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Thinking of moving to Cuenca? Here’s what you need to know before you go

By Ombretta Di Dio

In the past few years, more and more people seem to have gone crazy about Ecuador and, particularly, about the charming and lively city of Cuenca.

Cuenca’s cathedral on Parque Calderon.

Cuenca is rich in history and architecture; it’s walking friendly and it’s surrounded by breathtaking scenic mountain sights. After all, who doesn’t dream of yearlong perfect weather that would only be the background of incredible genuine friendliness, exotic and tasty food, deep culture and uncontaminated nature?

Surely, Cuenca represents a heartwarming destination with plenty of hidden treasures to discover, however, if by any chance you’re thinking about making more than just a trip out of this city and if you’re thinking about building a new life there, like many did before you, you might want to consider a few peculiar aspects that aren’t often discussed.

First of All, Ask Yourself: Why Do You Want to Move to Ecuador?

If your plan is to develop a way of life that is radically different from the one you have in your hometown in North America and if you’re willing to adjust to the many changes you’re inevitably going to face once you move away, then jumping into a new fresh reality and make the best out of Cuenca won’t be hard for you.

The ‘Baranco’ from the Rio Tomebamba.

When relocating to another country, indeed, whether it’s Ecuador or France, it’s fundamental to consider how flexible and open your views are. So, ask yourself: are you amazed by the Ecuadorian culture? Are you going to immerse yourself in it with wide heart and eyes? Do you know enough about it before you go? Are you willing to learn Spanish? Do you think you could stand the local lifestyle or will you feel compelled to build a new North America in Ecuador? These questions might sound overwhelming, but they really are the basis of life as an expat.

Are You Just Getting Carried Away by The Prospect of Economic Wellness?

Many people decide to leave the United States attracted by the idea that life abroad will automatically be cheaper and therefore happier. Is that accurate?

Before becoming too enthusiastic after all the glowing reports you’ve read, you might want to do some further research and find out whether what has been told you is driven by honesty or by real estate agents’ hunger for money: check your sources and facts before you buy that plane ticket!

Apparently, many would-be expats believe that $600 to $900 a month will be enough to live a utopic existence in Ecuador, an existence that would be comparable to the quality and standards of a much more expensive one in the United States or Canada. The reality, though, is that $600 would only cover a very basic and simple life, which wouldn’t resemble a king-like one at all. You would have to live on a tight budget, rent a $250/month apartment, have no car and very little money left over for any kind of treat.

Be Realistic!

The true costs of living in the marvelous town of Cuenca are directly linked to the kind of adjustments you’re willing to make. Going local is the first rule to follow if you don’t want to pay double for imported products. With that being said, even if you fully embrace all the local products and habits, you still need to keep in mind those extra expenses that are considered normal in the United States: eating out once a week, having medical insurance or getting a TV cable would drive your $600 budget go all the way up to at least $1,200 (still fairly cheap by U.S standards inexpensive). Living a very frugal life and forgetting entirely about your North American habits is the only way $600 would sustain you in Ecuador. A much more realistic approach would be to lower your expectations about expenses (thus, raising your budget) while getting used to the new way of life while you enjoy it like a South American would.

Learn About The Rules

Before you move to Ecuador, you would probably like to know that the laws in the country are not as elastic as you could possibly think. There are, for example, limits on bringing electronics to Ecuador: travelers are only allowed to bring up one new electronic items (including cell phones, cameras, mp3 players and so on) into the country per return trip. If you plan on buying a car to satisfy your traveling needs, be aware that, in case your car price is above $20,000, you will pay a luxury tax that adds $15 to $35 percent to the total cost. And, very important, if you are caught speeding by 20% over the limit, you could spend three days in jail!

Once you’ve considered the whole package and the pros and cons of life as an expat in Cuenca, don’t forget about the invaluable opportunities the country can offer. All you have to do is ask yourself if you’re willing to give up a bit of your old “gringo” lifestyle in order to find your little piece of paradise in this beautiful land.

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Credit: Huffington Report,

15 thoughts on “Thinking of moving to Cuenca? Here’s what you need to know before you go

  1. $400 rent for a decent place for 2 persons, $100 for electric, gas and cable TV/Internet, $40 for local cell phone, $400 for groceries and home supplies, $150 for insurance, gas and maintenance on a modest used vehicle, $100 clothes, shoes of local variety, $200 dining and entertainment, $150 health insurance, dental, pharmacy. That’s $1540 for two persons living fairly modestly. Add in a few luxuries and travel expenses, it’s probably closer to $2,000 per month or more.

    1. I don’t disagree with your numbers at all. The question to me would seem to be what a similar lifestyle might cost in Dallas, and the answer is at least four or five times the same cost here in Cuenca.

      For example, we have a five bedroom, five bath home that cost us $850 a month including utilities. It’s also fully furnished. Our health insurance is $277.75 a month with IESS. We spend about $800 a month on groceries…there are five of us. Internet runs us $225 a month for two commercial connections…a primary and a backup…and that includes cable TV. To be honest, the house alone in Dallas, Denver or Des Moines would, I suspect, cost us more than our entire budget here in Cuenca.

      Anyway, there is no way, living in the USA, that we could afford the lifestyle we are enjoying here in Cuenca.

      In fact, for the last four years we have been fortunate to work with Americans living all over Latin America and the Caribbean. Based upon listening to what these folks lives are like, I don’t think, at the moment, there is another location that can compete with Cuenca in terms of value, safety, stability, etc…all the things that are important.

      Good luck to us all.

      1. Cuenca has plenty of “value, safety, stability, etc.” competition from several cities in Mexico. Immigration is a breeze compared to EC. Income requirements are quite a bit higher so the “cheapo-freeloaders” will just have to whine someplace else.

        1. I actually would agree that Mexico has many cities that can compete with Cuenca from a cost of living perspective. Not being concerned with the “income” requirement ourselves, I am not familiar with what is required. I believe it’s based upon the Mexican minimum wage and it works out to be a bit less than $1200 per month which is the same as Panama and less than Costa Rica where it’s $1500.
          I would disagree that Mexico offers the same degree of safety that Ecuador does…at least here in Cuenca. The possibility of danger from the drug cartels is not something I would find acceptable. Also, if the “balloon ever goes up”, I believe we have a higher degree of isolation and buffer here in Ecuador with 16 million people than in Mexico with 200 million. Also, the degree of poverty that I imagine exist in Mexico is not nearly as prevalent in Ecuador…again…at least here in Cuenca.
          In terms of danger from the drug cartels, I suspect the same situation…and this is nothing but my personal opinion…is present in Columbia and to a lesser degree, Panama. On a personal level, being from Texas, I wish that I didn’t feel Mexico presents unacceptable risk. It would be much easier to get back to Dallas from almost anywhere in Mexico than it is from Ecuador.

    2. That’s for two people. If each one were receiving the average Social Security check of $1,300 a month, you’d be banking $600 a month. You already factored in a few luxuries. I don’t know what “travel expenses” entail, but even if it’s local travel expenses, you’d have $7,200 a year to go on holiday.

  2. “Do you think you could stand the local lifestyle or will you feel compelled to build a new North America in Ecuador? ”

    Why build it? We expats are living it !!!

  3. I live on $800 a month but it’s a tough fit. My basics are covered but there’s not much left over and I don’t hit too many happy hours. I have friends, a couple, who get by on $1100 but again, it’s no frills attached. Having said this, the whole cost of living discussion is mostly bogus. Yes, there’s a kind of rock bottom base under which you can’t survive but beyond that it’s all about choices. In the states, you can live in a Miami penthouse or a mobile home in Alabama. Ecuador is cheaper, it’s true, but how much cheaper depends on you.

  4. No matter where you live on the globe, there are trade-offs. I have found in my 7 years here that the balance of give-and-takes wildly favors living in Ecuador, and specifically Cuenca. I have boiled it down, in explanation to my stateside friends: quality of life and cost of living. The deep culture and history of the area, coupled with the friendly, caring and industriousness of the local people make this area a sublime, high quality and charming place to live. The ability to speak Spanish is key. The ability to communicate opens all the doors to this wondrous country.

  5. It kills me when people bring up that $600 figure without disclaiming that you don’t even qualify for a pensioner’s visa with only $600 a month. I’m not sure, though, if SS benefits drop below $800 a month. Does anyone know if they do? I don’t know anyone who’s receiving less than $800. Also, many people do NOT find the weather here to be perfect. I hate hot weather, so the weather here suits me just fine most of time. I like having to wear a jacket. And while for me Cuenca has an acceptable amount of sunshine, that’s not true for many of my friends. It’s certainly not eternal spring.

    1. Agree, nothing perfect about the weather, and although i spend a fair amount of time in Cuenca, I also like my Vermont too, but in summer/fall, winter is the pits. I do wish people would get over the cost of living angle, if you are in Cuenca for that reason its probably not enough, or they did not save enough.

  6. Before commenting on CHL articles I’ve found it is always a good idea to research the origin. As an example, this post was a recycled article from the Huffington Post dated June 21, 2013!

    1. I don’t think much has changed since then except that the “survival” income might have gone up $100. Most of us old timers would say that the place has gotten better.

  7. My Ecuadorian wife and I live in Quito on our combined Social Security income of roughly $1600.00 a month. No car, IESS insurance, $550.00/mo. for a terrific apartment that would cost at least three grand in Seattle, where I moved here from. What else? We have no cable, watch local and U.S. news and videos on my laptop. We eat out fairly often. Most months we spend every last cent of our income, with nothing saved. I worry about medical emergencies – my expenses for medications at my age (70) are considerable. We are planning to start a business soon – even an expected increase in income of $400.00 a month will help us to breathe easier. All of that being said – I absolutely love our lifestyle here in Ecuador, which would be totally impossible in the U.S.

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