Bringing in Goods through Ecuador’s Airports Tax Free

As you make your travel plans to Ecuador, it’s important to be aware of current laws regarding what is allowed to be brought in duty-free to avoid paying hefty import taxes.

Below is a synopsis of duty-free items that can be brought in through airport customs. More information is available on Ecuador’s Customs website page for international airport travelers.

Ecuador customs

Summary of tax-free items that can brought into Ecuador, some with restrictions

 

If you bring in merchandise that is not considered to be a personal item and its commercial value is greater than $500, you will be required to pay import taxes at Customs in the airport.  The amount due is calculated based on the commercial value of the good plus the cost of freight (equivalent to  $ 1.50 per kilogram) plus the insurance value (calculated as 1% of the commercial value).

We recently learned about paying import taxes at the airport firsthand when Tom brought in a drone he had purchased in the US so we could capture aerial footage of Ecuador’s coast, properties and construction projects.

Airport customs officials determined that the drone was valued at over $5o0 and would not consider it to be a personal item despite Tom’s initial attempts at friendly persuasion. They asked Tom if he possessed a certified letter demonstrating that he was a professional who required use of a drone. He didn’t so they proceeded to move him over to an adjacent office to calculate the import tax due. They looked up the retail value of the drone from the internet. Their value nearly coincided with what he actually paid.

Here’s the breakdown of what was charged: the base import tariff (“arancel advalorem”) was determined to be $573.80. Plus, there were two separate taxes charged: The first tax was $14.35 to FONDINFA, a fund supporting infant development. The second tax was the IVA (Ecuador’s standard value-added tax) which came to $414.86. The grand total due was $1,003 or a whopping 35% of the retail value (ouch!). They gladly accept cash or credit cards.

Some insights gleaned from the experience: In this case, the value estimated by customs was pretty close to what we actually paid, but to be safe, it would be wise to bring in your own receipts to avoid being overcharged. Tom could have tried to fight their conclusion that the the drone was not for personal use and he could have filed an official complaint to try to avoid paying the tax. However, this would have required him to leave the drone in the Customs official’s care until the case was resolved. Never, ever a good idea! So, take your chances! In retrospect, Tom could have bought the same model here in  Ecuador for about $600 more than what he paid in the US. However, he was banking on the drone being considered a personal item in a similar manner that high-end digital cameras would be considered personal regardless of their cost.

Landscaping Your New Home in Ecuador

The year-round warm climate here on the coast makes for great opportunities for creating beautiful tropical gardens. However, there’s not exactly a plant nursery section in a big box store here in this part of Ecuador’s coast. There’s really not even a big box store, with the minor exception of Mi Comisariato at the El Paseo shopping center in Portoviejo. So, where can you buy palms, fruit trees, and flowers for your new home?

The place to go is the small town of Sosote, just outside of Portoviejo. Sosote is better known as the source of tagua jewelry for this part of Ecuador. Here as you pass through the town, bisected by the new four-lane highway to Portoviejo, you’ll see a dozen or more road-side stores selling tagua jewelry in addition to clay pots of all sizes, coconuts and  ropes of blood sausage. I should mention that the latter is not recommended. Poor Tom learned the hard way a few years back and still recoils at even the mention of sausage from Sosote.

In the midst of these numerous roadside establishments, you will to come a row of flowers, fruit trees and palms along with a sign saying “Vivero,” meaning nursery.

Plant nursery in coastal Ecuador

The plant nursery in Sosote offers a tremendous variety of plants for incredibly affordable prices.

 

Here you can find ornamental plants that you’ll no doubt recognize from back home. The only difference perhaps is the price where most flower varieties run between $0.50-$2.00 each.

sosote nursery (1)

sosote nursery (3)

sosote nursery (4)

sosote nursery (5)

 

I was treated to some fresh coconut water to sip as I wended by way through the maze of color during my plant shopping spree .

sosote nursery (10)

 

You will also have many varieties of palms to choose from, from coconuts to sago palms. I bought one of the papyrus plants on the right below for $8.

sosote nursery (2)

 

And of course fruit trees abound, many already bearing oranges, limes, etc.

sosote nursery (6)

 

And here’s a mango tree line-up for all you mango fans.

sosote nursery (8)

 

A final view of the nursery from the road to Portoviejo.

sosote nursery (9)

 

The nursery also sells large bags of mulch for $5 each and even will come do custom landscape work your property. I loaded up both the back seat and the bed of the truck with 4 bags of soil and LOTS and lots of plants and the bill came to $100. I also bought four large clay pots for $25 each (they wouldn’t budge below that price, even with buying four). So my final cost for the day was $200.

sosote nursery (11)

 

Fish Soup: It’s What’s for Breakfast

Highly acclaimed as a cure for hangovers, encebollados are one of coastal Ecuador’s popular seafood dishes. While it can be found served throughout the day, encebollados are generally considered a breakfast food.

Albacore soup with pickled onions is a surprisingly tasty way to start the day.

 

Encebollado literally translates to onioned soup and is typically made with pickled onions, albacore tuna, yuca (cassava root), tomatoes, and topped with cilantro. It is served with a bowlful of chifles (fried plaintain chips) which you crumble on top–yum, one of my favorite parts!

Make your own encebollado using the recipe from Laylita’s great cooking website. She is a native born Ecuadorian who currently resides in the US. Her site is full of authentic Ecuadorian recipes.

 

When ordering encebollado, you are also given a selection of other ingredients to modify your soup to satisfy your tastes: fresh squeezed lime juice, oil, mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce (aji, pronounced Ah-HEE). Restaurants often offer both a store bought variety of aji plus their homemade version that usually contains hot peppers,  lime, shredded and pickled carrots and onions.

Chifles and other ingredients are provided to personalize your soup. Also, note the instant coffee–it’s uncommon to find drip coffee in your average restaurant. The green labeled bottle contained the homemade aji which was FULL of tiny little pepper bombs. Tasty but potent!

 

Encebollados can be found on the menu in your average coastal restaurant but the AM die-hards go to the make-shift tent restaurants that are set up curbside around 7:30am and taken down by about 10am.  It is not surprising to have to wait around for a chair to squeeze in alongside others who are hungrily hunched over their steaming bowl of soup. 

Yesterday morning we stopped into a little nondescript place in Bahia that serves breakfast. Between the three of us  we ordered two encebollados and two balones (fried plantain balls filled with cheese and chicharron–fried pork fat–sounds gross, tastes good). Tom got an [unsatisfying] cup of instant coffee while Kai and I ordered fresh squeezed lime juice. Our bill came to $5.50.

Bolones or fried plaintain balls are another common breakfast food on Ecuador’s coast.

 

And in typical fashion, while we enjoyed our meal, the restaurant owner happily walked around with Aiden, our 5 month old baby, showing him off to other adoring clientele. For an explanation, check out an earlier blog about some of Ecuador’s cultural peculiarities around babies.  

Happy eating! or as they say here, ¡Buen provecho!

Tagua Jewelry: The Making of Vegetable Ivory Art

A popular source of local jewelry and touristy trinkets is “tagua” (pronounced “TAWG-wuh”) or “vegetable ivory.” Tagua is a very hard, white nut that grows on six species of palm trees in South America, one species of which is found along Ecuador’s coast.

Tagua palm

Cluster of seed pods containing the tagua nuts

 

Tagua is referred to as vegetable ivory because once dried, it can be carved and closely resembles the ivory from an elephant’s tusks.

Sequence showing how the tagua nut can be carved and dyed into intricate pieces of art. Image taken from an interesting online article about how the production of tagua helps protect elephants and South American rainforests.

 

Because of its close similarities to ivory, tagua is now often used as a substitute for ivory in the global market, which not only protects elephants from being killed for their valuable tusks, but also provides many jobs as well as an economic incentive to protect the forests where the palms are found.

Items made from tagua can be purchased in markets across Ecuador but the source of this unique artisanry is here along the Central Coast, especially in the small village of Sosote (“so-SO-teh”), outside of Portoviejo.

The art of carving tagua was brought to Sosote in 1993 by two local cousins who had spent several years in the Province of Guayas creating tagua pieces for an Italian man who exported them to Europe. Today, there are over 60 tagua workshops  in the Sosote area.

Below are photos showing the process of transforming the tagua nut into jewelry, which in Sosote usually takes place in a single location; i.e. the workshops are typically located behind the storefront that sells the finished products.

Tagua artisan and owner of one of the tagua storefronts in Sosote

 

The process begins by collecting nuts from the palms (Phytelephas aequatorialis, which literally means “elephant plant”)

 

The nuts are polished using a tumbler with metal beads.

 

A grinder is used to shape the pieces.

 

Finer details are added using a Dremel.

 

The pieces are then dyed in large batches.

 

Now the tagua beads are ready to be turned into jewelry.

 

Women, often the wives and daughters of the tagua carvers, make necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in the store where they are sold.

 

A sampling of some tagua necklaces.

 

Prices for necklaces range from $3-$10.

 

More necklace designs.

 

Selections are quite extensive and even include tagua rosaries.

 

Tagua is also crafted into bracelets, earrings and rings.

 

Keychains for $1-$2

 

A variety of other tagua creations that make unique gifts for friends and family.

 

Tagua art and jewelry-making is an excellent example of how the purchase of local, sustainable products not only supports the creation of jobs but can also make important contributions to society and the environment. Ecuador is full of untapped niches such as these, many that are yet to be discovered.

Appliances for your new oceanfront real estate

Today’s post provides an example of an appliance package that may be purchased through us when you begin furnishing your new ocean front home .

The beauty of buying furniture and appliances as package deals is that you will save hundreds of dollars over listed store prices while avoiding the plethora of unknowns and hassles of buying and negotiating for goods in a foreign context. Not only can you skip past this often long and stressful component of relocating to a new country, but we’ll also take care of all the delivery and installation arrangements. This way you can show up to your beautiful new beachfront home and  actually get to enjoy it!

Here is a sample mid-range price appliance package that some clients recently purchased:

Indurama 32 inch six-burner stove with rotisserie and removable stovetop griddle

 

Indurama 17 cu ft Frost-Free Refrigerator

 

Frigidaire Stacked Washer and Dryer (35 lb capacity)

 

Plus, two Indurama 12,000 BTU Split Unit Air Conditioners (one for MBR, the other for the living room – no photo available)

Electric Water Heater (30 gallon – no photo available)

 

The  final cost for this package came to approximately $4200 including all taxes, delivery, installation and service fees. The total in-store savings the client received by purchasing these goods as a package through us was  $770. And the couple got to show up to their new home with everything waiting and ready to go!

Who are you?

As Lynn and I sit here in Ecuador we’re wondering who you are. We’ve met some great folks already by having made the decision to relocate to Ecuador. It takes a certain person to be attracted to life on the beach in a foreign country… so far we’ve had a great time with those kindred spirits we’ve had the pleasure of coming across.

Who else is out there and what are they looking for???? I made a crude survey to try and get a feel for who else is out there, on their way, and what they’re after. We’d like to help you make the leap.

I promise to give a synopsis of the results… so we can all get a feel for who’s there and we’re all after here in Ecuador.