This American retired in Ecuador at 49 – here's how others can do it too, according to experts (2023)

This American retired in Ecuador at 49 – here's how others can do it too, according to experts (1)
  • Retiring abroad used to be a fringe idea, but it's a much more accessible way for people to retire early.
  • Lee Harrison sold his house in Vermont and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador because it was affordable and an adventurous place to live.
  • Experts offer tips on how to make moving abroad as a retiree less intimidating.

Lee Harrison never thought he'd retire at the age of 49– 13 years earlier than whenhe had planned.He definitely didn't expect thathe'd be retiredin Ecuador of all places. But at 70, he's happier than ever with his decision, he said.

"My father worked until he was 62, which I thought was great and my idea of early retirement at the time," he told USA TODAY.

In his late 40s, Harrison was working in New York as a writer, and his wife, Julie, was a project manager at an energy company. While he didn't have a lot of savings, he worked at a company that offeredan early retirement package with a pension when you hit 50, he said.

On a visit to his in-laws in Arizona, Harrison was browsing in a bookstore and came across a book about moving to Costa Rica, where the cost of living is lower than in the U.S.and the weather is ideal.

A lightbulb went off. What if the couple retired overseasand wasable to live out an adventure?

After evaluating multiple countries, including Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico, they settled on Ecuador.

"It could be that I retire at 49 and stay happily retired for the rest of my life, which would be the case so far," he said. "Or if it's a total failure and I hate Ecuador, then I'll just end up back at my desk in New York again."

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How do you begin the process of retiring abroad?

Thirtyyears ago, retiring in another country was a fringeidea, according to Kathleen Peddicord, an expert in retiring abroad and the founder of Live and Invest Overseas. "It was way beyond anyone's imagining at the time," she said.

Most people retired in the town they lived in or somewhere sunnier, like Florida or Arizona.

Now, it's a much more accessible andpotentially advantageousideafor middle-class Americans.

In 2022, therewere 443,546retired Americans receiving Social Security benefits while living abroad, according to the Social Security Administration. That's nearly double the amount from 1999 when 219,504 retired workersreceived Social Security benefits while living in a foreign country.

The internet has made it "easier to research and find connections and resources to make yourself feel more comfortable,"said Peddicord, a Baltimore native who now lives with her family in Paris. Before everything went online, for example, you had to pay your bills by mailing in a check, even from overseas.


At the same time, today's retirees are more traveled than past generations,are living longerand want to make sure they have enough money to carry them through.In 2021, the median income for Americans65 and up totaled $47,620, yet for the year, all Americansspent about $66,928on average on costs like food and transportation– a 9.1% increase from 2020.

Others are simply seeking adventure. "Every day is filled with the unexpected," compared to retiring where you've already lived,Peddicordsaid.

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"Some people will think it's crazy, some people will be terrified. For those who aren't scared of the idea, pursue it and break it down step by step,"shesaid.

That's what Harrison did. Over the next three years, he and his wife looked at cost of living, weather, and access to health care in different countries.The main factor for them was finances.

"Could I stretch what we would get for selling our house and pensions?Could I stretch out that basically forever?" he said.

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Finally, they pickedEcuador's third-largest city, Cuenca– after driving around the majority of the country in a rental car.

"It was like being in a different world," he said, referring to the cobblestone streets and old European architecture – its city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is charming and safe, with springtime weather year-round. There are bakeries, outdoor cafes and views of themountains.

This American retired in Ecuador at 49 – here's how others can do it too, according to experts (2)

How to consider your finances to move abroad?

It was an affordable place for the Harrisons to live, plus the country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, so they didn't have to go through complicated money conversions or pay attention to the currency rate. "The places we had lived weren't particularly cheap– like Vermont or New York," he said. At the time, about 20 years ago, they were able to live on a few hundred a month in Cuenca. Currently, a single person can live in Cuenca for approximately $507 a month.

"You can go to Mississippi or Arkansas with a low cost of living, but it's not the same as living somewhere like Ecuador," he added.

To get started, Harrison found a real estate agent and alsoreached outto the U.S. Embassy to find an English-speaking attorney to figure out how to apply for residency.The couple sold their belongings and house in Vermontand made the move in 2001. Theydidn't know anyone who lived in Ecuadorbut were quick to teach themselves Spanish and meet others.

Pricing locals out

To move to most countries, you often have to show proof of sufficient funds to live there or regular monthly income (like from your pension or social security, for example), which vary by country.For example, Peddicord said you need $1,000 a month to qualify for residency in Panama, and it's even less in Colombia. "You either qualify or you don't," she said.

For many Americans, these qualifications are much moreaffordable than most retire-friendly, warm-weather places in the United States, like Florida. One popular expat destination, Mexico, has about1.6 million U.S. citizens living within its borders, according to the State Department.

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The high number of expats going to these countries hasn't gone without some criticismfrom locals.With the American dollar going farther in Mexico and other places, expats are automatically given more purchasing power, driving up living costs and gentrification.

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Educator and hostfor the podcastSpanish and Go, May Larios García – who is fromManzanillo, Colima–said that"gentrificationis certainly a growing concern" in the country.

"It is important for retiredexpatsto be aware of the potential impact of their presence on local communities," she said. "To mitigate this impact, retiredexpatscan try to integrate into local communities in a respectful and mindful manner." Larios García recommends learning the host language and renting from locals instead of buying property.

Joel Cerna was born and raised inGuadalajara and moved to Puerto Vallarta for about 20 years for work. Puerto Vallarta has recently exploded as a popular tourist and expat destination for Canadians and Americans. He said that the influx of expats brings both good and bad, like new job opportunities and investing more money into the local economy but also"the gentrification of certain areas and the displacement of lower-income residents."Overall, he thinks the benefits outweigh the cons.

How to embrace the new lifestyle

Loving the adventure, the couple has explored more of Latin America,also living in Uruguay, Colombia and Mexico.

Harrison admitted that adjusting to his new life meanta change in "priorities and lifestyle." In the U.S., Harrison had a boat, snowmobiles and a car he only drove on Sundays. When living in Medellín, Colombia, it was easier to forgo a car completely. He said he enjoys having fewer possessions. He's also smitten with the slower pace of life, such as restaurants encouraging diners to take their time and how dinner can end up lasting for hours.

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"My biggest motivator was not having to work," Harrison said, adding that he probably lives more comfortably than his parents, who worked their whole lives, did. "There's a lot to be gained."

Below are some tips to get started on retiring abroad by Peddicord and Harrison:

  • Figure out what matters to you, whether that's being by the ocean or being able to afford property. Harrison also warns people not to get caught up in decision paralysis. "One of the trickier parts is not over-evaluating." Peddicord recommended asking yourself, "What do you want your life to include?"
  • Create a nest egg so you can coverthesecurity deposit, government fees, plane tickets and other costs that help you get started.
  • Think about the exchange rate. A place may be affordable now, but over time if the exchange rate changes, that could make you "very vulnerable," Peddicord said. Belize, Panama and Ecuador are countries that use the U.S. dollar, so you don't need to worry about those fluctuations.
  • If you're nervous to give up everything for a life abroad, "it can be as much or as little as you want," Peddicord said. You can spend a few months in a new country on a tourist visa and rent out your house back home to see how you fare.
  • Hire an attorney to help with the government process. "Don't be cheap on something that if there's a serious mistake if donewrong could cost you a lot of money," Harrison said, adding that getting a good lawyer "is part of the deal" of safely moving abroad.


Can a US citizen retire in Ecuador? ›

Yes Americans can retire in Ecuador. There are 13 different visa options for Americans who wasnt to retire in Ecuador. Most expats gain residence in Ecuador with a Pensioner's visa. It is the preffered option for expats with retirement income.

What age can you retire in Ecuador? ›

Who Can Apply for an Ecuador Jubilado Visa? To qualify for an Ecuador retirement visa, you must meet the following conditions: You must be at least 65 years old. You must have a monthly income of at least $800.

Where do most Americans retire in Ecuador? ›

Expats in Ecuador

Cuenca is home to one of the biggest and most established expat retiree communities in the world. In Cuenca, you will meet plenty of other English-speaking expats who have made the transition to living in Ecuador and can help you acclimate to retirement overseas.

What is the easiest country for Americans to retire to? ›


Portugal has ranked as the best country to retire to in the world for four years in a row, with this year scoring a staggering 87.43 out of 100 points. In addition, the following categories scored: Housing: 74. Healthcare: 92.

Can I collect social security and live in Ecuador? ›

Additionally, United States citizens are allowed to collect Social Security retirement benefits while living in Ecuador. On average, Social Security pays out $1,389 per month to each retiree. A couple in which each person is getting that amount every month can live quite well in the country.

Does Ecuador tax US social security? ›

For example, foreign income is not taxed in Ecuador. So, payments from sources such as social security benefits (USA), IRA payments (USA, but also similar investment options in other countries) and private/public pension funds are received tax-free, from the Ecuador side of the equation.

How much money do you need to retire in Ecuador? ›

A retiring couple can live comfortably for about $1,800 per month. A single person can retire well for around $1,400 per month. Plus, Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.
Cost to Retire in Ecuador.
ExpensesCost per Month
Monthly total$1,440
5 more rows
May 4, 2021

How much income do you need to retire in Ecuador? ›

50% of Ecuadorians live off less than $500 per month. The Retirement Visa income requirements seem to be bouncing around with no real indication why. There were reduced from $800 to $425 in 2021, but have now gone the other way with this most recent increase to $1275. Who knows what they will be in 2023!

How much would it cost to retire in Ecuador? ›

How Much Does it Cost to Retire in Ecuador. Retirees considering settling in Ecuador can generally do so on less than $20,000 per year.

Where is the best place for an American to retire in the world? ›

In addition, as a tourist destination, Mexico is familiar to many visitors who have vacationed there over the years. The country offers a wide range of locations, lifestyles, climates, and living costs, making it the top retirement destination for Americans who choose to leave the U.S.

Is it safe to retire to Ecuador? ›

International Living has named Ecuador the top retirement haven in the world six times in the last seven years. International Living makes its choice based on several factors including climate, cost of living, culture, health care, and other important considerations.

Where is the nicest place to retire in the US? ›

Lancaster, Pa., was the top-ranked place to retire, according to a new ranking.
Here are U.S. News and World Report's top 10 places for retirement in 2022 to 2023.
  • Lancaster, Pa.
  • Harrisburg, Pa.
  • Pensacola, Fla.
  • Tampa, Fla.
  • York, Pa.
  • Naples, Fla.
  • Daytona Beach, Fla.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
Nov 1, 2022

What is the cheapest country to live in on Social Security? ›

Panama. Named to the top spot of "Best Places to Retire in 2022" on International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index, Panama has become a popular retirement destination.

Can you collect Social Security if you live abroad? ›

If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the U.S. as long as you are eligible for them.

What is the number 1 place to retire in the world? ›

With an overall score of 81%, Norway comes in at number one as the most retirement-friendly country on the list.

How long can you live outside the US and still collect Social Security? ›

Generally, we cannot pay Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance benefits to noncitizens after their sixth calendar month outside the United States. However, you might qualify for an exception, which could allow you to receive benefits without visiting the United States.

What is the safest place to live in Ecuador? ›

10 Safest Cities in Ecuador
  • Galapagos Islands.
  • Cuenca.
  • Intag Valley.
  • Montanita.
  • Quito.
  • Bahia de Caraquez.
  • Santa Marianita.
  • Salinas.

What is the best country to retire on Social Security? ›

  • Panama. Panama, which is located in Central America, borders Colombia to the southeast and Costa Rica to the northwest. ...
  • Costa Rica. Costa Rica is also located in Central America. ...
  • Mexico. ...
  • Portugal. ...
  • Colombia. ...
  • Ecuador. ...
  • Malta. ...
  • France.
5 days ago

Is Ecuador friendly to Americans? ›

There are an estimated 10,000 Americans living in Ecuador.

Ecuador has been voted the best overall country for expats, and it's not too hard to understand why – the beautiful landscapes, security, good-quality free healthcare, and friendly locals for a start.

What is the best city for Americans to live in Ecuador? ›

Cuenca Ecuador has about 10,000 North American and European expats, making it the most preferred expat destination in the country. This lovely old-world Spanish colonial city with all the modern facilities was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Why do Americans move to Ecuador? ›

While it might not be your typical expat hot spot such as Singapore or the UAE, people all around the world move to Ecuador for its promise of a higher quality of life, gorgeous scenery, low cost of living, and warm and welcoming locals.

Is healthcare free in Ecuador? ›

Ecuador has a universal healthcare system. It is funded by the government and provides treatment to all. The major cities, such as Quito (the capital) and Guayaquil, have public hospitals. Treatment is free, and anyone can visit for examination by a general practitioner or a specialist, depending on the malaise.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Ecuador? ›

The Cost Of Living In The Ecuador

And within Ecuador, cities like Cuenca and Loja have living costs less than you'll find in other major cities throughout the region. In fact, they are among the cheapest you'll find for cities that still have the full complement of city amenities.

How good are hospitals in Ecuador? ›

The major cities in particular, such as Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil, have excellent medical care. From top-notch facilities to highly skilled doctors, Ecuador earns its spot as having the 20th most efficient healthcare system in the world.

How long can an American stay in Ecuador? ›

Under Ecuadorian law, U.S. citizens traveling for business or tourism on a tourist passport can enter Ecuador for up to 90 days per calendar year without a visa.

What is the average cost of a home in Ecuador? ›

The average price of new three-bedroom apartments with 2-bath unit and spectacular view ranged from US$95,000 to US$120,000. In the large home market, a 3,000 to 5,000 square foot houses in Cuenca´s posh neighbourhoods are priced about US$275,000.

What are senior benefits in Ecuador? ›

50% discounts in public and private transportation services. Discounts for special events, such as for movie tickets or sporting events. Discounted entry to galleries and theatre plays are provided as well, plus many are FREE in the city of Cuenca as well as in other cities of Ecuador too. Special tax exemptions.

Is it cheap to retire in Ecuador? ›

Specifically, as we've been pointing out, you could retire comfortably in this country on a budget of as little as US$800 per month… or even less. And you could qualify for residency here simply by showing a minimum income of US$1,275 per month. Bottom line, we say Ecuador is the cheapest place to retire overseas

How much money is needed to retire in Ecuador? ›

A retiring couple can live comfortably for about $1,800 per month. A single person can retire well for around $1,400 per month. Plus, Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.
Cost to Retire in Ecuador.
ExpensesCost per Month
5 more rows
May 4, 2021

How long can a US citizen live in Ecuador? ›

The maximum validity of this travel authorization is 365 Days and the maximum duration during which you can stay in the country is 90 Days. You can obtain this document by applying to the nearest Ecuador embassy.

Is healthcare good in Ecuador? ›

Ecuador has a universal healthcare system. It is funded by the government and provides treatment to all. The major cities, such as Quito (the capital) and Guayaquil, have public hospitals. Treatment is free, and anyone can visit for examination by a general practitioner or a specialist, depending on the malaise.

Where do most Americans live in Ecuador? ›

Most expats live in the capital, Quito, or Ecuador's most populous city, Guayaquil, while Cuenca is popular among retirees.

Can a US citizen buy a house in Ecuador? ›

Nationals and foreigners can invest in real estate in Ecuador, since the Ecuadorian constitution grants foreign citizens the same rights as nationals. The right to private property is one of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution for both nationals and foreigners.

How much does it cost to live in Ecuador per month? ›

Family of four estimated monthly costs are 1,765.8$ without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 492.4$ without rent.
Cost of Living in Ecuador.
Utilities (Monthly)Edit
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 915 sq ft Apartment48.96$
64 more rows

What does a US citizen need to move to Ecuador? ›

Immigrant visas must be applied for in person, in Ecuador. Most large cities maintain offices where visa processing can be managed. All visas, whether immigrant or non-immigrant, can take up to six months to be processed.


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