The True Cost of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador
The cost of living in Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, is often cited as one of the core reasons why expats move here.
It was a consideration for Michelle and me too. In particular, the cost of schools in Cuenca is approx half of that in Quito. So, we decided to move from Quito to Cuenca when the youngest was entering school partly to help cut down on living costs. We both work remotely, so the lower wages in Cuenca were not an issue for us.
I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with our costs of living to give you an idea of total living costs in Cuenca, Ecuador.
These costs are itemized into our monthly budget below:
We live a simple, middle-class life in Ecuador. We are fortunate to always have enough food on our table, a small car, rent a large house and have some help from a maid and gardener.
You can find some reports of expats living on less than $1,000 per month and this is certainly possible if you live a simple, frugal lifestyle away from the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.
You can also get a good basic feel for cost of living in Cuenca from sites like Numbeo where you can compare your current city with Cuenca (or other Ecuadorian cities). I like the granularity of Numbeo as it allows you to pry directly into the cost of basics like milk, bread and beer. Given Ecuador also uses the USD, if you’re comparing costs from the US, then it’s a very straight forward exercise.
Cuenca Home Costs
These form the most substantial component of our budget. We also have a considerable amount of discretionary spending here, so you can certainly cut down on a few of these things to cut costs.
Rent – $800/month
We rent a large house on the outskirts of Cuenca in the Challuabumba neighborhood. It’s a 15 min drive to Cuenca on the Autopista (main highway). We chose here because it’s a little warmer than Cuenca itself, close to our school of choice, and we can get a much bigger house (and yard) than we could get in Cuenca. We like the privacy available to us and there are enough local shops, including a supermarket, that we really don’t need to visit Cuenca if we don’t want to.
The biggest downside of living 15 mins away from Cuenca is that we found it necessary to purchase a car (and get an Ecuadorian driver’s licence). There are buses and taxis, but we found them too time-consuming and limiting. We also like to explore close by towns, villages and mountains on the weekends which is easier with a car.
Our house is a 2 level, 4 bedroom house with a large rear yard and good sized front yard. The previous tenant was an expat that clearly poured a lot of love into the garden, attracting many hummingbirds. We were the first to see the house as it was coming onto the rental market and we immediately said, “yes, we’ll take it!”
Our current landlords are amazing – which has really made a big difference to the overall enjoyment of the space. Everything gets fixed, even some improvements made. Our previous landlord was an absolute nightmare who never fixed anything, so we’re super grateful to have wonderful landords now.
A similar house in Cuenca itself would rent for $1K+, so we’re happy with the price we’re paying for the location.
You can find 4 bedroom homes for less than $800 per month, but you probably won’t get your entire wish list. A properly maintained and welcoming garden was important to us, so we were willing to pay a bit extra for this.
Some expats do purchase homes instead of renting. If you’re on the fence, check out our article on renting vs buying in Ecuador.
Internet – $31/month
You’ll likely have different internet options depending on where you live in Cuenca. Our experience is the speed you can get will largely depend on the port availability at the distribution hub. Ie There may not be any more fibre optic ports available at the closest hub, so you’ll need to choose a different plan, provider, wait until a port becomes available, or beg your internet technician to find an available port.
We pay $30.90 each month for a 25MB down/up plan from Etapa. Etapa is basically the default option as they are government-controlled and are also responsible for the infrastructure.
We’re happy with the speeds that we receive at our current house. We normally get very close to the speeds we pay for (25MB Down/Up). See the speed test below:
Our main issue is ensuring the entire house receives coverage via strategically placed repeaters.
Take note of the contract terms. Many plans are 2-3 years, with penalties for leaving early. Our plan from Etapa allows us to take the connection with us if we move (within their Cuenca service region). But if not, then we’ll need to pay for the installation costs ($55) that we waived at the start of the contract. Some companies have higher termination costs such as paying out the rest of the plan + exit fee.
Water – $10/month
Water is cheap in Ecuador. The water in Cuenca is noted as having some of the best water quality in the world due, so you shouldn’t feel the need to get in bottled water or pay anything extra.
With 2 adults and 2 kids, we’re constantly using the shower and washing clothes. We consider $10/month for water to be a very good deal.
Electricity – $20/month
Our house has a lot of lights and we generally have at least 1 (normally 2) screens on during the day. We weren’t given a choice with the electricity provider.
The biggest issue I’ve found with electricity providers in Ecuador is they are ruthless when it comes to turning the power off for non-payment. If you are a day late, someone may come to your house & ask what is going on and request payment. Or, they may just cut off your power without warning.
Our power has been cut off in Cuenca and we’ve needed to go to the Electricity company to have it switched back on (the following working day).
Security – $22/month
This is largely for peace of mind. This covers the cost of the electric fence, alarm and monitoring from the security company. The company is generally very quick to respond to any alarm.
It pays to shop around for a security company. I’d definitely recommend asking your neighbors for their experience with their providers as a starting point.
The other form of security comes from our neighbors. We live in a welcoming community where every house belongs to the WhatsApp group created for discussing any practical issues like security.
As an example, last night our next-door neighbors’ alarm went off. They were out of town, so I got up to check it out and their security company was already there and talking to another neighbor. Our next-door neighbor was thankful to have all of their neighbors and the security company watching their back whilst they weren’t there. Other neighbors have done the exact same for us.
Home phone – $6/month
I’ll be honest, I don’t know why we have a home phone as we always use our mobile phones for calling locally or Skype for international calls.
Okay, I’ve just asked Michelle and we have the home phone only for the security system as it uses our landline to communicate with the alarm company.
Gas (Propane) – $3/month
Gas is ridiculously cheap in Ecuador. The price varies a little by city, but expect to pay around $3 per bottle delivered to your home. And, expect to be annoyed by the constant passing of gas trucks through your neighborhood, complete with speakers blaring a ‘gas truck’ song so you don’t miss them.
We generally only go through 1 (maybe 2) gas tanks each month. This powers our hot water, oven and even our clothes dryer. We don’t use a space heater.
You’ll need to pay for at least one, we recommend an additional as a spare, propane tank for about $45. The condition isn’t super important, just make sure it isn’t too rusty… Then you can participate in the home deliveries where they just swap tanks. Quick, easy and cheap. You should be able to sell the tank for a similar price ($45) upon leaving.
Maid (4 x monthly) – $80/month
Depending on how busy we are, we alternate between having a full-time maid/nanny and just having her come in 1 day per week for the ‘deeper’ cleans.
We’ve found it hard to find a quality, affordable nanny that is still happy to do a fair amount of cleaning. You may need to trial a few until you get a feel for their enthusiasm for the work offered.
If you’re providing any sort of on-going work, you may also be required to register this with IESS and also be aware of the full range of pay entitlements. This includes paying into the IESS system and the two additional monthly salaries each year (ie 13th & 14th months).
We also provide lunches and coffee for any worker in our house. I believe this is a fairly standard custom. Even if the worker has their lunch, the gesture has always been appreciated and it’s a nice way to get to know the workers a little more.
Gardener (1 x monthly) – $30/month
Whilst we enjoy doing a lot of gardening ourselves, we also pay for a gardener to come once a month to do the stuff we aren’t equipped for. In particular, we don’t have a lawn mower, edge trimmer or a decent hedge trimmer.
The amount we pay is for 2 gardeners for the entire day. They are very efficient and knowledgable. Their knowledge of how to grow certain things or control bugs has also been very valuable to us.
Again, on top of their payment, we also provide lunch and coffee.
Mobile Phone (x2) – $20/month
Michelle and I both use mobile phones.
I’ve just switched to Tuenti (a challenger low-cost brand) and pay $5 for 2GB data, 30 mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This plan lasts for 30 days. The biggest downside for me is that they use the Movistar network, which isn’t so great where we live (Claro has much better service).
I use a cheap Android phone which is not included in the pre-paid plan from Tuenti.
Michelle is on a $15 pre-paid plan from Claro that provides 15GB data, 200mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This also lasts one month. Michelle needs a better, more reliable plan than me as she uses her mobile a lot for work.
Michelle has also purchased her phone outright. Electronics like phones and computers can be expensive in Ecuador, so we recommend bringing these electronics with you.
The two main networks in Ecuador are Movistar and Claro. My experience is that Claro generally provides better coverage, but they are also difficult to deal with. Ie You can no longer just turn up at their service center to receive help, but need to make an appointment using their not-so-great app.
Getting out of post-paid plans without a significant exit fee has proven to be difficult for us. So, we’ve vowed to stick to pre-paid as we’re a little sick of being the games played by telco companies in Ecuador.
Home Subtotal – $1022/month
We find this a very reasonable cost for our lifestyle. However, there are some discretionary costs that can be minimized if we needed to. Take out the maid, gardener, security and home phone and you’ve cut down expenses by $138. Rent a slightly cheaper home or apartment at $600/month and you’ve saved another $200.
Combine both savings and we’d take our monthly home costs down to $684.
Cuenca monthly food costs
The main food choice you’re going to make in Cuenca is how much food you’ll buy at the local markets (mercados) vs the supermarkets such as Supermaxi. The more you can shift your purchases towards the mercados, the cheaper it will be.
Fruit and vegetables (mercados) – $85/month
Ecuador has cheap and plentiful fruit and vegetables. Our family of 4 finds it difficult to spend more than $20 on fruits and vegetables each week. And we mostly eat a plant-based diet. Check out this article for the types and costs of fruits and vegetables in Ecuador.
We are always sure to have a steady supply of starchy staples such as potatoes, green plantains (for bolones de verde) and choclos (corn). These form the basis of 3-4 meals each week.
We’ve included our coffee costs in the fruit and vegetable section as we generally buy these at the same time. We pay $4 per pound of quality roasted coffee beans. You can have them ground for the same price.
If you’re not aware, Ecuador has some very good quality coffee. But, coffee culture as we know it with fancy coffee roasters, cafes and hipster baristas are still in their infancy.
Groceries (Supermaxi) – $220/month
Supermaxi is the biggest and most renowned supermarket chain in Ecuador. They have 4 locations in Cuenca that are well scattered throughout.
The big advantages Supermaxi have over the mercados are quality control and variety. If you’re after some creature comfort foods from back home, your best bet is going to be Supermaxi. Note – these comfort foods will also increase your food bill. A lot.
We generally buy all of our cleaning, toiletries, dairy, bread and meat from Supermaxi. We’re making a conscious effort to ween ourselves away from Supermaxi by baking our own bread and making our own yoghurt etc, but the convenience of Supermaxi can be hard to break free from!
Supermaxi tip: Flash your cedula to a store assistant and ask where you can apply for a loyalty card. Most locations allow you to sign up on the spot and issue you with a loyalty card. This will open up more specials and shave a few dollars off your grocery bill.
You can certainly decrease your grocery bill by buying meat and dairy from the mercados, and many do. But we don’t really eat much of either, so it would probably cut down our bill to $180 or so.
Food Subtotal – $305/month
Ecuador has an in-built price incentive to purchase fresh, unprocessed food. This is opposite to many developed countries where the balance is skewed more towards processed food.
If you’re aware of this and able to take advantage by switching your diet and cooking towards fresh, unprocessed food, then Ecuador is perfect for you.
If your diet consists of processed food, high-quality meat, or you just need to eat certain brands, then your food bill is going to be considerably higher.
Your meat requirements are also worthwhile considering as Ecuador does not have a good reputation for producing high quality, cheap meat. You can find different meats, but there is no government assistance for farmers, so meat prices might be higher (and of lower quality) than you’re used to.
Vegan basics are covered with plentiful fruits, vegetables and grains. There’s some organic markets in Cuenca too and the prices are not much more than the regular markets. Supermaxi stocks some vegan-friendly food such as tofu, cheese and fake meats. But, if you need to take it up a notch and buy specialty items like nutritional yeast, then you’ll need to find a store like Nectar, bring it with you, or have it muled in.
Cuenca Health Insurance Costs
You have the option of private or public health insurance in Ecuador. But, many temporary residency visas require private health insurance. We also think you’re better off with private health insurance until you’ve properly explored the public health system.
The public health system is a lot cheaper, but the level of care is not as high as the private system.
Health Insurance (2 x adults) – $170/month
Our private health insurance with Salud allows us to visit our preferred hospital in-network. The main health insurance variables are yearly plan limits, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.
We haven’t done a lot of research into other health insurance providers, so it’s quite possible that we’ll change providers over the next 6 months.
It’s worth pointing out the cost of medical treatment is considerably lower than many expats are used to (especially if you’re US based). The cost to see a doctor or even a specialist in Cuenca is generally less than $50. So, some expats choose to self-insure for these smaller costs, but still have public IESS insurance to cover any major surgeries, etc.
Car Costs in Cuenca
The decision to buy a car in Cuenca is not one that should be taken lightly. It involves a commitment and they are expensive. But, getting an Ecuadorian driver’s licence is relatively easy once you know how.
Gasoline (small car) – $30/month
Gasoline in Cuenca, and Ecuador, is super cheap. But, gasoline prices in Ecuador are a hot topic as the strike in 2019 that resulted in nation-wide chaos was partly caused by the President removing a long-held subsidy on gas and diesel prices.
The President eventually backed down, but was able to slide in a decree in 2020 that removes the subsidy, but limits the effect of any price movement to 5%.
The current price for gasoline is approx $1.75 for regular gasoline (ie Ecopais) and is $1.00 for diesel.
We have a 1.8L manual hatchback car and generally go through 1.5 tanks per month. It costs us $20 each time we fill up.
Car maintanence – $100/month
Maintaining a car in Ecuador is relatively cheap given that labor costs are so cheap. But, if you need to rely on imported parts than it will cost you considerably more. For this reason, Ecuadorian’s tend to like commonly available cars like Chevrolets.
Whilst I consider the roads in Ecuador to be good compared to other Latin American countries, they are not as good you’ll find in many developed nations. Potholes, speed bumps and other unexpected surprises caused by the weather (ie landslides and fog) can make driving difficult and cause a fair bit of wear and tear on the car. And, given Cuenca is in the Andes, you’re bound to be going up and down mountains a lot which also puts pressure on the engine.
Given the expected wear and tear on cars here, you’ll need to find a good, honest mechanic in Cuenca.
We’ve included the following in our $100/month car maintenance costs:
- General repairs (ie suspension, brakes etc)
- Tire replacement
- Oil & other minor servicing
- Car washing twice per month ($5 each time).
Car Subtotal – $130/month
This is an easy cost to remove if you decide to live in the city of Cuenca as many expats get by without a car. Taxis, buses and trams are cheap and you’d be doing well to spend more than $30-40 per month.
If we didn’t have a car, then I’d expect us to spend around $150/month on transport. The majority of this would be on taxis as it costs us about $8 each way to get into Cuenca.
Child Related Costs in Cuenca
I’ve already mentioned that the cheaper cost of schools in Cuenca was one of the reasons we moved here from Quito. On top of that, general activities like horse-riding and other after-school activities are cheaper here.
School Fees (2 kids) – $500
You can choose the private or public school system in Ecuador. We’ve noticed a very substantial difference in the quality of teaching offered through each system, with private schools generally outperforming public schools in every metric except for cost.
School fees for our school of choice in Cuenca are $250/month. Transport costs extra, but we don’t need it as we drive or walk the kids to school.
There are also yearly costs such as uniforms, books and in what is a weird custom to me, you’ll also need to buy (and label with your child’s name) a whole host of other materials that they’ll use throughout the year. I’m talking about stuff like educational toys down to colored paper. Basically, anything your child will use throughout the year, you are expected to buy at the start of the year.
These one-off costs are why the government mandates workers receive an extra payment in August – to help pay for these educational costs.
School fees vary a lot. You can find schools in Cuenca that cost $800/month down the $100 or so. Homeschooling is another option that is popular amongst expats.
Horse Riding (2 kids) – $100
This covers tuition and riding twice per week for each child. I realize horse riding is very specific, but most after-school activities are in a similar range, costing $30-50 per month.
Other activities include football (of course), bike riding, dancing, swimming and hiking.
Child Costs Subtotal – $600/month (2 kids)
If you’re looking to put your kids through private school, you will be looking to pay a similar amount for education in Cuenca. You’ll pay considerably more in Quito or Guayaquil.
Obviously you can save yourself some money if you removed the after-school activities and decided to go to a cheaper school. But, I would suggest you check out the various schools you’re considering before making any decision because the teaching methods and environments can vary a lot.
Alright, time to spend some cash on the fun stuff!
Cafes & Restaurants – $150/month
We generally eat out 4 times per month for lunch and another 4-5 times for cafe style coffee and snacks. For 2 adults and 2 kids, lunch generally costs $20-$30 and the coffee/snacks around $10.
Michelle and I will also go for the occasional date night approx once per month where it’s just the two of us having dinner and drinks. This might cost $20 or $50 depending on how romantic we’re feeling lol.
Yoga (2 adults) – $60/month
There’s a decent selection of yoga studios in Cuenca, most of which offer drop-in classes for around $5. Better value are the monthly passes which we currently pay $30/month for. This gives us more than enough yoga every month.
Yoga not for you? No problem. Gyms and other activities also have monthly passes in a similar $30-$50/month bracket.
Clothes – $100/month
Whilst we generally wait until we holiday in another country to buy clothes, we still purchase some basics in Cuenca like shoes, jumpers etc. You are better off bringing clothes with you if possible – especially if you’re a larger ‘gringo’ size as your options here might be limited.
Streaming (Netflix & Spotify) – $15/month
Streaming costs are likely to be cheaper in Ecuador than in your home country. The combined cost of Netflix and Spotify for individual plans is $15.
I know numerous extended families in Ecuador that pay much less than this because they take advantage of the family plans which work out to be much cheaper.
With IPTV and a Firestick, you may find you have access to enough channels that you no longer need a Netflix subscription.
Discretionary Subtotal – $325/month
If strapped for cash, you can basically remove these discretionary costs.
An easy substitution if you like eating out, but prefer to be a little more frugal, is to stick to the lunch menu of the day or almuerzo. These are generally $3-$5 and consist of a soup, main, drink, and sometimes a dessert. The quality varies, but you should be able to find several staple restaurants in Cuenca that you’re happy with the price and quality.
You could also bring your yoga/gym costs down by working out at home. Michelle and I occasionally practice guided yoga with instructors on Youtube or Gaia. We value the community that comes from practicing in person at yoga studios, but we still enjoy practicing at home.
Total Costs – $2,552/month
Our total monthly costs come in at around $2.5K for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids). This total includes many items that I would consider luxuries that we could certainly go without if we wanted to save a little more.
I believe we could get our monthly costs down to $1,500 if we needed to. But, this would require a lifestyle change and moving to a cheaper house.
Lastly, to get money into Ecuador, we generally use a low-fee online service, as traditional bank transfers normally cost more and are more effort.
Do you live in Cuenca and happy to share your monthly costs? Feel free to let us know if the comments below. Or, perhaps you’re still deciding about Cuenca and are busily comparing prices between here and your home country. If this is you, let us know if the cost of living in Cuenca is high, low, or similar to what you’re paying now.