Ecuador vs. Nicaragua: What Investors Should Know Up Front
Ecuador vs. Nicaragua. Which is the better place to live overseas?
When it comes to choosing a destination in Latin America, both Nicaragua and Ecuador are great options. Both enjoy incredible eco-diversity, numerous opportunities for adventure, and a whole lot of bang for your buck.
Ecuador has consistently been named one of the world’s best places to retire. Nicaragua, which has historically remained off many expats’ radars due to its troubled past, has risen to the ranks of being the safest country in Central America. Today it’s emerging as one of the top destinations in the region.
So, which of these countries is the better option for your family’s much-anticipated move abroad? Well, that depends on you and how you’d like your life to look in your new home overseas.
While we can’t make a recommendation that’s right for everyone we can show you how the two stack up in several important categories in this Ecuador vs. Nicaragua stand-off.
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Round #1 – Lifestyle Hacks
One of the best ways to improve your lifestyle when living overseas is by hiring domestic help, something many can’t afford in North America. For instance, in Ecuador the cost to hire a maid for the day is $10.
Sound like a good deal? Not as good as Nicaragua where you can employ a full-time helper, like a nanny or caretaker, for just over $100 per month (depending on their hours and responsibilities). Domestic help is generally easy to find, but it’s important to screen applicants carefully. A safe bet is to hire a close friend or family member of another maid who is a known good worker.
Round #2 – Internet Connectivity
In terms of Internet penetration, speed, and quality, Ecuador wins this category. Overall it has more widespread affordable access, with over 35% of the population connected (vs. 10% in Nicaragua).
The main difference between the two is with Internet access in rural areas. In Nicaragua there isn’t any. By contrast, Ecuador has public access centers, called Infocentros, that are available (and free) even in more remote areas.
Connectivity is definitely on the agenda of both countries’ governments. Even Nicaragua has increased its availability 30-fold in the past 5 years alone. However, it still lags a considerable distance (12,628 internet hosts to Ecuador’s 170,538) behind Ecuador, whose goal is Internet access in 50% of its households by 2015.
Round #3 – Living Options
Outcome: Ecuador for Variety, Nicaragua for Safety
While both Ecuador and Nicaragua boast their share of colonial towns, coastal paradises, and mountain hideaways, Ecuador’s four distinct regions offer much greater diversity in scenery and climate.
Popular Ecuadorian cities include the mountain towns of Cuenca and Loja, with their colonial charm and modern amenities. Also, on the coast, are places like Salinas and Montanita, which attract a large number of beach-goers. Ecuador is also home to the Galapagos Islands, perfect for nature-lovers.
Nicaragua also has its fair share of expat hotspots, and many are growing at increasing rates. Granada, which is situated on Lake Nicaragua, is a popular favorite. As is Leon, another colonial city that also boasts close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Nearby beach towns include San Juan del Sur, famous for its surfing and nightlife. The Corn Islands are also an option for those seeking a Caribbean vibe.
It’s also worth noting that Nicaragua is now the safest nation in Central America, while crime continues to be a problem in Ecuador. However, it’s entirely possible to live safely in either location (and without burglar bars). What’s important is to use common sense and avoid appearing overly “flashy” or waving wads of large bills when paying for items.
Round #4 – Green Living
Clear Winner: Ecuador
When it comes to conservation and sustainability, Nicaragua is the land of missed opportunity. The largest country in Central America (and the least populated), Nicaragua is full of natural resources. However, several factors are preventing the nation from realizing its potential.
The lack of enforceable land rights has led to massive deforestation and a lack of government regulation. Pesticide use is widespread, and there’s little safe drinking water. Only 6% of the nation’s forests are protected.
Compare this with Ecuador, which has the lowest environmental footprint in the world. It’s also the only country in the world whose constitution protects the rights of its natural environment. Ecuador is also home to Yasuni National Park, the most biodiverse spot on the planet. Their efforts to protect it from the harmful effects of drilling its 800-million barrel oil reserve have been among the most creative in history.
Round #5 – Cost of Living
Slight Edge: Ecuador
While both countries enjoy a very reasonable cost of living, prices in Ecuador are generally more affordable. This is particularly true when it comes to consumables, like groceries and restaurant meals (26% and 24% higher in Nicaragua, respectively). It’s also true of the country’s inexpensive health care.
In Ecuador, a couple could live simply on about $1200 per month, including rent which runs around $450 on average. Factored into this amount are expenses such as public transportation (in other words, not owning a car) and once-per-week maid service.
Two big exceptions are rent and transportation to North America. Home rentals run around 33% less in Nicaragua. It’s also much cheaper (and shorter) to fly to the U.S. More on that coming up.
Round #6 – Ease of Access
Ecuador has two international airports, Quito (UIO) and Guayaquil (GYE), although most travelers fly into Quito. Flights arrive from U.S. cities like Miami, Houston, and New York, as well as nearby Panama City, Panama, or Bogota, Colombia.
Due to its close proximity to the U.S., Nicaragua offers frequent short flights to a number of major U.S. cities. American Airlines has 3 daily flights from Miami. There are also daily flights from Atlanta (Delta) and Houston (Continental). Spirit Airlines also offers 3 flights per week from Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to international flights, which land at Sandino International Airport in Managua, there are also a number of domestic airlines that fly to cities across Nicaragua, including the Corn Islands. Nicaragua also offers short flights to nearby Costa Rica and Panama.
But once you’re in Ecuador, getting around’s a breeze.
It’s worth mentioning that, while Nicaragua is easier to get TO, Ecuador is a piece of cake to get around IN. The country’s transportation system is bordering on excellent. Thanks to subsidized fuel costs, there are inexpensive domestic flights. You can also fill up your car for as little as $1 per gallon.
Round #7 – Business Climate
Slight Advantage: Ecuador (for Now)
Let’s face it. Neither of these two countries has a gleaming record of political stability. Ecuador saw 48 presidents in its first 131 years as a republic. And while Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega has certainly done some good for the nation’s economy, he’s not exactly known for his friendliness to businesses. He’s also currently pushing legal reform that will essentially result in the possibility of his limitless reelection.
As a result, this category was a tough one to call. We’re awarding it to Ecuador, mainly because Rafael Correa has a somewhat better track record as a political leader. In addition, the Ecuadorian government has been taking strides towards reducing its influence in various sectors and allowing independent businesses to function more…well, independently…due to new privatization laws. As a result, the country has seen considerable economic growth.
While we’re on the subject of government and bureaucracy, Ecuador also boasts the easier process for obtaining a visa. The whole ordeal is generally faster, cheaper, and less confusing than in Nicaragua where there aren’t a lot of resources for information. The biggest downside? If you leave for 6 months you lose your visa.
Round #8 – Banking
Outcome: Nicaragua Wins
Both Nicaragua and Ecuador require that you jump through quite a few hurdles in order to open a bank account as a foreigner. However, once your account is established, you’ll generally find that Nicaragua offers the better banking experience for North Americans.
While it does use a different form of currency (the Cordoba), most establishments will also accept the U.S. dollar. (Note: Ecuador has had a dollarized economy since 2000.) What’s more, many Nicaraguan banks (6 at last count) hold relationships with U.S. financial institutions. This makes for an easy process when transferring money. However, it also means that “they” can see your money and where it’s going. Banks in Nicaragua also pay competitive interest rates on deposits.
The performance and transparency of Ecuador’s banks has improved in recent years. However, they still struggle with implementing and enforcing uniform regulations. Their accounting standards are also subpar. In possibly its worst offense, Ecuador also charges a 5% tax on all funds transferred out of the country. Ouch.
It’s easy to see why Nicaragua is the natural choice for banking of the two countries. That being said, neither of these is a place you’d want to choose for stashing large amounts of cash. There are just too many better options globally.
Round #9 – Investment Opportunities
We mentioned that Correa has made some decent accomplishments during his tenure as president. One of the best ones from an investment standpoint? Infrastructure. Massive improvements in infrastructure.
Why does that matter? Glad you asked. Infrastructure upgrades (or even rumored ones) equal huge potential to savvy investors. Buying a beautiful piece of untouched beach that’s about to become more accessible due to a new road coming in is a tried and true strategy and one that we’ve written about extensively in our new ebook, Pay Dirt.
In addition to real estate, investing in tourism is also a smart move right now in Ecuador Real Estate. The country has a ton of amazing attractions, yet its existing tourist infrastructure is grossly underused. Plus the government offers a wealth of tax deductions and other incentives to foreign investors.
Similar laws and incentives exist to encourage tourism investment in Nicaragua, as well. Also, organizations like PRONicaragua aim to assist foreign investors by providing support services to those looking at potential business opportunities there.
Round #10 – Healthcare
Slight Edge: Ecuador
When it comes to Ecuador vs. Nicaragua, both countries enjoy clean, modern, quality healthcare facilities with well-trained medical staffs. However, the level of care and accessibility of treatment are slightly higher in Ecuador. Most of the doctors speak English, and many even trained in the U.S.
Costs are comparable in both countries, with a visit to a specialist costing no more than $25-$30 and an overnight stay in a private room still under $100. Accessibility is fairly widespread, but–as is true of most developing countries–availability and quality is far better in and around larger cities.
Perhaps the biggest difference in this category comes in the direction both countries’ systems are heading. While Nicaragua’s healthcare stands in need of some improvement, Ecuador’s government is currently taking strides to improve its own system.
Round #11 – Consumer Goods
Verdict: It’s a Tie
When it comes to consumer goods, Ecuador definitely wins for the availability of products. In Ecuador you can find a variety of domestic and imported products. However, due to recently imposed taxes and restrictions on imports, items such as vehicles and cell phones are becoming more scarce and expensive.
As a result, Nicaragua (although it has less to offer in the way of variety) may soon offer the better value on consumer products. This may become increasingly true as the country continues to attract more and more expats. Where expats are, imported products aren’t often far behind.
Round #12 – Foreign Land Ownership
The laws of both countries are favorable towards foreigners who want to own land in either Ecuador or Nicaragua. Property rights are guaranteed in each nation’s constitution, and they apply equally to foreigners as well as nationals.
While Nicaragua does restrict property ownership near its borders, Ecuador has no restrictions whatsoever on foreigners owning property. The buying process is similar in both countries, requiring due diligence to carefully research the title and ownership. The services of a qualified attorney can simplify the buying process in either country.
Ecuador vs. Nicaragua – Grand Champion?
While the match-up looks to have been a slaughter, with Ecuador taking the grand prize in this Ecuador vs. Nicaragua competition, we’d advise you to take this information with a grain of salt. While we’ve tried to remain as objective as possible, the decision of where to relocate as an expat is one that can only be made through your own careful consideration.
Articles and comparisons are helpful, but there’s just no substitute for seeing a destination with your own two eyes and exploring it with your own two feet. If one, or both, of these countries is on your short list, book a trip to check it out for yourself. A trip to the Latin tropics is sure to prove a delight for all the senses.
Map of Ecuador
Ecuador Fast Facts
- Population: About 15.49 million
- Typical temperature: Ecuador is known for its micro climates, learn more here.
- Major airports with U.S. flights: Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. Complete list of airports in Ecuador.
- Nearest U.S. consulate: Quito and Guayaquil
Map of Nicaragua
Nicaragua Fast Facts
- Population: About 5.99 million
- Typical temperature: There are three temperature zones in Nicaragua. In the lowlands (Pacific and Atlantic coast) temperatures vary roughly between 72° F at night and 86° F at daytime (22° C – 30° C). Temperature can reach 100° F in May (38° C). The central part of the country is about 9° F (5° C) cooler, and in the mountains in the north it’s about 18° F (10° C) cooler.
- Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Managua
- Nearest U.S. consulate: Managua