This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
What items should you bring with you when moving to Ecuador?
A GringosAbroad.com reader recently sent in this question: Can you find good quality bed sheets in Ecuador? The reader also was concerned about the availability of cookware and other kitchen utensils. She apparently envisioned herself lugging a suit case full of cookware and bed sheets through the airport as she enters Ecuador.
That is not the first time that I have been asked about the availability of or the quality of bed sheets here. When one contemplates uprooting and moving to a foreign country, it would seem that bed sheets would be the last thing on their list of worries, but apparently there is some expat blogger out there who has had a bad experience with bed sheets in Ecuador and has therefore made it their mission in life to preach about the sorry sheets in Ecuador. To answer the bed sheet question, yes you can find decent sheets and bedding in Ecuador. For those who are worried, please know that we have never had a traumatic experience with the bed sheets we have purchased here.
Can you get what you need in Ecuador?
Many expats, like us, opt to bring only what they can fit into a suit case and choose set up housekeeping all over again. Others, apparently the minority, have opted for shipping their appliances and furniture down from their country of origin. However, it seems to be the general consensus that shipping large items into Ecuador can be an expensive, aggravating and time consuming endeavor.
We came here in 2007 with only 8 suitcases filled mainly with clothes for our growing children. We sold or stored all of our belongings in the U.S. and brought only what we could cram in our suit cases. I remember agonizing over whether to bring my new HP 6 color printer/copier/scanner with me. I did bring it, but later regretted it since I could not find replacement ink cartridges here for that particular model of HP printer. I wish that I had saved that luggage space for more important things, like shoes or family photos.
Regarding the availability of basic household items, for the most part we have been able to find everything here that we really need. If we can´t find a particular item, such certain foods, we adapt or just do without. We have discovered that at times, finding that special item is just a matter of knowing where to shop. For example, at one time I was convinced that an electric coffee grinder was an exotic appliance that could not be found here. That is an important appliance for us since we prefer to roast and grind our coffee at home. A few years ago our coffee grinder we brought from the States quit working and we could not find a replacement electric grinder here, so we had some visitors from the U.S. bring us a new one. Then one day we were introduced to a large hardware store named Kiwi that offers a wide variety of small appliances, including electric coffee grinders. When I set foot into Kiwi for the first time, I felt as if I had been transported back to the States to a smaller version of Home Depot. Even though at the time we had lived in Cuenca for some two years, we had no idea that such a place as Kiwi even existed. We apparently did not get out much back then. Kiwi offers practically any hardware item you could ever need along with a large variety of power tools and general house hold goods. Kiwi is now one of our favorite places to shop.
You just have to know where to look…..
During our first year of living here we went on a quest to find replacement shoe laces. We did what any normal gringo would do and looked in a number of shoe stores, but we discovered that they did not offer replacement shoe strings. In our minds, a shoe store is the logical place to buy replacement laces, so we were at a loss when could not find shoe laces in a shoe store. One day while in down town Cuenca we passed a store that had hundreds of shoe strings on display. I could not believe my eyes. We had finally found replacement shoe laces! What was this strange and exotic store that offered such a wide variety of shoe strings? It was a shoe repair shop. Here in Ecuador, unlike in the U.S. and other “developed” countries, people have their shoes repaired instead of throwing them out when the soles wear out. For Ecuadorians the logical place to buy shoe strings is at the shoe repair shop, not at the shoe store where new shoes are sold. Apparently the way of reasoning goes something like this: Why would anyone think of buying replacement shoe laces while shopping for new shoes that already come with new laces?
On another occasion, my wife was looking for a replacement zipper for a dress. She went to the only logical place she could think to find a zipper which was, of course, a fabric store. The attendant at the fabric store looked at her like she had two heads when she asked if they carry zippers. My wife was directed to an obscure little shop not far away from the fabric store that only sold zippers and other items related to sewing.
After having some frustrating shopping experiences looking for common items, like shoe laces, coffee grinders and zippers, we began to realize that finding what we need in the way of general house hold goods is often just a matter of doing some investigation and knowing where to shop. Here in Cuenca there are hundreds of specialty shops downtown and we are at times surprised at the things they offer. Window shopping down town can be an entertaining pastime and it can be a big help in locating those seemingly impossible to find items. Over time we have tried to adapt our thinking to the Ecuadorian way of doing things and that has been a big help when we go shopping for certain items. It is also good to take your time and exercise patience when shopping here. Stores down town are generally closed in the afternoon between 12:30 and 3:00, so you won’t be doing much shopping during those hours.
Back on the burning question of the availability of good sheets in Ecuador, it is true that you can find some poor quality, ill fitting sheets here, especially if you shop at a store called Coral. Coral is a department store chain that is the closest thing you´ll find to a Wal-Mart in Ecuador. Many of the goods offered at Coral stores, such as sheets, shoes, clothes and some appliances, are generally of a poorer quality and for that reason we seldom do much shopping at Coral stores.
However, if you shop at some of the higher end stores like SuCasa you can generally find decent quality sheets and bedding. You´ll pay more at stores like SuCasa, but as we know you get what you pay for. SuCasa also has a wide variety of kitchen utensils along with good quality cutlery, cookware and tableware. They also offer major brand appliances, TVs and computers.
What should you bring with you when moving to Ecuador?
As a general rule, it is a good idea to stock up on clothes and shoes when moving to Ecuador. As we all know, gringos tend to be larger in height and width than most Ecuadorians and therefore finding good fitting clothes can be a challenge. One advantage to living in Ecuador is that there are very skilled tailors and seamstresses on almost every corner, so it is possible to have clothes custom made for those who may have trouble finding clothes that fit. On a side note, if you do bring extra clothes, keep in mind that you may want to purchase a size smaller than you normally wear. Many expats who live here without a car find that they lose weight and are in better shape due to the extra walking they do.
Regarding shoes, it is definitely a good idea to max out suit case space with good quality shoes. Those who choose to live in Ecuador without a car will be giving their feet the workout of a lifetime. We have yet to find comfortable shoes here so save yourself some trouble and pain and bring extra shoes with you. Your feet will thank you.
Also, small electronics are more expensive here, so you will want to bring lap tops and other computer related items with you from your home country. Printers/copiers/ scanners are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, so you don´t have to make the same mistake I made by lugging a printer with you.
The bottom line is this: It is not necessary to go to the hassle and expense of having a house full of furniture and goods shipped into Ecuador. Basic household items and appliances are readily available here. As some of our shopping experiences have shown, at times one does have to do a little extra investigation when looking for certain items. It is definitely a good idea to bring all the clothes and shoes that you can fit into your luggage since finding clothing to fit a gringo sized frame may be a problem.
For those who are fretting over the availability of good quality bed sheets, you can relax. They do exist; you just have to know where to look. It is not necessary to drag a suitcase full of sheets and cookware through the airport as you embark on your new life in Ecuador. Save that precious luggage space for those new, smaller sized clothes that you will soon be able to fit into!