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Your family is moving to Ecuador but just with suitcases: What should you bring?

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.chl chris col logo

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.

The indispensable Instant Pot.

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.”

46 thoughts on “Your family is moving to Ecuador but just with suitcases: What should you bring?

  1. So much of this is absurd: peanut butter is far cheaper here than in the USA and is just as readily available: it comes in packets more frequently, and when you buy it, they’ll put it in a plastic bag, free of charge. The thought of anyone bringing bags from the USA is mindblowing. Toothbrushes? Really?! Shoes? What do Ecuadorean children where? Sandals?! Well, if you’re going to bring pots and pans from the USA, you may as well bring sheets and towels.

  2. .u additions and comments to what to bring to Ecuador: forget dollar bills, there are tons of $1 coins everywhere now. But bring $5 bills, they are the toughest to cash, Bring quality hard liquor from the duty free shop if you drink it; it costs 300% more in Ecuador. There are plenty of places to buy good quality pots, pans,and utensils. All made in China. Bring good quality clothes, go to a great used store in the USA and pack a duffel. Bring the hard-to-find spices, like your favorite curry , chili, mustards, etc if manufactures on not in a open pack, the aduanas will leave you alone. Good non brand shoes are available at a reasonable cost. You must be able to evaluate quality.If you need specialty shoes, bring them with you. Bring bulk over the counter medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen; they are sold individually in Ecuador and often costs 500-700% more than a USA bulk pack. There are a few good resale stores for English books in Quito, and not very expensive.Do bring good sheets and bedding even if this cost you an additional bag on the airlines. You can put a lot in a duffel bag of 50 lbs. Toothbrushes, toothpaste and dentistry are inexpensive in Ecuador, about the same as the uSA if you are not duped by Colgate’s latest scam/ marketing products. Plastic bags from the grocery stores is sufficient for garbage if you put it out daily; however, quality plastic storage bags are harder to get in Ecuador. This is a good areas for “reuse.” A good set of documents which can be used for multiple purposes is a must. Ecuadorian bureaucracy is still crazy about original documents which are apostiled. Yes to all needed electronic products; they are all expensive and highly overtaxed in Ecuador.

    1. Thanks of the additions.

      Alcohol, yes. However, I did not bring any because the added bottle(s) of liquid were not worth hauling and caring for when traveling with family and dogs. Spices are another good addition. You can get some basics, but bringing those hard-to-find ones would be a great idea.

      I still haven’t found “wide” shoes. And I prefer certain brands that are rare or expensive here.

      I’m still happy that I brought good quality pots, pans, and knives. In Cuenca, I haven’t seen any of the same quality at a good price. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for and where you’re looking.

      Thanks again for sharing your experiences and suggestions.

  3. .u additions and comments to what to bring to Ecuador: forget dollar bills, there are tons of $1 coins everywhere now. But bring $5 bills, they are the toughest to cash, Bring quality hard liquor from the duty free shop if you drink it; it costs 300% more in Ecuador. There are plenty of places to buy good quality pots, pans,and utensils. All made in China. Bring good quality clothes, go to a great used store in the USA and pack a duffel. Bring the hard-to-find spices, like your favorite curry , chili, mustards, etc if manufactures on not in a open pack, the aduanas will leave you alone. Good non brand shoes are available at a reasonable cost. You must be able to evaluate quality.If you need specialty shoes, bring them with you. Bring bulk over the counter medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen; they are sold individually in Ecuador and often costs 500-700% more than a USA bulk pack. There are a few good resale stores for English books in Quito, and not very expensive.Do bring good sheets and bedding even if this cost you an additional bag on the airlines. You can put a lot in a duffel bag of 50 lbs. Toothbrushes, toothpaste and dentistry are inexpensive in Ecuador, about the same as the uSA if you are not duped by Colgate’s latest scam/ marketing products. Plastic bags from the grocery stores is sufficient for garbage if you put it out daily; however, quality plastic storage bags are harder to get in Ecuador. This is a good areas for “reuse.” A good set of documents which can be used for multiple purposes is a must. Ecuadorian bureaucracy is still crazy about original documents which are apostiled. Yes to all needed electronic products; they are all expensive and highly overtaxed in Ecuador.

    1. Thanks of the additions.

      Alcohol, yes. However, I did not bring any because the added bottle(s) of liquid were not worth hauling and caring for when traveling with family and dogs. Spices are another good addition. You can get some basics, but bringing those hard-to-find ones would be a great idea.

      I still haven’t found “wide” shoes. And I prefer certain brands that are rare or expensive here.

      I’m still happy that I brought good quality pots, pans, and knives. In Cuenca, I haven’t seen any of the same quality at a good price. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for and where you’re looking.

      Thanks again for sharing your experiences and suggestions.

  4. Thank you for very helpful advice.I have a question- you mentioned 2 suitcases. But I believe, it is allowed only one per person, the second checked in wil cost you something like $100. It makes the savings obsolete. ..?
    I think about using this one-time opportunity to bring a container, especially because of the books for the rest of my life (to read, exchange, maybe sell). And clothes of my generous size, shoes also, to last many years. I’ll pack bedding, pillows, clothes sandwiched with plates/cups. But I’m afraid, with the shipping price I will embarrass myself.
    Do you regret you didn’t ship a container? You mentioned buying a car in Ec. You could bring it together with everything else in one container, though that item would be taxed.
    I’m by myself, but expect my 2 grandchildren join me in future.
    Please, share your experience and acquired knowledge with us who are trying to do it right.
    Thanks again. All the best to your family.

    1. I think the suitcase situation depends on the airline and the ticket. We brought six suitcases (2 per person) and didn’t pay extra. Well, we had to pay extra on the small flight from Quito to Cuenca because of different restrictions. Coming from the US, though, both were included in the ticket.

      I know people who brought a container and were happy they did. I also know people who didn’t bring one and were happy they didn’t. I guess it depends on what you’re bringing, how long you’re staying, and what you feel like you need.

      I didn’t own enough in the US to make it worth a container. So, I don’t regret not bringing one.

      Maybe others can share their container experiences here.

      Good luck with the move!

  5. Thank you for very helpful advice.I have a question- you mentioned 2 suitcases. But I believe, it is allowed only one per person, the second checked in wil cost you something like $100. It makes the savings obsolete. ..?
    I think about using this one-time opportunity to bring a container, especially because of the books for the rest of my life (to read, exchange, maybe sell). And clothes of my generous size, shoes also, to last many years. I’ll pack bedding, pillows, clothes sandwiched with plates/cups. But I’m afraid, with the shipping price I will embarrass myself.
    Do you regret you didn’t ship a container? You mentioned buying a car in Ec. You could bring it together with everything else in one container, though that item would be taxed.
    I’m by myself, but expect my 2 grandchildren join me in future.
    Please, share your experience and acquired knowledge with us who are trying to do it right.
    Thanks again. All the best to your family.

  6. Christopher,
    I read your article with interest but felt that I needed to respond. I can understand that you may want to bring some items that are dear to your heart like photo albums, personal things, gifts from family etc, but most of the items you mention are available in Cuenca at very reasonable prices. Kitchen utensils? Pots and pans? Toothbrushes? Plastic grocery bags? Por favour. All markets and Coral sell these items very cheap and you would be supporting the local economy. Even our TV we WANTED to buy here and it was reasonable and with guarantee. I agree the peanut butter is not the same as what we are used to but we learn to live with it. There are so many wonderful things available here that are not available “back home” which more than offsets the few items we initially miss but after awhile forget.

    1. Thanks for your comment and reading.

      I agree that you can get some pots, pans, and knives at places like Coral cheap. But I also find them to be bad quality. For good quality, you pay a whole lot. At least where I’ve looked.

      I found plastic bags to be helpful in the move and I was happy that I brought some with me. They aren’t heavy, they don’t take up space, and they can even be incorporated into your packing. Sure, after some big supermarket shopping trips you’ll have some. Until then, though, I appreciated having them.

      You make an excellent point that would make a good conclusion to my article: “There are so many wonderful things available here that are not available ‘back home’ which more than offsets the few items we initially miss but after awhile forget.”

      Thanks again.

    2. I brought my pots and pans from the US, same ones I used when I was in university. For sure they are much better quality than what I have seen here.

  7. Christopher,
    I read your article with interest but felt that I needed to respond. I can understand that you may want to bring some items that are dear to your heart like photo albums, personal things, gifts from family etc, but most of the items you mention are available in Cuenca at very reasonable prices. Kitchen utensils? Pots and pans? Toothbrushes? Plastic grocery bags? Por favour. All markets and Coral sell these items very cheap and you would be supporting the local economy. Even our TV we WANTED to buy here and it was reasonable and with guarantee. I agree the peanut butter is not the same as what we are used to but we learn to live with it. There are so many wonderful things available here that are not available “back home” which more than offsets the few items we initially miss but after awhile forget.

    1. Thanks for your comment and reading.

      I agree that you can get some pots, pans, and knives at places like Coral cheap. But I also find them to be bad quality. For good quality, you pay a whole lot. At least where I’ve looked.

      I found plastic bags to be helpful in the move and I was happy that I brought some with me. They aren’t heavy, they don’t take up space, and they can even be incorporated into your packing. Sure, after some big supermarket shopping trips you’ll have some. Until then, though, I appreciated having them.

      You make an excellent point that would make a good conclusion to my article: “There are so many wonderful things available here that are not available ‘back home’ which more than offsets the few items we initially miss but after awhile forget.”

      Thanks again.

    2. I brought my pots and pans from the US, same ones I used when I was in university. For sure they are much better quality than what I have seen here.

  8. Absurd, Robert? That’s quite a dither you’ve worked yourself into. This is clearly presented as one person’s experience of moving to Cuenca and makes no claim for being last word on the subject. I’m happy to hear of your experience as well, but understand it is no more or no less absurd than the next fellow’s.

    1. Thanks, Dan. You’re right that this is my experience–a young guy with a family who likes certain brands. Others will want to bring other things.

      I hope that people will share their own packing experiences.

  9. Absurd, Robert? That’s quite a dither you’ve worked yourself into. This is clearly presented as one person’s experience of moving to Cuenca and makes no claim for being last word on the subject. I’m happy to hear of your experience as well, but understand it is no more or no less absurd than the next fellow’s.

    1. Thanks, Dan. You’re right that this is my experience–a young guy with a family who likes certain brands. Others will want to bring other things.

      I hope that people will share their own packing experiences.

  10. Thanks for the kind response. It’s always good to have my absurdity pointed out.

    I found plastic bags to be very helpful setting in. I just thought other might too. I didn’t say bring a case of them. Just “some.”

    I like JIF, and others do to. You can’t get it here from what I’ve seen. I guess I could have pointed out that you can get some peanut paste here if you want that.

    I haven’t seen an Ecuadorian child without shoes yet, but some people have different tastes. Even Ecuadorians travel out of the country to buy certain brands.

  11. It is also hard to find some sizes of shoes here. Also, the kind of shoes that I like, if I can find them in my size, cost about $140 here, about $60 in the US

  12. I’m with you on the makeup :-)! And especially eye makeup remover — boy, that’s expensive here. But some lipsticks and other makeup is pretty reasonable – my girlfriend says—but the eye makeup remover, now that’s another story.

  13. do you mean you have to register your phone or insure that it is one the approved list, the way you state it is confusing, I have never had a problem with my iPhone in years

  14. The best peanut butter I have ever tasted is available at Bernan’s. Only roasted peanuts and a touch of stevia. They have creamy and crunchy. Ecuadorean queen sized beds are not the same size as US. I understand they can be modified by a seamstress, in which case it might still be beneficial to mule them. Bring very high quality, age appropriate multivitamins and high DHA fish oil. Athletic wear, like Reebok yoga pants are over $120/pr here. Get several pairs of the best walking shoes you can find. Windbreakers, readers, good bras, more tops than you think you will need, and if they can be vacuum compressed, good pillows. Chewable melatonin tabs. Sleep is sketchy when you first arrive at this altitude. Consider that most people lose some weight when deciding on sizes.

  15. You do not need an apostilled copy of a high school diploma or college degree to get a driver’s license here, just your US driver’s license and your cedula (inicio).

  16. After living almost a quarter century in Latin America, I believe one of the most overlooked items to bring from there is silicon earplugs. Latin Americans have a much different noise tolerance level than we do, the most important aspect of that being that what wakes us up at night, they don’t even notice. Many people find a place to live and move in only to find the neighbours dog barks all night. Silicon earplugs don’t dry your ears out like foam earplugs do. Plus they conform to your ear shape much better and can be reused many times. You cannot find silicon earplugs to buy here.

    1. I use Mack’s Pillow Soft silicone earplugs every night, have done so for years. They are a lifesaver indeed. They have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 22 decibels.

  17. dollar coins are heavy to bring here. they have machines in Cuenca that you can enter a $10 or $20 and get back all coins. I use them extensively.
    you don’t have to register a phone. you just need to make sure it is on the approved list from the government otherwise you will have issues. all of my samsungs haven’t been an issue and other people have reported no issues with iPhones.
    I use UniExpressSolutions.com to bring in the supplements (iHerb and Amazon) as their charge seems to be the best. $97.50 inclusive for up to 15 lbs. if you max it out like I do it works out at $6.50/lb. Mules and other couriers want $10 or more a lb and also a $25 service fee.

    1. Bob, where are the machines located? I’ve been going to Banco Central to change bills, but those machines would be great. Thanks!

      1. I mainly use the one at the top of the escalators at Mall Del Rio … Very convenient. Sorry to say they removed the one at the front of Feria Libre … maybe too many thefts.

  18. What if you wish to just ship basic cookware, utensils, and basic small cooking appliances (like the Instant Pot you are in love with) if you already have them in the U.S. What are the costs and how long would it take to get to you in Ecuador? And how about clothing, towels/sheets, and bathroom accessories such as toothpaste, lotions, etc.?

    1. lots of options, bring the instapot in luggage, basic cookware easy to find,,dont worry too much about clothing but bring your favorites, normal bathroom stuff all available, sheets towels too but lower quality or very expensive

  19. Think about those family heirlooms and treasures. We moved here 6 years ago and brought a small pallet with high end computers and drums. After 38 years in one house we cleaned everything out and came with suitcases. I regret not bringing some of my familiar items and family treasures. So if you are retiring, think about those family memories. If I had it to do over I would bring a half container with my kitchen aid mixer for sure. I would bring family paintings and some furniture pieces that had been in the family for a century and some treasures given to me by my children. We effectively wiped out our past and family heritage, which I regret. My advice is to think realistically what is important to you.

  20. I suggest bringing good quality flatware. If you are used to high-end brands like Oneida, you won’t find anything comparable in Cuenca. Even at a shop such as Sukasi, the quality offered is inferior and a place setting for 6 will cost you close to $100.

    We did find very nice towels and linens though the cost in Cuenca is about 50-75% higher than US costs. But those are bulky items and take up a great deal of packing space. You’ll have to weight that value on it’s own merit.

    Small kitchen appliances will cost you about 50% more in Cuenca as opposed to the US and many brands are hard to find, but Sukasi carries Cuisinart, West Bend, and other recognizable quality US brands (even though Cuisinart is all made in China – and has been for about 15 years).

    1. We had luck with the Tramomtina brand of flatware at Coral. Trick is to buy the package that says for industrial use. Affordable, heavier, but plain. It was in cryovac on the end cap. The rest is terrible.

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