Ecuador: The Hidden Paradise Where A Couple Can Live Comfortably On $2,000 a Month or Less
Sell your winter clothes...and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in the Land of Eternal Spring. Every cliché you've heard about living large on little...on even a retiree's budget...is true in Ecuador.
Ecuador lies in the Northwestern corner of South America, bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. At just 175,807 square miles (about the size of Nevada) Ecuador’s small size belies its incredible diversity.
The Andes Mountains form Ecuador’s backbone, and from the top of Mount Chimborazo at 20,600 feet (6,310 meters), the mountains descend on the east to dense tropical rainforests and on the west to balmy Pacific beaches. In between, you’ll find more climates, cultures, and natural wonders than almost any place on earth.
Envision your dream location—an unspoiled beach, a bustling city, university town, quiet mountain village—Ecuador has them all. Choose the place that’s right for you and start enjoying a better quality of life now.
The World’s Best Retirement Haven
In fact, Ecuador has been ranked as the best retirement destination in the world six times in the last seven years due to its exceptional quality of life and affordable cost of living in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index.
Fresh fruits and vegetables—clean air and water—year-round temperate climate—no wonder so many expats living in Ecuador say they feel better than they have in years.
Medical care in metropolitan areas is top-notch with costs a fraction of what you would pay in North America. And now all residents of Ecuador are eligible to join the country’s Social Security healthcare system with premiums of less than $80 a month for a couple.
Ecuador offers special benefits to residents aged 65 and older. Public transportation is half price, airfare (even internationally) is significantly discounted, and seniors receive a monthly refund of sales tax paid. Plus you get to go to the front of the line at the bank and grocery store!
Whether you want to live, invest, vacation, retire, or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture, and affordability to make your dreams come true.
Book your flights and come take a look at all that Ecuador has to offer. The retirement life you’ve dreamed of is here waiting for you.
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- Population: 15,439,429
- Capital City: Quito
- Climate: Tropical along coast, becoming cooler inland at higher elevations; tropical in Amazonian jungle lowlands
- Time Zone: GMT-5
- Language: Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua)
- Country Code: 593
- Coastline: 2,237 km
With high peaks, and stunning mountain scenery, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is known to some as el ciudad de los cielos (the city of the heavens).
I love my life in Cuenca, Ecuador. I start the morning with a coffee on my terrace, watching the hummingbirds flit around the feeders that I put up and just enjoying the view. A walk to el centro takes me to the little tienda (store) that sells a pound of Loja coffee (really delicious) for only $3.50, then lunch with friends, and maybe a walk along the Rio Tomebamba or an ice cream cone in the picturesque Parque Calderon.
Envision a city set high in the mountains. On all sides are views of green-splashed hillsides and snow-capped peaks. In the city itself you’ll find 2.5 million people enjoying art exhibits, museums, and musical events. On weekends couples share bottles of wine over gourmet seafood dinners and families kick around soccer balls in the many leafy parks.
There are many reasons Cuenca has been one of the hottest expat destinations on the planet for the past few years. This UNESCO World Heritage city of a half million residents boasts a temperate climate, low cost of living, top-notch medical care, and proximity to North America—not to mention lots of modern amenities like malls, cinemas, great restaurants and shopping.
You have probably heard of Cuenca. It’s Ecuador’s most popular retirement haven, home to thousands of contented expats, colonial architecture, verdant parks, galleries, museums, and plenty of bars and restaurants. But that’s just the city itself. Since arriving, my work with a local tour company has helped me uncover some of the best day trips:
As fall arrives in the northern hemisphere, Nicaragua remains warm, with temperatures averaging 79 F. That makes it easy to enjoy the outdoor festivities that sweep the country. The San Jerónimo festival, in the city of Masaya, sees a statue of the country’s patron saint taken from its usual haunt, the church altar, and carried around the town, accompanied by traditional dancers. One of the procession’s highlights is the Mozote y Verga, in which dancers reenact great battles of Nicaragua’s past from the Filibuster War of 1856 to the ousting of the dictatorship in 1979. The event kicks off on September 30.
September is a special time in the South African town of Hermanus. The end of this month heralds the arrival of giants just offshore, as the southern right whales return to mate and reproduce. You can get amazing views of these 50-ton behemoths from your hotel room, or catch one of the many chartered boats for an even closer look. Right whales are famously friendly and will often approach boats…a trait that made them an attractive target for the whalers of old. The waters off Hermanus are home to another, more terrifying denizen of the deep: the great white shark. And this is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with this awesome predator…from the safety of a cage, of course. For around $110, you can even get a cameraman to ﬁlm your dive for you.
Your day starts with a cup of coffee brewed from beans grown right outside your window. Stepping onto the terrace, you look out over rows of hand-planted, organic avocado trees growing lush and tall in the equatorial sun. Beyond them is a patchwork of farms and forests overshadowed by the towering Andes Mountains. Breakfast is eggs from your free range hens, with slices of papaya and a juice prepared from freshly picked naranjillas (think lime mixed with rhubarb) grown on your own patch of land. You breathe in the fresh, clean mountain air and savor the sound of the nearby river and the birds singing on your own peaceful mountain retreat.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
Not long ago I found myself suffering a major sinus infection. My head was pounding and I had a cough that kept me (and my husband) awake all night…I was exhausted. Nothing I was taking over-the-counter was helping. I needed to see a doctor. Unfortunately, I was visiting the States. At the doctor’s office in Omaha, I got right in. I did the interview with the nurse about my prior health history and what my symptoms were.
There is no question that retiring to the right place can dramatically and automatically cut your overall cost of living. Just think about your own monthly budget without the costs of heating, air conditioning, and vehicle maintenance and insurance. Those costs come right off the top of your budget if you relocate to a place with a year-round temperate climate and a good mass-transit system. I know, because I live in just such a place. And it’s wonderful.
If you remember your middle school geography you’ll know that Quito is the capital of Ecuador. It’s also a city rich with history, culture, and amazing features all around. Situated high in the Andes Mountains the weather is cool, the scenery sublime, and the people as friendly as they come. Quito though tends to be overlooked by visitors in favor of Ecuador’s big ticket tourist attractions like the Galapagos, the Amazon Basin, and the Otavalo Craft Market.
My four-year anniversary of living in Ecuador is rapidly closing in and it’s caused me to do a bit of reflecting on my time here. There was so much that attracted my family and I to the country in the first place…and in these last four years that list of positives has only grown. On a gorgeous sun-filled day like today I only have to look out my windows to be reminded of why life here is wonderful. I’ve got four volcanoes showing their stuff right now, one of which is laced with snow this morning and another sports a permanent snowcap.
When I think about my old life in Branson, Missouri, so many things go through my mind… but mostly, I don’t miss it at all. Life in the U.S. is so fast paced…no one has time for one another anymore, most people don’t even know their neighbors. Now that my wife Laurie and I live in Ecuador, everything in our lives is much slower…and a lot less stressful. Our typical day starts with coffee in the backyard by the pool, followed by pottering about in the garden and then an hour or so of relaxing. Later in the day, we may take a stroll along the nearby crescent-shaped beach that never gets overcrowded, or we’ll make time to visit the local mercado and stock up on fruit and veggies. Several times a month, we’ll get together with other expats for dinner and to catch up.
If you love growing your own…pickling and preserving…smoking and curing… crafting gourmet recipes…or any manner of artisan food production, Latin America is ripe with opportunity. You can make a living selling your creations via farmers markets, food trucks, or small-scale distribution. Take Dom and Angela Najab, who left Toronto, Canada, in 2011 and arrived in […]
How easy is it to adapt to life in a new country?” Well, the answer is going to be different depending on who you are and how adaptable you’re willing to be. I’m a planner by nature. You know, one of those people who likes to make lists, check things off, and know that all is going according to plan. Winging it is fine in certain situations, but when it comes to major life changes I feel better knowing that all of my I’s are dotted and my T’s are crossed.
Swimming with endangered green sea turtles in Akumal, strolling the cobblestone shopping district in Playa del Carmen, exploring cenotes or ancient Maya ruins or just lazing in a hammock…this is my life today. But it’s a far cry from where my husband Don and I were back in 2008. In the wake of the financial collapse and the deep recession that followed, our comfortable existence was completely upended. At an age when we expected we could begin to slow down, we found ourselves starting over in a very inhospitable economy. Add to that Don’s second heart attack and the loss of his health insurance when his job disappeared, and you have a recipe for real desperation.
One of the many great things about living in Ecuador is that flights to the U.S. are frequent and easy. You can fly nonstop from Quito to Miami in four hours and from Guayaquil to New York in less than seven hours. I’ve just returned to Cuenca after spending some time visiting family back in the U.S. Being in the States got me thinking about how much I spend on everyday items like food here in Ecuador.
Morning is my favorite time of day here in Cotacachi. The local stores are just beginning to open, street vendors are pushing their carts into position, and the bells of Iglesia Matriz are softly chiming. Nothing but blue sky means perfect views of the two dormant volcanoes that stand guard on either side of this small town and her valley. I’m walking the mile from my home into the center with my son. Our route brings us into town from the east and our first stop is Parque San Francisco, the smaller of two plazas. Park benches sit under sturdy palms surrounded by shrubbery and flowers.
I ’m now enjoying the glorious summer on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Every morning, I start the day with a cup of coffee on the terrace overlooking Málaga Bay. I have a car to explore the area. Everything I need is close by: the grocery stores, vegetable market, shopping, and, of course, the world-class beaches of the Costa del Sol. And the best part about this? I don’t pay a cent for any of it.
When my husband Mark said, “Let’s go to the Galápagos for your birthday,” I couldn’t help but laugh. The Galápagos Islands, after all, are one of the ecological treasures of the world—and have a price tag to match. Or so I thought. But when we used my 58th birthday as an excuse for a ﬁve-day, four-night trip there I found out otherwise. The bill? $1,037 for the two of us, including airfare.
One afternoon, as I awoke from a short nap and looked upon the brilliant, blue-green waters of the Caribbean Sea only steps away from my front door, I had a powerful thought. Nothing of what is now my amazing, wonderful life would be possible if I had surrendered to the fears I had only a few years ago. When my wife Diane and I ﬁrst embarked on our expat adventure, we had second thoughts, unanswered questions, and even an appropriate amount of fear.
I lost my job due to the recession. I worked for a bank, and when they decided to “right size” the organization, my job was eliminated. Fortunately my husband, Ron, and I had been researching ways to work from home so we could one day realize our dream of traveling the world. I had familiarized myself with my freelance options and we had already taken an exploratory trip to Ecuador.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
Right now, my wife, Susan, and I are packing up our home and heading off on our travels—first on a road trip in the U.S. and then to Ecuador. We’re going to fly to Guayaquil and then catch a bus down to Loja, a university town known for music and colonial architecture. This will be our base from which to explore the south of this beautiful country.
Ever since the internet caught on, people have been figuring out how to use a laptop to connect with money-making opportunities all over the world. As a result, there’s now between 3.3 million and 8 million completely untethered workers roaming the globe. I’m thrilled to be one of them.
Each time I visit Quito, I get to explore new and interesting areas, hear of fabulous events taking place, and meet more wonderful people. Among Quito’s 2-million-plus populace is a large community of international folks enjoying the affordable life and big-city buzz. You’ll find them pretty spread out, as there are neighborhoods and lifestyles to suit most tastes. But they’re all making the most of what Quito offers…which is a lot. Here’s some of my favorite things to do…
“My husband and I were happily living in Arizona in a retirement community when, in 2008, everything changed,” says Patty Grimm. The financial crisis dealt the couple a heavy blow, and they no longer felt they could live the same quality of life on their retirement income. “We knew that if we wanted to keep our nest egg, we’d have to look outside of the U.S. to live.” Six years later, the Grimms are in the high Andes and enjoying an affordable and high-quality retirement in one of the world’s foremost retirement destinations—Cuenca, Ecuador.
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They say the best way to make a living—if you can—is to monetize your hobby. Sometimes that can be easier said than done. But if you can do it, it can lead to a far more enjoyable and fulfilling vocation. This has been the case for me in the Ecuadorian mountain city of Cuenca. Its beautiful colonial architecture and friendly, colorful locals have enabled me to supplement my retirement income through photography.
Back in 2001, my wife and I decided to leave the cold climate of Nebraska behind and embark on an epic adventure to find our perfect retirement destination. We traveled to several different countries in search of our dream home, creating incredible memories in the process and opening our eyes to the immense possibilities that living abroad has to offer. On our travels, we enjoyed new food, new locations, made new friends, and lived the kind of happy, healthy retirement few could dream of just a few short decades ago.
Ecuador is a land of rainforests, breathtaking river gorges, and volcanic hot springs, where you can be pampered by affordable spa treatments or simply enjoy the beautiful landscapes. My life has changed over the last 10 years since I discovered how to fund my travels and spend more time there. I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve logged on my trips.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
Small town USA has been a coveted notion since the days when Andy Taylor and Barney Fife graced our television screens. Though a fictional setting, Mayberry wasn’t too different from other small towns at that time. It was a place where neighbors knew one another, where folks came to each other’s aid in times of need, and where children could roam the streets without fear.
My husband and I were happily living in Arizona in a retirement community when, in 2008, everything changed,” says Patty Grimm. The ﬁnancial crisis dealt the couple a heavy blow, and they no longer felt they could live the same quality of life on their retirement income. “We knew that if we wanted to keep our nest egg, we’d have to look outside of the U.S. to live.”
Cuenca is a cultural hub, with no shortage of things to do. And as entertainment is modestly priced, you’ll have plenty of money in your pocket to afford it. A thriving expat community guarantees you’ll ﬁnd plenty of like-minded people in the city and have no trouble making friends.
So you’ve decided to move to Ecuador. You’ve done your research and know just the town to begin your adventure. You’ve got your documents sorted for getting a residence visa. You’ve even gone through the house and decided what will go with you and what will stay or be sold. But what about your beloved family pet? Just how do you bring Fido or Kitty into Ecuador from the United States or Canada? This is a concern for many aspiring expats. As it turns out, it’s really not all that difﬁcult.
It’s been a long time now since I transitioned from a traditional job to a footloose and fancy-free photographer but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Location independent income has become a mandatory part of my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Vilcabamba is a great prospect for anyone who loves the country. The properties are diverse enough so that there is something for everyone. There are farms, upscale homes in gated communities, and houses inspired by the green movement, with a low environmental impact. There is even a little domed house reminiscent of Tolkien’s hobbit holes just a few minutes from town. One Vilcabamba expat has compared the town to Ojai, California. The springtime temperatures of Ojai would be on a par with those of Vilcabamba, but even more similarities are found in the lifestyle. Ojai is known for its health-conscious, spiritually-minded, artistic atmosphere. Vilcabamba is much the same, though on a smaller scale.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”