Interview with Michel Blanchard of Ecuador at Your Service
I’ve heard plenty of talk about Ecuador among expats, and in April the Overseas Radio Network featured an article on the matter, “10 Reasons Why Ecuador is a Top Retirement and Expat Destination.” That was in addition to the Network’s weekly show devoted to the nation.
However, Ecuador is a country I’m more than familiar with—I’ve just arrived back this week from my latest trip there—and I’m concerned with the accuracy of many testaments that stretch the truth in a positive direction. I’m not ruling the nation out, since it does have so much to offer. Rather, I’d like people to have an accurate assessment before plowing in.
The Heritage Foundation, for example, ranks Ecuador as the 156th freest nation in the world and well below the international average. One irritating intervention that comes to mind in Quito, the capital, is the rationing of car use. People are simply not permitted to use their cars on certain days of the week. Another imposition that many North Americans would find strange is that all people must vote or face a fine.
In January, I devoted a full episode to Ecuador, and this clip includes interviews with Alexandra Veloz, a lawyer working in Quito, and Mónica Barreno, the director of a Spanish school I recommend and where I studied in 2010 (41 minutes, MP3).
The back story to that episode, though, is that my two planned guests did not make it. One, Michel Blanchard of ORN’s Ecuador at Your Service radio show, was kind enough to offer a written interview instead. He is pictured below this article with his co-host, Ashley Rogers, and I thank him for his perspective. At least all of his observations on Ecuador are consistent with my experience and show why one would want to move there.
How on earth did you end up in Ecuador from the province of Quebec in Canada?
I actually was living in Palm Springs, California, for many years before I took the leap. I was sick of the politics in the US, sick of the war and of all my taxes going to the war, so far well over a trillion dollars. Obama, who I unfortunately voted for, didn’t change anything. Same guy, different color.
In Canada, although the Prime Minister is pretty scary, you see where your taxes are going: the cities are clean and “green” conscious, you have an excellent free health care system, and the universities are affordable.
I ended up in Ecuador because I do dislike the weather in Canada, and also, I wanted an adventure and to start a business. Starting a business in a developing country is a very good idea because they need everything and have relatively little expertise and marketing skills. And, almost everything costs much, much less.
What other countries did you consider, and why did you settle on Ecuador?
I was considering any country, Bangladesh, China, wherever. I am single and have no attachments, so I was pretty open. I used to be a fashion model, and I have lived in many, many countries (I lived in Hong Kong for five great years, I lived in Japan, in Indonesia, in several places in Europe) and I was willing to go where the flow took me. After some research, I zeroed in on South America, then, little by little, Ecuador started making a lot of sense to me, because it is such a young country (median age is 23!), and developing quite rapidly, yet still has a quality of life that I can relate to, and the economy is doing well. It’s not like it’s donkeys and dirt roads!
Are you settled, or do you continue to look at other countries as new options?
Well, because I have a business here, I am pretty much settled for a while, but I wouldn’t mind figuring out how I could live in the South of France and still have my business!
You’re now in Cuenca, correct. Why that location, and are there other parts of the country that you recommend potential immigrants consider?
It all depends on what you like. I lived in Cotacatchi, North of Quito, for a while, and that is very popular with expats, but personally, it was too boring for me. I mean, it is gorgeous, the mountains are spectacular, but unless all you want to do is knit and look out the window, it’s not for you. Quito is okay but big. To me, it has all the disadvantages of a big city and very little of the advantages, like culture and the energy of a growing city.
The coast can be quite lovely, and some beaches, like in the Esmereldas region are beautiful, but again, you will feel a bit isolated. Of course, if that’s what you want, great.
Cuenca for me makes the most sense, it is so cultural and in many ways quite cosmopolitan, always something to see or to go to, although I do miss the Palm Springs weather.
How difficult is residency? What visa do you work with?
Visas are getting harder and harder to get in Ecuador, the laws are constantly changing. When I first came here, almost two years ago, everything was so easy: you could get a work visa in a blink of an eye and not even show activity for two years. Now, a work visa is very hard to get, you need a million things; I am currently on a work visa but I am working on a residency visa and that too has become quite complicated. They want everything notarized, even your original birth certificate. (They are nuts about notarizing things here, even official government documents. It’s weird.)
And now the new laws insist on everyone having a police check from their country of origin, and since mine is Canada, it’s actually quite complicated because in Canada, you need digitalized fingerprints and all that stuff. They say the police record is necessary because of the Columbian drug Lords laundering money here, but hey, if you were a Columbian drug Lord, wouldn’t you have all the “right” papers available to you? Please.
How closely do you follow the news and political developments there?
Not as much as I should, because I still don’t know who to trust information wise. I am now fluent, or almost, in Spanish, but I still don’t quite know how to navigate the information system, which is crucial in forming a reliable opinion on current events. I talk to people from all walks of life, but that still is not very helpful. Uneducated people are very easy to manipulate, and rich people are so self serving, so it’s hard to see the real picture.
How stable would you describe it, and do you think the Heritage Foundation got their ranking wrong when it comes to Ecuador?
I would describe Ecuador as very stable as far as a South American country is concerned, and I would frankly rather live here than in the States. I have no clue how the Heritage Foundation got this ranking. They definitely have it wrong.
What does a liberty-minded person have to gain from being in Ecuador?
This is a very good question. I left the States in part because I felt my liberties were shrinking by the day. After 9/11, which was definitely an implosion and not just two planes crashing in probably the two most solid buildings in the world, things really changed for American people in an enormous way.
I started to worry big time after the Patriot Act passed. In those days, even a hint of disagreement with the government was labeled as treason or at the very least “unpatriotic.” That’s when you know things are turning for the worse. Under the guise of “protecting the people,” law after law was passed that restricted civil liberties.
It’s a classic strategy that’s been used over and over throughout history: you instill fear into people, talk incessantly about “the enemy,” and then take away their rights for their so called protection. And most Americans are so busy watching Dancing With The Stars, or porn, or medicating themselves, that they don’t even notice what is going on around them.
It’s scary. I remember hearing Governor Schwarzeneger proclaim, in the thickest Austrian accent possible: “We must protect our borders and keep foreigners out!” How ironic.
In Ecuador, they are really sensitive to civil rights, the indigenous people have reclaimed their liberties such as water rights and so on, and even though there is a big discrepancy between the haves and haves not, you still get a sense of great progression in the right direction. So it’s very interesting to live in a country that is going towards expanding liberties, coming from the States which is going in the opposite direction.
I love how president Correa responded to the demand by America to implement military bases in Ecuador, as they did in most neighboring countries. He said: “Sure, we’ll accept the bases as long as we can put Ecuadorian military bases in your soil.” I don’t agree with all he does, but that was brilliant.
Are there particular people who would do well to stay away? What kind of person would get the most out of a move to Ecuador?
Definitely, the people that want to Americanize Ecuador should stay away. I actually heard that term quite a few times. You meet these types and they basically want to transplant their lives without any sensitivity to local customs and culture.
I remember sharing a taxi with this guy who was yelling on top of his lungs to the driver to turn off “that godawful clown music,” and the driver had no clue what he was saying because he was speaking English, and then the guy went on this whole tirade about how incomprehensible it is that everyone doesn’t speak English and how retarded the country was, then actually shut the radio off himself, calling the driver a “dumbass.” I was furious and got off the cab immediately. So, yes, people who aren’t willing to share and accept the local culture and just want to impose their way of life should stay away.
On the other hand, people who have a sense of adventure and adaptability, and who want to experience a young country that is in the stages of great transformation both socially and economically would get the most out of a move to Ecuador. If you have an entrepreneurial and pioneer spirit, come to Ecuador!