CuencaHighLife’s 2015 Cost of Living Survey shows that prices are rising – no surprise there – but it also reveals some new expat trends

Jun 23, 2015 | 0 comments

CuencaHighLife’s 2015 Cost of Living survey revealed one strong trend and provided information that seems to contradict the conventional expat wisdom about another trend. We compared results to a similar survey taken two-and-a-half years ago, in January 2013, as well as to a short survey on home ownership in 2009.

The survey revealed that fewer expats are buying property; the overwhelming choice is for rentals.

The survey revealed that fewer expats are buying property; the overwhelming choice is for rentals.

The survey, taken in early June, makes no pretense of being scientific. Several respondents correctly took us to task for flaws in our methodology, including the fact we did not ask about the number of persons in a household. Others pointed out that we made no distinction between furnished turn-key and unfurnished rentals.

Much of our information came from the comments that followed the survey, as well as from separate interviews with 11 expat couples who had also taken the 2013 survey. From these sources, we compiled numbers for categories not included in the survey, such as medical care, health insurance, facilitators and translators, and Spanish lessons.

In determining an average cost of living, the number of variables are almost infinite. These include personal tastes as well as circumstances, which are impossible to calculate. We talked to expats who live contentedly on $800 a month while others complain of the tribulations of getting by on $4,000. Our figure is an average based on the survey, comments, and personal interviews. In our calculation, we did not consider out-of-country expenses such as mortgages and upkeep on homes, college tuition for children, alimony payments, or insurance that does not apply to Ecuador. Neither did we include international travel.

Probably the most dramatic result of the survey, as we reported yesterday in an article about the down-turn in the real estate market, is the 32% drop in home ownership among expats since the 2013 survey. Going back to a 2009 survey, the drop is more than 50%. Needless-to-say, the trend for expats is strongly away from home ownership, toward renting.

For food, expats pay from $40 to more than $200 a month.

For food, expats pay from $40 to more than $200 a month.

The point of conventional wisdom that is challenged by the survey results is that most expats moving to Cuenca are “economic refugees” relocating here primarily for the lower cost of living. Although there is evidence that this is true in many cases, the bigger story seems to be the growing number of Cuenca expats with higher incomes and larger monthly budgets.

Several upper income respondents commented that Cuenca is a good “base of operations” for international travel, several saying they spend more than $1,000 a month on travel (see the comments at the end of this article for more).

Based on survey results, comments and interviews, we determined that the average monthly budget for Cuenca expats in 2015 is $1,450. This is a 12% increase from our 2013 figure of $1,300.

Costs for all expense categories rose from the 2013 survey, with groceries, alcohol, and eating out showing the largest increases.


Results are monthly, unless otherwise noted, and based on the responses of 530 readers.

Housing ownership vs. rental: 82% of expats rent compared to 18% who own their condos or houses.

Rental costs: 9% pay less than $299; 34% pay $300 to $499; 17% pay $500 to $599; 16% pay $600 to $699; 19% pay $700 to $999; 5% pay more than $1,000.

Expenses for several expats include country club dues.

Expenses for several expats include country club dues.

Building and neighborhood fees (for property owners): 42% pay no fee; 29% pay $75 or less; 10% pay $76 to $99; 14% pay $100 to $149; and 5% pay $150 or more.

Utilities (electricity, gas, water, and landline phone): 14% not applicable; 44% pay $49 or less: 26% pay $50 to $74; 14% pay $75 to $149; and 2% pay more than $150.

Internet: 13% not applicable; 5% pay less than $20; 54% pay $21 to $49; 27% pay $50 to $74; and 1% more than $75.

Cable or Satellite TV: 58% not applicable; 8% pay $10 to $29; 14% pay $30 to $49; 20% pay $50 or more.

Cell phone service: 6.5%, no cell phone; 68% pay up to $29; 16.5% pay $30 to $49; 9% pay more than $75.

Groceries: 3% pay less than $43; 25% pay $43 to $165; 72% pay $165 to $400, or more.

Eating out: 30% pay less than $80; 42% pay $80 to $210; and 28% pay $210 or more.

Transportation: 74% pay $50 or less; 25% pay $50 or more.

Car ownership: 23% yes; 73% no.

Car expenses: 34% less than $50; 66% pay $50 to $99; and 9% pay more than $100.



Here are the most frequently mentioned “other expenses” from the survey. Costs are monthly and represent the range of costs from all respondents.

Health insurance: IESS, $82; Private, $90 to $300

Doctor’s visits and medicine: From $25 to $470

Expats pay for a variety of classes and activities, including cooking lessons.

Expats pay for a variety of classes and activities, including cooking lessons.

Pet care: $20 to $400

Maid service: $40 to $225

Spanish lessons: $75 to $400

In-country tours and travel: $50 to $200

Dental care: $25 to $200

Clothes: $20 to $85

Hair cuts, personal care: $5 to $150

School tuition for children: $200 to $650

Wine and booze: $25 to $300

Gym and personal fitness: $20 to $350

Taxi and facilitator: $50 to $350

Charity and church contributions: $20 to $250

Country Club dues: $140



Taxi and facilitator usually runs about $200 to $300 per month. Before I got comfortable with the bus system, it was nearly twice that.

Lots of international travel. This year my travels should cost me about $10,000. Clothes cost me about $500 to $700 annually. Medical this year was a big out-of-pocket expense running me about $8,000. Needless to say, I am enrolling in IESS.

I get by fine on about $900 a month. My needs are simple.

I mostly spend on living out my retirement years in comfort and that would also include some medical cost of about $300 per month for office visits and medications. My cost of living here in Cuenca is very much like living in Eugene, OR, but there is less drama and the people are much nicer than the US. There is no freedom in the US.

Cuenca is not nearly as cheap as they say it is.

There are great air fares a few times a year to Madrid. Better than from the US. We go to Europe twice a year.

You need a Cellphone category of zero to $10 per month and a groceries category of more than $99 per week. As is true of us, some renters also pay the building fee. The biggest oversight, though, is nothing on medical expenses.

All the free activities in Cuenca, like the symphony, are very important to me.

School for children – $450/month; activities for children-$130/month.

My husband and I spend about 200.00 a week on groceries.

Besides my country club dues, which I think are about $150, I spend another $100 a month at the club for food and drinks.

We have 5 dogs and 5 cats. Food and medicines and grooming. Total expenditure approx. $400.

I moved here from France last year and the cost of living is about one fourth what it is over there. Very happy here.

Raw food classes — $40 for 5 weekly classes (provides lunch for that day) Occasional charity events (e.g. Hearts of Gold 4th of July BBQ $35.00). Weekly bouquet of fresh flowers from Mercado $5. Weekly rehearsal contribution to Cuenca International Chorale – $5. Weekly church offering – $5.

We spend a month each year at a ski resort in Bariloche, Argentina. Cost is about $5,000, way down from a couple years ago due collapse of currency.

I get tired of people bitching about rental costs here. The average rental in the U.S. is $1,400 a month according to the realtor association, and this is for unfurnished. I pay $500 for a great place and don’t feel ripped off. I liked the article you ran about all the cheapskates in Cuenca. Hit the nail on the head.

Pilates classes – $45.00/month Charity Donations – $100.00/month Haircut – $10.00/every 6 weeks Hair color – $36.00/every 3 months.

Why does everybody do all their shopping at Supermaxi? Don’t they know that the prices are much lower, sometimes half as much, at the mercados?

I spend about $300 a month on booze, which costs way too much here by the way. I give about $200 to charity, a local orphanage, my church and my AA group.



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