The HARSH Realities of Expat Life!

Even after five and a half years of living in Ecuador and lots of personal and national changes, we’re still thankful we moved here. It was (and still is) the best decision we could have made.

However, moving abroad also comes with a set of harsh realities that are often overlooked or underestimated.

Looking back, here are some of the most challenging aspects of expat life that we experienced and that you need to be prepared for…

Language Barrier

The HARSH Realities of Expat Life Language BarrierOne of the most significant challenges of living in a new country is the language barrier.

Despite YEARS of classes, multiple language apps and actually LIVING in a Spanish-speaking country, we still struggle with the language. We’re functional, but not fluent. And that’s really frustrating after all this time and energy.

Surprisingly, we still find it easier to speak Spanish in Mexico than in Ecuador. The version of Spanish spoken in Ecuador with its mix of Kichwa and unique words for common things is a constant challenge for us.

For example, the two common words for pen in Spanish are “pluma” and “bolígrafo.” However, in Ecuador, the word for pen is “esfero.” WHY?! 😫

The Spanish word for baby is “bebé,” but in Ecuador it’s “guagua,” which means “bus” in other countries. Seriously! WHY?! 😩

Thankfully, Ecuadorians are very patient people and appreciate our effort when we try to speak their language, but it’s a harsh reality sometimes.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a real phenomenon that affects many expats, including us.

When we first moved to Ecuador and rented a house in the nice neighborhood of El Vergel, we did NOT expect to have a dozen roosters for neighbors!

We looked at the house during the day so the roosters were quiet, but at 3:30AM on our first night in the house, they made themselves well known!

Closing all the doors in our house and cranking up the white noise machine helped, but some mornings at o’dark thirty, the only remedy was a pillow over the head 😖

That cultural difference shocked us awake every morning for over 2 years. The constant cacophony of noise in general is a harsh reality that we still haven’t fully adjusted to.


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The HARSH Realities of Expat Life!Feeling homesick is a common experience for many expats. Being away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings can be tough, especially during the holidays or special occasions.

We were already geographically dispersed from our family when we lived in the US so we didn’t see them very often, but it’s still difficult to be so far away, especially when our aging parents are sick or injured.

Last August, we spent a month back in the US after Amelia’s mom fell and broke her leg. Thankfully, we have the flexibility in our lives that allowed us to drop everything and go back to help, but only because we work online.

A few months later, my dad had back surgery and my mom had knee surgery, but we can’t afford to spend too much time in the high-cost USA, especially when my Ecuadorian health insurance only covers $40K in travel medical expenses.

It was hard being so far away and I wish we could have been there to help. Sometimes we really miss our family.

Visas and Bureaucracy

Navigating the visa process and govt bureaucracy is another harsh reality, especially if you’re not familiar with the local regulations. That’s why we always recommend working with a good visa agent.

We bumped into one of our subscribers at the mall recently and he told us he showed up for his visa appointment, but the person responsible for his case didn’t show up for work so he had to reschedule his appointment. That happens more than you might expect because it’s such a tranquilo culture.

Back in 2017, the day before we were scheduled to submit our visa application, the government changed the laws (effective immediately) and we were missing a key document that we couldn’t get in time for the appointment.

We had to cancel our appointment and the next available slot was 3 months later. Our background checks expired during that delay, so we had to reorder them, too.

Based on our research and what we’ve been told by expats in other countries, Ecuador has one of the best visa processes with the most options that are issued with the most consistency in all of Latin America. But it’s still a frustrating experience.

Making New Friends

Belly Dance Cuenca EcuadorMaking new friends and building a social network in a new country takes time, and it can be difficult to find people who share your interests and values.

When we landed in Ecuador, we didn’t know a single person. Thankfully, we had each other, but it was still a little lonely at first.

However, we met a few new arrivals at Apartamentos Otorongo in Cuenca and they formed our first group of friends. Then Amelia joined a yoga class and a belly dancing studio and we also signed up for a Spanish class.

All of these activities helped us meet new people and make new friends so we didn’t feel lonely for long. And it was nice to finally have friends that weren’t work-related!

Final Thoughts

Living abroad can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to learn, grow, and experience new things.

Despite a few harsh realities that we weren’t quite prepared for, our only regret is not moving abroad sooner. It truly has been life-changing!



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Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!

4 replies
  1. brandon_wallace
    brandon_wallace says:

    Thank you so much for this super cool article. There are pros and cons for every country we could live in. This article will be helpful to lots of people thinking about moving abroad.

    It is so funny what you said about the special words they use. I heard an Ecuadorian woman say “esfero” once and I said to her “¿Qué es eso?”. And I know those roosters all too well. They are awesome. LOL


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