With its low cost of living, balmy climate and cheap property prices, Ecuador has been ranked the top foreign retirement destination for North Americans for the fifth consecutive year.Having fallen in love with Ecuador when I lived there in the summers as a teenager, I certainly wouldn't mind living there when I retire. I could see myself living in a modest yet comfortable home on the outskirts of Otavalo, hopefully with a view of Mount Imbabura and Lago San Pablo. I would hang out with members of my favorite indigenous group, maybe be a part-time tourguide or English teacher to keep myself occupied, and, when the urge arose, make a trip to Quito's new airport to go see the world.
The South American nation bordered by Colombia and Peru scored the highest marks in InternationalLiving.com's annual ranking of the best places to retire.
With monthly estimated living expenses ranging from $900 to $1,400, Ecuador surpassed Panama, Malaysia, Mexico and Costa Rica, which rounded out the top five countries.
"I think the combination of a welcoming culture, the great weather, the affordability and its proximity to the United States all go together to make it a good package," Dan Prescher, the special projects editor for the website, said on Thursday.
A large part of Ecuador's appeal is how inexpensive it is for retirees. A beer costs just 85 cents. A doctor's visit is $25, roughly the same price as a one-hour massage.
"Seniors resident in Ecuador qualify for half-price entertainment and local transport, discounted airfares and refunds of sales tax," Prescher added.
Add to the fact that the US Dollar is Ecuador's currency - no hassling with exchange rates or watching your retirement accounts hyperinflate into oblivion - and Ecuador indeed seems like an ideal retirement spot.
Crime is a severe problem in Ecuador. Crimes against U.S. citizens in the past year have ranged from petty theft to violent offenses, including armed robbery, home invasion, sexual assault, and several instances of murder and attempted murder. Very low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – contribute to Ecuador’s high crime rate.
The problem Ecuador continues to have with a runaway crime rate is one of the reasons why I have not visited the country I used to consider my "home away from home" for over a decade. As much as I want to see the problem get better, everything I have read or heard about Ecuador over the last several years suggests that the problem is only getting worse, and is not confined to big cities like Quito or Guayaquil. It is an unfortunate fact that the elderly are almost-universally targeted for crime. If I were a retiree thinking about Ecuador, I'd give its crime problem a long, hard look before making the move.
Corruption, political instability and anti-Americanism are also risks to living in Ecuador, but those are perennial problems which are no better or worse today than they were ten or twenty years ago. Ecuador's current president, Rafael Correa, is a leftist who has had several run-ins with the United States in the past, but he has also lived in the United States (he holds MS and PhD degrees from the University of Illinois) and has never exhibited a tendency to harass American tourists or retirees simply due to their nationality. And although my experience is rather dated at this point, I've generally found the Ecuadorean people themselves to be appreciative of, and friendly to, Americans.
All of which is to say: if you're an American citizen thinking about retiring in Ecuador, don't just look at the cost of living. Do your due diligence. Where in Ecuador are you going to live? What is the crime rate like there? Have you met any of the locals who live there? Have you met, and do you trust, the police (whether they be municipal, provincial or Policia Nacional) who patrol the area where you want to live? Have you spoken to personnel at the US Embassy in Quito (or the US Consulate in Guayaquil) to get their thoughts? How good is your Spanish? How far away is where you want to live from adequate medical care? Is there good public transportation or taxi service where you want to live? (You don't want to drive in Ecuador. Trust me on this one.) Will you be able to prepare yourself for the natural disasters that occasionally ravage Ecuador, be they earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, El Niño floods or mudslides?
I don't want to dissuade anybody from retiring in Ecuador. It is an amazing and beautiful nation. The cost of living is indeed cheap, and the people are wonderful. Hopefully, Ecuador will still be that way many years from now, when I retire. But there are risks to retiring in any foreign country, and Ecuador's crime rate is a real concern.
It is my hope that the Ecuadorian government will, at some point, take a stronger effort in combating crime, so that American tourists and retirees alike will feel more comfortable visiting, living in, and contributing to the economy of Ecuador.