By Christopher Lux
Moving your household to another country with only two suitcases per person is no easy task. It becomes even harder when you’re moving to a country, like Ecuador, where many good-quality products are significantly more expensive. Of course, you can pay for extra suitcases, depending on the season, but the cost is sometimes prohibitive.
Many people in Ecuador — both locals and expats — find it financially beneficial to fly to the United States, usually to Miami, to purchase certain products. Often, the savings pay for the ticket.
The best way to avoid that extra trip — or at least put it off longer — is to pack wisely in the first place, checking with expats already here about what you should bring and what you can buy economically here. When I moved, these are some things I brought that saved me a lot of money. I list them in no particular order.
1. Cookware and Utensils. There are a lot of good restaurants in Cuenca but eventually you’ll have to cook in your own house or condo. Good quality pots, pans, and knives come at a high price in Ecuador. Although you can buy cheap utensils here, you’ll find a better variety and better designs back home.
2. Small Electronics. Although it no longer makes sense to bring televisions with you — prices have fallen 50% since 2016 — consider bringing other small electronic items with you. My list included a tabletop radio/stereo, an extra laptop computer and several other small items. You can also save money by bringing cell phones but keep in mind that you’re required to register them with the national telecom ministry — if you don’t, they’ll deactivate your Ecuadorian phone number and it will cost you $160 to reconnect.
3. Small Kitchen Appliances. Items like waffle irons, food processors and other small electric kitchen items you may be accustomed to in the U.S. are more expensive in Ecuador and sometimes hard to find. Don’t worry about microwaves and blenders; there readily available and cheap here.
4. Instant Pot. I mention these super fast pressure cookers separately because they’re almost impossible to find in Ecuador and expensive if you do. And also because I love mine and use it three or four times a week. I found the same model I bought in North Carolina for about $100 in Guayaquil but the price tag was $275.
5. Good Quality Towels and Sheets. Although I understand the situation has improved in recent years, you should bring sheets and towels with you. You’ll pay double and sometimes more for high thread-count sheets and the low-cost towels sold here are what we used in the U.S. to wash our cars.
6. Toothbrushes, Makeup and Lotion. All of these are expensive in Ecuador. Not everyone needs makeup or lotion or lipstick, so you might not put that on your packing list. I hope everyone is brushing their teeth, though. In the U.S. you can get a pack of toothbrushes for the price of one here.
7. Shoes and Clothes. Our son is growing fast, and good kids’ shoes and clothes are expensive. I also haven’t seen many choices for men’s extra large or “wide” shoes and name brand clothes for both men and women cost more. When we go back to the States, we always bring back shoes and clothing that we order on Amazon.
8. One Dollar Bills and Coins. This sounds crazy, I know, but it seems like change is more valuable in Ecuador than large bills. Try paying a taxi driver for a $2 ride with a $10 bill and you’ll see what I mean. The best way to not get ripped off in Ecuador is to have exact change. You don’t want to be pulling out a twenty in the market! Go to your bank before you move and pick up a pile of ones. And a stack of dollar coins too. You’ll be happy to have them when you get here.
9. Peanut Butter. Not a real big deal but peanut butter is expensive here and sometimes hard to find. Lately, I can buy crunchy Jif at Supermaxi but not the creamy stuff, which I prefer. Speaking of nuts in general, they’re more expensive in Cuenca but the prices have dropped a lot in the last couple years. Ask around about where to buy them (not at Supermaxi).
10. Books in English. In Cuenca, there’s a couple of book stores that sell books in English but they’re expensive even if they’re used (the stores pay astronomical amounts for shipping). In Quito books are a little cheaper, but not much.
11. An apostilled copy of a high school or college degree. If you want to drive in Ecuador, you first need a cedula that shows you have a high school or college degree. The only way to prove it is with a diploma and if you can’t, you can’t get a license.
If you have kids
Lego and Hot Wheel toys. “Just buy local market toys for your kids, and let them go outside to enjoy this beautiful country,” I’ve been told by other well-meaning expats. If you take that route, go for it. But if your child likes Legos and Hot Wheels, bring these brands with you. My son brought half a suitcase of toys, and when I saw they cost three times as much in Ecuador, I was happy he did.
Children’s books. We brought a couple dozen children’s story books in English and were glad we did. They’re almost impossible to find down here. We also brought some school books to tide him over until we were able to find a suitable school.
What not to bring …
People coming from the States used to load up on liquor because import duties were so high in Ecuador. Since the trade deal with the EU went into effect, however, prices have dropped by as much as 60%, so it’s hardly worth the trouble to mule in a bunch of bottles (have you ever had a bottle of tequila break in your suitcase? It’s no fun, I assure you). Plus, they make some passably good whiskey, gin, vodka and rum right here in Cuenca.
Of course, there are tons of other things that you might consider bringing depending on your lifestyle and hobbies. Like I said earlier, ask the expats who have been here for a while for suggestions. They not only can tell what to bring, but what not to bring, freeing up valuable space in your suitcases.
Oh, one parting shot. Moving from the U.S. — or any other country for that matter — to Ecuador is a good opportunity to downsize and reorganize your life. If you haven’t see it yet, I highly recommend the documentary “Minimalism.”