Monday, April 7, 2014

We're off. . . to Ecuador!

My bride and I have reached the place in our lives where we have to figure out how we are to live the rest of our lives on largely Social Security monthly payments.

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She woke up one morning in 2012 with incredible pain in her knee, and literally unable to get out of bed.  That resulted in a doctor's visit, and a long road of State Disability payments, and a Social Security Disability Income application, now twice denied by Social Security (we will appeal to the Administrative Law Judge, though).  A journey to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California for total knee replacement surgery, too. . . all provided at no cost due to our impoverished financial state and her not working.  Thank the County of Los Angeles (prior to ObamaCare kicking in) for that, and great caring doctors and staff at Rancho. . . and Jesus the Great Physician healing my lovely wife. 

In the process of planning for our end of life affairs and a revocable Living Trust getting set up, I came across some info I had never known before: the Social Security Administration won't give the surviving spouse both Social Security checks after one dies.  They only give the greater amount check.  That caused me, the husband and one who does his best to provide for the both of us, some real soul searching.  The house thank God is paid for free and clear, and other expenses were pretty much current with few time payments.  But our income was and is on the low side of things, especially with her not being able to work any longer.  What to do when that time would come?  How would the survivor of the two of us then live?  Was the picture of what we could afford on one check one we could live with budgetwise? 

It would be pretty difficult to do so at that point, we came to understand.  Both alive, we could manage.  But one of us alone. . . not so easy.  A pretty bare bones existence.  Must be something else we could do. . .

So I started praying and typing out on my favorite Internet search engine the term "least expensive places to retire."  A number of possibilities came up, and some from outside the United States.  A site called International Living was a first page result, as well as other sites, including Kiplinger and their 8 Great Places to Retire Abroad.  It mentioned Salinas, Ecuador.  Never heard of it, though I had heard of Salinas, California!

Once I figured out that a less costly existence was out there overseas, I quickly turned to the possibilities of living in Baja California.  Advantages: south of the US/California border, easy access to medical facilities in the States for Medicare purposes, nice climate, lower costs in general while with a large expat population.  However, on further research and talking/emailing with a few real estate agents down there in the Cabo San Lucas area, it became obvious that the climate was blazingly hot part of the year, land and rental prices for real estate had become higher than what we could reasonably afford, and purchasing a residence, however humble and native style was not financially doable.  Looking at other parts of Mexico, including Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Lake Chapala, was a mixed bag.  One of the problems was that Mexico has an income requirement that - depending on my wife's eventual Social Security payment (SSDI or regular Social Security) we might not meet.  Afuera la puerta went Mexico, and any hopes of a literal  Zihuatenejo

Where to look? Panama is a welcoming country to US expats, and offers many advantages.  The tropical heat is not what my wife wants, however.  Belize speaks English, but it too is tropical, and getting there is expensive versus a place like Panama.  Poor medical facilities, too (although I subsequently learned that many expats go across the border to Mexico for their medical needs).  Malaysia in the Pacific is English speaking, and has a good expat incentive program called Malaysia My Second Home, but it is a Muslim country. . . my wife doesn't want that.  Where to go that is cooler and with a culture we could adapt to and be able to volunteer our time and expertise in retirement?

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Ecuador came back up on the list.  I started looking in depth and found the Andes highland areas, or Sierra region, is amenable to our climatic desires.   "Land of Eternal Spring" I read on an online US News & World Report site.  Highs in the 60's and 70's F. and lows in the 50's F. with sun and some rain, too. . . no California drought here!  Rainfall of around 30 to 40 inches a year in this part of Ecuador.  Starts to sound appealing. 

One consideration was the altitude.  We both had been in Colorado for extended periods living there, and recently at that, so I checked with the cardiologist, who said I'd do just fine.  If there's a problem with living at high altitude, we could go to a lower altitude smaller town in the banana plantation and sugar cane growing foothill area, or head to the Pacific coast and perhaps even Salinas, as well as Manta and other areas too.  Having these options to look at made Ecuador more appealing right away.

I liken the search for our place to retire to a jigsaw puzzle.  A long list of must haves and want to have, and a short list of "it would be really neat to have. . . ".  After many weeks and several months of searching about, praying, emailing those we know in the mission field in Ecuador from our church, praying, surfing the 'Net, praying, and long discussions between my wife and I, we finally, after more praying, took the plunge and bought airline tickets to Ecuador.  We think we will find a great fit in Cuenca, but are open to other possibilities depending on how we acclimate to the altitude, and where God leads us.  Especially where God leads us.  We need to hear His voice clearly, and see those open doors, and go through them in faith.   

We hope - especially now that this blog is up and running again - to use this site to communicate to our ever growing list of friends we know both near and far what we are up to.  Let's talk Ecuador, shall we?  We're off!

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