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The Cost of Living in Ecuador for Expats

The cost of living in Ecuador is quite low for expats and the country continually shows up as one of the cheapest places to retire in the world. As Ecuador resident and author Susan Schenck says, “I knew I could not live in the USA on my pension–not if I wanted to have a roof, or food, or a car!”

Quito Ecuador cheap capital city

You don’t have to be old to take advantage of the great prices though. And you don’t have to live in Cuenca to get the cost benefits. It’s just that if you’re retirement age, you get lots of extra perks and benefits that lower your costs even more.

I have been to Quito four times now. Every time I visit I’m amazed by how cheap some things are, partly because the prices have barely budged since I first started taking notes in 2009. Even in the capital, the average local salary is well under $1,000 per month, so if you have an income of twice that much when moving to Ecuador, you’re one of the wealthy ones.

John Potts moved to Quito from London and now runs the Happy Gringo tour company. “I spend approximately $1,000 per month to live comfortably. This does not include rent as I bought an apartment, but it includes all other living costs: food, transport, bills, and eating out at decent restaurants once or twice each week. In the UK I guess I was spending more like $3,500 per month many years ago, including rent. I would say that my standard of living is considerably higher in Quito though.”

Ecuador is the cheapest place to live in South America and a great deal for cheap retirement

They use the U.S. dollar in Ecuador, so there are no mental calculations to do and no currency fluctuations. When the government made that rash decision at the beginning of the 00s, it was done to tame inflation. Mission accomplished on that front.

Sure, some things go up. As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol is the main item where prices are way out of whack. But that’s from massive sin taxes, not inflation. Fuel prices have ticked up eventually since subsidies get rolled back a few years ago. Still, gas is only around $2 a gallon and you can get a taxi ride for $2.50-$8 apart from the long trip to the airport in Quito, so the impact has been minimal.

Apart from the cost of living in Ecuador, you can also move here without jumping through too many hoops. There are a variety of residency visas on offer to foreigners and applying is relatively straightforward. You can get residency as an investor (in real estate), business (owning your own business), retiree (if you have a certain level of monthly income from abroad), student, work visa, or professional visa with proof of higher education.

The bar here for a retiree, digital nomad, or remote worker is far less than with most countries. You just have to prove an income of around $1,350 per month (that’s less than 1/3 of what is required in Mexico these days) or bank savings exceeding 36 times the minimum wage over the past year, which comes out to less than $20K.

The Cost of Living in Quito

Last time I was in Quito, I arrived around lunchtime and was starving, so I popped into the first meal of the day place I came across. I got a bowl of soup with rice, veggies, and beef. Next was a big plate with chicken, rice, potatoes, and a salad. A glass of juice and a banana came with it. The bill was less than three bucks.

Later I stopped in a place that had a microbrew on draft—a real novelty in most of Latin America still—and met a couple from Florida who owned an apartment nearby. They don’t live here all year, but they come down regularly. “We bought it on a lark really. It was around $30,000, so we figured there wasn’t much downside to that deal. We put about $20K into it over four years getting it ready. Now it’s quite nice.” They’re walking distance to where I was, which was about two blocks from the Plaza Grande.

Ecuador prices

Quito is a city where you still see apartments (or even whole houses) for sale for less than $50K and decent places to rent for $350 to $700 per month.

Oddly enough, Cuenca costs more than the capital these days for the non-exclusive places because the average income is higher—not just because of the 5-10K gringos, but because a lot of wealthy Ecuadorans have moved back from abroad and settled there for a more mellow life.

So don’t avoid Quito because of the assumption that the biggest city is going to be a lot more expensive. If you live there you can fly direct to many spots on the globe as well—a big advantage. If you’re a retiree, you even get discounts on flights!

There are more international white-collar workers in Quito though, so you can pay a fortune if you want. “To give you an idea of typical rents in Quito it ranges from $500 up to $2,000 a month,” says John, “from a regular place up to luxury living, in a nice part of town. My apartment I bought 8 years back for $140k, for 140 sq meters (more than 1,500 square feet) with a terrace and an incredible view in a luxury part of the city.”

Cost of Living in Cuenca as an Expatriate

My friends Jim and May who run the Spanish and Go podcast and YouTube channel are doing a housesitting gig and sent me some updated Cuenca prices in early 2024. If you want to hear some of their impressions of the city in Spanish, check out this episode: Things We Like About Cuenca

He says the city rail Tranvia trips cost $0.35 each with a metro card. The tram’s twenty stops include direct routes to and from the airport or bus station. “A taxi from Supermaxi to our place (about a 3-5 minute ride) costs $2. For cross-town trips, a taxi fare ranges from $3.75-$4.” 

He has been happy with the food prices, especially since they found Good Affinity, a vegetarian restaurant, where the menu of the day is $3.75 per person. “This includes soup, a main dish, and a beverage. A slightly upscale vegetarian spot offers their menu of the day for $5 each, comprising soup, salad, a main dish, dessert, and a beverage. For a more luxurious dining experience (think rooftop restaurant), expect to pay between $15-20 per person. This includes an appetizer, main dish, and beverage.” 

He says pizza is not much of a bargain but coffee prices are around $1.50-$1.75 a cup (Americano or espresso), with a slight increase to $1.75 in downtown areas.

Tina and Keith Paul of Retire Early and Travel stopped working a decade earlier than they had originally thought they could after seeing how cheaply they could live in Cuenca. They have since moved back to the USA after being there for years, but here’s what they had to say about living costs. 

We find great value in food, housing, and utilities. (We pay less than $100 per month for internet, electric, gas, and water together, another $20 a month for a cell phone plan.) What’s not a value is most things imported. So if they don’t make it in Ecuador, your most likely going to pay more. Take wine; for example; you pay about twice the price for a bottle that you would buy in the U.S. Another example would be electronics. You not only pay more, but you get two-year-old technology.

We chose Cuenca because it has spring weather year round.  It was an easy country to bring our dogs along with us.  The people of Cuenca are friendly, and there is a good size expat community here.  It is a city of over 600,000 people, and there are lots of things to do. 

Tina and Keith Paul living in Cuenca Ecuador

Susan Schenck also lives in Cuenca and as a food writer, is especially thrilled with what she gets when she goes grocery shopping. “I can get 100% organic produce, grass-fed beef, truly free-range chicken, with bright orange egg yolks…for $200-300 a month total!”

Most of the people she knows spend between $300 and $600 a month on apartment rent. The latter will get you a sizeable place in the historic center, she says. Tina says you can pay $1,000 or more for the most desirable apartments, but that is the very high end for multiple bedrooms, a whole house or in a building with a pool and doorman.

cost of living in Ecuador

The above screenshot is for apartments listed in English, of course. If you go to the Spanish listings or just start poking around in person after relocating to Ecuador, you can find better deals than those, whether renting or buying. “We’ve seen rent prices range from $350 per month for a furnished 2BR/2bath to $700 for a furnished 3BR/3bath. Of course, there are places available for much more, but the general consensus seems to be that more than $600 or $700 a month is at the high end here.”

You can buy your way into residency too. By spending less than $50K on a house or condo, you get on the fast track to residency. Just be advised you will probably want to use it. After you have permanent residency here, you’re supposed to spend all but 90 days of the year in Ecuador. 

Susan agrees on the electronics: poor quality and most stores won’t accept returns. “Someone who works in quality inspection told me that of 74 levels, the lowest (74) goes to Ecuador! Stock up when you visit the US.”

Health Care Costs in Ecuador

One major reason retirees find the cost of living in Ecuador so attractive is the drastic reduction in the cost of staying healthy. Compared to the broken, for-profit U.S. mess, Ecuador’s health care system is a dream.

“Health care is very inexpensive compared to the U.S.,” says Tina Paul. “Probably about a quarter of the cost.”

Some people live without health insurance and just pay out of pocket. A typical doctor visit is $25, and that would include any follow-up visits. Prescription drugs are way less expensive here. The insulin our dog is on is over ten times higher in the US for the exact same insulin. A friend of ours uses a drug where the co-pays are $850 a year in the USA. He bought a year’s worth here in Cuenca of the meds for $78 cash. 

Lynne Klippel once paid $2,500 for two days in the hospital with surgery after breaking her leg hiking. Otherwise though, her medical costs have been minimal.

Dental check ups/cleanings are $30 dollars, office visits for physicians are $30- 45. My physical therapy appointments after surgery were $20 each. When I turn 60, I will purchase health insurance from the government plan at $70 a month.

Jim and May got a slew of preventative medical work done in Cuenca and sent me what they had paid. They each got a dental cleaning for $20 each. They didn’t need fillings, but those are priced between $15 and $25, a composite bond would be $140 to $180, and May had a chipped tooth fixed for $45.

A comprehensive blood analysis was priced at $195 ($390 total for my test and May’s test). We had them do 15 different tests that covered all essential yearly checks. It includes evaluations for general health, cardiovascular risk, blood sugar levels, liver and kidney function, thyroid health, and markers for inflammation and genetic risks.

John pays $3,000 per year to Cigna for international healthcare, saying “This is important for me because I travel a lot. Last year I broke my wrist and had an operation with 2 nights in a private hospital room all for $7k. This was with one of the best surgeons in the country, in a top hospital, and was covered on my insurance. Otherwise, local health care is very cheap in Quito: doctor appointments costs $40-50 with a US-trained doctor, and medicines rarely set me back more than $20.” 

Where Else Do Expats Live in Ecuador?

nature in Ecuador

While Cuenca and Quito get the bulk of the expats in Ecuador and are the easiest places to get by without being fluent in Spanish, there are plenty of other options if you get to a functional level of communicating. To change climates, you only need to change your altitude.

If you want the rural life when relocating to Ecuador, prices can be especially cheap. You can move to the countryside and really get a lot of real estate bang for your buck. Lynne was working herself to death in St. Louis, then found out her day job was going to be eliminated.

I cashed out my 401K to purchase land and build a home high in the mountains about an hour away from Cuenca. My ghostwriting and publishing support me well here. I’ve been able to pay off all my debt and love being debt-free for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got a great life here—beautiful home, kind neighbors, access to a wonderful community of other expats and Ecuadorians, and the ability to work from home with clients in the US, Canada, and Europe. I love to travel and am able to afford trips to the US and other locations each year.

No rent since I own my house outright. I pay $120 per month for a handyman/gardener who comes one day each week, My property taxes are $12 annually.

Author Susan Schenck lives in Cuenca, Ecuador for cheap.Living expenses can be even lower than the big city prices though without going rural all the way. You could settle in Riobamba, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, or some chilled-out town in the Andes you find and decide to unpack for a while. Ecuador is one of the best countries for expats on a budget, so you’ll find plenty of them around if you want to mix with people from your home country.

There are plenty of beaches you could kick back on for not a lot of money, though understand they’re generally not all-year destinations. Despite Ecuador being named for the Equator, Pacific tides coming up from Antarctica mean the water is not warm every month.

There are a lot more details on the cost of living in Ecuador in my book, A Better Life for Half the Price. Get on the list for updates here. The magazine International Living has info on Ecuador regularly and ranks it as one of the best values in the world. You also might want to pick up Susan’s book of local tips: Expats in Cuenca, The Magic & The Madness.

Everyone I talked to for this moving to Ecuador post and in my book interviews earlier gave one key piece of advice: learn to adapt. The country isn’t going to change to please you. As Lynne said, “An open mind is essential and the willingness to adjust is essential. People who are rigid or compare everything to the way it was ‘back home’ may not adjust well to living in Ecuador.

2024 Update – As of 2023, the minimum income level to apply for residency went up, so ignore any old reports you see about it being a lowly $450 or $600. It is 3X the $450 minimum wage, so $1,350, plus another $250 for each dependent. This will go up again any time the minimum wage does.

The calculation on an investor visa went up as well, but with a minimum of just $42K for that, many expats can easily get residency just by buying real estate for cash with retirement fund proceeds or the sale of even a very modest house in their home country.

Do you live in this South American country yourself? If you have anything to share on the cost of living in Ecuador, please leave a comment! 

This post on the cost of living in Ecuador was updated in February of 2024. 


Monday 29th of April 2024

Can you obtain a year long visa? Also, what about the current political risk?

I've also read that International Living gives a less than honest look at the places they write about. I know of a couple who left Quena after 10 years due to the resentment demonstrated by the locals toward gringos.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 2nd of May 2024

Melodie, yes, this is one of the easiest countries to get residency in, with a variety of choices. Yes, International Living is quite a rah-rah mag and doesn't present many downsides as they're really a sales machine for seminars, tours, and real estate partnerships. I give a much more honest assessment in my book, A Better Life for Half the Price. The only people I hear about resentment from are the ones that refuse to learn the local language. Do that and you probably won't face any issues, but the best way to find out is to do a trial run.


Saturday 24th of February 2024

This really was an important read as a traveler. Thanks for sharing mate


Thursday 15th of February 2024

I appreciate this essay. excellent and extremely important information. Thank you for all of the hard work and effort that went into putting this together. I really appreciate it.


Saturday 27th of May 2023

I wonder if I could live on my retirement of $2,380 a month? It sounds marvelous!

Tim Leffel

Tuesday 6th of June 2023

Plenty of people do in Ecuador. More than half I would imagine, in Cuenca at least. It's not hard at all at that level.

Larry L Cockrum

Saturday 17th of October 2020

I am going to go to live abroad and this is the first place I am going to check out. I find your article very interesting. I would love to be able to find some expats to talk with. Right now I am trying to decide how long to take to check it out.