You have each experienced things in your life that others have not. Perhaps you try to tell others about your experiences and offer a bit of advice. You aren’t trying to tell them what to do. You are merely acting as a guide or scout; one who has travelled that path before and can advise where the curves are, the steep drop offs, mountain passes and possible ambush locations. You are providing a valuable service. Folks may not want to hear what you have to say but to my way of thinking, it’s best to tell someone about the steep cliff they are headed for than not tell them. Naturally, what they decide to do is up to them.
On the other side of that coin, when someone appears to be on a path that avoids the obvious pitfalls, I think it’s good to support them and tell them you think they are headed in the right direction. Guides have an important role to play for those folks traveling an unknown path.
We all make our own decisions and must navigate our own path but for Diane and me, we sometimes hire a guide when we enter completely unknown territory. We would rather pay a professional a little bit of money than lose a lot of money and time trying to navigate an unfamiliar process without assistance. That is where “facilitators” come in. They may be called something different depending on where you are but if you move overseas and need to navigate unfamiliar legal, administrative and governmental territory in a language that may be unfamiliar to you…and you are having to sign documents written in another language, my position is clear. Hire a professional to assist.
Now, not all agree with that position. I know of many folks in Ecuador who have done a remarkable job of navigating through numbers of systems and processes with no assistance. Frankly, it depends upon what part of Ecuador you live in and how fluently you speak and read Spanish. Some governmental offices and systems have become quite streamlined in certain parts of Ecuador over the past year…but not everywhere!
There are a number of businesses and individuals who provide these “facilitator” services in almost every large community, I’d guess. Fees and quality of service vary widely but the expat forums are great sources of information to assist anyone who seeks some assistance.
Diane and I used a law firm to assist us in Ecuador a couple of years ago as we navigated an improving immigration process…improving but not yet improved. The changes in rules and regulations were coming almost daily; too much for us to attempt on our own at that time. Things are much better now.
Anyone arriving in a foreign nation to live must certainly acquire the appropriate visa and other documents required by each country. Then one may wish to open a bank account, start a business, purchase real estate, buy and register a vehicle, subscribe to Direct TV and hire employees and a myriad of other things to simply live a life. Even retired folks with no intent on working may need to drive and open a bank account, purchase a vehicle and property. All of those things require documents and signatures and all will be in Spanish.
I have always been a collector. My largest collection has always been my contacts. I love people and for my entire professional life, I maintained an active and extensive relationship with my friends and associates, often helping others to make connections they needed. I never thought of it as networking although it certainly was. I just enjoyed meeting and knowing people and maintaining those connections over many years.
After I retired, I have maintained contact with a handful of friends but the need for my business contacts was intentionally diminished. Moving offshore is a quick way to separate one’s self from your former business network. I have no regrets! That said, moving to a new country meant starting all over again with making friends and necessary contacts to get things done and make things happen.
In Ecuador (and it appears also in Mexico), there are always at least two ways to accomplish something; the official way and the other way. Our life in Ecuador was a blend of both the official ways and the other ways. Without knowing the “other” ways, life can be much more challenging in a foreign country. Finding good “facilitators” was crucial to accomplish things in Ecuador. They knew people in the right places and could advise how to take the shortcuts required to make things happen. Sometimes, all it took was a phone call or a short conversation accompanied by a few dollars. Other times, it was more complex.
As Diane and I worked through the process of recently buying and registering a car here in Mexico, the value of using a “facilitator” was truly priceless!! For about $20, he spent a couple of hours working with the DMV, handling all the paperwork required to transfer the title from the previous owner to us and issue new papers in our name. He also negotiated a much lower penalty for the previous owner who had failed to pay certain fees in the past. Forget all you know about a slick, computerized, one stop system in the states or Canada. Neither Ecuador nor Mexico is on that path, although Mexico is leagues ahead of Ecuador. Ecuador was often a two day process…two full days, going to several offices and a bank which collected a fee, then returning to the registration office.
Buying real estate should never be done (in my opinion) without a bi-lingual lawyer involved who translates all documents into your first language. Buying real estate in your home country is complex enough but in a foreign nation, (while it is nothing necessarily to fear) having good representation is crucial.
Now, some of you are thinking, “Well duh! Of course we’d use a lawyer.” I would hope so but many, many, many expats are shepherded into a sale situation by a gringo sales person or developer who was just “so nice” and it was such a good deal. I know many who have lost all their money in that way.
I am no longer very brave. Or perhaps I am just much smarter now than I was as a young guy but these days, I hire assistance when needed. While I may have spent a couple of hundred bucks in the last couple of years in facilitator fees, I’ve lost nothing and the processes have gone smoothly and with little for either Diane or I to do but sign on the dotted lines when asked.
So, how do you find a “facilitator”? Lawyers are an obvious choice for certain situations and transactions and the expat network in many countries can assist with suggestions. Lawyers are also the most expensive option.
Regular “facilitators” can be anyone who is able to help. There was one taxi driver in our area of Ecuador who made it his business to make important connections. He augmented his income by assisting folks with any number of situations, some quite complex. We found him by simply asking around and he was a gem! He was a master “fixer”. Another woman had family connections going back 5 generations. Her grandmother’s phone number was “1” in our small town. She was perfectly bi-lingual and ran a business assisting expats with many things they needed for a very nominal fee. The man who assisted us here in Mexico was the husband of the secretary in our insurance office. We just asked for help and there he was, a phone call away!
You may be one of those who want to fly solo; don’t need any help and want to keep your expenses very lean. Yes, it can be done!! Unfortunately for me, I am no longer patient enough to deal with that level of frustration. I want my life to be easy. I’ve earned it!
Whether you choose to use a facilitator or not, best of luck. For me, it’s a no brainer! I’m a believer in hiring a facilitator and now, we know a couple of them in the Cancun area. I’ll need to find a couple more in Merida.