Sue and I were living and working in Dubai, and we had it made.
Tax-free salaries, free accommodation, a transportation allowance, free air travel home each year, and 13 months’ salary for every 12 months worked. It was a better deal than either of us could have received for comparable work in my home state of Wisconsin or in Sue’s home province of Alberta.
Crime was almost nonexistent. The highways smooth and lighted. The communications fiber-optic. The TV satellite. The government efficient. The snow skiing (yes, the snow skiing) indoors. It’s the desert. It’s 100 degrees outside. It’s Dubai. Where else would the snow skiing be if not indoors.
We had access to those shopping malls Dubai is famous for, some of the world’s largest.
We had it made.
Now we live on the side of a mountain off a dead-end dirt (we aspire to gravel) road in a rural area of southern Ecuador.
This is where you might expect a hard-luck story, but we don’t have one. We walked away from Dubai willingly. Purposefully. The bank didn’t foreclose on our home. We weren’t downsized. We didn’t lose our retirement nest egg to nefarious Wall Street bankers or bad investment decisions. We moved because we wanted more out of life than Starbucks-filled shopping malls.
Some told us we were crazy to “retire” to Ecuador at the age of 44, and, looking solely at the numbers, they had a point. They didn’t get it and probably never will because our departure from Dubai was not about money.
If money had been our priority, we’d still be living in Dubai. In Dubai, everything looked great on paper, but, in reality, we were experiencing a steady decline in the quality of our lives with no end in sight.
During a trip to Ecuador, we saw an opportunity to reverse that trend. And reverse it we did, agreeing to buy our current home five minutes after seeing it on our first day ever in South America. Carpe diem! We hadn’t even seen the nearby town of Vilcabamba yet. FYI, it’s not a strategy I recommend for everyone.
With the deed to our nearly 2 acres of “dream come true” property firmly in hand, the decision to walk away from Dubai was easier to make. So, one year later, we put aside a life of much in Dubai for a life of so much more here near Vilcabamba, and we have never looked back.
While you may be considering Ecuador for its low cost of living, we saw a chance to live in a place that is remarkably beautiful and where the weather is just the best. So are the locals. Even though the health care is not, it’s more than adequate and affordable enough that pay-as-you-go really is a viable option. While Ecuador is not as safe as Dubai (few places are), with more than seven years of experience living in this country, we feel as secure as we would in most rural areas of the United States or Canada.
Some say there’s nothing to do in Vilcabamba, but I’m busier now than when I was working. Since moving here, I’ve been designing houses, working on graphic designs, building furniture, doing some public speaking, traveling a bit, writing, and taking lots of photographs. Sue’s been busy helping me as she continues to hone her baking skills while dabbling in things like welding and cement crafts.
And we both tend to our property. That alone can be a full-time job the way anything green grows here in Ecuador. It’s a rewarding experience eating homegrown bananas. And using them to make banana bread. And banana muffins. And banana cream pie. And banana jam. And banana pancakes. And…well, you get the idea.
We used to “look forward” to getting up at 5 a.m. to beat Dubai’s rush-hour traffic. Now we look forward to just getting up each day. Our rooster can’t wait either.
In theory, we traded more for less moving from Dubai to Vilcabamba in 2007, but we’d say today that we definitely came out ahead. We made a change in our life because we wanted a better life, the kind that is measured not by cost but quality.
Of course, we’ve enjoyed the budget benefits of being in Ecuador, too. The low cost of living is a great perk for a country that already has so much to offer.
So while economics may be a driving force in your considering a move to another country—for example, Ecuador—I urge you to explore other motivations too. You’ll be glad you did. By doing so, you’ll increase the chances of being happy in your new home.
The low-cost-of-living benefit can be there, but move to a new country solely for that reason and you’re limiting your upside.