How To Survive Culture Shock in a Foreign Country

Embarking on a new adventure in a foreign country can be both exciting and challenging.

Ecuador, with its vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and warm people, offers a unique experience for expats. However, adjusting to a new environment can push you outside your comfort zone.

Culture shock is very real and it can blindside you when you’re least expecting it. That’s why it’s so important to know about some of the cultural differences that might shock you, and take a few precautions to help you mentally prepare for them.

While our experience is based in Ecuador, these cultural differences aren’t exclusive to Ecuador. You’ll find many of the same issues we described throughout Latin America, and most of the tips we share will help you prepare for a move to other countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Colombia, Peru, etc.

Watch Our Video About Our Culture Shock in Ecuador

Mentioned in the video: Education First study

Language Barriers

One of the first hurdles you may encounter is the language barrier.

While some Ecuadorians do speak English it is not widely spoken. Most people speak Spanish only. Taking Spanish lessons before your arrival or immersing yourself in language practice can significantly enhance your experience

We started using language apps and focusing on basic vocabulary and phrases. We recommend learning restaurant, taxi and mercado Spanish.

Even basic phrases go a long way, and locals are usually patient and supportive when trying to communicate.

Embracing The Differences

Ecuador may differ from what you’re accustomed to, particularly if you’re coming from a more developed country.

Unfinished buildings, dirt roads, and cultural practices that seem unfamiliar may initially give you pause.

However, by adopting an open mindset and embracing the adventure, you’ll find that these differences contribute to Ecuador’s unique charm.

We were a little afraid the first time we saw someone walking down the street with a machete, but that’s normal in Ecuador and in Latin America.

Seeing broken glass on the tops of walls and bars on the windows is common and no longer scary.

Noise 

Ecuador is known for its lively atmosphere, which may come as a surprise if you’re used to a quieter environment.

From roosters crowing in the morning to exuberant celebrations with fireworks at any time of day or night, the noise level can be higher than what you’re accustomed to.

Embracing the vibrant ambiance can help you adapt and enjoy the cultural richness of Ecuador.

Communication Challenges

Ecuadorians may not always volunteer information readily, which can lead to misunderstandings or confusion. Take the initiative to ask specific questions and seek clarity when dealing with services.

Remember that Ecuadorian customs may differ from what you’re used to, and being proactive in seeking information will help you navigate these situations more effectively.

For example, JP went to get two prescriptions filled at the pharmacy. They put some pills in a bag, sent him on his way and when he  got home he realized he only received one of the prescriptions.

He went back and asked, where’s the other one? They said, oh, well, we don’t carry that one. You have to go someplace else for it, but they didn’t tell him. This happens a lot. They just don’t volunteer information.

The Rule of Threes

Be prepared to exercise patience and adaptability in Ecuador. It’s not uncommon for things to require multiple attempts or visits before they are successfully resolved. We call this the “Rule of Threes”.

Whether it’s setting up cell phone service, internet connection, or understanding local administrative processes, allowing for extra time and remaining patient will go a long way in overcoming these challenges.

This drove me crazy when we first got here. It took three times to get our cell phone set up. It took three times to get our internet set up. It took three times to figure out how to pay our rent. Etc. Etc.

We didn’t know the questions to ask so we had to go home, gather more documents or required information, and return to try again. Now we expect that things may take some extra time or extra trips and it doesn’t bother us (as much).

Allow extra time, try to remain patient, and don’t forget to ask questions!

Practical Adjustments

There are a few practical adjustments that may take some getting used to.

For example, tap water is generally not potable in Ecuador, so you’ll need to buy bottled water or use water filters (you can drink the tap water in Cuenca and a few other places).

Many businesses do not accept credit cards, so it’s advisable to carry cash for day-to-day transactions. If you’re visiting a small town they may not have an ATM so make sure to withdraw cash before you go.

Most places in Ecuador use propane for cooking and hot water. You’ll need to remember to check your tanks so you don’t run out during your shower! Gas trucks circulate in the neighborhoods frequently and the cost is just a few dollars.

There are still many places in Ecuador where you can’t flush the toilet paper. I know this might be a bit uncomfortable for you, but you do get used to it. In newly constructed housing you typically can flush or use a bidet.

Taking an Exploratory Trip

Before making a permanent move to Ecuador, consider taking an exploratory trip to get a firsthand experience of the country. This initial visit allows you to assess if Ecuador is the right fit for you and helps minimize surprises upon relocation.

During your exploratory trip, spend time exploring a couple different places in which you’d like to live, interact with locals, and immerse yourself in the culture. It’s an opportunity to get a taste of daily life, understand the local customs, and gauge your comfort level with the surroundings.

By treating the exploratory trip as a “coffee date” rather than a marriage proposal, you alleviate the pressure to fall in love with Ecuador immediately. This perspective allows you to objectively assess whether the country aligns with your expectations and lifestyle preferences.

We recommend connecting  with other expats online before your exploratory trip and meeting them in person if possible. Online forums, Facebook groups, and expat communities (like our private chat community) offer a wealth of information and the opportunity to speak with people who have already gone through the transition. Their experiences and advice can help you navigate challenges and make informed decisions about your potential move.

Final Thoughts…

While moving to Ecuador may initially take you outside your comfort zone, it’s essential to approach the experience as an adventure and embrace the differences.

Learning the language, connecting with other expats, and being patient and adaptable will help minimize culture shock and make your transition smoother.

Remember that your experience may differ from others, and giving yourself time to adjust will ultimately lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling journey in beautiful Ecuador.

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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!

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