Friday, July 21, 2017

Bodhi's Burgers -- An Overnight Success!

What happens when a guy from Berkeley, California goes in search of the best hamburger in Cuenca and comes up short? He makes his own burger and his business is an overnight success!

Bodhi and His Welcoming Staff

We went to Bodhi's Burgers the first week they were open and just followed the crowds (literally!). I felt like I was in the movie "Field of Dreams" where all the cars led to the same spot. With their "In-N-Out Burgers" logo and 1950's soda fountain theme with black and white-checkered floors and red decor, we felt like we took a step back in time. As California natives, we felt right at home.

We ordered the combo for $2.99 which comes with a hamburger, fries and Coke in a bottle. To be honest with you, Mark and I have been vegetarians for the last ten years and once in a while, we have fish (rarely beef). That's definitely going to change, as once a week we'll need a Bodhi fix.

The Combo -- $2.99

Their hamburgers are made from the finest beef available and their fries (look like In-N-Out Burgers on the West Coast), but the oil isn't the cheap stuff and you can taste the difference. And everything is homemade, including the mayo which is made from olive oil. Mark and I shared a Coke from a bottle with two straws and we felt like teenagers again. It's been decades since we've had a Coke and let me tell you, it was a treat. Did I mention they also have homemade ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce that tastes like my mom's recipe.

Bodhi's location is perfect. We took the #22 bus from our place and just as it heads into town on your way to San Sebastian Plaza (up the hill) -- look to your right and follow the crowds. You can't miss it. Or if you're at San Sebas Plaza (at the corner of San Sebas Cafe), head down the hill and just as the road makes a turn, you'll see Bodhi's on the left with the yellow and red signage.

Follow the Sign -- You Can't Miss It!
They have a lovely terrace area with a beautiful view of the Cajas and on a sunny day you'll want to spend the afternoon there. Best of all, Bodhi makes his presence known and visits with everyone -- either coming or going. We loved hearing his story about his quest for the perfect hamburger in Cuenca and his passion for making it a reality. Bodhi's business is set up as a franchise, so look for more in the future.

Enjoy and Bodhi Burger on the Terrace

Bodhi's Burgers has become an overnight sensation and the ambiance draws us back to our childhood in the 1950's, so it's not only a booming business, it's a Baby Boomer's paradise -- complete with hits from the 1950's and 1960's playing in the background.

As I write this, Mark and I are on our way to have lunch at Bodhi's and hope that you'll drop by soon as well.

Bodhi Makes Everyone Feel Like Family!


Until next time...hasta luego!


Address of Bodhi Burgers: 
Sucre 17-80 y Bolivar
Cuenca, Ecuador
Cell: 096-900-7688

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Transformation of Puerto Lopez


The New Pier at Puerto Lopez 
Last month we visited Puerto Lopez and stayed at our favorite place – Hosteria Mandala – and got to finally see the completed malecon (boardwalk). It’s been three years since our last visit and I couldn’t believe the transformation. There are bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, roads and bridges, where dirt and sand used to be. They landscaped the areas with palm trees, flower beds and street lights. The bad news is the side roads—off the malecon--are still dirt (aka sand).

New Bike Lanes in Puerto Lopez along the Malecon

The dusty streets never bothered us much, but it rained the entire week we were there so Puerto Lopez became Puerto Lodo (Mud) and so we sloshed through the streets with our flip-flops—nearly sliding down most of the sidewalks and kicking up mud wherever we went. We’ve always gone in June, July or August because it’s cooler with no humidity and often overcast, but it’s never rained. This time we got lots of rain, so much so that I was walking on the beach in my bathing suit and holding an umbrella (if you can picture that!).

Our favorite beach—Los Frailes—was the same (rain) with one notable exception, the sun peeked through the clouds for a couple of minutes before it started pouring down rain. And we noticed there were tighter restrictions at the entrance; they searched our belongings before heading up the path to the beach. We remember seven years ago, when there was just a dirt path, no signs, and just paradise awaiting you.

Los Frailes is still paradise, but there are signs posted everywhere about not picking up shells and coral and to dispose of garbage properly. No food or drinks allowed on the beach. There’s an area where you can have lunch near the entrance. I’m all for keeping Los Frailes pristine, but I felt like I was going through airport security.

Los Frailes on a Sunny Day

The last day before we left there was a beautiful sunset and the following morning the sun came out and the sky was gorgeous—just like we had remembered it. I think it will be quite a while before we return and if we do, we’ll be sure to go in March when there’s a guaranteed sunset every evening and no rain!

Sunset at Puerto Lopez

Sunrise from Our Balcony

A Sunny Morning -- Our Last Day!

Introducing the New Malecon! 

But one thing has remained the same—Hosteria Mandala, which is the only place to stay in Puerto Lopez. It’s an oasis of tranquility, fine hospitality, and excellent food! Pasta Aurelio (cream sauce with shrimp, garlic, and walnuts) is a must and we had it twice and for dessert—freshly made coconut ice cream. Life doesn’t get any better than that! We always enjoy meeting people from around the world and some have become lifelong friends. Staying at the Mandala is like coming home!

Hosteria Mandala at night (our home away from home)
The New Malecon -- almost reminds me of Avila Beach in California

Our Balcony at the Mandala (aka Connie's reading spot!)

The Pathway to our Room at the Mandala -- magical!

Exotic Flowers at the Mandala


Puerto "Lodo" 

The Dogs of Puerto Lopez

The New Malecon with lots of seating areas and beautiful new brick walkways.


View of the Ocean from Our Balcony at Hosteria Mandala. I can still hear the ocean waves...

Ahh...so relaxing -- view of the beach from the Mandala
Puerto Lopez has undergone an amazing transformation and we'll be back. 

I always feel like I'm in Hawaii in the Gardens of the Mandala.


The sun came out for us on our last day!

Until next time...hasta luego, 



Just in time for National Dog Day, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That? will be hitting the bookstores on August 8, 2017. My story is titled "Two Marines." I'm excited about this book and all royalties go to The Humane League.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

IESS Update -- New Health Care Premiums!

We've been part of the IESS  System (Ecuador's National Social Security and Health Care) for the past five years and during that time our premiums have not gone up. For a couple we pay $80.03 monthly, which is all we pay -- no co-pays, no deductibles, and you cannot be denied based on age or pre-existing conditions. It even includes dental care!

All that is changing as of July 2017. New rates are as follows: 17.6% for the holder of the pension and 3.41% for each dependent, so for a couple the new rates will be 21.01%. Many expats were upset to learn of the new rate change last week. However, Ecuadorians have always been paying this amount for years -- half paid by their employer and the other half paid by the employee. There is no discrimination; we're only asked to pay our fair share.

For the past five years, we've been paying the rate based on Ecuador's minimum wage (as were all expats), which is $375 per month and if you're on a pensioner's visa, you are required to have a minimum of $800 per month and $100 per dependent.

This is just the starting point. There are 13 different visas that you can receive, including: investor's visa (25K in the bank or 30K in real estate); professional visa; pensioner's visa, etc. Don't worry, they have records on everyone's visa, but they're starting with the pensioner's visas first because the majority of expats are here on their Social Security. But if you have 25K in the bank or have a professional visa, don't think you're going to escape the new rates. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has all your information tucked away!

You will need to go to the IESS Building on Hermano Miguel and Gran Colombia (fifth floor) and make an appointment with Diana Calle. Bring your cedula, the letter you used to receive your pensioner's visa, your CLAVE for IESS (and password), IESS readout, and your last three months of bank statements showing your pension income. If you have a RUC number, business or you're working in Ecuador, your rates may be different.


To set up your appointment, email Diana Calle at dcalleg@iess.gob.ec and she'll be happy to help you out. If your Spanish isn't up to par, don't worry...she speaks excellent English.

Any way you look at it, IESS is a great deal. Where else are you going to go in the world with the quality of care we receive with just one low monthly payment? I guess if you make one million dollars a month, your rate won't be that low, but hopefully that's the exception and not the rule.

Until next time...hasta luego, 




Connie & Mark 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

El Patio Comida Urbana

The food truck craze isn't only in the States, it's come to Cuenca!

The new "El Patio Comida Urbana" is on the corner of Av. Solano and 28 de Febrero. Opening date was March 30th and they're the new hot spot in town.

It's so close to our condo, we can't help to stop by for a Chai Te Latte Caliente, a gyro, a slice of pizza or a crepe or waffle. All the food trucks have specialties -- even sushi! There's something for everyone and a wonderful courtyard where you can listen to relaxing music and enjoy the atmosphere.

There's even a doggie park for your fur babies and a children's play area (with restrooms). Think of it as an outside food court, but better.

The first night we had Emilio's pizza by the metro. For $5.88 we had a half meter of pizza with toppings and it was huge. There were three of us and we all took home some leftovers.

The next day we had a waffle with everything (mora, strawberries, bananas, ice cream, and whipping cream) for $5.95 at Tip Top Crepes and Waffles and it was delicious. Everything is made fresh while you wait and it's delivered to your table in the patio area filled with rustic furniture, plants,and colorful light fixtures.

Don't let the rain stop you because the common area is covered and there are patio tables outside with comfortable seating.

Also, Emilio's Italian Place has a double-decker food truck. If you go upstairs, it's all enclosed with a beautiful view of Turi at night.

Here's a sampling of the food trucks:
Pachau Food Fusion - Try their strawberry and kiwi drinks
Los Checitos
Namii Hamburgers
The Rock Van
El Tradicional -- Ecuadorian Food
Emilio's - Italian
Jeff Salteaditos -- Great appetizers
Grills on Wheels -- All things grilled
Tip-Top Crepes and Waffles -- Try the Everything Waffle
Chingon
Plataneria from Colombia
El Gury Sandwiches -- Gyro meets sandwiches and wraps
Maru (Dulces)
Sabores y Tradiciones
The Beer Garden
Midori -- Sushi

There are a lot more trucks that I left out, but you'll have to experience it for yourself. They are open Tuesday - Sunday from 11 AM to 11 PM, although on Tuesdays (or at least this Tuesday they didn't open until 12 noon).

I'll leave you with some pictures to whet your appetite!

Common Area 

Midori Sushi 








Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie & Mark











Sunday, March 26, 2017

Citizenship in Ecuador

This is the third part in the series under the New Immigration Law 2017. After you have applied for permanent residency and have been in Ecuador for three years, you're eligible to apply for citizenship if you so choose. The main ­difference between residency and citizenship is that with a residency visa, you cannot run for political office. With citizenship, you can run for political office, with the exception of the presidency. I don’t know of any expat who has such high political aspirations (yet!).

As a permanent resident you're allowed to be out of the country of Ecuador for 90 days the first year; 90 days the second year and 18 months the third year. Under the new law  -- to take effect in June -- it's 180 days the first year, 180 days the second year, and five years the third year. 

Personally, I don't know why anyone would want to leave the country of Ecuador that long! I miss Ecuador after being gone for only ten days. If you're a world traveler or if you need to go back to the States to take care of a loved one (parent or child) for an extended period of time; it's nice to have the flexibility that citizenship brings.

However, you need to know upfront whether you want to go for citizenship because the requirements for being out of the country are different. After obtaining permanent residency, you cannot be gone more than 90 days total in three years (if you're going for citizenship). Many expats have been caught off guard when they went to apply for citizenship and found out they were out of the country too many days. We do know of folks that were able to obtain citizenship even though they were over the limit of days out of the country, but it was a lengthy process.

Citizenship comes down to a personal decision. If you have your residency tied up with an investment (25K in the bank or real estate), you may want to free up your assets, so citizenship would give you that flexibility.

Also, citizenship doesn't tie you to any time constraints for being out of the country. You can come and go as you please. The United States and Canada are one of the few countries that allow dual citizenship. For a complete list of other countries that allow or don't allow dual citizenship, click here.

As far as traveling through South America, you'll have more freedom with Ecuadorian citizenship as you won't have to apply for a visa and have fees to visit such countries as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay.  If you travel extensively, Ecuadorian citizenship may be worth considering.

We know American citizens who have lived in Ecuador for 30 years and have never applied for citizenship; you just have to remember to renew your 
cédula before its expiration date. Our cédula expires in 2022, but passports come with expiration dates as well! Quite frankly, I have enough trouble keeping up with one passport; I'm not sure that I need two.

Also, we know folks that went through the process of Ecuadorian citizenship and ended up moving to another country. And we know others who actually failed their citizenship test and had to start all over again. 

If you're still in the stage of applying for permanent residency, I would encourage you to go for a professional visa. It requires a four-year college degree, but it isn't tied to any investment. If we were to do it all over again, we would have applied for professional visas as we both have college degrees and we would have applied separately.

As it stands now, I'm dependent on my husband's pensioner visa from UPS. When he passes away, I won't receive his pension, so I will have 30 days to apply for a new visa. If I had citizenship, I wouldn't have to worry about that.

Is that reason enough for me to go through the process of citizenship? Probably not. Since we will both receive our Social Security this year, I will just reapply independently. In fact, I may do that sooner rather than later and most likely I'll apply for a professional visa.

Lastly,
 if you’re worried about the ever-tightening banking restrictions for U.S. citizens living abroad, a second passport could come in handy. Should you want to open up a bank account outside the U.S., you may wish to do so using your Ecuadorian passport. 

It all boils down to a personal choice whether you want to go for citizenship or not; it's not mandatory. 

Next time I'll discuss the process and requirements. 

Until next time...hasta luego, 


Connie and Mark 



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Immigration Law 2017 -- Part II Temporary Visas

The Newly Released Human Mobility Act (Immigration Law 2017) is causing a bit of confusion for some folks, so I'm going to try and clarify a few things.

In the good old days, we entered Ecuador on a T3 visa, which allowed us to stay 90 days. Actually, we arrived with a 12-IX visa which allowed us six months, but we were able to get permanent residency in three weeks! Imagine that? We were either an immigrant or non-immigrant.

Under the new law, you’re either a transient (visitor) just passing through on your way somewhere else; a tourist; a temporary resident or a permanent resident.  And, yes, you can become a naturalized citizen, but we’ll save that for part three in the series.

There are some key differences in the new law: First, you will need proof of medical insurance that is valid during your entire stay in Ecuador (it can be private or public); a passport valid for at least six months (that’s not new), and lastly you cannot apply directly for permanent residency (one of the principal differences in the old and new law). You have to apply for a temporary visa first. Did I mention that Ecuador loves paper work! They just added a second step to a three-step process.

Let’s talk about these “temporary” folks:

Transient: These are folks that are just passing through. You’re really on your way to Machu Picchu, but your plane doesn’t leave until the next morning out of Quito, so you’re spending the night at the new Wyndham near the airport.

Tourist:  You’re coming here to strictly visit the country (not to work, but to play). These visas are granted upon arriving in Ecuador and are valid for 90 days.  And if you love Ecuador as much as we do, you’ll probably want to extend your stay (right?). Yes, absolutely, you can do that! You can apply for an extension for another 90 days, which is a total of 180 days (or six months). However, you can extend this only once in a one-year period!  There is also another option by which you can extend your stay for up to a year, but only once in a five-year period. 

This is good news for a lot of folks, especially those who really don’t want to apply for a permanent residency visa because they want to live six months in the States and six months in Ecuador. This works out perfectly for them and we know several people who already do that, but you sure don’t want to run over your limit. By the way, I would suggest if you plan to do Ecuador living this way that you first consult with an attorney. The last thing you want to do is overextend your welcome.

Okay, so you’ve stayed in Ecuador and liked it so much that you want to apply for a temporary residency visa.

Temporary Residency: This visa allows you to stay TWO years. And, guess what? You can renew it again for another TWO years!  And you can travel in and out of the country (and go see Machu Picchu). However, one thing remains the same; you cannot be gone more than 90 days in the two-year period. In other words, just like in the good old days: 90 days the first year; 90 days the second year (and the same for the next two years if you decide to renew). I just call it the 90-day rule.

And the categories for the temporary residency visa remain the same: work, pensioner, investor, academic, athletic/artist, religious volunteer (missionary or pastor), volunteer for other organizations, student, dependent on the person holding the migratory visa, and technical/professional. 

Proof of medical insurance is mandatory; criminal background check; and passport valid for at least six months. And, of course, all of the different categories require their own documentation, which I won’t go into right now as there are approximately 13 categories. Oh, yes, and there are fees for all the paperwork and more fees if you’re going through an immigration attorney.

Permanent Residency:  I know I already covered this in my other blog post, so I’m working backwards and going forwards. Bear with me. This visa allows you to stay in Ecuador for an indefinite amount of time (as its name implies – PERMANENT). Here’s the catch! To apply for permanent residency,  you have to go through the temporary visa process and have stayed in Ecuador for at least 21 months, be married to an Ecuadorian (it happens a lot), and be related to a permanent resident or citizen.

And, of course, there’s lots of paperwork involved and a definite process for those holding temporary visas to change to permanent visas. The biggest change for permanent residency is the travel restriction, which has been extended to 180 days for the first year, 180 days for the second year, and a whopping five years for the third year before needing to return to Ecuador. Remember under the old law, it was 90 days -90 days -18 months, except if you were going for citizenship (naturalization) and then it was 90 days in three years (30-30-30). But we’ll talk about citizenship the next time (maybe!).

So what if you’ve already applied or you’re in the process of applying and now you’re confused. Don’t be. If you’re going for permanent residency, you just have one extra step; you need to apply for a temporary visa first. After being here for 21 months as a temporary resident, you’ll need to submit the application for permanent residency before your temporary status is up (two years or 24 months). 

Once you receive your permanent residency visa, you can then apply for IESS (Social Security Medical System) or other private insurance.

Let’s sum it up. Yes, there are some good things and some bad things with the new law, but the most important thing is to have your travel medical insurance in place before you come to Ecuador. Personally we use World Nomads when we travel out of Ecuador and now that we’re permanent residents, we have IESS (Social Security Medical System). 

Other important items: This law does not go into effect until 120 days from February 6, 2017. I guess that makes it around June 6, 2017 (or thereabouts). All visas that were obtained before the enforcement of the new immigration law will remain the same. And all visa applications that were started before the enforcement of the law will be exempt from the new regulations. I can already hear a collective sigh of relief!

Until next time...hasta luego, 


Connie & Mark 




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mobility Act -- Immigration Law 2017 -- What You Need to Know!

The one thing you can be sure of in Ecuador is change and now we have new changes in residency visas.  To clarify the many questions that I’ve received, I’ve decided to blog about it. There are still some unknowns about the new act, but I’ll clear those up as I receive news.

Back in the day (meaning when we got our permanent residency visas in 2010), we went to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Washington DC and received our 12-IX and three weeks later upon arriving in Ecuador we had our permanent residency visas (pensioner’s visa) good for 12 years instead of 10 – don’t ask (we still don’t know why that happened). 

There were some stipulations, however, and they had to do with travel. We couldn’t be out of the country more than 90 days for the first two years and then up to 18 months the third year. I call it the 90-90-18 month rule. Unless, you were going for citizenship and then it was the 30-30-30 day rule; you couldn’t be gone from Ecuador more than 90 days in a three-year period. Now we do know some folks who got their citizenship despite that rule, but it took some "lawyering" to get it done.

Our experience with the pensioner’s visa process was seamless (seven years ago) with the aid of an immigration attorney in Quito. It was textbook perfect.

Forget everything I just told you because those are the old rules and these are the new rules, which have some significant changes.

Under the old law there were two categories non-immigrant and immigrant visas, which have now merged so you can dismiss those two words from your vocabulary and now they’re all lumped into the following: pensioner’s visa (retired); investor’s visa (25K in the bank or equivalent property); religious visa (missionary or pastor); student visa; professional visa; volunteer visa and sportsman visa (I have no idea what that entails), and dependent visas (I’m dependent on my husband’s pensioner’s visa), and lastly international protection visas.

I’m going to begin with the Permanent Residency Visa, since most folks are planning to stay (even though they usually don’t and leave after five years to explore other international destinations or back to the States).

Permanent Residency Visa: Allows foreign citizens to stay in Ecuador for an indefinite period of time. If you obtained a temporary visa (which I will talk about at another time) and decide you want to stay indefinitely you will need the following:

*Apostilled criminal background check (FBI). 

*Proof of economic resources. For example for the pensioner’s visa, you must prove that you have $800 per month for life and $100 for each of your dependents.

*All the necessary legal paperwork for the categories listed above.

A temporary resident can be eligible for permanent residency if they married an Ecuadorian citizen (that happens a lot – especially with the teachers we work with); they have stayed in Ecuador for at least 21 months; they’re related to an Ecuadorian citizen (or permanent resident of Ecuador); and  minors or disabled person dependent on a permanent resident of Ecuador. If you are going from a temporary visa to permanent residency visa, you’ll need a valid Ecuadorian criminal report or valid criminal background check and proof of economic means to remain in Ecuador.

Here are the big changes (read carefully):

*Proof of foreign medical insurance or enrollment in Ecuador’s health insurance system (IESS) or private Ecuadorian health carriers (Humana, Salud, Confiamed, etc.).

*Travel Restrictions. This is quite a change from the previous rule. A person with a permanent residency visa cannot be out of the country more than 180 days each year (previously it was 90) during the first two years and after that you may leave the country up to five years (previously it was 18 months). Wow, that’s a big change! The penalty for staying out more than 180 days during the first two years is $1,500.

There are still some things that need to be clarified. For example, those of us who received our permanent residency and cedula seven years ago – are we grandfathered into the new law? What about the folks who started their paperwork in 2016 and are caught in the middle – do the new rules apply? And what type of health insurance must they show. For example, you’re only eligible for IESS (Social Security System of Ecuador), after you become a resident.

My Thoughts: I think it’s a good thing that foreigners are required to show proof of medical insurance before entering the country. One of the reasons why we came to Ecuador was for the excellent medical care, but we had a private policy for three years before we signed up for IESS. And as far as the extended periods of stay outside of Ecuador, I think it’s also a good thing especially for those of us in the sandwich generation with parents who are still alive, children and grandchildren (oh my!). Our problem is this: We’re 61 years old and aren’t eligible for Medicare (yet), so we have to buy medical insurance when we travel to the States (and it isn’t cheap!). And to add insult to injury, under Obamacare we can’t be gone more than 30 days from Ecuador or we have to pay a fine for exceeding those limits. Now, I know Obamacare is being repealed, but as expats we don’t know what the new restrictions will be (better or worse).

As mentioned, the biggest changes are the proof of health insurance (how much coverage I’m not sure about) and, of course, the travel restrictions. I’m not sure what the new fee schedule will be for each of the permanent residency visas (if any), but I will keep on top of it.

Next time, I’ll tackle the change in temporary visas. I won’t update the book Living and Retiring in Cuenca:101 Questions Answered until I’m clear on the new fee schedules (if any) and any other changes.


Until next time…hasta luego!

Connie and Mark 

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