Meet the Expats – Keith and Tina Paul, living in Cuenca, Ecuador

Keith and Tina have always been travellers. When their children were grown and flown they realised that they could be live a more international lifestyle and “stretch their retirement dollars” by moving overseas. Nowadays, as well as doing a LOT of travelling, they themselves provide advice and encouragement to help people get on the path to early, semi, or permanent retirement.

Keith and Tina in the Cuenca Flower Market

Where do you live now, and where did you move from?

We are currently living in Cuenca, Ecuador. We moved here from Pasadena California where we had lived for seven years. Before California, we lived 24 years in Orlando Florida and 24 years in Michigan.

Is this the first time you’ve been an expat? If not, where have you lived before? If so, what was the leaving process like?

This is our first time living as expats. Our children, in their early 20’s, had been expats for a few years before us. Leaving the U.S. was easy for us as we loved to travel and experience new cultures. Of course, we miss our family and friends but we stay in touch with everyone. Getting our residency visas for Ecuador was fairly straightforward. We worked with an Ecuadorian lawyer who filed all the paperwork for us. We picked up our resident visas before leaving the US at the Ecuadorian embassy in LA.

How do you spend your time? Do you work?

We travel a lot. We spend time on our early retirement and travel blog called Retire Early and Travel. We are also in the process of developing an online class that teaches people how they can retire early (at least 15 years) easily. Besides our course and blog work, we learned to play Bridge, and we play a few times each week with friends. Keith takes art lessons and now is an excellent watercolorist. Cuenca is a great city for socializing. There are lots of music and art venues, so we socialize a lot.

The Cathedral Domes of Cuenca taken from a nearby Courtyard

What do you miss most from home?

We miss our daughter who is now living back in California, and we miss our stateside friends and family. Keith misses not being able to order on Amazon Prime.

What do you appreciate the most in your adopted country?

We appreciate the warm and welcoming Ecuadorian people. We love the beautiful spring weather we have here all year round and the low cost of living.

How did you make new friends in your new home?

When we came here to scout out the place we took out an ad in a local online daily newsletter geared towards expats. We stated that we would be coming to check out the area and would bring small items from the states should anyone need anything. We had to take the ad down after 2 hours because we had over 40 responses. We ended up bringing stuff for 22 people. We now had 22 new friends :-).  When we moved here permanently, we went to this weekly dinner that was an expat meet-up. We took Spanish classes. We went to parties. Little by little you meet more and more people. We now have many North American and Ecuadorian friends.

Have you started learning the language? Any tips on the best way to do it?

We knew some Spanish before we got here that we learned in High School. Our plan was always to take additional Spanish lessons when we arrived so we took two 8-week Spanish classes. It helps to know some Spanish since very few locals speak English in Cuenca. We do not talk perfectly, but we speak enough to be understood. We quickly learned that you don’t need to be fluent but instead just have knowledge of some of the basics. Speaking broken Spanish is all you need to get by. The best thing you can do to learn a language is to practice talking with locals. Taxi drivers are a great place to start.

Typical produce market in Cuenca

Do you obviously stand out as being foreign? What’s your experience with this?

Locals can tell we are North Americans. Especially Keith with his gray hair. The Ecuadorians are very proud that we have chosen their country to live in. They realize that with an American Visa we can live almost anywhere and we decided on Ecuador. Occasionally we get an Ecuadorian who would love to move to the U.S. but can’t get a visa. They think we are crazy for leaving the U.S.

If you have children, what are your observations on Third Culture Kids?

We have two grown children.  Our son lived in India and China before we moved to Ecuador. He later lived in Thailand. Our daughter moved abroad three weeks after graduating from college. She lived in China, Spain, France and South Korea. I think our children were well prepared for different cultures as we always traveled with them. We took them to Germany, and we had an RV when our kids were young. So they traveled the entire U.S. They both have a passion for experiencing different cultures and adjust very easily.

Any tips for beating home sickness? 

We really have not experienced that yet. I think you should plan on returning to the U.S. once or twice a year to see your family and friends. It is also a great idea to have a guest room and invite your family and friends to visit. We have had 2 sets of friends visit, and they loved it here. We also think the Internet makes it easier to adjust. We talk and video chat to people in the U.S. weekly. Our fiber optic 60MB Internet here in Ecuador is better than we ever had in the U.S.

Friends from the States Visiting Cuenca and Enjoying Lunch by the River

What’s the most common question you are asked about being an expat?

How can you stand living outside the U.S.? Or, Why Ecuador (because they think its grass huts in the Amazon jungle).

How does the cost of living compare to where you were before? Anything that really surprised you as being particularly cheap or expensive?

We moved here from LA county. The cost of living Cuenca is about 1/5 of the cost of living in LA. We were really surprised by the low price of utilities ($52 for electric & water). We were also surprised by the low cost of most produce. For .50 I can buy a large head of organic broccoli and avocados are 3 for a $1.00.

Are you settled here now? Or do you plan to move on one day?

We are as settled as we have ever been in our married life. We shipped all of our things here in a container. BUT, we keep our options open which is why we are just renting. Our life plan is to see the world. Things change, we may decide to live in another country one day.

Would you share something embarrassing that happened to you as an expat (but that makes you smile when you look back)?

Social niceties were a little awkward at first. In the U.S. you shake hands whether it is a male or a female. In Ecuador, men shake hands. Women offer their left cheek for a kiss. This is true in all situation, even business. In the beginning, Keith stabbed a few women in the gut trying to shake hands when they were going in for a hug. Likewise, on returning to the U.S., he thinks he has made a few women uncomfortable kissing their cheeks. The same thing happens with language. When we visit the states, and someone does something for us speaking in English, and we respond with gracias, or instead of excuse me we say disculpe. It takes a day or two to remember to answer in English.

And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone considering moving to where you live, what would it be?

Visit here before moving here. Don’t expect this to be a little USA. You will not find the same things as the States. Things usually take longer here and the Ecuadorian’s are OK with that. If you are going to move here, you have to be OK with it too or you will not be happy. We tell people to try and visit for 3 or 4 weeks and live like a local. Stay in an Airbnb so you can shop and cook your own food. This is much better than staying in a fancy hotel to experience everyday life.

Tina and Keith Learning to Cook Guatemalan Food

Keep in touch!

You can follow Tina and Keith’s adventures on their website, and on social media using these links:




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