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Written By: Attorney Sara Chaca, of Cuenca, 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 were all there were to think about in moving to Ecuador, then there would not be any point to this article besides commending you on a job well done in selecting this beautiful country as your next, or possibly final home.

Alas, like all things in life, nothing is ever perfectly clear-cut without compromise or equivocations of some type. Thus, this brings us to the title of this article and its literal intent, which is proclaim that there are absolutely 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 viewing and intoning of these very necessary ideals in conjunction with making the jump to Ecuador:

1) As an American, Canadian, European and Australian, you AUTOMATICALLY are permitted to enter into Ecuador on a T-3 Visa (90 day Tourist Visa) which you do not need to do anything whatsoever for to obtain it – 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 to 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, will ask to see your return flight ticket OR your already received RESIDENCY VISA to Ecuador (the only type persons who are permitted by the airlines to not have already pre-purchased a round-trip airline ticket to return to their home country because they are already residents of Ecuador). Thus, if you are not already and Resident of Ecuador and you do not have this return flight ticket pre-purchased, you will generally be, shall I say, FORCED, to buy one at the very last minute before you get on your departure flight to Ecuador, and so the price to buy a last minute airline ticket at the airport ticket counter will often be, how the cliché goes, “through the roof”. So the moral of this rule is, be sure to pre-buy 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, it is that 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 to Ecuador and receive your T-3 Visa (how explained in the Rule #1 above), you absolutely must adhere to that 90 day rule religiously, as if you dare exceed the 90 calendar day count in Ecuador during either a single trip to Ecuador or in a combination of multiple trips to Ecuador during the same 365 day calendar period, you will generally become ILLEGAL in Ecuador and technically entitled to be “deported” from Ecuador (notwithstanding that if you had previously acquired a Tourist Visa Extension OR already applied for your Permanent Residency Visa BEFORE your T-3 Visa’s 90 day period expires, then you will in such case happily remain COMPLETELY LEGAL in Ecuador past the date of using up your T-3 Visa’s 90 day period). Now of course, as foreigners are the lifeblood of Ecuador’s economy, besides Ecuador’s massive “blood colored” petroleum reserves, you are based on much past experience with this issue, 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 for departure. However, if/when you go the airport in Ecuador to fly back home to your original country, 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 obtain a new visa from the Ecuadorian Consulate in your country in order to be permitted to return to Ecuador any time within the next 9 months (yes, that means a 9 month BANISHMENT from Ecuador for those who either willfully or as a result of not knowing, overstay their T-3 Visa of 90 calendar days during any consecutive 365 day period). However, there are in fact ways to fix this very grave problem for those wishing to stay in Ecuador during their next 9 months ahead so that they aren’t kicked out of the country that they hold so dear as their new home, but that becomes a somewhat expensive, nerve wracking and undesirably memorable experience for those who have no other choice but to do so. Thus, DO NOT IMPROPERLY COUNT YOUR DAYS used up on your T-3 Visa, and if you are uncertain at any time or for any reason, be sure to contact a Visa Attorney to be informed of the law and how it applies to you and your own situation as per your personally received T-3 Visa.

3) Moving right along now, the third thing to know before you venture ‘down-south-yonder’ 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), as though it is LEGAL to do so, you will have to declare it in the Ecuadorian Customs Immigration form that you are provided with by the flight attendant on your plane prior to arrival to the Ecuadorian Customs Police counter windows at any Ecuador Airport of your arrival. Failure to do so can result in a substantial fine or forfeiture of your cash and/or even the filing of a tax-evasion fraud case by Customs of Ecuador against you for having failed to declare your cash (though this is typically only in the case of very large amounts of cash being brought to Ecuador in an undeclared manner).

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 by the way!). You will also need to SEPARATELY check with your airline as per any written forms, costs and/or flight travel or destination requirements that apply to the import of pets on their offered flights to Ecuador as well. But otherwise, the importation of your cats and/or dogs to Ecuador is usually the easiest part of moving to Ecuador, for those who wish to bring their pets that is.

5) Next, when you arrive to the airport in Ecuador (either in Guayaquil or Quito), 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 (i.e. Guayaquil is a lovely and beautifully scenic 3 hour car ride to Cuenca), 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 just $115) or in the very unlikeliest of cases even steal or rob 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 is marked by their inability to speak the native language of the very place they have flown to in order to begin their new life in.

6) Before you come to Ecuador, you should just as with any other possible international destination as your new “home away from home”, have your accommodations already booked and confirmed in anticipation of boarding your plane. Failure to do 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), or alternatively you could instead possibly be the unlucky recipient of an uncleanly and/or highly overpriced habitation for your very first night(s) spent in Ecuador.

7) Visas…Oh yes, its time to invoke the Visa card again, but this time, specifically relating to your Residency Visa processing 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 their own Residency Visa if desired by them to save on costs (I personally know individuals who have done so who were also happy with their choice to file on their own following having received their Residency Visa). However, this is quite truthfully not usually the case that happiness is bestowed upon those who venture to complete their own Residency Visa process and application forms (of which all such documents are needing to be 100% completed, documented, produced and certified in virtually perfect Spanish without any errors in the documents whatsoever, mind you). 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 to find or have happen). Finally, even if someone knows Spanish just as well as they know English, NO FOREIGN TRANSLATIONS TO SPANISH ARE AS OF THIS JUNE 18th, 2015, WRITING OF THIS ARTICLE, ACCEPTED IN ECUADOR ON ANY BASIS AT ANY TIME OR FOR ANY REASON (this of course “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 you as the “owner” of your documents ALSO CANNOT TRANSLATE YOUR OWN DOCUMENTS TO SPANISH IN ANY CASE WHATSOEVER (no matter where you are located), as you have a natural conflict of interest in doing so for purposes of possibly with intention misrepresenting 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 to have to explain to the 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 to become representative of the girth of a full fledged book or novel, applying for your own visa all by yourself is generally considered by those who have tried it, to be at best, a very ugly week at the park, and at worst, a nightmare of incalculable proportions that results in profound havoc of one’s going forward life plans or ability to stay legal in Ecuador.

8) Lets see, what is it you need for applying for Residency in Ecuador now-a-days, the FBI Report, the RCMP Report, a State or Provincial Police Report, a Local City Police Report or Town Police Report, or is it ALL OF THE ABOVE or quite perhaps NONE OF THE ABOVE?? This question has been asked and answered in many different ways, at different times, and depending on who you ask and the way you ask them, you could receive very different answers which could either be very good or very bad.This is an “ever changing” rule and requirement, and so out of much concern that whatever I might as an Immigration Lawyer indicate to you “today” could easily be or become a different requirement in only days, weeks or months from now (notice how I didn’t mention the word “years” – because this Police Report issue changes VERY REGULARLY!), you would be wise to once again VERY REGULARLY check in with me on the status of this very frequently changeable requirement or set or requirements for same, 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 intermediate future of changes will bring – because again we are not talking long-term future for changes, as in my multi-hundred client experiences, the rules governing this issue change more often than cosmopolitan ladies like myself opt to change their daily shoe-wear!

9) ..Ah yes, a word that many have tried to pronounce and most have failed to utter correctly, as it comes from the French to mean “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 NOT THAT. Essentially, those specific countries who are a party to the international “Hague Convention – Apostille Section” (such as the US, Europe, Australia, China and of course Ecuador), have all unanimously agreed that their respective Departments of State, Secretaries of States or Ministries of External Affairs, MUST provide an Official Certification of any and all documents coming from that such country to be provided in another country that is also a party to the “Hague Convention – Apostille Section”. And so, if your country is not a member of this so called “International Club” (such as countries like 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 your home country before you move to Ecuador to apply for your Residency Visa. This issue regarding Apostilles and Legalizations can get very complicated, as sometimes, one has multiple nations of current or past Residency and/or dual Citizenships, and therefore that such person needs to fulfill BOTH REQUIREMENTS in several different countries, meaning acquiring both Apostilles and Legalizations at the same time, whew…

10) Finally, we have arrived to 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 (Cedula being your National Identification Card that as a senior you can proudly display wherever you go 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 Residency (this of course means that you ARE IN FACT free to leave Ecuador up to 90 calendar days in each of your first two years of being a Resident of Ecuador). If there is one rule to not violate above all, this is most definitely the one, as you are virtually GUARANTEED to lose your Residency Visa if you leave Ecuador for more than 90 calendar days in either of your first two years – only a death in the family with a foreign coroner’s certificate provided (and with an additional Apostille or Legalization of that too!) can possibly save someone from not losing their Residency Visa and needing to obtain a new Residency Visa as a direct result. What a shame it would be (and is in the cases that I have borne personal witness to people having brought upon themselves for a lack of their adherence to this most vital of all rules), to lose one’s Residency Visa where it says right on the Residency Visa itself that it is INDEFINITIVO (meaning “Indefinite” or for essentially the rest of one’s life). Bottom line, when in Ecuador, be sure to “stay in line” and your new life here will in such case have the best possible opportunity of being and becoming exactly as you dreamed it might, and delightfully serving to you on the basis that you had originally wanted and intended in your aspirations of moving to Ecuador in the first place!

Sara Chaca, Attorney-Abogada, is a seasoned Immigration Lawyer in the procurement and advancement of Foreigners’ Visa Processes in Ecuador, and can be reached for a complimentary in-office consult or email discussion or telephone conversation with any and all Expats from any foreign country at any time, at her email address of sara@ecuadorvisas.com or on her US TOLL-FREE 800 Number of 1-800-655-1581 or on her Cuenca personal cell phone line of 099.296.2065.