If you’re considering a move abroad to join the expat ranks, use these 10 tips to get the most out of your exploratory trip to Ecuador. As you’re scheduling your visit, plan to spend as much time as possible in Ecuador to explore your future surroundings and make preparations for your move.
Tip #1 – Thoughtfully plan your trip
Some careful initial planning will help you maximize your time in Ecuador so that you can see as much of the country as possible while identifying a place you might like to live.
If you have at least a month to travel in Ecuador, take a national bus tour. Buses are a popular way to travel in Ecuador. The private and public bus systems are safe and reliable. Three of the top tour companies you should consider are Ecuador Expat Journeys, Wander Bus and Ecuador Hop.
Ecuador Expat Journeys provides a guided tour across the country geared specifically towards expats. They do a great job of introducing you to towns and properties, giving you local insight into the areas where you may want to live.
Wander Bus and Ecuador Hop are hop-on/hop-off buses. When you depart, you have the option to stay in multiple places for a few days at a time or even longer than that.
Since they’re both self-guided tours, you’ll have more control over the itinerary, but you’ll also be responsible for your activities. Both companies will give you an excellent high-level tour of the main cities. The most popular routes start in Quito and stop in popular tourist cities, such as Cuenca, Montañita/Olón, Manta, Salinas, Guayaquil, Baños Ambato, etc.
Tip #2 – Don’t overbook your itinerary!
If you’re only planning to stay for a week or two, choose just one or two cities to spend most of your time. It takes awhile to travel between the major cities so you’re better off focusing on just a couple. There will be plenty of time to explore more cities and areas after you move to Ecuador!
Check out our article, Best Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats for a detailed list and review of popular expat cities in Ecuador, but two of the best options are Cuenca and Manta.
Cuenca tends to feel more like home for many expats, and this is where you should start if you’re not an experienced world traveler. Though you may need a little bit of time to adjust to the high elevation, you shouldn’t experience too much culture shock. Consequently, Cuenca is full of expats and many English-speaking Ecuadorians, so you’ll fit right in.
Manta and the surrounding towns are great to visit if you want to live near the beach. It’s also an expat enclave with more expats than Salinas, Playas or Olón. Manta is also more developed than many other places in Ecuador, with more amenities and access to better hospitals, too. It’s also safer than Guayaquil if you’re concerned about security.
Tip #3 – Stay as long as you can!
If you’re planning a move abroad, stay as long as you can on your exploratory trip to Ecuador so you get a real feel for the country and its people. While you can always move back home if you don’t like living in Ecuador, moving abroad can be costly so you’ll want to make sure the place you choose is a good fit for you.
We visited Ecuador for 10 days on our exploratory trip back in 2017. We stayed 2 nights in Quito and the rest in Cuenca, which was the city we had chosen as the first choice for our move abroad. A week in Cuenca was enough to confirm our feeling that we could be happy living there.
However, if there are several potential cities on your wish list, you will need much longer than a week to not only visit each of them, but to get a good feel for what it’s like to live in each city.
You get a 90-day tourist visa when you arrive at the airport—there’s no need to apply for one in advance. At the end of the initial 90 days, you can apply for a 90-day tourist visa extension.
Keep in mind that you can only request the tourist visa extension once every five years. If you want to stay longer, we recommend applying for a Temporary Residency Visa.
If you can stay for 6 months, that’s plenty of time to take a good look around the country!
Tip #4 – Focus on where you want to live in Ecuador
Don’t try to do too much on your exploratory trip by trying to squeeze in a trip to the Galapagos or the Amazon. Those are really cool places to visit, but it’s best to save them until after you move to Ecuador for two main reasons.
First, Ecuador residents get discounts on travel to the Galapagos, which will allow you to travel more conveniently and affordably after you move.
Second, going to these fantastic destinations won’t help decide where to live. Visiting them will detract from your focus, which is trying to determine where you want to live!
Tip #5 – Keep it authentic!
The best way to explore Ecuador is to live like a local to get a real idea of what it will be like after you move.
To start, rent a place with a kitchen so that you can shop for fresh local foods at the mercados and grocery stores. You’ll experience some of the amazing local produce by making some meals instead of eating out all the time. Check out what’s on TV, visit some local museums, events or attractions to get a feel for how you might spend your free time.
Several housing options will serve as an excellent base for your in-country travels and let you connect to the cities you visit. Apartamentos Otorongo or Gran Colombia Suites are great places to stay in Cuenca. Short-term rentals listed on AirBnB, GringoPost.com (for Cuenca only), or OLX.com (like Craigslist for Ecuador) are also worth a look as you plan your trip.
Tip #6 – Get to know the neighborhood
Once you’ve narrowed your desired destination down to a particular city, spend some time in the neighborhoods to investigate your new potential home. Different areas offer different experiences within the same city.
The best approach will be contacting rental agents in advance to arrange neighborhood tours for when you arrive. Xavier at Apartments Otorongo gives an incredibly informative Cuenca neighborhood tour.
There’s also an enjoyable Cuenca city bus tour that will take you around Cuenca, but it’s mainly for tourists so you’re better off exploring the neighborhoods with the help of local guides.
Tip #7 – Start the visa process before you leave
If you’ve fallen in love with Ecuador and are ready to plan your move, start the visa process while you’re still in the country.
It’s best to meet with a visa agent in person before you head back home. Their fees can be as high as $1,000 or more so you might feel more comfortable transfering money to them if you meet in real life.
You’ll also have a better idea of what you need to do and what documents you need to collect when you go back to your home country. Here’s some more information about the types and requirements for Ecuador Temporary Residency Visas to help you prepare.
Tip #8 – Meet with a shipping company
Shipping household goods from abroad allows you to take your belongings with you to your new home. If you plan to do this, meet with a potential shipping agent while you’re in Ecuador.
Shipping a container can cost between $2,000-$10,000 so you’ll want to be sure that you’re comfortable with your agent before you wire the money. Here’s a complete guide to shipping a container to Ecuador so you’re better prepared for your meeting.
Tip #9 – Arrange to meet other expats
Talking to other expats over coffee or a cerveza should be high on your list of priorities during your exploratory trip to Ecuador. Speaking with those who have already moved to your future home can be invaluable.
Reach out to expat groups on Facebook or the community of expats that we host on Patreon/Discord. More often than not, they’ll be happy to share their love of Ecuador and local insights with you.
Talking to expats who already live in Ecuador can give you a more accurate perspective of what it may be like to live in Ecuador while allowing you to ask some crucial questions. They can also provide you with input on optimal neighborhoods and advice on where to eat and what to do during your visit.
Tip #10 – Have fun in Ecuador!
Sure, you’re in Ecuador to take care of business on your exploratory trip, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t plan to take in some of the beautiful sights during your visit. Ecuador is full of unforgettable vistas and a wide variety of natural wonders.
If you’re heading to Cuenca, play tourist by taking a city bus tour or planning a day to relax in the hot springs in Baños Azuay.
For those visiting Vilcabamba, plan a hike up Fandango or visit Podocarpus National Forest if you’ll be near Loja. You could easily pass an entire week in Quito traveling to the Baños Ambato or the Mindo cloud forest!
Get the MOST out of your exploratory trip to Ecuador!
Planning an exploratory trip to Ecuador can be challenging and exciting. A bit of initial planning with these tips in mind can help you maximize your stay to get a good survey of the landscape and facilitate your move.
The most important goal of your exploratory trip is to determine if you can comfortably live in Ecuador as an expat/immigrant. Visit Ecuador with an open mind, but be prepared for a little culture shock. And if you’re visiting the high mountain cities like Quito or Cuenca, give yourself a few days to adjust to the elevation.
Spend the majority of your time living like a local and laying the groundwork for your eventual move abroad, but take some time to smell the roses so you experience just how magical Ecuador can be.
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