If an affordable cost of living is your priority in choosing where to retire, take a look at Cuenca, Ecuador. This city is one of the world’s best places to retire overseas on a budget.
Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city in an interesting and diverse country. The health care is high quality, honest, and inexpensive. The climate is spring-like and pleasant 12 months of the year. And Cuenca’s large and growing expat community is one of Latin America’s most diverse and well-blended.
There are other colonial cities in Ecuador, but Cuenca is the cultural heart of the country. In this center of art and literature, you can attend the orchestra, a play, a tango show, or an art opening, and these activities are usually free.
Cuenca is also a popular destination for international tourists and language students, offering many super-affordable options to study Spanish. The tourists and students bring vitality to the city and help support Cuenca’s developed infrastructure for amenities and services.
However, perhaps the biggest draw to Cuenca is its cost of living, which is extremely low, especially considering the quality of life that you find here. The falling dollar has caused prices to go up sharply for overseas retirees whose retirement incomes are denominated in U.S. dollars, but who are living in places where goods are priced in the local currency. But this exchange-rate concern does not exist in Cuenca, because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar.
The $1 fixed-price lunch is still alive and well in Cuenca (although $2.50 is more common), and the city is awash with fresh tropical fruits and vegetables for pennies on the dollar. Fresh fish and shrimp arrive daily from the coast, and much of the local poultry is free-range. A bus trip through the city is a quarter, taxis start at about $1.50, and gas is only $1.48 per gallon.
You could rent a furnished apartment for as little as $400 per month, an unfurnished apartment from $300 per month, or buy a small condo outright for less than $40,000. Thanks to the comfortable year-round climate in Cuenca, you won’t have to worry about heat or air conditioning, which is another important reason why retirement in this city is as affordable as it is.
Cuenca is very walkable and boasts an excellent public transit system, as does all of Ecuador. You could live easily without a car, which shaves even more costs from your monthly budget.
All that said, Cuenca is not the most affordable place to live in Ecuador. In small towns like Cotacachi or Vilcabamba, you could retire on an even more modest budget of as little as $650 or $700 a month. But the cost of living isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing a retirement spot. You want to balance the cost of your retirement against the quality of retirement life you’ll be able to enjoy. Part of the reason the overall cost of living in places like Cotacachi is so low is because there’s simply not much to do, meaning there’s not much to spend money on. You could live quite frugally in Cotacachi, but also very simply.
Cuenca, on the other hand, is a fully developed city, where you could enjoy a rich and full life. To be able to enjoy all that the city has to offer, plan on a budget of $1,500 a month per couple if you’re renting and $1,100 per month if you own your home. You could certainly live here for less, but these estimates will allow you to make the most of your new life in Cuenca.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.