing (i.e. from one’s job, business, real estate rental income, annuity, disability payment, pension, etc.), and this ONLY needs to be proven by the person printing their “three most recent months of bank statements from their bank’s online website” that evidences that they receive this income each month (no notarization or legalization thereof is required for the bank statements).
3. “Professional Visa”:
This type visa is often preferred by those who either (or both) do not have a Pension sufficient for a Pensioner Visa and/or who do not have funds sufficient to invest in an Investor Visa, but who do in fact have a Foreign University or College issued Bachelor Degree or other type third or fourth level University or College Degree (and even Retirees who DO possess guaranteed lifetime pensions and/or who have sufficient funds to invest in Ecuador oftentimes PREFER a Professional Visa for the inherent flexibility that it provides). Besides a Bachelor Degree, one’s Degree can also (or instead) be in the form of a Masters, PhD, Medical Doctor, Juris Doctor, etc., which in such case “can and will” serve as one’s general qualification for becoming a Resident of Ecuador. Though as well, it is mandatory now for each Professional Visa applicant to show a minimum of $394 MONTHLY RECURRING INCOME FOR THE BENEFIT OF EACH PERSON FROM ANY LEGAL SOURCE (i.e. from one’s job, business, real estate rental income, annuity, disability payment, pension, etc.), and this ONLY needs to be proven by the person printing their “three most recent months of bank statements from their bank’s online website” that evidences they receive this income each month (once again like was with the Investor Visa mentioned above, no notarization or legalization thereof is required for the bank statements).
Also with respect to qualifying for a Professional Visa, the authorized Degree Approving Institution of Ecuador, known as SENESCYT, needs to review and certify the preliminary/final approval of one’s Foreign Degree, Mode of Study Letter and/or Transcripts, depending on if one’s University is on the “Approved List of SENESCYT” (most degrees from the US, Canada, European countries and Australia/New Zealand are either already on the approved list for SENESCYT or in the alternative, are in my experience highly likely to be approved by SENESCYT).
When hearing of the Professional Visa, many people ask the following question..Why would the Ecuadorian government permit the Professional Visa option if the majority of persons moving to Ecuador are of retirement age and not likely to work or teach in Ecuador in the future? The simple answer is, no one quite knows for sure..However, the more seemingly likely answer is, that the Ecuadorian government simply holds Foreign Degrees in high regard, and hopes (but does not require..) that the Foreign Degree holder in coming to Ecuador will “directly or indirectly” become a positive influence on Ecuadorian society and maybe at some point will elect help educate/train Ecuadorians in or of their areas of past apprenticeship and/or current expertise.
4. “Amparo Visa”:
This type visa is meant for EITHER foreigners who legitimately meet, fall in love with and marry an Ecuadorian Citizen or Ecuadorian Permanent Resident, OR whose other immediate family member (i.e. parent or child) is already an Ecuadorian Citizen or Ecuadorian Permanent Resident. It is unique among all of the visa classes for Residency, because it allows one to IMMEDIATELY become a Permanent Resident of Ecuador (therefore eliminating the need to first obtain an Ecuadorian Temporary Residency Visa), and without any major financial or educational qualification needed by that person to be apply for his/her own visa in Ecuador, since he/she will in this case be attached to their spouse or other immediate family member that is already an Ecuadorian Citizen or Ecuadorian Permanent Resident. And so, all one needs in order to obtain it (besides supplying one’s always necessary background check documents with legalization[s] and complying with the general immigration procedures of Ecuador), is to prove via Marriage Certificate or Birth Certificate (whichever the case may be..), the marriage or familial relationship with respect to whoever is or will be sponsoring the immigration of their spouse or family member to Ecuador. Naturally of course, this type visa exists so as to encourage family members living abroad to move to Ecuador, as well as to help foreigners move to Ecuador to be with their Ecuadorian Citizen/Ecuadorian Permanent Resident spouse and/or other family member(s). Though as well, it is mandatory now for each Amparo Visa applicant to show a minimum of $394 MONTHLY RECURRING INCOME FOR THE BENEFIT OF EACH PERSON FROM ANY LEGAL SOURCE (i.e. from one’s job, business, real estate rental income, annuity, disability payment, pension, etc.), and this ONLY needs to be proven by the person printing their “three most recent months of bank statements from their bank’s online website” that evidences they receive this income each month (once again like was with the other type Residency Visas mentioned above, no notarization or legalization thereof is required for the bank statements).
And so, while there are indeed several other type Ecuador Residency Visa options that are available to those having the desire or intention of moving to Ecuador (such as a Work Visa, Religious Visa, Student Visa, etc.), probably well more than 95% of all Expats who move to Ecuador (or who aspire to move to Ecuador), do in fact by either necessity, personal preference and/or plain desirability, elect one of these 4 (or 5..) above mentioned and in depth discussed Residency Visa qualification types. As, these above discussed Residency Visa classes comprise the vast majority selection of all Expats, in their collective pursuits of becoming part of our community, as both fellow Ecuadorian Residents and beloved Ecuador Expats!
Sara Chaca (Attorney -‐ Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.