Last evening, after much emailing over the intervening weeks before leaving and after arriving here in Cuenca, Ecuador, we finally got to meet a great and wonderful US expat couple, Ken and Leanne Crawley. They have been here four years now, and have much wisdom and good advice about Cuenca and Ecuador vis a vis expat living here in Cuenca.
Ken is a retired pastor with the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the US (last based in South Carolina), and Leanne is a retired Respiratory Therapist. They live - with yet another moment of Serendipity involved - next to the Rio Tomebamba, Cuenca's most notable river, with scenic green walkways for walking or jogging (it's safe here for that) accented with trees and flowers throughout. I say Serendipitously because we moved Tuesday into a lovely vacation studio loft condo just two blocks away from the Crawley's. . . neat how all these little life details God puts together for us better than we could ever do ourselves! Our God is like that, though. . . no surprise. Now Carolyn Anne has a nearby friend to go on outings to while walking. . . still losing some pounds here day by day.
Their living situation is at a multistory condo with two balconies for flowers and plants to enjoy - not all condos in their building enjoy that feature - and is secure with security gate and guard at the front desk. Nice view of the Rio Tomebamba, and in walking distance to Parque Calderon, the central park square of Cuenca's El Centro, as well as new Cuenca southwards and more shops, including a Supermaxi supermarket (we're not at their walking distance level just yet, though). Walking is the thing here in Cuenca, if one wants to be healthy. Great walking city. Three bedroom, two baths, 1200 square feet (Ecuador actually uses square meters, though) for around $375USD rent per month. This does not include utilities (and wifi Internet and DirectTV are considered utilities here) or furniture (Ecuadorians don't even supply a stove or refrigerator in with a rental). When you consider the Ecuadorian "Rule of 3's and 4's" this translates to a rent of about $1200 to $1600 per month in the States. . . so comparing apples to apples this way, you can see it's not overpriced, but dollar for dollar costs so much less in Ecuador. . . a main draw for folks Stateside wanting to stretch their dollars, as we seek to do. We could rent a smaller place similar to the Crawley's and probably pay less, keeping in mind that they signed their lease a few years ago when rents were lower than they are now.
Transportation costs are way down for the Crawley's compared to things Stateside. $90 a month includes all the taxis they use to get around when not walking - for places farther away like Mall del Rio, one of the two regional malls here, and foe Leanne's volunteering at a hospital in town. . . more about that later. When Leanne volunteers, she has the chofer - driver - pick up a friend out of the way along the way to the hospital, so that kind of expense is included in the monthly expense. I can see significant savings for us here walking and taking the taxi on an as needed basis. Great! Cars are more expensive in Ecuador btw when you consider the Rule of three's and four's. Doubtful we'll buy a car here. If anything, maybe rent a car to get out of town and see the country once in a while.
Medical and Dental costs are much less than in the States. Leanne had a kidney stone procedure done here, and the staff speaks English - trained in the US, UK or Canada - and has all the modern equipment and procedures you need in a large city like Cuenca. Her imaging costs (x-rays, cat scans and the like that were done to find the kidney stone) were considerably less than what one would find in the States as well. The whole procedure and hospital stay and doctor's visits all ended up a bit north of $1000USD. Just the tests alone would cost tens of thousands of dollars in the States if I recall correctly. Carolyn Anne was quoted a dental "deep cleaning" cost of $378 by her hygienist in Palmdale. Here the cost should be a quarter or a fifth of that, and the Dentista - Dentist - does the work instead of the hygienist. Keeping a good reputation among one's clients that way. We'll check out a couple of Dentistas today and see what they say. Ecuador does have several health pland to choose from that are available to expats, and the costs of a plan - which allows you to get very good private care - is very low by US standards, especially considering the effects of Obamacare now being felt in the US. We need to check it out further, of course.
Leanne and Ken left everything in the States behind by either selling it or giving it away to their four grown children. They sold their house, too. . . cutting off any reason (save for family visits) they might have for ever coming back to the US. They are Cuencanos now, and enjoy their life here very much. Ken is fluent in Spanish, and Leanne is very capable, though not completely fluent. My Spanish is good enough to have friendly conversation with taxi drivers, hotel clerks, and restaurant waiters and staff, and even get a Claro phone rental in country. Good to very good say the Ecuadorians that volunteer that feedback to me. Neat to hear. . . Praise God for the ability to communicate in a foreign land! Carolyn Anne likewise is learning Spanish at a rapid pace and needs more practice, though she is well on our way. She needs to remember the word for question - pregunta - and stop calling this country El Salvador (it's Ecuador, of course). Slips of the tongue that take practice and patient love, which God has graciously given us first, so we may love one another.
We have diligently avoided the street vendors with their little carts of food (often unsafe for extranjeros like us) and Montezuma has had no Revenge on us to date. Healthwise we are good and good with the high altitude, too. We *LOVE* Cuenca, and are seriously thinking of moving here. The only thing we see as a downside is the dog doo doo that is on the sidewalks in the mornings occasionally. Sidewalks are swept daily and clean - it's the law here. Ken relates a downside may be what the US government may be doing after July 1, 2014 regarding financial and tangible assets which could throw a monkey wrench into moving here. Need to study up more on all this. . . not the first time I've heard this, though.
Ken also asked me if we would hire a lawyer, hire a personal assistant, or do it yourself regarding getting a Cedula, or resident visa. I think a personal assistant is the way to go. The abogados - lawyers - have been known to rip gringos off for $2000 or more all the while holding back papers for the Ecuadorian government, and not doing the job as agreed to, and going the do it yourself route means a learning curve in legal and governmental Spanish usage I'm not sure I want to tackle just yet. So personal assistant it is, then. Ken advises going to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Ecuador (the office you start with is the office you must finish with, btw) and getting in writing the requirements for our Cedulas, and keeping these important papers in a safe place. The Ecuadotian government changes the requirements all the time, even daily and depending on whom you speak with, so getting it in writing is key.
All in all, I'd have to agree with novelty song singer Joe Dolce, to wit: "It's a not so bad, it's a nice a place, aw Shaddup a you face!"