Living in Ecuador
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A practical guide to the way of life in Ecuador
Living in the Andean nation can be a fascinating experience. The influence of Amerindian culture on contemporary Ecuador is still tangible and makes for a unique national heritage. We brief you on all important aspects of being an expat in Ecuador.
Life in Ecuador
At a Glance:
- Ecuador is an ethnically and culturally diverse land, yet the Mestizo people still make up 72% of the population.
- Spanish is by far the most widely spoken language, but locals also continue to use other Amerindian dialects.
- As an equatorial country, the weather in Ecuador can vary from region to region, but in general there are only two distinct seasons — summer and the rainy season.
- Ecuador’s free public healthcare has seen dramatic improvements over the years; the country also offers private healthcare, as well as some English-speaking doctors.
- Due to the tropical climate, certain vaccinations are recommended before arrival.
- As petty crime and theft can be an issue in Ecuador, it is important to stay alert, particularly in the larger cities.
The Country of the Mestizos
Ecuador has a population of just over 16 million (as of July 2016); it is a very young population, too, with a median age of 27 years. More than two-thirds of residents live in the country’s large cities, such as Guayaquil, Quito, or Cuenca. As those cities are also large expat magnets in their own right, we have covered them in our article on moving to Ecuador.
Ethnically, the majority — about 72% — of Ecuadorians today are Mestizo, a group of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry. Another 7% of the population is made up of Amerindian peoples, and white Ecuadorians of European descent make up six percent of the country’s population. As well as these groups, there are also sizeable communities of people of African and Asian heritage.
Ecuador’s Languages: Spanish and Quichua
The main language you will hear in Ecuador is Spanish, which is both the official and most commonly spoken language. However, due to the large Native American population in Ecuador, there is a second official language: Kichwa, also known in Spanish as Quichua. Rooted in the native language of the Inca, Kichwa is spoken by a considerable portion of residents living in Ecuador. Some other Amerindian languages also exist in the country, but none are as significant as Kichwa.
Outside of the business world, don’t expect too many people to be fluent in English; we highly recommend acquiring at least a basic knowledge of Spanish before moving to Ecuador.
A Cultural Melting Pot
The diverse ethnic makeup of the population has left its mark on the national culture. The mix of various Amerindian traditions coupled with the European influences has created a unique way of life. Later immigration, from Africa for example, has also contributed to the culture that makes living in Ecuador so fascinating.
The many religious and secular holidays you will experience in Ecuador range from celebrations in honor of the patron saint of the city, to indigenous festivals, to national holidays such as the founding days of the nation’s large cities.
From sampling the exotic flavors of the local cuisine to experiencing a whole range of outdoor activities in its three diverse regions, take a look at the Ecuador Travel page of the Ministry of Tourism If you are interested in discovering more of what Ecuador has in store.
Life on the Equator
Right on the equator, the country’s diverse geographic regions — which we have taken a look at in our article on moving to Ecuador — make for very diverse weather. The Amazon and coastal regions are tropical, but as you venture deeper into the country and the Andes, temperatures steadily drop.
The two seasons you will experience in Ecuador are the dry season — summer — and the wet season, the Ecuadorian winter. Again, the geography has considerable influence on the seasons: the coastal regions, for example, are strongly affected by ocean currents.
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Health in Ecuador
Similar to most countries around the world, Ecuador has two branches of health infrastructure: public and private. For a number of years, the reputation of Ecuador’s public healthcare was not too positive. A major overhaul in 2008, introduced universal healthcare for residents, and increased the reliability, accessibility, and quality of public healthcare. Things have continued to improve, and July 2017 saw the Ecuadorian public healthcare system receive the United Nations Public Service Award for being the most innovative and progressive in the world.
The Healthcare System: What to Expect
Although Ecuador does not have a surplus of doctors, if you are living in or near any of the large expat cities you should not have a hard time finding qualified and reliable medical professionals. Both the British and US embassies have lists of English-speaking doctors, and the Ministry of Public Health has an interactive map of medical institutions on their website.
Most expats prefer private institutions and their services for a variety of reasons; they might feel more at ease speaking to doctors and medical staff in their native tongue, or simply desire the highest quality healthcare services available to them. Private health services come at a price — expect to pay between 250 USD and 1,000 USD, depending on the type of illness and treatment. This is where a credit card is indispensable: it would be unwise to carry this kind of amount in cash. Even if you have health insurance, you might still be expected to pay for your treatment up front; expenses will be reimbursed later by your insurance company.
From Insects to Altitude: Potential Health Risks
Insect-borne diseases are one of the main health issues in Ecuador, the most prevalent of which are malaria and dengue fever. While the highlands, Quito, and Guayaquil are considered malaria free, there is a year-round risk of contracting the disease in all other regions.
Dengue fever, on the other hand, is prevalent all over the country. As there is neither a vaccination or specific treatment, your best bet is thoroughly protecting yourself against insect bites. Sleeping in a mosquito tent is probably not necessary, but wearing long, bright garments during the day and using insect repellant is recommended.
You should make sure to get the following vaccinations before moving to Ecuador: tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and rabies. Yellow fever is prevalent only in the Amazon region, however it could also be worth getting this vaccination for your own peace of mind.
You should never underestimate the height of the Andes region. Quito, for example, is a whopping 2,850 m above sea level — high enough to cause altitude sickness. Common symptoms include drowsiness, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, and confusion. There are medicines to combat this, but the most important steps to overcoming altitude sickness are keeping hydrated and not overexerting yourself. Although it will probably get better in a matter of days, you should try to plan ahead and not schedule anything too tiring within the first few days of your arrival.
Transport and Safety in Ecuador
Ecuadorian Roads: What to Watch Out For
With a more aggressive local driving style and narrow, curving roads, driving in Ecuador can be stressful. Some of the possible hazards on Ecuadorian roads include potholes, especially in rural regions, and occasional mudslides on mountain roads during winter. Many roads do not have common safety features such as guard rails and safety barriers, and there can be a lack of general maintenance.
Fortunately, Ecuador’s bus system is both extensive and reliable, making for a sensible alternative to driving. Traveling by bus will usually take just a little bit longer than driving yourself and chances are you will reach your destination a lot less stressed.
Common Crimes & Staying Safe
Crime is a nationwide problem in Ecuador. This does not mean that it’s an unsafe place for expats, just that you should be aware of certain risks and take appropriate safety precautions.
The most common crimes are petty theft and robberies. Do not carry valuables such as cameras or jewelry, and try to limit the amount of cash you carry. Common spots for robberies and theft include ATMs and crowded public places such as markets, and restaurants. Thieves commonly use distraction tactics, such as spilling liquids on their victims, and often work in teams.
There have also been reports of abductions in unlicensed taxi cabs. Always make sure to either order a taxi by phone, or, if you hail one on the street, only take licensed taxis. They are easily identified: they are usually yellow, have matching numbers on windshields and doors, have the name of a taxi company on the door, and typically have orange license plates.