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Friday, April 1, 2016

UNOFFICIAL BUT PRACTICAL GUIDE TO LIVING IN CUENCA, ECUADOR

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This blog will be continuously updated instead of adding more blogs so please visit often for refreshed information. 
Last update October 26, 2017



Ecuador, where everything is possible
but NOTHING is for sure !

This is not a humorous statement, it is a fact!

THIS IS NOT UTOPIA!!!

THINK TWICE BEFORE MOVING
TO A DEVELOPING COUNTRY !


Ecuador has its constant frustrations….  but please don't let that stop you from visiting to see for yourselves.  
The country is truly beautiful and, at first, everything is quirky, quaint and cute.  But, if you do take the plunge to live here, you eventually just tire of the ridiculous backward BS you have to endure to do the simplest things.  The complete stupidity of most things, especially Government processes, is mind-numbing.  Ecuador has been rightfully tagged as having the worst bureaucracy in Latin America.

Trying to get anything done in Ecuador is a recurring nightmare.  Locals never tell you everything you need to know the first time, and, what part they do tell you, is generally wrong.  Trying to go through immigration processes, getting a drivers licence, setting up utilities or banking, or getting proper medical insurance, car insurance, etc. would test the patience of Job.  Be prepared to lose half your hair in frustration.  Using competent intermediaries is the only way to remain sane.  Trying to build something here using local contractors will surely drive you bonkers.  Investing in a pre-build (condo) never, ever goes as planned.   And they seem to change the rules every week on a whim.

This is a Catholic country but it seems there is a contest as to who can break the most Commandments and not get caught.  Sooner or later you just get tired of being lied to, stood up, cheated, and robbed.   Even the Government has stolen our money, ignored their Constitution, and suborned their court system to justify their actions (see CREDIT UNIONS).  It seems that you rarely  get a truly straight and fair deal here.  Rarely trust an Ecuadorian's word, it is usually worth the hot air expended, as they always tell you what they think you want to hear.
The culture here is family first, ....nobody else matters.  

Most folks, especially folks whose only language is English, have a very difficult time grasping Spanish.  Only idiots believe that they can master a new language in a few weeks and be able to function and communicate effectively.  This is a huge barrier for many people who simply do not realize the complexity of the task and therefore hide in gringo enclaves and hire English-speaking interpreters for every outside task.
If you or your spouse are going be missing the kids and grandkids, maybe re-think moving away.

Most importantly, if you are not in good shape and have health issues of any kind, especially heart or lung problems, do not even think of moving to this altitude!   Gringos seem to be dropping like flies lately and it is a truly scary thing to die in this country.   The bureaucratic nonsense that a grieving family will have to endure is nothing that I would wish on anyone.

These are some of the major reasons why a very large portion of expats leave after 2-3 years.  Those are the expats that you need to talk to before considering a move here.

I coped with all the rudeness and the stupidity of it all, and I dug in my heels to make it work for 6 years now, because I truly love Ecuador.   This isn’t the utopia or the retirement joy that was envisioned, but the sad fact is that I can't afford to retire in Canada.  
And Ecuador certainly does have its good points....
BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be LEAVING Ecuador as soon as we sell our home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following information for the folks who are still seriously willing to moving here, but please, take your blinders off.

The alphabetical listing of useful information is further below. 
This discourse is garnered from personal experience and available information deemed to be true.
This blog is meant to be a useful guide to those persons recently moved, or thinking of moving, to Cuenca.   Other cities, such as Quito, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, Loja or Guayaquil have way too many differences to try to compare here.  Suffice to say that we have visited all six,(and many, many more), and Cuenca is the undisputed winner.   It has the ideal balance of size and amenities.
The beautiful main cathedral, Immaculate Conception
Disclaimer: Errors and Omissions Excepted.  To our knowledge everything will be factual, tempered by our own experiences and opinions, of course.

Here is a video of the skyline of Cuenca as seen from Turi
http://youtu.be/JcZvqaHTmMA
Here is a night video of Cuenca from its highest point
http://youtu.be/HMFCg8xBAxY

We are originally from Canada and scouted all of Ecuador, including Cuenca, in the spring of 2010.  We then determined that International Living’s endorsement of Cuenca as the best place to retire for people with limited incomes was mostly accurate, so we began our research and formulated our plans.  We figured we could retire 3 ½ years early, and live in Cuenca with the same standard of living.  We made the plunge November 2011 and WERE truly enjoying the Cuenca experience until the crooked Government confiscated our money...(see CREDIT UNIONS).   That certainly took the bloom off the rose.   

Cuenca itself is a delightful city but this is not to say there aren’t many other frustrations, mostly because of the laid-back attitude of our adopted country and its customs.  The pace is just different and their expectations are lower.  The food is different and shopping for our creature comforts can be challenging.  Some things we just have to learn to do without, or bring it in from outside the country.  Language difference is the biggest obstacle, as English-speaking Ecuadorians are few.  Very few signs, menus, labels are in any language other than Spanish.  English does not have many common words with Spanish compared with French and, even then, the words are pronounced quite differently.
There is no way to just plop yourself in Ecuador and expect everything to be like home.  Unless you have a real command of the Spanish language, you will quickly realize that you will need the services of local intermediaries for assistance for almost everything in the beginning.   The first few months in this country are truly overwhelming and the cultural differences are intriguing, before they evolve to be mostly annoying...

Do not believe the hype that describes Cuenca as heaven on Earth.  It deservedly has the best overall rating for quality of life indexes, but nothing, and no place, is absolutely perfect.  One must be cognizant that a developing country is simply that, developing, and they don’t have mega-malls where you can find everything under the sun.   This is their country, and they speak Spanish here.

We are not entitled to live here, and we are not superior, just different.  It is up to us to suck it up and adapt.    Adaptation takes a TON of patience that few people can manage over the long haul.
DO NOT KID YOURSELF, Ecuador is still a banana republic in Latin America with a mostly corrupt Government where any Constitutional guarantees are totally ignored, the courts are corrupt, and the banking system is shaky at best.  Believe me, DO NOT bring any more than $32,000 into this country unless you are planning to make a fast major purchase.

If a person has medical problems, especially any heart conditions, do NOT move to a high-altitude place!  You do NOT want to die here!
If a person expects all the creature comforts of home, we can guarantee they will be unhappy. 
If a person is inflexible and unwilling to adapt to a new way of life, they will be miserable here.
If a person is not willing to learn Spanish and immerse themselves in the culture, they will definitely NOT enjoy themselves for long.  And don't be so stupid to expect that you can learn Spanish in a couple of weeks...  It takes years....  Too many people try to slide by without having a minimum grasp of the language and they usually end up leaving within 3 years.
If a person has little or no patience, they definitely will hate Ecuador.
If a person thinks that local products are of superior quality and come with warranties that will be honored, think again.
If a person minds a little cloud and a short daily sprinkle of rain, we suggest they move to a desert country instead.
If a person thinks they can bully their way through, they are in for a huge surprise.
If a person thinks everything will go their way, they should not move to a developing country.
If a person can afford to live in cities like Paris or Rome, then, by all means, do so.
BUT,
If a person is always amiable, completely adaptable, incredibly patient, resourceful and, most importantly, able to always wear rose-colored glasses to view this exercise as a grand adventure, they will LOVE it here.

Being belligerent with the locals not only does not help, but it also gives ALL expats a bad name.
Being nasty with immigration officials will guarantee your visit will be short and any residency application refused.  Boorish people need not apply.  Nobody wants people with attitudes here, and it takes intense self-control not to explode at the ridiculous bureaucracy.

The people of Ecuador are the most hard-working, entrepreneurial, and congenial people we have ever met.  They are clean, always clean, and mostly eager to help, as long as you make a decent attempt at the language, and meet them halfway, with a smile.  A smile opens more doors than any key and ensures the locals will respond in kind.  However, do not trust any of them for a moment.  If you are not part of their family, you are open to being stood up, lied to, and robbed.

In this blog we will try to impart to you some of the information you may want to know if you are considering a move to Cuenca or similar places.  There are many beautiful places in this world.  Cuenca just happens to be rated number one for people with limited incomes for many reasons, but it is certainly not all as rosy as the publications make it out to be.  It takes incredible patience, diligence, and the ability to learn a new language and assimilate into an entirely different culture.

In some cases it may seem that we are knocking the Ecuadorians but we are truly not.  We are simply, and honestly, trying to impart some of the vast cultural differences that we may find strange and totally annoying as outsiders.  This is not the USA, Canada, or Europe.   This is Ecuador.  It is a developing nation that is many years behind our mother countries in many areas.  (They still use dot-matrix printers extensively here...)  If you can get your head wrapped around this fact, and always maintain your sense of humor about it, you just may survive.

Before moving to Ecuador, it is recommended that you make a visit for as long as possible to check it out personally.  Talk to a lot of people to get a feeling for the country.  Not everyone will react the same, or like and dislike the same things.  Like I said, everything is cute, quirky and rosy in the beginning, completely overwhelming.  You truly need to be flexible and malleable to survive here.
Then DO YOUR RESEARCH before moving here to see if you think you could handle the transition.    There are many papers, such as the police check and the pension confirmations that must be approved by the nearest Ecuadorian Consul in your own country.
If you are not able to master a new language, don't even think of coming here.
See RESIDENCY

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

USEFUL INFORMATION FOR YOU
This is set up alphabetically so we do hope you will find this candid format helpful.
I have removed almost all recommendations for any particular businesses.


ACCOMMODATIONS
The size, style, amenities, locations and costs for available accommodations run the gamut.  Generally most decent rental places are around $450 and up.

ADDRESSES
They have limited home postal delivery because most homes do not have a recognizable address and many streets are unmarked at the intersections.     Detailed directions are required to find most places.
El Centro is on a nicer grid system and most places are numbered in a sequence but outlying areas are mostly a hodge-podge.  Every street is named, no numbered streets, so it becomes a memory game and a pocket map is a necessity.  However most streets do not even have any street signs.  Landmarks are important.  Trying to gauge direction by use of the sun is difficult, and mostly useless, since it is pretty much overhead all the time.  If you know the time of year and the time of day you may be able to use the sun as a guide.  Don't forget that the sun is south of Ecuador for 1/2 the year and north for the other 1/2.
See POSTAL SERVICE

ADVERTISING
We recommend using GringoPost at gringopost@gmail.com for all your advertising needs.   Most advertising is free.
GringoTree at https://www.gringotree.com/ is free for personal ads but charges for all commercial ads.

AGE
There is no age restriction that we know of, but most expats are of retirement age so most Ecuadorians think about us as all being these old and fat white folks in their city.  Residents over age 65 get discounts on many things such as bus, air travel and theatres, and also get tax rebates.  See TAXES, TERCERA EDAD

AIR-CONDITIONING
Since the temperature is constantly temperate, air-conditioning generally means opening a window.

AIRLINES
Regional airlines such as Avianca, Copa, Aerogal, LAN, LAC,and Tame use decent jets like the 737 and are very comfortable.   To get anywhere internationally you need to fly to and from Guayaquil or Quito.   A flight to Quito is about 45 minutes.  If you book in advance fares can be very reasonable. A drive to Guayaquil is about 3.5 hours, or 4.5hours by bus.  Us old folks over 65 get discounts on flights originating here.

AIRPORT
We had heard that Cuenca was to have a new international airport by the time we arrived but there is no evidence of that whatever.  It is called Mariscal Lamar International Airport but it is a small single runway operation located east of downtown on Avenida Espana.  
In 2016 a jet landed too far down a wet runway and skidded off, almost over the fence, but luckily with few injuries.  Everyone overreacted before finally admitting pilot error, so they blamed the pavement, and forced the re-paving of the runways.
To get anywhere internationally, you need to hop to and from Guayaquil or Quito.     

Mariscal Lamar Airport in Cuenca
The airport in Guayaquil is bright, modern and efficient and has reasonable connections.  
The new airport in Quito has been placed near a small town called Tababela and the travel times to Quito are now around 15 minutes along the new highway.  However the traffic inside the city is still a nightmare.  International flight connection times in Quito are mostly still awful, almost always requiring an overnight stay.

ART
Most local art is simple and extremely colourful and eye-catching.  You can find paintings, carvings, dolls, ceramics, and much more.  There is an artisan market west of the San Francisco market in El Centro where you can find some delightful offerings.  There are also a few art studios along the eastern half of Calle Larga in El Centro.

ASSISTANCE
See RESIDENT SERVICES

ATTORNEYS
See LAWYERS

BANKS
We do not recommend any particular banks as they say,... be afraid, be very afraid.
Since we have been here we have dealt with 4 financial institutions.  Both Banco Territorial and Coopera Credit Union have been put into liquidation by the Banking Superintendents for supposed money-laundering.   Without any real proof to the owners/members, these banks have been shut down, with no day in court, and the dissemination of the money begun within a week.  These actions reek to high heaven of politics and patronage, trying to expunge the successful competitors to the big banks which only proves the crookedness of the old fatcats.
The only safe tactic is to have your money spread amongst several institutions that are insured by the Government.
Most Credit Unions are unregulated and unaudited by any government agency.  We had been told they would soon have regulations, just like the banks, but little has happened thus far.  They are a risk that many expats seemed willing to take, but in view of the liquidation of Coopera in June 2013 that has changed drastically.
Banks can offer Credit cards.   You can get Bank and Credit Union Debit cards easily enough, and use your cards from home, and you can generally withdraw small amounts from any bank machine displaying a "Banred" banner.  The easiest machines are apparently the Banco De Guayaquil ones.
We are still dealing with a country where the laws change hourly and are interpreted to suit the ruling powers.  Protect your assets in only government insured institutions.  The Government insurance is ONLY $32,000 overall PER PERSON.  It is not an iron-clad guarantee, but it is better than leaving your assets at risk.
DO NOT BRING MORE THAN $32,000 INTO THIS COUNTRY AND ONLY DEPOSIT THIS MONEY INTO AN INSURED INSTITUTION.  IF YOU ARE MAKING A LARGER PURCHASE, ONLY BRING YOUR MONEY AT THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT BEFORE MAKING THAT PURCHASE.
See CREDIT UNIONS

BUGS
See INSECTS

BUREAUCRACY
If you like dealing with silliness and stupidity that just seems to want to waste your time and drive you to distraction, then you are going to love Ecuador.  I know they are not doing it on purpose but the simple fact is they change the rules on silly whims and then it seems that every Government employee can interpret those rules in whatever fashion they desire.
When you go for information, they never tell you everything at once.  Very few important things can be done at one time, and in only one place.  Very little is centralized or organized in any meaningful way.  Without a knowledgeable facilitator at your side it is almost impossible to surmount, or understand, the unfathomable requirements for the simplest of tasks.  "Grin and bear it" is a saying meant for this country!

Someone asked me to specify the thing I liked the least about Ecuador.  I had to think hard on that. At first I thought that I hated the NOISE.  Ecuadorians, like most Latin Americans, have little concern about their neighbours when it comes to hammering, playing loud music, honking horns, shouting, using loudspeakers, ignoring car alarms, keeping barking dogs, and even roosters that don't know morning from night.  It is not easy for a light sleeper like me, so I run a humidifier in the bedroom to cause some white noise.   Fortunately my new home is in an area where it is reasonably quiet from 9pm to 6am.
BUT, the real winner in this category is the total ridiculousness of the Government bureaucracy.  After 6 years of putting up with all the BS we have had enough...  We are leaving....  They have robbed us, cheated us, belittled us and made life here as difficult as they could.  They have the title of Worst Bureaucracy in Latin America, and justifiably so.
See GOVERNMENT, CUENCANOS, INCAS, CANARI, ECUADOR TIME, LINE-UPS,

BUS
A new app at https://www.moovitapp.com/ seems to be the best available info to get around.
Buses are only 25c, mostly clean, and they are efficient, if bumpy, daytime transportation.  Nighttime service drops off to negligible, so be prepared to take a yellow taxi.  There are no transfers.  If you need to switch buses, it is another 25c.  If you are over age 65, the cost is 12c.   In 2017 they finally agreed to raise the rate to around 32c but that will take a while to get rolling.
Bring exact change, even pennies if necessary.  If you are lucky, the driver will help you make change up to $1 with the money from subsequent riders.  Don’t even try to come with anything larger.
Don’t be surprised if you are sitting next to an indigenous lady holding a bag of live chickens or the like.   Too often some barkers or singers are allowed on the buses to sell their wares.  I am not a fan of these very noisy additions to our travels.
I have noted that the first person to get on the bus is always the lady with 3 nickles and ten pennies!
One feature that should be spread to North America is their fantastic city bus card system.  It comes like a credit card or a small card for a key ring and you buy credits on it like a department store card, with no time limit.  So you can load it up with $10 and be good for 40 rides.  You just press it against a machine by the coin box, it says “Gracias” and shows you the balance remaining.  It is the best invention since sliced bread.  People over 65 can apply easily for the special card with their age and photo.
Bus drivers are seemingly trained in Jamaica, because most scream off before you have both feet on the bus, quickly jerk through at least five gears (they are all standard shift), then slam on the brakes at the next stop.
Learn the routes and find the nearest bus stop shown by a big blue sign or the huge letters B U S  painted on the road.  The bus won’t stop unless you stick out your arm and make a “slow down” motion.  There is little rhyme or reason as to when a driver will stop or not.  Not many drivers will pick up people who are not physically at the bus stop.    Avoid very early morning and early-afternoon times when the buses are crammed with school children.  Protect your wallets, jewelry and belongings at all times.
Almost all the city buses have an LED signboard above the driver which shows the existing stop, followed by the upcoming stop.   This is often accompanied by a voice message.  The front door is almost never closed although they frown on that being used as an exit.
The only sure way of knowing if you are getting on the right bus is to look at the main route stops and its corresponding number on a big sign in the left lower front windshield.  Ignore any numbers at the top or at the back of the bus, they are often wrong.

Road buses to neighboring towns or for travelling across Ecuador are available at the main bus Terminal Terrestre on Avenida Espana, east of El Centro.  A 45 minute bus ride to Gualaceo for example costs 70c (bring 10c to get through the turnstile).  Unfortunately there have been many bus accidents and highjackings, especially on overnight buses, so ride at your own risk and bring only what is necessary with you.
Bus station on Avenida Espana
See TRANSPORTATION

BUYING HOMES
See REAL ESTATE

CABLE TV
There are a few providers and this often can be combined with your Internet service.  "Service" is a loosely-used word here.
However Satellite service seems to be the only way to get channels with language options.
See SATELLITE

CAJAS
The picturesque Cajas range of the Andes runs to the west of Cuenca and can be accessed via the highway to Guayaquil.  It is home to many birds and animals and contains many mountain lakes and waterfalls.  Three of Cuenca's rivers emanate from the Cajas which gets much more rainfall.  The summit of the pass has a memorial called Tres Cruces (3 crosses) to commemorate the passing of three hikers who got caught overnight and froze to death.
A person can get a fair ways into the Cajas simply by taking the #3 bus west.  Dress in waterproof layers if going there.

CAMERAS, PHOTOS
You can find point and shoot cameras everywhere to buy but finding a decent selection of SLR's is much more difficult.   We suggest starting at DigiCam, 14-62 Mariscal Lamar y Estevez De Toral.  The Manager is Santiago but he doesn't speak much English.
To get your photos printed, definitely go to the Fuji Store kitty-corner from Santo Domingo church, on Gran Colombia at Padre Aguirre.
Camera repair shops are around but start with the Fuji store on Bolivar, a couple of blocks west of San Blas.

CANARI
The Cañari are an indigenous ethnic group traditionally inhabiting the territory of the modern provinces of Azuay and Canar in Ecuador.   The term also refers to an independent pre-Hispanic tribal confederation of the same name, from which the modern people are descended. They are particularly noted for their resistance against the Inca Empire.  Eventually conquered by the Inca shortly before the arrival of the Spanish, the Cañari would later ally with the Spanish against the Inca.  Today, the population of Cañari, which includes many Mestizo, numbers only in the thousands.
See INCAS, CULTURAL

CASUAL LABOUR
The average wage for a worker in Ecuador is about $800 per month.  Minimum wage is just over $400 per month.  Because we are more affluent, and want to help these friendly people, the temptation is to pay them extra to help them out.  However, this action then creates expectations and has an unwelcome ripple effect. We have heard that because Gringos over-tip cab drivers that the cabbies will no longer stop to pick up Ecuadorians!  Strange but true, so it is better to try to maintain the status quo and pay the same as Ecuadorians.
See DOMESTIC HELP, TIPPING

CEDULA
This is the Ecuadorian Identification card that every resident must carry, and it is the third document to apply for when seeking residency.  
See http://cancilleria.gob.ec/requisitos-para-solicitud-de-visas-no-inmigrantes-e-inmigrantes/ for more exact information.
Update Aug.19/15 - I had to make a change to my marital status and was pleased that the process only took one week, with visits to 2 offices, a payment of $19 total, and I had a new Cedula that is good for another 10 years, to virtually match my Passport.
See RESIDENCY

CELLULAR PHONES
Very few people have land lines which are about $7 a month.  Almost every person over the age of 14 has a cellular phone.  Your North American chips will not work here and the cel will need to be unlocked. 
Most people stick with a pay-as-you-go plan that they can recharge in increments of $1 or more at almost any corner store.   Of course plans are available that include internet access, etc.
There are two main competing companies.  Claro is the largest, and the most popular obviously.  Movistar is the other.

See also PHONES, COMMUNICATIONS

CERTIFICADO DE EMPADRONAMIENTO
Once you have your residency visa stamped into your passport, this is the next document you need, your voting certificate.
See http://cancilleria.gob.ec/requisitos-para-solicitud-de-visas-no-inmigrantes-e-inmigrantes/ for more exact information.
Following this, you apply for your Cedula, your residency identification card.
After 3 years a person can then apply for citizenship and an Ecuadorian passport.
See RESIDENCY for more info

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
“Cuenca For Expats” has been set up specifically to ingratiate expats with local Commerce.  They set up tours and varied events for our sole benefit and help with Spanish classes.  They wanted a $100 membership fee per family.  There are reduced prices for members for events so it is numbers game whether it is worth it for you.  In 2015 the services dropped to a new low so I dropped out.
Contact Phone is 07-284-2772 ext 233
info@cuencaforexpats.com      http://www.cuencaforexpats.com/

CHURCHES
See RELIGION

CITIZENSHIP
Any foreigner who has been a resident with a valid cedula for three years may acquire an Ecuadorian passport (and nationality) after due process. Ecuador allows its citizens to be dual nationals, provided the country of origin (such as the U.S., Britain and Canada) permits this. 
June 2014 update - Rules have changed making it REALLY difficult to gain citizenship.  There is a Spanish language fluency requirement, a history knowledge requirement, plus a myriad of paperwork, including birth certificate, proof of retirement income, and proof that you don't owe any municipal taxes, income taxes, or utilities, etc.  Basically, you will need to re-do all the steps you needed for Residency and the Cedula, plus the tests.  
The absolute stupidest rule, typical of Ecuadorian bureaucracy, is that you can't have left the country for more than 30 days in each of the previous 3 calendar years!!
The only real advantage is that it removes the new 60 month allowable absence period so most expats will not bother going for Citizenship which is a long and frustrating process that will cost you about $2,000 including the required trips to Quito.

CLASSIFIEDS
Use GringoPost at http://gringopost.com for all your advertising needs.   GringoTree says their personal ads are free but do charge for commercial ads at https://www.gringotree.com/https://www.gringotree.com/

CLIMATE
The climate is comfortable and temperate with average daily temperatures around 70F and nights around 50F.  Since Cuenca is only 2.53 degrees from the equator the days are pretty much 12 hours long from 6:30 to 6:30.  This also means that we essentially get two summers per year as the sun crisscrosses the equator although the temperatures hardly vary.  Typically, being a mountain location, the early mornings are misty and this burns off in the morning sun.  Then mid-afternoon the clouds build up and there is a 20 minute light shower of rain which freshens everything up and helps reduce the pollution.  However, be warned that clouds can come over the mountains at any time and dump a little rain, so anyone who is going outside for more than 20 minutes generally carries an umbrella or a jacket.  Overall, this is one of the most consistent temperate climates you will find in the world.
See EMERGENCY

COMMUNICATIONS
Most expats get a local cel phone and a few get land lines as well.  Most of us communicate with friends and loved ones via our computers with either Skype, FaceBook, MagicJack, NetTalk, Ooma or other VOIP devices.   See PHONES, CELLULAR

CON ARTISTS
See CRIME, REAL ESTATE, SCAMS

CONSTRUCTION
Everything is basically built of concrete, concrete blocks, brick or hollow tile.  The homes are generally solid and the roofs are mostly clay tile or metal.  Most homes have skylights made of simple clear chloroplast.  Everything is done by hand and many workmen will not bring their own tools if they think you will let them use yours.  Concrete walls are not forgiving and anything mounted on the walls must essentially be drilled and mounted with screws and anchors so this usually requires a lot of forethought.
Homes are generally built side-by-side with no space whatever, with front carports, and outside laundry areas.  Big yards are rare. In many cases yards are nonexistent.
Many homes in older areas show neglect to basic items like paint.  Do not expect to see any painted side walls, they will just stay plain brick as in the photos below.
Typical home construction


Typical outside laundry area

There are no Home Depot's or Canadian Tire's here so finding the right tools or construction materials is an adventure.  Not far from the airport there are two large hardware stores called Kywi and Mega Hierro.  You will find a lot of items there.  Since everything is done in concrete and/or tile, lumber is in short supply and not in nice and neat straight dimensions.  Lumber here is generally only to use as supports for concrete construction.
Dealing with contractors directly is amusing (read frustrating), mostly due to the language differences, then the vast difference in construction styles.  It is better to have a local "general contractor" who speaks English, understands your desires, and can supply competent subcontractors.  Punctuality and perfection are extremely rare qualities here.
Another thing to realize that almost nothing is exactly level or square in their construction.  Due to the consistent rainfall (thank God no snow) most buildings are slightly sloped towards the street.  Open areas almost always have their own drains (you can see one in the photo above).
In a nutshell, find a well constructed place and close your eyes to the tiny flaws.  For $70 a square foot you are looking for comfort, not perfection.

CONTAINERS
We have no experience in this area other than that, once you have your residency permit you have 6 months in which to bring in containers of belongings duty-free.  Apparently, if you leave the country and return, with the new intention of staying permanently, the customs officials are now applying a more literal interpretation to their rule.
There are limits on certain things such as electronics as they don’t want you competing with the local economy by bringing in stuff to sell.
We have heard that it is about $7-12,000 to bring in a container.  We completely outfitted our home with local goods for less cost, and we have brand new stuff so, for us, it did not make economic sense to go through all that hassle.
See RESIDENT SERVICES

COOKING
Firstly there are hardly any electric stoves in use here even though most homes now have 220 wiring in Cuenca.   Almost all stoves presently run on propane with the piping coming from a propane bottle outside.  Please do not stay in any place that has propane canisters indoors, as this is extremely dangerous.
In 2017 the Government is planning to reduce, or halt, the subsidy on propane.  There will be new hydroelectric plants running so the Government is planning to force everyone to get electric stoves. That is becoming a real hard sell to the poor people of Ecuador so expect the Government to backtrack yet again.
Since you are at 8,400 feet in altitude, cooking and baking do require adjustments.  Here are some websites to give you an idea of the changes that will be required, and why:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_altitude_cooking
http://www.theelevatedkitchen.com/
A reader had the following input:
"The food is very bland and tasteless.  The sugar isn't sweet, the salt isn't salty and you will need to use 2-3 times the spice to get any flavor at all since their spices are very weak.  Things like dish soap are watered down.  Cooking is a challenge at this altitude.  Water boils at a lower temperature up here so your food gets cold much faster.  Things don't brown in the oven and you'll have no idea what temp your oven is except that it's wrong.  This makes baking things a real challenge.  Bring an oven thermometer with you so at least you'll be able to time things for baking because you can't tell from looking at them if they're done or not.  It's hard to find good butter here too, but Super-Maxi caters to gringos and they bring in a lot of things from North America.  The pickles are nasty and you will be lucky to find Pam on any store shelf."
See PROPANE, FOOD

COPYRIGHT
See PIRACY

COST OF LIVING
Of course this will vary greatly from one person to the next.  Some couples we know have champagne tastes, and one person even boldly stated that they couldn't live here comfortably for under $3,500 a month!  We are definite proof that we can live in comfort, not extravagance, for much, much less!   It was our personal decision to retire early on a shoestring budget.   Coming to Cuenca allowed us to accomplish this.  We also decided to pay cash for an inexpensive, but brand new, solidly constructed home to help us fix our costs.  We now relatively live easily on $250 per week, and we definitely don't starve.

CREDIT UNIONS
Many of us have grown up dealing with Credit Unions successfully in our home countries for many years, in our case for 58 years.  We believe in the concept of people helping people with openness and fairness.
Credit Unions are plentiful in Ecuador but are as yet unregulated properly and don’t have the same protections or regulations as Banks.  There is a clamoring for a new banking law that should encompass Credit Unions in the same class as Banks.  The big Banks vigourously oppose any status to be given to Credit Unions and they seem to be in tighter with the Government.   In the meantime the Government deposit protection does not apply to most, so buyer beware.
In all honesty, we cannot recommend any bank or Credit Union as a safe place to invest.  Like most investments, it is infinitely wiser to spread your risk amongst several banks and make absolutely certain, in writing, that all of your deposits are guaranteed.  Very few Credit Unions are insured by the Government and some are paying interest on CD's around 9%..
Most premises almost always have armed guards, usually with side-arms and sawed-off shotguns at the entrances.  You have to remove hats and sunglasses at many of these.
COOPERA -
Coopera Credit Union's June 12, 2013 liquidation is a wake-up call to everyone to be very careful with risk when playing with your life savings.  This was our second liquidation in 2013 and we sincerely hoped this one would be as seamless as the prior one with Banco Territorial.   However this was not the case.  They still owe us a pile of money, and the liquidator, SEPS, is busy hiding everything they can because they know how badly they have bungled the liquidation and illegally discriminated against the larger depositors.  The Government has then suborned the courts to throw out any legitimate lawsuits and completely ignore the many protections in their beautifully written Constitution.  Discrimination and the lack of transparency are just some of the crimes that go right up to the very top of Government here.
October 2014 Update -   There are still hundreds of depositors who have not received a red cent.
2015 Update - Several depositors have joined lawsuits against the Government.  I personally have opted for the lawsuit proceeding on Constitutional grounds.  All we need now is an honest judge prepared to follow the Constitution and defy the iron fist of the demagogue in power.
2017 update - Hopefully a change in Government will unblock the process, free the courts and put the corrupt former Government officials and submissive judges in jail.
See BANKS, HEALTH, CURRENCY,

CRIME
Petty crime is the most common.  Don't make yourself a visible target.   Do not leave valuables lying around and don’t flash your money or jewelry.  Control your stuff and keep a good grab on things.  Your best security is to never be alone, travel with a buddy, and only bring what you absolutely need..  Pickpockets are known to work busy crowds where they can bump you and be off with your valuables before you know what happened.  Even Velcro pockets and backpacks are not secure.  They can slit them and empty them in one second flat.  It is recommended that you wear your backpacks on the front, but most people don't.  I myself was a victim of a clever pickpocket during the wonderful Pase Del Nino parade Dec 24/13.  Even a zippered pocket, covered by my shirt, did not stop these guys who love the huge crowds where they can jostle you at will.  I was clipped again in Feb 2017 at the Carnaval celebrations in Parque Calderon where I lost my cel phone.  Pickpockets are a problem in any major city but I still have a problem grasping the acceptance of thefts as a normality of life here in a country that is 98% Catholic.
The police generally discourage reporting petty crimes and do absolutely nothing to find your stolen belongings.  You will be sent to a different office to file a useless report.
Other crimes are usually just crimes of opportunity.  If you are foolish enough to wander empty streets or the river valley alone, especially at night, then you run the risk of being mugged.  This is true in any city.   Use common sense.  Cel phones are a priority target for thieves, even at gunpoint!  Persons who have been foolish enough to resist have been shot or beaten.
Despite our warnings, one of our guests made the mistake of putting her purse under her seat on a bus ride to Quito and soon was missing all her cash and her cel phone.
Overall, Cuenca is as safe as any city in this hemisphere, and probably safer.   
Typically Ecuadorian homes are gated and/or the ground level doors and windows have grates.  Virtually no cars are left on the street at night.  They are all put in the carports, behind the gates.  Every car has an alarm that is armed whenever and wherever it is parked, even at home, in the carport, behind the gate.  Car alarms are a constant cacophony day or night and therefore are totally ignored anyway.
Recently armed men have taken to robbing intercity buses at night and people who tried to resist were pistol-whipped.  This hopefully will result in new security measures.
Beware of scams and do not lend money to anyone without collateral in your possession.  There is one large South African Boer lady who goes from city to city with her hard-luck story that she has been robbed of her passport and needs to go to Peru to her Embassy.   If in doubt, give them just pocket change and move on quickly.
Never try to negotiate your own real estate deals.  Hire competent advice and a good recommended lawyer.  See REAL ESTATE, SCAMS, SECURITY

CUENCANOS
Overall, you gotta love the extremely well-behaved children to the serious-looking Quechuan indigenous people.  Generally they are very clean, happy, and usually eager to please.
You will note that 90% of Cuencanos have straight teeth, and almost all females have pierced ears, from about age 1.  Most young ladies wear blouses, jeans, and stilettos.  Jeans, t-shirts and running shoes are most common for young guys.  You can count on everyone having a cel phone too.  The indigenous Quechuan Indians inevitably are dressed in colourful skirts, blouses, and shawls and a variety of hats, and sensible shoes.
It still shocks us when we are greeted with a "Good morning" in English from a local, but they are very eager to show off their language skills and love to chat for practice.
You will see very few beggars or drunks as they have the best work ethic of any country.  Everyone works, even if it is to sell you a water bottle at a stop light.
See CULTURAL

Proud Quechuan Lady

Bored street vendor

Organic vegetable seller











CULTURAL
Cuenca is a cosmopolitan colonial city that is a designated World Heritage Site.  It boasts a symphony orchestra  http://youtu.be/Qp198Jua6e8   and several theatre groups.  It has many museums and an abundance of churches.
The Cuencanos know how to laugh and have fun!  They love to party and dance, and they do appreciate it if you join in wholeheartedly.  Watch your wallet and belongings though...
New Year's Eve is a huge party everywhere.  On the streets you will find men in drag representing some tribute to the widows of the old year that has passed.  They are really enjoying themselves collecting money from passersby to buy more beer.   http://youtu.be/IBlqxAuyFms
We were welcomed with open arms to the street party of a neighbourhood family and had an absolute blast.  http://youtu.be/lR1OWFZrjVg   At midnight, the fireworks blast off and they burn dummy effigies of things that were bad for them in the past year.  http://youtu.be/kLPctGe4mBs  
It is reputed that Cuenca has over 400 fiestas per year.   One major fiesta comes at the time of the "Mass of Children" on the day of the Arrival of Kings (January 6 - Epiphany).
A really huge fiesta occurs in commemoration of the independence of the city (November 3), during which processions, cultural acts and dances are organized.   We first arrived in Cuenca just in time for this party at our local community hall and had a blast!.
http://youtu.be/x--BKoupd0Y
Christmas time is a joy with many concerts and opportunities to enjoy the culture.  Here is a YouTube video of schoolkids singing one carol in English.  Priceless!
http://youtu.be/1l3mzkhlkno
And this little guy was groovin' to the music.
http://youtu.be/rXLI0_jyrPE
An event NOT to be missed is the Christmas Eve parade which starts around 11am and continues for about 8 hours in a steady stream of floats, families, dancers, horses, etc.  These are dominated with children in colourful costumes in tribute to the birth of the baby Jesus.
Dec 24/11


Dec 24/11


Dec 24/11
Here is a slideshow I made of some of the wonderful kids http://youtu.be/eBBjIU9XSPk

Just before lent, in the four days up to Fat Tuesday, (Mardi Gras), Carnaval is an event avoided by most Cuencanos who head for the country or the beach.  The tradition here is to soak any unsuspecting person with water balloons, super-soakers, buckets, hoses, or spray foam.  Even walking down the street you are a target for any passing car.  We soon learn to walk on the left side, facing the traffic and ducking behind poles whenever we see an open car window approaching.  The families that do stay in town delight in soaking everyone in sight.  On a sunny hot day a little water is almost welcomed, but a bucket tests one’s ability to accept it with grace.  It is all in fun.
Carnaval   Feb 2012 incoming water balloon

Carnaval   Feb 2012  Got him good!
Good Friday and Easter weekend is a time for religious processions, parades, celebrations, and church services.  Be sure to check near the local churches, especially in El Centro.
Apr/10 Colourful Good Friday procession near San Francisco church
Around El Centro near the Immaculate Conception cathedral you will always find buskers and vendors, especially on the weekends.  
Quechuan Pan Flute Performer

Visit the Banco Central Museum on Huayna Capac and the Pumapongo Inca ruins below for an insight into the origins of the Ecuadorian lifestyle.  They have a beautiful aviary and ponds too.



There are many cultural differences that we North Americans often find upsetting but we must keep reminding ourselves that we are guests in their country and it is us that need to adapt.
Ecuadorians definitely have a class structure where the lighter skinned, upper class locals really look down on the darker skinned, poorer class persons.
Young girls do not consider themselves a woman until they have given birth, and young lads do not consider themselves men until they have fathered a child.  Hence, teenage pregnancy and an overabundance of single mothers are overwhelming problems in this country.
When a young woman turns 15, they often have a "Quincenara" celebration for her transference to womanhood.  I have attended one of these recently and the hostess accurately described the ceremony as "a wedding without the groom", and she was completely right!
We soon find out about "Ecuador time" and the broad uses and meanings of "Manana". Ecuadorians will accept an invitation for a certain time and show up an hour late, or, not show up at all, and not even think that this is rude.  They seem to feel that a shrugged apology the next time you see them is sufficient, and you shouldn't be upset....  Ya, right!
Their word seems to matter little to them and reneging on agreements is commonplace, especially for landlords.  It is sad to say that the vast majority are not trustworthy unless you are standing over them.  Take everything they say with a huge grain of salt and do not pay for anything in advance or they will screw you for sure..
Again, it is a shock that a Catholic country is filled with such rude, dishonest and crooked people.
Another interesting phenomenon is what I call "THE SUPREMACY SYNDROME".  Whether it is walking or driving, if a person is in front of you, their space in inviolable.  They do not think twice about blocking a sidewalk or double-parking on a busy thoroughfare.   If they were there first, they have complete control, and you just have to go around them (without honking or rude remarks).  They will zoom around you, or cross your path, and just stop dead in front of you, and you are not to get upset or angry...  Ugh!
I have finally figured out that the molly-coddling of the children (who are generally very well behaved when tied to their mother or grandmother) leads to adults who have a total built-in sense of entitlement.  Everything outside of the family unit is "me, me, me first" and they are the center of the universe.  The feelings, or space, or quiet, or property of others does not matter one whit to a Latin American who will trample on all of them.   I don't mean to tar everyone with the same brush, but even Ecuadorians who have spent years overseas soon revert back to these habits.  It is the way it is, and it makes inter-racial relationships very strained because we are not accustomed to such obvious rudeness.
Not everything is wine and roses here.  Like every country, there are major problems.
See BUREAUCRACY, GOVERNMENT, CUENCANOS, INCAS, CANARI, ECUADOR TIME, LINE-UPS,

CURRENCY
Ecuador uses the US Dollar as its currency.  Always carry the smallest denominations possible at all times, and do not carry any large amounts.  Do not even attempt to use $50 or $100 bills.  Use your $20 bills only at major stores.  Most merchants have limited currency to make change and look for you to provide exact change.  Major stores will take credit cards.  
The President has apparently been spending the backing for its currency so it will be in huge trouble if the US Dollar is removed as the world standard, or if it decides to adopt a national currency.   They have tried adopting an electronic currency as well to pay Government workers, etc. but it is another Government silliness that has not been accepted by the people.
Keep as little money in this country as possible.
You cannot trust the Government nor the banks.  We hear occasional noises about moving again to their own currency (so they can print money and devalue the currency at will).  I am not a financial genius (or I would be living in Paris) so is it better to keep property here or sell it before they go to their own currency??
NEVER bring more than $32,000 into this country (limit of Government protection PER PERSON at major banks).
See also BANKS, CREDIT UNIONS

DEATH
This is a long and hard topic to cover so I am just going to add a link to my other Blog which is related to this subject:  http://souvenircuenca.blogspot.com/2015/05/wednesday-may-6-2015-end-of-life.html
All I will say here on this subject is that you do NOT want to die here....
See END OF LIFE PLANNING

DEMOGRAPHICS
Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%".  Ecuador's population is ethnically diverse.  We are fortunate that our expat population remains a small percentage so that we are not deemed to be a threat, as has happened in Vilcabamba and Cotacachi.

DENTAL
Many people come to Ecuador to have inexpensive dental work completed for a fraction of the cost, and much faster.  I have talked to people who had crowns completed in 2 days. 
See also MEDICAL

DISASTERS
Cuenca has been relatively free of any major disasters other than a flood 60 years ago.
See also EMERGENCY, EARTHQUAKES, FLOODS

DOLLAR
See CURRENCY

DOMESTIC HELP
Getting domestic help is almost deemed a requirement of expats to help provide employment. The going rate seems to be generous above $4 per hour.
A new law was enacted with a legal requirement to have a contract with domestic help and to pay into their version of Social Security.  Here are the legal obligations:
http://www.ecuadorlegalonline.com/laboral/obligaciones-derechos-como-empleador-y-empleado/
Here is a sample contract:
http://www.ecuadorlegalonline.com/modelos/contratos/modelo-contrato-trabajo-jornada-parcial-permanante-servicio-domestico/
(these are best viewed on Google Chrome to get a translation)
Here are the sample Q & A:
See # 2 and 12, 13
Here is the best explanation I could find anywhere:
Another blog stated that once you have hired a domestic and they have visited your home, even if it is not for cleaning, 14 times, then you must then have a contract to pay into their Social Security program retroactively.   We could find nothing to support this assertion other than the 15 day probation period mentioned below.   A sample contract is above.  
The underground economy is thriving and strong with many folks paying cash for a few hours work every other week, in most cases.   But they have absolutely no protection under the law other than denial and a "he says - she says" defence if a disgruntled, hurt, pregnant or sick casual worker decides to sue them for not providing the IESS benefits.
Some Ecuadorian business friends also confirm that 3 months full-time employment is considered a trial period and that after 3 months it is almost impossible to fire any type of employee, which is borne out in the following information:
http://www.ecuadorlegalonline.com/laboral/causas-terminacion-contrato-trabajo/
NOTE that, in the case of domestic workers, the probation period is only 15 days (visits)!
This was a very scary situation!   We had heard of employers being sued by a pregnant domestic for $50,000, and settling for a large sum, plus fines, after being threatened with the loss of their home.
You not only have to contribute 11.15% of their salary to IESS, but you have to pay them a Christmas Bonus plus Holiday Pay and then later an 8.33% reserve fund.  You may even have to pay for pregnancy leave, 2 weeks before and 10 weeks after.   Nobody want to skirt the law but the method of doing all this appeared way too complicated.   Who wanted to spend $300 or so on a lawyer to set up fancy contracts for a minimal part-time worker who may leave you the following week?  This legislation appeared to hurt the people is trying to help.  While we fully agree with the spirit and intention of it all, the mechanics of it all were just too onerous, costly and unwieldy.
One of our readers had suggested using a house-cleaning service but then this service admitted they did not pay their family employees IESS benefits either.
~~~~~~~~~~~
2013 - The word from a labour lawyer that we contacted is that the simplest way to avoid this problem altogether is to have your cleaning lady get a "Registro Unico De Contribuyentes Personas Naturales" (R.U.C.) and then to submit an invoice (clearly stating this R.U.C. number) for payment every time she comes to work at your house.  This ensures that she is seen as self-employed and is adhering to all laws here in Ecuador.   The choice to apply for IESS Benefits is now on the shoulders of the Domestic.
If she makes under $27,000 per year she will pay no income tax, but she must pay the 12% IVA for her services rendered.  We suggest increasing her pay accordingly and then everyone is happy and dealing above-board.
~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATE FROM AN ECUADORIAN SOURCE - March 2015:
You can actually fire within the first 3 month trial period without additional costs (Indemnicacion) . However it’s economically sound to fire someone within the first year, since the additional costs start to build up after the first year.
There is a downfall to your Labor Lawyers recommendation.  If the person who is working for you with a R.U.C. for over a year, can prove that there is a consistency to the services, for the same services, on similar schedules. They may sue you for not creating the dependency which the law requires, and you would have to back pay for all the additional values which you mentioned above.

DRIVER SERVICES
See TRANSPORTATION

DRIVERS' LICENCES
Apparently the new laws say we can only drive here on our home driver's licences for 90 days from arrival.  International Drivers' Licences do not carry any more weight.
We are now allowed to "transfer" our existing licences by getting a notarized letter stating the licence was indeed issued to us, a notarized 5-year driving record, an original blood-type card (which they will keep!), all apostiled.  This is to be accompanied by a translation of the entire licence and documents, all notarized in Ecuador again, with photos, copies of passports, visas, cedulas, licence, and blood type, etc.  The DMV office in the west end must approve the documentation which is then sent to our Embassy in Quito for confirmation that the documentation is correct and legal.  This supposedly takes a couple of weeks.  Then it involves a 20-question written test in Spanish plus an "agility" test.  If everything works out, you get a licence for 5 years.   Getting a separate motorcycle licence requires a doubling of every requirement.
UPDATE -  Canada does not apostile and negotiations between the Ecuadorian DMV and the Canadian consulate took 3 months to approve my application.  Welcome to Ecuador...  But I got both licences with no problem, 20 for 20 on both tests.
Apparently the Government has dropped the requirement for driver training for new drivers...  so the already bad drivers who don't know, or follow, the rules of the road, are just going to multiply...  I have driven a car here and now have a scooter (moto) and that really takes guts, as well as eyes in the back of one's head.  The other drivers don't think twice about putting your life in danger to save themselves 2 seconds...  And Ecuadorians are always late, so who cares about 2 seconds??

EARTHQUAKES
Cuenca is fortunately about 150 miles away from the “Avenue Of The Volcanoes”, unlike the capital of Quito which gets frequent quakes.   Cuenca may experience very minor tremors from a quake north or west, but not anything to cause any major damage.
One reader mentioned an article about earthquake damage in Cuenca 125 years ago but we have been unable to find any local evidence in the many old buildings here but they may have been skillfully repaired.
A very major earthquake in April 2016 hit the west coast of Ecuador causing billions of dollars in damage, lost business and tourism.  The recovery process has begun and it will be years before things return to normal there.  Geologists and earthquake experts say that the Ecuador quake is just part of a Pacific-wide precursor to "The Big One".  It wouldn't stop me from visiting the Ecuadorian coast but I would never live or buy property there.
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/ecuador/gshap.php
See VOLCANOES, EMERGENCY

ECUADOR TIME
No, I did not coin this term, local Ecuadorians did.   In round figures, double any time mentioned.  Recently we went to a meeting to start at 1pm and it never got rolling until about 2:15.  Even the host used this term to describe the probable time for their next meeting.
If a contractor says he will be there in 15 minutes, it is at least 1/2 hour before he shows up.  If he says he will return at 8am you will be lucky to see him before 9 or 10.  Don't be upset, it is their culture.  Just be happy they showed up at all, as they often don't, unless you hound them a little.

EDUCATION
Cuenca is known as the University City of Ecuador and has at least 7 campuses.
April 21/13 Update - Today I met a nice man named Walter Bell.  He and his wife have lived here for 17 years, (his wife Patricia Serrano is Ecuadorian), and 12 years before that in Brazil.   They run the Bell Academy for grades 1 - 4 and add a class every year.  They teach our young sponges English, Spanish and Portuguese. Email info@bell-academy.edu.ec or call 407-3886.

EL CENTRO
This is the common name for the historic center of Cuenca which is on a grid system and dominated by the new Immaculate Conception Cathedral and many other churches.  Between the new and old cathedrals you will find Parque Calderon, one of the most beautiful city parks you will find anywhere, and a starting point for most cultural events.  Beside the cathedral you will find a wonderful flower market.  On the weekends there are many musicians and vendors plying their trades nearby.

ELECTRICITY 
They operate regular 110 service so our normal appliances work here.  Many plug-ins are only 2 prong though.  Service is generally consistent with very rare brownouts.  The four rivers that run through Cuenca flow to a big hydroelectric dam near Paute to the east and this provides the majority of the country’s electrical power.
In the past year most homes have been wired for 220.  Most other things run on propane. 
We can pay our utilities, water and electricity, at our local Credit Union and a few other outlets.   Our monthly electricity bill has never exceeded $25.
Update 2017 - The Government was to reduce or eliminate the subsidies on propane this year and try to get everyone to cook with electricity because they are setting up several huge hydroelectric plants with money borrowed from the Chinese.  However their justifications ring hollow and now they are back-pedaling like crazy, so hopefully the status quo will remain.   Using gas for cooking is way cheaper right now than using electricity.   I think we can count on a backlash from the poor to keep things the way they are.

See UTILITIES, PROPANE, MOVING

ELEVATION
Cuenca is 2560 m (8400 ft) up in the Andes mountains, so altitude sickness can affect a person for a couple of days initially.  They say it takes about 3 months to get acclimatized.  
People with any circulation or heart problems simply should NOT take the risk of moving here.  At the very least, they should check with their doctors and have their circulation thoroughly checked before considering moving to this altitude.  We know of folks who dropped dead at the airport!  It seems that people are dropping like flies lately,  ....mostly overweight people.

EMERGENCY - Cuenca
- Dial 911.   The new 911 service went into effect in early 2012.
- For the Red Cross dial 131.
- Tourist information 072 820 811.
- Etapa light, water, telephone 072 283 190.
- Airport 072 862 203.
- Immigration/Exterior Relations for new applications only - Ph. 072 850 085      Contact expats@mmrree.gob.ec for more exact information.
~~~~~
Many of the following links are old and may be outdated.
US Consulate in Guayaquil = 593-4-232-3570  fax 593-4-232-0904  ACSGuayaquil.state.gov
Chief of American Citizen Services is Matt Scranton    scrantonmw@state.gov
24 hour Duty Phone 099-325-145
~~~~~
Canadian Consul, Jane Aboud, Embassy of Canada, Quito  593-2-245-5499 ext 3300.
fax 592-2-227-7672   jane.aboud@international.gc.ca
Consular Officer Raquel Bahamonde - Quito 593-2-245-5499 ext 3340 raquel.bahamonde@international.gc.ca
Consular Asst. Gabriela Gonzalez - Quito 593-2-245-5499 ext 3312
mariagabriela.gonzalez@international.gc.ca
Canadians are urged to register online in case of disaster at travel.gc.ca/register.
(They do not share information with Revenue Canada, so don't worry, better safe than sorry)
In an emergency = Email sos@international.gc.ca  or call 613-996-8885 collect.
Travel information updates  www.travel.gc.ca
~~~~~
British Honorary Consul - Andrew Cocker - Cuenca  072-887-954
andy.cocker-honcon@fconet.fco.gov.uk
~~~~~
Common sense dictates that we think ahead in case of a natural disaster, like an earthquake, or civil unrest.  In a worst case scenario, aid and relief would be a minimum of 3 days to arrive solely due to geography and logistics.  Remember, you may be completely cut off, no water, power, gas, phone, internet or transportation.  BE PREPARED.  It is highly recommended that you have enough water and unspoiled food (canned goods) for up to 7 days or more and personal weather protection in case you must survive outdoors for an extended period of time.
With any luck, recent discussions will bear fruit with a workable disaster plan for expats.
http://youtu.be/eAzU9Eh0Q3w
See SECURITY

END OF LIFE PLANNING
I attended a seminar on End-Of-Life planning in 2015 and came away frightened at the prospect of dying here.  The legalities in Ecuador are way different than other countries, for example, if you own a house, 1/2 goes to your spouse and 1/2 to your kids.  In trying to protect the children of a family, the law ignore the wishes of the owner, regardless of a will (no doubt again in contravention of their beautiful Constitution).   We are still trying to find a legal way around that one.  Without written permissions for cremation/burial and the transport of remains for burial in another country, two family members might have to physically come to Ecuador and endure the costly nightmarish bureaucratic jungle to accomplish your wishes.  If a person does not have a living relative in Ecuador, without any written End-Of-Life provisions, a person is almost better off not claiming the body and letting it end up in a mass grave...
So, proper planning in Ecuador includes a will, irrovocable Power-Of-Attorney (living will), with the stated permissions included.  Prepare them in English, have them translated into Spanish and approved, (with many copies), notarized and registered.  Be sure that you are comfortable with the competence and knowledge of your chosen lawyer.
There are also places for pre-paying, pre-planning your funeral/cremation.
Your loved ones will be ever grateful for your foresight to save them from untold bureaucratic nonsense in their time of grief.
See DEATH

EXPATS
The expatriate community thrives and there are many opportunities to get your fix on speaking English.  There are expat shops, bookstores, and restaurants.  There are special nights for expat gatherings.  Get hooked up on GringoTree and GringoPost and you will soon be in the know.  Some expats prefer to mingle only with other expats and most live in the area affectionately known as “GringoLandia” west of El Centro.  Many of us prefer to be integrated right into the local community to better understand the culture and to learn the language.
It is estimated there are about 6,000 expats now living in Cuenca.  It is very important to try to assimilate into their culture and to respect the people and their customs.  We are guests in their country.  We are not superior and we are not their new bosses.  Ecuador is a developing country and it is many years behind our home countries in many respects so we cannot expect anything to be exactly like home.  
The actions of any single expat reflects on all of us, so bite your tongue, hold your temper, take a pill, whatever it takes, and just adapt to the new pace of life.
See GRINGOTREE, GRINGOPOST, CULTURAL, SMILE

EQUATOR
Cuenca is at -2.53 degrees, just below the equator.  So roughly 8 days before March 21st, and 8 days after September 21, the sun is directly overhead.  For those of us raised in North America, where the directions are easily found by looking at the position of the sun, it is not so easy here when it appears to be overhead most of the day.   The good thing is that it still rises in the east and sets in the west, just like everywhere else.
http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunearth.html

FERIA LIBRE / EL ARENAL MARKET
Feria Libre / El Arenal is the largest market in Cuenca located way in the southwest along Avenida De Las Americas.  You can find many, many things here, clothing, electronics, sundries, etc, but it is the food market that draws the customers, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when all the meat and produce is the freshest.  You can also purchase live animals, from dogs to baby chicks.  Be extra vigilant about your money and belongings as thieves are rampant here.

FIESTAS
See CULTURAL

FLOWER MARKET
You will find the freshest flowers on the planet at the flower market south of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, next to the Santuario Mauriano.  In 2014 it was named the Best In The World.
Flower Market is bigger on weekends

Find the freshest flowers at the Number One flower market in the world

FLOODING
Cuenca is blessed with four shallow rivers flowing through the city at a moderate slope and join up at the east end of the city before merging into the Rio Paute and eventually the Amazon.  Heavy rains can cause quick rises in the water levels and there was a severe flood 60 years ago that even caused a bridge to break just below El Centro, and it is affectionately called “The Broken Bridge”.
See EMERGENCY
The Mighty Rio Tomebamba
FOOD
A typical lunch (almuerzo) will usually consist of potato soup (sopa), juice (jugo), rice (riz), meat (carne), some vegetables, and often a dessert of fruit or pastry (postre).  Lunch can usually be found for anywhere from $1.75 to $5.50.  Ecuadorian food is typically very bland with very little spices.  Some places will provide black pepper (picante negro) if requested.   Most provide an orange-colored sauce in a small bowl and it can be extremely hot stuff.  Always test a very small amount first.
There are many places to get our “normal” food fixes such as KFC or Burger King and there are many other American-style restaurants. 
There are some major food stores in Cuenca such as SuperMaxi, GranAki, and Coral, but typically we have trouble finding our favorite brands.  Many foods are local and the packaging is only in Spanish which is very challenging.  Be prepared for pleasant surprises and many disappointments.  Note that you will rarely find cuts of meat like we are accustomed.  They just cut of a hunk of meat and that is it.
Beef is carne de res, pronounced car-nay de rayss.
Chicken is pollo, pronounced poy-yo.
Pork is cerdo, pronounced sayrr-dough.
Bacon is tocino, pronounced toe-see-no.
Ginea pig is cuy, pronounced coo-eee.
Rice is arroz, pronounced a-rose.
Potatoes are papas, pronounced pappass.
French Fries are papas fritas, pronounced pappass freetass.
I don't want to give you a whole dictionary but this should be helpful for ordering food where there is no menu.
There are many open air mercados, or markets throughout the city where you can buy fresh produce, meat and fish.  The largest is the El Arenal market known as Feria Libre.  Virtually every bus route makes a stop there.  They also have clothing and other sundries available.  They sell live animals and poultry if that is your desire too. 
The good thing is that most of the fresh food and meat is virtually all organic, no pesticides or herbicides or hormones are used.  The cows graze anywhere they are tethered and are the nation’s lawnmowers, along with horses, goats and sheep.
Every evening about 5pm the hot food vendors open up and you can get a tasty meal of chicken or guinea pig or pork for about $2.  There is food available everywhere and it is so cheap it is hardly worth cooking at home.  Within a 3 block radius of our home there are at least 6 restaurants and 10 vendors.   A person will never go hungry here.
Evening vendor food choices

Part of 10 De Agosto Mercado


GALAPAGOS
The Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador and are home to many fascinating endemic and native species of plants, animals, reptiles and birds.  Flights to the Galapagos are easily arranged online or at the airport, usually directed out of Guayaquil.  It is very expensive to visit there, and things are pretty rustic.  There are many rules for visiting this ecologically sensitive area, so do your research well in advance.  Biologists are feverishly trying to reduce the damage done by species of animals and plants introduced by man on the islands.  Even planting a non-endemic flower or fruit bush can have devastating effects on the fragile ecosystem that has evolved here over thousands of years.  Be aware that is is extremely hot and humid so near the equator.
Sea Lions love to play with snorkelers and swimmers

The Giant Tortugas are a main attraction

Magnificent beaches like Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz

Land Iguanas are a threatened species

Charles Darwin

Many birds here

Graceful pelicans glide overhead

Beautiful Las Grietas fissure on Santa Cruz

Marine Iguanas are everywhere




Marine Iguanas have colourful hidden skin pigments
There are several islands with different things to see so island-hopping is a pastime.  We visited there in February 2013 and fell in love with the beauty of Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela.

GAS
(SEE propane)

GOVERNMENT
Former President Rafael Correa pretended to root out corruption, but discrete corruption, extortion, and discrimination still reigned heavily from this leftist Government itself that stifled dissent, muzzled the press, and changed the rules, and interpretations of laws, to suit their own purposes.  Politics is a dirty game in any country and it is especially shady in Latin America.  The Vice-President has been directly implicated in Government bribery scandals.
UPDATE Oct 2017 - The Vice-President Jorge Glas has been thrown in jail and corruption proceedings commenced against him!  Hooray.
This Government was now famous for trampling all over its own Constitution and then they obtained approval from the crooked Constitutional court to unilaterally change the rules so they could stay in power forever.  Criticize this Government and you were immediately branded a traitor or a terrorist, and, since they controlled the courts, they could get any verdict they want to shut up dissenters.
In Feb 2017 Presidential and Assembly elections were held with evidence of dirty tricks from all angles.  The existing Government still controls the Assembly, but their Presidential candidate Lenin Moreno (whose VP forced upon him was the same corrupt VP as before) has promised to prosecute corrupt officials which has the Correa-lovers up in arms because most of them have dirty hands...
Be prepared to experience excruciating frustrations when dealing with anything to do with Government as functionaries will never tell you the whole truth.  Hiring experienced local intermediaries will save you a lot of gray hairs because there is no rhyme nor reason to the seemingly ridiculous bureaucracy that is never centrally contained.   They seem to trip over themselves to try to complicate matters unnecessarily just to frustrate everyone.
Ecuador is a developing country.  The wheels turn slowly in everything and the rules in every department seem to change almost hourly.  Do not expect quick action on anything, and double or triple any time estimates given.  You will need the patience of Job here.
Someone asked me to specify the thing I liked the least about Ecuador.  I had to think hard on that. At first I thought that I hated the NOISE. 
BUT, the real winner in this category is the total ridiculousness of the Government bureaucracy.  After 6 years of putting up with all the BS we have had enough...  We are leaving....  They have robbed us, cheated us, belittled us and made life here as difficult as they could.  They have the title of Worst Bureaucracy in Latin America, and justifiably so.
See also BUREAUCRACY, CITIZENSHIP, POLITICS, CERTIFICADO DE EMPADRONAMIENTO, CEDULA, RESIDENCY

GRINGO POST
This is a new FREE advertising service for expats in the Cuenca area.  Go to http://www.gringopost.com/            Apparently now you pay for real estate ads.

GRINGO TREE
To be connected to another great resource for expats, join GringoTree

Personal ads are mostly free and you have to pay for commercial ads.

GROCERIES
See SHOPPING

GUNS
Ecuador police carry guns.  Ecuador is overall, a peaceful country.  The society is not aggressive so it is not surprising that gun laws are fairly strict.   Do not buy a gun without a licence.
Carrying any kind of weapon will probably put you on the wrong side of the law and nobody wants to be involved with the police unless absolutely necessary.  If you are seeking residency and possible citizenship you do not want any marks on your record.  It doesn’t take much to become persona-non-grata.

HARDWARE
See SHOPPING

HEALTH
As of Feb 2017 any expats with temporary or permanent Visas must show proof of valid, total health coverage, including pre-existing ailments and no expiry dates....   Persons with Retirement Visas who want to enroll in the Government's Social Security program called IESS will be asked to pay 17% of their declared pension incomes for singles, and 4% extra for each dependent.

Cuenca is at a high elevation so the air is thinner and it takes a while to get accustomed to this.  People with heart or lung problems should NOT come to this altitude!
Most expats buy health insurance to suit their requirements.  Check around carefully as coverages offered, deductibles and co-payments and premiums are all over the map.   
There are many clinics and hospitals in Cuenca.  Many of the doctors are trained in the USA or Canada, and even Cuba, and many speak passable English.
We have heard of very few negative experiences, for either service or cost.  Doctors actually care here, and many even make house calls.
Our friend Ray H. had occasion for both serious medical and dental work upon arrival here and he raved about the state of Ecuadorian health care.  Then he went to the U.S.  for an operation when he had a brain tumor and sadly died on the operating table there.

Gorgeous, modern Hospital Del Rio 
One of our friends had triple-bypass surgery in Quito for about $16,000 in May 2014.
I have been enrolled in the IESS Social Security network here since 2014 for about $60 per month (not part of the pension scheme) and my dependent wife for $12, and it covers almost any medical issue and most prescriptions, except pain medications.  Getting to see a GP is generally quick but it can take much longer to see a specialist.
MAY 2017 UPDATE - Everyone entering the country, and all Visa holders, must provide evidence of FULL COVERAGE Health Insurance.  The Government Social Security plan of IESS qualifies for this.
BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be LEAVING Ecuador as soon as we sell our home. 

See IESS, END OF LIFE

HEARTS OF GOLD
I volunteered heavily for them and this is a legal and regulated foundation worthy of your support.  Getting legal status is important as the regulations are strict and any chances for illegal use of funds is non-existent.  See http://heartsofgoldfoundation.org/ to find the many ways you can help this fine organization.  Donations go to support many projects to help the disadvantaged in Ecuador.  One very fine opportunity is to sponsor a child through Hearts Of Gold for a school year at CETAP-LUCY.

HEAT
Since the temperature is constantly temperate, air-conditioning generally means opening a window.  99% of homes have no furnaces beyond a small portable space heater for an especially chilly night.  Throwing on a sweater is usually all that is required, and they have great cashmere sweaters and woolen ponchos here.

IESS – Instituto Ecuatoriano De Seguridad Social – Social Security 

Paraphrased from the translation from their website http://www.iess.gob.ec/
The employer has the obligation to register the worker / from the first day of work, input by notice sent through the website of the Institution.
The worker has the obligation to require the employer to provide IESS membership and monthly payments of contributions, within the first fifteen days of the month worked.
It is an obligation to register for General Insurance IESS by all people who receive income through their work whether physical or intellectual, with or without employment, in particular:
·                 The worker as an employee;
·                 A self-employed person;
·                 The free enterprise professional;
·                 The administrator or employer of a business;
·                 The owner of a sole proprietorship;
·                 Any independent contractor and,
·         Other policyholders forced by the rules of General Insurance Required by laws and decrees.

It is still possible for Expats to register for health coverage under this national program and I have personally done so.  I had not seen the inside of a hospital for 45 years and take no medications and have no allergies.   I joined in case of emergency or major sickness   On November 30, 2016 I had a serious biking accident and broke my neck.  The system works well, but slowly.  Appointments with specialists can take months.  Appointments with regular doctors are usualyy within 2 weeks.  They say that prescriptions are also covered, but if your medication is not in stock in their Pharmacy, you have to purchase it yourself elsewhere.   I also had to purchase my own neck braces but I am not complaining.  The doctors and nurses were super-accommodating and helpful.  Months later I am still taking physiotherapy.
In 2015 the Correa Government has withdrawn their 40% subsidy of the system, saying it is not required...  Austerity measures were immediately announced by IESS there was a reduction in staff and services.
Update May 2017 - The IESS has decreed that premiums will rise for all persons with Pension Visas to 17.6% of our income, plus 4% per dependent.  For most of us Expats here on pension visas, this is supposedly to be based on the pension income we receive when we get our residency permit.  Even for people like me, who are right on the minimum pension income requirement ($900 for the two of us), this is a 140% increase in premium to about $189 per month.  
Even though this is discriminatory, and against the Constitution, there is no cohesive manner to fight it and most expats are afraid to fight with the Government - wimps....
BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be leaving Ecuador as soon as we sell our home. 

(See DOMESTIC HELP, RUC, HEALTH)

INCAS
There is much influence in Ecuador amongst the indigenous population from their lineage through the merging of the Inca and Canari empires.  There are still many remnants of Inca and Canari settlements in the Cuenca area.   Right inside Cuenca we have the Pumapongo ruins just below the Banco Central Museum on Huayna Capac.  There are Inca terraces on the backside of the mountain west of Turi.  About 25 minutes to the east we have a settlement on the tall peak of Cojitambo.  About 45 minutes south we have another mountaintop settlement just before Giron.  Then 2 hours northeast there is the major Ingapirca valley with major archaeological and geographical significance.
See CULTURAL, CANARI

IMMIGRATION
See Residency

INSECTS
Due to the elevation and breezes in the Andes, Cuenca itself is almost bug free.  There seems to be an abundance of spider mites that bite, and don’t seem to bother to spin webs to catch the non-existent bugs.  Keeping eucalyptus leaves at strategic entry points in the home, or anywhere where there is cardboard or wood, seems to be effective in keeping spiders away.
It is not recommended to walk through grassy areas without full clothing because you may get bitten often, usually at ankle height.  Chiggers are really nasty, and the bites are terribly itchy and do not heal easily.
We have seen one or two large tarantula-type spider since being here but are thankful that our home is insect-free, largely due to the fact that we screened all our windows (to keep our cats inside and the few bugs outside).  Less than 1% of homes will have screens.

INSURANCE
98% of Ecuadorians will not carry House or Personal Liability Insurance.  The homes are concrete and the society is not litigious, so they don’t bother.   The coverage is only Named Perils, but surprisingly usually includes Earthquake and Flood.   They seem to feel the burglary risk is much higher here than in NA so the premiums are very expensive in comparison.
We initially had home insurance through Seguralmeida dropped it because our experiences with this office had been mostly negative with overpricing, missed appointments etc.   They did not understand Gringos' values, and did not respect our time or knowledge, so they lost our business accordingly.  Insurance was dropped because of the ridiculous pricing everywhere.
Life insurance is available at many outlets.
Health/Medical insurance is a big seller here and prices, coverages, deductibles and co-payments offered are all over the map.  
Basic car insurance is dirt cheap but may have only a $5,000 Public Liability limit and it follows the car, not the driver.   Full coverage can cost much the same as in North America for less benefits.  I now ride scooters and was shocked to find out that motorcycle insurance is not even available!!!  Scary!!  Especially since Gringos seem to be deemed at fault automatically, regardless of the circumstances, and the other party will have negligible coverage.
See HEALTH, IESS

INTERNET
There are several providers of Internet easily available, with and without cable TV, and you pay prices comparable to NA for whatever speed you desire.
Internet speed in the mid-afternoon and evening is a real letdown when it seems everybody in Ecuador is online.
See SATELLITE, CABLE

IVA
IVA is the 12% tax (temporarily increased to 14%)  on most items that everyone has to pay.   True to Ecuadorian form, persons over 65 can apply to get all of this IVA tax returned if we get a receipt (factura) for every purchase using our Cedula (identity card).  The initial application must be made at the SRI office and thereafter the refunds can be applied for online (complicated process, ever changing, and rarely works any more) monthly and the refund gets deposited in your bank account (less 10c, which is a bank charge for processing the refund).  I have found that it is less frustrating to fill out the other forms and take them to the SRI office monthly.  Depending on your Cedula number, you have a specific week per month where you can apply for the refund.
Be advised that this Government has decided that they can set their own LIMITS on the refund to the over 65 Tercera Edad people:
Until April 2016 the MONTHLY LIMIT was set at $219.14.
For May 2016 only it was dropped to $87.84.
From June 2016 it is set at $102.48.

For my part, I have no doubt that the Government limitations would be against the provisions laid down in the Constitution, but this present Government has always ignored the said Constitution so why should anyone be surprised....
 See SRI

JAYWALKING
Jaywalking is rampant and is never enforced by the local police.  Always remember that vehicles have defacto right of way and pedestrians are target practice.

JOBS
If you are an official resident of Ecuador you are allowed to work and pay taxes.  Everything in Ecuador is geared to keep the local populace working, so there is very little machinery, 95% of all jobs are done by hand.  Ecuadorians are clean and some of the hardest working and most entrepreneurial people you could ever meet.  You rarely see beggars except for invalids and amputees near churches.  You will encounter people selling you everything imaginable, even at stoplights.
To legally work in Ecuador involves a nightmare process of registrations with various Government agencies and IESS social security.

LANGUAGE
If you do not speak the language at all, you will definitely need the use of the plentiful local interpreters in the beginning to help you get set up.  Ecuadorians use a very pure form of Spanish.  It takes a LONG time to learn enough of the language to get by and be understood, especially if you only know English.  The hardest part is understanding the rapid-fire responses!
DO NOT EXPECT TO LEARN SPANISH IN A FEW WEEKS and be fully fluent because that just doesn't happen.  It takes YEARS of practice.  Ecuadorians are a friendly, helpful people and they appreciate it if you at least make the attempt, preferably with humour and a smile.
There are many different Spanish classes available and also private tutors.
A few Ecuadorians speak some English as many have worked abroad for a period of time and returned when the economy soured elsewhere.  Many of these will holler out to a white face just to get a chance to practice their English a little.  Many children learn English in school so often they will call out to us from the school buses and giggle.  They love it when you respond and smile and they love to have their pictures taken.

LAWYERS
I will not make any recommendations because not everyone will have the same experience.  The legal system in Ecuador is not our common law system of tort, so legal remedies are rarely used here.
The Ecuadorian Immigration Department has attempted to make the process more user-friendly and eliminate the need for immigration lawyers.  They recommend that you have all your proper documents before you leave your home country and make a personal visit to the newly revamped offices.  They have  moved the offices to Azogues now to make things more awkward for everyone...
See RESIDENCY

LENDING MONEY
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.  The only answer is DON'T lend money, unless you have acceptable collateral in your possession the whole time.   There are lots of scam artists around and they know we are soft-hearted easy marks, so it is best not to open our door to strangers.  We want to do our best to be good neighbours, as we are the only white faces in the area, but we definitely don't want to be known as the neighborhood bank.   Getting a loan repaid at all is the exception, not the rule.

LINE-UPS
Ecuadorians are polite and genteel except in line-ups then it is every man for himself.  If they can shove ahead of you, they will.  It is important to keep your temper and sense of humor as that is their culture and you won’t change that by making a scene.  The elderly, pregnant or infirm are normally allowed to move to the front, and that is a noble custom that must be respected.

MAID SERVICE
See DOMESTIC HELP

MAIL
See POSTAL SERVICE

MANANA
Pronounced man-yanna, this is a multi-use word in Latin America. It can mean "morning", or "tomorrow".  But many times it just means "not today", especially when someone owes you money, work, goods, or professional services.

MAPS
There are many maps available online.   You can pick up tourist maps and bus route maps at the iTur office, mid-block south of Parque Calderon.

MEDICAL
See HEALTH

MERCADOS
See FOOD

MINIMUM WAGE
The minimum wage in Ecuador was increased to around $400.

MONEY
See CURRENCY

MOVING
This is a personal choice of how and when you wish to undertake this big step.  If you are divesting yourself of your old home and want to bring a container of your belongings, See also CONTAINERS.
Most of us came down with only what we could pack in suitcases and backpacks, and some of us brought pets.  See also PETS. 
We found it much easier to avoid all the customs and timing hassles by just starting fresh here.  Furnishings are generally much cheaper here and appliances about the same price as at home.  Most places now have 220 wiring installed.  Most things run on propane.   See also PROPANE.
You are not guaranteed to like it here over the long haul so many of us left our heirlooms and belongings in storage until we were sure of staying.  Even then, many of us eventually just divested ourselves of everything back home and only brought our necessities.
Having said all this, we do know of some people who have brought in their own containers through a reliable service and generally had no problems whatever.  Others haven't been so lucky.
A very large portion of folks get frustrated with the ridiculousness of things here, or just miss their families back home, so many, if not most, go back home within 2-3 years.  Moving lock, stock and barrel back and forth is a huge consideration.
Also, it is rare to find a Gringo that has not moved to at least 3 residences here in the first couple of years until they feel comfortable.

NEWSPAPERS
There are many local newspapers available from local vendors everywhere, and naturally most are in Spanish.  The Miami Herald is about the only other paper that you might find.

NOISE
Our main complaint about Ecuador is the daytime noise.  Their culture seems to have little regard for the rights of neighbours to peace and quiet except in the overnight hours.  Ecuadorians have a love for car horns, car alarms, dogs and loudspeakers.  Add to this all the buses, taxis, mobile hawkers and construction noise, and there is hardly 30 seconds of complete quiet from 6:30am to 7:00pm.  Like anything else, we get accustomed to the noise so that we barely hear it any more.

OUTSIDE TOWN
(See SURROUNDING AREA)

PARQUE CALDERON
This is the gorgeous park that is the focal point of the city, situated right between the old and new cathedrals.  This is the best place for people-watching and just spending the day enjoying the sunshine.
Parque Calderon and Immaculate Conception Cathedral

PASSPORTS
See RESIDENCY, CITIZENSHIP

PETS
Bringing pets is not a major problem for younger animals as long as you have proof of all the required immunizations, shots, etc.  Coming from home, the international airlines allowed soft carriers that fit under the seat.  Upon arrival in Quito, the local airlines insisted on a hard carrier that would go in the baggage compartment.
Ain't they SWEET!
We have quickly discovered that the cat food here has very little nutrition.  Our cats are always hungry, eat like little piggies, then poop 3 times more than they ate.  Luckily real meat is plentiful as is tuna and other types of fish.
The food situation is much the same for dogs.  
Note that they do not seem to neuter any pets here and there is an abundance of dogs but very few cats.
See VETERINARIANS

PHONES
Very few people have land lines which are about $7 a month.  To our knowledge hookups take about a week.   One reader has reported that the installation fee is $95.   Local numbers are shown as only 7 digits, so if you want to phone them from a cel phone you must add 07 in front to make them 9 digits long.
Almost every person over the age of 14 has a cellular phone.  
See also CELLULAR, COMMUNICATIONS

PICKPOCKETS
See SCAMS, CRIME

PIRACY AND COPYRIGHT
Ecuador does not enforce copyright or piracy laws so anything available can be copied and sold, including CD’s, DVD’s, books, and satellite signals.  You can find a video store on every block selling pirated DVD’s from 25c to $1.50.   Be sure to have them check that any DVD you want to purchase has an English track.  Do NOT take their word for it, they will bald-face lie to you, ...make them play it!
Bookstores and schools keep a multitude of photocopy shops in business by copying every book available and selling the copies at a fraction of the cost.  Rosetta Stone normally sells around $800 but a copy can be found for around $40.

POLITICS
Rafael Correa was the present populist leftist President who had been pretending to remove a lot of political corruption but was a demagogue, totally autocratic and bent on stifling any dissent.  He was deemed a leftist, aligned ideologically with the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.   His government blatantly ignored the Constitution and dictated court decisions.  If you opposed him in any way they use the crooked courts to silence you as a traitor or a terrorist.  He was hard on businesses.  After many years of corrupt Presidents, he is the first one to serve not only one full term, but two.  And with no effective opposition he was easily re-elected again in February 2013 because overall, he had been a good President, working hard to reduce inequality and poverty.  He also stimulated the economy and reduced unemployment with huge spending on infrastructure financed mainly with loans from China in exchange for oil and gold.  He instituted many taxes on imports to stimulate sales of home-produced products and to make up for lost oil revenue during the current slump.   Correa originally said that this would be his last term in office but in 2014 got approval from the rigged Constitutional court to amend the Constitution so a President can serve more than 2 terms.
He has also reversed course and asked Ecuadorians to accept oil drilling in the Yasuni Preserve in the Amazon basin.   This created a monster backlash from his voter base in the indigenous tribes plus all environmentalists.  Subsequent mayoral and regional elections saw his party-backed candidates lose badly. 
Update 2017 -   His party Alianza Pais narrowly won the majority in the Assembly again.   The new President is Lenin Moreno and he has been doing and saying all the right things since his election.   The Vice-President, Jorge Glas, is in jail and mired in a bribery scandal that hopefully bring them all down. The Vice-President is said to have been a major figure in the expanding Obredecht scandal.
Correa moved to Belgium with his Belgian wife and family but is being a complete jerk with his backbiting of the new President.  He has also asked his facebook readers to inform on people who are critical of him.  Good riddance to this man who has stolen some of my life savings and that of many others (see Credit Unions).
It is very important for expats to remember to try to avoid politics if possible.  There is no point getting involved in things that are so steeped in old history that we could never comprehend anyway.
The local populace is generally peaceful but will hold rallies and demonstrations when they feel political change is required.
Of course, I do not follow my own good advice....
So far, I am impressed with the new President and his attempts to heal a lot of open wounds in this country, like Freedom Of The Press, exposing corruption, meeting with small business, etc.  He will have my support if he continues on this path and actually accomplishes some of the things he proposes.

POLLUTION
There is pollution in El Centro and you will very occasionally see a local wearing a mask, but this is extremely rare.  The reason for the pollution is the high concentration of the diesel-spewing buses and the thousands of taxis that provide 90% of the transportation in the city.  The advent of the new TransVia rail system is supposed to help alleviate this problem in El Centro.  Outside the central core the air is relatively clean, helped by the high breezes over the Andes that tend to suck the pollution away.

POPULATION
Presently Cuenca is probably nearing 600,000 people.  Expats are probably only 1% of that number so we are not deemed to be any threat, but more of a novelty.  

POSTAL SERVICE
I am told by a reader that they receive delivered mail in their area where everything, streets, houses, etc are all well indicated.  In our area we have no home postal delivery whatever as most homes do not have a recognizable address.    
The postal service is basically a General Delivery service from a central post office located a couple of blocks from Parque Calderon at Borrero and Gran Columbia.  We have never used it but essentially, if you are waiting for a parcel, you have to check periodically if it has arrived.  They are the most disorganized organization and a joke, so we don't recommend their use.
New rules and taxes for packages over a paltry weight and size make the use of the Post Office almost prohibitive.
Another new service that has popped up is DMiami,  which essentially gives you a Miami PO box so you can order things online.
Sending an envelope to Canada with 4 pieces of paper via DHL cost me $52.  Ouch!
Then, getting a $23 garment couriered from Colombia to here ended up costing $140 after the courier rates and the ridiculous Government taxes were applied.

PROPANE
Propane is subsidized here for the moment so your on-demand hot water and your stoves run on propane.  The tanks are generally outside although some homes and apartments have them indoors which is extremely dangerous.  I have seen a home that has exploded and I don’t want that happening to me.
Feb 28/12 Home destroyed by propane explosion
Propane is in the usual large portable tanks costing about $65 initially.  Refills are obtained from drive-by vendors for $2.50 who honk their horns in multiple bursts to let you know they are in the area.  This is especially annoying when they come around every morning at 7:00 to catch people before they leave for work.
Most people have 3 tanks, one for the stove, one for the on-demand water heater, and one spare.
NOTE that the Government is threatening to halt the propane subsidy in 2016 and to try to switch everyone to use electricity.   It won't work...
See also WATER, ELECTRICITY

RADIO
There is no local English radio station although many stations do play some North American music. Getting radio online is the way to go to get your fix on news from home.
Ashley Rogers and Michel Blanchard invite you to join them on Ecuador At Your Service on the Overseas Radio Network.
You can listen in any time for other news and features, just check the schedule.


REAL ESTATE
Presently homes are listed for about $70 per square foot and condos about $80 per square foot but sales are really stagnant.  There is a movement to regulate and license realtors but this is largely ignored.  There is no such thing as MLS and there are many websites offering places for sale.  They claim that 90% of places for sale are not advertised and have no signs.  Anyone can act as the owner’s agent and Ecuadorian law has a different concept of ownership and familial entitlement, so the number one defense is to have a competent lawyer you can trust.  There are a few intermediary services offered that can be very useful especially if you don’t know the language and the customs.  They will often help with the confirmation of ownership, offer to purchase, the contract, the finalization, changing over the taxes and utilities, arranging cable, etc.  We used such a service and it was well worth the investment.
It has long been a valid recommendation for people to rent in an area they fancy before buying.  We heartily agree with this recommendation.  GringoTree and GringoPost will be valuable resources for available places.
If a person has a vehicle they may well want to consider the bedroom communities of El Valle, Turi, Banos, San Joaquin and the like for cleaner air, spectacular valleys, and more quiet.  Having said that, You can take a 25c daytime bus to El Valle (#15, 14), Banos (#11, 12, 27), and San Joaquin (#19, 8).
Everyone is going to have different preferences, buy vs rent, house vs townhouse, vs apartment vs condo, expat community vs local community, proximity to El Centro or airport or shopping, hospitals, etc, etc.  Make a detailed list and give it to your real estate agent to help you find the right place.   Be sure to check the neighborhood carefully before you take the plunge.   Rent in the area if possible.  Make sure your block does not contain a propane merchant (I’m serious!), body shop, woodworking shop, or tire shop, etc.
Your lawyer and real estate agent should do the due diligence to be certain who has interest in the property.  Ecuador law is very different and title passes automatically to one’s children upon death which can be a real dog’s breakfast.  They can also advise you if the asking price is fair.  It has been reported that some real estate firms jack up the price substantially, especially for expats and returning Ecuadorians who are clueless (unfortunately mostly by gringo real estate firms).  Surprisingly neighbors are your best source of information, good or bad.
See RENT OR BUY

REAL ESTATE AGENTS
If you are looking to purchase a property, it is buyer-beware in Ecuador so do your research and know your pricing.  Talk to a lot of people, especially the neighbours, who are always curious and willing to give advice and information.  Do not be in a rush and, no matter what anyone else says,  be sure to use a competent lawyer and trustworthy real estate agent.   Not all Gringo agents have your best interests at heart...
See RENT OR BUY

RELIGION
Ecuador is a highly Catholic country but the practice of the 10 Commandments is dubious at best.  That is saying kindly that the locals think nothing of lying, cheating, stealing and infidelity.
There is generally a Catholic church within sight no matter where you are and the locals are highly appreciative of participation by visitors.   The main Cathedral, Immaculate Conception, is on the west side of Parque Calderon.   The Old Cathedral, which is now a museum, is on the east side.
You can now visit the crypt in the basement of the main cathedral for $1 and you get a free Postcard.   The angel statues alone are worth the trip down.  You can also climb up inside the north bell tower for $1 for great views of the city.
There are many other denominations in evidence as well so you will likely find your niche if you network with neighbours and other expats.
There are many "missionary" groups in evidence on the streets in Cuenca.  Personally, I think they are extremely lazy to come to a 95% Catholic country and try to sell their particular brand of Christianity.  For Pete's sake, go preach to the non-Christians, like the Muslims, and be a true missionary!

RENT OR BUY?
With our volatile world economy, it is a constant debate whether it is better to 1) have your US dollars in a Bank, and rent a place to live, or 2) protect your investment by property ownership.
Personally, we opted for ownership of property for several reasons:
- housing here is cheap, about around $70 a square foot for a new home and $85 for a condo.
- we found a 1500 sq ft brand new home, built to our standards by an architect, in an area we like, then renovated it to our desires, and furnished it, for $85,000 total (in late 2011).
- we felt there is a better chance of recovery if the economy suddenly tanks before we have a chance to protect our funds elsewhere.
- we hate to throw money away in rent.  Many folks spend $600 a month and up to rent nice places and that is $7200+ annual that they will never see again.  In a short few years they could have had fully paid for a place.
- we wanted to fix our own costs and not worry about huge rent hikes.
- we also didn't want to worry about being kicked out by a relative returning, or for whatever reason.
It just makes more sense to us to buy but, each to his own.   Not everyone can afford to buy.  The downside is trying to sell later when you decide to go elsewhere for whatever reason.

RENTAL ACCOMMODATIONS
A person can presently find furnished and unfurnished rental accommodation of many kinds starting about $450 per month.  We still see ads from people looking for exotic amenities and expecting to find a place under $200 a month.  They must obviously be reading a lot of old hype about how cheap it is to live here.  They need to do a lot more research.  Be sure to ascertain what is included in the price before signing any lease.  Some will include necessities like bedding and towels while others won’t. 
It has long been a valid recommendation for people to rent in an area they fancy before buying.  We heartily agree with this recommendation.  GringoTree and GringoPost will be valuable resources for available places.
One very unfortunate practice that is occurring too often is Gringos paying for renovations to rental properties...  What the heck is wrong with people who would do this??  This is not your responsibility!!  You wouldn't do this at home!!  When you can be kicked out within 30 days, why would you do this here???  We know construction is very cheap here, but it has now happened that leases are being drawn up saying that the tenant is responsible for renovations!!   Thanks a lot to the idiots that have started this ridiculous trend.

It is a lovely city!


REPTILES
Haven’t seen one yet, except in the Galapagos.

RESIDENCY
See http://cancilleria.gob.ec/requisitos-para-solicitud-de-visas-no-inmigrantes-e-inmigrantes/
This will give you a list of the current requirements for Visas.   If you open this with Google Chrome it should offer you a reasonable English translation.

Follow everything to the letter or you risk having a very hard time with this which can be very frustrating and expensive, especially if you have to return to your home country for specific documents.
 UPDATE June 2017 - See https://www.gringotree.com/new-ecuadorian-immigration-law-need-know/?utm_source=GringoTree&utm_campaign=d6514751d2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_06_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_abb51ee8d2-d6514751d2-109672349
In typical Ecuadorian brilliant reasoning for efficiency, in late 2015 they decided to move the critical Immigration office 30 minutes outside of Cuenca to the town of Azogues....  Most of the expats in Ecuador are in Cuenca, so why not make us all see some scenery and spend extra money....
At the residency office you can apply yourself, with no assistance from lawyers or facilitators, unless you speak no Spanish, then a facilitator is often worth the expense.  If you don't have your proper documents from your home country then you are going to have serious, and expensive, problems.  DO YOUR RESEARCH and don't think that you can get by with anything less than what is requested on the Government website.  Have copies of every document available.  Often they will keep important original documents, like marriage certificates...
The First step in applying for residency is to get the residency approval Visa stamped in your passport.  Then you are issued a Certificado de Empadronamiento and after a week or so you can
complete your Cedula application for your internal Ecuadorian Identification card that every resident must carry.    
Chant:  Patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue,..............
RECOMMENDED:
Apparently it is now much easier to get your visa arranged, even before you come to Ecuador.  It does make sense to do it before you leave, because there is always some quirk of paperwork that you must get done in your home country, even if you followed all the rules.
Update Oct 24/15 - Since I got a new 10-year Passport in June, I had to get the Immigration Office to update my Residency Visa in my new Passport.  The process was about 4 weeks for me, with about 5 visits, a payment of $60 total, and the new permanent Visa is attached.
Then, later I needed to change the marital status on my Cedula to Divorced, then back to Married, and both processes went very smoothly.
In December 2015 we completed the process for a Dependent visa for my new wife.   I am on a first-name basis with many folks at the Immigration office!
Now that I have had my Cedula for over 2 years, I can leave the country for 5 years at a time.  Now that I have had my cedula for 5 years, I can vote....
The rules change rapidly for people needing to access the process, so a good facilitator is almost a must, otherwise you will be making a lot of wasted trips to Azogues.
As of Feb 2017, all expats with Temporary or Permanent Visas must show valid Health Insurance.  See HEALTH
 BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be LEAVING Ecuador as soon as we sell our home.

After 3 years a person can then apply for citizenship and an Ecuadorian passport.
See LAWYERS, CITIZENSHIP

RESIDENT SERVICES
Many folks offer to help you with translations, negotiations, and getting set up.  You will get many recommendations when you subscribe to GringoTree or GringoPost and check out their recommendation lists. 

RETIREMENT
This is the place to retire if you speak Spanish and are in reasonable health, have limited income, and can pass the residency requirements.  The consistent temperatures and the clean water and the good health care are good for our aging bodies.  Most of us walk as much as possible and enjoy the plentiful sunshine and scenery.
BUT, if you are not patient with ridiculous bureaucracy, thievery, etc (see CULTURAL) or are not good at learning a new language, you will soon be frustrated and stressed beyond belief.   THIS IS NOT UTOPIA!
If you have ANY hint of heart or lung problems, do NOT even think of coming to this altitude!
See THINGS TO DO, HEALTH,

RODENTS
We have seen very few live rats in our whole time here which are more prevalent in the river areas. 

ROADS
Most major highways are reasonably well maintained by the government.  Roads through towns must be in the hands of the civic authorities as they are often dirt tracks in most smaller towns.  Cuenca’s roads are in decent condition overall, not much worse than at home.  El Centro has cobblestone streets which can make most vehicles bounce and chatter.  Tire shops do a roaring business, especially with the 4,000+ taxis.

ROMANCE
A lot of folks come here with the intention of hooking up with a Latino or Latina.  While Latinas seem to have a greater tolerance for older Gringos, the cultural differences and strong family ties are almost impossible to overcome.  Family always comes first and you might be relegated in importance to somewhere behind the family pet.  The main experience is that Gringos are perceived as rich so we are seen as a meal ticket.
I have fallen prey to the charms of a younger Latina from Colombia myself, and we are now married.

RUC - Registro Unico De Contribuyentes 
Our understanding that this is a Business ID basically meaning you are self-employed, or are an employer, and earn income which must be reported regularly, possibly online.   As a self-employed person you would be responsible for providing your own social security (IESS) benefits.
From the Government website  http://www.sri.gob.ec/web/10138/92
(See DOMESTIC HELP, IESS)

SATELLITE TV
Satellite companies, such as Direct TV, offer more channels than basic cable TV, many with language options, and lots of movie channels, most of which can be received in English.  You do get sports channels but mostly in Spanish and still 90% about soccer.  News channels like CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera are usually available in English.

SCAMS
There are con-artists everywhere and Cuenca has more than its fair share.  And note that these are not restricted to locals, Colombians or Chileans.  Many of the cons we have seen or heard about are perpetrated by expats on expats.   Do not look at, invest in, or purchase real estate without competent assistance and a completely reliable lawyer.
We have seen a South African expat peddling her story about being robbed of everything and needing money to get a bus to the nearest embassy in another country.  This person was still using this story a week later in the same area.  Over the past 4 years she keeps moving from city to city and has become quite a fixture here.
It is not easy for soft-hearted people such as ourselves to walk away from someone professing to be in need.  We have found the simplest solution is to give them some small change and rush off to an urgent appointment.
Pickpockets are another scourge of any major city and their techniques get more elaborate.  Cel phones and tablets are popular targets for thieves.  We have heard of people being distracted by a lady handing them a baby while their backpacks or pockets are slashed for easy access to the contents.  Another scam is be sprayed by mustard, ketchup or feces and their accomplices are helping clean you off, and clean you out.   Do not try to look rich or important, that just makes you a prime target.   Protect your valuables, cameras, wallets, jewelry at all times.
Believe me, even zippered pockets are not safe (I learned the hard way).  Never carry any valuables or cel phones in your back pockets.  Do everything you can to avoid being crowded or bumped.  An unusual bump is usually a trigger to immediately check yourself for lost items.  The pickpockets are truly expert.
There is a big scare here, mostly in Guayaquil, of people being victimized by seemingly friendly persons drugging them in various fashions with scopalamine, which is a truth drug, but also makes them a zombie willing to listen to the instructions of their new-found friends.  Too many people have woken up, days later, completely unaware that they have willingly given their money and possessions to thieves, or been sexually assaulted.  So beware of people blowing powder in your face or offering you drinks.  A person alone, on the town at night, is asking for trouble.  There is safety in numbers.
See REAL ESTATE, CRIME

SECURITY
Most homes have security gates and/or grates on doors and windows.  Most businesses have rollshutters.  This appearance of living behind steel gates is extremely foreign to most of us.  Many places have alarms but we honestly do not know if the alarms are effective or the response times by police.  Most apartments have security entrances and guards.  Security issues often just require a common sense approach.  Make your person and premises unattractive as a target.  Take simple but effective precautions and don't rock the boat with anyone in a foreign country, they know more people than you do.   Use your head, keep your temper, and do not get involved in situations that can result in altercations.  Secure your premises to the point that the neighbour is more attractive a target, and get a dog or alarm if necessary.
See CRIME

SENIORS
See AGE

SERVICE
Unfortunately service, and particularly customer service, is almost non-existent in Ecuador.  In stores, you are generally ignored.  Trying to get a serviceman to come at an agreed time is a frustration, if they show up at all.
See ECUADOR TIME, CULTURAL

SHIPPING
There are UPS/DHL type services available which are apparently more reliable than the Post Office but viciously costly. 
Sending an envelope to Canada with 4 pieces of paper via DHL cost me $52.  Ouch!
Then, getting a $23 garment couriered from Colombia to here ended up costing $140 after the courier rates and the ridiculous Government taxes were applied.
See POSTAL SERVICE and CONTAINERS

SHOPPING
One must be cognizant that a developing country is simply that, developing, and they don’t have mega-malls where you can find everything under the sun.  You are generally able to find almost anything you want, in some form or another, but it takes a good deal of searching.  Sure, there are a couple of KFC’s and Burger King’s, but there are no Home Depot’s, Sears, or Canadian Tire’s.  Most things are much cheaper than at home, but not everything.  Most imported good are very expensive, and paper and plastic products are much more expensive. 
We hate to say it, but most Ecuadorian products would be considered inferior to our standards, especially plastic items.  Check everything well before you leave the store as they have little or no return policies.
There are major food stores such as Super Maxi, Coral, and Gran Aki where you can find most items but it does take knowledge of the language as few labels are in English.  Super Maxi seems to have the best selection of imported goods and they are a tad more expensive compared to Coral.  If you see an item such as Pam on the shelf, stock up right away, as you may not see that item again for 6 months or more.
Most of us get our fresh fruits and vegetables and even butter at the local mercados for much less price than the department stores.  Beware of buying the smaller fruits and vegetables already packaged in plastic because the quality and freshness is usually poorer.  It is best to take an occasional mercado walking tour offered on GringoPost to know what to look for, and where to buy it.
Hardware items are generally found at local Ferreterias, but the best selection will be found at Kywi or Mega Hierro.  You can find both stores, including a Super Maxi, in the Miraflores district just north of the airport.

SMILE
This is absolutely the best advice we can give to any visitors.  Smile and the world smiles with you.  A smile will serve you better than anything in dealing with the Ecuadorians.  If they see you are friendly, and trying to use their language, they will be as congenial and helpful as is humanly possible. 
Even on the street, wear a big SMILE and say “Buenos dias” for Good morning, or “Buenas tardes” for Good afternoon, or “Buenas Noches” for Good evening to everyone that makes eye contact.  You will see their faces light up and they will respond in kind.  The same applies to acknowledging a store clerk.  Your Ecuador experience will be much more pleasant if you follow this simple instruction.  It gives the locals a much better impression of us foreigners overall and it also reduces their fear or resentment factor.

SOCIAL SECURITY
BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be LEAVING Ecuador as soon as we sell our home. 
See IESS

SPANISH LANGUAGE
Spanish is the main language of Ecuador and they say Cuenca has the purest Spanish of any place outside of Spain.  If you are not prepared to learn to converse in Spanish, don't bother coming.
Spanish will be hard language for persons with only English in their vocabulary.  Spanish is much closer to French. Italian, and Latin.  In Spanish class I have found that the roots of many words are identical to French, and the conjugations very similar, but the pronunciations are quite different because they treat the alphabet much differently, with things like silent H's, but J is mostly pronounced as a soft H,   Double LL sounds like a Y, and many more unusual differences.  Spanish is wonderful in a few respects because they do not waste letters, you pronounce everything.  And their vowels have only one sound, unlike English where an "A" can have about seven different sounds.
A is a soft A.
E is a hard A.
I is a hard E.
O is a hard O.
U is a hard U.
Y is a hard E as well.
It does take some getting used to.
If English is your only language, we would certainly recommend taking a strong Spanish course before coming.
We have heard of people coming here and wanting to take a course to be fluent in Spanish in a month.  Such people had better have a reality check.  One Spanish class teacher has been learning and teaching (English and) Spanish for over 10 years and is still nowhere near fluent!
The important thing is to be understood, not whether you have conjugated a verb correctly.  The Ecuadorians are very forgiving and helpful if you make an honest attempt at the language, and keep your sense of humor with a constant smile.

SPORTS
Naturally, Futbol (soccer) is number one and there are many open soccer fields that seem to host many tournaments on weekends.
A unique form of Ecuadorian volleyball is also a regular sight.  They net is much higher and is usually played with 3 persons per side.
The main local soccer team, Club Deportivo Cuenca, plays at the main stadium south of El Centro and holds its own in the league, but seems to have little local support.  The crowds only seem to increase when the bigger, stronger clubs are in town as the opposition.   

SRI
Just read this as IRS and you will understand what they do, taxes of all kinds.  They have a similar Gestapo-style mentality and they close down businesses on the most minor infractions for 10 days just to show off their power.  They show up unannounced at a business with police and army in tow, and are totally rude and pompous in their communications.  I would do anything to avoid being anywhere on their radar.
Folks over the age of 65 can apply for the return of the 12% (temporarily 14%) IVA tax by listing all receipts (facturas) monthly and submitting.  I had zero problem submitting them online until December 2015 when the Government ran out of money due to the low oil prices.  The problems continued through 2016.   I am certain that the staff are under instructions to frustrate, obfuscate, and annoy senior citizens until they stop claiming their refunds.  To save frustration, I now opt for the hand-delivered form to the SRI office.  Then they were 8 months behind in refunding the money but they seem to be back on track now.
Be advised that this Government has decided that they can set their own LIMITS on the refund to the over 65 Tercera Edad people:
Until April 2016 the MONTHLY LIMIT was set at $219.14.
For May 2016 only it was dropped to $87.84.
From June 2016 it is set at $102.48.

For my part, I have no doubt that the Government limitations would be against the provisions laid down in the Constitution, but this present Government has always ignored the said Constitution so why should anyone be surprised....

See IVA

See TAXES

STREETS
See ADDRESSES and TRAFFIC

SURROUNDING AREAS
Cuenca sits in a valley in the Andes Mountains and there are many, many smaller towns and villages within an hour’s drive that are worth visiting.  Gualaceo, Chordoleg, Turi, El Valle, San Joaquin, Banos, SigSig, Paute, Azogues, and Santa Isabel are just some of the towns to enjoy.  Every town has its own days for fun fiestas too.  Banos, San Joaquin, and El Valle are accessible by the 25c bus system.  Other towns are easily reached by going to the bus station.  A trip to Gualaceo, for instance, costs a whopping 70c for the 45 minute ride to this weekend retreat of many Cuencanos.  Surrounding towns have their own little artisan communities whether it be vegetables, liquor, leather, ceramics, panama hats, painters, etc.  The Cajas mountain range is a nice little tour, as is a trip to the Ingapirca Inca ruins.  Nearby towns of Turi and El Valle occupy adjacent valleys and are beautiful and quiet.  The biodiversity of Ecuador also lets one enjoy nature for bird-watching, exploring rainforests, etc.

TAXES
House taxes are low, about 0.1% of the value, or 0.3% of the declared tax value. (See RESIDENCY).
A farm’s taxes are usually about $8 annual. 
There are sales taxes called IVA, which most of know as a VAT, or value-added tax, approximately 12%, (recently raised in 2016 to 14% because of the big earthquake) usually included in most pricing.  Once you have your Cedula, after age 65, 100% is rebated upon application to the SRI office.  When purchasing, you need to present your Cedula to get a valid receipt (Factura) that has the business' RUC number, factura number, your information, and the date.
You can go to SRI office to turn in your facturas only a few days per month -- the day that corresponds closely to the next-to-last-digit of your cedula.  Note also that you can turn in more than one month at a time, but only one submission per month.  After you have registered, it was much simpler to do it from home, online, but less frustrating to deliver them to the SRI office.  I recommend using a facilitator for the initial registration.

See RUC

TAXIS
In the daytime it is generally OK to hail any yellow taxi.  In June 2014 they were forced to use meters by law and have cameras.  You should NOT take a taxi where they do not start the meter at $0.55 or so.  Most trips are between $1 and $4, but the minimum ride is $1.39 or so daytime, and $1.67 nighttime.
Very rarely, the drivers blatantly try to flaunt this law to try to get more money.  Common ploys used are "the meter is not operational", or they have the meter running before you entered the cab, then the "I have no change" BS when you get to your destination.  Their change is almost always in the closed ashtray.  If they don't immediately turn on the meter at $0.55 or so, make them stop and just get out of the cab and hail a different one.  Always carry change or you will get caught by these liars.  At night they say you should have the local folks call you a taxi, whether you are at a café, hotel, or wherever.  Taxis that are not yellow with black numbers painted on the roof are not official, so it is best not to use them.
Update Nov 6/15 -
Taxi meters will be recalibrated starting today to take into account the extra 7 cents per km on trips longer than 7 km.  Current rates are as follows: 
     Minimum daytime fare $1.39
     Minimum night fare      $1.67  
     Starting rate                 $0.55 (this will be on the meter the minute you get into the cab)
     Waiting rates per min.  $0.06  
     Day rates per km          $0.29
     Night rates per km        $0.39

TELEVISION
See CABLE and SATELLITE

TERCERA EDAD
This means the "Third Age", the over 65 crowd, which is treated with respect and Constitutionally protected.  I have recently just hit this age and I am really enjoying using the seniors' line-ups at banks, etc.  Plus we get discounts on travel (12c for a bus ride), domestic airfare, and movies, etc..
AND,.. we get back the 12% IVA tax that we are charged on everything!
BIG UPDATE - Oct 26/17:  The cost of living in Ecador, with the new law regarding the Social Security taking 17% of our declared income for singles, or 21% for couples with a Retirement Visa, has tipped the balance.  We will be LEAVING Ecuador as soon as we sell our home. 
See TAXES

THINGS TO BRING
The quality of local products is generally lacking, so any good quality item that you would be miserable without, bring it!
Besides a good attitude and knowledge of Spanish, we recommend you bring the following:
Critical medicines, vitamins, tablets, computers, Pam, oven thermometer, good razors, basic home tool kit, rainproof hat, waterproof jacket, pet food, favourite spices, SOS pads, favourite shampoo/conditioners, favourite skin creams, favourite toothpastes, favourite soaps, cameras with peripherals, and anything you would be miserable without.  If you bring too many of one item they may think you are bringing them in for sale, especially electronics.  Everything is subject to the airline weight and baggage restrictions so plan carefully.  Our simple plan was to bring a minimum of clothes, and only those things we didn't think we could find here.  We preferred to buy the inexpensive local clothing and shoes. You are generally able to find most things here, just not in the familiar brands, although there are tons of knock-offs.

THINGS NOT TO DO
We had a supper discussion once about things we do as expats, thinking we are doing the right thing,  but they unfortunately backfire not only on us, but on every other expat too.
Ecuadorians are ingrained to think that all Gringos are rich, and that we are belong with the upper class of society here.  When we brag and flash around our cash in front of Ecuadorians, this reinforces that belief, even though most of us are here on very fixed incomes and pensions.
Tipping should be kept the same as Ecuadorians, 10% only, if it is not already included in the bill (watch for this), and do not overtip cab drivers.
There are many charities and great needs in Ecuador for kind-hearted folks.  Do not just throw money at a problem that won't go away.  Provide your time if possible and financially support a great foundation like the Hearts Of Gold Foundation who give to the worthy with a "teach them to fish" philosophy.
Don't always pay the first price offered when purchasing goods.  Be prepared to bargain for almost everything just like Ecuadorians.  It is common practice that prices increase when the buyer has a white face.  Gringo pricing is to be expected.  Temporarily walking away is the best tactic to get to the lowest price.   
Do not lose your temper or act rude to Ecuadorians as this reflects on all of us.  This is their country and it is for us to adapt to their culture, so bite your tongue and smile.
One very unfortunate practice that is occurring too often is Gringos paying for renovations to rental properties...  What the heck is wrong with people who would do this??  This is not your responsibility!!  You wouldn't do this at home!!  When you can be kicked out within 30 days, why would you do this here???  We know construction is very cheap here, but it has now happened that leases are being drawn up saying that the tenant is responsible for renovations!!   Thanks a lot to the idiots that have started this ridiculous trend.
See also SCAMS

THINGS TO DO
Cuenca has had websites and calendars that were somewhat informative but they never keep them up.

You should never be bored in Cuenca, especially if you like to walk.  There is so much to see and do, parks, mercados, sports, theaters, fiestas, concerts, symphony, movies, enjoying the sights, and much more.
See CULTURAL
http://youtu.be/Qp198Jua6e8  Cuenca Symphony Orchestra
http://youtu.be/QX-87G2DVkQ  Concert by an American Bluegrass band, the Ajusco Mountain Boys.
Dig out the camera and see the sights

Visit a Panama Hat factory
Visit the Amaru zoo in the southeast

Visit one of the many markets.  This is Rotary Market.

Catch some of the local sports action.

Stroll through the gorgeous Parque Paraiso

Visit beautiful squares like San Sebastian


Take a trip to the Cajas

Visit a special needs school like ADINEA
Shop at one of the colourful mercados

Do some bird-watching, go to Mindo

Visit the Pumapungo Inca ruins and the Museum










There is a beautiful aviary attached to the Inca ruins at Pumapungo
Visit the Jubones desert in Yunguilla

Gotta see the El Chorro Falls of Giron

Visit the Museum Of Military History in Giron

Visit the Inca ruins on Cojitambo northeast of Cuenca



See the Inca terraces on the backside mountain next to Turi
Enjoy the beauty of the city, even at night
There are multiple volunteer opportunities as well.
Volunteer to help local kids 
There are Gringo nights, Newcomer lunches, book exchanges, walking and running clubs, motorcycle clubs, poker nights, bridge clubs, and a whole lot more.  Subscribe to GringoPostGringoTree, and you will soon be into the swing of things.  There is no reason to be bored.  Heck, you can start up your own club and let everyone know too.

Outside of Cuenca there are many, many sights to consider, including Banos-Ambato, Mindo, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands.

TIPPING
Tipping is only customary in places like restaurants and on tours, and the normal tip is 10%.  Often a tip of 10% is already included on your bill, along with the IVA tax, as that is becoming common practice here.   They cannot charge more than 10% by law.  
Do not over-tip!  You create expectations and make it harder for the locals.  When in Rome...
UPDATE MARCH 2015 FROM AN ECUADORIAN SOURCE:
Tipping as of 2014: Tipping goes to all the staff including the waiter.  In 2013 and before, tips would be considered as part of their salary. Now it has become an addition to their salary.

TRAFFIC
Driving in Ecuador is not recommended although it is not that difficult for a good, aggressive driver.  Because of the excellent availability and ridiculously cheap cost of buses and taxis, it is better to let an experienced Ecuadorian take you wherever you want to go.  Parking downtown in El Centro is almost impossible anyway.
Number one rule is vehicles have defacto right-of-way, and there is a pecking order.  Taxis are first, buses are second, commercial vehicles are third, then personal vehicles.  Pedestrians are targets.  Even if you have a walk light, you must give way to a turning vehicle.  A smile and an outstretched arm sometimes helps.
Number two rule is that most lanes, signs and lights are suggestions only, as very few normal traffic rules are ever enforced.  Vehicles generally will respect a red light but do not expect them to even stop at what looks like a hexagonal stop sign that says “Pare”.   You can read that one as “ I Dare You”.  
Pedestrians cross only when they can find an opening in traffic without getting killed.
Do not get on the left side of a bus in a traffic circle if you value your vehicle or your life.
Most vehicles will not turn right on a red light, but watch out, they might make left turns if they feel the coast is clear!
Number three rule is the definition of a split second… which is the amount of time between the light turning green and the fellow behind honking.  That is a given at every light.
Number four rule is their version of courtesy, letting you know by a quick beep that they are going to pass you on the left or right.  You are expected to let them pass, even if it means braking to let them by.  Cutting them off would be considered uncouth.
Number five rule is an interesting phenomenon that I call "the supremacy syndrome".  Whether it is walking or driving, if a person gets in front of you, their space in inviolable.  They do not think twice about blocking an entire sidewalk or double-parking on a busy thoroughfare.   If they were there first, you just have to go around them (without honking or rude remarks).
Number six rule is that nobody signals their intentions here so don't be sitting in their blind spot.
Most people consider Ecuadorians as crazy drivers but really they manage to get from point A to Point B without many accidents, miraculously.  AND, they will turn in ANY direction from ANY lane!
 Number seven rule is that a Gringo is deemed at fault in any accident and they expect payment for any damages on the spot!
There are no parking meters in Cuenca, but now they have an obscure paper parking permit that you buy in dollar increments at places with blue EMOV signs.  Then you write down the date and time you parked, then the time you left.  Or you have to find a car park which is usually hidden in the open areas in the center of most blocks in El Centro.
Outside of Cuenca the highways have very little signage.  Most small towns have a fork in the road, again without signs, that force you to stop and ask for directions.  Asking the older folks is generally more reliable as teenagers sometimes think it is a hoot to send Gringos in an opposite direction.
One tactic that has really served us well when driving into a city is to hail a cab and pay him to lead us to our destination.  For under $5 you will get to your destination quickly and with no hassles.
The speed limits, according to an English-language Ecuadorian site in 2012 for the legal firm are:
In URBAN areas - 50 kph (about 30 mph). Above that - you get fined, and points against your license, but driving above 60 kph (about 37 mph) can also land you in Jail for up to three days.  
On "perimeter" roads - 90 kph (or about 55 mph). Above 75 mph you can be jailed.
On straight highway stretches you can drive up to 100 kph (or about 60 mph). Above 84 mph (135 kph) you can be taken straight to jail. 
On curvy roads you can legally drive up to 60 kph (37 mph). Above 45 mph - JAIL time, prison actually, which is crowded and messy, and not a pleasant experience
Motorbikes and scooters are a very dangerous alternative for the brave, agrressive drivers who know how to be totally vigilant at all times.  They are great for by-passing long line-ups of stopped cars and you can park them almost anywhere for free.  I have a "Fatty" scooter that I love, but I seriously need to have 100% concentration on what is around me at all times.  Other drivers are not courteous to motorbikes and they stop, turn, u-turn without signals or warning constantly.  If you want to pass a moving vehicle, you have to honk to let them know you are there...



TRANSPORTATION
Cuenca has no trains, but is finishing construction on a light rail transit.   Only 20% of Ecuadorians own a vehicle so everyone relies on a network of inexpensive 25c bus service or using one of the inexpensive 4,000 taxis (see BUS or TAXI).  In-town transportation is so cheap it does not pay to own a vehicle unless you are in an area with no bus or taxi service.   Taxis now have meters so be sure to carry change with you.
If you are brave and experienced, a small motorcycle or scooter is a fun alternative.
See also TRAFFIC, BUS, TAXI, AIRPORT, AIRLINES, DRIVERS LICENCES
Buses and taxis are the major mode of transportation
Private transportation is plentiful and reasonable depending on the number of passengers. 
There are many tour companies in town that provide interesting trips to many out-of-town destinations, usually with guides for really good cultural experiences.
Private bus companies flourish in spite of attempts by the larger bus companies to shut them down. Be sure they are properly licenced and be sure to get all times, details, pricing, and receipts for any deposits.   
There are many other bilingual persons who offer driver and translation services with many being mentioned and recommended on GringoTree or GringoPost.  Generally they hire themselves out with their vehicles for $10 - $15 per hour and most are very congenial and helpful.   If you find a driver that is always honest, courteous, and above all punctual and reliable, use him at every opportunity since they are a rarity.

TRAVEL
See TRAFFIC, TRANSPORTATION, BUS, AIRLINES, TAXIS, AIRPORT, DRIVERS LICENCE

UTILITIES
We can pay our utilities, water and electricity, via automatic bank withdrawal or at our local Credit Union and a few other outlets.   Since there is no need for heat nor air-conditioning, utility bills are very slight, usually totalling around $20-$40.
May 2015 update - We are just told that our water rates are going to jump 100%.... Welcome to Ecuador...
The Government wants to wean people off of propane gas, which they subsidize.  They want everybody to but expensive electric stoves because they are building about 8 hydroelectric plants with money borrowed from China.  A person would think that the Government would know by now that the people throw out politicians that don't think of the poor people first.
See WATER, ELECTRICITY, GAS

VEHICLES
It is prohibitive to bring a vehicle into the country, they will tax you on it, and the cost of buying even a used vehicle is unreal compared to at home.  Even high mileage cars command a hefty price.   The Government had restricted the number of imported vehicles in an effort to boost the local car manufacturers but I heard these are being lifted for 2017.
Getting a Drivers’ Licence in Spanish is complicated, but we managed to do it and have since bought a car, then a scooter, so we can escape the city on a whim.
Only the brave and experienced should consider a motorcycle or scooter.
See DRIVERS LICENCE, TRANSPORTATION, TAXIS, TRAFFIC

VETERINARIANS
Luckily there are many vets in town that can communicate somewhat in English. 

VISAS
Basically anybody can come on a 90-day tourist visa for a visit and a look-see and extend that to 180 days.   There are different visas available for those not seeking residency but want to have a longer look at this beautiful country.
Once you start your residency application, and have your tracking number, the need for a time-limited visa is negated.
See also RESIDENCY

VOLCANOES
Woo Hoo, we have no active major volcanoes within 65 miles so we sleep soundly.   We do have the hot springs of Banos-Cuenca just to the west, obviously heated by magma close to the surface but this does not seem to be a concern to anyone.
2 volcanoes just south of Quito, likely Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.  Chimborazo is closer to the sun than Mount Everest.
Cuenca is fortunately at least 120 miles away from the “Avenue Of The Volcanoes”, unlike the capital of Quito which gets frequent quakes.   Cuenca may experience very minor tremors but not anything to cause any major damage.
The Tungurahua volcano near the major town of Banos-Ambato, south of Quito, is currently erupting and spewing ash sporadically, and Chimborazo is again showing signs of activity.  Other volcanoes near the capital of Quito are becoming active again.
See EARTHQUAKES, EMERGENCY

VOLUNTEERING
There are many places to offer your services and helping hands, especially if you have a teacher's certificate. Teaching English to Ecuadorians is as needed as Spanish classes for expats.
But volunteers are needed for many worthy situations.  If you would like to offer your services please see heartsofgoldfoundation.org

VOTING    
See POLITICS

WATER
The water is plentiful and clean, touted as the cleanest in South America. You can drink from the tap.  Cuenca is fed by four rivers so there generally is no shortage although they did have drought conditions a few years back where the Rio Tomebamba was re-christened the River Of Rocks.

Rio Tomebamba below El Centro

Rio Yanuncay


















Domestic water is heated by outdoor/mounted on-demand water heaters, very different than those sold in North America, and much cheaper.  We paid about $450 for a top-of-the-line Bosch 22 lpm.  Water pressure is only moderate so the only way to get hot water is to turn it on full blast.  Using water-saving shower heads does not work as that restricts the flow and you lose the pressure required to trigger the sensor.
We can pay our utilities, water and electricity, at our local Credit Union and a few other outlets.   Our water bill has never been above $7 per month, and we are told that as of May 2015 we can expect the rate to double overnight.

WEATHER
See CLIMATE, EMERGENCY

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We do hope you have found this helpful. 
Email us at aljbourassa@gmail.com with any bouquets or brickbats, or if you spot any obvious errors.
Al

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