A couple of months ago I arrived in Quito, Ecuador, expecting to settle here for a few years, maybe more. However I’ve decided it is not for me. At least I don’t think so. I’ve returned to the UK for a while to cool off.
Moving to any country is tough, especially during a pandemic. And it’s also very personal. I really struggled in Quito, Ecuador, while I know others who live there and love it.
I’ve lived in Lebanon, India, Syria (pre-civil war) and many, many more places. But nothing prepared me for life in Quito.
Just to make clear, my husband loved it in Quito and he adored Ecuador in general. Many friends of mine lived there and loved it. But I didn’t.
Now I know I may get some backlash for this post. I hate whining and I was hesitant about offending anyone who loves it here. But this blog isn’t sponsored by a tourism board or hotel. I’m going to tell you like it is, for me, at least.
I think one of my main issues was not being prepared for the reality on the ground. I read about how wonderful Quito was, but I didn’t think of the possible disadvantages which would affect my personal lifestyle.
Now, the disadvantages I encountered might not be a big deal for you. In fact, depending on your preferences, you might love Quito. But I didn’t and here’s why…
Here are the bad things about living in Quito, Ecuador for me personally:
The bad things about living in Quito
I can deal with a bit of pick pocketing, but I’m not cool with the level of and type of crime here.
I grew accustomed to seeing guns while working in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, but in Quito it felt different. In Lebanon, I felt the guns were there to protect me, whereas here in Quito I felt threatened. In Lebanon I personally felt welcome as a foreigner, whereas in Quito I felt unwelcome.
One day I took a stroll from the hotel to a park with my three children. At one point we became separated and I was concerned my eldest child was going to be taken from me. Now, my kids are fine, but still, it felt aggressive, to put it mildly. I’ve since asked local friends and hotel staff and while I was extremely unlucky, they all advised me not to go out alone with my kids again.
Now, that’s not to say that kids in Quito are kept locked up inside. The issue is that I have three young children and they’re inclined to walk ahead or run around. I’ve been advised to keep my youngest in a sling and the other two on a leash (literally), but I can’t stop my kids wandering off. Kidnapping, while very rare, does happen, I was told.
Since the pandemic hit, crime has been on the rise it seems. That’s not to say people don’t take their kids with them on the street. Some do, including foreigners. But from what I’ve seen most parents are very, very cautious.
Sexual assault and rape is an issue here, too. Of course, that’s not to say the problem doesn’t exist elsewhere in other countries. I spoke to some Ecuadorian women here and they said that the country is moving in the right direction. People are starting to question a macho culture.
I know that travel safety sites often exaggerate, but still, they make for grim reading. Date rape drugs seem to be an issue. Never accept a flyer, perfume sample or any freebie from anyone in the street, I was advised.
Express kidnappings, especially of tourists using unofficial taxis, are another problem I am told. Travellers are taken to an ATM where they’re cleared of their savings, or sexually assaulted or raped.
Again, just to underline, I am fine, my kids are all fine. If you’re in any doubt, read the latest statistics, ask locals for their advice and take sensible precautions.
Expat life in a bubble or in fear
Maybe I’m panicking too much. But I tend to trust locals and they all advised me against me walking with all my kids on the street alone.
So my solution would be to stay at home, go to the mall (urgh, no thank you!) or head to the countryside. Based on this, I feel my life would be stay in a bubble all week, then escape to the countryside on weekends. I’m not sure I would want do this.
Maybe I’m worrying too much, but I’m a mum of three small children and I personally did not feel safe where I was in Quito.
Security is a personal feeling and I do not like the feeling of living in fear. As for the bad things about living in Quito, for me this is the worst. For me, personal safety not just a lifestyle preference, it’s a dealbreaker.
Seeing security guards patrol condominiums with big guns and bullet proof vests made me feel uneasy. For some people guns make them feel safe, for me it was the opposite.
I’ve done a lot of research and it seems relocation agents are rare in Quito. Due to a miscommunication at my husband’s company we weren’t offered support for our move.
In case you’re wondering – a relocation agent acts as a one stop shop for helping find accommodation, registering at the hospital, providing cultural / security advice and anything else you might need when moving to a new country.
Relocation agents are locals who are very tapped into the city. They understand the perspective of the foreigner too, so can give advice on what to do, or what not to do. They’re connected with realtors, they can advise on schools, and can point you in the right direction in the case of a medical issue.
Housing agents do exist, but relocation agents are rare. There are forums on Facebook with locals and expats keen to help, but not professional services that I’ve seen in other countries.
There are people on social media claiming to offer their services to foreigners, but they’re not relocation agents. Unless you’re moving with a multinational company or large organisation which has solid experience of relocating workers to Quito, you might find yourself on your own.
I did eventually find a small relocation agency, but I didn’t get the impression they would be able to find us a suitable temporary home.
I moved without contacts or assistance, and I struggled to find my way around. Now, if you have close friends in Quito, or if you have family there, then chances are that your experience will be completely different to mine.
In it alone
If you are moving with a large company or experienced organisation, you may be OK. If you have family in Quito it’s a different ball game. However Quito is not an easy city to move to. You’ll need support, contacts, some insider help.
A lot of the time I’ve felt like I’m fumbling in the dark. My kid got a concussion and I didn’t know which hospital to take him to. In any case, I didn’t have functioning internet to search online. Thankfully I have a friend of a friend whose sister-in-law happens to be a brain surgeon (what are the chances?!) and I managed to get the support I needed. My kid was OK.
House hunting, getting help in an emergency and even grocery shopping has been a struggle for me though. (I couldn’t leave my apartment due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and I couldn’t order food in easily without an ID or local mobile phone number).
I’m immensely grateful to the Ecuadorian people who have tried to help, but at the end of the day I need more. I can’t rely on a friend with her own kids, job and busy life to find me a house, take my kid to the hospital, show me around…
Lack of temporary housing
Airbnb does exist, but it’s not as developed in other countries. The pandemic put a lot of properties out of reach. The majority of the properties I contacted on Airbnb were actually no longer available for rent.
We’re a family with three small children and it was really hard to find suitable temporary accommodation.
We stayed in the only accommodation we could find at rather short notice. The lock was broken, the oven didn’t work, there was no heating or blankets, the internet didn’t work properly and as some windows didn’t close properly we got really cold at night. Due to security concerns, and general inconvenience, I eventually transferred to a hotel.
Now, if you’re moving with a multinational this may not be an issue for you. Large companies tend to have their own temporary accommodation.
For those moving without the arsenal of a big multinational, it’s tricky to organise short term leases. You’ll have to sign a minimum one-year contract (usually two years).
In my experience I found that most owners would provide very basic furniture (e.g. no TV, no bed linen, no cutlery etc). So we’d basically have to ship or buy stuff.
In our case we’d have to make do until our furniture arrived (three months) and then we would continue with the same rental contract and sell anything we’d bought.
I wasn’t prepared to sign a long term contract and buy a load of household essentials having just arrived in a city I didn’t even like. Investing so much money at the start felt like such a gamble.
Quito enjoys a series of microclimates, so it very much depends on where you live as to your weather that day. It’s pretty normal to experience thunder, rain, scorching heat and humidity, all in the same day.
There is very little difference to the temperature all year round. The only difference is more rain in the winter, I’m told.
While the weather outside of Quito is warmer, on the whole I was been really cold living in Quito. The houses and hotel I stayed in were cold and came without heating (or aircon). For about two hours per day it was too hot, but in the evening it was really, really cold. I wore warm socks in bed and most days I went round the hotel in a hoodie and body warmer.
Outside of Quito it’s more tropical which makes for a much more pleasant climate. However, it also means a lot of mosquitos. It seems I was the breakfast, lunch and dinner for a swarm of insects one weekend. My husband’s legs were so inflamed with bites they looked like they’ve been inflated with a bicycle pump.
It’s a small issue, but nonetheless it’s worth noting that the so called ‘spring all year round weather’ that everyone raves about isn’t a dream come true for all.
The bad things about living in Quito are personal
Moving to a new country is always tough. However there is one thing waiting out it out until it gets better, and there is another thing being irresponsible as a parent. In Quito my kids were bored, tired and fed up. For the most part I felt exhausted, tired and often, scared.
I can deal with a lack of vegan restaurants. I can cope with dog dirt. A bit of cold weather doesn’t put me off. But as a mother, the crime scares me so much.
As mentioned, it’s very personal. My husband loves the laid back lifestyle. He doesn’t get the unwanted attention I do. He doesn’t freak out for the kids’ safety like me. He would gladly settle in Quito for a long, long time.
I got chatting to a family of Ecuadorians and even they held a difference of opinion among themselves. The daughter said I should stick it out, the father suggested moving to the countryside and the mother recommended moving to the UK or Uruguay as soon as possible (Uruguay is another option I’m toying with).
A friend whom I met online and is relocating at the same time as me hates Quito too, all for the same reasons. Too dangerous to live in the city, and too boring to live outside, she lamented.
Another travel journalist friend described Ecuador as ‘rather boring’ and the ‘Belgium of South America’. I think that’s being unfair to Belgium.
It’s true that we’ve also been unusually unlucky. No doubt my impressions have been shaped by a series of misadventures. I appreciate that many of the bad things about living in Quito apply to may other cities, too.
Holiday yes, life no
The fruit in Ecuador is amazing. The nature outside of the city is beautiful. There are amazing travel opportunities. But for me, as a mother of three young kids, security is a deal breaker. I know other families love it, but not me. Not yet, at least.
If you’re considering a move here, my only advice would be to visit before you move. Quito is a marmite city. Husband loves it. I hate it. Who knows how you will feel?
I would gladly vacation in Ecuador again, but I have no desire to live there. Taking a holiday in a place is very different to living there.
I think I was also very, very unlucky. The combination of a security incident in the park, a lack of support / contacts, and pandemic related issues all combined into a terrible first impression.
Call me stupid, call me ignorant, call me unlucky, I do not want to live in Quito.
Are you moving to a new city? If you do like your city, but you’re struggling to settle in, you might also want to check out my tips here.