By Andrew Sweeny
What is the Cost of Living in Ecuador?
This is a question which gets asked many times and you will find a wide variety of responses published on many blogs, websites, and in Facebook groups. There is a veritable mountain of writing on this subject so why tackle it again? I am going to look at it from a slightly different perspective, pose some questions to consider, and look at some baseline information on the costs of living here. All figures I discuss are in USD.
The cost of living here depends on many variables, like any other place in this world. Where do I want to live…large city, small rural area, remote or urban, ocean, lake, or river front. Land costs vary in these areas which in turn affects housing prices, rent, and the cost of goods like groceries and durable goods, which may need to be transported significant distances to be made available.
How do I want to live?
This has as many different answers as there are people to answer it. Do I want to live simply and frugally, foregoing luxuries to pursue a more down to earth approach to life? Do I expect to live large being able to do things and afford things like travel and experiences that I could not in my home country? Do I already enjoy an expensive lifestyle but am moving to change my life experiences so I can afford pretty much whatever I like? It also depends on the point of reference in your home country. If you're coming from New York or Toronto, for example, a $300,000 beach home seems quite inexpensive compared to $1 to $2 million for a basic family home in the suburbs. However, if you come from rural Nova Scotia or Wichita Kansas then that same beach house is double the cost or more than a family home in those areas.. and there are a hundred shades of gray in between each of these extremes.
Why does this specific question get asked so much? Is there a different underlying question? I believe there is a different question and that is…can I live within my budget and how comfortably. That is a very different query from, “what is the cost of living in Ecuador?”
So if the real question is about living comfortably within a given budget and we don't know the person's budget, how do we answer this question? If we pick a generic “middle of the road” I think we leave people guessing about the highs and lows. The answer will vary quite extremely based on geography. If we pick either an extremely low cost or extremely high cost we risk alienating the rest of the range. So let us take the approach of providing ranges. Some things will not vary as much based on location while others will change dramatically. I will use a beach front or near the beach house as examples since this is one of the main attractions to living in a more tropical, less expensive country.
Let's start by looking at housing costs. If you are planning on renting on the coast you can find accommodations from $250 a month to $1500 a month. This wide range will be based on a few key factors with the overall finishes of a unit being the starting point. Many low cost rentals do not have hot water systems and will use electric shower heads and may not even have ovens. Finishes in the lower end could be concrete, wood, or bamboo with a “rustic” feel. As you move higher up the range of rental prices, you get hot water plumbing, nice ceramic and granite counters, etc. Price will not always be driven by location. You could find a $400 a month rustic rental with an oceanfront view, or a $700 a month rental, nicely finished, with hot water that has just a peak of ocean view. The lower cost rentals are unlikely to have amenities like a pool, tropical gardens, air conditioning, etc. While the higher end units will be well appointed possibly with pools, landscaped grounds, and common use areas such as BBQ pits.
When purchasing a house you will find similar influences with the exception that ocean view and oceanfront will drive up the value of even rustic houses. An oceanfront rustic house in a popular town or city needing renovations can cost $80,000 to $100,000. In a similar location, a well appointed house could cost $200,000 to $300,000. That number can be as much as 50% less if you move into the more remote coastal areas further from services and large city centers. Like any market there are overpriced and underpriced units and you can expect to pay more for amenities like pools, outdoor BBQs, and jacuzzis.
Healthcare is another cost which is a major concern for people planning on a move. There are a few options available once you have your residency: one is to join the IESS government socialized healthcare system, the second is private healthcare which you can buy in tiers of coverage. IESS can run somewhere between $50 to $90 per person, per month on average. Private healthcare varies depending on a few factors like extent of coverage, age, pre-existing conditions, etc. A policy only covering major medical issues with a higher deductible could be around $60 per person, per month, with general costs like doctors visits, x-rays, bloodwork, and medications payable out-of-pocket. These costs, if needed, will be inexpensive around $15 to $20 for an x-ray as an example.The other end of the spectrum is full coverage private insurance and depending on your age and other factors it could be from $130 to $200 per person per month. With the full coverage you might still have a small co-pay on things like doctors visits, but most costs will be covered or reimbursed through the insurance company. The key is getting a good insurance agent who can help you navigate the system and assist with submitting reimbursement claims.
Transportation is another hot topic with people relocating to Ecuador. Vehicles here are more expensive than in North America in general and oftentimes used cars will sell for higher prices. You can hire local taxis/drivers which are reasonably priced and make life much simpler. Alternatively there is a great bus system, using large coaches with reclining seats, AC, and movies in some. We chose to not have a car and instead hire a driver or use the bus system and it has worked out well. We buy most of what we need locally with a walk or bike ride to local stores and then go into the city once or twice a month. A car will cost you $400 to $700 a month on average accounting for all costs (acquisition cost, maintenance, insurance, etc.) including depreciation. Buses are $.75 to $3 for local trips lasting 20 min to one hour. Taxis are $50 for a half day into the city, one hour each way. We spend on average approximately $150 a month hiring drivers and avoiding the hassles of car ownership, with the advantage of hiring exactly what we need for each trip: car, truck, or van. This decision is a very personal one but can have a large impact on costs.
Your food budget here will be greatly reduced as fresh produce and standard items are much cheaper than most of us are used to. A few examples from the area where we live: eggs are $3.75 for a flat of 30, red/yellow peppers are $.25 to $.75 each depending on size, and you can get four to five bananas for $.25. Bakeries abound even in small villages and fresh bread can be had daily. One dollar will get you a bag of eight to 10 buns or various baked goodies. Fresh fish/seafood is plentiful on the coast. Sea bass will cost you $4/lb, red snapper $3/lb, shrimp $3.35/lb. Wine can be purchased for $5 to $25 a bottle, so your taste/preferences will determine what you spend. We have found many $5 to $8 bottles of quite nice wine. A bottle of beer is around $1 depending on the brand, with some more expensive brands almost double that price. We have definitely seen a large reduction in our food costs since moving here. Some weeks our only shopping is $20 to $30 worth of produce from a local veggie stand and fish from the “fish guy,” who comes to our door with his cart a few times a week.
Utilities are very affordable and a household of two people with the usual appliances and AC used a few months a year on the coast will see utility bills something like this: Electricity $35 to $60, Gas (propane for stove /dryer, BBQ) $2.50, water $25, Internet $35, Cell phone $19 (this includes a good plan with lots of data).
We have covered quite a few factors with many variables so how do we summarize it? The goal here was to give you some perspective and ranges to think about your individual choices and estimate a cost of living for you. There is a lot of heated debate about the cost of living in Ecuador. Some rave about how cheaply one can live for under $800 a month while others will say you need an average of $1500 to live comfortably. There is no right or wrong answer, as all numbers and “standard” costs proclaimed are valid. However you need to think about what kind of life you want to live and look at the ranges I have outlined for some guidance. Your cost of living will be determined by your lifestyle choices and that is very individual.
I don't think there is any debate that one can live much less expensively in Ecuador than in other countries with similar socioeconomic statuses, no matter what your preferred lifestyle is. I will conclude with a suggestion, there is no substitute for experience. If you are serious about living or moving to Ecuador you owe it to yourself to spend a few weeks here to see for yourself. In a week or two you will learn more than you would in one or two years of internet research. I hope you take the next step and come explore and experience what life in Ecuador could be like. You might be surprised at how good a fit it could be.