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Cuenca Ecuador is a rich and colorful town. With it’s cobblestone streets, restored buildings and the what seems like constant festivals Cuenca is a fascinating city.
But what does it cost to live here?
What is the real cost of living in Cuenca?
Not surprisingly as Ecuador has hit several of the best places to retire lists for the last several years a lot of people are wondering about the possibility of being an Expat and retiring here in Cuenca.
Lists I should point out that are often published by companies who make their revenue by then selling you the “how to retire”, “ how to be an Expat in ____” and “what you must know” type of publications. They want you to feel optimistic and feel good about your purchase.
Nothing wrong with that. However the information is often not complete, too general or a bit misleading.
Yes, the cost of living is MUCH lower here than it was in the states. FOR ME. Will it be for you? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your living choices.
There are also 2 sets of expenses you should look at: The static items that make up the general cost of living. Things like rent, utilities, and medical insurance. And the cost of actually living here. Things like groceries, entertainment, and transportation.
So, let’s look at the realities of the bigger ticket items on your cost of living list:
Medical Insurance – I don’t know about you, but coverage in the states for me was fairly expensive. Just before I left, my insurance was covered by my employer. The cost had I been paying for it would have been in the $600+ a month region, on the Federal/Required plan I would have been in a policy of $900+ and would have had less coverage.
Here I have better coverage, lower co pays, and more is covered – including house calls. Yup, I can get house calls, the same day for less than my co-pay and three month wait to see someone in the states was. Insurance here costs me $61 a month.
My plan is similar to a PPO in the US – if I go to a participating service provider I pay just the agreed upon amount with no claims, etc. If I go somewhere out of the network, I pay for the service and then put in a claim for reimbursement. The network includes all the hospitals here and a long list of medical professionals. I think I will be fine if ever I need to use it. And yes it includes travel insurance.
There are other differences as well. Calling an ambulance or EMT type emergency visit does not necessarily cost you. It is often free of charge because it is considered a public service here.
Medications are often available at the pharmacia without a prescription. You just ask at the counter, and they look it up for you. There is also a long list of acceptable drugs covered by the medical insurance. If I get them at the Insurance carrier pharmacy I pay nothing. If I get them at a participating pharmacy it’s a reimbursement.
Sounds too good, and what are the downsides? I don’t consider this a downside really, just something to be aware of. It is a good practice to ask your insurance broker if something will be covered or not before you go to the Dr because not all of the things that were covered in the US are covered in Ecuador. Here it is considered your responsibility to keep yourself healthy so if there is nothing wrong with you your Dr visit may or may not be covered. Depends.
You also may need to have a form signed by a Dr or service provider in order to get reimbursed, or you may not. Depends. So ask before you go.
Here’s an example for you:
In March (2018) I went for my yearly female exam, had blood work done, and had a mammogram.
I called my Insurance Broker’s office – they made the appointment and referral for me to an English speaking gynecologist. My appointment was for 2 days later because I was busy that afternoon and couldn’t make the first time slot available.
I saw the Dr, we had a 45 minute talk and exam in her office. She sent me downstairs for bloodwork (12 levels being tested) and mammogram the same day with no wait.
The lab informed me that I could come back in a few hours – the same day – and get my blood work results. The mammogram film was handed to me when the test was done.
The total cost for the Dr exam, the blood work and the mammogram and the follow up visit with the Dr was under $300. Full price not co pay.
update February 2020: a friend of mine went to the Emergency room for stomach pains. He was seen immediately, had good care, they ran some tests, gave him some meds and made an appointment with a specialist for the next day.
Total cost of emergency room visit was $155. Full price, not co pay
Housing – this one is often misleading in the publications I have seen encouraging people to live here. It’s all in the context.
Yes, you can absolutely rent a fully furnished turnkey apartment or condo for $200 a month. In an older building, probably without an elevator, no security guard, most likely has shall we say dated furnishings, and you probably have to drag gas tanks up the stairs etc.
You can also rent an unfurnished house, condo or apartment for more than $1000.
This is one of those it just depends on what your expectations are. Modern, old, stylish, charming, cozy or spacious etc.
Whichever side of that coin you are on it is generally less expensive than a comparable property in the US at least in any major metro area. I know that I could never have found what I live in here in Ecuador anywhere in the Pacific Northwest for anywhere near what I pay here.
I would have been lucky to find a studio for this price, and it wouldn’t have been a nice one in a good building.
Here I have a 2700 sq ft, 4 bed, 4.5 bath, with large kitchen, very large laundry room, 2 car covered parking (covered and at my door is a BIG plus here), a maid’s suite, a fenced yard, and a media area, etc. I have modern plumbing, have to switch my gas tanks and am a block and a half from the river, have a guard (for the block v for the building) and just a 20 minute walk to downtown. I pay in the mid range for rent.
To give you a quick idea of what rentals cost in Cuenca:
1/1 condo fully furnished will run 150 – 500 – I don’t see these unfurnished very often. They are out there but it will take more looking
2/1 or 2/2 will run 250 – 600
3/2 – 3/3.5 will run 300 – 900 +, most being in the 500 range
4/4 + will run 500 – 1000+
There is usually a difference in price between furnished, semi furnished and unfurnished but there doesn’t seem to be a set percentage. I have rarely seen more than a $100 upcharge for furnished. And many are negotiable.
There are always exceptions higher or lower – this is a good estimate of what I usually see in rental advertisements.
Most of the houses are 3/3 or bigger with a large amount of them being 4+/4+. Every now and then I will see a very small 2/1, usually out of town or in a neighboring community.
Houses have more bedrooms here probably because so many local families have several children and it is common for families to be multigenerational. A good share of houses, and even condos have a maid’s room or suite.
Other factors that cause the rents to be higher or lower are centralized gas v gas tanks that you switch out yourself, plumbing where you can flush the paper v needing to have a little garbage can, a guard on site, an elevator, a back up generator for when the power goes out, parking, storage bodega and like anywhere else – location, location, location.
The closer to downtown central you are the higher the rent generally is. There are also a few pockets of areas where the rent is a little higher than others.
Because the neighborhoods all run into one another and you can be in a high rent building directly next to a low rent building this is not a big factor.
Pets are maybe yes and maybe no. I frequently see adds saying a small pet is ok.
I am not really clear on what a “small” pet is here. Many people consider a 30 pound dog “large.”
If you have large dogs like I have you will have a harder time finding a rental. Particularly in a condo. I do often see ads for houses that say pets are fine. And the farther away from the center of the city, the easier it is to have a pet, particularly a large one.
There is one other factor that impacts rent costs here: the Gringo Factor.
While I do not see it often, you do occasionally see someone listing their property at FAR more than anything else in that building or area. They are expecting that because it is still less than in the US that a Gringo will jump at it.
Finding a rental here is really best done boots on the ground. There are a few online publications where people list rentals or sales. There is no Multiple Listing Service in Ecuador, at least nothing that is required to be used.
However if you walk down any block you will see a for rent sign, and often they aren’t even advertised because someone knows someone who knows someone, etc.
Many people post an ad when they are looking for something and people reply with what’s in their area v. people responding to ads for rentals.
Deposits are usually equivalent to one month’s rent. I rarely see multiple deposits asked for – first, last, security, cleaning, pet, etc
Also be aware and this applies to renting and buying. There are no or very very rarely exclusive listings with realtors or property managers. A single property may be listed with multiple agents and it may be at a different rate.
Here are a few online sources you can check out:
Ecuadorable Homes – Maribel Crespo
Cuenca’s Best Properties – Veronica Arpi
Live The Life In Ecuador – Torrin Bruach
article on Licensed Realtor’s in Cuenca – Cuenca Expat’s Magazine Issue 29
Gringo Post – a daily online Classified’s
Cuenca High Life – an online news paper type publication w Classifieds
All leases and or other contracts will be in Spanish. If you do not read Spanish then get a translator/facilitator.
One more thing – housing laws are completely different here as are expectations of tenants and landlords. Make sure to have clearly defined and in writing agreements about who is responsible for maintenance, repairs, and how this gets accomplished, etc.
Property taxes – This is a HUGE difference. If you choose to buy a property in Ecuador get ready to pay $20 – 200 a year in property taxes. Its so low, its less than the amount withheld for a single month back in the states.
Not much else to tell you here, its negligible
Utilities – MUCH less than in the states. In some rentals, especially in condos, this will be included in your rent. Not in all but in many. In a house you can expect to pay these yourself. Some are included but most often they are separate.
The best way I can show you what utilities run is to tell you what mine have run.
Electric – $40 a month – I expect this will go down a little because I just realized I have had a light on the outside of my building running 24/7 for the last 4 months. I am not great at turning lights off from room to room. I try but I am not diligent. I run my dehydrator many times a week and it runs for 6-20 hours at a time, and I have normal electronics running pretty much all the time. Also to note, I have both a regular refrigerator and a commercial fridge and freezer running 24/7.
Note – it is RARE to have a home here that has either heat or air conditioning built in. It’s really not needed. For the once in a while that it is hot or cold a little fan or space heater is all you need.
Update: This stayed the same, because while the light was fixed/turned off it also got warmer and I now run a fan most days
Gas – $10 – I go through 4 tanks a month at $2.50 per tank. My stove, hot water heater and dryer all run on gas and I cook every day, run my oven all day at least twice a week, and do a lot of laundry – two big dogs. Enough said. Most of the people I know use 1-2 tanks a month.
Update January 2020: The price of gas tanks went up. It now costs $3.00 a tank
Water – $25 a month. I expect this will go down as I had an outside water fixture that dripped 24/7 for 2+ months, then once that got fixed I had a toilette running 24/7 for the last month. Now that all is fixed I expect this to go down. As I said already, I do a lot of laundry, and I water my outside bushes a few times a week plus regular showers, dishes etc
Update March 2019: Yes, my water went down to $15 a month once the faucet was fixed
Internet – $35 – I have fiber optic at 20 megas up/down which has been fast enough to stream movies, run multiple devices simultaneously up and down stairs, and do what I do online etc. I don’t game so have no idea if faster would be required. The company I use has up to 100 megas up/down for $110 a month.
There are also less expensive plans. I tried one when I first got here and quickly switched for speed. The previous plan was $24.
Cable TV – I don’t pay for this because I have a converter box and software installed so I get more movies than I could ever watch (and current movies I watched Black Panther a week after it was released for free). I also get tv stations from the US and all over the world which stream live. It’s all free so I don’t pay for cable.
However if you like to pay for this – cable tv and dish type services are available – according to Grupo TV website, it looks like its similar to in the states. If you do just Internet or TV it costs a little more than if you do a ‘bundle.’ TV only runs $20 – 70 depending on how many channels etc.
Free works for me.
Note: your smart tv is not smart in Ecuador. It will require a box converter.
However, once you buy the box, you can then install software like I have and watch movies and tv for free. The box was $198, the software was free. I paid a contractor to do the installations etc. I also had him install a VPN so I can get Pandora and other US streaming services that otherwise wouldn’t work in Ecuador.
HOA – this is called an aliquot or a building fee here. Some condos, or housing groups include this in the rent and some charge separately. I have seen ads where this ran $20 – $150 and covered a variety of things like maintenance, guard, water, garbage, Internet, grounds, elevator, or some combination.
Cell Phones – A lot of people do pay as you go. I do a plan. I have unlimited in country, unlimited text, unlimited WhatsApp, 1.5 hours calls to the to the US, and data.
I don’t know how much data but I have yet to run over. I use it as needed to get a cab, order food, check email or surf the Internet when I am not at home. I don’t stream music, movies or play games on my phone.
There are probably some other features included in my plan but I don’t know what they are. My plan is $28. As a side note, I use an Apple watch 3 with my phone here and do not have to pay anything extra. At home, Verizon would have charged me extra for this ability.
House phones / Land Lines – many people here still use a house phone for local calls etc. I don’t. It will run you about $5 a month if you do.
I also use a MagicJack so I can talk with people in the US for free or they can call me for free. It runs over the Internet and I was able to keep my US phone number. If ever I come back to the US I can port my same number to a cell phone. It was an annual fee that was $35 I think? I don’t remember as I paid a multi year upfront well before I left the states.
There are several ways to stay in touch with people in other countries that are free. I use Zoom for video calls, on occasion I use the call or video call feature on FaceBook, and I have (but rarely) use Skype.
I know there are other services out there as well I just haven’t had a need to look into them because what I use is working.
So whether the cost of living is really less expensive here just depends on what you pay where you are.
For me it is much less. I pay about $138 a month for electric, gas, water, internet and cell phone and my medical insurance is $61. That’s less than any one of those bills was individually in the states. Garbage is included in my rent as is my HOA so I don’t know what those actually run.
My housing is less than half and I don’t have a property tax bill either. And health insurance is waaay lower too.
So for me, it’s a win. Will it be for you? I dunno….you tell me 🙂