Americans Find More Affordable Paradise for Retirement


"I don't think I would do people thinking about this justice without saying that this isn't probably for everyone," Jan Cottage said. "You have to be flexible here. If someone says they're going to do something like show up to hang a chandelier tomorrow, tomorrow may be Wednesday of next week. So you have to be patient with all that."

The Cottages are just two of what some have coined "recession refugees" -- Americans who left the country in search of a more affordable, yet still rewarding life.

It's a crunch many Americans have felt. The Social Security Administration sends monthly benefits to more than 346,000 Americans living overseas, an increase of nearly 47 percent from 10 years ago.

In Cuenca, the Americans first came in a slow trickle. Then, in the last couple of years, a deluge of retirees began settling there. The mayor of Cuenca estimated 4,000 Americans were now living in his city of about half a million.

"There has been a growth and, of course, it is complicated for us because, evidently, it makes it less accessible [for] Ecuadorians," Cuenca Mayor Paul Granda told ABC News in an interview conducted in Spanish.

Granda said prices in Cuenca have soared by as much as 40 or 50 percent, in some cases. He pointed not just to the Americans for the prices rising, but also the large number of Ecuadorians that had moved to the United States decades ago and were now bringing their families back.

"The basic services are very cheap and of quality. Obviously we are also obligated to keep being more efficient," Granda said. "But I think that the goal is how to make politics active so that that immigration fits in with our society and would be a contribution to our society."

The locals have been welcoming to the Americans. In Cuenca, the word "gringo" is a term of endearment, with many establishments even hosting "Gringo Nights" once a week.

International Living magazine has named Ecuador a top retirement destination for five years in a row.

Some of the Americans who are now living in Cuenca worry that the city will become too popular with expats.

Edd and Cynthia Staton moved to Cuenca from Las Vegas about three years ago. They had always talked about retiring overseas, but their search began focusing on the more affordable South American countries after the recession forced both of them into early retirement.

"We had an idea of the kind of retirement life we wanted," said Cynthia Staton, 59. "And Cuenca seemed to check all those boxes."

"We had the choices of accepting a lousy retirement, which wasn't a choice, continuing to keep on keeping on like we'd always done before," said Edd Staton, 64. "But there was no guarantee that was actually going to work. And if it didn't work we would have given up perhaps the best 10 years of our life we had left."

"Plan C," he said, "was think of something else."

"This is our something else," she said. "And we couldn't be happier. This was a great decision for us. "

Their news raised some eyebrows among their family members, including their two children. But they pointed out that if they had chosen to stay in the U.S., they would have kept working to pay the bills. So they would be on a tight budget and get very little vacation time to visit their family, which is scattered across the country.

Now they can visit the States for two to three weeks at a time. Living in Cuenca, Edd Staton pointed out, has meant that they've been able to see their children and, now, grandchildren more than they ever did living in Las Vegas.

And they Skype daily.

"With technology what it is, I think that you can move abroad and still feel connected to your family, whereas years ago that wasn't possible," Cynthia Staton said.

Neither couple has any plans to move back to the U.S. Instead, they are just enjoying what they call the best years of their lives.

"We certainly wanted to have this fling before we possibly physically can't do that," Jan Cottage said.

It's what Ecuadorians call "la tercera edad" -- the third and, quite possibly, best chapter of their lives.

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