Rainfall is great in Medellin (66 inches versus 35 inches in Cuenca), but the average sunny day is just a bit higher in Medellin. The city with the "perfect weather" for you will be a matter of your own taste.Establishing residency is fairly easy in both Colombia and Ecuador, with low thresholds for visa qualification in both countries. In Colombia, the pensioner's visa requires an income of a little less than US$1,000 per month, while in Ecuador the level is even lower, at US$800 monthly. For an investor-type visa, Colombia's options start at around US$34,000 for a one-year temporary visa, while Ecuador requires US$25,000 for full, permanent residency.So Ecuador has lower thresholds for permanent residency, both for the investor and the retiree.Colombia's visa, however, is quicker and easier to obtain, with fewer required documents. Also, Ecuador imposes restrictions on being out of the country during your first two years of residency, while Colombia has no such restrictions. The cultural scene in Medellin is remarkably similar to that in Cuenca. This is surprising because Cuenca has around 600,000 people in its metro area, while Medellin has about 4 million. In both cities, you can enjoy orchestra, theater, art openings, museums, and a generally sophisticated cultural scene. You'll pay a fee for most of these in Medellin, while in Cuenca they're usually free. The infrastructure is good in both cities. You'll enjoy drinkable water, reliable broadband Internet, and dependable electricity, water, and phone service. Also, both cities are very walkable, and both have excellent and cheap public transit systems. If you decide to drive, you'll find traffic jams equally maddening in both cities. Real estate costs are cheap in both cities by Latin American standards. I prepared a survey recently that compared costs in Medellin, Montevideo (Uruguay), Fortaleza (Brazil), and Panama City. For comparable properties and areas, prices in Medellin's El Poblado are the lowest on a per-square-meter basis.But Cuenca's prices are lower. A nice, two-bedroom apartment in Cuenca might cost around US$80,000...while that same apartment in a comparable neighborhood of Medellin would cost more than US$120,000. You can find Cuenca-style pricing in Medellin but not in the best neighborhoods. For the lifestyle you'll enjoy in Medellin, the real estate is a tremendous bargain. And the same is true in Cuenca; for the lifestyle it offers, it, too, is a tremendous bargain.But the lifestyle in one is nothing like the lifestyle in the other, which brings us to the ways these cities differ. (As Medellin is such a large and diverse city, I'll focus on its El Poblado neighborhood for my comparisons.)Medellin's El Poblado offers a modern, upscale ambiance. It has elegant shopping, spotless infrastructure, glistening new buildings, and more fine-dining that you can imagine. New luxury brick high-rises look down from lush, wooded hillsides. Tall trees line the well-maintained streets. And El Poblado is only one of many desirable areas in this city.On the other hand, Cuenca is one of the Americas' premier Spanish-colonial cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old cathedral was built in 1557, the historic architecture is well preserved, and the streets are cobblestoned. You'll even see evidence of the Inca occupation from the early 1500s. Yet just outside the historic center, Cuenca also offers new, modern high-rises. So you could live in a modern home, yet have the historic center within walking distance. El Poblado is a First World environment; you'll be hard-pressed to find a U.S. city that can beat it. Cuenca is part of a developing country with some Third World characteristics like poor sidewalk and building maintenance. Access to the States is easier from Medellin than from Cuenca. Medellin has daily nonstops to Miami, while you'll need to connect (and possibly spend the night) in Guayaquil or Quito when traveling to and from Cuenca. This adds a day to the trip, as well as the cost of lodging and taxis. The expat community is far smaller in Medellin than in Cuenca. I can find expats in Medellin—at a local coffee shop or the Irish pub—if I look for them, and a couple of Americans are signed up at my gym. Otherwise, I don't see them around.In Cuenca, the expat community is big, estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 people. These folks are making a cultural imprint on the city. I'd say that impact is positive. Since the infusion of North Americans to this city, there's been an explosion in the number of nice cafes, restaurants, and book shops, as well as other expat-owned services and businesses. Today in Cuenca, you can find most anything you might be looking for and, normally, an English-speaker to deal with in the process.But whether an expat community of that size is a positive or a negative for you is a matter of choice. The cost of living is higher in El Poblado than in Cuenca, due in part to the exchange rates. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so dollar-holders don't feel the pinch of a weakening currency. Colombia has a strengthening Colombian peso. The basics in Medellin (food, entertainment, utilities, public transit, taxes, and HOA fees) cost me about US$1,850 per month. I believe in Cuenca the total cost would be about US$1,250 for the same lifestyle. Many people live for less than that in Cuenca, but I'm using an apples-to-apples comparison from my own experience.Bottom line, neither city is expensive, but Cuenca is definitely less expensive than Medellin. Which is the better retire-overseas choice?Impossible to say. Manhattan is not inherently better or worse than New Orleans, after all...but it's a lot different. And the same goes for Medellin and Cuenca.I see Ecuador as a cultural adventure where life is as different as you can get from the United States or Canada, short of moving to Asia. When I retired to Cuenca at age 49, I shunned places like Medellin, Chile, and Uruguay, because they were too much like the States. I wanted something as different, enriching, and exciting as I could get, and Cuenca fit the bill. Today, I think of Medellin as a way to reward myself. It's a treat to be here. Medellin is a way to enjoy perfect weather and an elegant lifestyle that I couldn't afford in the United States. When I bought my place in Medellin 10 years after I'd left the States, at the age of 59, it was exactly what I was looking for at that stage. I wanted an elegant, luxury lifestyle at an affordable price, and Medellin fit the bill. And that's the real reason that Medellin is now my "ideal retirement spot"...when it used to be Cuenca. You've heard a dozen times that the "perfect retirement location" is different for everyone. But there's more to it than that. Your "perfect spot" can also change with your taste, your age, and your experience living abroad. And that's really part of the fun.This living overseas thing is an adventure and a journey of discovery that need never stop.Lee HarrisonP.S. Could Cuenca, Ecuador, be your dream retirement destination? The only way to find out is to come see for yourself. We're preparing for the launch of our September Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Put your name on the list for VIP attendee perks and discounts here.
May 26, 2014
"Kathleen, excellent piece on the elections under way in Colombia. Having lived in Colombia in various cities as a Peace Corps volunteer and staff...married a beautiful Colombian and our son was born there...Colombia is my "patria chica" (homeland), as they say. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance in this beautiful country with the best Spanish spoken in the interior...the best in Latin America!"--Bob A., ColombiaNo presidential candidate received the required 50% or more of the vote in yesterday's elections in Colombia, meaning the two candidates who received the most votes (Zuluaga and Santos) will now compete in a runoff election to take place June 15. We'll keep you posted.
--David Morrill, on the benefits of living in Cuenca
"Ecuador is unique in that foreign retirees living here with a pensionado visa are allowed to get a job if they want to. In most other countries, pensionado visa holders are prohibited from working..."
--Attorney Bruce Horowitz, on options for acquiring residency in Ecuador
"One big plus for us living in Ecuador is the medical care. It's so much more personal than in the United States. We have two young children. We can speak with their pediatrician anytime we want to, and he'll spend an hour or more at a time answering our questions. Of course, it's nice that health care is also so much cheaper here than in the States..."
--American expat-entrepreneur Jeff Stern, on why he and his wife have chosen to raise their family in Ecuador
"One thing I still appreciate very much about Ecuador is that it is a genuinely non-intrusive government. Nobody's reading your e-mails here..."
--Lee Harrison, on why Ecuador
"Americans are very trusting. This is partially a cultural thing, but it's also because Americans count on recourse. We come from a place where there's a functioning judicial system...and where the Better Business Bureau is always on our side. You need to recognize that Ecuadoreans don't come from the same background and don't approach life or business from this point of view..."
--American expat-entrepreneur Jeff Stern, owner of Gianduja Chocolate, www.giandujachocolate.com, on doing business in Ecuador
"One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday in Ecuador is drive to Ayanque beach, about 30 minutes north of Salinas, where I live, and have a lobster lunch. Tables and chairs are right on the beach. I take off my shoes and dig my toes into the sand while I crack open my lobster and watch the surf. I order a couple of beers and make an afternoon of it. Great day...for all of about US$8..."
--American expat Mike Sager, on the beach life in Ecuador
"If you buy a US$40-a-square-foot house, you're getting a US$40-a-square-foot house...remember that as you compare real estate prices and values..."
--American expat and property developer Mike Cobb, on investing in real estate in Latin America
"You learn that you have to pick your battles. Things work the way they work here. You'll run out of time and energy before you'll change anything. You need to accept that..."
"Historically, the United States has taken a self-assessing approach to taxation. This has made the country unique in the world. We Americans report our own income and figure our own tax due. No more. FATCA is the end of this. Now the IRS is going to take the tax itself, pro-actively, at the border..."
--U.S. tax attorney Chris Braun, on preparing for the implications of FATCA legislation
"At first I loved the lack of regulation in this country. Then I realized that this is a double-edged sword. I could make a U-turn or go the wrong way down a one-way street without worrying about getting a ticket, for example. But I didn't appreciate it when I encountered another guy coming at me the wrong way down a one-way street..."
--Lee Harrison, on the pluses and the minuses of living in Ecuador
"My best advice for anyone going into the import-export business in Ecuador is to start small. Focus on a few specific products of really good quality. Avoid commodity items. You want a better margin than that..."
--Exporter Roberto Ribadeneira, owner of Ecuador Shop (aka Latin America Shop), www.ecuadorshop.net
"One big selling point for products from Ecuador is that they are handmade. This isn't China. We don't mass-produce things here. Everything is special and therefore more sellable...more competitive..."
"Don't use the public health care...avoid the long-distance buses (because they have horrible safety records and crash regularly)..."
--American expat Jeff Stern, on things not to do in Ecuador
"Ecuador is definitely a 'pay-as-you-go' choice when it comes to health care. That is, I'd say that the cost of care is definitely so low you don't need to worry about investing in health insurance..."
--Lee Harrison, on considering your options for health care in Ecuador
P.S. These are a handful of the topics, ideas, recommendations, insights, discoveries, and tips shared during last week's Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference in Quito. Every presentation by every speaker was recorded and is being edited now to create our all-new Live and Invest in Ecuador Home Conference Kit.
Today only, this everything-you-need-to-know-about-Ecuador resource is available at a pre-release discount that saves you more than 50% off the retail price.
This pre-release offer ends at Midnight tonight, Feb. 19. Go here now to take advantage of the prelease of our Live and Invest in Ecuador Home Conference Kit while you still can.Continue Reading:
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
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