Cuenca News

Why do expats go home? Why do they move from one expat location to another?

Editor’s note: Originally from California, Rick Ingle describes himself as a “student of expatriation.” Rick has lived overseas since 1984 in the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Panama, and now Ecuador. He has lived in Cuenca since 2011. He’s currently interviewing English-speaking expats in seven countries about their overseas experiences, which he plans to include in a book. 

By Richard Ingle

Being an expat is hard.

Expats meet with U.S. embassy officials in 2011.

Somehow, that fact is lost in the media hype that seems to suggest that living in a foreign country is easy, cheap, and romantic. As someone who has spent almost half of his life overseas — and happily so, for the most part — I can tell you that the hype paints an unrealistic and incomplete picture.

According to a 1999 survey by the London School of Economics, the average time an expat spends overseas is about three years before going home. The survey focused on British, Canadian, and Australian expats but, from my 30 years of living abroad, it squares with what I’ve seen personally. Also from my experience, I believe the average time frame as an expat seems to be shorter in Southeast Asia — at least among English-speakers — but slightly longer in Mexico and Panama.

My research and experience also lead me to believe that the three-year expat time-frame is about right for Cuenca and Ecuador.

Why expats go home

In exploring the reasons why expats return to their home countries, I’ve found that many of those leaving have a “cover story” for their departure and often aren’t completely forthright about the underlying reasons. They disguise the real reasons so they don’t appear to be “failures” to other expats, as well as to friends and family members, many of whom will say, “I told you so.”

The cover stories are usually similar: “Mom is sick back in Texas and needs us; there’s an employment opportunity that simply can’t be passed up; our daughter is going through difficult times after a divorce and needs our support; we didn’t realize how much we’d miss the grand kids; I need surgery and am more comfortable having it done in the States.”

Of course, some of these are perfectly legitimate reasons for going home; sometimes, family problems simply cannot be ignored. In most cases, however, when I pressed those who were leaving, I found other  factors led to the decision to leave.

Cuenca’s first Gringo Night in 2007.

The overwhelming reason for leaving is discomfort with the language in particular and the culture in general. This is a broad category, of course, that covers an inability to communicate with locals, an inability to understand customs and traditions. Ultimately for many expats, this leads to homesickness for life in the home country.

Here are some representative comments from my interviews with expats leaving Ecuador. Most of those departing asked to remain anonymous, so I use only an initial and their city as identification.

I miss the things I grew up with and have never really felt at home in Ecuador. I miss the way we celebrated Christmas in the U.S. I miss Thanksgiving. I miss my favorite foods. And I’m embarrassed to say it, but I miss going to Walmart.  J., Salinas

I can’t learn Spanish even though I took classes, and I’m tired of feeling like a child. Basically, I’m a functional illiterate and need to go home to be in a place where I’m not.”  M., Quito

My wife gave me an ultimatum that I would either go home with her or the marriage was over. I want to stay, but she’s homesick and wants to go. I chose the marriage, but I hate to leave Cuenca.  L., Cuenca

Because of our language problem we always hang out with other gringos. We go to the restaurants where the gringos go and where the help speaks English. We go to events that we know other gringos will attend. I have to admit that we’re kind of afraid to venture out into the real Ecuadorian world, which is one of the reasons we came here in the first place. You have to be honest with yourself.  T., Cuenca

After being in Cotacachi for two years, I realized how much I missed my old friends, my poker night, and playing golf — the old routine, really. And our kids have never come to visit even though they said they would. B., Cotacachi

Expats on a Cuenca 2012 tour.

It’s not easy to ignore your mother and kids when they ask you to come home. What can you say when your 90-year-old mom says she lives in continual fear of you being so far away and in a ‘third world’ country. Or, when your children say they feel like you’ve abandoned them? D., Cuenca

I simply can’t hack it. That’s the best way to say it. My wife and I spend most of the time in front of the tv watching U.S. programs which we mostly hate. We hardly ever go out, even with other gringos. The problem is that I wasn’t happy back in Arizona either. I spend too much time complaining when I know I should just shut up. I’m one of those expats you read about in social media. Maybe I’m just a miserable person.  H., Cuenca

Why expats look for greener pastures in Ecuador

Having lived in five countries and 14 towns and cities, I understand the desire to pull up stakes in one place and try out another. Call me a serial expat if you will; I admit many of my moves were in search of greener pastures and a fresh start.

Within Ecuador, a significant number of expats (about one in four, I’ve found) move at least once within the country.

Why do they relocate? “Olón is too hot, too cloudy, and too buggy; Cotacachi is too small and doesn’t have good medical services; Vilcabamba is full of wackos who want to tell you how to live your life; Cuenca is too cold and has too many expats; Quito is too big and dangerous and polluted.”

In my research of intra-Ecuador expat migrations, I found that Cuenca is the net gainer of all the popular expat destinations in the country, meaning that, overall, it’s the destination of preference. One man I interviewed used the “Three Bears” analogy, saying that after living in three other towns, Cuenca seemed to be “just right.”

Here are some comments from my interviews with those who have relocated within Ecuador.

I thought I would like the big city life in Quito and I did enjoy the concerts, the restaurants, and all the rest. After two years, however, I knew I wanted a slower pace and someland to grow a garden, so I moved to a farm between Otavalo and Cotacachi.  C., Otavalo

Cuenca expat bar scene, 2010. Credit: Vistazo

Cuenca turned out to be too big for me and I didn’t have many expat friends who believe in my alternative lifestyle. In Vilcabamba, even though it’s more dangerous, I have many kindred spirits.  R., Vilcabamba

I liked the beach, but I also like going to the symphony and art galleries and good restaurants. I wanted a larger and more diverse expat community. Even though Cuenca is a little too cool for me sometimes, everything else is exactly what I wanted.  A., Cuenca

Why expats look for greener pastures in other countries

And then there are those who, like me, cross international borders looking for greener pastures. Here are some comments from former Ecuador expats who left for other countries.

I’ve read a lot about Panama and wanted to give it a try. Nothing against Ecuador. I just want some different scenery. It also helps that I’ll be closer to the States and it will be easier to go home and visit my kids.  J., Boquete, Panama

Although I liked Cuenca, I like San Miguel (Mexico) better. The expats here have more class and sophistication. They have more money and live a better lifestyle. I also like the fact that the bars and restaurants have a better selection of liquor.  R., San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

I visited Arequipa (Peru) and fell in love with it. There are almost no gringos here, but I think it will catch on and be one of the ‘next big things.’ I just got bored on the coast in Ecuador. There’s not much to do and the gringos there were way too gossipy.  W., Arequipa, Peru

Expats who look for greener pastures, then return to their first choice

And then, there are those who leave for another city or country and then come back to their original expat destination.

My husband and I decided we wanted a European experience. We love the culture and pace of life there, or thought we did. We moved to a picturesque little town in Andalusia, in southern Spain. We thought we had found paradise. Unfortunately we were burglarized twice and my husband was mugged. We also found that the locals hate Americans and we weren’t able to make many friends. We didn’t really consider how bad the economy is there and how many people are unemployed; it’s not a good situation. Anyway, we’re happy to be back in Cuenca, though a little worse for wear.  B., Cuenca

I thought I would like San Miguel de Allende, but it turned out I didn’t. The place is full of American phonies who want to impress you with their big houses and how much money they have. Most of them appear to be alcoholics. I visited there thirty years ago as an art student and have to say that the gringos have changed San Miguel for the worse since then. So I moved back to Ecuador.  K. Cuenca

I thought Medellin would be more modern, more like the U.S., but after I moved there I found that it isn’t and besides that, I decided I don’t want something like the U.S. anymore. I also found out that Colombia is much more dangerous than Ecuador, something like five times more murders per capita in Medellin than in Cuenca. There is also terrible poverty there that you don’t hear about in the media hype. Once you go out of a few nice neighborhoods, conditions are terrible and people literally live in cardboard shacks. So we’re back in Cuenca where I should have stayed all along. W. Cuenca

Well, we fell for the big talk about how great Portugal is, that it’s the ‘place to be’ and all that. Once we settled in the Algarve area, we found out that the locals didn’t like us and that there are hardly full-time expats. It’s a vacation area, not a place where foreigners live year-round. We came back to Cuenca, our tails between our legs. But we feel like we’re back home. R. Cuenca

In summary

In my interviews, I find that prospective expats too often fail to thoroughly research a move overseas; many make the decision with only a brief visit to their new home or even no visit at all. The same is true for those moving from one town or country to another; a little homework pays big dividends.

Most importantly, I think, is understanding that a move overseas isn’t as easy as it’s made to sound and that the frustrations can and will seem overwhelming at times. Along with your homework and due diligence before becoming an expat, be prepared for a lot of soul-searching afterwards, accompanied by the possibility of more big changes in your future.

Updated and reposted from December 2014

  • Bettye Petersen

    perfect points and a good read

  • Cece

    My husband and I have been living in Salinas, Ecuador now for two years. We have visited Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Cotacachi, Otavalo, Bahia, Canoa, Olon, Montanita, Ballenita & Playas. We know we made the right choice in choosing Salinas but have come to the conclusion that we only want to be here during the better weather months. Mainly Nov to May, the rest of the months are too cloudy and gray for me, you must understand I grew up in Seattle so have had more than enough clouds & overcast! What we decided is that we will travel June-Oct in search of the sunshine, sometimes to visit family & friends back in the states but mostly to explore other countries. Will we find a location we like so much we ‘put down some roots’ and call it our ‘new home-away from our Salinas home’? I don’t know but what an adventure it will be in exploring the possibilities!

  • Larry

    Thanks for one of the first seemingly honest stories that I’ve read about expatriation.

  • katherine anne

    I appreciate this topic for its candor and honesty. Expat life is definitely not for the faint of heart, and to learn an absolutely new language in middle age is challenging. We impulsively moved to a remote mountainous location where we could afford a farm on our income. As a result, we are isolated from the cutural perks we took for granted in the US. We are now considering a move to Cuenca, based on the relative wealth of cultural and intellectual activities there compared to our present situation. Our grasp of Spanish is good, and we have friends here, but they still think we are grazy gringos. and few of our friends & family are brave enough to come and visit, because it is not a huge tourist destination..

  • judie

    We have made about 7 or 8 trips to Europe, staying anywhere from a month to a couple of years. We are from the states and have been here for almost three years. We are very tired of fighting traffic to. cross streets, mediocre symphonies, no plays, museums all the same, no operas or ballet, bad beer and cheese and lack of a culture we enjoy. We want to see tulips and daffodils in spring, warm or hot summers, leaves changing colors in fall and even a bit of snow in the winter. We want good transportation to visit other countries for a week at a time so yes, we are leaving and returning to Europe to live.

    We enjoy the people here and find them mostly very friendly and warm, have never had a problem with crime, unlike in the US. Language has not been a problem. We do see a lot of what we call the Wal-Mart crowd coming down, and those who think they are better than the natives here and walk around with their nose in the air. We ride the buses and don’t go to the grunge hangouts. We will miss very much the frienss we have made, both locals and those from home and other countries, but time to enjoy a culture we miss being here.

  • Cheryl Ibarra

    Thanks for an insightful article. Many of us have lost friends here who’ve moved back to the States or on to Geener Pastures elsewhere. This explains a lot.

  • Lisa

    Attitude is everything. You can be happy anywhere with the right attutude. I am 50 years old and I have move 21 times. I have been happy in every place I have lived. From the broken down mobile homes to the 6 bedroom house with a pool. Currently I am living in Cuenca (almost 2 years) and love it!!! It is not the place but the person. I have been married to the man of my dreams for 33 years and where ever he moves me….I am happy.

  • Monte

    Great information Rick. It seems that about half of the people that come here do end up leaving. I too have been wondering what the “real” reason(s) was.

  • Lorrie Beno

    You write that making the choice to move to a new location is a failure and people are deceptive and try to cover their reasons. If this was a valid theory then everyone who doesn’t live in their parents ancestral home is a failure. Have you every heard that life is a book and those that don’t travel read only one page? Or have you decided that if you travel for 364 days it’s a vacation and 365 days it’s a move and failure if you ever move again?

  • Cathie Brethauer

    Being an expat. can be a lot of work, thrilling, fun, and frightening all at the same time. Life here is different than in the US, that’s for sure!! The great thing about being an adult is that one always has the freedom to change her mind.

  • Carol Mitchell

    Thank you for the candor and honesty in this article. my husband and I have been looking at the coast of Ecuador for a year or so, but we are not young, 70 and 80 years, and you touched on the point of language, missing folks and grandkids back home, and how expats spend their time around other expats, mainly as that it their comfort zone. These are all areas that I was concerned about. We really wanted warm weather in the winter, and a lower cost of living. Ecuador also uses the US $ and our Canadian $ is very weak, we would loose about 15c per dollar. So I think we will stay put, as we have are still concerned and cannot see much information on end of life preparations in Ecuador. Love your article.

    • L.L.

      End of life preparations are essential … several very good questions .. the first one is if you have chosen cremation … if you plan on cremation .. then expat living in Ecuador is some of paperwork .. Ecuador LOVES it’s paperwork … Death Certificates .. you need lots of original copies .. certified .. and ready for all of the places that will need it .. never plan to die on a holiday … traffic and road blocks may keep the crematory from picking you up in a timely fashion .. and if there is a delay .. you must be embalmed until the cremation .. if it is going to be longer than 24 hours … after cremation ,, your remains can be taken home .. scattered where ever .. or saved until the surviving spouse passes away ,, then both can be taken at the same time by family … IF YOU ARE MORE CONSERVATIVE .. and prefer to have your body shipped stateside for burial in your family plot .. there is a service .. like an insurance policy .. that for a set fee premium .. will handle all of the documentation …. exit visa … and transport casket to your local home cemetary for opening of grave and other graveside services etc … PRE-PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL .. but you decide what you want .. make your wishes known .. and get a dependable attorney to have all of your documents signed .. apostille if necessary … and be ready to contact everyone to carry out your wishes … we were the caretakers of a friend who passed away on our shift .. so all of the information is from research, observation .. and my own preparation … hope that helps answer your questions …Linda

  • John Thompson

    Very good article. Gets right to the point with no apologies.

  • Audrey Morris

    Reading the article and comments, it is obvious that the ability to happily expatriate is a function of the prior travel/life experiences of the couple involved and the strength of their relationship. Most expats, especially those who do so in search of cheaper prices, will flop about like fish out of water.

  • ST

    The “life” you have prior to moving away, is the life you’ll bring with you.

    If that life style is dependent on things you cannot bring with you, then you’ll not “make it” wherever you go.

    If you must have particular “elements” available to you in order to “live” your life, and they are not here, well, you won’t make it!

    Guess moving to EC is how some people figure out their needs. I guess it can be an expensive lesson for some, but you can’t knock them for trying!

    • Mike Bluett

      This makes a very good point, especially in my case. I never realized how much I value peace and quiet until I came to live in Cuenca. People here have no sense of consideration for other people’s privacy as most people do in Canada. They could care less if they disturb anyone. So, it comes down to whether I can either find a place where it is peaceful enough or whether I can adapt and just accept the noise. 1.5 years and counting.

  • You didn’t mention those who come but don’t expect to stay. We consider Ecuador “our next adventure,” and have no intention of “coming here to die.” When we came (14 months ago), we expected to stay 3 to 5 years, and then try somewhere else. Don’t know where we will go next, but I will be surprised if we are still here in 10 years.

    Of course, we moved to Berkeley, Calif in 1988, also expecting to stay 3 to 5 years. Our next move was to Ecuador 25 years later, so who knows?

    We have visited 55 countries (Iceland last month was #55) in our 42 years of marriage. Always as a tourist though, jump in for 3 weeks, then back to work. Once we decided to retire, we thought it would be nice to do 3 years instead of 3 weeks. Get a chance to live a different life and see things from a different perspective. Someday, we might even return to the States. We never ruled that out. We’ll just see what country grabs out interest next.

  • This is a wonderful project Rick. My dear wife Rachel so far puts up with my passion for Ecuador and largely embraces it but with somewhat less enthusiasm. We bought and lived in a high rise gringolandia condo (Palermo) in Cuenca for a year. We still love Cuenca and love to return there to visit many dear friends and to enjoy the culture, upscale shopping and eating, free concerts, and the magic of Parque Calderon.

    Rachel and I are both country folk. I’m from Iowa, Rachel from Oklahoma. We embrace small town living and being close to the earth. We’ve visited the coast and spent a couple weeks in Salinas, a beautiful climate. We can appreciate those who love it there but for us the draw to ‘have our hands in the soil’ and to enjoy what we consider the ‘perfect’ climate was irresistible in Cotacachi. We plan to travel more around South America in the future, but this is our home and for those things of the heart, it is all here.

    Speaking for Rachel, it is the grandchildren and the four seasons that she misses most.

    I think many people when researching a place to live look at a narrow focus rather than the big picture. Even here in Cotacachi there are drawbacks. Most of the drawbacks are related to other gringos who fail to remember why we came here in the first place. They will always look for something ‘more perfect’ and want to impose their negativity and personal misery on others. From where we live we can walk down a beautiful rustic road with our dog 365 days a year in perfect comfort. Mt. Imbabura preens on one side and Mt. Cotacachi on the other. I meet Antonio Jose along this path frequently. He herds his two cows along this road. We stop and visit each time. His toothless smile belies a life of hardship but he is happy without a big screen TV, a golf membership, or trips to the south of France. Antonio is representative of all classes of Ecuadorians who live here that relish encounters with gringos willing to reach out. You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish, just learn enough to communicate. It is good for your brain and your spirit.

    Drawbacks to Eden? Actually, a few. Just can’t think of them right now. If I want to turn my negative side on I’m sure I can find a complaint or two.

    Last night I walked Dodger to town. We live a mile and a half outside of town. When we got to Parque Matriz there were people all around the ornate nativity scene in the middle of the park. The joy and wonder of the beautiful families who surrounded it reminded me of why we fell in love with it here.

    Cotacachi is not for everyone. I’m glad it is not! When we get too old to take care of our yard and gardens we’ll probably head back to Cuenca and love it there too. It has to start with our attitude and knowing what your personal value system is. If it is Walmarts and fast food, you may not want to apply. If you believe that North Americans have a the only good value system it would be best to stay home. If you don’t want to expand your mind with a few words in Spanish, stay in Iowa. Others that can open doors without fears, come and visit. We’ll show you around.

    • Christine Vigneri

      beautiful,with the right attitude toward traveling anywhere.

  • Lynn

    I loved this article! I am looking at Ecuador in a year. I’m a single 65 year old female. You reinforced my urge to learn Spanish and I research and take trips there, to see if I’m “running from” the US or
    I really do love Ecuador as much as I profess. Thank You!

    • johninnv

      What did you decide?

  • Excellent article and great facts! I had recently blogged ( about this, asking the question: Why do so many ex-pats “go back?” I find it sad that people can’t be honest about their reasons for leaving. It doesn’t make them WRONG or a FAILURE – but pride takes over when it comes to being honest. If someone ex-pats, even for a few months, they made a play and it just didn’t work. Nothing wrong with that. There is a big world out there to see, and some never leave their box of comfort to even step on a plane and leave their state. So, for those who did give it a try, hopefully it was a positive live-changing experience and they can move on knowing that they did it! I am glad that my husband and I left our comfort zone and are on a great adventure in Cuenca. If we decide to leave and move on or go back to the USA – it will just be another decision we make for our personal lives. It doesn’t mean we didn’t make it. It means we are moving on again.

  • Jane Brunton

    The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of my life in Ecuador

    I have been hearing a lot lately about retirement living in Ecuador and today I read a few blogs on it which prompted this post.

    If there was ever anything this Eliza felt like moaning about it was some of the experiences I had during my decade in Ecuador.

    Before I go on there are a few important things that you need to know about me:
    I am fluent in Spanish
    I am a bleeding heart liberal
    I am a champion of the underdog
    I am a friend to people of all stations in life
    I am a chameleon
    I am a type A personality
    I am a serial monogamist
    I can swear in Spanish and a couple of other languages

    My experience was a little different than the other blog writing Gringos in that I did not even have a Gringo friend or speak English for the first 8 years of my stay.
    I pride myself on the fact that when I find myself in Rome I do my damnedest to do as the Romans do. In other words I am willing to adopt your lifestyle, blend in, learn all I can with great respect and never try to change you or make you feel that I and/or my way of life are superior to you and yours. I will never attempt to exploit you for my own gain.

    Shucks I am just an all round great person.

    But being a type A means that I do have certain expectations….like promises will be kept and I will get what I pay for with a minimum of corruption, coercion and shameless lies on your part.

    This is not a desirable trait for anyone wanting to retire/live in Ecuador with peace and ease. So if you are a type A scoot on by those tempting ads for Ecuador.

    I had fully expected to live there forever when, at 48, I gave up a very good job thereby reducing my pension, gave up my house, family and friends and Canadian style comforts to go and live in a foreign land that I had visited a few times with my Ecuadorian partner. I did this willingly and with glad heart because I was in love with my partner of ten years.

    My basic beliefs were sorely tested and I have come away a very different person than when I arrived.

    The experiences I had there compelled me to utter epithets in several languages, attempt suicide and contemplate murder. Oh and fall out of love.

    I was even jailed for a week on suspicion of murder …charges were unfounded and were dropped. But that is another very long story that will unfold in due time.

    As I mentioned, I have been reading a few blogs by Gringos now retired and living in Ecuador. And trust me if you are not an Ecuadorian you are a Gringo…no matter where you are from or how long you have lived in Ecuador. As my Ecuadorian partner (later husband) found out, if you are an Ecuadorian who has lived abroad you have somehow magically been transformed into a Gringo.

    And if you are a Gringo, even with torn jeans and a back pack, you are rich. If you are rich you are fair game.

    If there is a rule book in this game you will be hard pressed to find a copy. This can result in full blown culture shock as it did for me…Hello! I was the person who prided herself on being a chameleon remember? I simply could not change colors fast enough.

    These blogs I was reading are mostly but not all, written by Gringos living in the relative safety of Gringo herds and sometimes even in Gringo compounds.

    My experience was more full frontal naked exposure. I did my own bill paying, real estate searches and negotiations, visa applications, marriage and divorce and wills by standing, often as the only Gringo in line, for months waiting for documents etc.

    It looks like these people often have the money to hire lawyers and lackeys to do this for them. Plus there is probably a little network of people other Gringos have dealt with and found trustworthy. This helps a lot.

    But as I read the ads and blogs I was brewing up a great little anxiety attack based on my experiences. I decided to write about it.

    Writing has always been great therapy for me. Lately I have been so peaceful and calm that I haven’t written at all! My muse has a name and it is Angst.

    In later posts I will extract some data from my weekly personal letters written home. They were fresh accounts and l hope you will forgive the sometimes bitter and downright angry outbursts as I publicly pick at old wounds. Hopefully in doing so I can expunge painful memories and come to glimpse the beauty I once did and that truly exists there.

    But today is wound-picking day so indulge me a little as I paint a picture of a gold fish that is suddenly thrown into the shark tank at Sea World. The water is lovely and warm and the tank beautifully decorated. You may even find a place to hide (a comfy 3 bedroom bubble with bidet) for awhile but it is still a shark tank after all is said and done.

    To be fair the one thing I don’t know is whether my experience throughout the 90’s would in any way reflect the experience of those ex pats now living there. And let me stress that some seem to have successfully created a little bubble in which they can live with a modicum of comfort.

    But bubbles are fragile and not suitable protection in a shark tank. Bubbles just beg to be burst. You do eventually have to go outside the shimmering fragile walls of your bubble and deal with the aforementioned sharks.

    A crucial thing to know is that Ecuador is not just a cheaper, warmer version of New York City or Podunk Minnesota.

    But Ecuador, since my hurried departure in 2000, has had 11 years (this was written in 2012) more experience with Gringos.

    Maybe by now Ecuadorians are painfully aware of the standards expected by a lot of tourists and particularly by those seeking to live permanently in this beautiful land.

    Or are the Ecuadorians still marveling at the Gringo’s need for things they took for granted at home?

    Things like public washrooms * with actual sinks, with soap and running water to wash your hands, toilet paper, toilets that work, toilets that have been flushed by the previous user, or just simply toilets instead of a putrid hole over which you crouch.
    And one of the most important things to those who have had the misfortune to wear sandals….having floors that are not awash with a gagging melange of several days worth of urine and feces.

    If you ever wondered why the famous colorfully dressed Cholas from Cuenca do not wear underpants it is because when in the country they can go off and squat in the nice clean weeds at the side of the road to relieve themselves with ease.

    In the town they can hike up their **pollera and perch their bum on the rim of a truck tire.They pretend they are just taking a rest instead of taking a leak. Meanwhile the baby joins her by pooping in the gutter and she wipes its bum with her hand and then cleans it on her skirt.

    Oh and that is the same chola that just sold you that luscious slice of pineapple she cut and plucked personally from the tray to hand to you.

    Things like not hearing on the evening news that all banks have frozen accounts and they don’t know when they are opening their doors again.
    Things like applying for a telephone and getting it within a reasonable time frame… not 7 years like the time it took us. IETEL makes even Ma Bell look good.
    Things like expecting there to be a minimum of interruptions to water and hydro that we have come to rely on. Power outages and water being turned off with no warning are weekly facts of life.
    Things like being able to expect that what you are told is true and reliable information. For example: I was once told that I had to come to Quito to sign some documents that would enable me to live permanently in the country.
    This was crucial since months before I had been given 72 hours to leave after my visa expired. I had been allowed to stay on after throwing myself on the mercy of the police and immigration authorities and producing papers to prove that I was awaiting my documents.

    On the bad advice of a family friend I had handed over personal papers to an office owned and operated by a Quiteno family of **tramitadores who for a sum had promised they could perform this feat.

    Several times I had been summoned to Quito to provide more information (and cash of course) but now the long awaited day had arrived.

    After shivering overnight from Cuenca to Quito (10 hours on the unheated bus through the Andes) I found that this family of psychopaths not only had no documents ready but denied ever calling me.

    They exhibited no shame or remorse when I cursed them out and demanded my papers back.

    I was proud of my hard won expertise in Spanish curses carefully nurtured by a multitude of experiences similar to this one.

    I still imagine them slapping each other on the back and laughing heartily not just at my accent but also at the months of misery and anxiety they had caused me with their deceit. Now I had to start all over again.

    But life with Gringos isn’t always as funny as that.

    There are downsides in becoming more acquainted with what Gringos want. You grow to resent them even more because:
    they can live in such luxury in YOUR country.
    they don’t even try to learn YOUR language but instead raise their voices, enunciate more clearly, speak more slowly to you as if you were a mentally challenged child in the mistaken belief that you will understand their language.
    they make faces when their meals are served and laugh among themselves at the strange things on their plates. “What the heck is a ****cuye Mildred?”
    they ask if you have ketchup.
    they are unreasonable when they find there is someone else’s blood on the sheets in their newly acquired hotel room. Yes I actually experienced that. and shudder to think what a black light would have revealed.
    they ask you to turn down the music that is a continual backdrop to Ecuadorian life because “it is so loud it can be heard back in Iowa.”
    they get mad at you when you casually tear up plants in their gardens, pick their roses and then just throw them down on the sidewalk and walk on.
    they get mad when someone has scratched a big capital letter M (presumably for Mierda) on the hood of their cars and keyed the sides.
    they fire you for stealing their things or not showing up for a week when you work for them.
    they shout at you when they find out that the leg of lamb you sold them was actually the leg of a large stray dog.
    they get mad when you torment their pets.
    they get furious when you poison their pets and livestock.

    Now life was not all bad. There was a wonderful climate to enjoy. Unequaled scenery and some moments where people actually were honest and kind…not just pretending to be so that they could screw you in some way.

    My best memories are of my sister in law, her husband and their family. You know who you are and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your acceptance, support and love. I treasure our continuing friendship.

    I have written countless stories of my life in Ecuador, not all of them negative, some funny, some sad, and I plan to share them here so if you are interested please follow me by clicking on the button at the top right or by clicking on the email button somewhere near the bottom.

    That way you will get an update each time I post something…and unfortunately every time I discover a typo and re-post the same story. Sorry…I will try not to do that very often!

    Foot notes:
    * My comments about toilets apply only to the cities. In the country it is a very different and even pleasant experience to relieve yourself behind a convenient bush and wash your hands in a nearby stream. It is only when a relatively new technology such as toilets clashes with misunderstanding of its use in more crowded conditions that these problems exist.

    **Pollera is a colorful wool skirt embellished with embroidery and sometimes tiny mirrors worn by Cuenca’s cholas (country women).

    *** people who supposedly expedite obtaining various legal documents. STAY AWAY from anyone who approaches you offering this service.

    ****cuye is the Quichua word for guinea pig. A very popular and delicious dish in Cuenca.

    • Garry Vatcher

      Jane, Please contact me. Been looking for you since coming back to Ecuador.

  • Diana

    There are also Expats that leave the country again because they lived in a law-less area here just outside of Cotacachi. IF the police comes after violent attacks the investigations are minor – if any at all. With that locals are free to rob and destroy people’s property without having to face any problems! Indigenous in villages close by celebrate 24h parties with blasting speakers and no-one stops them either. So- it’s not only the stupid uninformed gringo that leaves because in order to know these details one basically has to live in that exact spot for an entire year which in many cases is impossible before buying.

    • Mike Bluett

      This is very true: Simple visits for a few months is not going to reveal the true style of life you will have anywhere in this world. Some people say you should come and visit for a few months first. The only reason I would recommend that approach is if the cost of just moving and living elsewhere for a year or more is too great. It usually takes much longer for a decision to be made. Hence the 3 year (or was it 3.5 years) mentioned as the time limit for expatriation.

      If I was living in a lawless place like that I would leave as well. Cuenca, fortunately, is not like that. But it certainly does get LOUD sometimes, which is my biggest annoyance.

  • anon

    Admittedly, after a little more than a year in Vilcabamba, I miss many things about the west. Whole Foods, reliable hot water, really fast internet, my car, culture, night life… the list is long. However, as much as I would love to have those things back in my life I wouldn’t… no couldn’t go back to an authoritarian government constantly in my life, constant exposure to marketing and brainwashing, intentionally toxic water and air, etc, etc… though I do wonder if there’s a better place than Ecuador.

  • Valerie

    It is so important for both people in a couple to agree to expatriate and also to have the same attitude. I agreed because my husband wanted to move so very much. Although we had a lot of happy times and made friends we dearly loved I was never comfortable and felt frequently frustrated. When he passed away unexpectedly in 2012 I moved back to the U.S. as soon as I could. We did travel in Ecuador and it is stunning and beautiful, just not for everyone.

  • Charlie

    By far, the best article I’ve seen on the issue of why we see so many expats come and go so quickly. First, kudos to the publishers of this newsletter for allowing people to actually tell it as they see it. The other two rags have degenerated into smarmy, worthless vehicles that will only allow you to say things if you are politically correct and Minnesota Nice. It is the information that they refuse to print that people actually need to read and it will never be found in GT or GP. Hopefully, Castleman and Morrill will see that the kind of article that we see today in their publication is what so many people crave.

    Let me give you an example. I won’t mention names, but there is a guy that we’ll just call SWIRLZ, who believes that gringos living in Ecuador (and presumably, anywhere else that isn’t their “home” country) are and always will be “guests in their country”. You could have lived here for 25 years, married an Ecuadorian, voted in all the elections and been an active, positive member of the community where you have lived. But in SWIRLZ mind, you are still a guest and don’t have the right to complain about the things around you that you believe are wrong and need rebuke. He believes we have to put up with and never complain about aspects of the culture that are abhorrent, because it is their culture.

    So, in SWIRLZ mind, the infidelity of the culture of machismo and the abuse of women and abandonment of children that the machistas father is just something you have to accept because it is the way things are in their culture. That also means that you have to accept broken promises and tardiness because it is part of their culture. Heck, in some newbie gringo circles, you’re even expected to embrace that nonsense as being “cute”. “Oh, isn’t it cute that mañana doesn’t really mean ‘tomorrow’, it actually means ‘maybe'”.

    Most of my friends are Ecuadorian. I choose them as friends for the values they possess and exhibit in their daily lives. The first thing I look for in a friend of any stripe is honesty and integrity. All of my Ecuadorian friends that possess these two qualities agree that this simply isn’t a culture based on those qualities. They tell me, “Charlie, esto no es una cultura de la palabra” and they are right and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to speak out about those people that perpetuate this shortcoming in Ecuador or anywhere else.

    My father made this pretty simple for me. He defined integrity for me when I was about 10 years old and cautioned me to never confuse “simple” with “easy”. Dad just said that integrity was always doing what you said you were going going to do, when you said you were going to do it. Dad also had a few choice words about honesty. He believed that marriage was sacrosanct and that your spouse should be the person to whom you owed the greatest duty of honesty. Dad would ask me how I could expect a man to be honest with me if I knew he was cheating on his wife? If you ever have the opportunity to ask Ecuadorian women what percentage of Ecuadorian men are faithful, I think you will be stunned by the responses you get if you take the time to ask this question privately and not in front of an audience. That will tell you all you need to know about what to expect in your daily life and business dealings in this culture. If you think that is cute and you have to accept it because it is part of their culture, then you and I are from different planets.



    • Mike Bluett

      Well said Charlie. I am 100% on your side. People think that hiding behind cultural differences is OK. It is not OK. That is just an excuse to let things stay broken. Is that why so many gringos are trying to change the way animals are treated in this country. I don’t think so. This is a group of people saying this is not right and trying to do something about it. This can be said for other things in this country as well. For example, it is not right to drive through a cross walk where people are walking when the light is green in the walking person’s favor. This is arrogance and inconsideration. Plain and simple. And Ecuadorians need some education about being considerate to others. I am not saying all Ecuadorians, but there is a high number that need this education. Blasting noise at the expense of others peace is another thing that is not OK. Not even in Canada where I am from is this OK. Fortunately, there, the police take these things seriously.

      • Gala

        after all this reading I am pretty doubt it’s possible to live there if you are not hippy or homeless in your own country

    • Janny Meerstadt

      your dad must have been a follower of Landmark Education….

  • Thank you for this article and your upcoming book. It’s an essential piece of the equipment you need when expatting. I came here only 2 months ago, alone, from Australia. One thing my daughter – a long term expat in Europe and who dealt with many in her job warned me – is the “3 month dip”. She said everyone has it, at about the 3 month mark, when the exhaustion caused by such a huge move catches up, the novelty and excitement wear off, and people hit the “Oh God, what have I done” patch. She says it’s important to have something really good and fun lined up for then. But for me it was just the last weekend, when, forgetting about cars driving on the right of the road (In Aus as in GB, it’s the left) I stepped in front of a speeding car and nearly got myself killed, to walking my elderly small dog past a house of vicious guard dogs, and one got out and attacked him. Having to fight off a dog attack, and getting my pet home to discover two deep tooth wounds; still a long way off having a grasp of the language and so unfamiliar with the customs (the gas man who promised to come and change my tank not turning up doesn’t help), and I hit the “Oh God,” trough a month early.
    But It helps, I think, to compare these things to events “back home” – also a mistake to keep saying and thinking – I aways say “back in Aus”. Whilst language and culture were not a problem, so much else was. And my wee boy got dog attacked – back there too. It seems slow and hard to meet people, to make friends here I have found. I’ve tried a couple of venues without success. But – I found it much the same after a life on the move in Aus too. So …. you just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, count the things that are good (an electricity bill of $10 compared to $350 in Aus for starters !!), and start again tomorrow.
    I hope I make it to stay here a while. So far, there’s much to like, and not a lot to dislike.

    • Mike Bluett

      I would agree that there is a lot to like and not that much to dislike. I would certainly like to change those few things I dislike though if I could. And like you I hope it works out that I can learn to accept the things I dislike; otherwise, it will be back to Canada (or possibly somewhere else) with me. And if you are finding it difficult to meet people try getting involved ins some social setting. I am rather lucky because I am part of an Ecuadorian family so there is lots to keep me busy. I have visited Aus before and so have something in common with you. If you would like I can always spare some time.

  • Wally Gilbert

    In my case leaving Cotacachi, Ecuador was a medical necessity. My wife had a stroke and I felt it necessary to return to the US for proper treatment. She would have died if we had stayed in Ecuador.

  • Thank you Rick. Excellent article.

  • Dan

    Yes, it’s everything that Gina and I have dealt with. Language and cultural barriers, longing for our old life (shopping) and culture of the States, distance from family and really a new way of life. We spent 2 years in Cuenca and thoroughly enjoyed our time there EXCEPT for the incessant car alarms, loud music, barking dogs and pollution. We made many friends and enjoyed each others’ company often. Restaurants and activities were abundant, but something was missing.

    Gina’s 90 year-old father came with us, because he said that “it would be difficult for us to care for him from so far away when we moved to Ecuador”. As he grew older his health became a concern. We found it difficult to care for him without help. What we found is that there was little qualified help available. This is probably due to the fact that in Ecuador and all of Latin America the family cares for it’s elderly. Gene passed away in a care facility that had just been set up by our family doctor. It was a god-send that Dr Gabe’s facility, Anos Dorados, became available at that time. This caused Gina and I to pause and think that we are not that far away from this same situation and that as we looked around we found that because we all lived in walled enclosures or high rise buildings that were ‘neighbor proof’ and ‘secure’ that we could meet an untimely fate and no one would know.

    We were introduced to Pakakuna Gardens by happenstance in 2012. What we saw made us previously sworn renters to purchase a home in Pakakuna Gardens.

    Pakakuna Gardens is a new, very unique community just outside of Quito near the new International airport. The creators, Claus Egger and his wife Maria Elena have transformed their former home and 90 acres of property into a small community consisting of 1 and 2 story villas and larger residences surrounded by lush landscaping and water features consisting of artfully designed gardens, landscaped ponds and cascading waterfalls. One can feel the magical tranquility and beauty as soon as you enter. The original Pakakuna Gardens is over 30 years old, and is the largest private botanical garden in Ecuador.

    There are no walls that separate us from our neighbors. We found a place where people of all nationalities and ages have come for the quiet atmosphere and friendliness of its inhabitants. The International Airport allows us to be in Miami or New York in less than 6 hours, direct. Madrid and Amsterdam are just slightly more time. We’re 40 minutes from Quito and 30 minutes from Cumbaya, where we shop and enjoy amenities of the city. Our neighboring village of Checa has a population of about 3,000 and provides all of our local needs including tiendas, ferreterias, panaderias, taxis, seamstress, veterinarians, carpenters, electricians and plumbers and medical doctor . We’ve immersed ourselves into this little town and have taken part in the latest Fiesta de Checa and are teaching some of the locals English. (And they are teaching us Spanish!)

    On top of that the climate is mild year round. In Cuenca, Gina’s dad always complained that he was cold. I wish he could have experienced Pakakuna Gardens. I don’t think he would have ever been cold again.

    We believe we have found the perfect place that we can grow old together and look forward to spending our golden years here in Pakakuna.

    • Janny Meerstadt

      o thank you for this….maybe when I get even older than my current 69 years old, being single, and my kids being too busy to live their own lives, even the grandkids in daycare centres etc. I can feel alone at times in this otherwise overcrowded country that is called the Netherlands….

  • Michael hammer

    Thought provoking. we all bring ourselves along. Looking at comments you see the differences we all have. Keep writing.

  • I am myself an expat but here in America, I want to go back to retire in Ecuador because it is my land, my culture, my roots, my friends, my family and the quality of life I get is much better than the one I get here. Here is only work, work, work, bills, bills, bills, and NO TIME for anything…I really feel I will come back to my home land pretty soon. I have lived in the USA for 40 years, I have not forgotten my Spanish, I have learned English pretty well, have my kids here, my Husband (Cuban-American) but I think it is time to leave and re take my roots :)….I plan to come back here once a year and visit my Kids and grand kids for a while and also to have them visiting me in Ecuador hopefully every year!…. 🙂

  • Janet LeBlanc

    Excellent article. While I agree that any move need not be a permanent sentence to stay put until you are pushing up daisies, I noted that a common theme to many who wound up moving back to the states is that they never learned the language. I am always a little amazed that this would not be the number one first thing any expat would do: enroll in immersion language classes to master the local lingo. To me that is Common Sense 101. I think it is also crucial that you LIKE the culture before you decide to relocate abroad. I know I ruled out a number of international locales sight unseen because I knew through my research that aspects of the culture would not suit me – great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there – and we have zeroed in on Ecuador specifically because in many regards the culture is MORE appealing to us than the USA (ie less materialistic and more Catholic with strong emphasis on family). I guess I am a little surprised that people would jump in without thoroughly reflecting on these matters ahead of time.

  • Will

    You missed one… I recently talked to 4 expats here in Cuenca, who are leaving for, basically, the same reason: The current draconian restrictions on importation. Here are a couple of comments that stuck in my mind:

    1. My wife needs medications that are not available here in Cuenca – and we can’t get it through customs anymore… (Selling everything, and returning empty-handed – and probably with empty pockets)

    2. The government is becoming a communist regime. We can’t even order our favorite things and vitamins from the USA.

    (etc – 2 more similar statements)

    I’m NOT LEAVING because of this – but I do find it quite irritating. For the past 5 years that I have lived here. I have ordered various items from the USA throughout the year. Not a great deal of value, but things that are easier to find on the internet and ship in. (Maybe they are here – but I can’t find them easily.)

    In my opinion these importation rules do more for irritating expats, than they gain anything for Ecuador. Typical Ecuadorians don’t order things for shipping into the country.

    So, in the example of the 5 families above (one had a son here, who has a business here, but is returning with is dad and mom) , Ecuador probably LOST at LEAST $500,000 in annual economic input. (I didn’t ask them about their financial status, but they were not “poor white trash”.

    • Mike Bluett

      This is the absolute truth and I hope Correa gets with the game soon. He has done a lot of good things for the country but promoting business isn’t one of them (with the exception of the idea of building a city around a university – something akin to Silicon Valley – but so far it is just a dream).

  • helenaurelia

    As a recently divorced female, I would still like to go through with the plan we had of moving to Ecuador or Panama, on my own. I think this is one of the best articles, and most honest, that I’ve read to date on moving overseas. I am also gathering even more info and opinions in the comments. Thank you for a great read and some very helpful information. I’ve seen your name mentioned in quite a few different articles etc. and also thought it would be great to be able to “pick your brain” for this kind of information. Thanks for that opportunity.

  • dominik

    Even though I haven’t left Ecuador after 3 years, Let’s all be honest, only because its cheap. I did leave freezing Cuenca, I can definitely understand why someone would leave Ecuador all together, Its a totally different culture and most of us will never fit in or understand it completely no matter what, spanish TV, Spanish Concerts, Spanish Radio, Spanish words everywhere, If you are Not fluent in spanish it al sounds like gibidi ghbada blah blah blah, people will always staring at you, always inflating the price for the gringo, Exuadorians pretending to be freindly because they think you are a millionaire btw (if I was I wouldnt HERE) , always the threat of being robbed. Disgusting bland chicken and rice with cold bland corn everywhere. No Krispy Creme, man you really must be trying to save money because, you are really living waaaay below your means and lifestyle, All I can say is just “do your time” I mean use your time wisely and just use the country to save money like the Ecuadorians do when they come to the Unites States but to live the rest of your precious golden years here Is a waste of your golden years in my opinion. Just to think if you die here you will be put in one those concrete coffins in the mountains somewhere with Ecuadorian families, don’t be selfish and do that to your family back home.

  • helen

    Thank you for writing a well considered and honest report on the realities of living in Ecuador. I have lived abroad for the past 20 years, and this is the first place that I have lived where I really do not feel ‘at home’. I like the fact that you are not writing international advertising and can be much more frank than other publications. The reality is that in a society where there are consequences, life is not quite as enjoyable as the advertising suggests.

  • squeeky

    I believe the biggest reason expats leave Ecuador is because they come to dislike the people and the place. I know, it is not politically correct, but there it is. Some expats get tired of the lack of cleanliness, the rudeness of the people, the gringo tax, the endless paperwork, the lack of common sense, the intestinal parasites, etc. They begin to feel a lot of Ecuadorians can´t be trusted, and it´s time to move on. I also think many of those who stay do so because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.

  • Robin M

    I missed my family.

  • Jorge Jurado

    If you do not learn the language, its difficult to understand the culture, worse yet to integrate it. Creating a subculture will only reduce your opportunities to interact with others. If you come from the US, Europe or Canada, looking for the same standard of life, you better have a big budget otherwise you will end up using the toilets, buying the pinapple slice from the chola, paying street tramitadores, etc. the way Jane Brunton describes her experience in Ecuador (sounds like street experience). If you want to have the same things that you had at home, you better stay home. Ecuador is known for the variety of eco systems, climate, nature. If you learn the language you could find your entourage of simple people, complex societies, educated, iliterate, etc, just like anywhere else. Understanding the language and traveling is the way to conclude that people are people.
    For the past decade Ecuador has shown signs of an emerging economy. many Ecuadorians, getting good salaries, small business owners making better profits, and other similar factors, are changing the old perception of the Traditional Rich Gringo.
    Most of the time, all these relocations are due to finances. Cheap is not the unswer. Ecuador is not the next to Florida. You will still need a good car, a good house with kitchen and appliances. Pocket money for traveling, eating out, making friends, all that could be done in Ecuador.
    Another reason for relocating could be that you are bored to death. Very important to have an activity of your own, a hobby, something to keep your body and your mind busy. Otherwise you will only think about going somewhere else expecting to find the perfect place.
    I personaly have lived in many countries including USA, Europe, S America. and had the opportunity to meet different people, other religious, other languages, other colors and the secret to adapt, was learning the language, even few words will open souls and minds of the people. Showing them respect, never thinking that my blood is better than theirs, my bank account is larger than theirs, my god is better than yours, because people are smart and sensitive, and can read your mind and body.

    • Mike Bluett

      Yes I agree with you about learning the language. But that is not all there is to it. There is a person’s ability to accept the way people behave in this country (or for that matter any country). There are levels of what a person is willing to accept. In my case, I am trying to live with the noise and having drivers run me out of the street. This behavior is strictly from lack of education and lack of law enforcement. It is not cultural. It happens to exist in this culture. That is true. But it is not cultural. I find it quite strange when people get behind the wheel of a car they think they own the world. This is the case in the US and Canada as well: Road Rage comes to mind. But, fortunately in N. America, you can walk across the street without someone trying to run you over (unless you live in New York and some parts of Quebec). But the biggest one for me is the noise. Not that it is all the time, but it is more the inconsideration of the people that do this that bothers me.

  • Karen

    Great article, especially because the author is able to draw candid responses from his interviewees. One thing I found interesting is how little insight expats have into their own culture and expectations:

    Leaving aside the attraction- and hype – of living cheaply in paradise, the idea that anyone can move to another country with a different history, a different culture, a different economy, and a different language and land in Anytown, USA is naïve: Why would you expect it to be the same?

    None of the interviewees mentions researching Ecuadorian or even hispanic culture in general before deciding to expatriate. International businesses, nonprofits, religious organizations, and other global institutions invest thousands of dollars in cultural intelligence training for their employees before posting them abroad. For individuals making a major life change like expatriation, this kind of research at least as important as the cost of living and the weather.

    A BIG help for me personally was The Great Course’s “Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are.” None of the 24 DVD lectures aren’t about Ecuador, but they cover the major differences among cultures around the world, and more important still, gave me a lot of insight into my own cultural assumptions.

  • van

    Good article. I have lived in Argentina for 10 years and am a citizen now. It has been a challenge, but one that helped me grow out of my narrow American perspective

    Unfortunately, my experience is that I don’t integrate well with the Argentines, not only because at my age (retired) Spanish is very difficult, if not impossible, but also their late night customs and other cultural way of looking at politics and foreigners. I just don’t fit in and never will. That does not mean I cannot be friendly or do daily business with them, or enjoy light friendships, but to share deeper is difficult.

    Fortunately I have made friends with bi-lingual and bi-cultural Argentines, with dual citizenship, for example, from Canada or Europe, who have been here a long time and who are integrated (much more than I am) into the culture. Some speak 5 languages! So, I am very lucky, because as the average Argentine has no awareness of his own culture, a person who has lived in more than one country and culture can articulate differences and highlight the problems for foreigners.

    These friendships have helped me greatly understand and finally accept the Argentine way of thinking and politics. Fortunately for me, there is no expat community here, and the few Americans who live here are alcoholics or have deep troubles with the natives here, and so I avoid them. At first I was so lonely for an expat community, but now I think it is better to not blanket oneself with that perceived comfort. If I had been in an community of only English speakers, I would have never gotten this education.

    In addition, these bi-cultural, bi-lingual friends advise me on Argentine politics and government issues. When I first moved here I thought…I am an expat, what the government does here does not concern or affect me. How wrong I was. It is absolutely important if a person is going to live in a foreign country, to not only understand the culture, but also understand the government and how it operates. In Argentina that means coming to terms with a mafia mentality that they inherited from Southern Italy that permeates the society at all levels. It is not wrong, it is just the way it is.

    I have an American acquaitance who I try to pass these pearls of wisdom I received from my integrated multi-cultural friends, or from my own observations, but he refuses to see them, and in my mind, is setting himself up for risk. Evidently he has no multi-cultural advisors, and even though he has property here, et cetera, it seems he is out of touch with what is going on, and prefers to cling to an American viewpoint. In a country like Argentina, not understanding the culture, the laws, or the politics, can be an absolute disaster.

    So, if a person is not able to make trusted friends directly with the native culture, then seek out multi-cultural people who are integrated into your new culture. They can help you understand what is going on around you, and advise you of dangers.

    It will not help you to cloister yourself in an American expat community, where no-one is integrated into the culture and where the folks maintain a (an often superior and inflexible) American viewpoint.

    Keep your eyes and ears open, and listen to your intuition.

  • You fail to address the situation of the millions of expats like me, living in the USA for decades, after also living in Europe, Canada, etc. (And learning three languages in the process) The world today is in constant move and the immigrants, who adapt or are grateful for the opportunities they enjoy in countries other than their native one, are a lot more numerous among other nationalities than among Americans. An increasing portion of the US population, regardless that they erroneously believe to be number one in many things, (They are not) are extremely insular, and fearful of change. No to mention uneducated and not willing to learn, number one reason they fail as emigrants.
    What can you expect from a nation, where according to resent polls, 50% of the people believe the Earth is 10,000 years old, 37% believe in Noah and the arc, 46% do not believe in evolution, and the scientific committee in Congress is composed of people who do not believe in science. “If God would have wanted man to fly, it would have give us wings, is their credo. Happy New Year.–Feliz Año Nuevo.

  • This is a good article. Many of these issues are also discussed in my book “Expat Interviews – Ecuador” on Amazon. There are interviews with individuals that have been in Ecuador over 30 years and some that moved after being there a very short time. I was also able to include expats of different ages as well as sexual orientation.

  • Excellent article, Rick and thanks. It will not make everyone happy. The comments are equally interesting divided about equally between those who “get it” and those who, claiming to speak perfect Spanish and have all the charity in their hearts of a saint, simply do not. I would recommend to anyone Lee Dubs (of Carolina’s) Cuenca High Life piece from 2012 on economic refugees.

    The Ugly American revised

    Bang on op-ed by Dr. Dubs. Thanks, Lee and I reread this periodically when my patience with the whiners wears thin.

    To those in the former group who’ve moved here and understand that they are not in the (soon apparently to become communistic country of the US of A). Welcome! Bienvenidos!

    For the latter group of people who are having great difficulty with brown skinned people (who will not admit out loud that they do) I commend the Prof. Carol Anderson piece in the Washington Post on the racist reaction to this summer’s Ferguson killing:

    White Rage

    For those who won’t read this brilliant piece, it says that after every period in American history where black people (in particular) made giant strides, there was an equal, violent and opposite reaction to this by the whites who felt their entitlements slipping away (1. Civil War, 2. Brown v Board of Education and 3. election of Barack Obama). Violent reactions and similar in spirit to those who complain about the manana attitude and that married men are unfaithful to their wives (check The Kinsey Report of 1948 if you are unclear on the universality of this behavior). One wonders how this poster knows about the underclothing of “Cholas”, a term I’d advise you to reconsider.

    Must be a shock to come to a country where the brown skinned rule! Deal with it and believe me, when I say I wish you all could go home where you could read your Bibles. Repeat and understand Matthew 7:1-3

    1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

    After visiting over 50 countries, living and working abroad, learning at least the basics of the languages I think I can sympathize with the clueless who’s comments brag on themselves as very tolerant but go on to criticize a culture that they’re not part of and can never be. Having taken a one-way trip out of California, I’m an economic refugee, too, so i sympathize a bit with that attitude. For those in the former group, enjoy Ecuador as we will for 3-6 months per year here in Cuenca. I plan to.

  • jayne bowater

    What a refreshing & honest article by Rick. Too often articles are published as long as they are only positive & politically correct. People who make the descion to leave their home country need to know both positive & negative aspects otherwise it is not an honest picture. I moved here 2 years ago with my Ecuadorían boyfriend who has lived abroad for nearly 4 decades. It has been a steep learning curve for us both & I can honestly say I am not truly happy mainly due to the language barrier & the difficulty in integration. I haven’t given up.Ecuador is a truly beautiful country & we are lucky to beable to visit different places
    Jayne ( cuenca)

  • Jane

    Excellent! This is the most objective, informative article I’ve read on the subject. Thank you.

  • Franck McFay

    Having purchased an oceanfront high-rise condo in Salinas in 2008 I felt Ecuador was the perfect spot for an expat like myself. And, while I love the people, the diverse geography and the weather, I returned to the States. Why? After the real estate collapse I found I could purchase a waterfront 2000 Sq.Ft. new condo on the water on an island here on the East coast of Florida for $200K. The locals go back to the mid 1800’s and are involved in cattle or farming or fishing and are most friendly, down to earth and enjoying life in a casually elegant way. My cost of living is not that much more than Ecuador and I feel I now belong back in the USA.

  • marco

    Great info. But would be nice to not be just talking about older folk all the time. People assume that expats are over 50 in Ecuador too much.

  • Erin Scott

    Wonderful article. It also helps if you have lived abroad before and do not expect everything to be like it is in the U.S. Every day is an adventure, which is what we like about living in Merida, Mexico. We have made friends outside the American community and are still practicing our Spanish.

  • barbara

    I agree with what I have read here. It seems to me that people in general who arrive here with high expectations –will not make it. No matter what there excuse is to return–most people figure it out anyway. IF!!! a person is here with no intention of adapting and enjoying what the country has to offer–not–what it doesn’t–nor there is not the remotest intention of learning the language or mixing with the people of this country–then sorry but ya ain’t gonna make it.The people who rant about what is wrong here need to take a good hard look at their life and their reasons for being or staying here. As for marriage wrecking–I say if there is love –there is trust and bending a little. .I like it here and I am not a youngster except in my spirit. I am here to enjoy nature, the language–yes I speak Spanish–the music –the different way of being as compared with the US or Canada. I live in an Ecuadorian neighborhood and enjoy mixing with my neighbours. So– I say –examine closely what your beliefs are deep down and if you are not prepared for a new life–then best stay in your comfort zone in whatever other country you are presently living in.

  • I came to Ecuador at age 63, single, for adventure. I am about to turn 69 and am now very comfortable in Spanish; having deliberately avoiding other English speakers. I now have a couple, the rest are Ecuadorians.

    I am not yet so old that I want to spend my time just sitting in front of the TV waiting to die. Over the next 3 or 4 years I plan to continue to explore Latin America from my base in Quito. Then, I plan to live for a year in France to recover the French language, my second language – English is my first -, before returning to Canada. I have not spoken French for over 25 years and have forgotten so much.

    I visit family once a year and, as my grand-children grow and develop their own personalities, I increasingly want to be with them. Before I am 75 I will make that happen, in Canada.

    That is the current plan. Will it change? ???????????

  • YvonneT

    I visited Ecuador, in 2014 thinking one day I would retire there but after visiting I said this would not wise to do. Anytime one goes to a new country and the police that will be protecting you can’t speak your language English and you can’t speak their language thats a sign to take to heart, stay in your English speaking country, it doesn’t matter how cheap it’s in that foreign country, think about yourself if you should need medical help what will be your situation how would you call for an ambulance or police no one speaks English, that should tell you stay in your original country. All those spanish speaking countries are the same but those greedy foreigners want to live cheap and enjoy all that the country has to offer. Another thing a lot of Americans relocate to foreign countries and don’t realize they still have to file their US taxes every year if not when they do return to the US they’re in big trouble for back taxes, and no American should ever,ever give up their US citizenship to live in a foreign country because the day may come when you would like to return to your country. God bless you with a country you can always return to in a heart beat so be careful in making your final plans.
    As hard as it may be I’m staying right here in the US they speak my language.

  • Janice de Suarez

    One reason for leaving that is not in your list, which I have encountered a few times, is that people were absolutely horrified by the bad behaviour, politics, arrogance, racism, and superiority complex of the other US citizens living here, and their absolute refusal to learn the language, accept the culture, or mix with the locals. Unfortunately, they were the ‘good ones’ who I enjoyed spending time with. As an outcast of the “expat” community (I call them colonists, rightfully so) because I am an immigrant who has blended in, married, works, and lives as an Ecuadorian instead of a holier than thou colonist, I happily avoid all the expats like the plague. They give all white immigrants a bad name and are the reason I have to endure bad treatment at times when my Ecuadorian husband is not at my side. I came here because I don’t like the culture I was born into, and deeply resent those temporary colonists who are trying to change this country into a mini-USA before they bail out, but unfortunately not before doing damage to the local real estate market. Anyone who is not interested in the local language and culture needs to stay home.

  • Janice de Suarez

    Another factor that wasn’t addressed in the article, but often does get covered up because of embarassment, is that many gringos come here without doing proper research and get scammed by real estate people who are also expats. Gringos think they can trust other gringos, and believe all the negative stuff about Ecuadorians, but ironically get cheated out of thousands of dollars by their own folk. Then they don’t want to admit that it was someone from the US who scammed them so they blame the Ecuadorian culture and go back to the US with tails between their legs.

  • Great article! Very true!

  • Jeff

    I’m an expat who initially landed in Cuenca, and who has no immediate plans to go anywhere else. I’ve seen a few articles now about “why gringos leave,” and they all point out language and cultural issues as being the primary motives for leaving. Even before reading these articles, I suspected that this was probably the case. Ever since arriving about 18 months ago — even during my first two months here on the outskirts of “gringolandia,” I’ve lived entirely in Spanish-speaking communities. My Spanish is far from perfect, but I can’t imagine being Spanish-illiterate in Ecuador. I remember seeing one article that stated Cuenca was “English-friendly.” Boy, did they get that wrong! Anyway, I think I’d liken gringolandia to “solitary confinement,” because if you can’t communicate with the locals… and if you have to hire an English speaking driver because you’re incapable of giving your home address to an ordinary taxi driver… or if the only places you eat are gringo-owned establishments… you’re going to get stir-crazy! How can one live in a city of almost half-a-million people, and yet only be able to communicate with less than 1 percent of them? I’d be frustrated out of my mind! And I’d probably leave. But for those of you who don’t think you can learn Spanish, guess again. No, you don’t have the “learning sponge” they put inside of little people anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. I am an adult-learning specialist and I know this to be true. If you’ve tried one or two different types of learning programs before (and they failed), that doesn’t mean *you* failed. It may simply mean that the mode of learning you tried was not the best one for you. For me, listening to audio lessons would be worthless. Many types of classroom training environments would be difficult for me, too. It’s all about finding out which learning style(s) is most in-sync with the way your own particular brain works, and then you can seek out or create the type of learning activities best suited to you. I’d be happy to help anyone who wants to figure out their on optimal learning style. And for free, of course. I’m retired — I don’t want to take your money. There are no hidden agendas — just the desire and willingness to share what I know.

    • Sue

      Jeff, I am planning on getting to Cuenca, hopefully next year. How can I contact you now, I could use some help in trying to find a Spanish program that works for me! Thank you for your offer, Sue

    • rob

      Hello Jeff, Ive been here over 6 years and unfortunately my Spanish is still very limited, would be glad to here any helpful hints you may have at leaning Spanish more fully. Pass on some contact info, I would be happy to hear from you.

  • Thank you, Rick Ingle, for sharing this informative site. Thank you All, for sharing. I’ve learned more, and what to expect – about the reality of basic living in ECUADOR, from this page, than all my research over the past 5 years. Also, the comments about other countries and cultures has been educational. I appreciate All your thoughts and sharing. Sincerely, ~ Laura Hartman

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  • Strobble

    I want to share my experience about traveling vs moving to strange and new places. I was in the Navy for 20 years and traveled and lived many places and after the Navy I still traveled. After I retired, I have lived in Thailand, China, and now in Ecuador (lived in Salasaka, Ambato, and Banos near Ambato) now in Cuenca. For me, after the Navy when I lived in the USA, I worked like a dog and saved a ton of money and never had any friends and learned to live alone and being alone and actually I enjoy it most today. I have my hobbies and still travel all the time and I exercise a lot. When I was young I did everything I wanted to and now I just want to live in a cheap area (because I am cheap) lol, with good convenient services. Being in the Navy I learned to either commit to a new place or not. If I committed then it became my home, if not, I was just a visitor. Being 60, personally, I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about high dental or medical costs, owning a car, owning a house, high utility bills, and getting shot by some crazy person here. And when I want to go shopping for fun things and not be taking to the cleaners by buying it here in Ecuador, I make my list, book a flight to Orlando and fill up my luggage. One key element about when you retire, live your life day to day, and don’t worry about tomorrow. And with that being said, I have to go run the stairs.

  • Bill

    “In exploring the reasons why expats return to their home countries, I’ve
    found that many of those leaving have a “cover story” for their

    Chronic altitude sickness seems to be one of the current fad excuses.

  • Christine Vigneri

    great topic covered beautifully

  • David Naccari

    A wealth of information and insights – thanks!!!!

  • fredtover

    A timeless article that I enjoyed once more, gracias!

  • Frances Romine

    Great article!

  • Jane Goodman

    Although I do agree with this article, I do not see why leaving here is looked upon by so many as a failure. We have no plans to leave, but if we were to do that, we would look upon it as an adventure most people are not able to experience. My neighbor in the States has told me she would so love to have this opportunity. I wish it for her. Life is just too short. The author himself has wandered the world and I congratulate him for that. Those are successes — not failures! Everyone has a right to how they look at things and I prefer to look upon them as life’s adventures. Hope I live long enough to have many more. Many adventures ahead for all! Thanks for the informative article.

    • Michael Berger

      Yep, the real failure is the person who, out of fear, never leaves the country they were born in.

  • GoTeaParty

    Great insight. Many of these folks that “don’t stick” are really good people and I feel bad for them. They spend a fortune getting here and a fortune getting back. I witnessed many people while working overseas under ideal conditions, lots of money, great hotels, etc. get really unhappy after 3 or 4 months, especially if this was their first expat experience. A very common comment was “No matter where you go there you are” and if you were unhappy with where you left there is a good chance you’ll be unhappy here.

  • troberts010150

    Given the way these discussions typically go, especially given the quantity of comments in this one, it’s fascinating that no one has posed a question like, “How does the successfulness of expats in enduring and thriving in Ecuador correlate with the degree to which they are of the liberal vs. conservative political persuasion?”

    A case can easily be envisioned that that is a greater determining factor in successfully adapting or not than any other single reason offered…other than health issues. Because life/coping skills and adaptability are all about the “software” (one’s mental programming, much of which organizes itself into one or the other political camps for Americans – that’s true in spades during the past twelve polarizing months.)

    In contrast, the “hardware” (Ecuador) is what it is, whether you’re here or not.

    It’s our politicized software filters that determine our perception of it and our response to it. Methinks therein lies many clues as to the political persuasion that fares best. I have my opinion, and it’s proven to be an excellent predictor. But I’m not writing this to peddle that. I’m writing to suggest that maybe the best predictor of adaptability is right in front of us, but it’s blocked by foliage that prevents us from seeing it.

    • Michael Berger

      Maybe as a Libertarian I am missing some clue that may be obvious to liberals and conservatives but your comment would be much more valuable if you were to specify which political persuasion you think is most suited to Ecuador.

      • troberts010150

        Nope, the reason I purposely didn’t do that is based on the historical pattern of all online forums: the discussion would immediately deteriorate into a debate about my own, personal political bias instead of (hopefully) a discussion about the proposition itself based on everyone elses’ general perceptions of the adaptability and life coping skills of liberals vs. conservatives.

        And while I appreciate many of the principles of libertarianism, I didn’t mention it (or others) only because of the relatively small number of them vs. liberals and conservatives. But libertarianism would be an interesting addition to exploration of the proposition.

    • lorenzo

      I would say that a liberal would be the expat better suited to thrive in Ecuador. Generally, conservatives don’t adjust as well to change. When someone lives in a foreign country they better be ready for change big time.
      However, this isn’t necessarily true when considering the current expat situation in Ecuador. I’d guess that these days most expats come to live here for economic reasons. Most are older and hoping for a better retirement. If that is the main reason for living here, chances are you won’t last long whether you are conservative or liberal. I say that an expat’s chances of happily living in Ecuador has more to do with why they came in the first place vs political persuasion.