Following a life-changing event back in Denver Colorado, we took stock of our lives and decided we needed to do something different.
After a lot of soul searching and some VERY tough decisions, we made the choice to sell everything we owned and leave the US in search of a more unconventional life, in a more affordable and tranquilo part of the world.
We’ll share that story with you below, but first, make sure you don’t miss any of our videos by subscribing to our YouTube Channel: Amelia And JP – Our Unconventional Life
Why We Left the States
In 2015, I (JP) was diagnosed with congenital spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease following a loss of feeling in my hands, legs and feet. Several MRI’s revealed a shattered disc in my neck that had pinched my spinal cord to within 1 mm of death or permanent paralysis. I also had 3 ruptured discs in my lower back. These conditions required immediate surgeries to prevent further, permanent nerve damage.
Shattered Cervical Disc & Replacement
5-Level Lumbar Fusion w/ Pelvic Screws
The two surgeries on my spine cost nearly $1 MILLION! Most of that was covered by insurance, but the insurance company canceled my plan following the final surgery and my new rate was $1,200/month plus a $12,000 deductible and only 60% coverage.
Not only was the monthly premium unaffordable following a year of recovery and no income, if I ever need another expensive surgery, there’s no way we could afford a $12,000 deductible or 40% of the total cost.
The risk of bankruptcy due to medical care was simply too high. We had to leave the US so I started searching for a new home with quality healthcare that we could afford.
We briefly thought about Puerto Rico because we like tropical weather. However, with climate change ramping up, that means more frequent and stronger hurricanes. The thought of being on an island in hurricane alley as the oceans warm didn’t seem like a better choice than staying put. If Hurricanes Irma and Maria are any sign of what’s to come, we’re very glad we didn’t move there.
We researched Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama, but decided those were either too politically and economically unstable, or also likely to suffer the negative effects of climate change.
Next, we researched New Zealand and Australia. We even put our feelers out for jobs in those countries, but they’re very picky about who they let in. You need a marketable skill set that’s hard to find AND you need to be under 30 years old with good health. We simply didn’t qualify.
Finally, we set our sights on South America. Ecuador topped the list, but I’ll come back to that. We looked at Uruguay because they have legal marijuana, which was a miracle drug during my recovery. It got me off of 3 addictive, prescription pharmaceutical drugs that had horrible side effects. Uruguay was certainly near the top of the list for that reason.
We also looked at Argentina, Chile and Peru. Each had their pros and cons, but Ecuador was the clear front-runner for several reasons.
First, Ecuador uses the US dollar for its currency. That meant we wouldn’t need to learn a new currency and do money conversions in our head all the time. Plus, our dollars would go a lot farther in Ecuador than they did back in the States.
Second, Ecuador is a major food exporter and GMOs are banned in their constitution. It’s the world’s fruit basket, but they also grow most of their own veggies. We liked the idea of having easy, year-round access to fresh, non-GMO and/or organic fruits and veggies. Plus, anything imported that contains GMOs must be clearly labeled. This isn’t important to everyone, but it’s important to us.
Third, Ecuador has a large expat community with lots of people from the US and Canada. Because of that, a lot of Ecuadorians speak English. We thought that would make our transition to a different culture much easier.
Finally, Ecuador has a low inflation rate (one of the lowest in the world as of this writing), a social democracy and political stability (at least compared to other Latin American countries). They provide healthcare to everyone (even us expats) with affordable insurance rates and medical services. They also cover preexisting conditions (like my defective spine).
With our destination selected, we booked an exploratory trip in March of 2017 to Ecuador. We spent a couple days in Quito on our way to Cuenca. Quito was nice, and a good second option, but Cuenca had a lot more to offer expats and it’s a smaller city.
After spending a week in Cuenca, we fell in love with the city. We were a little concerned about Ecuador’s third-world reputation before our trip, but it far exceeded our expectations. Ecuador is a developing nation with a growing middle class. It is NOT 3rd World!
We decided it was the perfect place for us, so we returned home and began planning our exodus for the fall when our apartment lease in Denver expired. It took us longer to get here than we planned, after spending some time with our families in Kansas City and Atlanta, but we eventually made it.
Our Life in Ecuador
Cuenca is extremely well-developed, the people are very friendly and the food is amazing. The mercados are loaded with beautiful fruits and veggies. We rarely bought the tropical fruits in the States because they were so expensive, but we can easily afford them here.
Mangos, papaya and avocados are usually 3 for a dollar, sometimes 4 for a dollar. ONE DOLLAR!!! Considering they typically sell for 3 to 10 times that amount in the States, we often have reverse sticker shock. Plus, they’re always fresh. They haven’t been shipped halfway around the world, frozen or sprayed with chemicals to keep them fresh. They tree/vine ripen and they taste amazing!
Cuenca also has a lot of wonderful restaurants and it’s known as the Athens of Ecuador for its vibrant cultural scene.
Before our move to the coast of Ecuador in early 2020, our cost of living in Cuenca was also much lower than in the States. We were spending about $2,000 per month for both of us, everything included, and we lived in a really nice 3 bedroom, 4 bathroom house.
Then we moved to Olón and rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo near one of Ecuador’s beautiful beaches for $700/month including water and internet. Rent in Ecuador is about 1/4th the cost compared to an equivalent place in the States.
Our living expenses in Denver were more than $5,000 per month, and we lived in a tiny 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. We used the savings to pay off Amelia’s ginormous student loan and the debt that we accumulated from my medical expenses and my inability to work for almost a year following my spine surgeries.
We don’t need cars here, which were really expensive back in the states when you add up the loan, maintenance, tags, gas, parking and insurance.
Our health insurance is MUCH cheaper; we pay $192 for both of us (2023).
Our Ecuador mobile phone is $21/month. Internet in Cuenca was $45/month with high-speed fiber to the router (150Mb upload/download) compared to the $120/month we were paying in Denver for inconsistent cable service.
Groceries are 1/10th the cost in Ecuador compared to similar quality food in the States. We were paying $30/bag on average for fruits and veggies at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers. The same amount costs us $3/bag here, and the quality is much higher.
Restaurants are about 1/4 the cost, and tips are much lower. We were told most Ecuadorians don’t leave tips, but $1 per person or 10% of the bill is common for those who do.
Most meals at typical restaurants cost the two of us about $20 for dinner and $10 for lunch. That includes a bottle of domestic cerveza and/or a glass of wine for each of us. We would easily pay in excess of $100 for dinner and drinks at our favorite restaurants in Denver.
We could live on less than $1,500 per month in Cuenca if we didn’t eat out so much, lived in a smaller place and spent less on our health and fitness. We actually spend close to $1,500/month now that we live in Olón with the reduced cost of rent and less eating out.
Despite a few cultural differences that can be frustrating for Americans, we’re really happy to be living here and we’re 100% confident we made the right decision.
If you can relate to any part of our story, or just want to do something more unconventional with your life, we can show you the way out.
Whether you’re still working or already retired, a new adventure awaits and it’s just a plane ticket away! Come join us and all your fellow expats who Live Abroad Now!
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