Written by Sara Chaca, Attorney – Abogada
January 1st, 2022
What is the Monthly Cost of Living in Cuenca?
Some sources may say that you can live in Cuenca for around $800 a month. While that is possible, most expats in my experience wouldn’t find this comfortable or practical. A more reasonable amount for a single expat is actually around $1,000 to $1,500 a month (or more). You can check out Numbeo for some more information about average prices that you’d pay in Cuenca. The site also has comparisons between various other cities.
A moderately sized and furnished apartment for either a single person or a couple will typically cost between $400 and $600 a month these days. Rent will be on the lower end (sometimes substantially so) outside of the city. Unfurnished apartments will generally be cheaper, but if you’re moving from another country, you’ll have to consider the cost of either buying new furniture or shipping your own, which can be a bit pricey.
Food costs can vary greatly depending on whether you plan to mostly prepare food at home or if you’ll be eating out at restaurants. If you’re planning to cook at home, there are a couple of different options for shopping. The grocery chains tend to be more expensive than the local markets. Food costs are usually around $200-400 a month for a single person or a couple (naturally the higher end of that range being for a couple) and if you prefer to eat at restaurants more often, your costs can also be a bit more than that.
Entertainment is another factor in monthly expenses. If you’ll be doing any regular traveling, you should take that into consideration. Alcohol, movies, museums, and other things all can add up as well. Entertainment is less expensive than in other countries, but you’ll still have to take it into account in your budgeting. Keep in mind that there are plenty of free events and parks to visit, so you can still have a great time without spending too much.
What are Local Attitudes Toward Expats?
There’s no simple answer when it comes to this kind of question. However, locals are generally both welcoming and accepting, or they don’t really care one way or the other. Many people think that it’s beneficial for the local Cuencanos to have people from other countries living in their city, since it encourages them to be open-minded and provides incentives for business owners and others to learn English so that they can communicate more effectively with their international neighbors in Cuenca.
Cuencanos may at times speak negatively about expats when they don’t put in the time and effort to learn Spanish or engage with the Ecuadorian culture. Expats who are more interested in recreating their lives from their home countries than adapting to life in Ecuador aren’t looked upon fondly by the locals. It’s important to remember that wherever you are, if you’re open to the culture and accepting of the people around you, they’ll be much more accepting and likely to do the same for you too.
It’s true that foreigners are sometimes seen as rich, easy targets. There is often an assumption that expats have a lot of money and carry valuables, as is the case in many countries. But Ecuador in general is quite safe and welcoming to expats.
If you want to find out more about this subject, take a look at this thesis by Scripps College student Denise M. Bustamante titled “Amenities Migration: A Case Study on the Retired Expatriate Community in Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador”
Why is Cuenca Appealing to Expats in Ecuador?
There are plenty of reasons why Cuenca is appealing to expats who are relocating to Ecuador. One is that the city is very pedestrian-friendly. Downtown Cuenca is easy to walk, and there are also taxis and buses available for very low prices. Here are some insider tips for riding the bus in Cuenca. It can be a simple and economical way to get around the city.
Cuenca’s aesthetics are also quite appealing. With a mix of modern and colonial architecture, parks and plazas, open air markets, and a river that borders the downtown area, as well the beautiful Cathedral of Immaculate Conception that has all the elegance of any European cathedral, you’ll find plenty to enjoy.
The affordable cost of food also draws people to Cuenca. The almuerzos (lunches), usually consisting of a soup, an entrée, fresh juice and a pastry, and start at around only $2. Here’s a guide to 16 Good & Inexpensive Restaurants in Cuenca.
Dinner is a little more expensive, but that rarely exceeds ten dollars per person, even at the nicer Cuenca restaurants. If you prefer to cook for yourself, you’ll be happy to find that produce is very affordable in Cuenca. You can buy a truly massive amount of spinach for just a dollar. Bunches of most vegetables at the mercados are usually around 25 cents each.
There is a vibrant arts culture in Cuenca. You can visit a variety of museums, handicraft markets, restaurants, and more. Almost every weekend, you’ll be able to find a music festival or a cultural event to attend. Entry fees are often free or just a couple of dollars per person. The local symphony is a popular event, and it puts on free performances in many beautiful locations around the city.
Can Someone Live In Cuenca Without Speaking Fluent Spanish?
Everything will definitely be easier if you do speak Spanish. However, Cuenca has one of the largest groups of English speaking Ecuadorians in all of Ecuador. This is in part because of the expat population and its influence on Cuencanos. Restaurant workers, hotel workers, public service officials, and most business owners usually speak at least some basic English.
It’s easy for expats to learn Spanish in Cuenca. There are several schools around the city, and you can also hire a private tutor inexpensively (i.e. usually at $5-8 per hour) if you’d prefer individualized help. There’s enough familiarity with English that it shouldn’t be a factor when considering whether Cuenca is a good place for you to settle.
What Is It Like to be a Single Woman Living In Cuenca?
As overall, Cuenca is a relatively safe place, life for a single woman in the city doesn’t differ much from life in a city of comparable size in the United States. There are support groups available for older single women who have moved to the city as well.
What Kinds of Day Trips are Available in the Area?
One appealing thing about Cuenca is that there are plenty of day or weekend trips that are both easy and affordable. Cuenca is surrounded by villages that often specialize in a certain local food or craft. Gualaceo is about an hour away by bus, and the town has a thriving local market that offers cuy and roast pig. Vilcabamba is a beautiful mountain town where visitors can hike, go horseback riding, or simply relax in a beautiful hostel or guesthouse. Chordeleg’s main attraction is silver working, and they really produce some beautiful jewelry there. Ecuador is a fairly small country, so it’s easy to explore much of it with short trips from Cuenca.
One great day trip if you enjoy the outdoors is hiking at the lakes in the Cajas, part of the southern Andes. The local trout farms will provide an excellent dinner for eating on site or taking home for supper.
What Kinds of Restaurants are in Cuenca? Do They Have Much Foreign Food??
Cuenca ranks only second to Quito, Ecuador’s capitol, when it comes to international food options. You can find Italian restaurants serving both pizza and other specialties. There are also Chinese and American restaurants, as well as vegetarian, sushi, and more. You’ll be able to find plenty of “exotic” ingredients in the larger grocery store chains. Of course, there are hundreds of Ecuadorian restaurants in Cuenca, of all price ranges.
What Healthcare is Available for Expats, and How Much Does it Cost?
Ecuador has two main categories of healthcare: public and private. Public healthcare is covered by “IESS”, that being Ecuador’s Social Security Administration. Any Resident of Ecuador can register with IESS. All they need is their Ecuadorian Cédula ID Card. The cost of coverage varies based on your household size and whether you’re employed. If you’re working for an Ecuadorian business/company, then your employer in Ecuador covers part of the cost. Most expats are able to take advantage of the public healthcare system and generally they report overall satisfaction with their IESS coverage.
Private insurance is also available in Cuenca. The level of coverage depends on what you pay in monthly premiums, which typically range from around $50 a month up to a few hundred per month (i.e. that being a function of age, health condition and amount of deductible chosen).
What is the Quality of Health Care in Cuenca?
Cuenca is a large and modern city, so medical care here is similar to that of many other developed countries. Ecuador has recently been named the second most retirement-friendly country in the world (and in multiple of the past 10+ years has been ranked as number one), due in part to the quality and affordability of health care in the country. Medical procedures usually cost 10-20% of what they would in the US and in Europe, according to Ecuador’s Investment Corporation. Excepting certain serious preexisting conditions, expats can be assured of quality medical care in Cuenca.
Is it Hard to Buy Property in Ecuador as an American?
Many expats choose to rent rather than buy property (at least at first), in part to avoid complicated paperwork, and also to maintain their flexibility in living arrangements. Those who do purchase property often do so to meet the requirements for an Investor Visa, which currently as of this article’s publishing date requires investing at least around $40,000 in any real estate property, that being in comparison to investing the same amount of cash (i.e. again approximately $40,000) in an Ecuadorian Bank CD for purposes of obtaining an Investor Visa. Even if you speak decent Spanish, you’ll want to hire an English speaking Ecuadorian attorney to handle any Ecuador Real Estate Closing for you.
How Can Expats In Cuenca Meet Up and Get Acquainted?
Expats often end up connecting during the course of everyday life, whether say, on the bus or at the market in Cuenca. You’ll hear an American accent and talk with the person for a few minutes, and then end up getting dinner together with them and/or some of their expat friends. There are certain events and locations that are popular with expats in Cuenca. Symphony performances and sports events are always big draws. The restaurants, Don Colon and Fabianos are popular expat spots, and you’ll always hear English spoken there as well. Spanish classes are also a great way to meet other newcomers to Cuenca, and you’ll get to connect with people and immerse yourself in the local culture at the same time.
What Are Some Daily Activities That Expats Enjoy in Cuenca?
Daily life is largely the same in Ecuador as it is back home in the US or Europe. People have a coffee, walk the dog, work out at the gym, or meet friends for brunch. You can go shopping, read a book, make a nice dinner, go out to see a show or stay in and watch a movie. It’s entirely up to you each day as per which way your day will be spent!
What Kind of Work is there for Expats in Cuenca?
Most expats living in Cuenca are retirees. Some do work part time or do freelance work (i.e. online) to supplement their income. Mostly younger expats work full-time and they’re most often doing so in Cuenca as entrepreneurs in running their own businesses. There are also some expats teaching English at local schools or privately. It’s not difficult to find work as an expat in Cuenca, though many people choose not to work, naturally that decision being on a case-by-case basis.
What’s the General Life Satisfaction for Expats Living in Cuenca?
That’s another difficult question because everyone is a unique individual, each with their own reasons for moving (or having moved) to Cuenca. The most satisfied expats tend to be those who have connected with their new community by learning to speak some Spanish and participating in public life, even if that just means shopping in the local market and chatting with the vendors.
People who move to Cuenca (or anywhere in Ecuador) for purely financial reasons, or simply in trying to escape a difficult situation in their home country, are less likely to enjoy themselves. There are several reasons that expats may leave Ecuador: here’s a list of some of them.
Many expats change their living situation after being in Cuenca for a while. Sometimes they’ll simply move to a different area of the city, or rather want to move from a smaller apartment to a bigger house, or vice versa. Health and general preferences are factors in this. Cuenca is a big city with all the challenges and benefits that any sprawling community brings. Some people prefer to live a little outside of Cuenca, in places like Paute or Yunguilla, in the case that they prefer quieter country living and warmer temperatures. As always, the choice is an individual one for each and every expat who decides to make the Cuenca area (or Ecuador in general) their new home away from home.
Sara Chaca (Attorney – Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is email@example.com and her law office’s fully informative website is www.ecuadorvisas.com for you to visit at any time of day or night – plus, her personal Ecuadorian cell phone number is 099-296-2065 and her Toll Free “800” phone number for US & Canadian callers is 1-(800)-655-1581. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically in closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE. VIEW ATTORNEY SARA CHACA’S SELF-PUBLISHED “KINDLE” BOOK ON MOVING TO ECUADOR, THAT’S AVAILABLE FOR YOUR PERUSAL ON AMAZON.COM HERE.