10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, March 25, 2016

10 Questions to Ask Yourself to See if Cuenca Ecuador is Right for You - UPDATE 2016

We like to let our readers know what changes or new updates have taken place in the last 4 to 5 years in Cuenca. We have a few new things to add to this article and there have been some changes about moving/retiring to Cuenca Ecuador. This article was first published in October 2012.

Are you thinking of moving to Cuenca Ecuador? Here's 10 questions to ask yourself to get an idea if Cuenca is right for you. Cuenca is a beautiful, wonderful city but it is not for everyone. 

1) Will I be ok eating locally-made/prepared brands of foods? Most people would not want to pay $8 for a regular sized jar of Skippy peanut butter or $5 for 4 ounces of Kikkoman soy sauce, or $3 for a Hershey’s candy bar, or $4 for a can of Pringles potato chips.

The brands you are used to (Imports) are two to three times as much here as in the US. And some brands you know and love, you can’t even find here. Just letting you know. Now, you can buy the locally prepared peanut butter and potato chips but they’re different—they will take awhile to get used to.

Update 2016 - Most of the packaged potato chips they sell on the streets will make you sick. They are deep fried in VERY rancid/old oil; This also rings true for the packaged Ecuadorian brands of potato chips sold in the stores as well. It's the oil they use...very bad
A lot of people brag about how food is cheaper in Ecuador compared to the US. But what they don't tell you is they buy mostly the local brands of most items, NOT the imported foods.  

Ground beef prices have tripled here from a few years ago, and prices rival u.s. prices now.  Turkey is much much higher priced here,  and fish is frozen most of the time, what is fresh is very small quantity. There is some "fresh" fish at the outdoor markets but is not refrigerated and is outdoors and well, you might not want to play Russian Roulette with your health today.  If that changes someday and they start putting their meats inside a covered cooling system we might buy meat from there but then the price will go up. Sooooo....

Expats that buy the imported items from the grocery stores have just as high of grocery bills as they did back in the US.  If not higher. Here's just 20 popular food items that cost more in Ecuador than they do in the US.

Doing more research, this is what we came up with about grocery shopping in other Latin American countries compared to Cuenca. Take a look at the screen shots we got just today from Numbeo.com March 2016.

Cuenca's grocery prices 32% higher than Algarve Portugal!!
... 25% higher than in Arica Chile...wow!

...21% higher than Montevideo Uruguay

Cordoba Argentina
Medellin Colombia - Wow!

61% higher than in Merida Mexico

2) Will I be able to continue my job online or will I be able to run my business online? We have only experienced one Internet service here and Etapa is “Just ok”. On a scale of between 1 and 10 our Internet has been about a 5, which for us is just mediocre. Our experience has been this: it has gone out for days at a time, and in the evenings, after 5 or 6pm the Internet is VERY slow and it has always been that way. To find out more about our Internet experience click here

UPDATE: January 2014 - Etapa Interent has improved; it is faster and more reliable, however, it still cuts out intermittently during the day. Streaming is much better now since they updated their service to a faster speed.  If we were to rate Etapa now it is now about a 6 or 7 score out of 10. We think that is fair.  

Update 2016- They now have fiber-optics in several neighborhoods in Cuenca for those who need a faster speed but its expensive. 
Prices for fiber-optics with PuntoNet
3) Will I be able to deal with the laid back, “no care attitude” towards my business affairs? If you are the “type A” personality that needs to take charge and have your tasks and business errands done a certain way and at a certain time, according to what you have been used to for years, it isn’t going to happen like that in Cuenca or anywhere else in Ecuador. Or any developing country.

Update 2016 - Nothing has changed. 

Everything appears not as organized or efficient in Ecuador when you compare to back home but actually, they do have their own organization system and efficiency. The point is, you will need to be very patient to do just about anything here. This is the case, at least for now. Smile, and be happy knowing that you are in the best retirement city in the world, Cuenca Ecuador!”

4) Will I be able to handle all the guards with sawed-off shotguns in the banks and government offices and in the streets? We personally know of one expat couple who were mortified by this and the tall barred gates around the homes. Seeing this not only shocked them, but it made them more in fear of ever living here. Obviously they did not do their homework about South America because all of Latin America is like this and had they known this they would not have wasted their time and money coming here.

Some people get used to it, however, and later realize (after the culture shock wears off) that the Ecuadorians themselves want the guards, the tall gates around their homes; and that foreigners don’t have a monopoly on the need for security. The Ecuadorians too need security in their homes and in their persons. And that security here is built into the expectations of the culture. And this is actually a good thing. 

Update 2016 - There's still guards with guns but we are seeing less and less sawed off shot guns perhaps because they are intimidating for the tourists. 

5) Will I miss my children and grandchildren once I move to Ecuador? One of the reasons why expats move back to where they came from is because they miss their children and grandchildren. We have been told this personally by expats. 

We just met up with one expat couple who are seriously thinking of moving here, but only if they can find it in their budget to travel back to the states at least three or four times a year to see their children and grandchildren. Bring your children with you! Come before they are adults. It is something to think about. However, with the new lower fares, frequent travel is not totally out of the question. 

Update 2016  Some expats still miss their children and grand babies.  Airfares have gone up with new tax surcharges.

6) Will I be able to get over the culture shock and adjust to speaking a new language? Most expats do not speak very much Spanish. They want to take classes and most do, which is great, but it is not that easy learning a new language unless you really put a lot of time and study into it. As long as you are willing to keep learning, we think you’ll be fine. Our experience is that immersing yourself with local interactions speeds this up quite a bit. See our video about expat gringa rents $200 apartment as she touches on this in the video.

If you have never set foot outside of the US or if you have gone to Mexico only to stay in the resorts, you may be a bit taken aback over everything being so different than what you are used to. Most people get through it and then decide if Cuenca is right for them, but we have met potential expats, who after months of being here, were still in shock over the look, feel, smells, people and language barrier that they remain indifferent to Ecuador. 

Update 2016 - We believe some people experience belated culture shock after the novelty of being in a foreign country wears off.

We think it takes at least a year to really decide if Ecuador is for you because by then you have at least learned some Spanish, acclimated to the high altitude and weather, and have really seen and experienced the culture. 

Update May 2014 - We know of one couple who after two years of living in Cuenca, moved to Merida Mexico because they couldn't learn the language and wanted to be in an area with a larger expat community.

7) Will I be ok living in Cuenca where it is cloudy more than it is sunny? We think most folks will need to experience at least one year in Cuenca (two different seasons) to really get a feel for what the weather really is like here. Most expats say they like the weather with the exception they are cold in their homes. Or they say they don’t like the weather at all. It’s up to you. Some people like overcast skies 250 days out of the year. 

Update 2016 - If you like walking then Cuenca's weather is perfect for that. What makes the weather nice here is it never gets too cold or too hot. Most people, if coming from hot areas like Florida or Texas most folks will want a heater on those chillier mornings.

8) Will I be able to accept the high prices on popular necessities such as computers, cell phones, laptops, televisions, quality furniture, quality linens, kitchen appliances, vehicles, etc, etc? And the fact that there are no thrift stores in Cuenca to speak of? This is a BIG wake up for frugal folks, who like to buy used appliances, furniture and cars, clean and restore them. 

A 1980’s used car here costs around $4k. Buying electronics you can expect to pay two to three times as much. Name brand kitchen appliances are very expensive here, and the lesser known name brands break or wear out after using a few times. An “Oster” Blender costs over $130 dollars on up! And an Oster Juicer costs almost $200! Be prepared to spend some money on things you need here, i.e. come well financed! You will at least find that the produce that goes in the $200 juicer is reasonably priced. 

Update 2016 - No worries the gringo portals have tons of stuff for sale and gently used at that. This makes it much easier on the budget for setting up a house. When we first moved here there was absolutely nothing used at lower prices for sale, nothing!

9) Will my body be able to deal with the high altitude? We know of several expats who had to leave Cuenca because the altitude was making them sick. Most people who move to Cuenca only have slight altitude sickness (dizziness, shortness of breath, headachy) for the first 3 days. After a couple of days your body becomes adjusted to it and acclimated to the thinner air.  

Most people will adjust to the change in altitude and climate just fine, but there are a small portion of people that continue to feel sick and must leave Cuenca. Some people with certain health problems may not adjust too well. For more about altitude sickness click here

10) Will I really like Cuenca enough to move there and live indefinitely? No one can know for sure if they will like a certain place, until they actually go there and experience an extended visit. You just have to come here and see the country for yourself. 

We do think that there are a lot of people who come to Cuenca for the wrong reasons, particularly because they have read all the hype about how cheap Cuenca is. Cuenca CAN BE cheaper than living in most cities in the US but it can also be more expensive than many cities in the US. If the only reason you are coming to Cuenca is because you heard it is cheap, then buyer beware.

Cuenca can be relatively inexpensive for a certain type of people who do not allow their surroundings to rule their happiness and for those who are not that demanding or picky. Most expats that come here feel they need to have certain standards met, which Cuenca does offer that standard but you will pay up for it.  Many foreigners unwittingly pay u.s. prices for those standards.  

Some foreigners are having a difficult time living on their retirement check, so all we’re saying is if you come here with high expectations of grandeur for less money then it’s not that much cheaper than a lot of other places and its probably not going to happen. 

Update 2016 - Bottom line, Cuenca Ecuador is NOT THE CHEAPEST country to go to any more.  We don't think it ever was, but that's  a different article.  There are now many other countries with a better cost of living than Cuenca Ecuador.  Surprised? It didn't take all that long did it? We're still five adults living on less than $1200 per month.  That may be going up to $1400 soon if landlord takes their house back for construction.  We've been paying our old rent of $250 for five years now but rents have gone up all over town.

Summary Update 2016 - Even though a person can ask themselves these questions to see if Ecuador is a good fit for them, they still need to visit of course and actually live real life here; we're not talking about the tourist life for 1 to 3 months either, but real life Cuenca Ecuador and for at least 6 months and preferably for 1 year.

If you are interested in moving to Cuenca Ecuador, and saving money by going local and experiencing Cuenca with a laid back lifestyle and enjoyment then many people recommend the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide to help make the experience easier and less expensive.

Until we write again, you might like to read these other articles to see if you want to come visit and see if Cuenca is a right fit for you.

We're an expat family of five, living frugal, healthy and happy in Cuenca Ecuador. Come along and get the real nitty-gritty about life abroad with Frank and Angie!

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