By Jennifer Bunderle
I hadn’t planned to become an expat in Ecuador
Before we made the move to Ecuador I hadn’t done any specific research other than making three visits to the country. Truthfully, I hadn’t seriously considered making a permanent international move.
My most pivotal visit to Ecuador was a mother-daughter trip where we toured a private elementary school to arrange a pen-pal program for my students in California. At the conclusion of our tour the administrator announced to me, “We would very much like for you to come here to teach for us and I have a job for you as soon as you return.”
I had no plans to move to Ecuador at that time; I was certain that I was content with my home, community, and work in California. Yet that offer from the Ecuadorean administrator kept popping into my mind. Discussions began in earnest with my husband who had already envisioned making the move and was more than ready to get on with it.
Our first test was to put our house on the market. I was thinking, it won’t sell and the decision will be made for us. Wrong. Our house sold in three days.
Next up was the father and son trip to find a place for us to live. Moving with us was my 88 year-old ailing father-in-law and our Bichon Frise dog. We jumped into deciphering paperwork for our Ecuador residency visas, and sorting our belongings.
How do you decide what to keep or give? Our appliances were only three years old–could we replace that quality at that price in Ecuador? We had just purchased our new king size bed–it had to go with us! We were told to take our own linens and kitchenware. We created an itemized inventory and price list for our shipment in English and Spanish for customs approval.
No time to panic, only time to do! So many goodbyes to say to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. We tried to convince my father-in-law that this was the fulfillment of his lifelong dream too.
No Turning Back
The day came. Our belongings were loaded into the moving van and taken to storage until our Ecuadorean residency was approved.
We arrived in Cotacachi, Ecuador, and lived adventurously through: buying a car, three changes of immigration officials, two in-country moves (and property purchases) in two different regions, taking my father-in-law back to the U.S. for health reasons, my husband returning three times to work in the U.S. for a month at a time, and waiting fifteen months for approval and receipt of our residency visas. Seventeen months after we arrived in Ecuador, our container of household goods joined us.
We are often asked to share our answer to “if you’d known then, what you know now…” So four-and-a-half years into this adventure, here are our suggestions:
1. Know Yourself
Earnestly consider who you are (not who you hope to be). Are easy-going and adaptable? High-strung? Fearful? What are your ‘musts’ in a home? How flexible are you? Are you willing to take on the challenge of a new language, and a different political structure, different foods, customs, and ways of viewing the world? How important to you are the cultural events, the arts, the music, the foods and the shopping that are available in the U.S.?
2. Do your research
Talk to a variety of people who have done what you are considering doing. Do not rely exclusively on blogs. Read books, share in forums and reach out. There are many of us now who’ve done this and you’re well off to glean from our experience, our empathy and ideas.
3. Start with an extended stay
Consider staying for a few months in the country before making the final decision to move. You might want to go at it’s “worst” weather time.
4. How important to you is your stuff?
What can you absolutely NOT live without (a friend of mine uses only Noxema cleansing pads which are not available here, so she stocked up on her last US visit) and what can you consider exchanging, substituting or doing without?
5. Seriously think about your health
Health costs may be substantially lower in the country you are considering retiring in, but do you have specific needs and medications that you will be unable to receive there? Talk to those who’ve done it and get their ideas and perspective; sometimes health is an issue and other times, not so much.
In retrospect we’d probably do a few things differently; ignorance did not turn out to be my bliss yet we have no regrets. Becoming an expat has been at times a roller-coaster experience but the highs have outweigh the lows for us. Our lives have been enriched by the incredible variety of people we have befriended, the daily eye-opening experiences of assimilating to a new culture and environment, the depth of self-knowledge we’ve gained, the opportunities we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others, our much-less-stressed-and-more-affordable lifestyle, and our considerably calmer overall attitudes. Remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Jennifer J. Bunderle, formerly an educator in California, now lives the expat life in Ecuador. After taking the leap out of the classroom Jennifer now assists individuals and groups in making a positive difference in their communities and beyond. You can connect with her on her website.