South America Living

10 Things to Know Before Moving to Ecuador

Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

So congratulations! If you are reading this article then you have either already decided or are soon to make up your mind to go for it and take the Ecuador plunge just below the equator (in the case of moving to all Ecuador points south of Quito)! Yes, for the most part, everything you have heard about the wonderful climate, very inexpensive living, absence of overbearing post-industrialized government regulations, exclusive use of the US dollar as the national currency, and lots and lots of festivals with ceremonial head-masks and such, IS INDEED CORRECT. And so, if that was all there were to think about in moving to Ecuador, then there would not be any point in me writing and regularly updating this article, besides commending you on a job well done in selecting this beautiful country as your new home and/or retirement destination.

Alas, like all things in life, nothing is ever so completely clear-cut, to the extent of being without compromise or equivocations of some type. Thus, this brings us to the title of this article and its literal intent, which is to proclaim that there are indeed certain things that you must do (as well as must not do), in planning your move to Ecuador. And so, let us enunciate the “10 Things to Know Before Moving to Ecuador”, as follows for your review and intoning of these very necessary ideals in conjunction with making the hop, skip and jump to the marvelous gem that is Ecuador:

Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

1) As an American, Canadian, European or Australian/New Zealander, you are of course AUTOMATICALLY permitted to enter Ecuador on a T-3 Visa (90 day Tourist Visa) which you do not need to do anything whatsoever to obtain. Upon your arrival in Ecuador, the Immigration Police in either Guayaquil International Airport or Quito International Airport will simply and without ANY request for money or other documents, stamp the T-3 Visa in your Passport and send you on your merry way to any and all points in Ecuador. THE ISSUE, HOWEVER, is that if you do not book a round-trip airline ticket to/from Ecuador, then even before you arrive in Ecuador you will have a very big problem at the most typically used (either American Airlines or Copa Airlines) ticket counter in your home country on the day you had planned to fly to Ecuador. You see, the ticket counter agent at the airport upon checking in may ask to see your return flight ticket OR your already received RESIDENCY VISA to Ecuador (sometimes only residents of Ecuador are permitted by the airlines not to have already pre-purchased a round-trip airline ticket). Thus, if you are not already a resident of Ecuador and you do not have this return flight ticket pre-purchased, you can be, shall I say, FORCED, to buy one at the very last minute before you get on your departing flight to Ecuador. So, as a good rule of thumb, ALWAYS CALL your airline prior to your trip to find out whether you are required to have pre-purchased a return ticket before leaving your home country. Naturally, the price of a ticket purchased at the last minute (as you are checking in to leave for Ecuador) will likely be “through the roof”. So, the moral of this rule is, be sure to check ahead of time if you’ll need to pre-purchase a round-trip ticket for your trip to Ecuador, EXCEPT if you are already a resident of Ecuador, which is of course the single exception that proves this rule!

2) Believe it or not, we have STILL not yet finished with the T-3 Visa “things to know” portion of this article (yes, the T-3 is so important that it truly needs and deserves yet a second whole point about it in this same article). That is to say, once you arrive in Ecuador and receive your T-3 Visa, you should adhere to that 90 day rule religiously, because if you exceed the 90 calendar day count in Ecuador during either a single trip or a combination of multiple trips during the same 365 day calendar period, you will generally become ILLEGAL in Ecuador and be required to pay a large fine upon leaving Ecuador or returning to the country (However, there is now an exception that will allow you to get a Tourist Visa Extension UP TO THIRTY DAYS AFTER your 90-day T-3 Visa expires). This is notwithstanding the fact that if you had previously acquired a Tourist Visa Extension OR already applied for your Temporary or Permanent Residency Visa BEFORE your T-3 Visa’s 90 day period expired, then you will happily remain COMPLETELY LEGAL in Ecuador past the expiration date of your T-3 Visa’s 90 day period), without needing to get an extension. Now of course, as foreigners are the lifeblood of Ecuador’s economy, besides Ecuador’s massive “blood colored” petroleum reserves, and based on my own experience with this issue, you are not at all likely to ever actually be thrown out of Ecuador by the Immigration Police before you decide to leave the country on your own terms. However, if/when you go to the airport in Ecuador to fly back home, the Ecuadorian Immigration Police will matter-of-factly tell you that your T-3 Visa has expired and that you are now illegal in Ecuador and that you must either pay a monetary penalty of almost $1,000, or obtain a new visa from the Ecuadorian Consulate in your country (or both) in order to be permitted to return to Ecuador any time within the next 24 months (yes, under certain circumstances this can mean a 2 YEAR BANISHMENT from Ecuador for those who, either willfully or as a result of simply no knowing, overstay their T-3 Visa for first time visitors OR during any consecutive 365 day period since receiving a prior year’s T-3). However, for those wishing to stay longer in Ecuador, there are ways to fix this very grave problem and avoid getting kicked out of the country you hold so dear. But, that can become a somewhat expensive, nerve wracking and undesirably memorable experience for those who have no other choice but to do so (hint: the “fix” involves making a trip or two to the Ecuadorian Consulate in one’s home country, which can be a very far and frustrating trip/experience, to say the least). Thus, remembering the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, DO NOT IMPROPERLY COUNT THE DAYS that you’ve used up on your T-3 Visa, and if you are uncertain at any time or for any reason, be sure to contact an Ecuadorian Immigration Attorney, so as to be informed of the law and how it applies to you and your own situation, as per your own personally received T-3 Visa(s) and/or Tourist Visa Extension(s), respectively.

Guayaquil, Ecuador at night

Guayaquil, Ecuador at night

3) The third thing to know before you venture ‘down-south’ is to not bring lots and lots of cold hard cash and/or precious metals with you on the plane or in your checked luggage (meaning do not bring more than $10,000 in United States dollars value per person or per family party). Though it is LEGAL to do so, you must declare it to Ecuadorian Customs Agents immediately upon arriving in Ecuador. Failure to do so can result in a substantial fine or forfeiture of your cash and possibly even the filing of a tax-evasion fraud case by Customs of Ecuador against you for having failed to declare your cash or precious metals (though this is type of sanction is typically used only in the case of very large amounts of cash being brought to Ecuador without being properly declared, or when criminal activities such as drug offenses are suspected).

4) If you are taking your pets with you to Ecuador, do yourself a favor and know that you can only do so if your cats and/or dogs have received their appropriately timed internationally respected vaccines, tapeworm and tick checks, including a Health Certificate signed off on by your pet’s veterinarian (up to 2 pets total per person or family can be brought on any one flight). You will also need to SEPARATELY check with your airline regarding any written forms, costs and/or flight travel or destination requirements that apply to the import of pets on their flights to Ecuador. But otherwise, the importation of your cats and/or dogs to Ecuador is usually the easiest part of moving to Ecuador. However, brining in pet birds, rabbits or other pets in generally a No-No.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

5) When you arrive at the airport in Ecuador (either in Guayaquil Airport or Quito Airport), it is ABSOLUTELY BEST to already have your transfer from the airport to your final destination – hotel or apartment/house – before you fly to Ecuador (e.g., Guayaquil is a lovely and beautifully scenic 3 hour car ride to Cuenca through the majestic Cajas Mountains). As Ecuadorian taxi drivers are usually only Spanish speaking, not very patient with newcomers, and sometimes can bilk you (like charging over $200 for a taxi ride that should cost no more than $120) or, in the very unlikeliest of cases, even steal from you – everyone all around the world has of course heard such stories about the random criminal taxi driver who preys upon unsuspecting foreigners in ANY FOREIGN CITY, who are marked by their inability to speak the native language of the very place they have flown to in order to begin their new life.

6) Before you come to Ecuador (just as with any other international destination), you should have your accommodations already booked and confirmed in anticipation of boarding the plane. Not doing so can result in a FAILURE to locate any accommodations at all on the night that you arrive (this however is usually only an issue during a time of High Festivals in Ecuador, which occur on varied dates throughout the year in different cities and the nation as a whole). This advice is offered to prevent you from ever being the unlucky recipient of an unclean and/or highly overpriced habitation for your very first night in Ecuador.

The Parade of Flowers and Fruit in Ambato, Ecuador

The Parade of Flowers and Fruit in Ambato, Ecuador

7) Residency Visas: Oh yes, its time to invoke the Visa card again, but this time, specifically relating to the processing of your Residency Visa for Ecuador. First of all, while I as the author of this article am in fact an Ecuadorian Attorney-Abogada, I can tell you quite candidly that one CAN IN FACT apply for one’s own Residency Visa if absolutely necessary to reduce the costs of relocating to Ecuador (and some do successfully get it done this way). However, it is quite truthfully not usually the case that happiness is the end result for those who venture to complete their own Residency Visa process and application forms (remember: all such documents need to be 100% completed, documented, produced and certified in virtually perfect Spanish without any errors in the documents). Also take note that while they generally try to be helpful and informative, the Ecuadorian Consulates in foreign countries (i.e. in the US, Canada, etc.) do not always, believe it or not, have the most current or up to date required documents list or procedures for how to obtain a Residency Visa in Ecuador (a travesty, you might think, but it is indeed the truth that this is the situation much more often than one might otherwise reasonably expect in the 21st Century). Finally, even if someone knows Spanish just as well as they know English, NO FOREIGN TRANSLATIONS TO SPANISH ARE ACCEPTED IN ECUADOR ON ANY BASIS AT ANY TIME OR FOR ANY REASON (of course this “translates” into your not being able to translate your own documents to Spanish, whether you do so in your home country or whether you do so from your new apartment or hotel room here in Ecuador, because, as the “owner” of your documents, YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO TRANSLATE YOUR OWN DOCUMENTS TO SPANISH IN ANY CASE WHATSOEVER, no matter where you are located. This is because, you as your own applicant have a natural conflict of interest in doing so for the reason that possibly you might perhaps intentionally misrepresent what your documents say in the case of, for example, an unflattering Police Report, a Pension that is too small for Ecuador, a past name you may have changed that might be inconvenient for you to have to explain to the Ecuadorian Immigration Ministry, etc.. As a direct result of the above, as well as for many other reasons that for the sake of this editorial piece only remaining of “article length” and not becoming of a full fledged book or novel, applying for your own Residency Visa all by yourself, is generally considered by those who have tried it, to be at best an an ugly several week period spent at the park, and at worst, something bordering on what one might call a nightmare.

Loja, Ecuador

Loja, Ecuador

8) Let’s see: What do you need to apply for Residency in Ecuador nowadays? Is it an official report from the FBI, the RCMP, the State or Provincial Police, the Local City Police or the Town Police, or is it ALL OF THE ABOVE, or quite possibly is it NONE OF THE ABOVE?? This question has been asked and answered in many different ways, at different times, and depending on whom you ask and the way you ask them, you could receive very many different answers, which could either be very good or very bad for your Residency Visa process. This highly important issue is an “ever changing” rule and requirement here in Ecuador, and so out of much concern that whatever I might as an Immigration Lawyer indicate to you “today” could easily become a different requirement in only days, weeks or months from now (notice how I didn’t mention the word “years” – as this Police Report issue changes VERY REGULARLY!), you would be very wise to once again QUITE REGULARLY check in with your Immigration Attorney on the status of this very frequently changeable requirement “or set of requirements” for it, as it is and always has been (and presumably always will be) a moving target, for which no one can adequately anticipate what the near to immediate future of changes will bring. Because, again here, we are not talking about the long-term future for changes, as in my multi-hundred clients’ experiences, the rules governing this issue change more often than cosmopolitan ladies like myself opt to change their daily shoe-wear!

9) Apostille: Ah yes, a word that many have tried to pronounce and most have failed to utter correctly, as it comes from the French, meaning “A Government-Issued Certification that Authenticates a Public Document for use in a Foreign Country”. So what exactly is an Apostille then? Well, for those who are familiar with the functions of a notary and their ability to provide notarizations, guess what, it is ABSOLUTELY NOT THAT. Essentially, those specific countries that are parties to the international “Hague Convention’s Apostille Section” (i.e., countries such as the US, Europe, Australia, some parts of China, and of course Ecuador), have all unanimously agreed that their respective Departments of State, Secretaries of State or Ministries of External Affairs, MUST provide an Official Certification of any and all documents coming from that country that are to be used in another country that is also a party to the “Hague Convention’s Apostille Section”. And so, if your country is NOT a member of the so-called “International Club” (i.e., countries such as Canada, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, etc.), then you will INSTEAD need a “Legalization” of your foreign documents to be provided by the Ecuadorian Consulate in or nearest to your home country, before you move to Ecuador to apply for your Residency Visa. This issue regarding Apostilles and Legalizations can get very complicated indeed. Sometimes one has multiple nations of current or past Residency and/or dual Citizenships, and therefore such a person might might need to fulfill BOTH REQUIREMENTS in several different countries simultaneously – meaning in such a case acquiring both Apostilles and Legalizations at the same time. Whew…

Quito, Ecuador at night

Quito, Ecuador at night

10) Finally, we have arrived at the 10th and possibly most important rule here in Ecuador for new residents. That is to say, once you have received your Residency Visa and Cedula (your “Cedula” is your National Identification Card that, as a Senior, you can proudly display wherever you want to receive substantial discounts on public transportation, such as buses, planes and trains), you must be sure to not leave Ecuador for more than 90 calendar days in EITHER of the first two years of your Ecuadorian Temporary Residency (this of course means that you ARE IN FACT free to leave Ecuador for up to 90 calendar days in each of your first two years of being a Temporary Resident of Ecuador – this rule is and becomes more liberal and permissive for Permanent Residents themselves though). If there is one rule to not violate above all, this is most definitely the one, as generally YOU WILL PAY A LARGE MONETARY PENALTY AND/OR LOSE YOUR RESIDENCY VISA if you leave Ecuador for more than 90 calendar days in either of your first two years as a Temporary Resident – even proof of poor personal health needing foreign medical attention or a death in the family can/will cause a person to lose their Residency Visa and need to obtain a new replacement Residency Visa, as a direct result of the loss of their original Residency Visa. What a shame it would be and already has been in situations that I sadly had to witness, when people bring upon themselves, for lack of acceptance, acknowledgement or adherence to this most vital of all possible rules, and to lose their Residency Visa as a result.

The Bottom line as per each and all of the above, is that as stated in the famous saying with respect to the city of Rome – “When in Ecuador…”, be sure to walk the walk, and not simply talk the talk by waiting until “mañana” for what could have been done or inquired into “hoy”. And if you do so, then your new life here in our awe inspiringly breathtaking country (at least for “vistas”, if not for “visas”), will have the best opportunity to be and become exactly how you had dreamed it might, which of course is/was your original intention behind your aspirations to move to Ecuador in the first place!

The author of this article, Sara Chaca, Attorney & Abogada, is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks and fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email is sara@ecuadorvisas.com, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type of Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.




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