What Does It Really Cost To Live in Cuenca, EC.

The short answer is- “It depends”.  After living in Cuenca for 3+ years I think I have a realistic idea of the monthly costs. I presently live in a 2200 sq. ft 3 bedroom 3.5 bath unfurnished house.

Let’s first find data we can all agree about:

  • Electricity is subsidized by the government. My monthly bill(which includes refuse pickup and a Firefighter tax) has never been over $30
  • Propane Gas is also subsidized by the government. A 15 gallon tank delivered  to the house is $2.50. I have never used over $10 a month which includes a propane room heater.
  • Water –  We have over 60 plants and the monthly water bill has nver been over $6
  • House Phone My house phone bill has never been over $4 per month.
  • Gasoline is $1.49 per gallon all over the country. Diesel is $1.04 a gallon
  • Taxis are plentiful and cheap. A two mile trip to El Centro from my house is $1.70
  • City Buses –  25 cents  and 12 cents if you’re over 65. More about buses later in the post
  • If you  are  over 65 have a cedula and a bank account you can get *all* your IVA (12%) taxes back
  • General Labor is cheap. The minimum wage in Ecaudor is about $2.40 an hour.
  • Dental and Medical Care is a fraction of North American costs
  • IESS Medical Insurance with a Cedula is $70 per month + $11 per dependent

OK, now for the variables. (Single, Married, Roomate, Age.)

I am a married 69 year old in relative good health. I do not own a car and I prefer city living (within 2 miles of Parque Calderon). I walk every day (3-5 miles) and take the bus everyday. I do eat breakfast out 4 times a week. My wife and I go out once a week for dinner and twice a week for lunch. We shop at the organic markets, Feria Libre and SuperMaxi.

Apartment, Condo, House. Rent or Buy?

The majority of my friends rent their housing. Can you still find a rental for $300 per month? The answer is totally dependent on where you want to live and how far you need to commute to Cuenca. For my wife and I we chose location and the need for a garden. We are within 3 blocks of shopping, banking and 7 bus lines. When the Light Rail is completed the stop will be 400 ft from our door. The big question for most is whether to rent furnished or unfurnished.  Our first two rentals were furnished. After 15 months we decided to furnish an entire house. You can surely find cheaper or used furniture but we spent $7000.

Pets, Poker And Plants

We have two rescue cats. Generally, vet care is cheaper than in North America. But, good healthy cat food is twice as expensive  and cat litter is 3 times as expensive as in the U.S.  Good quality dog food is also expensive. The reason I bring up Poker and Plants is that I find that a few expats don’t have hobbies because they are on tight budget. Plants are generally cheaper here and there are many Poker, Bridge games in Cuenca.

Medical, Dental, Health Insurance

Both my wife and I had disastrous results with two private health insurance plans. The first one was always a problem getting reimbursed. The second one cancelled the plan one day for almost 200 hundred epats because they realized that we were submitting claims higher than the monthly premium. Presently we have the Ecuadorian Social Security Plan which has no copay or age restriction. As mentioned the premium  is $81 per month for a couple. For certain you have to have lots of patience and a understanding of Spanish (or an interpreter) to navigate the system.  Recently I had complicated eye surgery (vitrectomy) and there was no doctor in Cuenca to cover the operation. The alternative was to travel to Quito and convalese 1 month in Quito. I chose to pay out of pocket and have the operation outside of the system.

Time, Technolgy, Travel

In my past business life and now in my retirement I have lived by the motto that “Time is the currency of  the workplace. In my case its retirement. I am not handy and will more often than not pay a professional to fix something.

I also invest in the best and latest technology for my myself and my wife. Retirement should be fun and relaxing.

We travel back to the U.S. once a year to visit friends and family in 3 different states. We are fortunate that we don’t haveto  rent a hotel in 3 different states. Flights, food, rental car costs, presents, and returning clothes and technology make this a $6000 trip which amortizes to an extra $500 per month on to your budget. I am sure people can do  this for less. Again, its a style of retirement we want in our lives.

When Sh*t Happens
We all think we are invincible and immune to accidents. In Cuenca it’s not if you fall on the sidewalks but when. Previously, I mentioned that I ride the bus everyday. In the 3 years I have lived in Cuenca I estimate that I have ridden the bus over 2000 times. I can count on two hands with a couple of fingers left over to the number of completely safe rides I have experienced.  There are 30 bus routes in Cuenca and I have never waited over 10 minutes for a bus. However, the bus drivers almost without exception would fail any drivers test given in North America for bus drivers. The bus is often moving when you get on or off. A good friend just hit his head on the window and his head was bleeding and the bus driver did not stop.  All this is leading up to the following question.
Does your budget include an emergency fund for accidents or medical emergencies that are not covered with insurance?
Bottom Line:
For us living in Cuenca in a middle class life style in a unfurnished house with a garden, laundry and cleaning service our monthly budget is $2000.  Can you do it for less. Of course. But I just can’t agree with budgets of $1300 per month that don’t include trips back to North America each year and an emergency contingency allotment.
Feel free to disagree and comment.
 *** Our rent is $450 per month. Before we moved I contracted with the Landlord to do some renovations at my expense in return for a a lower rent. ***