The following is a guest post from Mr. Everyday Dollar.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Ecuador has shot to the top of many lists touting the best countries to retire to. The country popped out on top in International Living's yearly poll, and ABC News recently did a segment that profiled Americans finding paradise there. So what are the reasons an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Americans have flocked to this tiny country tucked in the northwest of South America? One reason is certain: an incredible value for their everyday dollars.
Let's dive deeper into Ecuador and figure out if it's really better than other similar countries by taking a look at its true cost of living and going over a few questions we should ask ourselves before buying a one-way plane ticket, packing up our homes, and heading south of the border.
(1) Why Ecuador?
Thailand. Mexico. Italy. Panama. There's a lot of options available for people who are looking for a safe, somewhat developed, and cheap country to live in. So, what makes Ecuador top dog?
- Ecuador is just a 5-hour flight from Atlanta, which makes getting to and from to the U.S. relatively fast and inexpensive.
- Ecuador boasts people that are known for being friendly and family focused. Many Americans report being welcomed with open arms into their communities, which makes living there easier and happier.
- Ecuador has culturally vibrant cities like Cuenca and Quito which offer a bustling food scene with world-class chefs, great museums, and fine symphony orchestras.
- Ecuador enjoys pleasant weather year-round, which is why most residents have no heating or air conditioning.
- Ecuador boasts rainforests, beaches and the Andes mountains to explore; all of which are tucked into a country the size of Wyoming. Plus, there's the amazingly biodiverse Galapagos Islands.
- Ecuador is known for its top notch medical facilities and doctors.
- Ecuador has adopted the U.S. dollar as its currency, meaning there's no complicated math to perform in your head to figure out how much anything will cost in dollars.
(2) Monthly Living Costs
Just like some people in the U.S. live on $5,000/month while others are able to live on a fraction of that, the same can be said of living in Ecuador. It will cost as much or as little as you want, depending on your lifestyle and the level of comfort you want.
With that in mind, let's cover the monthly costs for two people living what I consider to be a comfortable lifestyle. With its old world feel, low crime, and many public parks, we'll base ourselves in the city of Cuenca along with its other 500,000 residents and fast growing expat community.
Food in Ecuador is very cheap compared to the U.S. You can eat dinner out for $2.50 and wash it down with a beer for $1.00. A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay 50% less on groceries and restaurants living here. Monthly cost: $200
Out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits, procedures, and drugs are a fraction of what you would pay in the U.S. The International Living poll concluded that health care in Ecuador costs 10 to 25% less than what it does in the States. This means a visit to the doctor will cost, on average, between $25-$45 if and when you need to go. Monthly cost: $0
Housing & Utilities
A newer house containing 2,000 square feet, four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms in a safe area about five minutes from the city center will cost around $350 a month. An apartment with 1,800 square feet, three bedrooms and three bathrooms in a hip neighborhood close to the river will run around $400. Don't forget to figure in an additional $35 a month for internet service, $20 a month for electricity, $10 a month for water, and $10 a month for the propane hot water unit. Monthly cost: $475
A one-way ride on the bus is a quarter (yes, as in 25 cents) while a month-long bus pass will cost $15. The bus pass only makes sense if you ride it more than 60 times per month. We'll opt for two of those. Monthly cost: $30
A cell phone with a prepaid SIM card will cost around $12 a month, and we'll take two. We'll throw in an extra $200 for entertainment, clothes, and other expenses that will inevitably pop up. Monthly cost: $224
Total Monthly Cost (for two): $929
(3) The Questions You Need to Ask Yourself
First, understand that little to no English is spoken in some areas. If you don't know Spanish, are you willing to learn the language? Granted you certainly can get by with English and knowing a few common Spanish words or phrases, but knowing the primary language will help immensely with quality of life: forming new friendships, making daily interactions with Ecuadorians more pleasant, and gaining a deeper understanding of the culture. Basically, it will help make you feel like you're not an outsider.
Second, things do not happen as quickly or efficiently in Ecuador as they do in the U.S. Are you willing to be patient and spend countless hours on the phone getting internet service installed? Or swallow the cost of an item you purchased that broke, because there's no return policy? These are things to think about.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, things you take for granted now will be a distant memory if you decide to pick up and move to Ecuador: your favorite type of peanut butter won't be available, you won't get to wash your clothes in hot water because they don't hook washing machines up like that, and the sidewalks and streets have a few too many unfixed potholes in them. Of course, and perhaps the most important, your family and close friends will be far away.
Moving to Ecuador can certainly be a dream come true for many of us wanting to stretch our everyday dollars. However, be sure to both do your own homework and visit the country before moving there. You may decide it's not a good fit for you and that's good to know upfront as opposed to later when you've already made that cross-continental move. But as many already have, you may very well fall in love with the country and the people and decide to move there. To many, you'd be hard pressed to find a better place.