These days, scores of inviting restaurants, many owned by expats, serve food from around the world. You can enjoy casual or fine dining or spend the afternoon at a pleasant sidewalk cafe.Cuenca's downtown airport has again been improved and is now one of the most modern and convenient airports in the region. It's only a few minutes from the center of town, and flights around the country are cheap and efficient on new, modern aircraft.Cuenca's colonial historic district is clean, well-preserved, and well-maintained. On my most recent visit, I noticed that, even since my last visit last year, many of the sidewalks have been widened and resurfaced, making the downtown even more walkable.I also noted that most of the downtown crosswalks now have pedestrian signals, making things just a bit safer. Don't get me wrong, it's still fairly easy to get hit by a car in this city, but I'm sure the survival rate for pedestrians is higher than it was a few years ago.Meantime, while there are always new and interesting additions to Cuenca, it's good to see that the best of the town's old mainstays continue to thrive. For example, the Eucalyptus Café, Cuenca's first expat-owned restaurant, is still alive and well, serving great dishes from around the world. While almost all of downtown Cuenca's indigenous markets have been overhauled and modernized, you can still find one old-fashioned, run-down market where you can experience the feeling of years gone by.The real estate market in Cuenca continues to be a great value. Prices have appreciated about 8% per year on average during the past eight years or so, and the furnished rentals market is active. Progress and prosperity have their downsides, and one in Cuenca right now is the traffic. A pedestrian navigating the historic center will make better time than a car much of the day, which makes a good case for walking rather than driving in this very walkable city. Another consequence of the tremendously expanded popularity of Cuenca is the presence here today of thousands of North American expats and retirees, most of whom have arrived on the scene in the past few years. This is in itself neither a good nor a bad thing. It depends on your perspective and the kind of retirement lifestyle you're looking for.If you want to feel like a pioneer out on your own in a place where you're one of just a few foreigners on the scene, then Cuenca is not going to be what you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're interested in a thriving, active expat community and the support and comradeship that it brings, then Cuenca will be a good choice for you—one of the best.Something else struck me on my most recent visit to Cuenca. It's not just this city that's improving, it's the entire country. As I traveled around Ecuador, I noticed great improvements to the infrastructure. Whether you're on the coast or driving at 13,000 feet along the continental divide, you'll now enjoy new bridges and solid, well-marked roads. Roads that were pot-holed nightmares just a few years ago.Markedly reduced corruption means that Ecuador's wealth is coming back to her, being invested in infrastructure rather than going into someone's pocket. If you thought Ecuador was a good choice for retirement before, you'll find it's an even better choice now. And if you thought it was too rough around the edges a few years ago, it's time for another look.Lee HarrisonEditor's Note: Ecuador is the top place in the world right now to retire well on a very limited budget...even to live the adventure of your lifetime on a Social Security check alone. If you're serious about this part of the world, don't miss our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Registration is now open (with a limited-time easy payment plan)...
June 12, 2014
"Kathleen, I'm 56 years old and one of your new '52 Days' students and a very tired vet. "That is, I'm a retired disabled veteran, and I am longing to move to Belize. I've bothered family and friends with this notion for a couple of years now. They mostly approve. Mostly they love me to pieces and want me to be happy and safe. I so want to prove to them and myself that this can be done. "Therefore I am taking my 52 steps quite seriously. Because I'm a disabled veteran, I am assigned a Social Security Finance-Payee person. She's fantastic and is 100% encouraging me to do this. "It seems this may be really possible? Could this be really possible?" --Anita K., United States Yes, it's really possible. Follow along with the 52 Days program and let us know if we can do anything more to help.
June 10, 2014
"Kathleen, having just spent 12 days in Ecuador, I can definitely state that the U.S. dollar is used there. The only difference is that they don't really care for dollar bills and instead prefer the US$1 coin! Another peculiarity is that the ATMs give you bills of all denominations—US$5, US$10, and US$20, unlike most U.S. ATMs." --Steve P., United States
June 5, 2014
"Kathleen, I'm writing in response to the article you published recently on purchasing a lot in the Galapagos. "It compels me to point out that in Antigua and Barbuda there is a tax on the sales price of a purchase that can be 5% or more AND the attorney can also charges 5% on the transaction at resell. "This means the property needs to appreciate 10% before you approach breaking even, not including the other seller costs when you transact again being figured in—for example, current survey and seller tax. "I have transacted many real estate sales as a real estate agent in Antigua and Barbuda and this is the norm. "It takes strong analysis in each individual country to reach the whole picture for ROI and a careful selection of barrister or attorney. One does not take recommendations of taxi drivers for this! "With best regards for all the work you do to help inform purchasers." --Bonnie S., Antigua and Barbuda No question. It's important to analyze all the costs of both buying and selling a piece of property, especially if you're buying for investment. In fact, full round-trip costs of buying in Antigua and Barbuda run more than 20% of the sales price; that's definitely on the high side relative to the rest of the world. However, it sounds like your attorney is seriously overcharging, as attorney fees shouldn't be more than 2% of the transaction. I know attorneys in many countries who think they should make as much as real estate agents, but they don't understand the role a real estate agent plays. If your attorney is charging 5% of the transaction cost to process a real estate purchase, I'd find another attorney.
"Now back home in California, I am pondering the logistics of an Ecuador/Andean import business of some sort. What do I do with all these beautiful and unique crafts, and how do I share them with others? "I brought back a sampling of all their handmade crafts that I could fit into two 50-pound suitcases. Their wares are beautiful and exquisite just like the people. It was a journey of a lifetime, and I truly hope to return to work with these people. This was not only a unique experience, but a heartwarming one, as well." The fact that Jan undertook this adventure in Ecuador was no accident; there are few better places to export from. First, Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so there's no currency risk. They've also got favorable export laws. And, in Ecuador, it's easy to find your way to the warm and friendly craftsmen who are actually creating the product...eliminating a bunch of middlemen. If you work your way from San Antonio in the north to Loja in the south, you'll find dozens of villages, each with its own specialty—wood carvings, clothing, candy, sweaters, leather jackets, jewelry, guitars, even hand-crafted cellos... Finally, prices are super on the Ecuadorian end, yet the quality products can command great prices on the retail end. The question is, how can you follow through with the great import/export opportunities that present themselves in this country? Finding quality merchandise, getting good prices, and meeting the artists who create the products is a great start. The next step is creating a business from all this. One thing I've found paying attention to the import/export opportunities available in Ecuador over the years is that one secret to making a success of this and building a profitable business is where you sell your imports. I remember, years ago, discovering hundreds of beautiful Talavera vases for sale in a market in Puebla, Mexico. They were US$8 each. A few months later, at a Third Avenue street fair in Manhattan, I found those same vases for US$25...a good markup, but not earth-shaking. Then, a few months later in Mystic, Connecticut, I saw the same vases again, this time for sale for US$65. I struck up a conversation, and the owner described to me how he'd personally brought them from the market in Puebla and how much fun he had traveling the world to stock his shop. I've had the same experience with the small, hand-woven rugs you can buy at the market in Otavalo, Ecuador, probably the largest indigenous market in South America. I've bought many of these rugs in Otavalo, paying US$8 apiece. The same rugs sell for US$20 in Queens, New York, and for more than US$100 at the Andean import store in Sacramento, California. In Scottsdale, Arizona, the very similar "Native American hand-woven rugs" are US$295 each! As you can see, you can make a slim margin or a handsome one, depending on the retail location you connect with. The best location may not be near home, so you may need to find a trusted associate, friend, or family member to manage the retail end for you. Alternatively, you could sell your treasures as a wholesaler, to a shop or chain. Going this route, you'd be sharing a large piece of the margin to cover their costs. You could still do well with this model, but if you can control the retail end, then more of the profit—and more of the intangible rewards of the experience—are yours. Jan took the first step in the way most Ecuador-exporters do, by bringing things home in a suitcase, while figuring out the business bigger picture. This is a low-risk, low-cost way to get started. I met a guy named Peter in Nicaragua who took a different approach. He jumped in with both feet. Peter and I met at an investment seminar in Managua, after which he scoured the country looking for local hand-crafted items. After a month of shopping, he shipped an entire container of clothing and handicrafts to Long Beach, where he sold them in his own, new, retail shop. He didn't want to carry the items little-by-little, so he bought his entire inventory at once. As he shipped a container, he had to pay the duty when it arrived. However, he had done his research and knew that the duty isn't much on Native American handicrafts. For him, this expense was worth the convenience of getting everything at once. Peter's approach can work well if you've already identified your target retail market. That's the beauty of starting up your own import/export business. You can go big-time, or you can keep it small. You can make a good living or simply fund your rich and rewarding travels abroad. Either way, there are few better ways to generate an income overseas. And few better places to try out the idea than Ecuador. Lee Harrison Editor's Note: The potential of an import/export business in Ecuador is one of the many topics that we'll be covering during our Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito Sept. 17–19. Registration is now open, and the Early Bird Discount (as well as other important discounts) are in effect. Details are here.
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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.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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