Ecuadorian Spanish

Spanish is one of the most popular languages in the world. It’s estimated that it’s a native language for more than 400 million people and 470 million people have native competences in Spanish.

Spanish speaking countries and territories (Wikipedia, public domain)
Spanish speaking countries and territories (Wikipedia, public domain)

Because it’s widely used in different countries in South America, a number of dialects or versions emerged. The main differences is the accent or pronunciation and the vocabulary. Let’s see what the characteristics of the Ecuadorian version of Spanish language are.

Usted vs. tu & ustedes vs. vosotros

The first thing that makes South American version of Spanish different from its European predecessor is the usage of pronouns. In South America you will address most people in more official way, using the word usted instead of Usted has – technically speaking – the form of the third person, but it doesn’t mean he or she. It means you, even if it joins the verb in third person. Examples:

English Spanish (tú – informal) Spanish (usted – formal)
You are a teacher. Tú eres un maestro. Usted es un maestro.
What’s your name? ¿Cómo te llamas?¿Cuál es tu nombre? ¿Cómo se llama?¿Cuál es su nombre?
You wrote a book. Tú escribiste un libro. Usted escribió un libro.
Don’t touch me! ¡No me toques! ¡No me toque!

So, when you talk to a stranger, your neighbor, a clerk or generally to somebody you don’t know, you use the form usted. What is interesting though, some couples talk one another using the form usted or even parents use the form usted when talking to their children! Such a formality among the family is something hard to understand, I guess.

Generally speaking, younger persons seem to use the informal form tu more often and in most of situations. Elder people, however, may feel offended when addressed in such a way.

The situation with formal and informal you (plural) is simpler. In South America you don’t use the informal form of you in plural. You just don’t. Some people will not even understand the verbs related to informal you. Or when you ask them, they will admit this form existed, but now it’s not used and it sounds ancient (it’s doing quite well in Spain, though). 😉

When addressing a group of people you will always say ustedes and you fill always pick the third plural form of the verb as if you were talking about them. In other words ustedes have the same verb forms as ellos/ellas. Examples:

English Spanish (ustedes – formal)
You are teachers. Ustedes son maestros.
How are you guys doing? ¿Cómo les va?¿Cómo están (ustedes)?
You guys wrote a book. Ustedes escribieron un libro.
Don’t touch me! ¡No me toquen!

Having only formal ustedes is actually a good news, as you will have to remember one verb form less than if you spoke in Spain.

Bien vs. muy

Ecuadorians tend to use the word bien (Eng. “well”) to describe the extent or the level of something. It is someway equivalent to the word muy (Eng. “very”). You can, for instance hear:

Estoy bien cansado.” – “I’m very tired.”

Está bien bonito.” – “It’s very beautiful.”

Bien barato.” – “Very cheap.”

It doesn’t seem bien confuso, does it? 😉

Bien mal

Everybody is your neighbor (or son/daughter)

This is actually funny. When you do shopping or visiting a doctor or just saying hello, the people will call you vecino (or vecina if you’re a woman). This literally means “neighbor”, but what’s interesting, you don’t have to even live close to be somebody’s neighbor. If you visit same shop once or two, you’re automatically vecino! 🙂

Vecino, vecino

The shop owners or doctors sometimes call their customers mi hijo, mi hija (“my son”, “my daughter”). Now, I don’t have to explain this doesn’t have anything to do with being or not being family. It’s just what they call you. 🙂

¿Que mas? Bien, no mas.

We’re getting more and more Ecuadorian in the list. This one is considered to be very typical for Ecuador. When you meet a person you know, you obviously need to exchange questions such as “How are you doing? How is it going?”, etc. etc.

In Ecuador, instead of a standard Spanish question like: “¿Como estás?” or “¿Que tal?” you can easily say:

¡Hola! ¿Que mas?

And a typical answer would be:

Bien, no mas.

Which you can translate to: “Hi, what’s more/new?”, “Good, nothing more/new“. Or less literaly: “Hi, what’s up?“, “Nothing…“. You want to impress an Ecuadorian? Go for it!

¡Siga no mas!

The absolute number one on the list, it’s kind of famous:

¡Siga no mas!

It doesn’t get any more Ecuadorian than this. Neither Colombians, nor Peruvians use that expression. It’s purely, genuinely an Ecuadorian invention! What does it mean? Well, you can translate it simply to “Carry on!“, but it may mean more than that. You can hear that in the response to questions such as “Can I use your bathroom?”, “Can I come in?”, you can be rushed by somebody with it, or you can be dismissed with it when for instance you want to sell something to somebody. Really useful!

Keep calm and siga no mas!

Have you already started to learn Spanish? If not, ¡siga no mas!

Tourism #1 – Parque Cóndor

As much as lion is the king of the jungle, condor is the king of Andes.

These beautiful, respectable birds are considered threatened as their population has been prosecuted by man, falsely believing that condors attack livestock. Significant efforts have been made to protect condors and rebuild their population.

One of the places where condors are treated with special care is Parque Cóndor, a really nice venue located in the mountains (2800 meters above sea level) near Otavalo (Imbabura province). The park offers a great view on the mountains and city of Otavalo. But its main attraction is – of course – birds!

When you arrive at 11:30am or 3:30pm, you can enjoy a 45-minutes program during which a skilled guide shows different birds and give interesting details about them.

You may think: “well, birds, ok…“, but that only means you’ve never seen the white American eagle gliding effortlessly above the valley. Believe me, it’s worth it!

And finally the king of Andes, feasting.

How to get Ecuador residency visa?

If you’re not an Ecuadorian resident, you can spend in the country up to 9 months (6 month via business visa and 3 months – tourist visa), then you have to leave the country for at least 3 months.

If you’re interested in staying here for longer, you will have to apply for a residency type of visa. There are essentially three ways of getting the residency:

  • Investment (bank deposit of $25,000 or purchasing a property worth minimum $25,000) – Visa 9: III – Inversionista
  • Pension (you have to be a pensioner in your home country) – Visa 9: I – Rentista
  • Education (you have to hold at least master degree and graduate from a university that is recognized by Ecuadorian government) – Visa 9: V – Profesional

Each type of residency visa can be extended to one person traveling with you (so called amparo) – typically your spouse.

In this article I’m describing the 3rd way – by education. So here is the algorithm of obtaining Ecuadorian professional visa which grants you the residency.

Prerequisite 0 – verifying your university

First of all, you have to ensure that your university/academy is on the list of schools recognized by SENESCYT (La Secretaría de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología)It may still be possible to get through with a university/academy that is not on that list, but this would be more complicated process (which I’ll describe separately).

The most recent list is available here:

You’ve found your university? Good, let’s continue.

Prerequisite 1 – business visa

To obtain any type of residency visa, you must have a business (180-days) visa first. To obtain it you have to visit an Ecuadorian embassy in your home country (or – if there’s no embassy in your country – you’ll have to get in touch with a nearest Ecuadorian embassy). Here is the list of all Ecuadorian diplomatic missions.

I won’t describe the process of getting the business visa, as it’s pretty straightforward. Just remember, the visa costs $200 for the main traveler and $50 for amparo.

Prerequisite 2 – documents

To start the process of obtaining visa 9:V – professional, you’ll have to prepare the following list of documents in your country:

  1. University diploma – the one that states your university name, your major, your academic title. Basically the one that proves you graduated from the university and you hold the title. This document should be legalized. Now, procedures vary from country to country, but legalization typically means that the ministry of education of your country should confirm your diploma (typically by stamping it).
  2. Certificate of good conduct – a statement that you have not been convicted. This should be as fresh as possible. Preferably get it just before you leave the country.
  3. Marriage certificate – if you want your spouse to get the residence as amparo. Again, this should have a very recent date on it.

All documents should be translated to Spanish by a sworn translator and then apostilled (including translations). An apostille is a stamp or a printed form issued by your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allows the documents to be recognized by foreign agencies. It’s very important, as Ecuador won’t accept any document without apostille.

As you can imagine getting the documents will cost you money. How much? Difficult to say, as the costs vary from country to country.

Again, remember, it will be very difficult to gather those documents if you’re already outside your country. Prepare before leaving.

With your business visa valid for 180 days an the pile of documents you’re ready to arrive to Ecuador.

The plan

High-level plan of what needs to be done is this:

  1. Register your diploma.
  2. Register your business visa.
  3. Apply for residency visa.
  4. Cancel your business visa.
  5. Get your residency visa.
  6. Get cédula.

Registering your diploma

As soon as possible after your arrival, you should go to the SENESCYT. Most of major cities have a SENESCYT office, so most probably you won’t have to travel. Actually, before you go you should fill this form: with your data.

You will also need a color copy of your passport that would be confirmed by a notary (this will cost you $2-$4). Notaries offices are common in the cities centers and the confirmation procedure is very simple.

With your passport, the copy of the passport, the diploma and the form you go to SENESCYT and you explain you want your diploma to be registered. After scanning your documents, you will get a stamp on your form and will be informed that it may take up to 45 days to register. Now, these are working days, which means you’ll have to wait a least 9 weeks. Take that into account and don’t delay your visit at SENESCYT.

How would you know, you’re registered? Fortunately SENESCYT has a website where you can verify it:

You can enter either your name or your passport number.

Now, you just have to wait.

First visit at extranjería – business visa registration

So, after long time of waiting, your diploma is registered and you recognized as a valuable professional.  🙂

Now, you need to do a couple of things.

First of all, it’s possible that your business visa isn’t registered. How would you know? Check your passport. If it has a blue stamp from Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores Comercio e Integracion, it registered.

If it’s not registered you have to go to Quito to so called extranjería to register it. The office is located at 6 de Diciembre y La Niña.

Extranjería at 6 de Diciembre y La Niña
Extranjería at 6 de Diciembre y La Niña

You will have to take a turn ticker and wait. Then they will ask you to pay $4 for each visa you want to register, will keep your passport(s) and will tell you when you have to come back.

Certificado de Movimiento Migratorio

Meanwhile, you have to get a paper that lists all your arrivals and departures. You can get it in Ministerio de Movilidad Humana located in front of the Jardin mall at the Amazonas street. You will – of course – have to fill in a form (they’ll give it to you) and pay $5. You’ll get the paper immediately.

Second visit at extranjería – applying for the visa

Meanwhile, you can prepare another form –

You will also need a simple letter written in Spanish where you explain your reasons and motivations. Don’t worry – it can be really simple and it seems they don’t really care about it. However, it is a requirement.

OK, so let’s verify that you have everything you need:

  1. The visa form.
  2. The letter.
  3. Your passport (and a color copy).
  4. Your certificate of good conduct (translated and apostilled).
  5. Print-out from SENESCYT website with your information (simple print-screen is enough).
  6. Your diploma (translated and apostilled).
  7. Your marriage certificate (translated and apostilled) if you’re traveling with spouse.
  8. Certificado de Movimiento Migratorio
  9. A paper portfolio (they won’t accept without it).

Obviously it’s good the have copies of the documents just in case (they will take them away upon registration). You can also have a passport photo, but if you don’t – they will take one.

With this you can again go to extranjería (6 de Diciembre y La Niña).

First you collect your passport with the registered business visa, second you take a turn ticket, wait and apply.

After you have submitted your docs, you will have to wait approximately a week for the confirmation that you are granted the visa (they will send you and email).

So, again, waiting…

Third visit at extranjería – cancelling the business visa

If you got so far, congratulations, that means you have the email that says:

Le escribimos con la intención de notificarle que su trámite de VISA se encuentra APROBADO por lo que se solicita que se acerque a la Unidad de Extranjería a dejar su pasaporte para la emisión de la Visa, a partir del día de mañana.

You have to print it out, take your passport with you and go to extranjería again. You take a turn ticket and you cancel your business visa. They do it right away but they charge $50 for it.

With your visa cancelled you take another turn and you show them the email you got. You pay $320 for each professional visa. You leave your passport, so they can “process” (whatever they mean by that). You wait a week…

Fourth visit at extranjería – getting the residency and empadronamiento

You go at extranjería again. You show the email again, you get a turn ticket. You receive your passport back.

Congratulations! You’re an Ecuadorian resident! 

Now you probably want a cédula – an Ecuadorian ID card. While this is not required, as you’re already granted residency, having a cédula will simplify your life (and you can travel to Galapagos island without being charged $100 as if you were a foreigner).

In order to do so, you’ll have to get empadronamiento which is a document you get in extranjería and you can get it the same day when you receive your passport with residency.

You’ll have to fill in a form with all your personal data and pay $4. You’ll get the document straight away, but it will only be valid 24 hours later. You cannot use it for getting the cédula before 24 hours. 

First (and last) visit at Registro Civil

So, 24 hours passed. You’re good to go. Visit Registro Civil at Naciones Unidas y Amazonas in Quito, where you have to have:

  1. Your passport with your residency visa.
  2. A color copy of both passport and visa (preferably on one page).
  3. Empadronamiento (remember, it becomes valid after 24 hours after the issue).

You have to pay $5 for a cédula, get a turn ticket and wait (typical wait time is about an hour depending on the day). Then all your data will be entered into a computer, and they will take a photo of you (smile!). You will be told you have to wait 4 hours, but after 2,5 – 3 hours the cédula will be ready and you will be able to get it.

Well, that’s it. 🙂


If you don’t live in Quito – you will have to visit it 5 times. Sorry. This is Latin America. Generally the working hours of the offices are: 8:30-16:30, but the earlier you get, the more chances you have to get things done quickly.

No office will accept $100 bills. Get your change in advance. And always have some coins for copies.

Don’t trust the officials – ask twice, ask different people, verify answers, insist on getting an accurate answer.

Be prepared for costs. Just in Ecuador you will have to pay at least $400 not to mention the costs of translating your documents in your country and the cost of business visa which is a prerequisite ($200). This means getting an Ecuadorian residency can cost $700-$800 plus travels to Quito. But when you’re done with the process, you can enjoy your long stay at the equator. 🙂


10 reasons to visit Ecuador

So you got bored with the city, your daily routine, your Starbucks coffee and unexciting, predictable lunch and you want to try something new? Obviously there are dozens potential destinations each having something unique to offer. But let me present a country when you can experience a great variety of things and you surely will not be disappointed.

Ecuador, located just 4.5 hours away flight from Florida, is surprisingly diverse and generally affordable for the Westerners. Being known for its pleasant climate, vivid culture and great food it has become a very popular holiday and retirement destination.

What attracts people to Ecuador? Here are 10 – very subjectively chosen – reasons to visit or live in Ecuador. Treat them as a teaser and not a complete guide.

1. The equator

Ecuador owns its name to its location. The equator line is a imaginary line which divides the Earth to north and south hemispheres. Points that are located on the equator have latitude of: 0° 0′ 0″.

Ecuador is one of 15 countries which lands are traversed by the Equator, but none of them has a name that would clearly mark that fact. 🙂

What are consequences of Ecuador’s location on the Earth? First of all the climate, of course. A climate typical  for the equator zone is a tropical rainforest climate and obviously that applies to Ecuador too. A part of the country called oriente is indeed a rain forest with very high average temperatures and high humidity.

However, Ecuador has other parts too: sierra a stripe of land located in high Andes and costa at the ocean, so the climate can be very different. It’s commonly said that the city that has the best climate is Ibarra, located in the province of Imbabura at the altitude of 2200 meters above the sea level.

Ecuador celebrates its location at the equator line. Near the capitol city – Quito – there is a landmark called mitad del mundo (“the center/middle of the world”), where you can take a classic picture of half you being at the northern hemisphere and half at the southern.

Over disputes about the exact location of the equator line, a very smart Ecuadorian built his own mitad del mundo – few feet away from the “official one”. And there the magic begins…

You can see many tricks supposedly proving you are in THE spot. However, physics doesn’t back most of the tricks. It’s fun anyway…

Two times in the year, the equinox occurs (20 of March and 23 of September) . In places located on equator it means the sun is directly overhead (in the zenith) and you won’t be able to see your shadow!

The location on the equator also means that the day and the night have almost exactly the same length – 12 hours. No more dark winter days!

2. The nature

From warm blue Pacific ocean to chilly, snowy peaks of Andes. From humid and green jungle to cold, clear lakes in the mountains. From wild wolves and bears to colorful toucans, hummingbirds and turtles. Ecuador has it all.

The country has 4 regions and thus 4 climate zones:

  1. Costa – the coast.
  2. Sierra – the mountains.
  3. El oriente – the rainforest jungle.
  4. Galapagos islands.

This means you can discover different types of fauna and flora without leaving the country.

The Galapagos are especially worth mentioning as it’s know of having numerous endemics – species that only live there, such as: Galapagos land iguana, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos tortoise or famous Darwin’s finches.

3. The cities

When you decide you are already full of nature, you can chill out in one of Ecuadorian cities.

Most of the major cities have a typical landscape of square blocks with a plaza in the center. Although you won’t find monuments as old as in Europe – of course – the city centers generally preserved the colonial architecture.

Quito – being the capital city – is home for many government offices. If you have some paperwork to do – like visa, residency or other – you will visit it anyway. On your list there should definitely be Cuenca with its large historic part, Guayaquil – the biggest city in the country and Salinas – the Miami of Ecuador. If you’re looking for a place to stay – Ibarra and surroundings will offer nice prices and potentially the best climate.

4. The culture

The government puts lots of efforts to promote the local culture of indigenas (indigenous people) as well as what’s left from pre-Spanish times. You will see traditionally dressed people walking by the streets (yes, they actually wear their clothes daily), you will have chance to taste traditional stuff (for instance famous Ibarra’s ice-creams, which supposedly were invented by indigenas) and try to say ‘Hello’ in Quicha, which is the native indigenas’ language, very different from Spanish, of course.

You will also hear the legend of the Blood Lake (Yahuarcocha) and learn about the Incas’ kingdom and sad history of Atahualpa – the last great Inca king.

Finally, you could try karaoke – which seems to be the Ecuadorian national sport – and see for yourself how bad they are at singing. 🙂

5. The food

Leaving the good old stuff behind, you will encounter new, sometimes exciting, sometimes baffling food.

You will try balls made of banana stuffed with cheese (“interesting…”), or deep-fried empanadas (“tasty!”) or mote (“essentially tasteless…”) not to mentioned all sorts of meat grilled directly on the streets.

If you like seafood perhaps you will become a fan of ceviche (a sort of cold soup or salad made of shrimps/prawns and lime juice) or encebollado (a kind of fish soup with onion and yuka). And of course you will able to try tasty crab or spiny lobster.

If you ready for extreme experiences, why not try cui which is essentially a grilled guinea pig… Or you can just stay with a soup – locro quiteño will be something more usual.

6. The ocean

The coast line of Ecuador has length of 2,000 km and offers sunny beaches, high temperatures and warm ocean. You can pick up a nice hotel just at the beach and enjoy the view and a fresh mojito in your panama hat.

Swimming, snorkeling, surfing or whale-watching – this is only a sample of what you will experience.

7. The mountains

If you’re not exactly the sea person, don’t worry – you won’t be disappointed. Having the longest continental mountain range in the world withing its borders, no wonder the mountains of Ecuador are something really special. The large part of the country lies in Andes, including some major cities, such as: Quito (2,850 meters above sea level), Cuenca (2,550) or Ibarra (2,225).

The Ecaudor’s top 3 highest mountains are:

  1. Chimborazo (6,310 meters).
  2. Cotopaxi (5,897) – which is also an active volcano.
  3. Cayambe (5,790) – which is also the highest point on the equator and only point on the equator with snow cover.

Good news is most of the peaks can be easily climbed without special equipment.

And here’s a movie from climbing the Imbabura volcano – 4,630 m (15,190 ft):

8. The panama hat

If you thought the famous panama hat comes from Panama, you were wrong!

The original, the genuine, the unique panama hat is a national treasure. This very distinctive hat is hand-made of toquilla straw which is so strongly related to tropics was added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists on 6 December 2012.

So, why panama hat and not ecuador hat? Well, US president Theodore Roosevelt who was photographed in the hat while visiting the construction of Panama Canal which boosted the hat’s popularity. But, unfortunately, like the Ecuadorians say: “Panama stole the hat from us”.

It comes in a variety of qualities, fashions and sizes. It can cost anything from 10 bucks to 500-600 dollars depending on the quality grade. Those most expensive you’re supposed to be able to roll and pass through a wedding ring. Be it truth or not, if you’re for a panama hat, the city of Montecristi or Cuenca are your destiny!

9. The people

In Ecuador you’re gonna meet some really nice and friendly people! Generally, they’re more relaxes and open for a causal conversation, even if they don’t completely understand you. 😉

The greetings are typically quite long and include a series of questions such as “¿Como esta? ¿Como le va? ¿Como ha pasado?” (How are you? How is it going? How have you been?) . Or the very-ecuadorian “¿Que mas?” (literally: “What more/else?” in a sense: “What’s new?“) at which you can just say “¡Bien, no mas!” (“Good, nothing new!“). And all the people that live in a proximity of a mile will call you vecino (neighbour). 🙂

But be aware! While the Ecuadorians generally have lots of patience towards foreigners that try to speak Spanish, they are terrible English speakers. If you don’t speak any Spanish, you will find it very difficult to communicate. So better start now!

10. The bananas

Banana. What can be so exciting about banana? Well… first of all, there is no fruit that would be called just “a banana” in Ecuador (which btw. is number 1 world exporter of the fruit).

Think apples. In Europe they come in a great variety of styles, flavours and colors (if you don’t believe visit Poland – the largest producer of apples in Europe).

So, banana is like the Ecuadorian apple.

There are yellow bananas (called guineos) which are commonly known as “bananas”. They’re generally sweet, but they come in different sizes, different “angles” and different tastes. Some of them are sweeter, some of them smell a bit like raspberry and some are really tiny.

Then you have verdes which are green bananas used for cooking. You can make really good stuff out of them (see: 5. The food, for more details).

And finally you have maduros which are quite huge and typically grilled before eaten.

The best part is the prices: in a normal shop you can get a banana for 7-8 cents, but you can also buy a big, giant bunch for a dollar. The banana-eaters paradise.


Ecuador offers a unique combination of rain-forest jungle, high mountains and stunning coast line. The prices are affordable, the currency is US dollar and a tourist visa will allow you to enjoy the country for up to 3 months. Getting the residence is relatively straightforward (I’ll write about it soon), so you can even stay for good. True, you would need to learn some Spanish to survive, but if you are looking for a great adventure, Ecuador is definitely a place to consider.

Stay tuned for some other practical hints that will be posted soon.