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Moving to Ecuador
A comprehensive guide to moving to Ecuador
A good understanding of the country you are relocating to is vital: Ecuador’s regions are quite diverse and offer a variety of opportunities for expats. Our article gives you a better idea of what to expect.
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Relocating to Ecuador
At a Glance:
- Ecuador has three inhabitable regions — Costa, Sierra, and Oriente — each of which has some distinct differences.
- Its exotic location means increased risk of various natural disasters, which should be considered before making the move.
- Both Guayaquil and Quito — Ecuador’s two largest cities — are popular expat destinations.
- There are several different visa options for visitors and expats who wish to stay in Ecuador for more than 90 days. You can apply for these before you arrive.
The Ups and Downs of Ecuador’s Geography
The mainland is split up into three distinct sections — Costa, Sierra, and Oriente — based on their geographic features. Most expats in Ecuador, however, settle in either the Costa or Sierra regions, as the main cities are located there.
- this is the coastal area bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes in the east. Popular with both Ecuadorians and foreigners, half the population lives in a quarter of the nation’s area. The Costa is particularly interesting for expats as it is not only home to the nation’s largest city, Guayaquil, but also to various free trade zones.
- located in the Andes, Sierra’s biggest draw for newcomers is the capital, Quito, and Cuenca. About a third of the population lives in this area.
- the easternmost part of the country and the least densely populated, it is mainly covered by rainforest. If you are not planning on doing scientific research or working in the crude oil production sector, there is probably little reason to move to Ecuador’s share of the Amazon.
At the Mercy of Mother Nature
Located on a plate boundary, Ecuador is susceptible to some fairly active forces of nature. Ecuador is home to 27 active volcanoes and floods can be fairly common. Most recently, in April 2016, the country suffered its worst natural disaster for decades when a large earthquake struck the northern coastal region.
Despite all of this, there is no need to live in constant fear. Following the 2016 earthquake, a number of early warning systems have been installed in high-risk regions. Getting to know the region you live in and its emergency procedures will help you be prepared for everything the Ecuadorian climate might throw at you.
The Capital: Quito
The Ecuadorian capital, Quito, is unquestionably the center of the nation and consequently the most popular location for expats. Most Ecuadorian companies have their headquarters in the city, and many multinational corporations who want to establish themselves in the region open branches here. Wherever you choose to live, all expats will have to visit Quito at some point to register their visa; for more information on this topic, take a look at our article on Visas and Immigration.
The Biggest City: Guayaquil
With a population of more than 3.5 million, Guayaquil is both the largest city in Ecuador and the nation’s most important seaport. As the country’s economy is highly dependent on foreign trade (see our article on working in Ecuador), this makes it one of the cornerstones of economic growth with many opportunities for expats. It’s also a significant city for the financial sector. The city is also popular with Ecuadorians from more rural regions who are drawn to Guayaquil in search of better opportunities.
The Cultural Center: Cuenca
Moving to Ecuador’s cultural center is not particularly popular with expats —other cities have more employment opportunities. Nevertheless, the Parque Industrial has prompted a fair number of expats to move to the nation’s third largest city. Apart from having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its beautiful historic architecture in the city center, Cuenca has made a name for itself with its traditional crafts. Anyone relocating to Ecuador should definitely pay Cuenca a visit!
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Ecuador: Visas and Immigration
If you’re going on a fact-finding trip before relocating to Ecuador or just visiting, most travelers will not need a tourist visa. You can find a complete list of nationalities that do require tourist visa 12-X on the website of the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington. These visas are valid for 90 days, and require a passport that is valid for at least six months, a return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds for your stay in the country.
Once you’ve decided to stay in Ecuador for a longer period of time, there are two broad visa categories for foreigners: non-immigrant and immigrant visas, which may also be referred to as “non-resident” and “resident” visas. You can find details on both categories below.
Other than the 12-X tourist visa, all visas can only be applied for before arriving in Ecuador. Even if you are already in the country, you will have to travel back to your country of origin to apply for the relevant visa.
The official category number for non-immigrant visas is 12. All visas listed below are for people who wish to stay longer than 90 days, and each has their own set of application requirements. For in-depth information on those requirements, you can contact the Ecuadorian mission in your home country directly, visit their homepage, or take a look at the informative Ecuador Explorer website.
The most common types of non-immigrant visas are:
- 12-V: study visa
- 12-VI: work visa
- 12-VII: volunteer and religious visa
- 12-VIII: cultural exchange visa
- 12-IX: long-stay business or tourism visa
The most important and relevant visa for future expats is the 12-VI work visa. The Embassy of Ecuador in the Netherlands has all the important information on their website.
The process of acquiring an immigrant visa for Ecuador is longer and more complicated. Immigrant visas are generally not tailored towards the “classic” expat, but rather retirees or investors. To check if this is the right visa for you, take a look at the Ministry of Tourism website.
Registering Your Visa and General Administration
All foreigners who don’t have a 12-X tourist visa and plan on staying more than 90 days have to register with Ecuadorian authorities within 30 days of arrival. There are two registration processes to go through after arriving in Ecuador: the non-immigrant visa registration (where applicable), and the registration for your censo.
If you have a non-immigrant visa other than the standard tourist visa 12-X, you have to register it with the Dirección de Extranjería in Quito. Apart from your passport and certificado de visación supplied by the Ecuadorian mission that issued your visa, you will need a large envelope, two passport photos, and some cash (approximately 4 USD) — partly to pay for the process, and partly to pay for various copies of your documents. If everything is in order, you should be able to pick up your passport within one to five business days.
The second registration with the censo is to get an ID card. To apply, you’ll need to visit the Dirección Nacional de Migración in Quito. The process is fairly quick and easy, and you can combine the two registration processes to save time. If you’re moving to another part of the country, this is also a great opportunity to explore the city for a couple of days.
When it’s time to renew your visa, you need to do so at least 30 days before it expires.