10 Years of Blog Archive

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The “Cost of Living” Hype about Cuenca Ecuador -- Can You Really Retire on $600 Month?

Another article came out just today Reuters Yahoo Finance, about how a couple can retire on $600 a month in Cuenca Ecuador. Let us make something perfectly clear. You CANNOT retire on $600 a month in Cuenca Ecuador, doing it the way that most expats are doing it now. This couple leased an apartment almost two years ago…we want to see $200 a month downtown apartment, overlooking the river today in Cuenca!

In the Yahoo article the couple mentioned they rent an apartment for $200 a month overlooking the river in Cuenca; Yeah, maybe back in 2010 when they found the apartment. Finding this kind of a deal now for a two bedroom is gone in the downtown area, and especially if it is furnished.  

If any Ecuadorian or gringo real estate Agency would like to call us on it, go for it, and please let us know where in downtown Cuenca we can actually rent a two bedroom furnished for $200 a month. We’ll be thrilled to tell our readers about it.

So can you retire on $600 a month? The answer is yes and no. read on.

Here’s what’s happening, the hype of these articles gets everyone (mostly those people on a retirement pension) all excited and they quickly come to Ecuador…then after several months they realize, “I can’t retire on $600 a month; my rent is $400 right now; my food bill is $100 a week; my Internet is $40 a month; entertainment is $60 a week; and my transportation costs are over $100 a month!! What a bunch of hype about cost of living in Cuenca Ecuador, I can’t retire on $600 a month, my living costs now are almost $1200! I should have never believed that magazine article!!”

This is true; living like that you cannot retire on $600!

But the truth is a couple CAN Retire on $600 if they are FRUGAL and do things the way we do and have been doing and advocating all along on this blog.

We’ve been reading and hearing about more and more expats who have come to Cuenca and are disappointed because they believed all the hype about cost of living in Cuenca Ecuador. It’s sad, but this is what happens when we don’t look at the whole picture and do our due diligence research. 

Our readers email us weekly with high priced rentals and real-estate because they cannot believe their eyes. They want to know if the high prices they are seeing in Cuenca are true (Yeah it’s true). The first things out of their mouth is, “Oh my gosh; I can just stay here where I’m at in the U.S for that price!” 

If these magazines and websites are going to talk about the low cost of living in Cuenca Ecuador then they should at least have the facts to back it up and to show people how to do it, which is exactly what we do in the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.  In our guide there is no hype. Our family of five adults lives on less than $1,000 a month in Cuenca Ecuador. See our monthly cost of living here.

So then is it entirely possible one or two people can live on $600 if they are willing to follow our guidelines? YES IT IS…you just need to know the ins and outs of going local in Cuenca Ecuador. 

Here’s the thing, we have not met any expat couples here in Cuenca yet that are actually living on $600 a month, and the reason being is THEY don’t know how or THEY don’t care to know how.  Folks are rushing down here and doing things the way they are used to in North America, but this is South America! 

We keep reading in articles about how a couple is living on $600 a month but where are they? All we hear and read about is expats complaining about all the hype of Cuenca, and they are leaving Ecuador.   Many others are renting $600-$750 a month apartments!
They lease high priced rentals in gringo gulches, and buy properties from greedy real estate agents that have upped the price by 50%, they buy food in the Americanized grocery stores, never taking the bus or walking anywhere outside of the center, and so on and so forth.  Nope, $600 is NOT going to happen doing that. 

We just found (Two days ago, March 10, 2012) another beautiful home; it's 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, three story in a nice and quiet Ecuadorian neighborhood for $200 a month! Now, it did take some considerable searching, foot work, knowing some Spanish, and humbleness (Frank quickly lets people know we are not rich and we are not going to pay gringo prices) to find this house. 

This big, beautiful home is nicer than the one we are in now and bigger and with a nicer back yard, for $50 less a month!  Oh and guess what else, we didn’t even have to negotiate the price with the landlord because $200 was the real price!? This landlord did not try and gringo us, so we quickly gave him a $200 deposit on it for our friends who are moving to Cuenca this month. 

We also found last week in our searching, a small, but nice three bedroom one bath apartment for $180 a month in a very nice Ecuadorian neighborhood just a few blocks from the Coral Centro. It takes due diligence (time and effort)  just like we’ve been telling you all along, to find these local priced rentals but they are out there.  These are all private parties, no real estate agents!

So you see, with doing some leg work (literally) and talking to local people, moving away from the city center, and walking around and calling all of the Spanish ads, you’ll find the right priced rentals in Cuenca. We list many great rental resources and tips in our DIY Cuenca Landing Guide

If you decide to move to Cuenca and live at the local pricing structure, you can’t bring your North American way of doing things here and get the $600 a month way of living, it isn’t going to happen. People come here and just go to rental agency or real-estate Company or look at the English language ads or websites and get an apartment or house. No wonder they are paying exorbitant prices. These types of agencies and English language ads are geared just for the so called “rich gringo” that moves to Cuenca.  Is that how you want to move here? Well you don’t have to.
If you’re going to move here, then move here, don’t live like a tourist on vacation. 

Start by walking around, interacting with the Ecuadorians, then read the Spanish ads and use google translate, never give up and keep looking, be willing to walk away at stupidly over priced rentals and be sure to let them know it is waaaay over-priced for Ecuador! 

The bottom line is real simple: If your ideal retirement haven is living in a gringo gulch with 24 hour security guards stationed, taking taxis everywhere you go, shopping at the malls, eating out in the International restaurants and grocery shopping at Supermaxi, then you could just as well find your paradise Cuenca anywhere you care to go, the world is a large place; Cuenca is not that special in the global view of things, really, it’s just a South American Andes mountain town.

But if your goal is to relocate and restart your life in a new land--then living in an Ecuadorian neighborhood, away from the city center, taking the bus or walking, taxi only sometimes, shopping and being frugal at the Mercado’s and Coral and cooking your own international food and or patronizing the Ecuadorian restaurants --can help you make Cuenca --be that place. 

It’s really up to how you live. The old North American dream of prosperity and liberty can be yours but you might have to change some of your habits and integrate yourself with the local culture. No one can certainly tell you how to live, but if frugality and immersing yourself into the culture of Ecuador sounds like something you want to do then most of the Ecuadorians will welcome you here with open arms. 

For more details on how to live frugal and happy in Cuenca see the DIY Cuenca Landing guide, you’ll be glad you have this guide book on your computer.


  1. First -- I am a total fan of your blog and have learned a lot from your family. However, there are some things in this post that could be viewed in a different light.

    Your family has the benefit of four men, all of whom are younger than most expat retirees, and all look to be in terrific shape. Your family wouldn't be a target for problems in most cities in the world. Many retirees do not have this advantage.

    Some feel vulnerable due to age and the related physical problems that can accompanying aging. A secure building is a reasonable solution for many because of this.

    Many also have mobility issues that range from joint problems to other health concerns. For some, stairs (even one floor) are not an option; an elevator is a must.

    Additionally, to live away from the city center would mean for them a certain amount of isolation as what is to you a 15 to 20-minute walk into town would be an hour for them, if they could make it. So, they would always have to take a taxi into and out of the center. The farther out one lives, the more expensive the taxi ride. And to stick to a budget, they might become more housebound than they would like.

    One other thing: many people actually prefer living in the center of things where it is easy access to performances, shopping, marketplaces, and other activities. And it may actually cost them less than living in a cheaper place farther outside of town.

    For example, right now we live in San Francisco, not the East Bay, even though the rents in the East Bay are lower for similarly sized apartments. But in San Francisco, we don't need to own a car. In the East Bay, we would. Between car payments, insurance, and upkeep --- well, in town we just take the bus, use ZipCar a few hours every couple of weeks for errands, and use an occasional cab when we are out late at the ballet or opera (which we see for free as I am a reviewer). It actually costs us less to live in town. Much more frugal.

    For others, they prefer a known secure environment to live in for six months or so while they look for something less expensive and maybe even more suitable in other ways.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that frugality takes many forms. Frugality is not only about actual cost. It also is based on the needs and lifestyle of the persons involved.

  2. Hi Frank and Angie This post is extremely well done and very truthful and again very informational for all expats wanting to make a change in their life and achieve a higher life quality ,enjoy a higher food and nutritional quality , benefit from and live in a family centric society ,and a Higher quality of health care ... whether you are from the US where they don't care if you get medical care or Canada where the Provincial Bureaucrats provide managed care a doctor will be allowed to give you 15min units of care.If you are following Frank and Angie's Cuenca Blog you now understand that Ecuadorian Basic monthly wage is around $300.00 and that is providing food clothes and shelter and I believe some form of Health Care So when you come to Ecuador with $600.00 a month you are coming with a middle class income ... So listen to Frank and Angie's advice and when you Expats finally Come to Ecuador Spend Your Limited Monthly Income Wisely...Look at it this way In Canada and the US $600.00 a month doesn't even reach the poverty level So as suggested do a little leg work and you can go from below poverty class to middle class. That in its self is quite a bump upward in quality of life....Joseph

  3. Hi Frank, Angie and family...
    All I can say is " Bravo "
    If we, "expats" that planning on moving to Cuenca , and fall into that gringo format, we are doing a great dis-service to the local
    economy..and of course, driving the prices up...
    Rob, from Texas

  4. I agree with Geri Jeter's post. But Cuenca seems to be a fine place for one to restore physical and spiritual health.

    Any American living in Cuenca better be damn sure to speak Spanish. Why?

    Natural disasters, and the fact that Americans are always complaining about other cultures moving in their "neighborhood" and not "speaking the language."

    Any human who decides to not blend in with a culture they plan to live in, will do themselves a great disservice. And a very,very dangerous one.

    Think, "Lord of the Flies"

  5. Hi Frank, Angie & young men,

    Thanks for your great blog and your book, that I'll get in the next few days.
    I'm single and soon 65 y/o, healthy, learning Spanish and reading all I can about my new home... (probably) Cuenca.
    I hope to live in a safe Ecuadorian neighborhood and "immerse" myself in the Ecuadorian culture.
    I'll need to make my few dollars (975/mo) stretch, but it sounds like I can do it there.
    Do you recommend that I get an Ecuadorian lawyer (and maybe other professionals) to get all my paperwork processed... so that I can get all senior benefits.

    Thanks again for all you great (unvarnished) information.
    BTW, What is your incentive for doing all this very time consuming, work? Other than selling your book of course.

  6. Hi there! I enjoy the blog. We are like many baby boomers who thought their retirement was enough. After the crash in 2008 we lost most of our stocks and our huge home. Our cash was tied into it. We now live in a reverse mortgage small home we purchased for cash. We find Obama care is destroying our blue cross it has hiked up. We do have a government pension so I believe we could live in Ecuador. We are already learning to be thrifty and have managed on a reduce in come from 7000 a month to 3000 a month. I believe the American dream is no longer. I wonder where we could find the benefits for 65 and older retirees.

  7. Great, keep up the good work. You're on the right track...


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