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As a writer, I am also an avid reader of others’ blogs, among other sources of all things literary. And when it comes to travel blogs, expat blogs, and specifically living-in-Ecuador blogs (this being my specialty), I get tired of the over-romanticized, all positive blogs that lack the ugly details and hardships of life abroad, and put a sucrose-coated patina over the everyday realities. I like to tell it like it is and hard as it is to find these days, someone’s got to do it. We all like to hear the good stuff, but it’s nice to have a heads-up once in a while as well.
As a Gemini, I have both a very positive side and another that is prone to depression and negative thinking. However, the negative side is one that also aids in a pragmatist/realist view of things, a side that helps to not gloss things over, to see reality for what it really is. I’ve done several entries, like the one about getting a driver’s license or others about doing business in Ecuador, detailing some of the trials and tribulations you’ll face if you come to live here, and especially if you plan to do any kind of business here. I’m not making any attempt to disrespect Ecuador or deny that there are many, many positive aspects of living in Ecuador; but I am trying, as the title suggests, to not only dispel the myths inherent in the dominant discourse of so many blogs that paint a tropical paradise that is idyllic, cheap, and easy, but to illustrate that there are also a number of frustrating things you should be aware of if you plan to spend any substantial amount of time here.
Now that being said, if you come as a retiree or have some foreign-based, external source of fixed income, you’ll be able to avoid many, many hassles-hassles that you will face if you come to live here or do business here. But nonetheless, there are a lot of hoops to jump through that you’ll find entertaining, frustrating, ridiculous, silly, downright illogical, or a bit of all these things, depending on your attitude. And none of them will make your life any easier. But i Digress…back to the details.
Yes, the cost of living is relatively “low” here compared to other places. However, there are some major caveats. Most cars are priced 60 to 80% over what you’d pay in the US due to high import tariffs. There’s no haggling at the dealer. And you’re going to pay easily upwards of 10% on a 5 year note if you want to finance it. So the car you might have in the states for a $200 monthly payment would easily cost you here $400+ monthly if you’re not paying cash.
Utilities are cheap, but the cost of housing isn’t always so. If you want to live in a decent middle class part of Quito, on top of utilities you’ll probably be paying high condominium fees, as most good neighborhoods have either a caretaker or guard service. If there are common areas that need maintenance, you’ll also be paying for that. So you can easily pay $75, $100, or $200 per month in homeowner’s/condo fees in many neighborhoods.
Fruits and vegetables are cheap and abundant, but unlike the Quito (and rest of Ecuador) of ten to fifteen years ago-especially before the country’s economy was dollarized-eating out and eating well are not cheap. Sure, cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants abound, often called “comedores,” where average every day workers eat and you can get a meal for under $3. But you might also leave with amoebic dysentery, giardia, or some other lovely bug, and end up spending on a doctor’s visit and medicine to cure the indigestion! If you want to eat out in an upper end place, long gone are the days of a grand meal for 6 people for under $150, wine included. You can now easily spend $50-$100 dining for two. Sure, the food can be excellent, but the price is no longer so cheap.
Quito and Ecuador is still relatively peaceful, but it’s not as safe as it used to be. Not only does this cost you money, but peace of mind has its own price. “Express” kidnappings have been known to occur fairly regularly nowadays in Quito and especially Guayaquil-where you’ll be whisked off into a passing vehicle (or in a taxi you innocently stepped unknowingly into, where an accomplice might jump in beside you), and then be forced to withdraw money from an ATM or relieved of whatever valuables you might have on you. It’s not uncommon to hear of people’s houses, especially in Quito, being cleaned out by thieves in broad daylight. While muggings and armed robbery on the street are not that common, they do happen regularly if you’re not careful.
Finally, doing business here may have certain benefits such as low cost of labor-but there are a lot of costly bureaucratic hurdles that eat up time when time is money. Just last week, I had to give my employee 1.5 days off so that she could spend 10 of those 12 hours waiting in line to get her occupational permit for work. This included getting blood, urine, and stool samples taken and analyzed at a laboratory, and then visiting the official Dr. from the health ministry to get her permit approved. In addition to the cost of her absence, there were all the fees involved. Imagine if you had a dozen employees! We have spent at least another 3-4 days getting our municipal permit approved, which involves going through a Kafkaesque maze of offices and forms. Fortunately, if you do live here and have family or at least a good understanding of how things work, there are people who can help you out-for a fee. Perhaps for the better, the system of paying off people to do things for you is gradually being eliminated-however, the bureaucratic maze one has to go through by oneself is just replacing one costly system for another.