Canadians have longed to escape the ravages of winter, usually when they retire, but now they are increasingly looking to escape the rat race and move to a country where they can find a better life balance and immense themselves in other cultures. First it was Costa Rica, then Panama and now it's Ecuador.


The Path of Progress

In the late 1990’s and in early 2000, Ecuador was suffering politically. It was moving through Presidents far to fast for any of them to accomplish anything. From 1996 to the current President Correa (who’s been in office since 2007), Ecuador saw eight changes… not a good situation for any country, let alone a developing one. And infrastructure – or lack thereof – was a major area consistently being put on the back burner.

That all changed 5 years ago when the current President, Rafael Correa, put a priority on overhauling Ecuador’s dormant and decayed infrastructure. This campaign wasn’t aimed specifically at fixing existing infrastructure either. There was a huge push put on creating new roads, bridges and increasing the accessibility to potable water. In addition, improving and overhauling the public sewage and electricity service, education, healthcare and public services such as police and fire were all high on the priority list.

Not only have all of these advances, additions and improvements improved life for those already living in Ecuador, but it has also created a multitude of jobs equating to an extraordinary economic development.

Here’s a brief look at some of the infrastructure advancements Ecuador has made, and continues to make:

Roads – it wasn’t all that long ago that Ecuador’s stunning coast was a lost wonder. With only treacherous mud roads, boasting potholes the size of a car, not even local Ecuadorian’s would venture to the beautiful Pacific beaches. With the development of the ‘Ruta de Spondylus’, a beautiful new paved road from Ecuador’s north coast to the south, a variety of coastal villages have sprung up and tourism (both from within and outside of the country) has boomed. A total of $800 million was put into road development throughout Ecuador, with another $5 billion slated to be invested in the future. This has not only helped with travel throughout the country, but it also means that local farmers are able to truck their produce to large markets and for international export, all with ease and efficiency.

Healthcare – For anyone considering making Ecuador home, either full or part time, healthcare is among the most important considerations. Well, this is not an area forgotten under the Correa Administration… although there is still a lot of work to do, the advances have been monumental; 18 new hospitals and 250 health centers have been built, including many new clinics in small villages and rural towns. Currently, 6.8% of Ecuador’s national budget is put towards healthcare – hiring doctors, purchasing new and modern equipment and campaigns teaching of preventative treatments for common ailments.

Potable Water – many folks travelling to Ecuador are likely wary of drinking the water, and several years ago, that was a smart decision. And certainly, if you are in a rural area, bottled water is still a good choice. But consider this… 96% of all urban areas in Ecuador have potable water, up from 82% six years ago. A very impressive improvement! Rural areas are up to 89%, still not a guarantee, depending on where you are in the country, but with a mission to continue improving on this number, the future of Ecuador’s accessibility to potable water looks clean, clear and delicious.

Public Sewers – sewer sanitation is an ongoing project for Ecuador’s government. After sitting dormant with no maintenance for fifty years, the current Administration has its work cut out for it. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. Urban areas are receiving the most attention right now, but rural communities have seen an increase in improved service (from 53% to 79%!) over a mere six year period. Long-term sustainability in this sector is a top priority for Ecuador’s current government.

Electricity – because almost half of Ecuador’s electric service is hydroelectric generated, a drought can have a major impact on reliability. Although droughts are a rarity in Ecuador, November 2009 to January 2010 showed the country exactly what would happen if such an event occurred. Rolling blackouts were the norm for those three months, and set the government in motion to come up with a significant back-up generation system – which has since been purchased.

Education – A full overhaul of Ecuador’s education system has taken place with the current government in place. Standardized testing for teachers (previously, no qualification system was in place), free lunch and uniforms for students and the building or renovating of five thousand schools across the country. These are huge advances, and will ensure a well-educated future for this beautiful country!

Police & Fire – Prior to the current governments implementation, this was a very questionable sector in Ecuador; particularly in rural areas where services lacked, or at best, police fell prey to the politics of local patronage. By providing modernized, mandatory training across the board, renovating and building new stations, replacing equipment (including vehicles) that belonged in a museum and breaking the police up into their own ‘sections’, such as border, traffic, narcotics and public safety, this sector of the government has improved ten-fold. Moral is dramatically increased, which has proven to increase the efficacy of these professionals doing their job. These positive changes have also restored the public’s faith in these compulsory services.

As beautiful of a country that Ecuador is, it’s important to remember that this is still a developing country. Although there have been enormous changes in the past several years, there is still a lot to do; however, that being said, consider your own city! Summer is typically known as ‘construction season’, water mains break, heavy rain affects sewage systems and wastewater occasionally sneaks into places it’s not supposed to go. No matter where you live in the world, infrastructure is an on-going struggle for governments.

All of this infrastructure development in Ecuador has definitely influenced it remaining on top as a country for retirement and property investment. But how long will these incredible prices on property last? As more people discover the natural beauty and ease of accessibility, surely prices will increase…

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The pace of life is much different in Ecuador and takes some getting used to. Once you understand that life here does not operate at the same frenetic pace you may be accustomed to back in Canada, you will begin to relax and lower your stress level. A blog post said it’s like going back to the fifties. Wasn’t life better back then without all the demands on your time? You get to know your neighbors here. You get to experience the beauty of nature anywhere in this beautiful country. You walk more. You find you have a much better work/life balance which will no doubt add years to your life. Vilcabamba, popular with Expats, is in what’s called the Valley of Longevity, where many residents are well over a hundred years old. Studies have suggested it’s the minerals in the water and the rich soil that local produce is grown in.

Cost of Living
Ecuador has a much lower cost of living when you figure everything in. Housing can be as little as twenty-five percent of what it is in Canada. Good, organically grown food, especially fruits and vegetables, are ridiculously cheap. You can buy enough for a week for less than ten dollars. Gas is subsidized if you really want a car, but you can take taxis across town for a dollar and the bus is twenty-five cents in many areas. If you are a senior you get discounts of as much as fifty percent on international flights, tickets for all cultural and sporting events, including movies, and electric and water bills. Your loonie goes a lot further in Ecuador.

Ecuador has recently removed the age and pre-existing conditions from their National Healthcare plan. The new health system provides full medical coverage, including doctors’ visits with no co-pays or deductibles, dental care, and free or discounted prescription medicine. In case of emergency, members can go to any hospital in the country and the government will pick up all expenses. Although most routine medical services are provided at Social Security hospitals and clinics, it is also possible to receive treatment at hundreds of private health care facilities under contract with the government. Many private pharmacies also have agreements with the government for this program.

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  • Since moving to Ecuador I have lost thirty pounds and feel so much better. We walk everywhere and love to explore all the unique shops and restaurants. Although we do our fair share of home cooking, we love that we can afford to go out for a meal once in a while, something we could never afford back home in Canada.–JT- Vancouver

  • The new health care system is simply amazing. Doctors are usually North American trained and often bilingual. They also spend time with you like doctors used to in Canada. There's no "one complaint" signs in their offices and they genuinely care about your health. Yes, we had "free" health care back in Canada, but the wait times for any procedure were months. It's comforting to know that in an emergency you will be treated just like a citizen of the country and receive free care.–GM- Toronto

  • We just love living here in Cotacachi. The indigenous people are very friendly and we also enjoy the company of many, many Expats from Canada and the US. Our social life is much improved here and we love this country–Janet - Calgary