Six Reasons Moving to Ecuador (or any developing country) Could Lengthen Your Life

by Manya on November 4, 2014

Why would you want to live in a third world country?”  was a question I heard often, both before and after I moved to Ecuador.  [The question of whether Ecuador is a third world country or actually a developing country shall remain an academic question here but you know my bias.]

ClownTrashCan-0605Ask most expats their reasons for moving to Ecuador, certainly those over 60, and the great majority will mention greater financial ease.  Others will also talk about embarking on an adventure and the desire to travel in retirement.  Certainly moving to a developing country serves all these motivations.

However – notwithstanding the value and import of those – there are six other powerful reasons to relocate to a developing country that could potentially lengthen your life, and if not, still improve your life quality immeasurably.  If you want to thrive as an expatriate, consider and embrace them:  they are the grit in the proverbial oyster shell that will allow you to find the pearls available when you let go of the comforts, convenience and familiarity of your “first world” country.

1.   Exercise Your Brain

Research has shown that learning a new language even later in life improves cognitive function and can delay onset of dementia.     Assuming you don’t know the language of your adopted country, if you really want to understand its’ culture, experience its’ richness, and not be limited to living in a gringo bubble, you get to take on the challenge of learning a new language.  (Excuse my American ethnocentrism here – if you’re European I suspect you already know at least three languages and thus are well ahead of the game both in the communication and healthy brain departments!)  I don’t know about you, but at age 64 keeping my brain as young, strong and functional as possible is definitely in my top three priorities!

2.   Mobilize your Ingenuity & Creativity

U.S. natives, of whom I am one, are spoiled for choice and convenience.   Sixteen months as an expat in Ecuador has shown me that too much choice and convenience make us lazy because we don’t have to create what we need or want, we just hop in the car and go shop for it.  In a developing country you get to re-engage your ingenuity when you can’t find the item, much less the specialty store that has what you need (and yes, I still dream of cottage cheese, real maple syrup,  gutter flashing to prevent further water erosion of our balcony cement wall, and you name it….).  When you have to continually problem-solve, take new risks, get back to making things, and collaborate in new ways with locals and expats alike,  you get  both  the immediate outcomes you are seeking and the deeper long-lasting benefits of  increased creativity, resilience and sense of self-efficacy.   A good recipe for graceful aging.

3.   Test Your Limits, Expand Your Sense of Self

Encountering challenges, unknowns, strangely different norms, customs, and expectations forces you to confront the habits of thinking, feeling, and acting that keep you from being a more fulfilled, happier being.  We all have them.  Like it or not, you will be stretched. You will grow and expand in your ability to detach from those habituated patterns of attention (thinking, feeling, or behavior) that sub-optimize what is possible, and experience greater equanimity and acceptance of what life brings.

4.   Increase Your Ability to Live More Simply Yet Richly

Creativity is a biological and spiritual impulse that arises out of our innate restlessness to make things new, better, beautiful, and true.”  The simpler life is a potent catalyst for rediscovering and rejuvenating one’s creativity which is itself the spark of new life.  In the process of creation, whether we consume the fruits and products of our labors or enjoy them ongoing in our lives, they are so much more enriching and fulfilling than buying them in the store.  Witness one of my newfound delights – buying unfinished furniture and creating art!  [Big thanks to Kathy McCullough of IdiomArt for the inspiration]


5.   Strengthen your Resilience

As I mention above, mobilizing ingenuity and creativity, and testing your limits will inevitably strengthen your resilience but it’s worth highlighting.  Simply put, resilience is the single most important factor in well-being, and you can’t have enough of it if you want to enjoy the later years with all their joys and sorrows.  In aging studies, resilience and depression (or lack thereof) had significant associations with self-rated successful aging, with effects comparable in size to that for physical health.  That being said, of course you want to make sure your new home does have the basic services you need, such as good medical care!

6.   Contribute to the common good

Developing countries by definition have gaps in various areas of their development. That means lots of opportunity to introduce and spread your talents and strengths to enrich the culture and society of your new home. A few examples of the many wonderful groups and activities in Cuenca I’ve encountered are Dance Club CuencaFishbon del Sur, , Hearts of Gold Foundation, and FAAN.

Unlike the U.S. where there’s so often a glut of choices in any given niche, here there’s a great receptivity to and hunger for  healing and personal growth services, spiritual and philosophical study groups, writers groups, artist collaboratives, performing arts groups…..the possibilities for contribution and personal fulfillment (not to mention business) are endless.

Want to rejuvenate, reinvent, and grow yourself?  A move to a developing country may just be your answer.

What benefits have you discovered in your moves, international or domestic, that made them so much more rewarding than you could have known beforehand?  And if you’ve made other changes that required a leap of faith, what were the rewards?



Jeremiah November 15, 2014 at 5:52 am

Love the article, Manya. As a retired carpenter, I relate to your points of how challenging live in Ecuador can be, though I had to rise above adversity to become a carpenter in the U.S.
Cuenca has different building materials and processes but it is still rewarding after a day of work when making wood furniture, for example. I expand my vocabulary of both carpentry and Spanish, in the course of working at what I enjoy.
I enjoyed the comments and your replies as well; it feels nice to be in such company!

Manya November 15, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Thanks, Jeremiah! It is a blessing to continue to be able to do those things we love, no matter where we are!

Elizabeth November 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Dear Manya,

What a journey you and James have embarked on. Although a move to another country is not in the cards for us, your words and sharing of your wisdom is an inspiration for anyone reaching retirement … I particularly appreciate the ” productive gremlin” comment … I’m still having arguments with mine.

Manya November 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

So glad you stopped by, Elizabeth! We must catch up soon, and perhaps you and John will at least come for a visit, we’d love to see you and share some of the sights as well as your company.

Dennis Fahey November 11, 2014 at 12:19 am

Nice post. I’m going to put it on my phone and reread it when I’m standing in line for my visa!

LyndaS November 9, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Very well written. Thanks for writing this article.

I love to move and all that goes with it (the cleaning, the purging, etc.). I have never moved outside of the country, but dream about doing it some day. Time for me to prepare by prepping on my foreign language(s) vocab.

Manya November 10, 2014 at 12:06 am

Thanks for your comment, Lynda – your move should be easier given you love all that goes with moving! Follow your dream and good luck with it!

Jim Jolliff November 9, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Manya, you have a unique and artistic way of expressing your views. Your writing style is interesting and keeps me wanting more. We retired from the U.S. Navy almost 20 years ago, and the other day we commented on how our lives have slowed down. Currently, the highlight of each day is a fresh cup of coffee each morning. We visited Ecuador last year and will be moving down this coming year. We have discussed how this adventure will once again give us a purpose each and every day. We will have things that need to be done, if not more than going to the mercado. Having lived in Panama during our Navy career, we dearly love the Latino culture. Thank you so much for a great article and giving us a new perspective to our new life.

Manya November 9, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Thanks very much for your comment and perspective, Jim. What will inevitably be interesting is to see how your sense of purpose and what emerges from that will evolve. If you’ve already slowed down, you don’t have to deal with the inner gremlins of being “productive”, a definite head start. Good luck with your move!

Susan Marion-Phillips November 8, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I think your observations are right on. We packed 11 suitcases and sold or gave away everything else…every single thing. We did not allow for an escape plan because we knew we’d probably use it after hitting a few roadblocks. We spent our growing up years by the beach in Southern California, moved to Phoenix for 25 years and wanted to spend the rest of our lives at the beach again. Life is a daily challenge in our small town, but we are more resilient than we ever imagined. My Spanish is to the point that I can hold conversations about most anything with most anyone (OK… My grammar isn’t always perfect, but I seem to be the only one troubled by that). My husband is building our home and somehow he and our maestro and the crew always end up on the same page. I often miss the convenience of hopping into my cute Mini Cooper and heading to Safeway for a tub of Knudsen cottage cheese and I’m oh so positive my husband misses Home Depot, but the giddy glee we share when we find something we’ve been searching for is priceless. Life here is a dichotomy. It’s hard but it’s simple. It’s frustrating but it’s tranquilo. This is our home now and we love it, pimples and all.

Manya November 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Susan – thanks so much for sharing your personal experience/story and your comment about life is a dichotomy is so true, perhaps a paradox as well.

MaryAnn November 8, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Hi! I so much enjoy your writings and your wisdom. I retired in June from teaching and am coming to Cuenca on Jan. 20. I will be in Ecuador for 3 months. I would love to meet you while I’m there.

Manya November 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Thanks so much for your comment and kind words, Mary Ann. I”d love to meet you when you come to Cuenca. Just contact me through my web site once you arrive.

Kathie Sedwick November 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I’ve thought of the qualities you describe as prerequisites for living happily and thriving in Ecuador, I appreciate you describing them as things in ourselves that can be developed moving here. Not everyone comes to Ecuador as ready as others, they need to learn, experience, experiment, adjust, adapt, and mature and that can take time. And everyone will take the time they need, not how much someone else thinks they need. It’s another reason for new or prospective expats do more listening, absorbing, thoughtful questioning and less arguing. And another reason for more experienced expats to have some patience with people still finding their feet and less judging before they label anyone or tell them to go back to where they came from when what they may be observing is normal frustration when people are learning.

Manya November 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm

You offer important perspective, Kathie, on the importance of exploring, researching, clarifying. And I would add that the qualities I describe can of course be found anywhere, but if one has reached a dead end (for financial or other reasons) in their native land (U.S. in case), a move abroad where life is easier/simpler in a number of respects can make these qualities come alive again.

Kathy McCullough November 7, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Oh, Manya, what a wonderful piece. You amaze me with your ability to synthesize, interpret, and articulate. I believe that is the mark of fine mind–and you possess that rare gift. I’d suggest you think about contributing to the Huffington Post section for 50 plus folks. We can talk about that.

And thanks SO much for the shout-out, my friend!


Manya November 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I appreciate your gracious comment,Kathy. Your own fine mind and feedback are invaluable. Definitely, let’s talk about Huffington Post soon – I appreciate the encouragement as well as your consistent artistic inspiration and modeling.

Magdalena Herreshoff November 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Manya, you say these things so eloquently! Thanks for the reminders.

Manya November 7, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Thanks, Magadalena! Given the U.S. election this week, not having to deal with the stress of the political climate in the U.S. is another longevity factor:-) Though if I were more engaged in following Ecuadorean politics, I might feel stressed here too. The immigrant experience is definitely its’ own unique experience with many twists and turns, and it’s great that we have a community in which we can reflect on it.

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