The Truth About The Cost of Living in Ecuador

In Ecuador, not only can you retire on little money, you can also live very well. A couple can retire on less than $18,000 per year, and this figure is based on a comfortable lifestyle. Many foreign residents take advantage of this low cost of living to have their main home in the city, and also own a country home, a beach property, or even property in another country…a feat that would be impossible on a comparable budget in the U.S.

Nestled in the Ecuadorian highlands and with a population of just under a half million, the vibrant colonial city of Cuenca is located in a picturesque valley at about 8,200 feet above sea level. Cuenca’s climate, pace of life and peppering of colonial buildings has made it popular with tourists and expats alike. Then, of course, there’s the cost of living. You get big-city amenities without the inflated costs associated with big-city life. You can rent a luxury three-bedroom apartment, have a weekly maid service, cover the cost of running a car, and regularly eat out at a fancy restaurant for $1,700 a month.

Even in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, a stunning city which just drips with Spanish colonial history, you can live well on a modest budget. Quito is home to some of the most exclusive addresses in Ecuador, yet a pampered lifestyle—with maid, healthcare, plenty of entertainment and dining out, and a luxury two-bedroom apartment rental—will come in at around $1,800 per month for a couple.

Vilcabamba is a small rural town in a secluded mountain basin in southern Ecuador known as a ‘Valley of Longevity’ thanks to the tendency of its inhabitants to live beyond 100. A couple can rent a two-bedroom country home, have a maid visit once a week, regularly go shopping for new clothes, and eat out at restaurants all for less than $1,500 a month (including healthcare).

Additionally, the low cost of living in Ecuador allows retirees to increase their travel, take up new hobbies, and generally enjoy a better quality of life. Ecuador offers something for everyone, and at prices unheard of in North America and Europe.

If you are 65 or older it gets even better. Members of Tercera Edad, which means “Third Age” in Spanish (a much better term than “senior citizen,” don’t you think?) enjoy many special benefits in Ecuador. Like discounted airfare on flights originating in the country—half-price public transportation and admission to sporting and cultural events—half-price utilities and a free land line if you own your home. Plus you are eligible for a refund on what you spend for your monthly IVA tax on all purchases. You even have your own line at the bank and grocery store.

Here is a sample budget for a couple living well in the city of Cuenca. The expenses are, of course, approximate. We’ve erred on the side of extra spending to come up with a budget that allows for a pretty luxurious lifestyle…for barely more than $20,000 a year for two people.

Sample monthly budget for a couple living in Cuenca:

ExpenseU.S.$
Housing (rental of a luxury three-bedroom, unfurnished apartment)
$500
Utilities (including phone, water/electricity, internet, and DirecTV)
$155
Maid (once a week)
$75
Groceries (not including alcohol)
$450
Maintenance and fuel for one car
$140
Misc. (personal items, etc.)
$100
Entertainment (two people dining out six times a month
with drinks, dessert, and tips)
$200
IESS (social security) healthcare
$80
Monthly total:
$1,700
Yearly total:
$20,400

Sample monthly budget for a single person living in Cuenca:

Expense U.S.$
Housing (rental of a luxury two-bedroom, unfurnished apartment)$400
Utilities (including phone, water/electricity, internet and DirecTV)$155
Maid (once a week)$80
Groceries (not including alcohol)$400
Maintenance and fuel for one car (optional expense)$140
Misc. (personal items, etc.)$80
Entertainment (one person dining out six times a month with drinks, dessert, and tips)$120
IESS (social security) healthcare$65
Monthly total:$1,440
Yearly total:$17,280

How Much Does It Cost to Live in Ecuador?

Cost of living in Ecuador

by Suzan Haskins

“How much does it cost to live in Ecuador?” That’s a question I hear a lot from readers.

From masses of anecdotal evidence and my own experience of living here, I can safely say that a typical couple will most likely spend somewhere between $1,600 and $2,400 a month to live in Ecuador.

But what you will spend depends very much on your own needs and wants.

For example, I know of (not personally “know,” but have no reason to doubt) a woman who lives in a tiny remote beach town and does so for less than $800 a month—quite a bit less, in fact. It’s not the way I’d like to live…but it suits her.

She has a small and very humble room to sleep in, takes cold-water showers, eats a vegetarian diet, and forgoes comforts like in-home Internet or telephone or cable TV. Still, she’s happy with her decision.

I know another couple that live an urban lifestyle with all the bells and whistles. They don’t deny themselves much at all and travel internationally three or four times a year. Their expenses hover around $4,500 a month.

Those two examples, of course, fall on either ends of the spectrum. But to give you some idea of how much a “typical” couple might spend:

Rent

$600 a month will net you an upscale, furnished, two-bedroom, two-bathroom home or apartment. (That probably includes Internet, DIRECTV, and water. If not, figure $30 for internet, $65 for a TV package, and $2 for water.)

Utilities

Figure on spending $20 a month for electricity and $4 a month for gas to heat your hot water. That’s for living in the mountains where you’ll not need heat or air conditioning. Double the cost of electricity if you live on the coast and like to run your air conditioning with some frequency.

Public transportation

$25 (That’s in a city like Cuenca. Most expats don’t own cars, and if you live in a small, walkable town like I do, you may spend hardly anything at all.)

Food

$500. This is totally subjective, of course…and for many will include meals out, including great-value almuerzos (a set two-course meal with a non-alcoholic drink.)

Cellphone

$15. (This supposes you own the phone. Most expats choose a pay-as-you-go plan…how much you pay depends on how much you like to talk on the phone.)

Total for those basic expenses: $1,164.

That’s a pretty good deal for a good basic standard of living. And it leaves plenty of money for the average retiree couple to enjoy some entertainment. Lunch once a week for the two of you could cost you $5 or $20, depending on where you eat. Dinner, too, with drinks could cost $20 or $50, depending where you go. Settling somewhere in between, we’ll peg this expense at $45 a week, or about $200 a month.

Ecuador
A couple can live well in Ecuador on a mere $1,500 a month.

That puts our monthly total at $1,364. With me so far? Now, here are some additional expenses you may or may not want to add to your own personal ledger:

First up: health care. Many retired expats in Ecuador are buying into the government health system and are paying, on average (for a couple), $140 a month. (A private health plan for a retired couple will run in the vicinity of $250 a month.) Prescription medications are inexpensive here. A month’s supply of a general blood pressure medication, for example, costs about $10. A fitness club membership costs an average $20 to $25 per person.

What about pampering yourself? Haircuts can cost anywhere from $2 and up… A woman who is very particular about her hair might expect to pay $20 for a cut and $25 for a color. A massage runs anywhere from $15 to $30. Someone to clean your home will typically charge $10 to $15, depending on how much time and effort is involved.

How much travel will you do? The rule of thumb used by some expats is to stash away $250 a month or more for your annual trip back home. Put away another $200 a month to pay for local weekend getaways here and there—there is much to explore in Ecuador.

So now it’s up to you. Take that $1,364 we arrived at a few paragraphs back and add whatever is appropriate for you. If you plan to buy your home, you can subtract that original $650 we included for rent…but you’ll need to add Internet and TV expenses back in and include HOA fees and your annual property taxes. (Monthly HOA fees in Ecuador typically range from $40 to $100. Our annual property tax for our home is less than $54 a year.)

And there you have it: Your cost of living in Ecuador could be less than $1,000 if you are a frugal single, less than $1,500 a month if you’re a frugal couple (easily done since it’s possible to rent a nice apartment for $300 to $400). Spend a bit more—as much as $2,400 a month if you own your home (or somewhere around $3,000 if you don’t)—and you’ll enjoy the best of everything: fine foods and spirits, fitness club membership, a private health insurance plan, local travel, and a trip back home to visit once a year.

Only you know what you need to be happy and comfortable, which is why only you can answer the question “How much does it cost to live in Ecuador?”