Written By: Attorney Sara Chaca, of Cuenca, Ecuador
Congratulations! Because, 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 Cuenca or thereabouts)! Yes, for the most part, everything you have heard about the wonderful climate, very inexpensive living, the 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 with respect to moving to Ecuador, then there would not be any point to me writing and regularly revising this article, besides commending you on a job well done in selecting our beautiful country as your new home and/or retirement destination.
Alas, like all things in life, nothing is EVER so completely clear-cut, to the extent of being without compromise or equivocations of some type. Thus, this brings us to the title of this article and its literal intent, which is to proclaim that there are indeed certain things that you must do (as well as must not do), in planning your move to Ecuador. And so, I shall now enunciate the “10 Things to Know Before Moving to Ecuador”, as follows, for your review and intoning of these very necessary ideals, in conjunction with making the hop, skip and a jump to our marvelous gem of Ecuador:
As an American, Canadian, European or Australian/New Zealander, you’re of course AUTOMATICALLY 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. That is to say, upon your arrival to Ecuador by plane, the Immigration Police in either Guayaquil International Airport or Quito International Airport, will simply and without ANY request for money or other documents, stamp your T-3 Visa in your Passport, and then send you on your merry way to any and all points in Ecuador, without further hassle. 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 may have a problem at the most typically used flight ticket counter of either American Airlines or Copa Airlines, in your home country, on the day that you had planned to fly to Ecuador. You see, the ticket counter agent at the airport in your home country, upon you checking in, may ask to see your return flight ticket OR your already received RESIDENCY VISA for Ecuador (i.e. sometimes 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 is those who are already Residents of Ecuador). Thus, if you are not already a Resident of Ecuador and you do not have a return flight ticket pre-purchased, then you can be, shall I say, FORCED, to buy one at the very last minute before you get on your departing flight to go to Ecuador. So, as a good rule of thumb, ALWAYS CALL your airline prior to your upcoming travel date to Ecuador to see if they require you to have pre-purchased a return ticket back to your home country, as naturally, the price to buy a last minute airline ticket while standing at the flight ticket counter in the hour or two prior to your flight taking off, will often be, how the apt cliché so often goes, “through the roof”. So, the moral of this rule is, be sure to check ahead of time if you’ll need to pre-purchase a return ticket for your trip to Ecuador, EXCEPT if you are already a Resident of Ecuador, which is of course the singular guaranteed exception that proves this rule!
Believe it or not, we have STILL not yet finished with the T-3 Visa “things to know” portion of this article – yes, the T-3 Visa itself 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 (as was already explained in Rule #1 above), you should adhere to that 90 day rule religiously, as if you 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 (i.e. any consecutive 12 month time range), then you can become ILLEGAL in Ecuador and therefore become entitled to pay a large monetary fine upon leaving Ecuador or returning to Ecuador (there is however now an exception that allows one to acquire a Tourist Visa Extension UP TO 30 DAYS AFTER one’s T-3 Visa of 90 days expires). This is notwithstanding the fact that if you had previously acquired a Tourist Visa Extension OR already formally/officially applied for your “Temporary OR 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, without the need to obtain any Tourist Visa Extension in such case. Now of course, as foreigners are the lifeblood of Ecuador’s economy, besides Ecuador’s massive same “blood colored” petroleum reserves, and based on my own many years of past experience with this issue, you are 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 to the airport in Ecuador to fly back home to your original country, the Ecuadorian Immigration Police can/will matter-of-factly tell you that your T-3 Visa of 90 days has/had expired, and that you are now illegal in Ecuador and must either/both pay a monetary penalty of nearly $1000 or obtain a new visa from the Ecuadorian Consulate in your home country in order to be permitted to return to Ecuador any time within the next 24 months (yes, under certain circumstances this can mean a 2 YEAR BANISHMENT from returning to Ecuador for those who either willfully or as a result of simply not knowing, overstay[ed] their T-3 Visa for first time visitors to Ecuador OR during any consecutive 365 day period since the time of one having received a prior year’s T-3 Visa). However, there are in fact ways to FIX this very grave problem for those wishing to stay in Ecuador during their next 24 months ahead, so that they aren’t kicked out of the country that they hold so dear in serving them as their new home. But, that can become a somewhat expensive, nerve wracking and undesirably memorable experience for those who have no other choice but to do so (hint: the “fix” involves making a trip or two to the Ecuadorian Consulate in one’s home country, which can be a very far and frustrating trip/experience, to say the least..). Thus, in and of the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, DO NOT IMPROPERLY COUNT YOUR DAYS that you’ve used up on your T-3 Visa, and if you are uncertain at any time or for any reason, be sure to contact an Ecuadorian Immigration Attorney, so as to be informed of the law and how it applies to you and your own situation, as per your own personally received T-3 Visa(s) and/or Tourist Visa Extension(s), respectively.
Moving right along now, the third thing to know before you venture ‘down-south’ 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 must declare it to Ecuadorian Customs Agent immediately upon arrival to Ecuador. Failure to do so can result in a substantial fine and/or forfeiture of your cash, and possibly even the filing of a legal case by Customs of Ecuador against a person for having failed to declare their cash or precious metals (though that type sanction is experientially more typically reserved in the case of very large amounts of cash and/or gold being brought to Ecuador in an undeclared manner, and/or where criminal activities such as drug offenses are suspected).
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 wishing to bring their four legged pets to Ecuador (as bringing birds, rabbits and other pets to Ecuador is generally a no-no..).
Next, when you arrive to the airport in Ecuador (either Guayaquil Airport or Quito Airport), it is ABSOLUTELY BEST to already have booked your transportation/transfer from the airport to your final destination hotel or apartment/house before you fly to the country (i.e. Guayaquil Airport itself makes for a lovely as well as beautifully scenic 3 hour car ride to Cuenca through the majestic Cajas Mountains). 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 3 hour taxi ride that should cost no more than say, $120..), 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 are naturally marked by their inability to speak the native language of the very place that they have flown to in order to begin their new life or long vacation in.
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 to Ecuador. Not doing 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 across the country as a whole). This word of advice is only so as to prevent you from ever possibly being the unlucky recipient of an uncleanly and/or highly overpriced habitation for your very first night(s) spent in Ecuador.
Visas…Oh yes, its time to invoke the Visa card again, but this time, specifically related to your Residency Visa processing for Ecuador. First of all, while I as the author of this article am of course also an Ecuadorian Immigration Attorney – Abogada, I can tell you quite candidly that one can in fact apply for their own Residency Visa, if absolutely needed to save on the costs of relocating to Ecuador (and some do successfully get it done that way). However, this is quite truthfully not usually the case that happiness is the end result for 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 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 becomes the situation much more often than one might otherwise reasonably expect to find or have happen to them in the 21st century). Finally, even if someone knows Spanish just as well as they know English, NO FOREIGN TRANSLATIONS TO SPANISH ARE 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 and in the capacity as a Residency Visa applicant ARE NOT PERMITTED TO TRANSLATE YOUR OWN DOCUMENTS TO SPANISH IN ANY CASE WHATSOEVER, no matter where you are located). This is because, you as your own applicant have a natural conflict of interest in doing so for the reason that possibly you might perhaps intentionally misrepresent 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 for you to have to explain to the Ecuadorian 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 becoming of a full fledged book or novel, applying for your own Residency Visa all by yourself, is generally considered by those who have tried it, to be in general, an ugly several week period spent at the park, and at worst, something bordering on what one might call a nightmare.
Lets see, what is it you need for applying for Residency in Ecuador now-a-days; is it MAYBE 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 possibly is it 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 many different answers which could either be very good or very bad for your Residency Visa process..This highly important issue is an “ever changing” rule and requirement here in Ecuador, 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 or weeks or months from now (notice how I didn’t mention the word “years”, as the Police Report issue changes VERY REGULARLY!), you would be very wise to once again QUITE REGULARLY check in with your Immigration Attorney as to the status of this very frequently changeable requirement “or set of requirements” for it, 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 here, we are not talking about the long-term future for changes, as in my multi-hundred clients’ experiences, the rules governing this issue change more often than cosmopolitan ladies like myself opt to change their daily shoe-wear!
— Ah yes, a word that most have tried to pronounce and few 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 ABSOLUTELY NOT THAT! Essentially, those specific countries who are a party to the international “Hague Convention’s Apostille Section” (i.e. countries such as the US, Europe, Australia, some parts of China, and of course Ecuador too..), 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 that are to be used in another country that is also a party to the “Hague Convention’s Apostille Section”. And so, if your country is NOT a member of this so called “International Club” (i.e. countries such as 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 or nearest to your home country, before you move to Ecuador to apply for your Residency Visa. This issue regarding Apostilles and Legalizations can get very complicated indeed, as sometimes, one has multiple nations of current or past Residency and/or dual Citizenships, and therefore that such person might need to fulfill BOTH REQUIREMENTS in several different countries simultaneously – meaning in such case, 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 (your “Cedula” being your National Identification Card in Ecuador that as a Senior you can proudly display wherever you go so as to receive substantial discounts on public transportation such as on 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 Temporary 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 Temporary Resident of Ecuador – this rule is and becomes more liberal and permissive for Permanent Residents themselves though). If there is one rule to not violate above all, this is most definitely the one, as generally YOU WILL PAY A LARGE MONETARY PENALTY AND/OR LOSE YOUR RESIDENCY VISA if you leave Ecuador for more than 90 calendar days in either of your first two years as a Temporary Resident – even proof of poor personal health needing foreign medical attention or a death in the family can/will cause a person to lose their Residency Visa and need to obtain a new replacement Residency Visa, as a direct result of the loss of their original Residency Visa. What a shame it would be, and already has been in situations that I sadly had to witness people bring upon themselves for their lack of acceptance, acknowledgment or adherence of this most vital of all possible rules, to lose one’s Residency Visa by virtue of same..
The bottom line as per each and all of the above, is that as stated in the famous saying with respect to the city of Rome – “When in Ecuador..”, be sure to walk the walk, and not simply talk the talk by waiting until “manana” for what could have been done or inquired into “hoy”..As if you do so, then your new life here in our awe inspiringly breathtaking country (at least for “vistas”, if not for “visas”..), will have the very best opportunity to be and become exactly how you had dreamed it might, which of course is/was your original intention behind your aspirations to move to Ecuador in the first place!
Sara Chaca (Attorney – Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is email@example.com, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.