UPDATED: The Journey Here: Why I Left The USA

This was submitted by our reader and friend Ed.  Please read this and leave us a comment with your thoughts:

EcuadorIn retrospect the journey “HERE” really began in 2010 when a friend from church, Bill, mentioned that he was thinking about traveling to another country and possibly buying a home. We were both very disenchanted with the United States and the oppressive government which we saw as only getting worse. In fact my wife, Olga, who was born in Siberia, raised in the former Soviet Union, said that she felt she had more freedom in the Soviet Union than in the USA – a very eye opening statement for me to hear.

Bill went to Panama and indeed purchased a beautiful property in a most exclusive area of that country. He and his wife invited us for a visit and in March 2011, we winged our way from Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg International Airport to Panama City, Panama. After a 90 minute commute from Panama City we arrived at Bill’s new home, a large, beautiful complex complete with pool and swim up bar in a gated community in Coronado Beach.


We spent 10 days in Panama and after returning to the US really had something to think about. We knew we could not afford anything near that lifestyle plus the weather was hotter than the hinges of hell there, so we searched online for an alternative location in Panama and found Boquete. It was in the mountains hence the climate was bearable and it was also was much more affordable. We bought books about Panama, books about retiring abroad, and studied what we could find on the Internet.


We both had jobs so there was no real urgency to do anything or make any plans, but it was fun to dream.


Then came April Fool’s Day.


On April 1, 2011, the supervisor where I worked said that he needed to see me. I was told that the company no longer required my services. I thought it was an April Fool’s joke – it definitely was not. At age 64 I was unemployed. To put the proverbial icing on the cake, the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 6, 2011, 5 months after losing my job, we lost our home and possessions in the flood waters of Tropical Storm Lee. After applying for 101 jobs and receiving but one interview I figured that there had to be something better somewhere. So back to the books and the Internet. We noticed that the cost of living was rising in Panama and since we would have only one income, my social security, Panama was no longer an option. Now what do we do?   After months and months of more research we decided on “HERE”.


We departed from Harrisburg International Airport on December 11, 2012 with nothing but faith and nine pieces of luggage. 2989 miles later we were “HERE”. Ironically we arrived on 12/12/12/ at 12 noon. So where in the world is “HERE”?


“HERE” is Cuenca, Ecuador, South America. Cuenca has been consistently named as one of the top locations in the world in which to retire and after living here for almost four years I must whole heartedly agree.



We made a move that many people said was foolish, insane and other adjectives I cannot use. Probably the biggest response and question we have heard is, “Why would you leave the number one country in the world and move to a third world country, Ecuador?” I have been asked that by friends, relatives, tourists, print and video journalists. What an easy question to answer!   After working for nearly 50 years including four years in the military I was totally disillusioned with the US regimes at every level telling me how to live every aspect of my government regulated life and being taxed into poverty.

Is the USA Number One – you bet it is……….it ranks number one in the world in:


1.) Largest prison population on the planet

2.) 2nd highest percentage of obese people of any country (Mexico is #1)

3.) Highest divorce rate in the world by a large margin

4.) Most hours of television watched each week

5.) Highest use of illegal drugs on the planet

6.) More car thefts by far than any place in the world

7.) More reported rapes than any place else in the world

8.) More reported murders than any other country

9.) More reported crimes than any other country

10.) More police officers than any place else in the world

11.) More money spent on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product

12.) More people on pharmaceutical drugs than any other country

13.) More women on more anti-depressants than any other country in the world

14.) Americans have more student loan debt than any other country

15.) 89 per cent of all pornography is created in the USA

16.) The USA has the highest trade deficit in the world

17.) The USA has the most complicated tax system in the world

18.) The USA has the most lawyers in the world

19.) The USA has far more military bases than any other country

20.) The USA has the largest debt that the world has ever seen


Yes, the USA is NUMBER ONE!!!……………..and it is no longer for me!!!  I didn’t leave the country, the country left me!

Since leaving the US and coming here, I now know how it must have felt to be on a life boat as the Titanic sunk.


cuenca-ecuador-8This city, Cuenca, is really an interesting and beautiful place. It is an old city that was founded in 1557. Four rivers transverse the city. There are many small neighborhood parks as well as well manicured linear parks that border the rivers with bicycle/walking paths and the parks have the heavy duty outdoor version of indoor exercise equipment that one would find in health clubs. One can bike/walk from one side of the city to the other side on the river paths.


Cuenca lies one degree from the equator hence one would assume that it would be very hot. Not so. The city is at an altitude of 8300 feet above sea level so the weather is wonderful. I equate the climate to late summer, early fall in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that being in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed. Summer temperatures (Fahrenheit) are in the 70’s during the day and 60‘s at night. In winter the temps run about ten degrees less. We have no heating or air conditioning in our apartment.



Because of the altitude the air is thinner and has less oxygen which affects about 25 per cent of tourists and new residents in a negative way. The main symptoms are light headedness and tiring quickly, but one soon becomes acclimated to the altitude. Fortunately I never experienced the problem, but my wife, Olga, did for about the first 10 days. The altitude’s big plus is insects – there are very few. In Pennsylvania we had to bath in insect repellent when walking by the river unless we wanted to be a black fly and mosquito buffet. We walk by the rivers here and……..no bugs.


Having grown up in small town America I never liked cities and always felt uneasy in them. In fact on a visit to New York City I experienced my only panic attack and had to go to Central Park so I could breathe. So when deciding to live in a city of 550,000 I had serious trepidation. My fears were vanquished our first day here. The city has a small town feel and I feel totally comfortable walking the streets day or night.


Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador and there is much to do and see. There is a plethora of museums, art galleries and historical sites to explore. The largest museum, theatre and also Inca ruins are a ten minute walk from our apartment. There is the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, the youth symphony orchestra and the youth orchestra whose performances are free. There are four universities and we volunteer at one, Cuenca University, to aid students in speaking English. There are 52 cathedrals in the city, the oldest one was built in 1567.


Planetarium of CuencaMost are magnificent architectural masterpieces. A new state-of-the-art planetarium recently opened and was designed to look like the planet Saturn complete with rings. Holidays and parades abound. One of the longest parades in the world is the Christmas Parade, (Paseo del Nino Parade), on December 24. It starts at 9:00am and continues until 5:00pm. Approximately 50,000 people participate and about 200,000 view the parade.


The Cuencanas are very happy, friendly and laid back. Their attitude seems to be that they work to coffee-tree-cafe-cuenca-578x498live, not live to work. The crime rate is very low. Unemployment is low. Thousands of Ecuadorians that left Ecuador to work in the United States for years are now returning to Ecuador – mainly to Cuenca.


There is much construction and renovation throughout the city. A new $230 million dollar light rail system is being built and is to be completed in 2016. A $600 million dollar, 50 kilometer, (30 mile), 6 lane highway with 11 bridges around Cuenca is being planned. Two of the bridges will be the longest in South America.


Our new city of residence is not perfect. Yes, there are problems we have encountered. There are things we do not like or find annoying. The biggest difficulty is definitely the language.

  • The national language is Spanish……period. When phoning it is not, “press one for English, two for Spanish, three for Polish, four for Swahili, five for Vietnamese, six for Icelandic, et cetera, et cetera.”
  • Olga and I have been studying Spanish and want to learn to converse in the native tongue. Spanish will be Olga’s fifth language! Learning Spanish is not easy but we are guests in their country. When we first arrived I knew two Spanish words “cerveza and “bano” – “beer” and “bathroom”.
  • My vocabulary has expanded a bit since then……….
  • Getting our permanent visas was a difficult process. It took us six months. The immigration office kept changing the rules and requirements. What was correct yesterday was not correct today. It was an extremely frustrating experience that required much patience. Apparently bureaucrats are the same everywhere – a pain just south of my back. I understand the visa process is easier now……….
  • Car alarms are the bane of tranquility. Most cars have them – and the alarms all sound the same. There could be a 2015 Ferrari or a 1985 Yugo and one would not know from which the sound was emanating. How someone can sit in his car while listening to an ear piercing alarm as if it was elevator music beats me……….
  • Car horns! When the traffic light turns green the drivers lay on their horns. How a driver ten cars back blowing his car horn is going to affect the driver at the light is a mystery to me……….
  • Car turn signals are another story – they are rarely used. The wiring on cars here should be reversed. When the horn is used it should activate the turn signals and vice versa……….
  • Traffic lights and stop signs seem to be a suggestion – pedestrians beware!……….
  • There are many street dogs and one must be alert when walking not to step in doggie exhaust……….
  • Graffiti! Now I understand why few Ecuadoreans have checking accounts – it is difficult to sign a check with a spray can……….
  • Despite these annoyances I would still rather live here than the USA.

Being from Pennsylvania I would like to congratulate my home state for being named number five. It was cited as being the fifth most corrupt state in the USA. I formerly lived in south central Pennsylvania, nine miles from the capitol, Harrisburg, and 30 miles from York. In the latest published list of the 100 most dangerous cities in which to live due to violent crime, Harrisburg was number 25 and York was number 33. Keep up the good work!


There are some interesting differences that I have noticed between Cuenca and Pennsylvania. I know these things will not apply to all states, but since I lived in PA I have to use it as a comparison:

  • All the telephone poles here are made of concrete……….
  • Lawns at people’s homes and grass in the parks are cut with spin trimmers. I have seen only one lawn mower and no ride mowers……….
  • If I want beer, wine or liquor, I go to a store and buy it – there are no union and state controlled alcohol monopolies……….
  • There is one post office in this city of over a half million people……….
  • When a product or service of any kind is purchased the price marked or quoted includes tax……….
  • Prices in many restaurants include tax and tip……….
  • I can get my shoes repaired for a fraction of new price……….
  • All financial institutions have armed guards carrying mostly sawed off shotguns – I have heard of no bank robberies……….
  • Many pharmaceuticals for which I needed a prescription can be purchased here over-the-counter (the exception being medicines containing narcotics and heavy pain medication). Before I left the USA I went to Wal-Mart to have a prescription filled, cost was $168.00. I could not afford that much. I bought the exact same brand and size here without a prescription for $6.87……….
  • Sue is still a name here, not a verb……….
  • Children are actually taught here how to cross a street without a crossing guard……….
  • Believe it or not, there are no police officers or metal detectors in the schools……….
  • Students are well dressed for school in very attractive uniforms and when not in school the males have their pants worn at waist level and their caps have the bills facing front, (imagine that!)……….
  • Even though the altitude is 8300 feet above sea level and the oxygen thin, I have seen nobody carrying or pulling oxygen devices to breathe – but then I have seen very few smokers……….
  • I can tell the difference between the males and females – the females are the attractive ones with the long hair and I have not seen women wearing flip flops and baggy pants that look like pajama bottoms or that they are in clown training with Ringling Brothers Circus……….
  • Cars can have tinted windows, lights in the wheel wells and other aftermarket equipment that would be illegal in Pennsylvania……….
  • One can ride in the bed of a pickup truck without being stopped by police and ticketed……….
  • I hear less police and fire sirens in this city of 550,000 than I did in a town of 8900……….
  • The police are all in good shape here as they walk, no riding in air conditioned $30K patrol cars, plus there are no 7-11‘s or Dunkin’ Donut shops……….
  • Children and adults utilize the parks and are outdoors playing soccer, volleyball and basketball……….
  • Voting here is mandatory and one is fined if one does not vote……….
  • Political campaigning is strictly limited to 45 days before an election and must cease 48 hours before the polls open……….
  • Voting is conducted on the weekend……….
  • Doctors here still make house calls……….
  • I have my doctor’s personal cell phone number and can call him any time I need him, day or night……….
  • Dollar coins are used here almost exclusively instead of dollar bills……….
  • I do not have to hear the over used terms and words, “Like you know”, “Awesome” and “Dude” – what a blessing……….
  • And, Thank God, nobody here cares about Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, or the Kardashians!!!!!


How many times have I heard, “But, Ed, you moved to a “third world country”. Aren’t living conditions primitive? Well, not exactly.

We live in a new 1616 square foot apartment that has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, living room, kitchen and laundry. There are ceramic tiled floors throughout, except for the bedrooms which have hardwood floors. The kitchen has a breakfast bar that can seat six and all the kitchen counter tops are marble. The dining room is large enough to house our table and eight upholstered chairs. In our living room we have 2 full size sofas, a love seat, 2 large arm chairs, tables, lamps and an entertainment center for the 39 inch TV.


All the bedrooms have built in closets, cupboards and drawers with more space than we will ever fill. We have two skylights plus additional storage. Our apartment is on the second floor of a three floor building and has an intercom system and electric locks for security. Guests can call our apartment from outside the building and we can unlock the two security doors by pressing buttons in our apartment.


And we have stopped cleaning our clothes by beating them on rocks at the river ever since we had the electronic, stainless steel Samsung automatic washer installed. So, no, we are not “roughing it”……….Oh, the monthly rent – $350 and not increased in 4 years.


“But, Ed, is the water safe to drink?” Studies show that the water in Cuenca has been rated as the best water in South America. We drink the water straight from the tap.


What a joy it is not to own a vehicle! No payments, no gasoline, oil, tires, maintenance and no insurance. Since I am over 65 I can take a bus any place in the city for $.12. For those under 65 the cost is $.25. The taxi fare runs between $1.50 and $3.00. If one owns a car here gasoline is $1.48 per gallon and diesel fuel is $1.03 per gallon.


A lunch at one of the local restaurants consisting of a bowl of soup, large platter, juice and dessert costs $2.00. I walk across the street for a haircut/beard trim – $2.00.

The only tax I pay is on purchases which was 12 per cent, but has “temporarily” increased to 14% to help rebuild the coastal areas devastated by an earthquake.

But since I am over 65 I get all the tax back I have paid by submitting a form with my receipts. I am living tax free.

If one uses the credit unions, (cooptivas), the rate of interest on a certificate of deposit is between eight and 10 per cent.

Since we have to pinch every penny until Lincoln’s eyes water, I keep track of every cent spent. Yes, the dollar is the currency used so there is no worrying about exchange rates. Here is what my monthly expenses have averaged:

Electricity (includes trash pickup 3 times weekly)          $12.08

Water                                                                                     $8.54

Propane (for hot water, clothes dryer and stove/oven)     $4.47

Internet/Phone                                                                      $31.16

Transportation                                                                      $17.83

How does that compare with your monthly expenses?


The two categories of items which are considerably more expensive here are automobiles which are roughly 30 per cent more and electronics which can be as much as double the price in the states. To help remedy the difference in the price of electronics a new television manufacturing facility is being built and a new cell phone factory has just opened.


The retail price of a new smart phone will be lower, (if, indeed one requires that). I use a phone that I bought for $31.50.


“But, Ed, I suppose when you are sick you go to a medicine man?” No, I usually go to the medical clinic that also has a dentist and massage therapist. A visit there is $20.00. Medical and dental tourism is flourishing in Cuenca and one can certainly see why that is happening. Price and service. For example, people can come here for dental implants and pay 75 per cent less than in the USA. Most doctors and dentists here are trained in the USA or Europe.


Since I have been in Cuenca I have lost 30 pounds and three inches from my waist. My blood pressure and blood sugar are the best they have ever been. I attribute those better numbers to a healthier life style, plus the fruits and vegetables are seldom exposed to pesticides and no genetically modified foods, (GMO’s). The animals are free range, there is no animal “warehousing” and they are not shot full of growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics.


There is government health insurance but it is NOT mandatory. We are allowed to think for ourselves, a novel concept! One can purchase government insurance, private insurance or no insurance. The government insurance premium is $64.42 monthly and if a dependent is added the additional cost is $12.48. The government insurance covers medical, dental, prescription and hospitalization with no deductibles or co pays.


That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Now you know where “HERE” is located, how we got “HERE” and “HERE” we intend to stay.


From beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador –


Ed O’Connor

Eddy The Ex pat


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