Ecuador’s New Immigration Law: Snowbirding Just Got Easier

Ecuador’s National Assembly voted unanimously on January 5, 2017 to pass a new immigration law called “La Ley Orgánica de Movilidad Humana.” The law (number 60 of  the 2013-2017 legislative period) has not yet been published in the official registry so we haven’t yet been able to access the full 90 page version. This post will summarize what information we have been able to gather until the law is officially published.

Ecuador National Assembly

Ecuador’s National Assembly passed the new immigration law on January 5, 2017. Photo from El Telegrafo

Some broad-sweeping points of this new law (as translated from the opening arguments from the head of the Committee who helped draft  the new law) are that it will recognize the equality of rights between Ecuadorians and foreigners and emphasizes that no human being can be qualified as illegal in Ecuador because of their migratory status. The new law largely addresses Ecuadorians living abroad, Ecuadorians returning home after living abroad, and refugees, stateless persons, and victims of trafficking.

However, there are also changes that will affect foreign residents in Ecuador, either as tourists or permanent residents.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency since 2012.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency since 2012.

A notable change that has implications for foreigners is the extension of a tourist visa from the previous 90 days to 180 days. This “tourist visa” is simply the stamp you receive in your passport upon entering the country. This extension for up to 6 months is great news for folks who want to split their time between living in Ecuador and their home country (grandparents, snowbirds, and many others will no doubt celebrate this change!). Previously, acquisition of another visa was required to extend one’s time in Ecuador beyond 90 days (for example a 12-IX visa which is fairly costly and can be time-consuming). There is apparently the option now to also obtain a special tourist visa that would be good for up to 1 year (but which will be limited to using once every 5 years).

And for foreign residents of Ecuador who are excited about exploring other regions of South America, they will now be able to do so as part of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) by only presenting their Ecuador ID card (“cédula”) instead of being required to show both their passport and cédula.

Another significant change is that proof of health care insurance will be required for tourists entering Ecuador. It will be interesting to see how this rule is actually enforced and applied; however, this change will NOT apply to foreigners who are permanent residents in Ecuador.

Once we have access to the public record of this new immigration law, we will add the link here.

Information Sources:

Perks for Being 65 and Over in Ecuador

Ecuador was ranked as the #1 retirement destination in the world in 2014 and again in 2015 (and #2 in 2016). Apart from the great weather, inexpensive cost of living, and a host of other attractive advantages, Ecuador also boasts some great perks for people aged 65 and over.

beach retirement

Photo from the US News and World Report, “The 5 Best Places to Retire on the Beach in 2016.”

While government-mandated incentives for people of “tercera edad” (the equivalent of “senior citizens”) are geared towards its own citizens, foreign residents are afforded the same rights as nationals so all of these advantages apply to expats with Ecuadorian residency.

 

Here are some of the benefits you are eligible for as a senior citizen living in Ecuador:

No Waiting in Lines

Senior citizens automatically may go to the front of lines. Isn’t that great? The same applies to pregnant women and women with infants in their arms (which has been quite handy in my case!).

50% off Certain Forms of Transportation

This discount applies to public service transportation via buses and flights. My in-laws usually have to “remind” the money collector on local buses to get their 50% discount: “Disculpe, soy de tercera edad.” (“Excuse me, I’m a senior citizen”).

For flights, you must purchase your plane ticket at one of the in-country agency offices (Avianca, Tame, Copa). Unfortunately, you are not able to get the senior discount if you make your purchase online. Even if the tickets are on sale, you are eligible for the discount. The discount is NOT applied to taxes and fees.

When making your reservation you will need to show your cedula (the national ID card that you will receive once you are a resident).

It’s worthy to note that these flight discounts include trips to the Galapagos as well as round trip international flights initiating in Ecuador.

Note: This discount does NOT apply to other forms of transportation such as taxis, rental vehicles, boats, and trains.

Discount

Your 50% discount includes airfare to the Galapagos.  As residents (of any age) you will also enjoy $6 park admission compared to $100 for non-residents.

 

50% Off Utility Bills and Free Landline Telephone Service

Senior citizens are eligible for discounts on their electric, water, and landline telephones. To sign up to receive the discount, you must go to the service provider and show your cedula when you set up your account. The discount will then be automatically applied to your future monthly bills with the following usage limits:

  • 50% off electric on one electric meter up to 120 kWh/month
  • 50% off water up to 20 cubic meters/month
  • Free basic landline telephone services on one landline (does not include long-distance calls and other services)

If you exceed any of these monthly limits, you will still receive the discount up to the specified limit and then you will pay 100% on the excess consumption.

You may receive this benefit as a renter as long as your name is on the utility bills.

 

50% Off Entertainment Events

Folks who are 65 and over also receive 50% off tickets for cultural and sporting events, including movies. Again, you will likely be required to present your cedula as proof of age and residency status.

Quito-FootballFlag

Attending a game of soccer (“fútbol”) in Ecuador is an experience to be remembered!

 

Reimbursement of Sales Tax

Senior citizens are eligible to receive an reimbursement of their sales tax. Ecuador’s sales tax on most goods and services is 12%. It is called IVA (“impuestos de valores agregados”) and is the equivalent of “value-added tax” or VAT. You will see this IVA charge added to your restaurant, grocery, hotel bills, etc..

There is another sales tax, ICE (“impuestos de consumos especiales”), whose value varies significantly, from 10% for soft drinks to 300% for firearms.

Senior citizens are eligible to receive a reimbursement of their IVA and ICE; for 2016 the maximum annual amount is currently $1,830.

Seniors can submit their reimbursement forms online and receive their monthly reimbursement in a matter of days as a direct deposit to their Ecuadorian bank account.

Senior citizens are eligible to get sales tax back up

Senior citizens are eligible to get their sales tax reimbursed each month for their food, housing items, clothing, transportation, communication, and cultural and sporting events.

To set up your account with the SRI (the equivalent of the IRS), you are required to have a cedula, a copy of your Certificate of Visa Registration (“Certificado de Empadronamiento”) and proof of an Ecuadorian bank account in your name. When you register, you will be given a pin to access the website. Your receipts (“facturas”) must be in your name with your cedula number. Details can be found on SRI’s website (in Spanish).

Note: If you are renting, you shouldn’t be charged IVA. Nor are you charged IVA for purchasing property. You do need to pay IVA if you rent out a space for commercial use.

 

Reduction of Income Tax

Income tax rates in Ecuador are based on one’s annual salary. This tax is paid when an individual’s net yearly income exceeds a certain limit and is called the “Impuesto a la Fracción Excedente.” For people over 65, the minimum income limit is doubled. For example, the minimum limit for 2016 is $11,170. In other words, senior citizens with a yearly income under $22,340 will not be required to pay any income taxes.

 

Exemption of Municipal Taxes

When selling property, the seller is typically responsible for paying a municipal capital gains tax called “Alcabalas.” Senior citizens have the advantage of being exempt from paying alcabalas for the sale of a property valued at $183,000 or less (the equivalent of 500 times the monthly minimum wage, which for 2016 is currently $366/month). If the property value exceeds this amount, taxes are paid on only the excess.

An interesting case study to be aware of is the example of a property owned by spouses, one of whom is 65+ and the other is under 65. According to Ecuadorian law, the property is automatically owned equally by each spouse, and thus each spouse in theory is responsible for paying 50% of the acabalas at closing. However, according to law, the 65+ spouse would be exempt so the actual cost of this tax would be half of the declared amount.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency since 2012.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency here on the coast since 2012.

 

Note: This post was created in April 2016 and any information provided here may be subject to change!

Tom Shares Our Story and Some Insider Tips: An Interview with Expat Kingdom

Learn more about our story and get some insider tips about living and buying real estate in this two-part interview with Lain Livingston from “Expat Kingdom.”

Tom’s face is shadowed throughout the interview so here’s a little family photo so you can actually see what he looks like!

Tom and Lynn Saunders Ecuador

Part I: “Expats Building Dreams and Finding Freedom in San Clemente, Ecuador”

Tom Saunders Ecuador

 

Part II:  “Exploring in Ecuador Before Buying in Ecuador”

Tom Saunders Ecuador Real Estate Interview

Wherever You Go…There You Are

The U.S. News & World Report ran an article on August 26, 2015 reporting that according to a survey of 14,000 expats in 64 countries, Ecuador topped the list of best countries to live in as an expat. This is the 2nd year that Ecuador made the number 1 spot. Click HERE to read the article.

August 26, 2015 Article in U.S. News & World Report

August 26, 2015 Article in U.S. News & World Report

 

The survey was conducted by InterNations, a social network for expats with over two million online members around the world. Ecuador received the highest scores for the following subcategories: “personal happiness,” “feeling welcome,” “personal finance,” and “cost of living.”

As full time expats first coming to Ecuador in 2005 and then running a business and raising a family here since 2010, Tom and I have a pretty well-rounded perspective of life here on the coast of Ecuador. We can attest that, in our  own experiences, Ecuador deserves high marks for these subcategories. We have witnessed many clients who arrive here in fairly poor health and often stretched to the limit with stress, that, a year or so later, are hardly recognizable to their former selves, having lost a considerable amount of weight and donning flip flops, a golden tan, and a relaxed smile.

The caveat? Ecuador may well score high on these kinds of surveys, but there is absolutely no guarantee that relocating to Ecuador be will be the solution to your problems. We have seen firsthand that this is especially true for those expats who come here strictly seeking a lower cost of living.

“Wherever you go, there you are.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

If you tend to be more of an optimist you will see the smiling, welcoming faces as you wave. You will see families laughing and playing volleyball or soccer together at the end of the day. You will notice the lack of beggars (at least here on the coast) despite there being evident poverty. You will see a gorgeous coastline with warm water and breathtaking sunsets. You will quickly make friends who welcome you, arms wide open, to dinner in their home at a moment’s notice.

If you tend to be more of a pessimist, you can be in the exact same time and space and experience an entirely different reality. You will see what you perceive as poor people lounging about in hammocks in front of their unfinished shack-like homes. You will see trash. You will see countless dogs roaming the streets and notice with alarm men walking around town with machetes in hand. If you do not tend to trust people, you will be suspicious, questioning people’s motives for being friendly to you. You will focus on the lack of efficiency, how “they” do “everything” here backwards compared to where you are from.

Speaking of which, an article came out yesterday in Cuenca High Life that provoked considerable commentary from its readers, entitled “The Arrogant Expat: Let me tell you how we do things in the USA.”  Important Note: If you come to Ecuador and attempt to change what you perceive to be wrong with it, you will drive yourself crazy.

A couple of related insider tips and insights:

  • In the U.S. there is a culture of becoming snide, loud, and even threatening towards employees in an attempt to get them to affect whatever it is that you want/need done. In Ecuador, this approach will not work. It will back-fire and they will simply move on to the next person in line (believe me, I ashamedly admit that I learned this early on firsthand). Instead, try to befriend and empower people whose assistance you are seeking. Ask calmly and with a [genuine] smile if there’s anything they might possibly be able to do to assist with the situation. While not foolproof, it’s amazing the difference it can make.
  • When facing a frustrating, mind-numbingly “illogical” situation (and there will be many!), instead of  banging your head against a brick wall, try your best to reflect upon the experience as an opportunity to strengthen your patience “muscle.” (Think how strong you’ll get to be after a year or so-Yay!).  Our friend  Kris used to refer to our province of Manabí as “mañana-bí.” And there is the famous saying here that mañana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow (or even next week, for that matter). Always try to find the humor in the situation and with yourself. It just makes life easier that way.
  • Consider the possibility that there might actually be logic behind what you perceive as illogical or a faulty way of doing something. A classic example we often use to illustrate this point is getting the bill at a restaurant. Newbies to Ecuador are quick to complain that the server never brings them the check. They are unaware that it is considered rude here to “rush” clientele out of the restaurant. When you are ready to leave, you simply request the bill.  (And even then, it might take a while to get the check. And then they might not have change for your $20 so they’ll have to send their 10 year old son out to go find you change). Remember, you’re building your patience muscle!
  • Pick up a copy of the book CultureShock Ecuador: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette  by Nicholas Crowder

 

While some of our clients have thrived as coastal Ecuador expats, there are others for whom Ecuador simply wasn’t a good match, high expat survey scores notwithstanding. Some arrived here and immediately did an about-face because their Ecuador experience did not match their expectations.

Then there are others who, like most of us, first delighted in Ecuador (the “honeymoon phase” of the widely accepted “stages of cultural adaptation“).

Proposed stages of cultural adaptation (taken from xx)

Four proposed stages of cultural adaptation (image taken from this site). I would venture to say that the realistic length of time for adapting is more like a year or two for most Ecuador expats.

 

During the honeymoon phase, newcomers appreciate and even celebrate the myriad differences in culture, food, and can find the humor in not being about to communicate well in the local language, at waking up at 4am to the crowing of a rooster in the city, or not being able to find products they were used to having back home.

However, as time passes, the honeymoon inevitably comes to a crashing halt and a new stage begins. Now the focus becomes disproportionately on what is wrong, instead of what is good and new. For some, this so-called “hostility stage” is but a passing phase as they continue to move through the ups and downs of adapting to a new culture and life. Those who eventually adapt arrive at a middle of the road experience where they generally accept and enjoy their new life. That is not to say there are no longer challenges, delays, or frustrations. But by now they have learned to better navigate the obstacles and move on.

There are others, however, who may stay stuck in the “hostility” phase. Their negative perception of their reality can become further compounded if they have already sold or moved everything they previously owned, cannot afford to return, and now feel trapped in a place where they are just as unhappy (or more so) than they were before relocating.

So if you have been considering becoming an expat in Ecuador:

(1) Do your due diligence and visit/rent first to make sure Ecuador will be a good match for you before you make the official leap;

(2) Come with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t assume you know better than the “locals.” There is a good chance that your perceived “solution” does not fit with the context in the same way it would back in your home country. Often, there actually is some semblance of logic where many new expats assume there to be none;

(3) Expect that, like anywhere in the world, you will face many unexpected challenges, especially as you are adapt culturally. Try your best to embrace the inevitable hurdles as they arrive and view them as opportunities for growth.

(4) Ecuador is no panacea for one’s problems. If you were unhappy in your home country, chances are you will find reasons to be unhappy here as well.  “Wherever you go, there you are. You take yourself with you.”

places you'll go

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.

Monday photo: San Clemente Beach on a Sunday Afternoon

Just a quick post. Yesterday, we went for a short hike through the hills above San Clemente and then looped back home along the beach. A beautiful and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

View overlooking the northern end of San Clemente

View overlooking the northern end of San Clemente

 

During the week, the beaches here in San Clemente are typically empty with only a handful of people walking or playing in the water in addition to the occasional group of fishermen bringing in their catch. The beaches on weekends, while rarely ever crowded except for major holidays, are nevertheless full of activity. Families visit the beach from nearby inland towns and spend the day together jumping in the waves, making sand castles, and playing the requisite game of soccer.

Our dog Coco with the view of Punta Bikini

Our beach bum canine Coco with a spectacular view of Punta Bikini as the backdrop on a “busy” Sunday afternoon. On the right, fishermen and locals crowd about a fishing boat to inspect the catch.

 

Tom

Tom with more of our crew

 

Notable Hand Gestures in Ecuador

Cultural differences manifest in many forms; the most obvious ones are language, dress, and food.  Hand gestures can be a subtle facet of cultural identity, yet should not be overlooked as insignificant.  Here are a few hand signals you might come across or ones you had best avoid while visiting or living in Ecuador.

 

Come Here

In the US and many parts of the world, we typically signal for someone to come over to talk to us in one of two ways. The first is to wag/flap your hand, palm up, in a direction towards you. The second is to extend your index finger and curl it towards yourself. The former looks a bit silly to an Ecuadorian and the latter does indeed signify “c’mere” but in a sexual advancement kind of way.

A seductive invite to come closer

A seductive invite to come closer

 

Speaking of which, NEVER use the above single finger gesture with your hand palm down unless you intend to send a very sexually explicit message to the recipient.

This gesture is very offensive

A very offensive gesture to a woman

 

The proper way to ask someone to come towards you is to extend out your hand, palm down and wag your fingers towards your palm. This same gesture is also used for hailing a taxi or bus.

Proper form of signalling someone over

Proper form of signalling someone over to you

 

Sorry-No Can Do!

Typical Scenario 1: You are at the fish market and you ask a man for shrimp. The man looks up at you and simply shakes his open hand but says nothing. You think, huh, perhaps he didn’t understand me and you ask again (maybe a bit a louder in typical expat fashion).  Looking slightly exasperated now, the man shakes his hand a bit more more emphatically and as you continue to stand there perplexed, he adds, “No hay” (pronounced “no EYE”).

Typical Scenario 2: You have been waiting alongside the hot, dusty road for a taxi and now, finally see one approaching. As you hail the taxi with great hope, the driver casually sticks his hand out of the half open window and shakes it at you as he drives past. What!? How rude!, you think to yourself.

The open hand, palm down, shaken from up to down is a widely used gesture that is often overlooked or misunderstood by Ecuador newbies.  As in the shrimp case above, the gesture was used to indicate that there were no shrimp available (“no hay”). The same gesture can also mean “no hay como,” which means that something’s not possible [at the moment]. In the case of the taxi driver, the gesture indicated that the taxi was not available for hire.

no hay

An open palm shaken from up to down indicates that something (or someone) is not there or available

 

How Tall is Your Pony?

If you are ever asked how tall someone is,  you would indicate their height by holding out the side of your hand, pinkie side facing down.  If you indicated your spouse’s head height using your palm facing down, you might illicit laughter as this gesture is used exclusively for measuring the height of animals, typically livestock.

use hand to measure the height

Proper way to indicate the height of a person, with the top of their head being the bottom edge of your hand

measure

Incorrect way to indicate height for a person; it is used strictly for animals

 

Hook ‘Em Horns

A head’s up to all the Texas Longhorn fans out there who are thinking of coming to Ecuador. Flashing the hand sign of your beloved team indicates to the recipient that their spouse is cheating on them; i.e. they are “cachudo” (wife cheating on him) or “cachuda” (husband cheating on her). A side note here that the hand-horns sign IS widely used in rock ‘n’ roll concerts as a cross-over from North American/European culture.

hook em horns

Not the gesture of a Texas sports fan in Ecuador!

 

A-[Not]-Okay

The A-OK sign is a vulgar sexual reference that is best to avoid. A better option to indicate your satisfaction or well-being is to offer a “thumbs up” sign instead. While in some other parts of the world, this too is a vulgar gesture, “thumbs up” here is commonly used.

All is not well with this signal

All is not well with this hand signal which is generally regarded as an extremely offensive, sexual gesture

 

Navigating the Wrist Shake

So this last one is not so much a gesture but instead is here for etiquette purposes. Typical scenario: You are introduced to someone who has been hard at work (landscaping, chopping fish, painting, etc.). You go to shake their hand yet instead of offering out their hand in return, they ball up their fist and offer you their wrist. Don’t be shy–just briefly shake their wrist. You have been offered their wrist not as an insult of any kind but simply because they are concerned that their hands are too dirty from work to offer to you.

hands

Shaking someone’s wrist because they don’t want to insult you by extending a dirty hand

 

Hopefully the hand gestures provided here will help, if ever so slightly, with the process of familiarizing yourself with some cultural nuances. The process takes a long time no matter what but fortunately, people here tend to have great compassion and appreciation for those who genuinely attempt to immerse themselves into Ecuadorian culture.

 

 

Fried Green Bananas

Trucks regularly rumble through town, laden with giant green bananas. Usually there are a couple of guys perched at the very top of the heap calling out, “Verde, Verde!

plantains are often sold from the back of trucks

Plantains are often sold from the back of trucks (photo credit)

 

For a dollar you get about 10 or more of these green plantains or plátanos verdes. While  I quickly got used to seeing plantains for sale everywhere,  it took me a while to appreciate the extent to which they are a part of the local diet and even longer to learn how to cook with them myself.

boys selling plantains

 

Plantains are eaten more like a potato than their sweet counterpart, the banana. They are hard, starchy and require cooking before being eaten. When ripe, they yellow, become slightly sweet and are called maduros (“matures”).

Typical coastal Ecuadorian foods using plantain include empanadas, corviche, bolones de verde, bolones de maduro con queso, patacones, chifles, maduros con queso, maduros asados con sal prieta, torta de plátano, gato encerrado, and the list goes on and on.

PATACONES: smashed and fried green plantains that are typically served in seafood dishes

PATACONES: smashed and fried green plantains that are typically served in seafood dishes (photo credit and recipe)

 

Today, I’ll showcase the simple process of making empanadas de verde using photos I snapped while learning how to make them from some friends the other day.

 

Step 1: Boil green plantains in salted water for 30 min until soft

boiling plantains to make empanadas

Each plantain yields roughly two empanadas

 

Step 2: Mash and roll out the plantain “dough”

mashing the cooked plantain to make dough

Once mashed,  the plantain dough was balled into a log from which they cut off pieces to roll out.

The 1/2 inch PVC pipe make a surprisingly effective rolling pin!

The 1/2 inch PVC pipe makes for a surprisingly effective rolling pin!

 

Step 3: Cut out a circle and add your filling 

Using a small bowl to cut the dough into a circle

Using a small bowl to cut the dough into a circle

(shredded cheese or make a mixture of shredded chicken with mashed plantain)

Two filling options: shredded cheese (right) or a delicious mixture of shredded chicken with mashed plantain (center)

 

Step 4: Fold your circle in half and crimp the edges with a fork

Using a fork to close up the empanada

Using a fork to close up the empanada

 

Step 5: Fry ’em up

Fry until golden brown

Fry on each side until golden brown

 

Step 6: Enjoy with some fresh a (pronounced “Ah-HEE”, a hot sauce usually made with pickled veggies) and a cup of coffee.

Many lovely cooks in the kitchen (plus a hungry Batman)

Many lovely cooks in the kitchen (plus a hungry Batman)

 

Ecuador’s Advances its Capacity for Dealing with Emergencies

Over the last couple of years, Ecuador has significantly advanced security measures to prevent and to better respond to crimes and other emergency situations.

As of October 2013, Ecuador has operated a nationwide 911 emergency call and response system, referred to as SIS-ECU 911.

An advanced, nationwide 911 emergency response system has been in operation since October 2013.

 

As in the US and elsewhere, all 911 calls are free. There are eight call centers throughout Ecuador, representing different regions of the country, with the closest to us in the nearby city of Portoviejo (40 minutes from San Clemente).

The ECU 911 service integrates a host of institutions including the national police, the armed forces, local fire departments, the National Transit System, Ministry of Health, Ecuador’s institute for social security, the Secretary of Risk Management, and the Red Cross as well as other local organizations.

The modern ECU 911 call center in Portoviejo

 

An integral component of the ECU 911 system is the “Transporte Seguro” (“Safe Transit”) program. This program was created in coordination with the National Transit System to reduce the number of road-related emergencies through monitoring and control of commercial transportation services. Part of this program was to install “Kits de Seguridad” (Security Kits) in all public buses and registered taxis in major cities across Ecuador.

Each of these security kits contains two video recording and infrared surveillance cameras and a panic button equipped with a GPS tracking device that immediately notifies 911 responders with the exact location of the vehicle. The system has a battery pack as a back up source of power. Buses are also equipped with sensors to remotely open and close the doors.

So far,  over 17,000 buses and 38,000 taxis have had security kits installed throughout Ecuador.

Schematic of the “Transporte Segura” program designed in part to reduce incidence of crime in public transportation.

 

Another innovative component of the ECU 911 system is a free smartphone app to quickly report emergencies utilizing a smartphone’s geo-referencing capabilities.  The app is called ECU 911 and is available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries.

I discovered this app when doing research for this post and just installed it on Tom’s and my phone.  It can be programmed in English or Spanish. You do not have to be an Ecuadorian resident or citizen to use it so I would highly recommend visitors to set it up in advance of their trip.  To set it up, I had to input my name, passport or Ecuador cedula number, cell number, emergency contact name and number, select my blood type from a pull-down menu, and list any physical disabilities or allergies.  This app is an excellent option for residents and visitors who are not fluent in Spanish.

View of the new smartphone app to report categorized emergencies to ECU 911. The app is free, easy to use, and immediately sends your exact location to the appropriate emergency responders.

 

And another interesting security advancement I recently learned about was the programming of a panic button on any kind of cell phone. To do this, you take your phone into the nearest police station where they register your phone and your specific home address (well, as specific as possible, anyways). In the event of an emergency at or near where you live, you press a single digit on your phone and it immediately notifies the local police. The cost is a mere $0.05. A recent newspaper article reported an average response time of 3 minutes in Quito! So, in a small town like San Clemente, we should expect a rapid response time as well.

Police station located in San Jacinto with jurisdiction over the towns of San Jacinto and San Clemete.

 

Like in so many other sectors of Ecuador,  technological advances are being made rapidly. As Tom was saying today, some of these changes are taking place so quickly we don’t even find out about them until a few months after the fact! It truly has been fascinating to watch the development that’s taken place inEcuador since we first came in 2006 and we look forward to all that is surely still to come.

Last Day of “Summer”

School along Ecuador’s coast starts tomorrow (May 5) after a two month vacation which began March 1.

Interestingly, children in the Sierra, i.e. in Ecuador’s mountain region, have a different school calendar, one which more closely coincides with those in the US and elsewhere. This situation lends itself well to supporting the coastal tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants, tour operators, etc. in effect thus have two distinct “high seasons” when families on vacation head to the beach. The first tourist season of the year is derived from the coastal families (March-May) and then second from the mountain folks ( June-August).

Since today was Kai’s last day of  “summer”  and the day was absolutely gorgeous, we had no choice but to go to the beach.  However, with Kai’s newly fractured arm, we went for a walk instead of our usual play in the sand and water.

Aiden and Kai enjoying a stroll along San Clemente’s beautiful beach.

 

The good news of course is that living on the beach in Ecuador means that every day is summer!