Are We Having Fun Yet?

This is yours truly’s personal experience as a Canadian coming to Ecuador to live out what’s left of my life. This post is more of a journal covering my preparations for filing for residency as a pensionado and my journey to avoid being forced to return to Canada.

Your own experience will be determined by where you live, which will then determine if you deal with an Ecuadorian consulate or the Embassy in Ottawa. The general advice if you are looking at moving to Ecuador is first to visit the country for an extended period, at least a month and more if you can. Your tourist Visa gives you ninety days to explore the various regions and determine what area you might want to move to. There are vast differences in areas of the country, from climate to culture. Coming from Canada you will certainly experience culture shock with Ecuador. For some people it’s simply too much. Others consider it an adventure. The number one issue you will face everywhere in the country is language. The more proficient you are in Spanish the better off you will be. Bring a good translation book or a smart phone with Spanish downloaded. The Ecuadorian people in general are very warm, friendly and more than willing to help you, but you must make an effort to speak to them in Spanish.

Ecuador has more diverse regions than just about any county in the world. The difference between living in a large city like Guayaquil, which is very hot and humid all day, every day, and anywhere in the mountains, such as Cotacachi, at very high altitude, with more spring-like weather all year, are vast. Many places, such as Cuenca, which has a very large Expat population, have many of the things that Canadians are familiar with, such as malls and theatres. More remote areas don’t have many of these common North American type venues.

In my case I made the decision to up and move to Ecuador, for many reasons I won’t go into here. I had spent sixteen months living in Boquete, Panama, so I had some experience with the culture shock and knew that it wouldn’t be a problem for me. After months of research I made the decision to move to Cotacachi in the mountains, mostly because I had spent fourteen wonderful years in BC and saw many similarities in Cotacachi. I am no fan of extreme hot or cold weather, so Cotacachi’s climate seemed ideal.

After considerable research on the immigration requirements of Ecuador I traveled to the consulate in Toronto to start on preparing my documents. Unfortunately, before my four hour trip from London, I was given totally inaccurate information on what to bring. For example, I had brought colour copies of my various identification. What I didn’t know was that any documents had to be notarized and then submitted to the official government documents office, a government agency I didn’t even know existed. Off I went to the closest notary and then to the government office then back to the consulate, only to be told that they were closing at 1:00 in the afternoon. They told me I needed a bank statement showing I had sufficient funds, something they didn’t qualify, so off I rushed to my closest bank branch and came back minutes before the consulate was closing. They told me they couldn’t deal with me and that I would need to come back. No concern was shown for my four hour trip.

Given the frustration of dealing with the consulate I contacted the Embassy in Ottawa and I met Rolando, who turned out to be an incredibly helpful person. After I explained my disappointing experience with the consulate he informed me that he would, in fact, be moving to the consulate in the new year. He then asked me to send him my passport and the documents I had prepared and he said he would get me a six month Visa, which he did. He was most helpful in getting my Service Canada pension letters translated and many other things. When I left Canada I felt that I had everything I needed to apply for my Visa when I arrived in Ecuador.

Here’s the first of many mistakes I made. With a six month Visa I was in no hurry to apply for residency, plus I had to wait to receive my GIS pension to pay to file. Second, I didn’t know that you had to register your Visa right away. No one told me that nor was there a word on the government website about it. Lessons learned.

Although I did have the funds to apply for residency originally, I ended up in a private hospital for four days, which cost me an outrageous $1,200 so there went my residency fund. What happened with my GIS pension would fill a book. Save to say that the amount I was promised to receive by the end of Janaury didn’t happen. After three months of calling Service Canada, getting nowhere, I contacted my MP in London, who then started going through what I had experienced, also getting nowhere. In total desperation I then emailed the Minister, somewhat dramatically saying that there would be a letter on my cold dead body blaming my government for my demise. To my considerable surprise I received a call from a supervisor at Service Canada two days later advising me that everything had been sorted out and I should receive the money in a couple of days.

Another important factor that I learned only after I arrived here was that there was a three month waitig period before you could apply for the national health care plan, and that was only after you received your cedula, a process which also takes about a month after you apply. Thanks to my pharmacist and OHIP I had managed to bring a six month supply of my very important diabetic medications with me, but with the delays in applying for my cedula I would run out long before I was in the plan. Given that my Visa was about to expire on May 29th I had contacted a facilitator in Quito to start the process when I hopefully got my GIS, but time was running out on me. He had registered my Visa, but was waiting for the $850 to start my application.

Prior to finally getting my GIS I had posted a desperate plea on Facebook for help. A person had advised me to contact an organization called VisaAngels in Cuenca. I could write yet another book on how wonderful they were in helping me, although what I had to go through was difficult, to say the least. Kathy, one of the angels, told me that recent change to immigration laws for Canadians would make it very difficult to file in Quito. Her experience was that it was much easier in Guayaquil. She wanted me to come to Cuenca where she was based and we would travel the three hours to Guayaquil to file my application there. Despite the fact that I thought my documents were perfect with the help of the Embassy, they weren’t, so she had to arrange to do a number of additional translations.

I left Cotacachi on an early morning bus and I asked the driver if I would then catch a bus in Otavalo for Quito and then Cuenca and he said that was correct. When I arrived in Quito I asked where the bus was for Cuenca and was told several different places, all of which proved wrong and then finally I got the right booth. She informed me that the only bus to Cuenca left at 10:00 o’clock that night, twelve hours from now. Obviously panicked now I started wandering around looking for help. A man told me that I was at the wrong bus terminal for a bus to Cuenca and then found me a taxi to take me to the right terminal. I should have asked, but the next thing is that I have a thirty dollar taxi fare to the new terminal. I did find the right bus which was leaving in a hour, but it didn’t get into Cuenca until 10:00 o’clock that night. Nine hours in that bus was no fun.

The next morning Kathy picked me up at the ungodly hour of five o’clock from my hostel and we headed off to Guayaquil, three hours away. Once the sun came up we realized what amazing country we were traveling through, high up in the mountains. Another couple, Richard and Carolyn from Winnipeg, were also with us to file for their residency. Other than the crazy traffic, the only comment I can make about Guayaquil is how unbelievably hot and humid it was. I can’t believe that 2.6 million people make it their home.

We had some running around to do after we arrived, things I had no clue why we were doing, but we were in Kathy’s capable hands so we didn’t question anything. When we finally arrived at immigration I couldn’t believe how huge the office was and how many people were waiting to be dealt with. When our number finally came up Richard and Carolyn went first. A few minutes later Richard comes back, hands me my file and photos and tells me that Kathy said that my Spanish was good enough to go it alone, so watch for my number to come up. Given how all this had gone so badly from the start I was trying not to shake. When my number was called I was met by a most grim looking man who I thought just wanted to deny me acceptance. I did notice that he was the only one of the clerks who was wearing a suit and tie so I told him he looked very professional. He seemed to warm a little, although he must have gone through my documents five times, reading every single word. My only goal was to not shake. Finally he sent me off to pay my thirty dollars and things appeared to be fine, which Kathy confirmed later, they were and I could stay in Ecuador. I still won’t feel totally relaxed until I actually get my cedula, which I also just learned I need to go to Guayaquil again to get my photo taken and receive my cedula.

Only fitting that after Giovanny at my hostel made numerous phone calls about getting a more direct bus back and his mother had actually gone out to the bus terminal to buy my ticket, after I had confirmed that I had to switch buses in Otavalo to get the one for Cotacachi, I peered out the window and realized that we had not stopped in Otavalo. I asked a fellow passenger where we were going and he told me to Ibarra, so after all those hours on the bus I manage to find a way to spend even more hours getting back to Cotacachi. I was never more happy to finally be home and now I have thoughts that hopefully this will now be my home forever. Hopefully I will soon receive the email telling me I have been approved and then off I go again to Guayaquil. My cedula entitles me to a fifty percent discount on in country flights, so maybe I can fly back and avoid that long bus ride.