Some of the challenges faced by Digital Nomads in Ecuador include the country’s struggle with insecurity, limited English proficiency in banks and government offices, and excessive bureaucracy.
A year after the introduction of the ‘Digital Nomad’ visa in Ecuador, the number of applications remains significantly below the government’s target, according to the Foreign Ministry. Only 89 individuals have accessed the visa so far, while the government had anticipated receiving 10,000 applications by 2023, according to Santiago Granda, the Undersecretary for Tourism Promotion.
Between March 2022 and April 2023, citizens from 21 countries have applied for the digital nomad visa. Most of the applications, numbering 35, are from the United States, followed by Canada with 17 applications and Russia with five. This visa, officially known as Concesión de visa de residencia temporal rentista para trabajo remoto (Visa Nómada), grants foreign citizens legal residence in Ecuador for a period of two years. The aim is to encourage internal tourism and stimulate the national economy by attracting digital nomads.
The initiative to introduce the Digital Nomad visa was driven by the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which severely impacted the tourism industry.
Ecuador presents an attractive destination for digital nomads due to its lower cost of living compared to developed economies, pleasant climate, use of the U.S. dollar as its currency, and diverse ecosystems and cultures.
One digital nomad who found Ecuador appealing is Jessica Scheer from New Jersey, United States. After spending five years as a digital nomad in Latin America, Jessica decided to settle in Ecuador. She obtained the nomad visa because she owns two digital businesses. Jessica’s interest in Ecuador began when she participated in a course led by a leader of the Sápara nationality, who invited her to explore the Amazon region in December 2020 during the pandemic.
Although Jessica had never heard of Ecuador prior to her visit, she developed a fondness for the country during her temporary stays. The decision to settle in Ecuador was swift, driven by the amount of time she spent in the country, her appreciation for its natural beauty, and the friendships she had formed. The diverse environments and cultures within close proximity, including the cloud forest, beaches, and the Amazon, were particularly appealing to her, as her home state of New Jersey lacked such variety.
However, Ecuador faces certain challenges that have hindered the achievement of the government’s target of 10,000 visa applications. Language barrier emerges as a significant limitation for foreign citizens, with the lack of English proficiency among the Ecuadorian population hindering integration.
Also, organizations and entities in contact with digital nomads have highlighted concerns over violence and insecurity in the country. Ecuador witnessed the highest growth in criminal violence in Latin America in 2022, primarily due to the presence of criminal gangs. Instances of theft and robbery have prompted some foreign citizens, such as Ukrainian influencer Vera, to leave the country.
To attract more digital nomads, Ecuador needs to address several pending issues. These include improving basic services and simplifying procedures. The current processes for visa renewal and acquisition can be complex and frustrating, potentially discouraging foreign citizens from staying. Excessive bureaucracy, language barriers, and the lack of English-speaking personnel at immigration and banking institutions have been identified as obstacles to the ease of doing business in Ecuador.
To be eligible for the digital nomad visa, individuals must meet specific requirements. These include:
Being a citizen of one of the 183 countries established by the Ministry of Tourism,
Demonstrating an income from abroad equivalent to three times the monthly basic salary (approximately $1,350).
Providing documentation of working for or providing services to foreign companies or individuals.
Being the owner of a company abroad.
Having health insurance.
The visa itself costs $50, with an additional $270 fee upon approval.
Jessica paid $1,200 for the visa process due to the requirement of apostilling and notarizing documents (and hiring a lawyer), which illustrates the need for the government to streamline procedures to make the Digital Nomad visa more accessible and affordable.