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Where Should I Retire?

Aug. 12, 2022, 2:24 p.m. EDT

This Ecuadorean city in the Andes has perfect weather — and you can retire there for as little as $1,500 a month

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By Silvia Ascarelli

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What do things cost?

Bill and Dean Keyes rent a 3,000-square-foot apartment with four bedrooms and four bathrooms about five miles from downtown for $700 a month. The Squireses have a two-bedroom furnished apartment in the center of town that costs $550 a month and includes all utilities, even internet.

Given the mild temperatures, apartments don’t come with central heating or air conditioning.

Neither couple owns a car; they say it’s not needed. A bus ride is just 15 cents for seniors and 30 cents for others, says Bill Keyes. “There are lots of discounts for ‘tercera edad,’ or over 65,” he adds.

A cab ride starts at $1.50, and he recalls a $5 fare for a half-hour ride to the hospital. Overall, he estimates he spends about $125 a month on cabs.

A four- or five-hour bus trip to another Ecuadorean city usually costs $10 or less, and hotels are $20 to $25 a night, Chase Squires says.

The U.S. dollar is the de facto currency. ATMs spit out $20 bills. Most business is done in cash; those gold-colored Sacagawea dollar coins that generally go unused in the U.S. are popular in Ecuador, as are quarters.

A local lunch could cost $3 to $5; filet mignon at an upscale restaurant could run $18.

Dean Keyes enjoys regular massages and acupuncture treatments; “it’s my treat for having worked for 40 years.” she says. That costs $35 for both in Cuenca, compared with $70 just for acupuncture and another $50 for a massage in Tucson.

Internet, with upload and download speeds of 150 megabytes per second, costs the Keyeses $49 a month. Cellphone service costs $7 a month, and people typically use WhatsApp to call friends and businesses for free.

What about healthcare?

Health insurance, says Chase Squires, is what drove him and his wife to leave the U.S.

“Our biggest driver for working in the U.S. is to have health insurance,” he says. “When it became obvious we could do it a different way, we realized we could quit working.”

Instead of paying $1,200 a month in the U.S. for a policy with a $6,000 deductible, they have coverage from a private insurer for $110 a month in Ecuador with a $5,000 deductible. That’s $110 for both of them. He recently spent $40 to see a doctor at a private medical center over what turned out to be strep throat; the follow-up visit was free.

Bill Keyes says he and his wife pay $100 a month for insurance that covers his quarterly checkups and all of his medications. Before that, the couple opted to self-insure. When he woke up with terrible chest pains in 2013, he recalls, he hailed a cab to get to a hospital in Cuenca, where he was told he needed a stent. It was inserted through his arm, and he spent a few nights in the hospital. It cost him $7,800.

When he later needed a triple bypass, a friend told him to get on the public insurance system that provides free care. He spent nine days in the hospital, and the only cost was $110 for food.

His current insurance comes through the hospital system associated with Ecuador’s version of Social Security, called IESS. Workers and businesses pay into it, but you can also join the system as a “volunteer,” he says.

How do you get a visa to live in Ecuador?

There are several ways to qualify for residency. The caveat is that rules change, so check for the latest information. While the couples have different visas, they both used Ecuadorean lawyers to help with the process.

The Keyeses were eligible for a retirement visa, which requires proof of enough monthly income to live. When they moved in 2010, that was $1,200 a month.

The Squireses were too young for the retiree visa but qualified for professional visas. They began gathering paperwork for two-year temporary visas in November 2019, arrived in Ecuador in February 2020, then had their visas by early May and national ID cards in June. In November 2021, it was time to start the process for permanent visas. They were in hand by March 2022.

Ecuador also offers an investor visa, which involves either depositing $42,500 in a bank or buying property for that amount, and one for digital nomads.

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