• February 4, 2023

These Arizona retirees ‘couldn’t afford’ America — now they live their dream life on $2,000 a month in Ecuador

At 72, Jacqueline Mackenzie lived in almost every state in the United States (her father was in the military and the family moved many times), spent six years in Mexico, and traveled around the world.

But it is in Vilcabamba – an Andean suburban town in southern Ecuador – where the retired teacher wants to spend the rest of her life.

“The climate is simply unbelievable – never under 58 [degrees Fahrenheit] or over 86, ”says Mackenzie, who moved to Ecuador with her husband Don in 2013. Jacqueline, who enjoys gardening, adds, “You can grow 365 days a year. It is a gardener’s paradise. “


“Our friends think we’re crazy, but they also envy us. An alternative lifestyle can go overseas, but you can also go overseas and be alternative. We do both. ‘

– Jacqueline Mackenzie

Although Vilcabamba is small (around 4,000 people live in the city and the surrounding valleys), it is home to many expats, especially Americans, Canadians and Europeans: “There are a lot of aging hippies,” jokes Jacqueline. Vilcabamba is especially attractive to people who love an outdoor lifestyle – hiking and bird watching are very popular here – and along with most of Ecuador has one strong ecological bias. In 2008, Ecuador was believed to be the first country in the world to extend constitutional rights to nature. One passage of the document stated that nature “has the right to exist, to exist, to maintain and to regenerate its vital cycles and structures. Functions and their processes in evolution ” as the New York Times reported at the time.

This ecological bias is one of the main reasons the Mackenzies moved to the country. You live in a so-called eco-village – the residents here try to have a minimal impact on the natural environment and to give something back to the planet. “We do what we can to lead a life that is less consumerist,” says Jacqueline.

That means they grow a lot of their own food, live in a house made of sustainable wood and stone, have a composting toilet, get their electricity from wind and water, and don’t have a water heater (the water is heated by the sun). Jacqueline explains, “We try to live a very simple life.”

The Mackenzie house in the eco-village.

Jacqueline Mackenzie

It’s a life they say they love – Jacqueline has only been to the US once since 2013, and Don hasn’t been back at all since. Of course, this is not for everyone. The city is small and Some say it’s too good to be true. Still, as Don points out, “the air is so clean and I can’t get over the intensity of the blue sky.” And Jacqueline jokes that because even her grandchildren have grown up now, “we just work on life”.

What do you spend each month?

The Mackenzies live on about $ 2,000 a month, most of which comes from Don’s retirement pension (he’s retired from the military), they say. “We couldn’t afford the states, but we’re rich here,” says Jacqueline, adding that they now live in a house with a “million dollar prospect”.

Their biggest expense when they first moved to Ecuador was rent: they paid $ 400 a month for a three-bedroom house on a quarter acre of land before moving to the eco-village last year. Now they stop paying rent after building their home for about $ 38,000. They lease the land for free because they help in the eco-village; When they die, their house and most of its contents go to the owner of the eco-village. They paid for the house through a combination of savings and loans.

Now they spend most of their money on groceries – roughly $ 375 a month – in part because, as Jacqueline says, they have an obligation to eat organic whenever they can. Other significant expenses are transportation – they don’t own a car but spend about $ 350 a month on taxis – and health insurance. It costs them about $ 100 a month, even though they have out-of-pocket medical costs such as medical expenses. B. Doctor’s appointments and prescriptions that can add up. Internet service costs them just over $ 80 a month, and a cell phone plan costs $ 28 a month. They also spend money on things like gardening tools, gardeners, seeds, trees, and soil.

In addition to their simple lifestyle, they save money by not having a television – “We haven’t had access to a television in eight months, so we are entertained by nature’s sunrises and sunsets,” says Jacqueline – and by not travel a lot and don’t eat out. “We like the rural lifestyle,” says Jacqueline. “Eating out isn’t a big deal for us. We have been to millions of concerts and plays. Now we listen to music with a glass of wine on the terrace. ”

The Mackenzies in front of their house.

Jacqueline Mackenzie

How is health care in Ecuador?

The Mackenzies say they have been impressed with the Ecuadorian health system so far. Both are insured by the Ecuadorian government (which costs about $ 100 a month total), and their out-of-pocket expenses weren’t too high. When she had her hip replaced a few years ago in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city, Jacqueline said the out-of-pocket cost was about $ 1,800. But because they live in a small town, they have to drive about an hour for some operations (when Don was operated on a few years ago, he did it in the nearby town of Loja).

You can find out more about the cost of health insurance in Ecuador here and Read expats talking about the quality and the cost of care here.

How hard is it to get a residence?

“It’s a nightmare,” says Jacqueline. “It’s complicated.” This resource can help you find out What you may need if you plan to stay or have permanent residence for an extended period of time.

What do you miss about the United States?

“Not politics,” jokes Jacqueline – who says it is her friends who she misses most. “I do my best to keep in touch, but I miss her.” For Don, it’s Home Depot
HD, + 1.03%
– “Getting parts for construction is difficult here, it can take two to three months.”

Bottom line:

Despite the great weather and simple lifestyle they both embrace, Jacqueline and Don say that it’s the people they love the most. Don meets with a group of around a dozen expats for brunch every Sunday, “to solve the world’s problems,” he jokes. And Jacqueline is a member of a “sister group” of about a dozen women in which “we try to support as emotionally as possible”. In addition, young people from all over the world visit the eco-village, so sometimes “five different languages ​​are spoken at one meal,” says Jacqueline.

“Our friends [in the U.S.] I think we’re crazy, but they also envy us, ”says Jacqueline. “An alternative lifestyle can go overseas, but you can also go overseas and be alternative. We do both. “

Read more of the MarketWatch Where Should I Retire Columns here.

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