Jason Scott

Author Archives: Jason Scott

After numerous years wandering the globe as a digital nomad, Jason now calls Ecuador home where he lives as part of a mixed Ecuadorian/Expat family. Jason created this blog to give back to the Ecuadorian expat community.

Horseback Riding in Ecuador

Horseback riding in Ecuador has a long history. The Spanish conquistadores brought horses with them in 1534, gradually leading to cattle and horses taking over the pastoral lands traditionally occupied by llamas and alpacas. 

Ecuadorian horse riding has since revolved around haciendas. These large properties are scattered all over Ecuador and some still rely on horses as transport. Other haciendas have adapted to also offer horseback riding tours or specialize in competitive jumping. 

Indeed, some of the best horse riding we’ve experienced in Ecuador has been through smaller operators that are either operated by, or arranged through, the haciendas. Even without the horses, visiting and staying at haciendas is one of our favorite weekend getaways.

Once you’ve read this article, you’ll know the different options for:

  • Taking a horse riding tour
  • Enrolling in a horse riding school 

Right, let’s get to it! 

Cotopaxi Horse riding Ecuador

Horseback riding tours vs schools

Most visitors to Ecuador only have time to sneak in a horseback riding tour. But, those that are able to spend at least a few months here can look into enrolling at a horse riding school. 

You should be able to find a riding school if you’re close to the bigger cities of Quito, Cuenca or Guayaquil, but may need to search a little harder if you live in a smaller town. We’ve included a list of schools you can try at the bottom of the article. 

Horse riding tours 

Whether you’re new to the saddle or fancy yourself as a regular chagra (cowboy), there’s a variety of tours to suit your needs. 

We’ve created the following map to show popular horse riding tours (green) and schools (red) in Ecuador:

Quito one day horse riding tours

Day horse riding tours are popular in many of Ecuador’s tourist hot spots, particularly in the mountains accessible from Quito. Some popular options include: 

Cotopaxi

Riding in Cotopaxi National Park is an amazing experience. Just you, the volcano, and some new friends. It feels like a different world, and I guess it is.

You can get a tour leaving from Quito that takes around 2 hours to get to the stables or hacienda. Or, if you want to explore Cotopaxi some more (recommended), you can hook up with horse riding tours once you’re there. 

If you’re looking for a place to stay, Hacienda los Mortiños is 5 minutes from the Cotopaxi park entrance with great views of the volcano and offers reasonably priced horse riding tours. 

Hacienda El Porvenir also offers a good variety of rooms and is situated on the foothills of Rumiñahui Volcano. They offer a variety of day and multi-day horse riding trips and can arrange transport from Quito if required. 

Cotopaxi Horse Riding Costs

There’s something for all budgets at Cotopaxi. From Quito, expect to pay at least $100 for a 2 hour ride including return transport and lunch. Private tours cost around twice this. If you find your own way to Cotopaxi, expect to pay from $40 for a 2-hour ride with a local Spanish speaking guide. 

Cotopaxi Horse riding Ecuador
Michelle riding at Cotopaxi

Hacienda La Alegria

Smack bang in the Avenue of the Volcanoes, 40 minutes south of Quito is Hacienda La Alegria. Situated within the Machachi valley and lined with volcanoes on either side, this hacienda specializes in horseback vacations. 

They provide good priced all-inclusive tours ranging from overnight to multiple days. 

Hacienda Tilipulo

1.5 hrs from Quito, between Lake Quilotoa and Vulcan Cotopaxi is Hacienda Tilipulo. This working vegetable farm (broccoli, artichoke and potatoes) also raises horses and offers day trips, multi-day trips, and weekly lessons. All are very reasonably priced. 

Pululahua Crater

The lush green cloud forest inside a crater makes for a very unique horse riding experience. This popular destination is only a few minutes away from the Mitad Del Mundo on the outskirts of Quito.

Pululahua Ecolodge offers a good variety of horse riding tours and accommodation options. 

Hacienda La Merced Baja 

A little less than 2 hours from Quito, near Otavalo is Hacienda La Merced. It’s a working dairy farm that also breeds horses and has numerous day riding tours on offer for their guests.

Zuleta

2 hours from Quito is Hacienda Zuleta. And it’s gorgeous. This is a 17th-century working hacienda that offers many different activities such as bird watching, cooking classes and cycling. But, we’re most impressed with their horse riding tours on their very own breed of horse, aptly called Zuleteño.

Their most popular ride takes you to the neighboring Condor Huasi Project where riders learn about condors and spectacles bears. 

You’ll need to stay at the Hacienda to go on their horse riding tours. It’s not for the budget-conscious, but it’s high on our list of places to stay when we want an indulgent, adventure-filled weekend. 

Horseback riding Zuleta Ecuador
Image: Hacienda Zuleta

Cuenca one day horse tours

Horse riding isn’t necessarily high on the list of must-do activities that tourists (or even expats) explore when visiting or moving to Cuenca. But, Cuenca actually has a long and proud horse heritage with several good options for day trips and riding schools. 

Centro Ecuestre Bellavista

About 20 mins from Cuenca is Centro Ecuestre Bellavista. It’s a full-blown riding center that offers lessons, day trips, competitive jumping and breeding. Spoiler alert, this is where our family goes for our twice-weekly lessons and we all love it, especially the kids.

All prices are very reasonable, including their day trips to neighboring indigenous (Quechua) villages.  

Horseback riding Cuenca Ecuador
Lessons at Centro Ecuestre Bellavista, Cuenca

Hostería Caballo Campana

This aptly named large hostería around 15 mins from Cuenca offers horse riding tours for a reasonable hourly rate as well as riding lessons. The hostería also has beautiful gardens and rooms in you’re looking for a mini weekend getaway from Cuenca. 

Hacienda Totorillas

Also about 30 minutes from Cuenca is Hacienda Totorillas. There are multiple options for horse riding here and several Cuenca based agencies even offer moonlight rides at this Hacienda.

Beach horseback tours

If you somehow get sick of cantering through the high sierra, you can always take it down to sea level for a more relaxing ride along the beach. 

Cabalgatas Canoa

In addition to beach tours, Cabalgatas Canoa also offer tours to the nearby Jungle and several lifestyle based options such as their craft beer or BBQ sunset tour. Both of which are ideal for those lazy beach holidays.  

Villamil Playas

For those visiting or living in Guayaquil, one of your closer options is horse riding on Villamil Playas approx 1.5 hours away. There isn’t as much variety here, but you’ll still be able to find comfortable rides between 1-3 hours. These are either booked locally or through a travel agent.  

Horse riding cotopaxi ecuador

Multi-day horseback tours  

For me, this is where the magic happens. Riding through the Ecuadorian Sierra for multiple days without a worry in sight is such a rare treat. 

Many of the multi-day tours will use several of the hacienda’s mentioned above to form itineraries spanning days, often up to a week. Some may also include smaller guesthouses or hosterías in the more isolated areas. Some tours also combine horse riding with other activities such as hummingbird or spectacled bear watching. There’s almost too much choice!  

Sample multi-day horseriding tour itinerary 

We’ve included a map of a sample itinerary below to give you an idea of what a 8 day, 7 night tour looks like, including how much riding you can expect each day:

Booking your tour

There are several international based tour companies that offer equestrian focused tours. These are great options for those that like everything organized for them once they arrive in Ecuador or perhaps have trouble with Spanish as these tours normally feature a bi-lingual guide. 

Additional costs

Be on the lookout for any additional costs that may be buried in the finer print. 

Single and small group supplements

Supplements for smaller group sizes and singles are quite common. Also, most meals will be included, but some at the start and the end may not. 

Weight supplement 

Weight supplements are commonly applied too. If you weigh more than 200 lbs, you may need to pay extra. The rationale for this is that horses need to work harder in the altitude due to less oxygen being present. Imposing weight limits helps ensure the horses are treated well and not overworked. This also applies to day tours. 

Tips

Tips for the guides and other staff are not included either. Although not mandatory, many tour companies do suggest a tip of 10%. 

Flights 

Flights to Ecuador are not included for most tours. When booking flights, remember to allow a day to acclimatize before your tour starts. 

Insurance

Horse riding is a high-risk activity that may not be covered under all travel insurance policies. Make sure your policy does include horseback riding or you may find yourself under financial stress if something does not go to plan. 

What to bring

We suggest the bare minimum for any horse riding tour is below. But, if you’re going for a multi-day ride, you may need to pack multiple… 

  • Riding pants (or at least long pants)
  • Longsleeve shirt
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Riding boots (or at least closed shoes)
  • Sunblock
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Water

Helmets are mandatory for tours and are provided, but feel free to bring yours if you prefer. 

High mountains = cold weather

It can get very cold in the Sierra. Make sure you’ve packed enough layers to keep you warm. You may also be able to rent a heavy poncho, but make sure to ask your tour provider first.

Don’t forget to acclimatize!

If you’re going to be riding or hiking in the Ecuadorian Sierra, we strongly suggest leaving yourself at least one day in Quito (or similar elevation of 9,350 ft) to acclimatize. Some tours even go up to 13,000 ft, where dealing with altitude is a very real issue. 

Everyone reacts to altitude differently, and chances are you will be fine. But, you’ll increase your chances if you give yourself at least one day first. 

Horse riding school Hacienda Tilipulo Ecuador
Image: Hacienda Tilipulo Horse Riding School

Horse riding schools 

Before setting off into the high Sierra, you’ll need to learn how to ride a horse… It’s also a great after school or weekend activity for the kids. 

We’ve listed some recommended schools to start your search below. It’s important to note that not all of these schools will be able to teach in English, so at least a basic understanding of Spanish will be required. 

The costs vary by school, but you should expect to budget around $100 per month for classes twice per week. Transportation (if required) can often be arranged but will cost extra. 

Quito

  • Escuela De Equitacion La Herradura
  • Quito Ecuestre
  • Gerber Club Ecuestre
  • El Establo Club Ecuestre

Cuenca

  • Centro Ecuestre Bellavista
  • Kawallu (Hippotherapy)
  • Escuela hípica 4Rios (next to Kawallu)
  • Caballo Campana

Guayaquil

  • Rancho Botas y Espuelas

How old does my child need to be? 

Most Ecuadorian horse riding schools accept kids from 4 years old. We started our girl at 4 years old and she has not looked back. 

Most of the schools mentioned cater to all adult levels too. I’ve no idea if there is an upper age limit, but if you’ve got health issues we suggest getting clearance from a doctor first. 

How long is each lesson?

Schedules vary by school, but expect classes to run for around an hour. 

Equine Therapy

Some horse riding schools also combine equine therapy to help the rehabilitation of children and young people with special abilities. 

Wrapping up

There really are so many options for horse riding in Ecuador! Feel free to leave a comment or contact us if you want some personalized recommendations. 

And please let us know if we’ve left out your favorite hacienda or horse riding school – we’re trying to create a thorough resource to help others.

Do I need a return ticket to enter Ecuador?

Ecuadorian immigration officers are unlikely to need a return or onward ticket, but your airline might!

Don’t get caught out. Especially with all of COVID related airline rule changes, I wouldn’t risk turning up to the check-in counter without some type of proof of onward travel. 

I’ve been caught out a couple of times trying to enter Ecuador without a return or onward ticket and the airlines were less than supportive. JetBlue, in particular, was very strict and slow (over 1 hour) to check me in even when I had an onward ticket. Without it, they showed no empathy. 

Note, this is for visitors to Ecuador. Residents of Ecuador (temporary or permanent) don’t need proof of an onward ticket, but they’ll likely need to show their Ecuadorian Cedula or Passport as proof of residency. 

Do Ecuadorian customs officers require proof of onward travel? 

Like many Ecuadorian laws, there is a difference between what is technically required and what is enforced. 

By the letter of the law, customs officers may request to see both proof of onward journey & financial means to support yourself during your stay. You’ll also need a passport with 6 months expiry. 

In reality, immigration officers rarely request an onward/return ticket or financial means. This is true not just for me, but for all ex-pats in Ecuador I’ve encountered. This is handy to know when crossing the border via land at the Colombian or Peruvian borders. 

Why do airlines care if I don’t have a return ticket? 

If you’re a masochist, I suggest having a conversation with your airline check-in agent about Ecuadorian immigration officers not caring about their legal duty of enforcing their country’s immigration rules…  

Your check-in agent may have very little wriggle room to go against their company’s onward ticketing policy. The reasoning is that if they fly you into Ecuador, and then immigration doesn’t let you in, then they’ll be stuck with trying to find a way to get you back to your origin. 

It also won’t help to offer a guarantee or provide proof of finances to book your own onward ticket should the unthinkable happen and Ecuador doesn’t let you in. I’ve tried many similar lines of argument, and all to no avail. The general response is firm; policy is policy. 

What are my options for providing proof of onward / return travel? 

So, we’ve established that you’re a visitor to Ecuador without a return or onward ticket. What are your options for acquiring proof of onward travel? 

1. Buy a return ticket

Even if you aren’t planning on returning, we suggest checking out prices for a return ticket. You see, the price of one-way tickets can be pretty expensive to many South American destinations. So you might be able to pay a little more for a return fare. 

The return fare also acts as a sort of insurance policy should you need to leave for whatever reason. 

2. Buy a refundable onward ticket

If you’ve already got a one-way ticket to Ecuador, then this may be your best option. You can purchase a one-way ticket from Quito or Guayaquil to a close destination such as Peru, Colombia, Panama or anywhere really so long as you’re leaving Ecuador. 

 The easiest platform I’ve used to purchase refundable tickets is Expedia. Here’s how: 

  1. Wait until there are less than 24 hours until your flight departs for Ecuador. This is to comply with Expedia’s refund policy
  2. Go to the flight section of Expedia
  3. Enter flight details, ensuring you’ve selected ‘one way’ and ‘refundable flights only’. 
  4. Purchase ticket
  5. Print out ticket, ensuring you have the booking reference number as the airline may use this to check you’re actually on the flight. They did this to me. 
  6. Request a refund through Expedia after you’ve arrived in Ecuador. Ensuring this is less than 24 hours since you purchased the ticket. 
Expedia Refundable Flights Ecuador

Expedia is generally pretty good with quick refund turnaround times, but during busy periods you may need to wait a couple of more days. 

This is my preferred method because I’m able to control the timings without having to rely on a third party to buy/cancel the ticket for me. 

3. Use an onward ticket buying & canceling service

Niche businesses have popped up that effectively do the exact same thing as the above method. The key differences are that you don’t need to purchase the ticket yourself. You pay the company a service fee and they then buy a random onward ticket for you and cancel it afterward. 

I’ve used several of these services in the past and whilst I’ve never had any problems, I always feel a little uneasy trusting a 3rd party company to do this on my behalf. 

The service that has provided the most efficient and punctual response has been Onward Ticket. You can read more about how they operate on their site. 

The biggest pro of using a 3rd party service is that you don’t have to worry about refunding the ticket. I have to admit I’ve come within minutes of missing my Expedia refund window because I flat out forgot and almost wasted a few hundred dollars.  

Final Words

If you’re a visitor to Ecuador that does not have a return ticket, we recommend buying yourself via Expedia or via service like Onward Ticket.

Oh, and don’t forget to check what electronics we recommend to bring to Ecuador as it’s definitely worthwhile maximizing your baggage allowance.

Have you had a nightmare experience missing a flight to Ecuador because of the onward travel requirements? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. 

Happy flying!

Beyond Meat now in Ecuador

Michelle and I were surprised and happy to find Beyond Meat in the freezer section of our local Ital Deli in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Beyond Burger Ecuador Ital Deli

You see, we’d been wanting to try the next generation of meatless products for a while, but they’ve proven difficult to find outside of the US. 

We’ll get to our quick review of the Beyond Burgers we barbecued last weekend in a minute. First, let’s bring you up to speed on the basics. 

What is Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is a US-based company that produces ‘fake meat’ that mimics the taste, texture, and look of traditional meat.

Their hope is that ‘by shifting from animal to plant-based meat, we can positively impact four growing global issues: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.’ Source: Beyond Meat

Whilst some have issues with the amount of processing that is required to make the final product, my opinion is that the additional processing required is a small trade-off if we can shift the global food production away from the current mass-produced farming methods. 

Beyond Meat vs Traditional Meat

I find it hard to argue with the following benefits of plant-based meat: 

I’m sure the meat industry has their own thoughts on the rise of fake meats, but that is to be expected given their incumbent position and witnessing how the dairy industry has been shaken up with the adoption of non-dairy based milks such as almond and soy. 

What products do Beyond Meat offer

Ground meat products were the first that both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats have attempted because they were the easiest. This makes sense, as it would be much more difficult to replicate a steak than a sausage. 

Beyond Meat offers breakfast sausages, burgers, mince and sausages. Our local Ital Deli offered the burgers, sausages and breakfast sausages. 

How much does a Beyond Burger cost? 

It’s no surprise that given Ecuador’s import taxes that Beyond Burgers are kinda expensive. The two-pack cost us a bit over $8. At $4 for each burger, it’s clearly a luxury item that will struggle to find mainstream adoption in Ecuador. 

But, in the US they do offer bulk packs of 10 burgers for $16. At $1.60 per burger, the price gap between a traditional and ‘fake’ hamburger is largely diminished. We’re hoping that these bulk packs will also be offered in Ecuador for a reasonable price too. 

So, what ingredients are in a Beyond Burger? 

This generation of fake meat goes well past the previous iterations that focused heavily on soy and shared a vague resemblance of the meat it was mimicking. 

The main protein used by Beyond Burger comes from pea. They’ve traditionally relied on a small number of pea protein providers, which has proven to be risky to their supply chain. So, they now incorporate other protein sources such as mung beans, faba beans and brown rice. 

The ‘bloody’ look comes from beet juice extract, and fats largely coming from coconut oil, cocoa butter and canola oil. The full list of non-GMO ingredients can be found here.

The ingredients are mixed and fed into a food extrusion machine that cooks it whilst being fed through a cooker that uses steam, pressure and water to form the meat-like texture. 

Are any Ecuadorian companies making fake meats? 

With an abundance of vegetables and other ingredients similar to those in Beyond Meat’s products, Ecuador might seem like an ideal country to produce similar fake meat products. But, to my knowledge, there is no company trying to operate on the same scale in Ecuador. 

Sure, you can get some Ecuadorian produced tofu, soy and chocho-based vegetarian products in Supermaxi, but nothing that resembles the sophistication of the newer generation of fake meats. I suspect the technological barrier of entry will make it difficult for Ecuador to compete with these specialized Silicon Valley fake meat companies. 

What does Beyond Burger taste like?

Beyond Burger Ecuador BBQ

We decided to barbecue our burgers because, well, we love barbecues. We enjoyed it with some corn (choclos), salad and provolone cheese on a grilled ciabatta roll. 

I have to admit I was quite nervous trying my first Beyond Burger. I haven’t eaten red meat for over 20 years and really didn’t know what to expect. My biggest concern was that it would taste too much like meat and I’d hate the taste, or my body would actually reject it.

Beyond Burger Ecuador Cooking on BBQ
We barbecued the Beyond Burgers with choclos as an appetizer

To me, it tasted a lot like the last decent beef burger I had when I was a teenager. It was pink, juicy and had a similar texture and bulk to beef. Visually, I would have absolutely no idea it wasn’t meat. It was all red, bloody, and a bit messy. They recommend being careful of over-cooking as the pink color doesn’t really change. 

Michelle does eat meat, so she is the better judge. She shared a similar experience, saying it had an ‘80% meaty flavor and was very juicy, which is hard to find in fake meat. The ingredients worked in unison with the woody flavors of the barbeque to create a delicious burger that I’d have again. 

Beyond Burger Ecuador Cooked

The burger was on the generous size. Which you’d hope so for $4! It was a hearty, ‘meaty’ meal that left us both very satisfied. 

Wouldn’t be a bbq without beer… 

Our drink of choice for the day was a relatively new Ecuadorian beer called Siembra. The beer was a little hoppier than our usual Pilsner, which we both enjoyed. We also like the different business model employed by Siembra as it adopts more of a co-operative approach with their farmers. 

Siembra Cerveza Ecuador

Final thoughts

We’ll certainly be enjoying more Beyond Burgers in the future. If they can manage to bring the price down to be competitive with the US, then I can see this becoming a regular meal in our household. 

Our next challenge will be sneaking one of these patties onto the kids’ plates to see if they taste and sense any differences to traditional meat.   

Have you tried Beyond Meats? Let us know what you think in the comments below. We’re especially interested in whether you see it as a replacement for beef. 

So, you think you know Ecuador?

We had a lot of fun creating this quiz about Ecuador. I even managed to stump Michelle a few times which brought a big smile to my face.

Got any good Ecuador trivia questions? We’d love to see them in the comments below – and if ok with you we’d potentially add them to the quiz.

Ecuador’s Professional Visa Requirements

Ecuador provides several visa options for expats wanting to stay in the country for more than 1 year. The 4 most popular options for obtaining temporary residency are ‘Investor Visa’, ‘Retirement/Pensioner Visa’, ‘Professional Visa’, and ‘Dependant Visa’. 

Each of these visas has its own requirements and bureaucratic processes. Today we’re only focusing on the Professional Visa requirements for Ecuador.  

Ecuador Professional Visa Fast Facts

  • Period: 2 years initially, indefinite upon renewal
  • Entries allowed: Multiple
  • Time outside Ecuador: Max 90 days per year for first 2 years. 
  • Fees: 
    • $50 Visa Application Fee
    • $400 Visa fee
    • $15 Cedula
    • $5.60 Certificate of Migratory Movement
    • $300+? Police record & university documents apostilled and sent to Ecuador
    • $500+ Facilitator OR translation & notarization fees (varies but budget $100)

First 6-12 months on visitor visas

Before diving into the details of applying for a Professional Visa, let’s take a minute to discuss your options before you need to apply for a temporary resident (migrant) visa. 

Visitors from most countries (incl US, CAN, AU, EUR) can visit Ecuador for the first 90 days on a Tourist Stamp obtained upon entry. Residents of 29 countries need to obtain a permit prior to entry. 

Once your initial 90 days are up, you can then get a ‘Tourist Visa Extension’ whilst in Ecuador for an additional 90 days. Bringing your total stay in Ecuador to 180 days.

Additional 6 months with a ‘Special Tourist Visa’

After that, you have a few options. One option not many people talk about is the ‘Special Tourist 6 Month Visa’ which allows you to stay for another 180 days. It costs $450 + $5.60 for the Migratory Movement Certificate. You’ll also need proof of health insurance.

This will bring your total stay within Ecuador to 1 year. This should be enough time for you to make a thorough exploratory trip and spend a few months in various cities and towns that you’re interested in. 

Or, you can apply for one of the temporary residence visas after your initial 3 or 6 months from inside Ecuador. Either way, we strongly recommend an exploratory trip rather than just moving here sight unseen. 

Professional Visa Requirements

A professional visa may be a great option if you have a university diploma and you took the course in-person.

Professional Visa Pros

  • No evidence of employment required
  • Visa isn’t linked to employment in Ecuador (or anywhere)
  • Low proof of income required ($2400 within last 6 months)
  • Not linked to any investment so frees up capital
  • Cheap at $450 for a visa that lasts 2 years

Professional Visa Cons

  • Need a university degree
  • University documents to be apostilled. Can be a real hassle. 
  • Risk that SENESYCT doesn’t approve university course
  • Requirements can change quickly without any notice

The main requirements that separate the professional visa from other temporary resident visas are:

  1.  A bachelor, or higher, level degree from a university recognized by the Ecuadorian government (SENESYCT); and
  2. The course was taken predominantly in-person (not online). 

The other main consideration is ensuring you allow enough time for the documents to be apostilled in your home country and brought into Ecuador. You can post them via DHL (or similar) if you’re already in Ecuador, but it can be expensive. 

You can bring the documents with you, BUT you may have a problem with the police record expiring as it’s only valid for 6 months. So, unless you’re making a visit back to your home country or have friends coming to visit in Ecuador to bring it for you, sending via private courier might be your only option. 

Note, you should also peruse the official requirements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility (“the Ministry”), but also note that this information still requires interpretation and is not regularly updated. I wasted two trips to the Ministry in the South of Quito trying to find out first-hand information because there was a discrepancy between the requirements they’d posted online and what they actually needed. 

The full list of requirements and an explanation is provided below. 

A) Documents that do NOT require an apostille

  • Original passport with 6+ months validity
  • Color copy of main passport page
  • Color copy of current visa / tourist stamp
  • Passport-sized photo with white background
  • Migratory Movement Certificate: Get this from the Immigration office for $5.60
  • Proof of health insurance: Required before a cedula will be issued
  • Visa application form: Complete in Spanish
  • Proof of income: Bank statement (or internet banking print-out) showing you have the 6 x minimum monthly wage. The monthly minimum wage is currently $400, so you’ll need to show at least $2,400 in your account. They may also request to see that this is legal income – ideally, you can show your monthly wage is paid into this account. 

B) Documents that DO require an apostille

Get these documents issued and apostilled in your home country before sending to Ecuador:

  • Original criminal report
  • Copy of university diploma
  • University transcript
  • Mode of study letter

Original criminal report

Available from your home country. Only valid for 6 months. Time this well or you’ll need to send another apostilled criminal report.   

Copy of university diploma

Available from your university. They may charge a fee for this. Ideally, your university is already on the list of SENESYCT approved universities (download here or here). If not, then you can still apply and SENESYCT will most likely accept it if it’s from the US, Australia, Canada, or Europe, but it may take longer. 

University transcript

Available from your university. They may charge a fee for this. 

Mode of study letter

The mode of study letter needs to be issued from your university and needs to indicate that you took the course in-person. For some reason, SENESYCT does not like to recognize online-based learning.

When I applied for my professional visa there was a lot of back and forth with SENESYCT before they were satisfied that my course was taught in-person. The uncertainly arose because although I completed two degrees, I only needed one to satisfy the professional visa requirements and decided to just register that degree with SENESYCT. It proved difficult for SENESYCT to separate the transcription results for each course, and then ensure that all of those subjects were taught in-person.

The lesson here is that if your application doesn’t fit very neatly within the requirements, then you are likely to face issues and delays.

Professional Visa Process

Regardless of whether you hire a facilitator or go down the DIY route, you’re going to be largely on your own to ensure you have the above documents at the time of application. 

Once you’ve got all of the documents, including those that needed to be apostilled, the basic process is: 

  1. Make an appointment with the Ministry
  2. Take your documents to be officially translated and notarized. Including your visa application form
  3. Get your Migratory Movement Certificate from immigration ($5.60)
  4. Submit documents at your Ministry appointment
  5. Pay fees ($450 in total) to the Ministry.
  6. Pickup cedula same day
  7. Print digital visa and keep with passport
  8. Confirm SENESYCT university documents are registered

1. Make an appointment with the Ministry

This is easiest done by booking an appointment online. This also gives you the ability to choose the office where you’d like your appointment. Waiting times can vary significantly between offices, so it may be worthwhile traveling further than your closest Ministry. 

This English guide may help you navigate the Ministry’s website and book the appointment.

Hiring a visa facilitator really helped me decrease the waiting time for an appointment. I booked an appointment online, but the closest available appointment was 2 months away. My facilitator was able to reschedule my appointment for the following week! Now, I have no proof, but I assume some money changes hands for this to happen. 

2. Take your documents to be officially translated and notarized

There’s no shortage of official notaries in Ecuador. Don’t forget your completed visa application form in Spanish. 

3. Get your Migratory Movement Certificate from immigration ($5.60)

Go to the immigration office and ask for the Migratory Movement Certificate. They’ll give you an invoice you need to pay at a bank and then return to collect your certificate.

The immigration office may not be very close to the Ministry. For example, in Quito the Ministry is in South Quito (near Terminal Quitumbe) whilst the Immigration office is near Parque Carolina (opposite Mall de Jardin). There’s a 45-minute taxi ride between the two offices so don’t get confused!

4. Submit documents at your Ministry appointment

Today is the big day! Armed with all of your documents (including translations and apostilles), take yourself to the Ministry office where you’ll be directed where to go. Be prepared to visit several different officers to complete various procedures.

Wait times can vary a lot at the appointment. My facilitator was again able to bump me ahead in some lines which helped reduce my total time at the Ministry to 2 hours.

5. Pay fees ($450 in total) to the Ministry

Ask at the Ministry what payment options are available. I was able to pay in cash directly at the Ministry in Quito. The payments are separated into a non-refundable $50 visa application fee and a $400 visa fee if your visa is approved. 

6. Pickup cedula ($15 fee)

Processing times can vary. I was able to collect my cedula the very same day as the last part of the process at the Ministry. 

Now, I was only able to pick up my cedula the same day because I was ok with my education level being stated on my cedula as ‘inicial’, which is the lowest level of education. This is despite applying for a professional visa that requires a higher level of education. 

This happens because SENESYCT then needs to go through their education verification requirements. I could have waited until SENESYCT approved my application and then printed off my cedula with my appropriate level of education, but I decided a cedula in my hand was better than waiting and I could always apply for a replacement cedula if I wanted. 

The biggest impact of having ‘inicial’ as my education level on my cedula was that it makes it harder to transfer your existing driver’s license to an Ecuadorian license

7. Print digital visa and keep with passport

Whilst at my Ministry appointment, I received an email from them with a copy of my new visa attached. I was expected them to print out a sticker and attach it to my passport. But no, I needed to print it out and keep it with my passport. 

I’ve actually forgotten to carry a copy of my digital temporary residency visa when entering Quito on an international flight. The customs officer asked a few questions but when he saw I also had my cedula, he eased up a bit and eventually let me through without seeing the visa. I’m not saying that your customs officer will be as sympathetic, so always try to keep your printed visa with your passport to avoid these uncomfortable situations.

8. Confirm SENESYCT university documents are registered

You have 3 months from the date the temporary visa is issued to when your documents need to be registered with SENESYCT. Mine took longer than this because there was a lot of back and forth with SENESYCT about the specific degrees I studied. 

This was actually a fairly frustrating exchange because it wasn’t clear exactly what SENESYCT wanted from my university. We provided everything, but as my case was a little bit different (2 degrees studied simultaneously), SENESYCT didn’t know how to process it. I’m still not convinced they got the answers they wanted, but they eventually approved my application after a bit of pressure. 

Should I use a visa facilitator or DIY?

So, now you know the requirements and the process, getting a professional visa should be a breeze right? Woooah, slow down there! I also thought it would be fairly straight forward to apply on my own.

But, after doing the research, realizing there is a gap in what the Ministry says on the website and what they actually expect, two trips to the south of Quito to visit the Ministry to find out the actual requirements, I got frustrated and hired a facilitator. 

If your Spanish is below intermediate/advanced, then I’d absolutely recommend at least taking a native Spanish speaker with you because there will be hiccups. One of these can easily derail your entire application. 

Pros of hiring a facilitator

  • Easy. All the heavy lifting is done for you
  • They know the updated information
  • Potentially cut ahead of queues
  • Peace of mind

With a facilitator, you just need to provide the documents and turn up to the Ministry for your appointment and cedula. 

Cons of hiring a facilitator

  • Costs. Be prepared to spend $500+ on a quality facilitator
  • You’ll still need to get your documents from your home country
  • Can be hard to know which facilitator to trust

Ultimately, I’d generally recommend a facilitator for expats unless they have an advanced level of Spanish, possess lots of patience, and have the luxury of time on their side. 

Feel free to contact us If you’d like details for visa facilitators in your area.

Have you applied for a Professional Visa? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

12 Things I’m (Still) Grateful For Despite COVID 19

With so much negativity in the media surrounding COVID 19, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of anxiety and forget why we moved to Ecuador in the first place.

This article is part of my attempt to refocus my energy on the abundance of things I’m still grateful for. Perhaps even more grateful than before COVID 19 struck.

It’s also a very timely article for me as I’ve just come back from a lengthy quarantine visiting my family in Australia. This has afforded me an additional perspective to better appreciate what I have in Ecuador.

Note – Check out Ecuador’s official COVID 19 site if you’re looking for official government policies and stats etc.

1. Hummingbirds

After my 3-week, turned 4-month, vacation to Australia, it was such a delight to come back to our garden full of hummingbirds (colibríes).

There’s a charm of hummingbirds that regularly visit our garden in Cuenca. Yes, a group of hummingbirds is called a charm. How delightful is that!

They add a lot of atmosphere with their persistent chirping and darting around looking for flowers or the feeder. They are a constant reminder to enjoy the day, and for this, I’m very thankful.

Check out the charm having a friendly fight over the feeder yesterday afternoon.

A charm of thirsty hummingbirds in Cuenca. How many can you count?

And check out this post for more on Ecuador’s hummingbirds.

2. Fresh Fruit & Vegetables

Ecuadorian farmers have continued to supply affordable fruit and vegetables throughout the quarantine period with minimal impact to the supply chain. Yes, there were periods of panic buying and hoarding. But, this is not the fault of the farmers.

Dealing with COVID and increased protocols adds a new challenge, but there are numerous examples of farmers coming together to increase production and provide more income for their families.

The end result for our family is a steady supply of nutrient-rich food that we can easily access via numerous local tiendas or supermarkets.

Thank you farmers, truck drivers, local shops and everyone else in the food supply chain.

3. New Life Skills

We’ve been able to use this time to finish up some projects and learn new skills that we can incorporate into our daily rituals.

Some projects we’ve been able to undertake:

Install a new hydroponic system

This system took about a week to fully install as we had numerous trips to the hardware store to find additional bits. We then extended it to include 6 more levels which took an additional few days.

Hydroponic System COVID19 new skills

The end result is a continuous supply of fresh lettuces, basils, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach, and other leafy greens.

Baking experiments

Continuing our path towards increased self-reliance, we’ve been producing more of our own basic necessities like bread, pizza and teas.

This cheese and olive bread was probably my favorite of our baking experiments thus far – check it out:

Cheese and olive bread COVID19 new skills

We’ve always been somewhat self-reliant with our vegetable garden, but we’re now committed to producing more of our daily needs and offering excess to friends, family and neighbors.

4. Compassionate Landlords

We moved into our new house in Cuenca a few months before the pandemic hit.

Sure, we had a good feeling about them when we inspected the property and signed the lease, but it was still a new relationship and we really didn’t know how it would hold-up given the new circumstances.

Our landlords have been nothing short of marvelous. They’ve shown understanding and a willingness to help that has included extensive repairs and even improvements.

We’ve had some bad experiences renting in Ecuador, so we’re all very thankful to have compassionate current landlords.

5. Health

Our family has remained COVID-free and healthy. We previously had a tendency to take our health for granted. But, not now. We pay much more attention to our health partly because we don’t want to rely on doctors or hospitals given the risk of transmission.

Of course, we can’t control everything and we’ve had to visit the dentist a few times. The medical professionals we’ve encountered in Cuenca have all been following the right protocols and we’re grateful for the level of care we’ve received.

6. Nearby mountains + exercise

One of the most profound ways the quarantine experience of Michelle differed from mine was through exercise.

You see, Australia allowed its residents to go outside for exercise, so long as you took social distancing precautions. So I was allowed to visit the beach near my parent’s house and I took this opportunity to go for a beach run every day. It was such a release both physically and mentally for me. It quickly became the one daily activity that I would look forward to the most. I even used it as a reward.

Michelle didn’t accompany me on this trip, so she stayed with the family in Cuenca, Ecuador. The protocols were very different and Michelle was not allowed to leave the house for exercise for several months. I could see the impact this was having on her and felt rather guilty for having the freedom to escape to the beach every day.

But now we are together in Cuenca and the protocols allow leaving the house for exercise, we’re both super thankful to live near small mountains that are absolutely perfect for hiking and biking.

We escape to these mountains several times each week to explore and give our minds and bodies some respite.

Cuenca Mountain Bike Ride COVID 19 Grateful

7. Family time

Just being able to spend more time with family has been a blessing. This included the unexpected additional months I was able to spend with my family in Australia.

In Ecuador, Michelle was able to spend more time with the kids. But, it’s not just the additional time, but how it was spent that Michelle enjoyed.

Family time is normally connected to vacation periods where it’s expected that we’ll spend more time with the kids. The quarantine was different. All routines were broken. There was no school, no structure, and at times it felt like no rules at all. This unstructured time was spent doing random activities and simply enjoying time together.

This is still largely how we’re approaching time with the kids. By slowing down and spending time doing activities that are enjoyable and educational. School will resume soon and perhaps there will be some more structure, but we’re still expecting to be very actively involved in their education.

Michelle and I have recently been able to spend some quality time together. With reports of divorces skyrocketing during quarantine, I was a little nervous about how we’d react to spending so much time together. But, it’s been great.

Our time together has also been spent differently to vacations or other blocks of extended time together. We’ve taken this time to do a thorough evaluation of our life goals (using this online course as the vehicle), practicing non-violent communication, and devoting more time to activities like yoga, meditation and reading together.

We now understand each other more than we have before and our communication has improved. Both of which we are super grateful for.

8. Income & Career Goals

Michelle and I are very grateful to still have income when many are going without. But, we’ve both made changes to our income levels and how we’re spending our time.

I’ve reduced my client load, so my income levels have also been impacted. Instead of more client work, I’ve chosen to devote more time to my own projects that will deliver a better long-term return on my time.

I doubt I would have made this decision if it wasn’t for the priority reset that was initiated by COVID and the need for a strategy for post-COVID. This is a very welcome silver lining that has already increased my overall happiness.

9. Unnecessary living costs

With so much economic uncertainty, we’ve been prudently watching our expenses and have been able to make some adjustments to our cost of living.

We’ve mainly cut down on some discretional spending and it’s helped us realize how much unnecessary stuff we were habitually buying. This has really helped us learn how to do more with less.

10. Fresh air and breathing

We diligently follow COVID protocols and wear masks when appropriate. I think we can all agree that wearing a mask is not ideal and we’d generally prefer not to.

Removing our masks when we come home has an almost therapeutic effect on us. It’s symbolic that we are now entering our sanctuary away from COVID and the most obvious reminder of this is the simple ability to breathe without a mask.

Now, whenever we’re at home, especially in the backyard, breathing freely and unabated, we find ourselves appreciating it. Our sincere thanks to all the workers that need to wear masks and other PPE all day. We salute you.

11. Technology

Michelle and I both work remotely, so we’ve been relying on technology for our income for a while. But, we’ve now increased our reliance on technology to the point where video calls are now the main form of communication with friends and family. Both locally and internationally.

We’ve often thought about how this pandemic compares with previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu, and how lucky we are to still be able to communicate with loved ones whenever we feel like it.

12. Community (including you)

The vast majority of people we’ve seen and interacted with have been trying to do the right thing.

Our local community in Cuenca has been incredible. There’s been an increased willingness to help each other and share important information via various Whatsapp groups.

We’ve found ourselves buying more from our neighbors. The flow-on effect of this is that we can get to know them better as individuals and we’re looking forward to when we can safely have them over to share some food and drinks.

We’re also indebted to the various expat communities on Facebook and otherwise that have helped us with real-time information. We’ve tried to return the favor by responding to other expats.

Final word

We still really miss the human interaction of the ‘old’ world. We haven’t forgotten how much this impacts our belonging to the community. But, we’re also adamant that it’s our duty to make the most of this situation and we’re content and happy doing just that.

What are you most grateful for during these changing times? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Tim and Crystal from Galakiwi Adventures – Doing Business in Ecuador

Editor’s note:

I interviewed Tim and Crystal at the very start of the COVID19 pandemic when we all had no idea how far-reaching and devastating the virus would become. As I publish this (late July 2020), all tourism business on the Galapagos has been severely affected and it’s still unclear when tourists will be able (and willing) to once again visit one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. 

Galakiwi –  A Success Story 20 Years in the Making

Tim is a veteran expat that has seen a lot of businesses come and go since arriving in Ecuador in 2001. His key message is simple but annoyingly difficult for many expat-run businesses to understand let alone implement; build your local community or you will not last. 

Our interview is held at the Galakiwi office on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos. In the distance, I see (and hear) numerous sea lions and spot the rocks where I played with marine iguanas the previous day.  

Sitting in that office, it’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of starting a business in a foreign land. Especially one with such iconic beauty and history as the Galapagos. But, that’s the glossy magazine version of the story. Tim and Crystal’s tour company, Galakiwi Adventures, was not an overnight success. Underneath the surface lies 20 years of perseverance, error, and a good dose of chance. 

The Galakiwi Office on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos.

What does Galakiwi do?

“Galakiwi operates land-based adventure tours in the Galapagos. Our focus is on small groups, privately guided. These groups are generally between 8-12 people, with a maximum of 16.”

Crystal – Director of Business and Operations, Galakiwi Adventures

Galakiwi has now narrowed its sights on Galapagos and Ecuador. They’ve learned from previous expansions into Peru and Colombia that whilst they could offer tours in these countries, they could not guarantee the level of service their clients have come to expect. 

These form part of their 20 years of learnings – ultimately leading to their current offering that focuses on providing quality service in small groups. I’ve seen the level of preparation that goes into each tour and witnessed their tour guides in full flight. It’s an impressive operation. Especially so considering their relatively small team. 

What are Galakiwi’s origins? 

Galakiwi’s history is a fitting tale of adventure, opportunity, and trial and error (or natural selection –  if you’ll indulge me just a little).

It started in 2001. Tim studied Spanish in Quito but felt he needed an immersive experience to practice and further hone his skills. This coincided with a volunteer opportunity to teach English in a community setting that just happened to be on a far-flung island off Ecuador’s mainland. That island was San Cristobal, Galapagos. 

A love affair with the island ensued, as did marriage with a local resident. At the time there was very little tourist activity on San Cristobal, but the local extended family could see the value tourists could bring to the community. They were also aware that Tim could act as the conduit between the Galapagos and these tourists. So, a plan was born to build a boat and offer a tour that would allow tourists to island-hop between the various islands of the Galapagos. 

This was really the first island hopping tour on the Galapagos. And whilst the current operation is quite different (ie there is no boat), the adventurous spirit lives on through the various activities now available through Galakiwi. 

Sustainable tourism equals sustainable business

“Travel broadens your mind. It shifts your perspectives. We’re connecting people and that’s what our clients want as well. They want to interact. That’s the whole reason they are doing this type of tour.”

Tim – Founder & Director of Operations, Galakiwi Adventures

Crystal points out that Galakiwi’s core success metric is the quality of visit, measured via visitor satisfaction. It’s hard to overstate how critical this is to the ongoing success of not only Galakiwi, but the entire Galapagos lslands as a long term tourist destination. 

A 5-minute bike ride from the Galakiwi office is the interpretation center, which includes some exhibits of the threat that mass-tourism has to the livelihood of the very people that rely on tourism to feed their families; the Galapaguenians.  

Amongst the displays is a simple graph showing the cost/benefit of the Galapagos. The main message is that less, higher-paying tourists is what’s required for an ongoing, sustainable tourism sector. Tim and Crystal are too humble to say it, but their business model is in alignment with what the community actually needs. Quality, sustainable tourism focused on smaller group sizes and personalized experiences.

I would argue that this harmony between business and community is what has allowed Galakiwi to survive and prosper where many have failed. 

Sustainable Tourism - San Cristobal Interpretation Centre
Sustainable tourism educational poster at the Interpretation Center

Community grows with the business

“The whole reason we’re here is to create opportunities to connect cultures, empower communities and inspire positive action.”

Crystal

At the heart of Galakiwi’s offer is a quality service. Tim and Crystal have learned how to work with the local community to ensure every tour they offer lives up to their high quality standards. They joke about their early days when Tim would disappear for hours because he would need to physically check every hotel, restaurant and other itinerary items just before a tour would arrive. 

That was seen as just a cost of doing business in the Galapagos when trying to bridge the gap between what was currently being offered and the high expectations of tourists.

The business has grown and Tim no longer does the checks himself, but the ethos towards quality is as alive as ever and it’s something that other tour operators really struggle to compete against. Having their base on the Galapagos provides a strategic business advantage. It allows them to foster a two-way relationship with local providers that is unmatched in the land-based tour industry; their providers actually care about delivering quality service because they care about Galakiwi and what it represents. 

Sea Lion at San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands

Helping sustain the local economy

“If you want to protect the Galapagos, then you have to empower the people that are here.”

Crystal

Being part of the local community means getting involved and helping others. One of the ways Galakiwi serves its local community is by offering microloans. These loans have been made available to community members and employees on generous terms. And Tim is quick to point out that they’ve had very few problems with anyone defaulting on these loans. 

We talk about other community initiatives and to me it’s clear that Galakiwi wants to provide a net return to their local community. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tim and Crystal are particularly enlightened individuals that have always recognized the importance of serving their local community. I don’t believe this was always the case. Indeed, Tim notes the challenge of fitting into the community as one of the biggest hurdles to doing business in such a small, remote place. 

“I think that a big reason why we can run these types of tours is that we know we’re living on a small island and we want to work with the people, rather than do our own thing and forget about everyone else. That was a big thing for me and I think anyone coming into a small town needs to make an effort to become a part of the community rather than not talking to anyone and walking down the street with their nose in the air.”

Tim

Tim’s seen many foreigners come into the Galapagos with the expectation that they have the golden ticket just because they’re able to set up a business on an island with such a strong tourism industry. This has not proven to be reality.  Many businesses are forced to close because they’ve tried to do it alone and deliberately avoided community participation and growth. 

“If you get on the wrong side of the locals, you’re wasting your time here.”

Tim

To further illustrate how much their business relies on their ties to the community, we discuss a couple of topics that will be familiar to other expats operating a business in Ecuador; labor laws and accounting.

Galakiwi Office Oceanfront San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
The main marina and street of San Cristobal. The Galakiwi office is in the background.

Ecuador vs Galapagos Labor Laws

Visitors to the Galapagos get a feel for the double standards that exist between Ecuador and the Galapagos. The first taste is at the airports of Quito or Guayaquil where all tourists are made aware of the different check-in desks, fees, and processes for entering Galapagos. And once you get to the islands, you’ll likely come across some other fairly small reminders that Galapaguenian’s are treated differently. 

What most tourists cannot see are the substantive differences beneath the surface such as labor laws that heavily encourage the employment of locals over Ecuadorians and the two-tiered pricing that local companies apply to Galapaganians vs Ecuadorians (& everyone else). 

Tim and Crystal walked me through their experience trying to understand and abide by the local labor laws. To hire an Ecuadorian, they need to go through a contract process of putting an ad on the local radio for 3 or 4 days and then start vetting the applicants. If they don’t get an appropriate local applicant, then they can look to Ecuadorians. But, the onus is always on the business to prove why a local candidate is not suitable, and provide evidence that the Ecuadorian applicant meets this standard. 

As an example, say they need a receptionist for their hotel that speaks a certain level of English and has a certificate in hotel management. This may prove very difficult to find locally, so they may wish to hire an Ecuadorian (or even a foreigner). But, they would need certified certificates for both English and hotel management to be provided by any non-local applicant. Anyone that’s had anything to do with Ecuador’s love of red-tape will know that this may prove to be a little more difficult and take more time than you’d like. 

This is merely one of many labor law requirements that can easily trip up the uninitiated. But, how did Tim and Crystal learn of these requirements? Sure, they’ve read the labor laws themselves to try and get an understanding. But, this will only get you so far. You really need the support of trusted lawyers and accountants to make sure your business complies with labor, tax and other regulations.

And how do you learn about these trusted professionals? By tapping into your local community business network. Once again, a clear message that your business is only as strong as the community you’ve helped to build. 

Sea Lion and Iguana San Cristobal Galapagos
Sea Lion and Iguana, San Cristobal, Galapagos

Husband and Wife vs Business Partners

“Because we both have matured a lot, and because we’re stubborn as hell, we’ve made it.”

Crystal

Tim and Crystal are not just business partners, they’re life partners too. This presents more challenges to running a successful business. They tell tales of being with each other 24/7 and needing to solve any personal issues quickly before their next tour arrived. Their business demanded everything from them and they found it very hard to separate themselves, their relationship, and even being parents from their business.  

It’s only through their conscious evolution as a couple and as individuals that they’ve been able to thrive in such a closed environment. This personal development has, in turn, allowed the business to grow through organic and strategic efforts. 

A major challenge for Tim and Crystal was to accept their differences. Meet them both for 30 seconds and you’ll quickly understand they have very different approaches to life. Tim is very hands-on and knows as much about operating land-based tours as anyone you’ll come across. Whereas Crystal prefers to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture.

This complementary relationship allows them to see into each others’ blind spots and the business is stronger because of it. Through their mutual efforts, they’ve been able to execute short and long term visions for themselves and their employees, community, and business. 

Final word

Tim and Crystal’s message of building community support being pivotal in creating a sustainable business in Ecuador struck a chord with me. I’ve increasingly seen community building as both the biggest challenge and also the most valuable skill to hone if you’re going to thrive in Ecuador on a business or personal level. 

As an expat, it’s easy to rely on the local expat community for support, encouragement, and some initial customers. However, if you are not able to garner the support of your local community through mutually beneficial opportunities, then your time as a business owner in Ecuador may be brief and costly. 

And of course, if you are on the lookout for personalized, land-based adventure tours in the Galapagos, make an inquiry directly on the Galakiwi website.  

The True Cost of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador

The cost of living in Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, is often cited as one of the core reasons why expats move here. 

It was a consideration for Michelle and me too. In particular, the cost of schools in Cuenca is approx half of that in Quito. So, we decided to move from Quito to Cuenca when the youngest was entering school partly to help cut down on living costs. We both work remotely, so the lower wages in Cuenca were not an issue for us. 

I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with our costs of living to give you an idea of total living costs in Cuenca, Ecuador.

These costs are itemized into our monthly budget below:

Category Item Cost (Monthly)
Home Rent $800
Home Internet (25Mb Up/Down) $30
Home Water $10
Home Electricity $20
Home Security $22
Home Home phone $6
Home Gas $3
Home Maid (4 x monthly) $80
Home Gardener (1 x monthly) $30
Home Mobile Phone (x2) $20
Food Fruit & Vegetables (Mercados) $85
Food Groceries (SuperMaxi) $220
Health Heatlh Insurance $170
Car Gasoline (Small Car) $30
Car Car Maintanence $100
Kids School Fees (2 kids) $500
Kids Horse riding (2 kids) $100
Discretionary Cafes & Restaurants $150
Discretionary Yoga (2 adults) $60
Discretionary Clothes $100
Discretionary Streaming (Netflix & Spotify) $15
Total Monthly $2,552

We live a simple, middle-class life in Ecuador. We are fortunate to always have enough food on our table, a small car, rent a large house and have some help from a maid and gardener.

You can find some reports of expats living on less than $1,000 per month and this is certainly possible if you live a simple, frugal lifestyle away from the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.

You can also get a good basic feel for cost of living in Cuenca from sites like Numbeo where you can compare your current city with Cuenca (or other Ecuadorian cities). I like the granularity of Numbeo as it allows you to pry directly into the cost of basics like milk, bread and beer. Given Ecuador also uses the USD, if you’re comparing costs from the US, then it’s a very straight forward exercise.

 

Cuenca Home Costs

These form the most substantial component of our budget. We also have a considerable amount of discretionary spending here, so you can certainly cut down on a few of these things to cut costs.

 

Rent – $800/month


We rent a large house on the outskirts of Cuenca in the Challuabumba neighborhood. It’s a 15 min drive to Cuenca on the Autopista (main highway). We chose here because it’s a little warmer than Cuenca itself, close to our school of choice, and we can get a much bigger house (and yard) than we could get in Cuenca. We like the privacy available to us and there are enough local shops, including a supermarket, that we really don’t need to visit Cuenca if we don’t want to.

The biggest downside of living 15 mins away from Cuenca is that we found it necessary to purchase a car (and get an Ecuadorian driver’s licence). There are buses and taxis, but we found them too time-consuming and limiting. We also like to explore close by towns, villages and mountains on the weekends which is easier with a car.

Our house is a 2 level, 4 bedroom house with a large rear yard and good sized front yard. The previous tenant was an expat that clearly poured a lot of love into the garden, attracting many hummingbirds. We were the first to see the house as it was coming onto the rental market and we immediately said, “yes, we’ll take it!”

Our current landlords are amazing – which has really made a big difference to the overall enjoyment of the space. Everything gets fixed, even some improvements made. Our previous landlord was an absolute nightmare who never fixed anything, so we’re super grateful to have wonderful landords now.

A similar house in Cuenca itself would rent for $1K+, so we’re happy with the price we’re paying for the location.

You can find 4 bedroom homes for less than $800 per month, but you probably won’t get your entire wish list. A properly maintained and welcoming garden was important to us, so we were willing to pay a bit extra for this.

Some expats do purchase homes instead of renting. If you’re on the fence, check out our article on renting vs buying in Ecuador.

 

Internet – $31/month


You’ll likely have different internet options depending on where you live in Cuenca. Our experience is the speed you can get will largely depend on the port availability at the distribution hub. Ie There may not be any more fibre optic ports available at the closest hub, so you’ll need to choose a different plan, provider, wait until a port becomes available, or beg your internet technician to find an available port.

We pay $30.90 each month for a 25MB down/up plan from Etapa. Etapa is basically the default option as they are government-controlled and are also responsible for the infrastructure.

We’re happy with the speeds that we receive at our current house. We normally get very close to the speeds we pay for (25MB Down/Up). See the speed test below:

ETAPA Cuenca Internet Speeds

Our main issue is ensuring the entire house receives coverage via strategically placed repeaters.

Other popular options in Cuenca include Puntonet (Celerity – fibre optic) and Netlife.

Take note of the contract terms. Many plans are 2-3 years, with penalties for leaving early. Our plan from Etapa allows us to take the connection with us if we move (within their Cuenca service region). But if not, then we’ll need to pay for the installation costs ($55) that we waived at the start of the contract. Some companies have higher termination costs such as paying out the rest of the plan + exit fee.

 

Water – $10/month


Water is cheap in Ecuador. The water in Cuenca is noted as having some of the best water quality in the world due, so you shouldn’t feel the need to get in bottled water or pay anything extra.

With 2 adults and 2 kids, we’re constantly using the shower and washing clothes. We consider $10/month for water to be a very good deal.

 

Electricity – $20/month


Our house has a lot of lights and we generally have at least 1 (normally 2) screens on during the day. We weren’t given a choice with the electricity provider.

The biggest issue I’ve found with electricity providers in Ecuador is they are ruthless when it comes to turning the power off for non-payment. If you are a day late, someone may come to your house & ask what is going on and request payment. Or, they may just cut off your power without warning.

Our power has been cut off in Cuenca and we’ve needed to go to the Electricity company to have it switched back on (the following working day).

 

Security – $22/month


This is largely for peace of mind. This covers the cost of the electric fence, alarm and monitoring from the security company. The company is generally very quick to respond to any alarm.

It pays to shop around for a security company. I’d definitely recommend asking your neighbors for their experience with their providers as a starting point.

The other form of security comes from our neighbors. We live in a welcoming community where every house belongs to the WhatsApp group created for discussing any practical issues like security.

As an example, last night our next-door neighbors’ alarm went off. They were out of town, so I got up to check it out and their security company was already there and talking to another neighbor. Our next-door neighbor was thankful to have all of their neighbors and the security company watching their back whilst they weren’t there. Other neighbors have done the exact same for us.

 

Home phone – $6/month


I’ll be honest, I don’t know why we have a home phone as we always use our mobile phones for calling locally or Skype for international calls.

Okay, I’ve just asked Michelle and we have the home phone only for the security system as it uses our landline to communicate with the alarm company.

 

Gas (Propane) – $3/month


Gas is ridiculously cheap in Ecuador. The price varies a little by city, but expect to pay around $3 per bottle delivered to your home. And, expect to be annoyed by the constant passing of gas trucks through your neighborhood, complete with speakers blaring a ‘gas truck’ song so you don’t miss them.

We generally only go through 1 (maybe 2) gas tanks each month. This powers our hot water, oven and even our clothes dryer. We don’t use a space heater.

You’ll need to pay for at least one, we recommend an additional as a spare, propane tank for about $45. The condition isn’t super important, just make sure it isn’t too rusty… Then you can participate in the home deliveries where they just swap tanks. Quick, easy and cheap. You should be able to sell the tank for a similar price ($45) upon leaving.

 

Maid (4 x monthly) – $80/month


Depending on how busy we are, we alternate between having a full-time maid/nanny and just having her come in 1 day per week for the ‘deeper’ cleans.

We’ve found it hard to find a quality, affordable nanny that is still happy to do a fair amount of cleaning. You may need to trial a few until you get a feel for their enthusiasm for the work offered.

If you’re providing any sort of on-going work, you may also be required to register this with IESS and also be aware of the full range of pay entitlements. This includes paying into the IESS system and the two additional monthly salaries each year (ie 13th & 14th months).

We also provide lunches and coffee for any worker in our house. I believe this is a fairly standard custom. Even if the worker has their lunch, the gesture has always been appreciated and it’s a nice way to get to know the workers a little more.

 

Gardener (1 x monthly) – $30/month


Whilst we enjoy doing a lot of gardening ourselves, we also pay for a gardener to come once a month to do the stuff we aren’t equipped for. In particular, we don’t have a lawn mower, edge trimmer or a decent hedge trimmer.

The amount we pay is for 2 gardeners for the entire day. They are very efficient and knowledgable. Their knowledge of how to grow certain things or control bugs has also been very valuable to us.

Again, on top of their payment, we also provide lunch and coffee.

 

Mobile Phone (x2) – $20/month


Michelle and I both use mobile phones.

I’ve just switched to Tuenti (a challenger low-cost brand) and pay $5 for 2GB data, 30 mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This plan lasts for 30 days. The biggest downside for me is that they use the Movistar network, which isn’t so great where we live (Claro has much better service).

I use a cheap Android phone which is not included in the pre-paid plan from Tuenti.

Michelle is on a $15 pre-paid plan from Claro that provides 15GB data, 200mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This also lasts one month. Michelle needs a better, more reliable plan than me as she uses her mobile a lot for work.

Michelle has also purchased her phone outright. Electronics like phones and computers can be expensive in Ecuador, so we recommend bringing these electronics with you.

The two main networks in Ecuador are Movistar and Claro. My experience is that Claro generally provides better coverage, but they are also difficult to deal with. Ie You can no longer just turn up at their service center to receive help, but need to make an appointment using their not-so-great app.

Getting out of post-paid plans without a significant exit fee has proven to be difficult for us. So, we’ve vowed to stick to pre-paid as we’re a little sick of being the games played by telco companies in Ecuador.

 

Home Subtotal – $1022/month

We find this a very reasonable cost for our lifestyle. However, there are some discretionary costs that can be minimized if we needed to. Take out the maid, gardener, security and home phone and you’ve cut down expenses by $138. Rent a slightly cheaper home or apartment at $600/month and you’ve saved another $200.

Combine both savings and we’d take our monthly home costs down to $684.

 

Cuenca monthly food costs

The main food choice you’re going to make in Cuenca is how much food you’ll buy at the local markets (mercados) vs the supermarkets such as Supermaxi. The more you can shift your purchases towards the mercados, the cheaper it will be.

 

Fruit and vegetables (mercados) – $85/month


Ecuador has cheap and plentiful fruit and vegetables. Our family of 4 finds it difficult to spend more than $20 on fruits and vegetables each week. And we mostly eat a plant-based diet. Check out this article for the types and costs of fruits and vegetables in Ecuador.

We are always sure to have a steady supply of starchy staples such as potatoes, green plantains (for bolones de verde) and choclos (corn). These form the basis of 3-4 meals each week.

We’ve included our coffee costs in the fruit and vegetable section as we generally buy these at the same time. We pay $4 per pound of quality roasted coffee beans. You can have them ground for the same price.

If you’re not aware, Ecuador has some very good quality coffee. But, coffee culture as we know it with fancy coffee roasters, cafes and hipster baristas are still in their infancy.

 

Groceries (Supermaxi) – $220/month


Supermaxi is the biggest and most renowned supermarket chain in Ecuador. They have 4 locations in Cuenca that are well scattered throughout.

The big advantages Supermaxi have over the mercados are quality control and variety. If you’re after some creature comfort foods from back home, your best bet is going to be Supermaxi. Note – these comfort foods will also increase your food bill. A lot.

We generally buy all of our cleaning, toiletries, dairy, bread and meat from Supermaxi. We’re making a conscious effort to ween ourselves away from Supermaxi by baking our own bread and making our own yoghurt etc, but the convenience of Supermaxi can be hard to break free from!

Supermaxi tip: Flash your cedula to a store assistant and ask where you can apply for a loyalty card. Most locations allow you to sign up on the spot and issue you with a loyalty card. This will open up more specials and shave a few dollars off your grocery bill.

You can certainly decrease your grocery bill by buying meat and dairy from the mercados, and many do. But we don’t really eat much of either, so it would probably cut down our bill to $180 or so.

 

Food Subtotal – $305/month

Ecuador has an in-built price incentive to purchase fresh, unprocessed food. This is opposite to many developed countries where the balance is skewed more towards processed food.

If you’re aware of this and able to take advantage by switching your diet and cooking towards fresh, unprocessed food, then Ecuador is perfect for you.

If your diet consists of processed food, high-quality meat, or you just need to eat certain brands, then your food bill is going to be considerably higher.

Your meat requirements are also worthwhile considering as Ecuador does not have a good reputation for producing high quality, cheap meat. You can find different meats, but there is no government assistance for farmers, so meat prices might be higher (and of lower quality) than you’re used to.

Vegan basics are covered with plentiful fruits, vegetables and grains. There’s some organic markets in Cuenca too and the prices are not much more than the regular markets. Supermaxi stocks some vegan-friendly food such as tofu, cheese and fake meats. But, if you need to take it up a notch and buy specialty items like nutritional yeast, then you’ll need to find a store like Nectar, bring it with you, or have it muled in.

 

Cuenca Health Insurance Costs


You have the option of private or public health insurance in Ecuador. But, many temporary residency visas require private health insurance. We also think you’re better off with private health insurance until you’ve properly explored the public health system.

The public health system is a lot cheaper, but the level of care is not as high as the private system.

 

Health Insurance (2 x adults) – $170/month

Our private health insurance with Salud allows us to visit our preferred hospital in-network. The main health insurance variables are yearly plan limits, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.

We haven’t done a lot of research into other health insurance providers, so it’s quite possible that we’ll change providers over the next 6 months.

It’s worth pointing out the cost of medical treatment is considerably lower than many expats are used to (especially if you’re US based). The cost to see a doctor or even a specialist in Cuenca is generally less than $50. So, some expats choose to self-insure for these smaller costs, but still have public IESS insurance to cover any major surgeries, etc.

 

Car Costs in Cuenca

The decision to buy a car in Cuenca is not one that should be taken lightly. It involves a commitment and they are expensive. But, getting an Ecuadorian driver’s licence is relatively easy once you know how.

 

Gasoline (small car) – $30/month


Gasoline in Cuenca, and Ecuador, is super cheap. But, gasoline prices in Ecuador are a hot topic as the strike in 2019 that resulted in nation-wide chaos was partly caused by the President removing a long-held subsidy on gas and diesel prices.

The President eventually backed down, but was able to slide in a decree in 2020 that removes the subsidy, but limits the effect of any price movement to 5%.

The current price for gasoline is approx $1.75 for regular gasoline (ie Ecopais) and is $1.00 for diesel.

We have a 1.8L manual hatchback car and generally go through 1.5 tanks per month. It costs us $20 each time we fill up.

 

Car maintanence – $100/month


Maintaining a car in Ecuador is relatively cheap given that labor costs are so cheap. But, if you need to rely on imported parts than it will cost you considerably more. For this reason, Ecuadorian’s tend to like commonly available cars like Chevrolets.

Whilst I consider the roads in Ecuador to be good compared to other Latin American countries, they are not as good you’ll find in many developed nations. Potholes, speed bumps and other unexpected surprises caused by the weather (ie landslides and fog) can make driving difficult and cause a fair bit of wear and tear on the car. And, given Cuenca is in the Andes, you’re bound to be going up and down mountains a lot which also puts pressure on the engine.

Given the expected wear and tear on cars here, you’ll need to find a good, honest mechanic in Cuenca.

We’ve included the following in our $100/month car maintenance costs:

  • General repairs (ie suspension, brakes etc)
  • Tire replacement
  • Oil & other minor servicing
  • Car washing twice per month ($5 each time).

 

Car Subtotal – $130/month

This is an easy cost to remove if you decide to live in the city of Cuenca as many expats get by without a car. Taxis, buses and trams are cheap and you’d be doing well to spend more than $30-40 per month.

If we didn’t have a car, then I’d expect us to spend around $150/month on transport. The majority of this would be on taxis as it costs us about $8 each way to get into Cuenca.

 

Child Related Costs in Cuenca

I’ve already mentioned that the cheaper cost of schools in Cuenca was one of the reasons we moved here from Quito. On top of that, general activities like horse-riding and other after-school activities are cheaper here.

 

School Fees (2 kids) – $500


You can choose the private or public school system in Ecuador. We’ve noticed a very substantial difference in the quality of teaching offered through each system, with private schools generally outperforming public schools in every metric except for cost.

School fees for our school of choice in Cuenca are $250/month. Transport costs extra, but we don’t need it as we drive or walk the kids to school.

There are also yearly costs such as uniforms, books and in what is a weird custom to me, you’ll also need to buy (and label with your child’s name) a whole host of other materials that they’ll use throughout the year. I’m talking about stuff like educational toys down to colored paper. Basically, anything your child will use throughout the year, you are expected to buy at the start of the year.

These one-off costs are why the government mandates workers receive an extra payment in August – to help pay for these educational costs.

School fees vary a lot. You can find schools in Cuenca that cost $800/month down the $100 or so. Homeschooling is another option that is popular amongst expats.

 

Horse Riding (2 kids) – $100


This covers tuition and riding twice per week for each child. I realize horse riding is very specific, but most after-school activities are in a similar range, costing $30-50 per month.

Other activities include football (of course), bike riding, dancing, swimming and hiking.

Child Costs Subtotal – $600/month (2 kids)

If you’re looking to put your kids through private school, you will be looking to pay a similar amount for education in Cuenca. You’ll pay considerably more in Quito or Guayaquil.

Obviously you can save yourself some money if you removed the after-school activities and decided to go to a cheaper school. But, I would suggest you check out the various schools you’re considering before making any decision because the teaching methods and environments can vary a lot.

 

Discretionary Costs

Alright, time to spend some cash on the fun stuff!

 

Cafes & Restaurants – $150/month


We generally eat out 4 times per month for lunch and another 4-5 times for cafe style coffee and snacks. For 2 adults and 2 kids, lunch generally costs $20-$30 and the coffee/snacks around $10.

Michelle and I will also go for the occasional date night approx once per month where it’s just the two of us having dinner and drinks. This might cost $20 or $50 depending on how romantic we’re feeling lol.

 

Yoga (2 adults) – $60/month


There’s a decent selection of yoga studios in Cuenca, most of which offer drop-in classes for around $5. Better value are the monthly passes which we currently pay $30/month for. This gives us more than enough yoga every month.

Yoga not for you? No problem. Gyms and other activities also have monthly passes in a similar $30-$50/month bracket.

 

Clothes – $100/month


Whilst we generally wait until we holiday in another country to buy clothes, we still purchase some basics in Cuenca like shoes, jumpers etc. You are better off bringing clothes with you if possible – especially if you’re a larger ‘gringo’ size as your options here might be limited.

 

Streaming (Netflix & Spotify) – $15/month


Streaming costs are likely to be cheaper in Ecuador than in your home country. The combined cost of Netflix and Spotify for individual plans is $15.

I know numerous extended families in Ecuador that pay much less than this because they take advantage of the family plans which work out to be much cheaper.

With IPTV and a Firestick, you may find you have access to enough channels that you no longer need a Netflix subscription.

 

Discretionary Subtotal – $325/month

If strapped for cash, you can basically remove these discretionary costs.

An easy substitution if you like eating out, but prefer to be a little more frugal, is to stick to the lunch menu of the day or almuerzo. These are generally $3-$5 and consist of a soup, main, drink, and sometimes a dessert. The quality varies, but you should be able to find several staple restaurants in Cuenca that you’re happy with the price and quality.

You could also bring your yoga/gym costs down by working out at home. Michelle and I occasionally practice guided yoga with instructors on Youtube or Gaia. We value the community that comes from practicing in person at yoga studios, but we still enjoy practicing at home.

 

Total Costs – $2,552/month

Our total monthly costs come in at around $2.5K for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids). This total includes many items that I would consider luxuries that we could certainly go without if we wanted to save a little more.

I believe we could get our monthly costs down to $1,500 if we needed to. But, this would require a lifestyle change and moving to a cheaper house.

Lastly, to get money into Ecuador, we generally use a low-fee online service, as traditional bank transfers normally cost more and are more effort.

Do you live in Cuenca and happy to share your monthly costs? Feel free to let us know if the comments below. Or, perhaps you’re still deciding about Cuenca and are busily comparing prices between here and your home country. If this is you, let us know if the cost of living in Cuenca is high, low, or similar to what you’re paying now.

3 Ways to Get a Driver’s Licence in Ecuador (2020 Guide)

Unfortunately, getting a driver’s licence in Ecuador isn’t as easy as just turning up to the issuing authority and transferring your existing licence. But, the process isn’t terribly painful either - once you know how...

I’ve covered the 3 main pathways most expats use to obtain their Ecuadorian driver’s licence below. There is also an Appendix at the end that includes useful law extracts and downloads. 

Disclaimer: This is NOT legal advice. The laws in Ecuador at relatively elastic, so you may have a different experience. If you think this is complicated or have special circumstances, then I would suggest hiring a facilitator to help you through the process. 

Before we dive into the 3 licence options, ask yourself:

Do you actually need an Ecuadorian driver’s licence?

You may be able to save yourself the hassle of getting a drivers licence. 

Visitor visa

If you’re on a visitors visa, then your existing drivers licence is valid to drive or rent a car, so you’re all set without an Ecuadorian licence.

Temporary and permanent residents

As a holder of an Ecuadorian temporary or permanent residency visa, you can legally drive in Ecuador for 6 months upon entry. As it’s 6 months upon entry, my interpretation of this is that it resets every time you enter Ecuador. 

Leave Ecuador every 6 months -> No licence required

So, if your lifestyle has you leaving the country every 6 months, I don’t see any legal requirement for you to get an Ecuadorian licence. 

I’ve looked through the transport laws and I can’t see anything that obliges a temporary or permanent resident to get their licence within a certain time period within the granting of their visa. 

This covers my personal situation. Which meant for a long time I just kept putting off getting a local licence. I really couldn’t see the benefit of it. 

I finally decided to get a licence simply because I thought it was time. More to do with belonging to my adopted homeland and building community than anything else.

The only real practical benefit for me is having easier conversations with traffic cops that decide to play around a little in an effort to extract some extra cash for themselves. 

Stay in Ecuador 6 months at a time -> Licence required

If you plan on staying inside Ecuador for more than 6 months at a time, then yes, you’ll need to get your licence in order to legally drive. 

So, now you’ve worked out if you need a licence, let’s dive into the 3 different options. 

Option 1: Transfer Your Foreign Licence (Canje)

This is the easiest option in that it allows you to bypass the practical driving components.  

But, it’s also the option that requires more planning because you need an apostilled copy of your foreign driving record - which takes time and money. And, then you need that translated and notarized by an authorized Ecuadorian entity. 

The process for transferring an existing foreign licence to an Ecuadorian is:

a) Driving record

Order an official driving record from your home country. Cost varies by country. 

b) Apostille 

Have the driving record apostilled in your home country. Cost varies by country

c) Translate & notarize

Translate and notarize the apostilled driving record into Spanish by your closest Ecuadorian Embassy or an official translator (and notary) in Ecuador. 

d) Evidence of education

This isn’t listed as an official requirement in the official ANT documentation. But each of the driving schools we spoke to required some type of proof that you’ve passed high school (up to the 10th grade). 

You can argue that it seems a little ridiculous that you’d be granted a licence in your home country if you didn’t have some level of education. 

But remember, this rule applies to every foreigner applying for a licence, so they are trying to protecting themselves from an influx of drivers from countries that perhaps don’t have an education requirement. 

You can satisfy this education requirement by providing:

  • Cedula indicating level of education; or
  • Apostilled diploma

Cedula

In an ideal world, your level of education would be indicated on the back of your cedula. Driving schools generally accept Basica level or above. 

Unfortunately, a common practice is for expats to be issued their first cedula with the Incicial level of education. Be very careful if this is you because Inicial is not sufficient to transfer your licence. You will be denied. 

This happened to me. Even though I applied for the Professional Visa that requires a university level degree, my initial cedula still said Inicial. 

My visa facilitator explained that it was done this way to expedite the issuing of the cedula. Waiting for SENESCYT to authorize my university degree would take a while. So, I could either have my cedula that day, or wait weeks/months for SENESCYT to authorize my degree and then have the proper education level printed on my cedula. 

I opted to have the cedula that day. It turned out to be a good choice because it took around 6 months and many emails between my university, SENESCYT, my facilitator and myself to finally have my degree recognized with SENESCYT.  

Apostilled diploma

If you don’t have a cedula with the required level of education, you’ll need a diploma from your home country that has also been apostilled. The higher the better. But anything 10th grade or above should work. 

You may also need to have this diploma translated into Spanish and notarized. You may already have this if you included it in your visa application.

e) Blood card

You need a certificate showing your blood type. Many get this from the Red Cross for around $5. 

f) Psychosensometric examination at driving school

You’ll need to contact an authorized driving school (list here) to complete this at a cost of around $20. This test covers reflexes, dexterity, vision and hearing. Most people don’t have a problem passing it. 

Take evidence of your education and driving record with you as the driving school will need this. 

g) Get payment slip from ANT & book test

Once you’ve got all of your documents, including original:

  • ID (cedula) 
  • Blood type certificate 
  • Driver's license from home country
  • Evidence of education
  • Driving record certificate from home country (translated, apostilled & notorized) 
  • Psychosensometric examination certificate
  • Color passport photos x 2

Then you can head on down to your closest ANT to obtain a payment slip and book an appointment for the multiple-choice test. Remember, you’ll likely need a few days to study for the test. 

You can also generate the payment slip and appointment online, but you may have to wait longer for the appointment. Applying for this licence via the transfer option seems to be somewhat fast-tracked. But, this only happens if you apply in person (not online).  

h) Pay $142 at a bank

Take the payment slip generated at ANT to a bank so you can pay the $142. There’s probably banks within walking distance. Read our guide on transferring money into Ecuador if you’re unfamiliar with getting this. 

i) Take the multiple-choice test (study required)

At your test appointment you’ll need to undertake a multiple-choice test. You’ll need to answer at least 16 out of 20 correctly in order to pass.

The 20 questions are taken from a pool of more than 300 questions. We’ve included the multiple-choice questions below for you to download and study. When ready, you can complete practice tests at the ANT site

Once you pass the test, you’ll be issued with your licence. Yay! This generally happens on the same day. 

If you fail, you can book another appointment for 8 days. Go and study! If you fail a second time you can try again in 2 months. But, fail a 3rd time and they’ll make you start the process all over again. The psychosensometric exam certificate is only valid for 60 days. 

The full list of documents for this type of licence (Canje) can be found on the official website and in the Appendix below.

Option 1 - Transfer: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Avoids driving tests

Cons

  • Need driving certificate from home country. 

Conclusion:

Transferring is the best solution for those wanting the least amount of time at a driving school. But, the additional burden of the driving certificate from your home country requires a lot of organization. 


Option 2: Driving School - Driving Test Only

This is the best option if you don’t want the hassle of getting your driving record certificate, and then having it apostilled, translated and notarized. 

I chose this option precisely because I didn’t want to have to deal with this. I was already in Ecuador too, so sending this via DHL adds to the total cost. 

The process for obtaining your licence through this option:

a) Evidence of education

Either a cedula indicating Basica or above, or an apostilled diploma for year 10 or higher. See above section for full details. 

b) Blood card

You need a certificate showing your blood type. Many get this from the Red Cross for around $5. 

c) Driving test

Find an authorized driving school that will evaluate your ability to drive and provide you with a certificate. Some driving schools to start with are ANETA, Practi-Car &  A Conducir (Cuenca)

Take originals of your evidence of education, blood type and ID to the school. 

Practical driving exam

This is a fairly straight forward driving exam lasting 20-30 minutes. The driving school will take you in their car and provide instructions on what you need to. It’s likely the car will be manual, so I’d definitely check with the driving school if you only know how to drive an automatic.

Psychosensometric exam

This is the same as detailed above and includes reflexes, dexterity, vision and hearing. The combined cost of the practical driving and psychosensometric exams is around $47. 

Once you’ve passed the two exams, the driving school will send the certificate within 2-3 days. 

Once you have your certificate, the rest of the process is very similar to the transfer option. 

d) Get payment slip from ANT & book test

Once you’ve got all of your documents, including original:

  • ID (cedula) 
  • Blood type certificate 
  • Driver's license from home country
  • Evidence of education
  • Practical driving & psychosensometric exams certificate 
  • Color passport photos x 2

Then you can head on down to your closest ANT to obtain a payment slip and book an appointment for the multiple-choice test. Remember, you’ll likely need a few days to study for the test. 

Apply for Driver’s License For the First Time (Type B)

At ANT, you’re going to want to apply for the ‘Tipo B Primera Vez’ (Type B First Time). 

The full official requirements are included in the Appendix below.

e) Pay $68 at a bank

Take the payment slip generated at ANT to a bank so you can pay the $68 (it’s cheaper than the transfer licence). 

f) Take the multiple-choice test (study required)

Exactly the same testing process as detailed above. The only difference is that if you fail the test just once, then you will not be able to take it again. You’ll need to go to driving school. 

Actually, if you fail any test throughout this process - driving, psychosensometric or multiple-choice, then you’ll need to go to driving school. This is the biggest downside of this approach. There are no second chances. So, make sure you’re comfortable driving with a stick and have studied the multiple-choice exam well. 

If you pass, you’ll be issued with your brand new Ecuadorian licence. Congratulations.

Option 2 - Driving Test Only: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Cheapest option if pass all tests

  • Less paperwork than Transfer

  • No extensive driving school required

Cons

  • No second chances at any test. Fail and go to driving school.

Conclusion:

This is the quickest and cheapest option if you're already in Ecuador. But, make sure you study for the multiple-choice test as there's no second chances. 


Option 3: Driving School - Full Course

This is generally the least preferred option because it requires a significant time commitment. The courses offered by each driving school vary a little, but you can expect something along the lines of:

  • Theory: 10 hours
  • Practice: 15 hours
  • Mechanics: 5 hours
  • Psychology: 2 hours
  • First aid: 2 hours

Some schools also offer flexible arrangements to complete the course full time, part time or even weekends.

The courses include the psychosensometric exam and certificate of approval. 

The cost will be around $170. 

The full process for obtaining your licence through a driving school:

a) Evidence of education

Either a cedula indicating Basica or above or an apostilled diploma for year 10 (or higher). See above section for full details. 

b) Blood card

You need a certificate showing your blood type. Many get this from the Red Cross for around $5. 

c) Driving school

Register with your driving school of choice. You should be able to make an initial enquiry online, but always best to phone them to confirm beforehand. 

Take your Cedula, evidence of education, blood type certificate and a passport photo with you to the driving school.

Complete the full course (34 hours!) to obtain your certificate of approval and psychosensometric exam. Note, it can take 3-4 weeks for schools to send these documents to you. 

d) Get payment slip from ANT & book test

Once you’ve got all of your documents, including original:

  • ID (cedula) 
  • Blood type certificate 
  • Evidence of education
  • Practical driving & psychosensometric exams certificate 
  • Color passport photos x 2

Then you can head on down to your closest ANT to obtain a payment slip and book an appointment for the multiple-choice test. Remember, you’ll likely need a few days to study for the test. 

Apply for Driver’s License For the First Time (Type B)

At ANT, you’re going to want to apply for the ‘Tipo B Primera Vez’ (Type B First Time). 

The full official requirements are included in the Appendix below.

e) Pay $68 at a bank

Take the payment slip generated at ANT to a bank so you can pay the $68 (it’s cheaper than the transfer licence). 

f) Take the multiple-choice test (study required)

Exactly the same testing process as detailed above.

If you fail, you can book another appointment for 8 days. If you fail a second time you can try again in 2 months. But, fail a 3rd time and they nay make you start the process all over again. The psychosensometric exam certificate is only valid for 60 days.

Option 3 - Driving School: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Learn local driving rules and customs

  • It’s what the locals do. Make some Ecuadorian friends

  • More than one chance to pass multiple-choice test

  • Less paperwork than transfer option

Cons

  • 34 hour time commitment

  • More expensive than driving test only option

Conclusion:

If you have the time and open to new experiences, the driving school option might be best for you.


FAQs

Can I just buy a licence instead?

Facepalm. No. Don’t do this. Morality issues aside, you can lose your licence and get fined.  Or worse, have your permanent residency visa declined when it comes time to apply.

How old do I need to be?

From the age of 18 you can apply for a licence. I’ve seen you can also apply for a ‘minor adult permit’ from the age of 16, but the driving school may require a significant guarantee. 


Appendix

Ecuadorian Licence Exam Questions

The multiple-choice exam consists of 20 questions randomly pulled from the database of over 300 questions. You need to answer 16/20 correctly to pass. 

The full list of questions can be downloaded here or accessed from the official ANT website. Note, the answers to each question are highlighted. 

Once you’ve reviewed the questions a couple of times, I strongly recommend taking some online practice exams

Good luck!


Traffic Laws

Article 137

Article 137 says that:a) Tourist Visa: You can use your foreign licence for as long as your Ecuadorian visa is valid. Up to 6 months. 

b) Residents: Migrants (ie temporary and permanent residents) can use your foreign licence for up to 6 months upon entry to Ecuador.

Print the below extract and keep in your car with you in case you need to argue your point with a police officer that is after a little ‘lunch money’. 

Reglamento a Ley de Transporte Terrestre Transito y Seguridad Vial 

Art. 137.- Los extranjeros que ingresen al país con visa de turista, o al amparo de cualquier visa de no inmigrante, podrán conducir con las licencias emitidas en sus países de origen, durante todo el plazo de estadía que su condición migratoria se lo permita, pero en ningún caso por más de seis meses contados desde su ingreso al país.

Los extranjeros que ingresen al país con visa de inmigrante, podrán también conducir con las licencias emitidas en sus países de origen, hasta por un plazo máximo de seis meses contados desde la fecha en que hubieren ingresado al país.

--- English translation ---

Regulations of the Land Transport, Traffic and Road Safety Act

Art. 137.- Foreigners who enter the country with a tourist visa, or under any non-immigrant visa, may drive with the licenses issued in their countries of origin, during the entire period of stay that their immigration status allows, but in no case for more than six months from their entry to the country.

Foreigners who enter the country with an immigrant visa may also drive with licences issued in their countries of origin, for a maximum period of six months from the date they entered the country.

Download the full traffic regulations from ANT here or directly here


Authorized traffic schools 

The full list of schools authorized to conduct driver training for cars (type b) can be found at the official ANT website - or download directly here

You’ll need to contact one of these to complete the required tests like Psychosensometric, practical driving test, or arrange a driving course. 


ANT Licence Requirements

1. Transfer your foreign licence

The list of requirements for transferring a licence from your home country to an Ecuadorian one. 

Canje licencia de conducir extranjera por ecuatoriana

Canje de licencia de conducir extrajera por la ecuatoriana para ecuatorianos y extranjeros con visa superior a los 180 días

Requisitos:

  • Original del documento de identificación.
  • Original del certificado o carné de tipo sanguíneo emitido por la Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana.
  • Original de la licencia de conductor profesional o no profesional del país de origen vigente.
  • Original del examen psicosensométrico, realizado en una de las Escuelas de Capacitación autorizadas por la ANT. Recuerda que el certificado tiene una vigencia de 60 días.
  • Original del certificado de la licencia de conducir extrajera vigente, emitido por una de las siguientes instituciones:
  1. Misiones Diplomáticas de los países de origen en el Ecuador, en español.
  2. Misiones Diplomáticas que no se encuentren en Ecuador, en español.
  3. Entidades de Tránsito del país de origen, el mismo que en caso de no estar en español deberá ser apostillado o consularizado, y la traducción del mismo deberá ser autenticada por un Notario, Cónsul o Juez de lo Civil en el Ecuador.
  4. Entidades de Tránsito del país de origen, debidamente apostillada en el caso de ser emitida en español.

Procedimiento:

  1. Cancelar el valor del trámite directamente en el banco.
  2. Solicitar turno en Atención al Usuario de la ANT.
  3. Validación de documentos y pagos.
  4. Actualización de datos.
  5. Evaluación teórica en español.
  6. Entrega de la licencia
  7. Certificado del movimiento migratorio.

Costo:

USD: 142,00

*El documento original extranjero no será retenido.

*La licencia será emitida por el plazo de vigencia de la visa o tiempo por el cual se ha otorgado el carné de refugiado.

*En caso de tener carné de refugiado, cancelar el valor del trámite en la cuenta corriente #7347243, del Banco del Pacífico.

*En caso de tener cédula de ciudadanía, la vigencia de la licencia será de acuerdo a este documento.

--- English translation ---

Exchange of a foreign driver's license for the Ecuadorian for Ecuadorians and foreigners with a visa greater than 180 days

Requirements:

  • Original identification document.
  • Original of the blood type certificate or card issued by the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
  • Original professional or non-professional driver's license from the country of origin in force.
  • Original of the psychosensometric examination, carried out in one of the Training Schools authorized by the ANT. Remember that the certificate is valid for 60 days.
  • Original of the valid foreign driver's license certificate, issued by one of the following institutions:
  1. Diplomatic Missions of the countries of origin in Ecuador, in Spanish.
  2. Diplomatic Missions not found in Ecuador, in Spanish.
  3. Transit Entities of the country of origin, the same that in case of not being in Spanish must be apostilled or consularized, and the translation of the same must be authenticated by a Notary, Consul or Civil Judge in Ecuador.
  4. Transit Entities of the country of origin, duly apostilled in the case of being issued in Spanish.

Process:

  1. Cancel the value of the procedure directly at the bank.
  2. Request an appointment at the ANT User Service.
  3. Validation of documents and payments.
  4. Data update.
  5. Theoretical evaluation in Spanish.
  6. Delivery of the license
  7. Certificate of the migratory movement.

Cost:

USD: 142.00

* The foreign original document will not be retained.

* The license will be issued for the period of validity of the visa or time for which the refugee card has been granted.

* In case of having a refugee card, cancel the value of the procedure in the current account # 7347243, of the Banco del Pacífico.

* In case of having a citizenship card, the validity of the license will be according to this document.

View directly on ANT website

2. Apply for a licence for the 1st time

The list of requirements when applying for a licence for your 1st time (not a transfer). 

Licencias de conducir tipo B por primera vez

Requisitos:

  1. Certificado de conductor NO profesional tipo B, emitido por una Escuela de Capacitación para Conductores no profesionales autorizadas por la ANT.
  2. Original del acta de grado del curso.
  3. Original del permiso de aprendizaje.
  4. Original del resultado del examen psicosensométrico, vigente y aprobado.
  5. Original de la cédula de identidad y/o ciudadanía.
  6. Original del certificado o carné de tipo sanguíneo extendido por la Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana.
  7. Original del comprobante de pago.

* Única y exclusivamente se podrá emitir licencias por primera vez en la misma provincia donde el usuario realizó su curso de capacitación.

Procedimiento:

  1. Genera una orden de pago Aquí.
  2. Paga el valor del trámite con la orden de pago (Conoce los Puntos de Pago autorizados).
  3. Una vez realizado el pago, obtén un turno para la emisión de licencia (Aquí).
  4. Acercarse a la Agencia que consta en tu turno, 15 minutos antes de la hora asignada.
  5. Espera que llamen a tu turno y entrega los documentos que constan en los requisitos, adjuntando el comprobante de pago original.
  6. Realiza la evaluación teórica. Puedes revisar el Banco de Preguntas y Simulador de Examen.
  7. Recepción y validación de la documentación y pagos realizados.
  8. Espera la entrega de tu licencia.

Costo:

USD 68,00

*En caso de ser persona natural extranjero deberá presentar el Certificado de haber culminado la educación básica, el mismo que deberá ser apostillado, traducido al español y notarizado.   

Consideraciones:

  • En caso de no realizar el curso de conducción se deberá presentar el certificado de aprobación de evaluaciones: psicosensométrica y práctica emitido por las Escuelas de Conducción no profesionales autorizadas por la ANT.
  • Haber aprobado la educación general básica, verificando a través de información que conste en la cédula de ciudadanía o mediante certificado de haber aprobado la educación básica general o título de bachiller.
  • El examen psicosensométrico tendrá una duración de 60 días calendario desde la fecha de emisión de la Escuela de Conducción autorizada por la ANT. Este exámen se debe efectuar en la misma escuela donde el usuario realizó el curso.
  • Cancelar el valor de las multas e infracciones pendientes, caso contrario no podrá realizar el trámite.
  • Las licencias de conducir para conductores profesionales y no profesionales sin excepción tendrán una vigencia de cinco años, contados a partir de la fecha de su expedición.

--- English translation ---

Type B driver's licenses for the first time

Requirements:

  1. Certificate of NON-professional driver type B, issued by a Training School for non-professional drivers authorized by the ANT.
  2. Original of the degree certificate of the course.
  3. Original of the learning permit.
  4. Original of the result of the psychosensometric examination, current and approved.
  5. Original identity and / or citizenship card.
  6. Original of the blood type certificate or card issued by the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
  7. Original proof of payment.

* Only and exclusively licenses may be issued for the first time in the same province where the user completed his training course.

Process:

  1. Generate a payment order here.
  2. Pay the value of the procedure with the payment order (Know the authorized Payment Points).
  3. Once the payment is made, get a turn for the license issue (Here).
  4. Approach the Agency that is on your shift, 15 minutes before the assigned time.
  5. Wait for them to call your turn and deliver the documents that appear in the requirements, attaching the original proof of payment.
  6. Perform the theoretical evaluation. You can check the Question Bank and Exam Simulator.
  7. Receipt and validation of documentation and payments made.
  8. Wait for the delivery of your license.

Cost:

USD 68.00

* In the case of being a foreign natural person, you must present the Certificate of having completed basic education, which must be apostilled, translated into Spanish and notarized.   

Considerations:

  • In case of not taking the driving course, the evaluation approval certificate must be presented: psychosensometric and practice issued by the non-professional Driving Schools authorized by the ANT.
  • Have passed basic general education, verifying through information on the citizenship card or by means of a certificate of having passed general basic education or a bachelor's degree.
  • The psychosensometric examination will last 60 calendar days from the date of issuance of the Driving School authorized by the ANT. This exam must be done at the same school where the user took the course.
  • Cancel the value of pending fines and infractions, otherwise you will not be able to carry out the procedure.
  • The driver's licenses for professional and non-professional drivers without exception will be valid for five years, counted from the date of issue.

View directly on ANT website

Ecuador Blogs Worth Reading in 2020

Finding updated, quality information on traveling and living in Ecuador can be like bobbing for apples - after many searches you might get lucky & find a winner. 

So, I've compiled the following shortlist of Ecuador blogs and resources that you can use as a starting off point. Each of these resources has been helpful to me throughout my journey of living in Ecuador. 

Our blog (ExpatsEcuador.com) covers practical information on living and traveling in Ecuador. It's based on topics we feel are missing (ie expat family life), under-reported or we are simply passionate about and want to share.

You may find some information cross-over between the different resources (including our blog), which is completely okay. Hopefully you'll leave with multiple points of view to digest. 

Ecuador travel blogs

Traveling through Ecuador and need a few tips? Great. Here's some travel blogs you should consider:

Not Your Average American

This travel blog is focused on Ecuador, but also includes content on neighboring countries like Peru and Colombia.

We like Not Your Average American because the content is detailed, making it very helpful.

In fact, there's been instances where I've spent time researching topics, only to find Angie's already written about it. For any other blog this wouldn't matter as there's normally a lot of improvements that can be made to provide additional value.

But, Angie's articles can be so comprehensive that I don't feel the need to cover the topic as there's few improvements to be made. Case in point is Angie's article on handmade makanas near Cuenca. I visited the same lovely shop, took all the same photographs, but haven't written about it because Angie's attention to detail is superb. 

Along Dusty Roads

Ecuador is just one of the numerous countries included in this extensive travel blog. We like that the content is authentic, detailed and includes lush photography. 

The most helpful articles to us have been the hiking guides, like this one on hiking the Quilotoa Loop. They cover the basics with enough detail to give you the confidence to plan the trek, but you'll still need to be ready to improvise a little as the content is a few years old - such is the curse of any travel blog.

Nomadic Matt

The layout and readability of Nomadic Matt makes it an easy read for first time visitors to most countries. His section on Ecuador is no exception. 

We like that it allows visitors to digest the basics of Ecuador quickly. But, as his name suggests, his nomadic lifestyle prohibits him devoting a lot of time to each location. This can limit the depth of information available.

Ecuador Expat Blogs

More interested in what life looks like for expats in Ecuador? The following resources have provided us with useful, practical, first hand information:

Amelia & JP

Amelia & JP's vlog on YouTube (free) and Patreon (paid) covers many topics relevant for current or aspiring expats in Ecuador. The video format works great for capturing the visual nuances that can be difficult for text based blogs.

A lot of their content is Cuenca related, but they moved to Olon in 2020. This is great as it gives you the opportunity to experience two very different expat living environments - mountains and beach.

Cuenca High Life

Cuenca High Life is an expat-friendly Ecuador news site with a focus on issues related to Cuenca. 

Editorial content is provided by contributors, so non-news topics will be skewed towards the most active contributors. In 2020, the most prolific contributor has been Susan Burke March, who uses her background in nutrition to focus on topics related to food, nutrition and health.

We like that this blog does the heavy lifting of aggregating stories relevant to expats and publishes them in English. However, I don't see them as a replacement for national news sites like El Comercio

Gringos Abroad

Gringos Abroad is a large travel and expat site focusing on Ecuador.

We've gotten the most value from their earlier articles like this 2013 one that covers expat issues. This 'boots on the ground' content helped me when I was researching Cuenca as a possible city to live in. 

The owners, Bryan and Dena, left Ecuador in 2015. This has made it difficult for them to provide updated travel and expat information. They've since focused on more general topics related to animal facts etc.

So, we still think their content is useful, but it won't be the most recent and you may need to find a more updated source for specifics.

International Living

Honestly, I'm a little apprehensive to include International Living because they have a reputation for over-selling their destinations. 

But, I've included it as some of their information on Ecuador was helpful for me as a starting point.

Just know that they have a vested interest in showing their destinations in the best light possible. So be weary of any claims that you cannot otherwise substantiate or polls only designed to grab headines like 'Cuenca is the best city in world to retire' etc. 

Ecuador Forums

Ecuador Expats Facebook Group

The most useful forum for Ecuador's daily events is the Ecuador Expats Facebook group (not related to this site). It's a private group so you'll need to request membership. 

I like this group because it has many engaged members and the main admin, David Sasaki, provides random snippets about Ecuador and translates relevant news articles. 

There are other FB groups that are more relevant for each city that you should also join, but this is certainly the most useful at the national level. 

Gringopost

Gringopost is more of a traditional public forum where you can post messages and classifieds. I've used it in the past for checking out some Cuenca-based real estate or items for sale. 

I will admit I am using Facebook Marketplace more and more for these types of activities, but Gringopost still provides value if I'm looking for something that might be more expat-friendly.

Wrapping up

I've enjoyed pulling together this post. It's taken me longer than expected because I've been sidetracked by discovering new posts from the above resources.

Have I missed your favorite Ecuador blog or resource? Please tell me why it should be included in the comments below or contact us

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