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 faced with decision of which residency visa path they should take.
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 will discuss the four (or or possibly five) most common Ecuador residency visa options, point by point, in an easily understandable and straightforward manner. The information may also apply to someone who wants to change from type of visa to another.
For information on documents required and the various steps required to apply for a visa, please refer to my previous columns.
Please note that the following Ecuador residency visa options are available for both temporary as well as permanent residency 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. It is based on a “guaranteed pension for life” issued or provided by either Social Security, a prior public employer or private employer (“life only” annuity contracts issued by private insurance companies also fulfill this requirement). 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 $800 USD 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 “Pension Benefits Letter” can not be printed off the Internet or issued by regular mail. Instead, it must be one in which the beneficiary either visits in person or calls 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 must 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 as proof of authenticity. Please note that this additional requirement of a signature and/or stamp is to further certify the letter for the Ecuadorian Immigration Ministry.
** 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 several different possible sources OTHER than from a salaried job (i.e. from either their formally owned foreign business/corporation, real estate rental property owned anywhere in the world, retirement plan distributions such as those from an Individual Retirement Account or 401[k] Plan, and revocable/irrevocable trust distributions), so as 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.
- “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, can invest money in any Ecuadorian bank account as their qualification for moving to Ecuador, or invest in any real estate 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 $27,020 in an 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 a spouse, children, or grandchildren). For real estate, the required investment is a minimum “tax assessed value” of $30,880 (plus $500 additional in “tax assessed value” of the real estate for dependents).
If one elects to go the bank investment route, then their above mentioned $27,020 (or so) investment amount in certificate of deposit (CD) is 100% insured by the Ecuadorian government (similar in function to the FDIC’s deposit insurance guarantee in the U.S). The Investor typically earns 6 to 9% interest per year, depending on economic conditions, on their invested money and if the Investor ever decides to leave Ecuador or become a citizen the investor can and will take back 100% of their invested funds.
If one chooses the option of a real estate purchase, so long as the “tax assessed value” is equal to or greater $30,880 (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.
For either type of investor visa, it is mandatory now for each visa applicant to show a minimum of $386 monthly recurring income from a legal source (i.e. from a 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 proves they receive this income each month (no notarization or legalization required).
- “Professional Visa”
This type visa is often preferred by those who either do not have a pension sufficient for a pensioner visa and/or who do not have funds sufficient for the investor visa, but who do in fact have a foreign university or college issued Bachelor, Masters, Ph.D., Medical or Juris Doctor degree or other type of third or fourth level degree (and even retirees who possess guaranteed lifetime pensions and/orwho have sufficient funds to invest in Ecuador oftentimes pefer a Professional visa for its flexibility). It is mandatory now for each Professional visa applicant to show a minimum of $386 monthly recurring income from a legal source (i.e. from a 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 proves they receive this income each month (no notarization or legalization required).
For the professional visa, the authorized degree approving institution in Ecuador is 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 U.S., 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).
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.
- “Amparo Visa”:
This type visa is meant for either foreigners who meet, fall in love with and marry an Ecuadorian citizen or permanent resident, or whose other immediate family member (i.e. parent or child) is already a citizen or permanent resident. It is unique among all of the visa classes for residency, because it allows one to immediately become a permanent resident (therefore eliminating the need to first obtain a temporary residency visa), and without any major financial or educational qualification needed. All one needs in order to obtain the amparo visa (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, the marriage or familial relationship with respect to whoever is or will be sponsoring the immigration of their spouse or family member to Ecuador. It is mandatory now for each Amparo visa applicant to show a minimum of $386 monthly recurring income from a legal source (i.e. from a 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 proves they receive this income each month (no notarization or legalization required).
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 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 is a Cuenca attorney who specializes in providing legal services to expats. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 099.296.2065.