Our mailbox in North Carolina was filled with at least 10 pieces of mail every day of the week. Seventy-five percent was junk mail, and the remainder bills and an occasional letter from friends that didn’t use email. To our surprise, receiving mail is actually an event in Cuenca. Personal mail boxes are a rarity. There are actually no street addresses in the country though, fortunately, they exist in the city. And, so far, we have found only one post office which is located in the Centro. Bills are not sent by mail. A person pays at the store or business or has utility bills automatically deducted from a bank account. When you receive a letter or package, a courier on a motorcycle comes to your house or apartment, rings the bell, and gives you the item in exchange for whatever extra postage is due. If you receive a package that requires duty be paid, the man on the motorcycle will give you a notice to come to the post office in the center of town between the hours of 8:30 and 12:30 only on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays. You present the notice and a national policeman will cut open the package, examine the contents and assess a duty to be paid before the package is given to you. The same post office is where you send mail abroad. A one page letter will cost around $2.00 in postage stamps to mail to the US. Packages can be sent from the post office but they are best forwarded by DHL (office near the stadium) who have the best international service. We sent a small box under a pound to the US the other day and it cost $31.00. We have not tried sending packages to other countries so are not aware of the expense. It is a little more complicated In order to receive mail or packages. Though we have not placed many orders, it is quite straightforward placing a mail order with a US company and have it shipped directly to our address in Cuenca. If you are ordering a used item, there will probably be no duty assessed. US companies are set up to make international shipments on new items and will make the customs declaration and collect the international postage in advance. As an example, we ordered an $8 filter for our Nikon camera and it arrived in two weeks but with handling and international shipping and duty, the total came to $55. We also ordered $90 worth of vitamins that are hard to get in Cuenca. The vitamin company charged us an additional $37 in postage and handling. We received a notice from the post office to come and pick it up. A man behind a wicket advised we owed $1.75 additional postage and then handed us our box which appeared unopened. So, we have received packages three ways. Once it was delivered to our apartment and just handed to us by the courier. Another time the package was opened by the National Police at the post office and we paid duty. And this last time, we were given the unopened package at the post office after paying additional postage. We have yet to find the best way to order new items from the US but each time it seems to have worked. Before we left the States, we were concerned about how to get letters forwarded to us that would undoubtedly continue to arrive at our old address. We chose Earth Class Mail (www.earthclassmail.com) as our international forwarder. But this has to be set up in the US before you leave as there is a US Postal Service form that must be filled out giving Earth Class Mail the authority to handle your mail. The system has served us well in that we had many business, tax and other important mailings that were difficult to make forwarding arrangements with prior to leaving and it was impossible to contact each of them before leaving. Plus, our house in Challuabamba, like all the country homes, had no mailing address that we could give our correspondents. Earth Class Mail operates by sending an email letting you know that they have received a letter for you. They then ask if you want them to scan the content which takes one day. If you want it forwarded they will forward the letter to your Ecuador address. If you don’t want the mail, they will shred it for you. We usually have them shred a bill after we have looked at the scan to see what we owe and when it is due which we then pay online. They also have a new service where they will deposit a check to your bank for you. It takes a little getting used to but if you take an overall look at the mail service in Ecuador, it will at first seem slow and archaic but, fortunately, it works.
A New Kind of Blog
There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.