Written by Sara Chaca, Attorney – Abogada

April 4th, 2019

 

What is the Monthly Cost of Living in Cuenca?

Some sources may say that you can live in Cuenca for around $800 a month. While that is possible, most expats in my experience wouldn’t find this comfortable or practical. A more reasonable amount for a single expat is actually around $1,000 to $1,500 a month (or more).  You can check out Numbeo for some more information about average prices that you’d pay in Cuenca. The site also has comparisons between various other cities.

 

A moderately sized and furnished apartment for either a single person or a couple will typically cost between $400 and $600 a month these days. Rent will be on the lower end (sometimes substantially so) outside of the city. Unfurnished apartments will generally be cheaper, but if you’re moving from another country, you’ll have to consider the cost of either buying new furniture or shipping your own, which can be a bit pricey.

 

Food costs can vary greatly depending on whether you plan to mostly prepare food at home or if you’ll be eating out at restaurants. If you’re planning to cook at home, there are a couple of different options for shopping. The grocery chains tend to be more expensive than the local markets. Food costs are usually around $200-400 a month for a single person or a couple (naturally the higher end of that range being for a couple) and if you prefer to eat at restaurants more often, your costs can also be a bit more than that.

 

Entertainment is another factor in monthly expenses. If you’ll be doing any regular traveling, you should take that into consideration. Alcohol, movies, museums, and other things all can add up as well. Entertainment is less expensive than in other countries, but you’ll still have to take it into account in your budgeting. Keep in mind that there are plenty of free events and parks to visit, so you can still have a great time without spending too much.

 

What are Local Attitudes Toward Expats?

There’s no simple answer when it comes to this kind of question. However, locals are generally both welcoming and accepting, or they don’t really care one way or the other. Many people think that it’s beneficial for the local Cuencanos to have people from other countries living in their city, since it encourages them to be open-minded and provides incentives for business owners and others to learn English so that they can communicate more effectively with their international neighbors in Cuenca.

 

Cuencanos may at times speak negatively about expats when they don’t put in the time and effort to learn Spanish or engage with the Ecuadorian culture. Expats who are more interested in recreating their lives from their home countries than adapting to life in Ecuador aren’t looked upon fondly by the locals. It’s important to remember that wherever you are, if you’re open to the culture and accepting of the people around you, they’ll be much more accepting and likely to do the same for you too.

 

It’s true that foreigners are sometimes seen as rich, easy targets. There is often an assumption that expats have a lot of money and carry valuables, as is the case in many countries. But Ecuador in general is quite safe and welcoming to expats.

 

If you want to find out more about this subject, take a look at this thesis by Scripps College student Denise M. Bustamante titled  “Amenities Migration: A Case Study on the Retired Expatriate Community in Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador

 

Why is Cuenca Appealing to Expats in Ecuador?

There are plenty of reasons why Cuenca is appealing to expats who are relocating to Ecuador. One is that the city is very pedestrian-friendly. Downtown Cuenca is easy to walk, and there are also taxis and buses available for very low prices. Here are some insider tips for riding the bus in Cuenca. It can be a simple and economical way to get around the city.

 

Cuenca’s aesthetics are also quite appealing. With a mix of modern and colonial architecture, parks and plazas, open air markets, and a river that borders the downtown area, as well the beautiful Cathedral of Immaculate Conception that has all the elegance of any European cathedral, you’ll find plenty to enjoy.

 

The affordable cost of food also draws people to Cuenca. The almuerzos (lunches), usually consisting of a soup, an entrée, fresh juice and a pastry, and start at around only $2. Here’s a guide to 16 Good & Inexpensive Restaurants in Cuenca.

 

Dinner is a little more expensive, but that rarely exceeds ten dollars per person, even at the nicer Cuenca restaurants. If you prefer to cook for yourself, you’ll be happy to find that produce is very affordable in Cuenca. You can buy a truly massive amount of spinach for just a dollar. Bunches of most vegetables at the mercados are usually around 25 cents each.

 

There is a vibrant arts culture in Cuenca. You can visit a variety of museums, handicraft markets, restaurants, and more. Almost every weekend, you’ll be able to find a music festival or a cultural event to attend. Entry fees are often free or just a couple of dollars per person. The local symphony is a popular event, and it puts on free performances in many beautiful locations around the city.

 

Can Someone Live In Cuenca Without Speaking Fluent Spanish?

Everything will definitely be easier if you do speak Spanish. However, Cuenca has one of the largest groups of English speaking Ecuadorians in all of Ecuador. This is in part because of the expat population and its influence on Cuencanos. Restaurant workers, hotel workers, public service officials, and most business owners usually speak at least some basic English.

 

It’s easy for expats to learn Spanish in Cuenca. There are several schools around the city, and you can also hire a private tutor inexpensively (i.e. usually at $5-8 per hour) if you’d prefer individualized help. There’s enough familiarity with English that it shouldn’t be a factor when considering whether Cuenca is a good place for you to settle.

 

What Is It Like to be a Single Woman Living In Cuenca?

As overall, Cuenca is a relatively safe place, life for a single woman in the city doesn’t differ much from life in a city of comparable size in the United States. There are support groups available for older single women who have moved to the city as well.

 

What Kinds of Day Trips are Available in the Area?

One appealing thing about Cuenca is that there are plenty of day or weekend trips that are both easy and affordable. Cuenca is surrounded by villages that often specialize in a certain local food or craft. Gualaceo is about an hour away by bus, and the town has a thriving local market that offers cuy and roast pig. Vilcabamba is a beautiful mountain town where visitors can hike, go horseback riding, or simply relax in a beautiful hostel or guesthouse. Chordeleg’s main attraction is silver working, and they really produce some beautiful jewelry there. Ecuador is a fairly small country, so it’s easy to explore much of it with short trips from Cuenca.

 

One great day trip if you enjoy the outdoors is hiking at the lakes in the Cajas, part of the southern Andes. The local trout farms will provide an excellent dinner for eating on site or taking home for supper.

 

What Kinds of Restaurants are in Cuenca? Do They Have Much Foreign Food??

Cuenca ranks only second to Quito, Ecuador’s capitol, when it comes to international food options. You can find Italian restaurants serving both pizza and other specialties. There are also Chinese and American restaurants, as well as vegetarian, sushi, and more. You’ll be able to find plenty of “exotic” ingredients in the larger grocery store chains. Of course, there are hundreds of Ecuadorian restaurants in Cuenca, of all price ranges.

 

What Healthcare is Available for Expats, and How Much Does it Cost?

Ecuador has two main categories of healthcare: public and private. Public healthcare is covered by “IESS”, that being Ecuador’s Social Security Administration. Any Resident of Ecuador can register with IESS. All they need is their Ecuadorian Cédula ID Card. The cost of coverage varies based on your household size and whether you’re employed. If you’re working for an Ecuadorian business/company, then your employer in Ecuador covers part of the cost. Most expats are able to take advantage of the public healthcare system and generally they report overall satisfaction with their IESS coverage.

 

Private insurance is also available in Cuenca. The level of coverage depends on what you pay in monthly premiums, which typically range from around $50 a month up to a few hundred per month (i.e. that being a function of age, health condition and amount of deductible chosen).

 

What is the Quality of Health Care in Cuenca?

Cuenca is a large and modern city, so medical care here is similar to that of many other developed countries. Ecuador has recently been named the second most retirement-friendly country in the world (and in multiple of the past 10+ years has been ranked as number one), due in part to the quality and affordability of health care in the country. Medical procedures usually cost 10-20% of what they would in the US and in Europe, according to Ecuador’s Investment Corporation. Excepting certain serious preexisting conditions, expats can be assured of quality medical care in Cuenca.

 

Is it Hard to Buy Property in Ecuador as an American?

Many expats choose to rent rather than buy property (at least at first), in part to avoid complicated paperwork, and also to maintain their flexibility in living arrangements. Those who do purchase property often do so to meet the requirements for an Investor Visa, which currently as of this article’s publishing date requires investing at least around $40,000 in any real estate property, that being in comparison to investing the same amount of cash (i.e. again approximately $40,000) in an Ecuadorian Bank CD for purposes of obtaining an Investor Visa. Even if you speak decent Spanish, you’ll want to hire an English speaking Ecuadorian attorney to handle any Ecuador Real Estate Closing for you.

 

How Can Expats In Cuenca Meet Up and Get Acquainted?

Expats often end up connecting during the course of everyday life, whether say, on the bus or at the market in Cuenca. You’ll hear an American accent and talk with the person for a few minutes, and then end up getting dinner together with them and/or some of their expat friends. There are certain events and locations that are popular with expats in Cuenca. Symphony performances and sports events are always big draws. The restaurants, Don Colon and Fabianos are popular expat spots, and you’ll always hear English spoken there as well. Spanish classes are also a great way to meet other newcomers to Cuenca, and you’ll get to connect with people and immerse yourself in the local culture at the same time.

 

What Are Some Daily Activities That Expats Enjoy in Cuenca?

Daily life is largely the same in Ecuador as it is back home in the US or Europe. People have a coffee, walk the dog, work out at the gym, or meet friends for brunch. You can go shopping, read a book, make a nice dinner, go out to see a show or stay in and watch a movie. It’s entirely up to you each day as per which way your day will be spent!

 

What Kind of Work is there for Expats in Cuenca?

 

Most expats living in Cuenca are retirees. Some do work part time or do freelance work (i.e. online) to supplement their income. Mostly younger expats work full-time and they’re most often doing so in Cuenca as entrepreneurs in running their own businesses. There are also some expats teaching English at local schools or privately. It’s not difficult to find work as an expat in Cuenca, though many people choose not to work, naturally that decision being on a case-by-case basis.

 

What’s the General Life Satisfaction for Expats Living in Cuenca?

That’s another difficult question because everyone is a unique individual, each with their own reasons for moving (or having moved) to Cuenca. The most satisfied expats tend to be those who have connected with their new community by learning to speak some Spanish and participating in public life, even if that just means shopping in the local market and chatting with the vendors.

 

People who move to Cuenca (or anywhere in Ecuador) for purely financial reasons, or simply in trying to escape a difficult situation in their home country, are less likely to enjoy themselves. There are several reasons that expats may leave Ecuador: here’s a list of some of them.

 

Many expats change their living situation after being in Cuenca for a while. Sometimes they’ll simply move to a different area of the city, or rather want to move from a smaller apartment to a bigger house, or vice versa. Health and general preferences are factors in this. Cuenca is a big city with all the challenges and benefits that any sprawling community brings. Some people prefer to live a little outside of Cuenca, in places like Paute or Yunguilla, in the case that they prefer quieter country living and warmer temperatures.  As always, the choice is an individual one for each and every expat who decides to make the Cuenca area (or Ecuador in general) their new home away from home.

 

 

Sara Chaca (Attorney – Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country.  Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador.  Sara’s personal email address is sara@ecuadorvisas.com, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065.  Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes).  Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.

 

Whether you’re planning for your retirement or just planning for a nice life ahead, you may very well consider moving abroad, so that your money stretches further. This is especially true if you have less saved than you’d hoped, as well as if your pension check or Social Security payments are too small for a comfortable retirement in the United States, Canada, Europe or Australia. In fact, even if you have enough saved to retire in an expensive place, you may be feeling adventurous and interested in living somewhere new, regardless.

Ecuador is considered one of the best places for retirement (and general living) in the world, each year being ranked in the top 5 countries (often taking the #1 spot) for the past now 10 consecutive years and counting. Your money in Ecuador (that being the US Dollar) can buy much more than elsewhere, and depending on your situation, you may even be able to afford things outside of your capabilities in your home country. If you’re interested in spending your days exploring the attractions, streets and nooks of a new city, admiring the Spanish colonial architecture as well as the beauty of the Andes mountains, and aren’t daunted by dealing with cultural differences, then Ecuador may be an ideal destination for your retirement.

 

Why so many Persons & Retirees Have Fallen in Love with Ecuador

Ecuador is a small country, about the size of Arizona. It’s located on the northwest coast of South America. The pace of life in Ecuador is slower than that of the US, and there’s plenty to do with your extra time. You can relax on beautiful Pacific coast beaches, hike the Andes mountain ranges, and explore rainforests and islands.

 

There are many financial advantages that come with moving to Ecuador, especially for retirees. Seniors aged 65 and up can take advantage of many discounts in Ecuador, even if they’re foreigners. These include 50% discounts on public services such as phone service, electricity and water. Seniors also get this discount on public transit and sporting event tickets, and receive refunds of part of the country’s 12% sales tax on goods and services (known as “IVA”). Expats from the US and other countries don’t ever pay Ecuadorian income taxes on their Social Security or pension(s), nor on any other income that is earned or received outside of Ecuador in any capacity. Property taxes are low, and Seniors aged 65 and up often receive discounts on their property tax as well.  The official currency in Ecuador is again the US dollar, so exchange rates are never an issue.

 

Ecuador’s location on the equator means a moderate climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. Furthermore, with the mild climate, heating and cooling costs are low or even non-existent (think cities such as Cuenca, Cotacachi and Vilcabamba).

 

Virtually everything is much cheaper in Ecuador (with the sole exception generally being for appliances and electronics), so you may be able to take your lifestyle up a couple notches and afford housekeeping or even a vacation home (or at least vacations at that). Various sources put the annual cost of living in Ecuador somewhere between $12,000 and $24,000 (i.e. $1,000 – $2,000 per month for comfortable Expat living): in any case, it’s vastly lower than the cost of living in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Plus, organic produce costs a fraction of even conventional produce in the US.

 

Visa Requirements

In Ecuador, as in many other places around the world, getting residency in a new country can be frustrating. These bureaucratic processes often take a while, so it’s important to do all the research and preparation before moving, and understand all the steps you’ll have to take once you arrive in Ecuador so that you don’t miss any deadlines.

 

Retirees generally apply for a Pensioner Visa in Ecuador (a.k.a. Ecuador Retirement Visa or Ecuador Pensionado Visa), in order to obtain their residency in the country. You’ll need to demonstrate either a minimum income of at least $800 per month from Social Security or another form of pension, plus you’ll also need an additional $100 per each familial dependent whom will also move to Ecuador attached to you.

 

Alternately, if you invest approximately $40,000 into a Bank CD or Real Estate in Ecuador (currently a $39,040 minimum investment as of the published date of this article), plus an additional $100 per each familial dependent whom once again will also move to Ecuador, you can qualify for an Investor Visa in Ecuador (a.k.a. Ecuador Investment Visa or Ecuador Real Estate Visa).

 

Besides that, there are other still options for foreigners to move to Ecuador, such as on a Professional Visa based on their University Degree (especially for Degrees earned in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia), the Amparo Visa in the case that the foreigner married/marries an Ecuadorian Citizen or preexisting Ecuadorian Resident, in addition to several other forms of Residency options and Tourist Visa Extensions, beyond the 90 day automatically received Tourist Visa that is granted to the vast majority of foreigners immediately upon their arrival to Ecuador (that not however being the case for persons from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and certain others).

 

Naturally, as with moving to any country, it’s a bit of process to relocate to Ecuador, and so you’ll be well served and do yourself a favor to work with a competent and well-recommended Ecuadorian Immigration Attorney.

 

Health Care

You always have the option of paying for private health care, but as a legal resident of Ecuador, you’ll qualify for public health insurance. You can sign up for the government’s health insurance plan regardless of your age or health. Recently, the process has been streamlined and people can now apply online. Premiums are very affordable: just around $75 per month as of the published date of this article, plus only $13 more per month to include coverage for a spouse or other dependents (i.e. children). This public insurance plan provides free doctor visits and emergency care, as well as free and reduced price prescriptions.

 

As the health care system experiences some growing pains, there can be longer wait times and occasional shortages, and as a developing country, Ecuador doesn’t have equal access to high-quality care throughout the country, and so in the bigger cities such as Cuenca, Manta and Quito, expats have better options with doctors and specialists and doctors who were trained in the US or Europe.

 

If you choose not to participate in the government’s health care system, you do have the option to purchase private health insurance, as long as you qualify. You’ll still generally pay around 10% to 25% of the cost of health insurance in the US, and medications are quite commonly 90% cheaper than in the US. It’s also possible to hire in-home care if necessary, especially in Cuenca.

 

Places to Live in Ecuador

Expats have settled in a wide number of cities and towns across Ecuador. Here are some of the most popular options, as follows:

 

Cuenca

 

Ecuador’s third-largest city is its most popular destination for retiring expats. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has a general population of around 350,000. There are about 8,000 Americans calling Cuenca home, as well as around 12,000 international expats, and growing as per both Expat population segments. It’s possible to manage day-to-day without knowing much Spanish, but it’s also very easy to find a place to learn, as there are language schools throughout the city, and adding at least some basic Spanish to your vocabulary will definitely enhance your experience, so that you can more easily interact with the locals.

 

At around 8,400 feet above sea level, Cuenca may for some take a little getting used to. You may experience altitude sickness (which can appear as mild flu-like symptoms), until you adjust in some days to weeks at most usually for generally healthy individuals. Temperatures are moderate, with typical highs in the lower 70s and lows in the lower 50s year round (naturally being in Fahrenheit, such that the temperature range is often similar to San Diego, CA in that respect).  Annually, rainfall is about 28 inches.  Cuenca’s infrastructure is some of the best in all of Ecuador. The city has a large shopping mall (plus several other small to medium sized malls), four universities with international students, and there are well more than a dozen hospitals in Cuenca to choose from. It’s also home to the Mariscal La Mar International Airport, making travel convenient.

 

Cuenca is great for expats, reported San Diego native Susan Schenck, who moved there in 2010. It is safe and has a vibrant culture, with an ideal climate, and an active expat community. Schenck also reported spending less than $800 a month. This is on the low end, however, since many sources put monthly living costs around $1000 to $1500 (sometimes more) per month. Naturally, it’s quite variable, all depending on what location and way of life you’re interested in. Still, in any case you won’t pay much for transportation, because you can walk easily in most parts of the city, plus buses and cabs are very inexpensive. If you prefer to buy rather than rent, a reasonably sized property can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 and up.

 

You can learn more about living in Ecuador generally, and Cuenca particularly, at the website GringosAbroad.com, created by Canadian expats Bryan and Dena Haines.

 

Quito

 

Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is the second-largest city in the country, with a population of nearly 2.7 million. If you’re looking for culture and entertainment, you’ll find quite an assortment in Quito. There are museums, theaters, and concerts, as well as nightclubs and shopping. Apartments are available for rent from $400 a month.

 

Certain expats may resonate with Quito because it’s a large city. There are also direct flights to the US, which is great if you’ll be visiting home frequently: it’s only four hours to Miami, and you can get flights straight to Houston, Atlanta, and New York as well.

 

Quito has all the variety of a large American city. Some areas may be considered dangerous, but that’s not true of the city as a whole. It also has a beautiful old-town area that has been recently revitalized, plus boasts beautiful colonial churches and other buildings. Parque Metropolitano is about 17 times as large as Central Park in NYC. The weather is generally moderate, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s.

 

Loja

 

This lesser-known city in southern Ecuador is known for its music scene. It has a small expat community. With comfortable weather year-round, Loja is a great choice if you prefer a smaller city that is easily walkable and has a very low cost of loving, around $1000 a month all in. Like many other cities in Ecuador, the weather is moderate year-round and has lots of beautiful Spanish architecture.

 

If city living isn’t your thing, you have other options in Ecuador. There are great towns throughout the country. Bahia de Caraquez is a popular vacation town on the coast, and the small towns of Cotacachi and Vilcabamba have a lot to offer as well.

 

Living in a Developing Nation

 

While there are a lot of upsides to a retirement in Ecuador, keep in mind that it still being a developing nation, it’s important to be aware of some of the difficulties you may face. Ecuador has the same issues that many countries deal with, including at times some political and economic instability (though the US Dollar as its sole currency largely mitigates any issues related to inflation or devaluations). There are places in the country without well-developed infrastructure, and in certain areas, you may need to take additional precautions with water to avoid getting sick. It’s also important to make sure you’re working with reputable companies and people if you’re making any investments in Ecuador (i.e. Ecuador Real Estate sales).

 

Some people have a hard time adjusting to the slower pace of life in Ecuador. The languid pace can come off as laziness at first, so it can be hard for type A people to get used to everyone around them taking their time. Learning to relax is a vital aspect of life in Ecuador, whether you’re living in a major city or a smaller town.

 

It’s always important to do your research no matter where you’re thinking of retiring. A great source for some more facts is Nicholas Crowder’s book “100 Points to Consider Before Moving or Retiring in Ecuador”, which has an American’s perspective on the country.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Ecuador has a lot to offer: scenic environments, beautiful weather, and a low cost of living. You’ll find English-speaking communities of expats, and beautiful places to explore, from lush rainforests and majestic mountains to world-class beaches.

 

If you’re on a very limited budget, your money will go much farther in Ecuador, and you’ll be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. If you have more money available, you can even gift yourself a lifestyle upgrade. You’ll also do well to have a sense of adventure, and a willingness to go with the flow if you decide to retire in Ecuador. Many expats will tell you that they definitely made the right choice and are loving their new lives in this beautiful and vibrant country.

 

 

 

 

Sara Chaca (Attorney – Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country.  Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador.  Sara’s personal email address is sara@ecuadorvisas.com, and her personal cell phone number is 099.296.2065.  Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically closer to 24 minutes).  Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.

 

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