One of the questions we get asked the most is: What's the Cost of Living in Ecuador?
Well that's a tough question. Whats the cost of living in United States? Some people may do well with $1000/month and others “scrape by” on $4000/month.
So cost of living is subjective. While some people might find (and be happy) in a $90/month apartment, we needed somewhere a little more secure and with a little more space. Neither is wrong, but it does illustrate the difficulty of identifying a set monthly cost-of-living for a region or country.
Here is our current cost of living for Cuenca, Ecuador. We are a family of three, with a dog. We don't live extravagantly and we aren't in want. We do focus more on the moment than the merchandise.
All costs shown are monthly.
$280 Rent. We rent a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom house. It is just a few years old, is located on a quiet cul-de-sac with a handful of other homes, and is in a very safe area.
$30.67. Water/Lights. Tap Water $7.38 / Lights 23.29
$30.50. Gas/Drinking Water. Gas – 3 tanks at $2.00 ea= $6.00 / Drinking Water – 14 bottles at $1.75 ea = $24.50. The price for both of these are delivered. Official gas (propane) price is $1.60/tank.
$30. Buses. Cost is $0.25 (yes twenty five cents) per ride. We spend an average of $10 each within our family. This is 40 bus trips each per month (one way of course).
$10. Taxis. Notes: Our taxi rate is quite low. Because we live on the bus route, we seldom take taxis. Others, because of the location of their home, or their lifestyle might find themselves spending $50-60 per month. An average taxi ride is $2.00 to $2.50. Of course, if you are visiting and don't speak much Spanish, you'll pay more – like $3 or $4 for a $2 ride.
We take an occasional trip to some of the surrounding towns. This isn't really part of our monthly budget, but it wouldn't affect it even if it was. A bus going to Chordeleg costs $0.60 per person and is about an hour ride.
- Supermaxi: $140 month
- Coral: $160 month
We generally shop at Supermaxi (the American styled supermarket – 3 locations) and Coral (the non-American styled supermarket – also 3 locations). We purchase our meat at Supermaxi, its actually a little less, and the meat department is very clean. The fruits/vegetables at Coral are significantly less expensive.
Meat from Supermaxi. There are three here in the city: Avenida de las Americas, by the Stadium and out by the airport.
- Chicken: $2.31/kg – entera (means whole) – comes with organs, feet and head – great for soup, we're told
- Beef: $2.87/kg ground beef. Not sure of the other beef. The other kinds we've tried, regardless of price, have all had the consistency of sneaker leather. I don't think beef is very popular here. We've heard of a good place to get great beef and we're going to check it out.
- Fish: $2.00/lb from the Feria Libre (the largest open market in the city). Fresh and amazing. It looks more like a roast than a fillet. Visit on Wednesdays for freshest fish.
We buy most everything else at Coral. There is one on Avenida de las Americas, Mall del Rio and Mall Monay.
- Apples: $1.80/kg. Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Royal Gala all imported from Chile.
- Pineapple: $0.69 – $1.25 each. depending on season and size. Don't buy from Supermaxi. They are unripe and very acidic.
- Carrots: $0.87/kg. Large and sweet
- Onions: $0.82/kg – white or purple
- Bananas: $0.33/kg
- Plantains: $0.40/kg green or ripe
- Honey: $2.37/jar of 750ml
- Coffee: $3.42 / 400g bag of Cubanito. It is the best coffee here (and its the cheapest too)
- Ecuadorian Bottle of Rum: $4.37 – 750ml. Jamaican is even less – under $4.00.
- Ecuadorian Beer: $0.50/bottle. Try Pilsner – its very nice.
- Rice: $2.00 for kg bag – either white or brown.
- $32. Cell phones. We currently have a pay-as-you-go style cell phone plan with Movistar. We have three phones (one each). A $6 credit on each phone will last my wife and daughter all month. I spend around $20. This include taxes, texts, everything. We bought some basic model Nokia phones and a chip for $40 each. By the way, the $6 per month amount will last just 30 days, and then expires. A purchase of $3 will last just one week.
- $34.26. Internet. We currently are using CentroNet, a division of the local power company. We have a modem mounted on the roof that received a wireless signal from antennas near the community of Turi. The speed is 740kbps. We also have a Movistar thumb modem that we purchased outright (approx $100). We use that when traveling (and this week because CentroNet is down). The cost for the modem is $3.00 per day, for “unlimited” bandwidth. It gets throttled after the first 100mb. Frustrating, but a good backup system. TVCable is the other primary option, and we used them in our first apartment. Similar cost and double the speed. They are the best option – just pray you don't have to go deal with their “customer service”.
- $20. Entertainment. This is a funny one. You can buy a movie for $1.25-$1.90 each. They are ripped dvd's. But they are the only option. Movie rentals don't exist here, and I don't know if I've ever seen a legit movie store. TV channels are all Spanish (of course) but the movies (dvd's) are almost all in English. We go for coffee for $2.00 and lunch at a seafood restaurant costs $10 (for all 3 of us, with a non-alcoholic drink).
- $140. Miscellaneous: Things always come up, so it comes from this amount.
So, what's it cost to live in Cuenca, Ecuador?
As a family of three we spend: $907.43 / month, or just under $11,000 / year.
Excluded from this amount are vacations, expenses back in Canada and business expenses. We still have expenses at home in Canada. Things like life insurance and our post office box. We also have business expenses like web hosting, marketing, phone and business registration. But these are minimal.
Annual Expenses: $50
- Supermaxi: $45 (5% discount) The reason we have this card is because the discount also applies at Su Casa – a technology and home furnishings store. There is one on Avenida de las Americas, at Plaza del las Americas. There is a Supermaxi there as well.
- Coral: $5 (3% discount)
Vacations and travel:
This isn't budgeted in above, and we don't do this a on a scheduled routine. The beauty of Ecuador is that a beach vacation or a jungle adventure are just a few hours away.
We are leaving next week for two weeks on the coast. We've rented two vacation rentals for a week each. First week: $400, second week: $250. We have hired a driver to bring us from Cuenca. Cost $140 each way. So that means two weeks on the beach including transport and accommodations is $930.00. Of course, food and entertainment is extra, but its pretty hard to beat.
What do you think? Is this high? Or low? What do you spend per month?
Has the Cost of Living Increased in Ecuador?
We had a reader question about the increasing cost of living in Ecuador. He asks:
I have been reading your blog for awhile now (great source of info). I found in your blog and several others is that they differ in what the financial requirements for living in Ecuador are. One site states that it is a 1000.00 dollars and another is now up to 2000.00 dollars per month. Can you shed some light on this?
It's a very good question. A year ago, we published our family cost of living in Ecuador. It is still one of our most popular posts. It was one of the things we wanted to know when we moved to Ecuador more than two years ago.
It's hard to plan a move if you aren't sure if you can afford it.
What's the True Cost of Living in Ecuador?
The most important factor to consider is: What lifestyle are you looking to create/maintain in Ecuador?
When you move to Ecuador will you:
- fulfill your dream of having an estate with servants (maid, gardener and cook)?
- insist on imported foods and brand new vehicles?
- want a home in the Andes and a condo on the coast and hire your real estate agent on the sole qualification of speaking English?
or will you:
- live in an average 2-4 bedroom apartment/house, and do your own cooking?
- take the bus and taxis and shop at the market?
- house hunt on your own or with an Ecuadorian agent / personal assistant?
There is no right or wrong, no judgement to be passed. But these are the questions you'll need to answer.
Determining the Cost of Living Abroad
Identifying the cost of living is like trying to determine the best food in the world. Its subjective. There is no doubt that some people can live on $500 / month in Ecuador.
Just like some people live on $1500 in the US and Canada. Many people happily live on little, either they have a house that's paid for or a very small apartment. But many people don't want to live like that – worrying about having enough money for next weeks groceries.
In regards to the cost of living there is no way to please everyone. In our post about what we spend every month in Ecuador, we were told both that it was too slim and too much. How can that be? Because it's subjective.
Virtually all cost of living estimates is based on basic costs. These estimates never take into account the extras.
- Debts (mortgages, kids or parents) back home
- Business and legal responsibilities
- Medicare (the in-case-of-emergency kind)
- Start up costs (furniture, electronics, dishes and bedding…)
- Emergency / spur of the moment purchases
When reading these estimates, remember that you probably can't actually live on that much. You'll need to add more based on your lifestyle.
So to answer the question: Have costs increased in Ecuador? Of course. Like every country in the world. Have costs increased dramatically? No. Over the last two years, we've seen costs increase by a few percentage points.
I write this post on a flight from New York to Miami as we return from a visit “back home” to Canada. Inflation is much higher in Canada than in Ecuador. We experienced “sticker shock” every time we walked into a store or restaurant.
- We fill our Isuzu Trooper for $20 in Ecuador (it's just $1.48 per gallon and hasn't increased in years). We borrowed my brother-in-law's Saab (sedan) and it cost $74 to fill it in Canada.
- We eat at the food court at Mall del Rio for less than $8 (3 people, with hearty meal and drinks) . We had 3 ice creams on the Halifax Waterfront for $14. Dinner at Mcdonald's is around $30.
- Bottle of water at a tienda (convenience store) in Ecuador $0.30. Bottle of water at Supermarket in Nova Scotia: $1.25
What has gone up? It appears that the crooked gringo real estate agents (*see note) continue to boost prices.
This has caused some resentment among Cuencanos towards the landlords – real estate prices in certain areas are increasing because many gringos arrive and willingly pay (almost) any price.
This is making it hard for Cuencanos to get a normally priced apartment in some areas of the city. If the expats writing about the high cost of living don't speak Spanish, then their cost of living is high and growing. It's true that food has increased, but like anywhere else.
“What is a crooked gringo real estate agent? Who are we talking about?” Please note: I don't want to imply that an agent is crooked because he is a gringo. That would be bizarre and untrue. What I'm saying is that there are, as in all markets, a few people that prey on both the inexperience and “newness” of others. Some people tend to take advantage of their niche (i.e. being from the same country) – and in all fairness, I'm sure that there are local agents like this too. I've seen this pattern among a few expat agents. I'm confident that there are excellent expat agents who use their unique knowledge to help their clients.
There, I've said it. Hope I haven't offended anyone… (its not like I named anyone 🙂 ).
The thing to remember is that costs would have to double or triple to affect most expats in any significant way.
If it cost $1000 two years ago, could most expats handle $1200 now? For sure.
But it hasn't even increased that much. If you are concerned about the cost of living – come and see for yourself.
An exploring trip is critical to a move.
Life Startup Costs in Ecuador for Expats
Okay, so cost of living is one thing. But what about life start-up costs?
When a typical person moves abroad, they don't bring a fridge, desk or even bedding. Of course there are exceptions. One reader is planning to ship her bed mattress along with her other checked luggage (yes, on the plane). But this is certainly the exception.
UPDATE (May 30, 2014): I just reviewed the costs and they remain current and up to date. Although the post was written three years ago, these prices are reasonable to pay today. Last year we bought a desk and it was the same as 4 years ago. Food and electronics have increased but these types of products are pretty stable.
You'll probably bring a set of clothes, a laptop, camera and some personal care items. But you'll likely have to source and buy everything else. Here are some rough costs, to give you a ball park:
- $1000 for fridge/stove. Fridge is a full size Frigidaire brand, the stove is medium sized MABE brand (made in Mexico, I believe). If we had known, we would have bought a different brand, or at least a better quality model Mabe stove. The knobs are plastic and have broken (as a set) twice already.
- $1000 for 2 beds and basic sofa set. There are some great furniture shops downtown that custom make wood/metal furniture. Because they aren't imported, the pricing is very reasonable. Its great for repairs, or even if you want a custom color fabric. A very nice coat rack is just $20.
- $500 for desks and basic dining room table (very basic – after a year we bought a “real” dining room set – for around $500). Also, we bought a real office desk and chair after the first year for another $350.
- $1500-2000 for housewares, including bedding, cookware, propane tanks, propane water heater and the miscellaneous stuff, etc. Many apartments/houses don't come with a calfone (propane water heater) so expect to pay from $150 – $250 plus $15 installation.
- $900 for washer/dryer. After our first year we switched from using a laundromat (which is cheap and awesome – by the way) and bought our own gear. They are both full size and LG and Samsung brands. The dryer (like the stove and water heater) are propane.
- $250-500 damage deposit. Most apartments want a deposit. Often the deposit is equal to firsts month rent. So, to start-up you'll need a months rent x 2.
- $40 Internet install. You can often get a deal for a free installation. Just depends on the provider, the month and where you'll be living.
- Telephone. We don’t have a landline – almost no one does. We each have cell phones – they cost $40/50 ea, and they cost us $6-20 ea per month. You can bring yours from home – they’ll probably work here. They insert a chip for $5.
- Legal fees. There is no way to estimate these – there are so many different situations. Its good to take the legal/government fees into account when budgeting. If you are applying for residency or starting a corporation, you should get a price before you move here.
- $700 Desktop computer. A basic model desktop computer comes well equipped for a similar price to what you would find back home.
- There are other things we've purchased which are hard to identify. Allow $500+ for miscellaneous expenses.
Life Start-up Costs: $7990
To figure out your ballpark start up costs, just deduct the expenses that you don't require. The total above includes both the nice stuff we have now, and the cheap stuff that we either gave away or threw away.
Now to some this will seem sparse, and to others excessive. This isn't just what we spent the first weeks, but to get to where we are now.
Advice: If you are planning on making this your home, buy good quality things. We went pretty cheap on a few things and ended up replacing them within a few months. One of our $90 desks didn't last in our move (to a new apartment) and crumbled as it came off the moving truck.
How about you? What type of costs did you incur? Or what are you planning on spending?