The Day Ecuador Kicked Us Out

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It all started innocently enough. Dan and I both suddenly knew that it was time to move on; our time in Panama was at an end. Problem was, we had no idea where we should go next.

All those expat websites extolling Cuenca, Ecuador as the up-and-coming hot retirement destination … you can live there for less than $1000 a monthspringtime weather year-roundquaint, historic city … they became an irresistible temptation. We decided to move there for a season to see if it's all true.

Linda with Cuenca behind, nestled in the Andes mountains. Before Ecuador kicked us out.
All of our worldly belongings are in a Cuenca apartment somewhere behind me.

The big question was how to stay there legally.

Visa options in Ecuador

According to our research we qualified for two visas: a regular tourist VOA (visa on arrival) or a retirement visa. Unfortunately the VOA was only for 90 days and the retirement visa stipulated that we couldn’t be out of the country for more than 90 days a year for the first two years.

Dan is on call to fly to Asia for consulting work, my mother is 88 and in the U.S., and anyway, we’re travel bloggers. No way would those work. Oh – and $25,000 for an investment visa? That wouldn't work either.

So we went down to the Ecuador embassy in Panama City to ask about other options.

The receptionist was helpful until she started using words that weren’t in our Spanish vocabulary. Call it what you will, I have an aversion to discussing legal issues in a foreign language I don’t speak fluently. So we went to Plan B: We asked if anyone was available who could speak English.

“Sure,” she said, “the Ambassador speaks English. You can talk with him.”

Between his limited English and our limited Spanish, we managed to explain our situation. He apologized that he could only give a visa to Panamanian residents, but he had another suggestion. “Get the tourist visa,” he said. “You can go out and come back when you want. It doesn’t have to be 90 days at one time. And you can renew it.” It was such a relief to find out we could do visa runs out of Ecuador, as we’d been doing in Panama all along.

Dan and Linda on Ancon Hill, overlooking Panama City

We heaved a collective sigh of relief, thanked him, shook his hand, and moved to Ecuador a few weeks later. Summer trips back to Panama and the U.S. went without a hitch. All was good.

First, they wouldn’t let us leave

We had a small hitch when September rolled around and we were flying out to Europe. The immigration agent spent too much time going through my passport. “You’ve been here too long,” she stated. “No, I was in the US this summer,” I replied. “Both of us were.”

She couldn’t find the stamp and leafed through the pages again and again, then started talking to me in rapid-fire Spanish. My blank look and apologies for my limited vocabulary were met with a sigh of frustration. She rolled her eyes, took my passport and left.

It seemed like an eternity as we waited for her to return and watched the line grow behind us. The best we could figure out was that someone had forgotten to stamp me out of Ecuador, but no one was telling us anything. When she came back to the booth, she took Dan’s passport and stamped them both. “You can go,” she said, and dismissed us with a wave of her hand.

I turned to Dan and said, “I am so glad we always arrive at the airport early.”

Linda taking videos along the Antrim coast.

We had a great time in Europe, starting with a press trip in southeast Ireland and a travel blogger conference in Dublin. We drove from Belfast to Derry along Northern Ireland’s stunning Antrim coast, visited friends in Cologne, Germany, and took an 11-day Adriatic cruise (the $799 price tag made it irresistible). Our final stop was Madrid, for a bit of down time before our flight home. We were ready to go home to the tropics. Europe is cold in November.

Back to South America

Our return flight was on LAN, a Peruvian airline, with an overnight stop in Lima. We’ve learned from experience that it’s worth staying in a hotel if we have an early flight. Any sleep we can snatch make the next morning’s flight – and the next day – so much easier to endure.

Our hotel stay had a couple of added benefits: We had a chance to see a little of the city and enough time to go out for dinner for local food. The food and sights whetted our appetite so much that we want to go back and see more of Lima.

Back at Lima’s airport before dawn the next morning, we found out that Americans can get a 6-month visa. “That sure beats Ecuador,” we agreed. Food for thought. Then we boarded our flight to Guayaquil.

Then they wouldn't let us back in …

Backpacks in hand we arrived at the immigration counter and passed our passports through the glass.

The agent looked truly apologetic. “I am sorry, you cannot enter. You have overstayed your visa.”

“Are you absolutely sure? We were in the US this summer, and Panama too. We only returned in late July.” She carefully looked through the passport, checked dates, totaled numbers, and said, “Yes, I am sure.”

Thanks to a coworker with better English skills, we sadly figured out that the ambassador hadn’t explained himself clearly: Ecuador only permits Americans to visit for a maximum of 90 days a year. A year. Yes, we could have gotten a 90-day extension if we had any days left, but … in order to get to the visa office we had to enter the country. “I am sorry,” she repeated. “You cannot enter at all, even to go to the visa office.”

“This is vujá de,” I quipped to Dan as she left the booth. “First they wouldn’t let us leave, now they won’t let us return. It’s like what happened when we left, except in reverse.”

Then Ecuador kicked us out

Within a few minutes we were being escorted to a small room. Dan managed to convince an agent to give him computer access so he could check bank balances while we waited. I took a mental inventory of everything we had in our apartment and uttered a silent prayer of thanks that we’d checked our carry-ons. Our backpacks were heavy enough; at least we didn’t have to lug our roll-aboards around too.

Enter LAN agent. “We are sending you back to Lima.” And just what are we supposed to do there, I wanted to retort, when all our worldly possessions are here?

But I didn’t. There’s no point in giving anyone a hard time. They’re just doing their job and it wouldn't accomplish anything anyway.

“When does the plane leave?”

“At six o’clock.”


“No, tomorrow morning. You can wait in the departure lounge.”

I stifled the urge to ask if they’d give us frequent flyer miles for the inconvenience.

“Can we have our passports back?”

“No. You will get them once you get on the plane.”

Oh, please.

Waiting to leave Ecuador

Pick up bags. Follow agent. Enter lounge ahead of him. Turn around to see the door close between us.

And then realize that it’s almost lunchtime, we’re on our own with less than $40 in cash, we are going to want to eat before tomorrow morning, and there’s no ATM anywhere in sight. We could use a credit card, but there aren't many decent dining options in the Guayaquil departure lounge. Maybe a sandwich or candy bar, but certainly nothing healthy. Rats, no steak house in sight. We could probably use a couple of stiff drinks right about now. But nope, we wouldn't find that here.

Not an option.

With a long day – and night – ahead of us, we settled down near a charging station and pulled out our computers. At least we could get some work done. And then a glimmer of sunshine in an otherwise dismal day: We had forgotten that Guayaquil’s departure lounge has free internet access.

It wasn’t long before we realized that we were being watched. (It was pretty obvious: Someone wearing a security vest was just sitting there, looking at us.) It finally got the better of me and I walked over. “Are they just paying you to sit here and watch us until we leave?”


So I struck up a conversation about her job. Might as well practice my Spanish while we waste a day of our lives in an airport.

Fixing the problem

We weren't very productive; we were too preoccupied with what to do once they deposited us back in Lima. We already knew that we couldn't extend our Ecuador visa in Peru. It's the rules. Our only viable option was to return to Miami and go to the consulate there.

As far as we could tell, we had only two choices:

  • Option 1: Sit in the lounge overnight, try to sleep, take free LAN flight to Lima in the morning, then buy tickets to Miami and wait at the airport until the plane leaves.
  • Option 2: Fly to Miami directly from Guayaquil on our dime. Today. Pay $500 less.

Option 2 could work only if we had our passports and luggage so … guess what, there are no LAN employees at Guayaquil airport in the afternoon, when no flights are arriving or departing. It was dark before we could find anyone who could help us. He gave us dinner vouchers and arranged to reroute our carry-ons so Dan quickly found tickets … for the last flight out that night. The flight went via Quito (Ecuador's capital city). Thank goodness that was OK with them and we would be on our way.

Once at the gate they made us sit there until everyone else had boarded. We were the last passengers allowed on the plane. We heaved a huge sigh of relief when we buckled in. Finally we – and our bags – were homeward bound.

The passport fiasco

“Can we have our passports back now?”

“No, you change planes in Quito. You can have it after that.”

Bound for home on the next plane, last to be seated again, I asked the same question.

“You can have it when the plane lands in Miami.”

Now we’re getting ridiculous. What am I going to do with a passport in midair? Jump out over Colombia?

I'm stuck in a plane, where could I go? It's safe to give me my passport. I promise.

I almost shook the flight attendant who refused to return our passports when we finally landed in the US. Are they just going to believe we're American citizens and let us pass? I think not.

We stepped onto the gangway to be met by a TSA agent. A flight attendant handed him the sealed envelope containing our passports. He pulled them out and saw the gold eagle and United States of America on the cover.

“What seems to be the issue here?”

“We overstayed our visa by four days and Ecuador kicked us out.”

“That’s it? This is ridiculous. Here are your passports. Welcome home.”

Welcome home, indeed.

Have you had any travel nightmares? Tell us about it in the comments.

Please share this story with your friends.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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30 thoughts on “The Day Ecuador Kicked Us Out”

  1. This past weekend me, my wife and kids traveled to Ecuador to spend new years with her family. She’s from there. I’ve been there 3 times previous with no issues. Until this time. After being interviewed in a small room for about 30 mins, I was denied entry into Ecuador. I have to mention I do have a past felony on my record. But I never had any issues in my previous visits to Ecuador, so to have this happen this time was a shock. My wife wanted her father to meet our new baby girl, so she stayed behind while I boarded a JetBlue flight back to the US. We’re unbelievably sad and confused by all this. Horrible experience.

    • Thanks for sharing your story and commiserating with us. Of course a country has the right to decide who can enter, but at least in our case, they were (relatively) courteous. Still you’re right, it’s a horrific experience when it happens to you.

      Was the past felony the reason they gave for refusing to let you in? If so, we don’t get it, why they chose THIS trip to figure out you were an “undesirable,” unless some policy suddenly changed or they’re running criminal checks on all visitors.

  2. I was denied entry, because I didn’t have a visa, I am from Haiti, I reside in the USA and thought that a green card would be enough be I was wrong.

    • Sorry you missed out on Ecuador. We feel your pain. We have permanent residency in another country too, and even though locals can visit a lot of places with no problem, we have to jump thru hoops to get a visa. Immigration doesn’t care about anything except for what’s on the cover of people’s passports. 🙁

  3. I’ve been seeing you two have been in the US for a few weeks via FourSquare and wondered what was going on, now I know. Border crossings are the toughest part of travel because who knows what some grumpy agent can decide about your fate. Hope your 2014 travels go smooth!

  4. Wow. I was sort of interested in Panama. After reading your stressful encounters, I think I will plan to visit another country. I’m pleased to hear you got home safely and got your passports back. I find it even more interesting that you plan to go back? Wow!

    • We had no problems with Panama; we lived there for 2 1/2 years. It was Ecuador, and our fault because we misunderstood the country’s visa regulations. And we have to go back, if only for enough time to get all our stuff.

  5. Sorry to hear about the hell you went through. Although it makes for a good story now. Hopefully you manage to get your stuff back soon and that it’s all returned. But, at least that hasn’t changed your mind about traveling. I’m enjoying reading your posts. Looking forward to more.

  6. My goodness! This sounds like a horrible ordeal. I am glad you two are safe. Keep us posted on the outcome. Are you planning on going back or staying in the USA?

  7. Well, there’s a learning experience for the books! What an ordeal and no doubt a very stressful day. It sounds like you have it sorted out now, though I’m sure you’ll not want to stay in Ecuador after this experience. So it is on to Peru then?

    • Plans are a bit up in the air. Dan may have an opportunity to work in Asia for a while, though Peru is an option we’re considering if that doesn’t work out. Meanwhile, we still have to get our stuff and sublet our apartment in Cuenca.

  8. What an experience!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m glad it was you and Dan and not George and I. We would not have been able to handle that. I keep telling George that we are too old now to leave the country. You have a wonderful site and I follow your travels. What a great life you and Dan are living. Be Blessed! Karen

    • Karen, I’m thrilled to hear from you and that you enjoy our site. Dan and I truly are blessed, not only because we can travel so much but also because we’ll celebrate our 12th anniversary this week.

      Most people don’t have problems like we did. I’m sorry you think you’re too old to leave the country, as we’d love to have you visit us when we return overseas.

  9. So what happened next Linda and Dan? You’ve left me on the jetway!
    There are tons of questions so I’m looking forward to the next post that will hopefully have all the answers.
    What happened is pretty standard; sounds like they went by the book as bad as it seems.
    Just so you know, this kind of stuff happens all day long.

    • Kerwin, all good, thanks for asking. We’ll be going back to Ecuador next month with a different visa.

      I am sure that immigration offices worldwide turn away people every day and deportees have long waits in departure lounges, but I find it hard to believe that it’s standard operating procedure to lie three times about when you’ll return a passport. There’s really no excuse for that.

      • The airlines have specific instructions; that packet is only given to the Immigration Officer or airline agent who meets your flight. They should have explained that to you in Ecuador when you first boarded that flight. You guys were on the up and up, but that is not always the case. In certain instances, you are actually escorted by an officer all the way; as you noted you were only watched in the airport to ensure you left the country. Sorry it happened, although it was pretty entertaining to read as your writing was so vivid, I felt like I was there.

        Some destinations are only served once a week or every other day; luckily that was not the case. I had a friend who was kicked out of India as he returned unknowingly, before the two month mandatory return time period. Luckily the return flight was in a few hours and had space. He returned on the same flight he arrived on.

        Also, typically, they only return you to your port of origin; I was surprised they allowed you to go to another country; albeit the country of your citizenship. But it makes sense.

        I just had visions of your stuff in your place there and you now having to make arrangements, etc. Grr…

        Glad it worked out the way it did; despite the uncertainty and angst it caused.

    • We’ve spoken to the consulate and yes, we can return … with a different sort of visa. We need more passport pages first, though, and think it would be wiser to wait until after the holidays are over.


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