A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cuenca, on earth did you choose there?

"I have two other friends interested in retiring in Ecuador. When you have time, can you share how you chose this country and this city?" 

A friend sent me a Facebook message a few days ago and posed this really thought provoking question.  Over the past year, Suzanne and I have chris-crossed the country twice, spent a week in Mexico, two months in Ecuador and a month in Thailand and came to the decision that Cuenca, Ecuador will be our retirement home.  Some of our friends think we're a little nuts, some are envious of our adventuresome spirit, some simply say "great for you, but not for me".    On this blog we've shared snippets and photos of our process and our experience.  What we haven't done is really answer the question my friend Debbie just posed...maybe it's about time we did:

Cuenca, Ecuador as seen from the Turi Overlook
We have always been travelers and also have moved many times for occupational  reasons in our forty years together.  As a result,  relocation is not a daunting prospect to us.  We first commented on living overseas during a 30th  anniversary trip to the Greek Islands. We even took a picture of a run down bungalow  with a for sale sign on it and sent it to our son with a note that we were contemplating "moving overseas".  It was an April Fool's joke at the time.   During our twelve years in Arizona, the prospect of ex-pat living actually became serious when we discovered San Miguel and the central highlands of Mexico.  We began taking 2-3 jaunts per year to this region, each time exploring a little different area as a prospective retirement locale. We began reading and studying everything we could on retiring out of the country.  That launched the possibility of other locales and led to more research.  Nothing we read about the myriad places there are to retire to distracted us, however,  from Mexico until we stumbled onto an article about Cuenca, Ecuador.  Countless articles and internet searches later, it became a contender.  It offered many of the things we loved about central Mexico,  colonial architecture, Latin culture, an abundance of handicrafts and art, a simpler lifestyle, etc. There appeared to be added conveniences, as well...having the U.S. dollar as a currency was attractive, healthcare appeared to be both affordable and of high quality, it was much easier to work part time in Ecuador, and Ecuador, as a country, offered some great diversity in climate and geography.  All of that made us decide we need to visit.  The decision to visit turned into a trial run, complete with preliminary preparations to pull our retirement trigger.  (We figured if Ecuador didn't work, we were set to go to our original choice: San Miguel).   Our biggest concern was altitude adjustment.   

Once we arrived, recovered our breath (both literally and figuratively) and had spent the first three weeks in Cuenca, we knew this was going to be home.   It met all the expectations we had going in, the  inevitable negatives  that arose were easily adjusted to to and dealt with.  Most of all, we discovered a climate of  friendliness and sense of neighborhood among both the ex-patriot as well as the Ecuadorian people we met.  

Roger and Suzanne in Cuenca, Ecuador
What made us pick Cuenca?  Here's the quick list of the things we really like:
      Friendly people
      Old fashioned Values
      Colonial architecture
      Beautiful scenery
      Personal, quality, affordable health care
      Public transportation
       Parks and plazas
       Moderate climate
       Abundance of community and cultural activities
       Beauty and diversity of country    

That's why, today, we are back in Arizona, USA making the final document and personal property preparations for our permanent return.  One more cross country trip. a holiday visit with family and then it's off to Cuenca to make it our home.
This kind of retirement isn't for everyone and it can be absolutely overwhelming in scope for those wanting to try it, so let me finish my answer to a friend's question by offering some tips on how to decide if retiring overseas is for you and how to choose a spot.

1.  Know what you want to do in retirement.   
     If your priorities are fishing, golfing, long walks in the park, etc.; then there's plenty of great spots here in the USA for that.  Despite what the idiots are currently doing in Washington, this is still the free-est and most prosperous country on the planet.   But if you enjoy, desire and can handle a real change in lifestyle, go hunt for it and find your heart's desire.

2. Run the numbers, do the logistics:
     Lots of people look at ex-patriate retirement because they hear it's cheaper.  It is in many areas, but there are also hidden costs most of us don't think about . It's also seldom as affordable as those mailers and magazine cover headlines lead you to believe.  Also realize that more affordability only comes with some adjustments and/or concessions in return.  You can't find suburban Scottsdale, Arizona living for 25 cents on the dollar anywhere on the planet.  Do some realistic financial planning for your retirement.  Be sure to include how you can accommodate relocation (and a possible return back to the US, if needed). 

3.  Go to school and do your homework!
      Learn everything you can about any locale you're considering.  You need to know about the cuisine, the customs, the culture, the geography, the economy...everything you can.  You are going to have to adjust and adapt to a new and different environment,  because that environment is NOT going to adapt to your expectations.  Make sure the expectations you have are realistic ones.  There's lots of resources for information ranging from the library to you tube videos from google earth to bloggers. (Debbie,  tell your friends that is a great source for exploring the Ecuadorian blogosphere and they list a number of good reference sites, as well)

4. Visit, if possible, do a trial run:
     Nothing beats mixing with the people, walking the neighborhoods, attending a social function, shopping for groceries, etc. to see if a new land might be suitable for home.  If your visit is a short one because of budget, be careful to NOT make it a typical cram as much sightseeing as we can and take all the tours we can, vacation kind of trip.  While you will need to satisfy some of the  tourist in you, remember that the purpose of the trip is to discover if you can live  daily life there, not just enjoy yourself.  I can have a great time in the Big Apple but I sure wouldn't  do well living there full time!

5.  Finally, enjoy the process!
     Preparing for retirement can be daunting but it shouldn't be!.  This is a special time of life.  Make it special by enjoying the process of getting ready for it.  Treat each and every day, each and every task during the preparation as a significant step on what is probably one of the most important journeys you'll make in life.  It's not always where you are going, but with whom you travel and how you travel that makes the journey exciting and fun.

I hope that helps and hope each of you can have as much fun as we do, juntos en el camino de la vida!


  1. Why don't you look up the word "expatriate"

  2. I've butchered that word before! It's a bad habit I need to work on...thanks for the reminder.

  3. This was an excellent post. You've provided a great foundation of info from which to build a knowledge base. Thanks for taking the time to write this out.

  4. Thanks for the info, Roger. I passed this along to my friends.

  5. We have visited Cuenca several times, and are planning our retirement there. Your blog posts are very informative. We plan to be in Cuenca this November for a few days, to meet with expats, and seriously take on the task of moving (which would be about three years from now at the most.) Maybe we can meet.