This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.
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Ecuador Expat Life: Stewart Perez, Cumbaya Ecuador
The Expat: Stewart Perez
Where are you currently living?
We live in Cumbayá, Pichincha Province, Ecuador. Cumbayá is a rural parish of Quito, located in the Sierra region of Ecuador.
We’ve been living in this area since September of 2011.
What’s Your Story?
My name is Stewart Perez and I’m married with 2 young children and our dog, Lucky. I’m an architect from the States. I was born in Los Angeles, California.
I lived in California most of my life until I moved to Florida in the summer of 1999.
When and where did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?
Originally I didn’t want to move out of the States, but I was having trouble finding work. I had worked for Hilton Worldwide before as a Regional Director of Design and Construction for a few years until the end of 2009 when the effects of 2008 hit.
My wife and I decided to move last year for a few reasons. One was the lack of opportunities in Florida in my field. The 2nd major reason was the wonderful school we found for the kids in Ecuador.
Family was another reason. Both my parents and my wife are Ecuadorian. Right now I have dual citizenship so I’m a Gringo / Ecuatoriano. In our journey I resisted change.
Although we got dual status for the kids at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Miami before leaving, (my wife previously obtained USA citizenship a few years ago) I wanted to test the waters. I arrived in Ecuador with a Gringo passport as a tourist (good for 90 days).
We changed this to a business visa with the help of a lawyer after 2 months which expires this month. After a few months living here and seeing how well the kids have adapted, I decided yes and started the process of getting Ecuadorian citizenship through my birthright.
My work status changed to construction manager due to personal contacts and the fact that there is so much construction now in Ecuador.
How’s your Spanish?
I consider myself born and raised Gringo from USA although my parents always spoke Spanish and English in the home.
After marriage my Spanish improved, and I used this professionally in work as well. Before arriving in Ecuador my Spanish was fluent.
Knowing (reading, writing and speaking) a second language is very important. South Florida has a diverse Spanish culture and I found knowing this language very useful.
In Ecuador it’s indispensable. Many people know English in Ecuador because it’s taught in many schools, but like any other language if you don’t practice and use it, you lose it.
Cuenca perhaps doesn’t need so much Spanish because it’s a smaller city compared to Quito, and there are many Gringo retirees there. Here in Quito, Gringos are hard to find.
There are places where they frequent like certain universities or bike riding on the Chaquinan Trail near Quito, but otherwise I don’t hear much English spoken in this area.
What do you do?
I’ve always worked in Construction mostly in architecture firms in the States. My last job there I became more of an owner’s rep. by representing an International Hotel chain and dealing with franchisees, architects, contractors and engineers and verifying their projects were up to Hilton standards.
Here in Ecuador I have a project working for a general contractor on a project for I.E.S.S. (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social) as a construction manager.
How do you find the cost of living in Ecuador?
Comparing with cost of living in the States overall the cost is lower here. In certain things, like groceries, it’s maybe 30% lower. Fresh fruits are abundant at many street corners (10 Tangerines for $1).
If it’s imported, the cost will be higher than in the States because of the import tax. Some items have been taken off the shelves because the tax was too high. My kids Aunt Jemima Maple Syrup is one victim.
Other things like gasoline definitely cheaper. Rent also but not much. Schools also again but not much. We put the kids in a Catholic school so that’s why. Insurance for cars and medical we found almost the same price, but we’re looking for cheaper now.
What do you love about Ecuador?
The Mountains we love. Florida is Flat but it has the beaches and oceans. I thought living in Cumbaya we would miss the beach, but it’s only a 6 hour bus ride away or a 1 hour plane ride away.
The traffic is terrible. Many people live in the valleys like Cumbaya, Tumbaco, San Rafael and work in Quito like me. The highways are not bad overall but totally insufficient. They’re building more highways so hopefully this will improve.
About housing for Gringos I think Cuenca will be your best option. It’s the 3rd largest city in Ecuador so really it has everything and much lower costs than Quito or Guayaquil. Many Gringos also buy condos in Salinas (beach town).
If you move here I strongly recommend using a broker (mover from Ecuador). We used INSA through a contact in Miami. Email me if you want more info. Without them Lucky (our 120 lbs. Labrador) wouldn’t have made it through customs.