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Moving to Ecuador

Expats moving to Ecuador will be overwhelmed by this compact country’s diversity and natural beauty. From its beautiful coastline and large swathes of Amazon jungle to the stunning peaks of the Andes, Ecuador is a breathtaking experience for all who visit.

Most expats live in the capital, Quito, or Ecuador’s most populous city, Guayaquil, while Cuenca is popular among retirees. Wherever expats decide to settles, they are sure to be embraced by a friendly local community.

The natural landscape lures in expats who can experience everything from incredible views of calderas and volcanic lakes, such as Quilotoa Lake, to warm and sunny beaches, lush rain forests and more arid, desert conditions. And remember that the Galápagos Islands are a province of Ecuador – a beautiful volcanic archipelago world famous for its wildlife.

This diverse climate and environment make for fun activities for the whole family, and learning about the local culture and language is critical for expat adults and children as they settle in.

Expats with children can note that Ecuador has a well-established public education system and standards are improving year on year. Still, many expats prefer the quality and curriculum flexibility of private and international schools – many of which offer bilingual opportunities in Spanish, English, French and German.

Despite the many positive aspects of living in Ecuador, not everything is as rosy as it is sometimes painted to be. While getting a work permit is relatively straightforward, finding employment can be difficult – for both expats and locals. Job opportunities for those without an adequate level of Spanish tend to be limited though there is a demand for English teachers and translators.

Political tension and protests, as well as personal safety, are also concerns in Ecuador, especially in cities such as Quito and Guayaquil, where foreigners have been the target of violent crimes. It's best for expats to exercise the same caution they would in any metropolitan city: keeping valuables hidden, only walking in well-lit areas at night and avoiding public transport late at night. Crime is much less a worry for those who relocate to the Galápagos Islands.

While recognising the risks, dangers and downsides, it's important to have an open mind. Accommodation in Ecuador comes in all shapes and sizes, the cost of living is refreshingly affordable for those from more expensive destinations and excellent medical care is accessible in major cities. With insurance, the cost of private medical treatment is also reasonable and only a fraction of the price expats from North America and Europe would be accustomed to.

Expats who are considering relocating to Ecuador need to weigh up the pros and cons of doing so. Concerns about safety and schooling are worth serious consideration, especially for expats with children – on the other hand, the country offers a low cost of living, great healthcare facilities and a steadily improving infrastructure, not to mention gorgeous scenery.


Fast facts

Population: 17.6 million

Capital city: Quito

Neighbouring countries: Ecuador is bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Geography: Ecuador has four distinct geographical regions – the Galápagos Islands, the western coastal area (La Costa), the central highlands (La Sierra) and the Amazonian basin (El Oriente).

Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Roman Catholicism

Main languages: Spanish, there are additional indigenous languages. It is wise for expats to speak at least basic Spanish before moving to Ecuador.

Money: Ecuador's currency is the US dollar, making financial transactions easy. ATMs are available all over the country. Expats may open a bank account with a local bank but extensive documentation is required.

Tipping: Service charges are usually already included in bills at restaurants, although an additional dollar or two may be given for exceptional service. Tipping is appreciated but not necessarily expected.

Time: GMT -5 and -6

Electricity: 120V, 60Hz. Plugs have two or three flat blades.

Internet domain: .ec

International dialling code: +593

Emergency contacts: 911

Transport and driving: Public transport in Ecuador consists mainly of a bus system. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Public Holidays in Ecuador

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January 

Carnaval

15–16 February

28 February – 1 March

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Easter Sunday

4 April

17 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Battle of Pichincha Day

24 May

27 May

Independence Day

9 August

10 August

Guayaquil Independence Day

9 October

9 October

All Souls' Day

1 November

2 November

Cuenca Independence Day

2 November

3 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*Midweek public holidays are sometimes moved to the preceding Monday or the following Friday to create a long weekend.

Accommodation in Ecuador

When looking for accommodation in Ecuador, expats will need to consider various aspects such as their budget, their preferred areas and the type of housing they want to live in.

Expats on assignment for a multinational company usually prefer to rent accommodation, but those planning on staying in Ecuador permanently may want to explore the option of purchasing property.


Types of accommodation in Ecuador

Compared to many other countries, housing and property in Ecuador are cheap. Large cities with high-density populations such as Quito and Guayaquil are the most expensive but are also among the most popular destinations for expats.

Apartments

Living in Ecuador’s cities, expats will find many options for apartments for rent. These vary greatly from unfurnished studio apartments with basic standards for expats on a budget to luxury and modern apartments in more affluent neighbourhoods.

Arranging flat-shares and renting a room in an apartment are popular options in Ecuador. This can be a great way to meet people and make friends, especially as a young new arrival, but not necessarily for those who prefer their own space.

Condos

Like apartments, condominiums can be found for a range of prices and at varying standards. Many condos may have upgraded features compared to apartments, and Ecuador offers relatively affordable beachfront condos – some with swimming pools and private security.

Houses

Many houses are available for rent both in Ecuador’s larger cities and smaller towns. For those on a budget, house shares are common. Alternatively, the occasional townhouse in a gated community, called an urbanización cerrada, is also available, though they may be on the pricier side of the scale.

Furnished vs unfurnished

Both furnished (amueblado) and unfurnished (sin amueblar) apartments are readily available, although unfurnished apartments are much more common. Take this into consideration when looking for accommodation and scoring a cheaper rent: unfurnished may be completely unfurnished, not just missing tables and chairs but large appliances such as ovens, stoves and fridges too.

Potential tenants should factor in potential costs for a water heater or electric shower: Ecuadorian buildings are generally not heated, and although one may find tile roofs romantic, they often leak.


Finding accommodation in Ecuador

The main ways expats can find housing are by looking online or reading the local newspapers. MLS-Ecuador, LongTermLettings and Ecuador Home Sales provide online listings and allow expats to search for a place before arriving in Ecuador.

It may be helpful to arrive in the country with short-term accommodation first before settling on the final property. It allows expats to take a hands-on approach and personally inspect various places. We suggest scouring the neighbourhood by foot or car looking for signs that read ‘Se Arrienda’ (for rent) and finding accommodation by word of mouth. It's an excellent way to find a good deal, so don't be shy to talk to locals and ask around about places to rent. Otherwise, accommodation can also be found by going through a real estate agent.

Living near the city centre is preferable since the transport options will be much more robust. Supermarkets and small family grocery stores are usually conveniently located in most Ecuadorian neighbourhoods. It's also a good idea to speak to locals to find out which are the safer parts of town. 

Beware of price inflation and fraud – expats might run into what is wryly termed as 'gringo tax' (higher prices for foreigners). To avoid this, expats should bring an Ecuadorian friend along when viewing accommodation and negotiating contracts and prices.


Renting accommodation in Ecuador

Ecuadorian construction standards are often low, so it is also important to carefully check the premises before signing the lease or paying a deposit. Make sure the lights, shower, sinks, toilet, doors, windows and electrical outlets all function.

Leases

Leases are most commonly for a year, but longer contracts are also possible. 

While most rental agreements are made and maintained hassle-free, some expats report experiences with greedy landlords. These landlords try excessively increase their rents, withhold deposits or ask for rent if notice is not given early enough. 

Fortunately, Ecuadorian property legislation favours tenants in many respects. Landlords are not allowed to increase the rent during the period stipulated in the lease, nor can they simply increase the rent each year – they must usually apply to the municipality to do so.

To avoid conflicts, it’s essential to notarise, register and legally bind the rental contract, and have it written in Spanish. Do seek the help of a professional translator or friend to translate the lease before signing. 
It’s important for expats to know their rights and explain this to the landlords, otherwise, expats may get cheated or need to face legal fees from lawyers to resolve disputes.

Deposits

Before moving in, a deposit of the equivalent to one to three months of rent (depending on the owner) must be paid. When it comes time to make the deposit, don’t be surprised if the owner asks the tenant to pay in cash as Ecuador is a cash-friendly society. Alternatively, they might ask for a deposit directly into their bank account.

Utilities

Some housing will include all utilities in the monthly rental fee but in most cases bills such as gas, internet and electricity are for the tenant's account.

Notice

We recommend expats check their notice periods. Landlords must normally give three months’ notice and tenants should give at least one month of notice before ending the lease early. If this is followed, early termination fees should not be charged.

Transport and Driving in Ecuador

Expats will find it easy and inexpensive to get around in Ecuador. Although many people own private vehicles, the backbone of Ecuadorian transport is the bus.

The interprovincial bus service is robust and all major cities in Ecuador have local bus systems too. Taxis are also readily available and are great for short distances, while domestic flights are the best way to travel long distances across the country.

Whatever the means of transport, there are potential safety implications involved that should be considered.


Public transport in Ecuador

Buses

Ecuador's bus service is incredibly cheap – but the quality and cleanliness vary greatly and not all buses have bathrooms. It's not unusual for buses to break down – and like most of Ecuador’s drivers, bus drivers are known to drive erratically and often speed. Despite this, buses are a slow way to get around because of constant delays and unscheduled stops.

The local city buses are a popular and affordable way to get around, and Quito has both trolleybuses – running on separate tracks to those of vehicles – and normal bus services.

Long-distance buses are often more comfortable and likely have air-conditioning and toilets, but may still be far from first-class standards. They normally make some stops along the way at certain terminals for passengers to have a break, stretch their legs and buy some food.

We recommend checking the information booths at bus terminals for info on bus schedules and fares, and for longer trips, expats would be wise to buy a ticket in advance. When using public transport, it’s helpful to brush up on some Spanish and always be polite with the staff.

Trains

The rail system has largely been repaired and operates through Tren Ecuador, but these are mostly tourist trains, which are not useful for everyday commuting. Still, new arrivals wishing to see more of the country can take advantage of these tourist routes for impressive sights of the Andes and Ecuador’s coastline.


Taxis in Ecuador

Taxis are a good way to travel short distances but can quickly become expensive. Drivers should be licensed and registered, but there are illegal unregistered taxis, many of which are involved in scamming, stealing from or even kidnapping passengers. 

Registered taxis are yellow with orange number plates. Taxis are required to have their meters on during the day and passengers should insist on this. At night, the meters are usually turned off, so a flat fee for the ride should be negotiated before getting into the taxi.

The most reliable way of catching a taxi is to use a smartphone application or make a phone call to a cab company who will send out a driver. The companies running these services are usually trustworthy and only hire registered drivers. Uber is operational in Ecuador and can be cheaper than regular taxis.


Driving in Ecuador

Not everyone needs a car in Ecuador, given the interprovincial buses and public transport. Those who choose to drive must be aware of the road conditions.

Driving in Ecuador is improvisational. Rules of the road are often bent, if not outright ignored. It isn’t at all unusual to see someone ignore an orange light, rush through a stop sign or change lanes without indicating – all this while driving at breakneck speeds. 

For this reason, many expats in Ecuador are understandably nervous about driving. Still, cars make it easier to get to remote places and are usually essential for expats in the more rural areas of Ecuador.

The country’s mountainous landscape means that roads and highways are often steep and twisty. The weather has a major effect on driving in Ecuador. Landslides and flooding are both potential problems that motorists might encounter, especially in the rainy season. Travellers should review local news and social media regularly to check the latest reports.

Expats can drive with a foreign licence but we advise expats to get an International Driving Permit, a translation into Spanish, and to always drive with their passport, and proof of vehicle registration and insurance.

Renting a car

Renting a car in Ecuador is simple and large international car rental companies operate in the country, such as Avis and Hertz, as well as local companies.

Bear in mind that rental agencies are unlikely to accept expats under the age of 25. In some cases, it is permissible, but drivers will encounter higher rates. 


Cycling in Ecuador

In recent years, the Ecuadorian government has invested a lot of money in developing and encouraging the use of bicycles as a major form of ecological transport. Bike paths have been established in many of the most populous areas of the country, including Quito. To promote cycling, regular events are held where certain roads are open only to non-motorised transport. 

Be aware that biking can be dangerous in areas without dedicated bike paths. Car drivers often do not obey rules of the road and roads can be covered in debris. 


Walking in Ecuador

Depending on where people live, cars are not always needed – it may be that workplaces and amenities are within walking distance from one’s home.

That said, due to safety concerns, walking is not always the best way to get around in Ecuador. If expats must travel by foot, they should walk with caution and pay attention to their surroundings. Be extremely careful when walking alone at night, and always secure belongings – preferably put them somewhere they can’t be seen. Muggings and pickpocketing are common in large cities, especially if one stands out from the local population.

There are many opportunities for hiking and walking trails around Ecuador, but when exploring, always follow designated routes and take necessary precautions and enough water.


Boat travel in Ecuador

Getting around by boat shouldn’t be dismissed given Ecuador’s coastal geography, islands and many rivers – though this may largely be for recreational purposes. Motorised canoes, sailboats, ferries and cruise ships are available and can make for some spectacular experiences.

Make sure to go through a trusted service provider when travelling by boat and always check their safety features.


Air travel in Ecuador

Ecuador’s two main airports are Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín De Olmedo in Guayaquil and Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, which is one of South America’s busiest airports. The main domestic airlines are Avianca Ecuador and LATAM Ecuador, and expats can fly from abroad, cross country and to the Galapagos Islands – Baltra Island and San Cristóbal Island.

Expat Experiences in Ecuador

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats who have lived there. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Ecuador and would like to share your experience.


Scott and Jody are 'behind-the-scenes missionaries', working and living in Quito. Having lived in Ecuador since 2014, the two have a lot to say on the standard of accommodation, speaking Spanish, getting to know their neighbours and having their cafecito. They also give advice on safety matters in Ecuador's capital city. Read our interview with Scott and Jody for a full account of their experiences settling into Quito life.

Scott & Jody

Edd and Cynthia Staton moved to Ecuador in 2010 following 2008's worldwide recession and have become well-known for their experience of retiring and living abroad. They talk to us about their favourite aspects of living in Ecuador, making friends and the best neighbourhoods in and around Cuenca. Read more in our expat interview with Edd and Cynthia.

Edd & Cynthia

In 2019, Anri Lategan moved to Ecuador where she volunteered on a small dairy farm. This was not her first expat experience living abroad and she moved there alone after spending some time in Colombia. She talks about Ecuador's quality of life, getting visas and safety, and compares the cost of living to South Africa. Read more about Quito in our expat interview with Anri.

Anri

Jason, an expat from Australia, decided to settle in Ecuador after a supposedly short holiday to kitesurf. After meeting his partner, Michelle, in Quito, they both moved to Cuenca where they enjoy a simple life. Read our expat interview with Jason and Michelle to find out about what they do and their perspectives on lifestyle, family and children, working and getting around in Ecuador.

Jason & Michelle

Heidi Schultz is an American expat who has been living in the bustling and beautiful Quito in Ecuador since August 2010. She lives there with her Ecuadorian husband and is employed as a translator and teacher. Read more about her life in Quito.

Heidi - an American expat in Ecuador

Rick Schleicher is an American expat who has been living in Ecuador for the last 12 years. He shares his experiences of life in this incredibly beautiful country (he calls the Enchanted Islands home). Read more about his experiences in Ecuador.