Expert for Expats
Most expats dislike feeling helpless. Back home, we knew the score, how to navigate daily life, and how to get things done. When we moved to Ecuador, everything changed. We suddenly feel as helpless as the new kid in town on the first day of seventh grade. Our new world seems exciting and interesting, but we have no idea how to fit in and do what’s required. Maite Duran understands.
Although Maite’s helped more expats make a successful transition to Ecuador than anyone else, she’s more than just a savvy business woman. Maite has a heart for helping expats because she experienced that same level of confusion, overwhelm, and helplessness when entering a new country, not only once, but twice. In the last five years, Maite’s company, Gringo Visas, has become one of the most respected facilitation services for expats across Ecuador. From humble beginnings working alone in Cuenca, Maite now leads a team of eight staff with offices across Ecuador and in the United States. They focus on one thing: doing everything possible to help expats stop feeling helpless and start enjoy their lives in Ecuador. Part encouraging friend, part respected expert; Maite Duran has quickly made a name for herself as a trustworthy guide for expats in Ecuador. Her backstory provides the secrets to her success and why she works so hard to help newcomers.
When Maite was seventeen years old, she left her hometown of Santa Isabel, Ecuador, with a big dream. She was going to go the United States to get a good education, then find work so that she could build a better life for her family back in Ecuador. She spoke no English and had few resources except for her determination. With hard work, Maite was able to support herself and graduate from high school with honors, just three years after arriving in the United States. That work ethic, coupled with her warm personality, led to a successful career in the mortgage industry and as the host of a local television show for new immigrants.
As the years passed, Maite’s dream became a reality. She’d earned enough money to help her siblings attend college and graduate school. She’d also secured a stable future for her mother and herself. As a bonus, she also found love in the United States. Maite met and married a man from Cuenca. When her son David was born, Maite and her husband returned to Cuenca after almost twelve years of living in the United States.
Her re-entry experience was shockingly difficult. Maite recalls, “It was really hard. I had to do everything on my own and could not easily find the information I needed. I’m from Ecuador, and it still cost me a lot of time and money to start my new life here. I didn't expect that it would be so difficult.”
Even as a resident of the country with fluent Spanish, her transition was costly, confusing, and stressful. Maite struggled. “My husband purchased a house in Cuenca when we moved here. I had no legal right to that house until our US marriage was registered in Ecuador. If something had happened to him, I would not have been able to sell the house or make any decisions about the property.” She had a car but could not drive it until she secured an Ecuadorian driver’s license. With no friends in Cuenca to help, Maite experienced a series of problems she did not anticipate.
Today, Maite and her team excel in solving problems for new arrivals in Ecuador. The biggest problems revolve around the visa and cedula process. Because the rules change frequently, and many gringos have unusual circumstances, every day brings a new challenge for Maite and her team. Whether it’s finding a solution for an expat who can’t be fingerprinted, changed a name or has minor children with a different last name, there is never a dull moment at Gringo Visas.
Two types of clients come to Gringo Visas for help. The first group begins their visa process with Maite’s team before they arrive in Ecuador. Maite and her team in the United States can help them secure their residency visas before moving to Ecuador and receive their cedulas just two weeks after arrival. Most expats say that the process of getting their residency visas and cedulas is the most expensive, time consuming and stressful part of coming to Ecuador. Maite highly recommends taking care of this before arriving. “When you are preparing to leave the United States, there are many things to do such as sell your home and belongings, say goodbye to friends and family members, and make arrangements for your finances. If we can facilitate the visa process, that is one less thing new expats need to worry about,” counsels Maite.
The second type of client who comes to Gringo Visas is someone already in Ecuador who is stuck. They may have tried to do their visa work on their own and become frustrated. Others hired someone who could not or would not complete the job. “Unfortunately, there are some people in Ecuador who try to take advantage of newcomers,” Maite confides. She tells the chilling story of a couple who hired a person to fly the United States to get apostilled paperwork and return it to Ecuador. The couple paid thousands of dollars for hotel and food expenses as well as the cost of two plane tickets before realizing they were dealing with an unethical person and being ripped off. “Be sure to check out anyone you are considering for help with your visa process,” says Maite. “Ask for references and talk to former clients to make sure you are dealing with an honest and ethical person who has a track record of success.”
Maite’s clients tell glowing stories of her professionalism and her kindness. One of her clients, who asked to remain anonymous, had a stroke last year and was in the emergency room of a Cuenca hospital. When his condition stabilized, the hospital was ready to admit him to a patient room for rehabilitation. However, there was a big problem; the hospital would not accept his American credit card or even a cash payment for his care. Alone and unsure of what to do, he called Maite. She arrived at the hospital and solved the problem. He said, “I have no idea what would have happened to me if not for Maite’s help. I never expected my visa facilitator to help me with a medical emergency. Maite is much more than a facilitator to me. She’s my lifeline in a new country.”
It is not surprising that once the visa process is complete, many expats still have challenges. There is much to learn about living in Ecuador and Maite is doing her part to help. She’s added additional services to Gringo Visas in response to the most pressing needs of expats:
- · Help with registering and receiving IVA tax refunds
- · Setting up IESS or private health insurance, car insurance, and homeowner’s insurance and,
- · end of life planning and wills.
Maite has also hired additional staff, including a full-time attorney, to ensure that every expat in need has access to knowledgeable, friendly people who can help. Her company continues to grow, along with the expat community.
When asked for her best tips on making a smooth transition to life in Ecuador, Maite shares these suggestions:
- 1. Understand that when you move to a new country, there is much to learn. This knowledge gap can cause stress and anxiety. Reach out to trustworthy people for help. Have some fun at the same time. The more quickly you can find things to enjoy in your new setting, the easier your transition to your new home.
- 2. Do as much paperwork as you can before you leave the United States or Canada. If possible, complete your visa process to save the expense and hassles of getting extensions.
- 3. If you plan to bring a container to Ecuador, and do not already have a permeant residence visa, be aware that you will pay a 4-5 thousand dollar tax security deposit. The deposit will be refunded if you secure your residency visa in six months. If there are delays in the visa process, you will forfeit all that money.
- 4. It is very important to register your marriage in Ecuador so that you can make decisions about your spouse’s health care and end of life. If your marriage is not registered in Ecuador, your spouse’s nearest blood relative will have all decision-making power, not you.
- 5. If you have registered your marriage in Ecuador and then divorce in the United States, that divorce must be registered in Ecuador. If not, your previous spouse will be considered your next of kin and may be listed as your dependent for visa purposes. Divorce and remarriage can complicate visa issues. Be sure to get trustworthy and expert advice before altering your marital status.
- 6. Adopt ‘tranquillo’ or tranquility as your new mantra. A warm smile and patient attitude will help open doors in government offices, banks, and utility offices.
- 7. Beware of out-of-date information online. Many expats read information on blogs and forums and do not realize the information is no longer accurate.
So what’s next for Maite Duran?
She is working on a book for people considering a move to Ecuador, blogging, and using social media to keep abreast of new challenges for expats. She recently moved into a larger office in the beautiful new River Side building located on the same block as Hotel Oro Verde where she can host training programs and seminars. “As long as there are expats to help, I will continue to find ways to serve then. So many people helped me when I was an immigrant in the United States and couldn’t speak the language. I owe them a debt of gratitude. That inspires me to do all I can to help others.” Ecuador continues to be one of the top rated destinations for new expats with a steady stream of new gringos feeling helpless and alone in their new homes…at least until they meet Maite Duran!
Lynne Klippel is a best-selling author and publisher who specializes in non-fiction books and information products. She’s lived in rural Paute since 2012. For more information on her work visit www.SageMountainBooks.com