It has been 5 years since our Ecuadorian adventure began. Gotta love the Facebook Memories feature to give a little reminder on how fast time flies when you’re having fun.
Our journey began with a 6-month tour of the country that saw us travel the mountains from Ibarra south to Vilcabamba. We took a lovely side trip to the mouth of the jungle in Tena and then trekked the coast from Manta down to Playas. We eventually found our piece of paradise in La Libertad, the little-known or talked about beach town and commercial center outside of Salinas in the province of Santa Elena.
We have met people that moved to Ecuador; sight unseen, by studying information online, joining forums and asking questions. We are not quite that adventurous. Randy and I chose to travel the majority of the country before making a final decision. We wanted to consolidate what we had read and experience real life here and basically, make up our own minds. Experiences are subjective, I have learned to weigh opinions differently over the years.
Our research started the same way as many; online, however, once our feet were on the ground, we determined quickly that a portion of what we read was not entirely accurate; at least not in our personal experience.
We read about the cost of living, crime, health care, infrastructure, climate, and real-life stories; except most were about EXPAT life and very little about the lives of Ecuadorians in general. We continued to read about how cheap the cost of living was and certainly, some things are significantly cheaper, but there are other items that are far more expensive and we were not initially prepared for this.
I will share with you, our perspectives as this might form part of your own research. As always, our experience may vary from your own, which also differs from those we learned from. This is simply another perspective for you to draw upon or ignore; your own observations will determine which.
I cannot count how many articles, blogs, and general information circulating out there regarding the cheap food prices available in Ecuador; although technically true, there are some rather large exceptions and for balance, I would like to share some of these with you.
Fresh foods are very inexpensive compared to Canada and many places in the USA, but the significant savings are when you shop as the locals do; fresh from the Mercado. If you intend on coming down here and maintaining your typical North American diet comprised mainly of boxes, bags, and cans from the grocery store chains, rather than whole or fresh, you will not see a significant reduction in your grocery bill; in fact, it may even go up.
We’ve compared prices across several of Cuenca’s popular grocery options including Supermaxi, mercados & small corner shops. You may be surprised at the price differences.
Changing your diet to whole foods is not a bad thing. If, however, you are not prepared to do this, and you go for your first big EC grocery shopping trip, choosing familiar items, I think you may be very disappointed. Things like bacon, smoked meats, butter, 12-grain loaves of bread, tins of sauces and soups, bottles of dressings, condiments like Worcestershire sauce, peanut butter, pickles and frozen food items, are much more expensive. If you like to snack on nuts of any kind, they are over the top expensive to the point of shocking. Anything imported from North America, that you buy out of habit or for a little taste of home, you will pay dearly for.
Apartment rental prices really depend on where you live and what your expectation may be in terms of amenities. I have noticed that apartment rentals in Cuenca seem cheaper than in the Salinas area but are more expensive than in Manglaralto. It is all relative to the popularity of the area, closeness to features such as the beach, and North American amenities vs EC amenities. Basically, if you choose to live with a higher concentration of expats, the prices tend to be higher for rents.
If you read somewhere that you can easily find a furnished rental in the Salinas area for $300 or $400 monthly with North American amenities, I would have to raise my eyebrows at that information. With some networking, there may be a hidden gem in this price range, but that is not the norm. $550 and up is more likely the price range, but if you want an ocean view and North American amenities, you are looking closer to $700 up to $1500. I cannot speak for other coastal cities but would be curious for some feedback.
I know that we paid between $450 and $700 monthly for rent during our exploratory trip. Sometimes furnished meant a plastic table and chairs, mini bar fridge, hot plate, double bed and hammock and sometimes we even had a living room chair. These were the prices from 5 years ago and averaged throughout EC, not just one area.
Appliances & Kitchen Goods
Small appliances are of questionable quality with high-end costs. A basic on/off Oster Blender can run $85. On a positive note, you can buy spare parts to repair them meaning a blender is not a toss-away-item like in Canada where you pay $40 for one and when it breaks you simply buy a new one. Toasters, microwaves, and drip coffee makers can be up to 3x the price.
When you look at these costs comparatively; a decent blender back home can cost maybe $40 which is roughly a few hours of work for a Canadian to purchase. At $85 here in Ecuador that is roughly 3 days+ of work for a typical Ecuadorian worker to purchase a blender. As this information processed in my head, it put things into a little different perspective. This is why you can see blenders and even shoes on sale for monthly installments. They now become luxury items.
The larger appliances are also higher in price and it is difficult if not impossible to find used items for sale. We had purchased a refurbished Maytag washer and dryer in Florida, like new, $400 for the set; that type of find here in EC is extremely rare. There are some on OLX and other Buy and Sell type sites, but we have not happened across any used appliance shops As the expats come and go, their items may go up for sale on public, English speaking forums like YapaTree and GringoPost, but the items tend to sell quickly.
Electronics, including computers, are more than double and at times triple the cost. Many furnished rentals would not include a TV so if you enjoy watching a few shows in the evening, be prepared to purchase an overpriced television at some point during your stay.
Good quality pots, pans, cutlery, knives, towels, linens, and blankets are difficult to find in our area and once you do, the price will make you shake your head and rub your eyes to ensure you are reading it correctly. We still bring these types of items in from North America.
You can find cheap furniture in Cuenca, but you need to be prepared to put in some effort. Popping down to the large, big brand furniture stores will likely give you sticker shock.
One utility I was shocked to pay for was internet. If you live right in town or in the highrises on the Malecon of Salinas it seems you can get service for around $40 per month, however, we live on the edge of town so a bit rural in some respects. We have 2 separate services; as we have guests and I work remotely and need a dedicated line; in the low- season, our internet costs $170 a month (for both services) and in high season it is $270 as I have to bump up the speed as our rooms fill up, more speed is required. So if you plan on living rural, keep this cost in mind.
Vehicles do not depreciate the same way as in North America so if your plan is to come down and buy a gently used vehicle to get around you may be in for a shock at what the sale prices are for used vehicles.
As I write this, I went to OLX Ecuador and typed in Carro to look for cars for sale and here is one example. I searched for the cheapest car on the first couple of pages in our area; up came a 1987 Chevrolet with 12,584,928 km (not a typo). Not sure this type of car would sell for more than a few hundred bucks back home. But here, this 30-year-old car with very high mileage has an asking price of $3000. This is not unusual; there was a 15-year-old vehicle for $10,000 as well.
The cost for hired help has certainly increased from what we had been reading years back. We were told $10 a day would get a person daily cleaning service but that has never been the case since we arrived. You might get them to come a few times out of a desperate need for work, but they would never stay long -as was the experience of those around us.
We paid our employees double that price and even up to 25 per day and they stayed with us for nearly 4 years. We had one long time employee leave recently but we replaced him quickly. Typically, it is difficult to get reliable and consistent help for under $20 per day. That is still considerably less than North America prices, however, remember to do it legally, your employee (s) should be under contract, thus you pay them their wage plus a percentage (11.5 is the employer portion and 9.5 is the employee portion) to IESS, plus twice a year they receive the equivalent of one month pay in April and again in December. None of this I was aware of when we arrived and I thought finding day laborers would be plentiful and that simply was not the case. To secure, consistent and reliable help requires a fair wage to be paid.
What We Were Told
This reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with my neighbor who is part German but was born and raised in Ecuador;
he asked: “Why are so many people leaving lately?”
I replied: “I am not sure; various reasons, I think.”
He replied; “They told you it was cheap to live here didn’t they?”
I laughed so hard and said, “Yes, they did”.
His last bit of information still makes me laugh; “Sure, the potatoes and onions are cheap, but try and buy a car or computer. You will see it is not cheap to live in Ecuador.”
All I could do was laugh, he is so very right.
Safety in Ecuador
Now that I have touched on some of our observations related to the cost of living; I would like to touch lightly on aspects of safety.
I am often asked by potential vacationing guests: “How safe is it in Ecuador?”
My response is always the same; “Compared to where?”
The reason I feel the need to ask is that my son was robbed by razor knife held to his neck in Prince George BC Canada. We were robbed or an attempted robbery 3x in our Citrus County Florida neighborhood and eventually had to get a monitored security system. This was in what we thought was a quiet rural neighborhood. A Canadian friend of ours was in Florida a number of years back outside a store, it was robbed and the thieves came running out after shooting a man in the head.
Crime happens around the world; we all know this. When you read the internet and the travel advisory warnings for Ecuador, you may come out of the International airport thinking you might be kidnapped or robbed before you reach your destination. I once avoided Guayaquil like the devil himself lived there from all the horror stories I heard, but now Guayaquil is one of my favorite cities.
Of course, there is crime in Ecuador. Of course, there are even serious events at times but it is not exclusive to Ecuador. I personally know people that have experienced home invasions and armed robberies here; scary situations for sure. We definitely feel more vulnerable at times as we clearly stand out in a crowd and many foreigners may not have a good grasp of the language which makes a person feel even less confident in their surroundings.
I read, just recently, about someone who said how some foreigners feel like the locals are trying to get money from them all the time; like they are walking ATM machines. I am a little offended for the locals when I hear this type of talk. Do some try to “gringo price” and get an extra $1 or $2 from time to time for a ride or buns?; Yes of course. When you understand the type of poverty a large percentage live under, it is not surprising. The reality is, if you are going to lose large sums of money down here, it is more likely going to be an opportunistic foreigner that swindles you for business, property developments or real estate deals. Of course, this is a generalized statement but it is based on my own personal experience and of a number of others I have come to know over the years that “got taken”.
Should you remain vigilant here? Yes, you should; be as vigilant as you would in Toronto Ontario, Detroit, Michigan or Quito, Pichincha. Should you be terrified and paranoid about being out with the common folk? Absolutely not. In my experience, it has been the locals that have warned me of potentially bad situations, reminding me when to put my phone away with motions, looks, or physically putting it in my pocket for me once! The locals do not wish to see you, I or anyone become a victim of crime in their beautiful country.
I recently read a description of the horrible crimes that happened in this area ( by a lady from LA that has since returned to live in the US), mentioning the murder of the two Argentinian girls in Montañita and a rape that took place around the same time. What she may not have known was there was also another murder closer to us of a child by her stepfather and what happened then is what amazes me. The community in the Peninsula created a March for Peace, everyone wearing white, they gathered together for a procession, prayers and to send a message of peace, to send a message that this violence needed to stop. So one person may focus on the crimes that took place, but what I witnessed from the community in response to these senseless acts was amazing and says far more about the people of Ecuador in my opinion.
As you continue your research on all things Ecuador, please keep in mind, that not everything you read is at face value. Some folks appear sane in the written word but are anything but sane. Others come across as odd and are fabulous, wonderful souls. What I may find expensive, another may find reasonably priced.
We all write and share from our own perspectives, bringing with us our own personal experiences, comfort levels, and emotions into the picture.
If I can suggest one thing to you all; put your own feet on the ground, make your own observations before allowing an individual article, one singular person, or one opinion to direct your future plans. Our individual Ecuador adventure is exactly that; individual.
I wish you all, your own fun, safe, peaceful and amazing adventure.