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15 Simple Questions To Ponder Before Moving To Cuenca

We at Gringo Tree strive to create content that is useful to a range of readers, including those curious toe-dippers in the realm of living abroad. Often, once you’ve arrived and are going about your day to day life  as an expat, you forget those first burning questions that you had about moving to Cuenca.  One of the best ways to remember these types of questions is to go right to the source.

My mother is in her fifties and ready to relocate from California into the new, exciting world of living abroad. Cuenca is one city she has considered, so I asked her to send me a list of the important questions she would like answered.  The questions asked were geared to help  determine if Cuenca could be right for her and  guide her into taking the next step of becoming a possible expat, the scouting trip.

In the hopes of enlightening those who are also researching if Cuenca is right for them, here are her questions as well as the answers.  Read  on to discover 15 exploratory questions from a wannabe expat and the answers given by  local expats who have lived in Cuenca anywhere from 6 months to 5 years.

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How Much Would It Cost Monthly To Live Moderately On A Monthly Basis In Cuenca?

There is a commonly shared idea that to live well in Cuenca you only need about $800 a month. This is not impossible, but for most expats, who are generally in or above the 50 year age range, it is neither practical nor comfortable. The average single expat lives on about $1,200 to $1,500 a month.   One site that has a lot of  information on the prices of things in Cuenca that is worth checking out is Numbeo which also does city comparisons.  Another estimate from International Living puts the cost of living in Cuenca around $1600 a month for a couple. Moderate, furinsihed apartments, comfortable for a single person or couple, tend to cost from $500 to $700 a month, with the lowest rents being outside of the city. Keep in mind that in the process of moving to another country, you will have to deal with the significant expense of either furnishing your new place ( if you choose to rent unfurnished- which is normally cheaper) or having your belongings shipped from home.

Food is also a variable. If you  plan to cook at home most often, the things to consider are this: Will you be shopping at the national  grocery chain markets? Things tend to be more expensive in that case. Or will you be shopping at the open markets, where most locals shop and things are significantly cheaper? Most people spend around $300-$400 on food monthly. If you prefer to eat in restaurants more often than cook, your monthly spending on food may be a little higher. A

The other thing to consider is what kind of entertainment you enjoy. Do you plan on making a lot of trips around Cuenca and Ecuador? Do you tend to spend a lot of money on alcohol, or the movies, or museums? While these things most likely cost considerably less than in your home country, they should still be taken into consideration when planning your monthly budget. Many events are free in Cuenca, and some of the best entertainment is sitting in one of the many parks, talking with the locals. [/color-box]


How Do Locals Feel About Americans Living In Their City/Country?  What Is Their General Attitude Towards This?

As in most questions of this kind, there is no simple answer and it is open to individual opinion. However, the general feeling is either one of welcome and acceptance or one of really not caring one way or the other. Many people seem to think that it is beneficial to Cuencanos to have people from other countries living there as well, as it encourages open-mindedness and often pushes business owners and others to learn English in order to better communicate with their international (mostly North American) neighbors.

There is an important distinction that should be made. Often, the only time negative things are said about expats is in reference to those who make no effort to learn or speak Spanish, have no interest in the local culture and heritage, and don’t care to make any Ecuadorian acquaintances. These are the expats who seemingly are more interested in bringing a piece of their own country to Ecuador as opposed to immersing themselves in the place which has so graciously opened itself up to them. A good thing to remember, in Cuenca and anywhere, is that the more open and accepting you are to the people and culture around you, the more likely it is that they will be open and accepting of you.

However, it is true that foreigners are more commonly targeted for nefarious reasons, simply because of the assumption that they all have a lot of money and are carrying expensive and valuable things on their person. Nonetheless, this is not a reflection of an overall negative attitude towards expats.

For more information you can check out a great Senior Thesis aptly titled “Amenities Migration: A Case Study on the Retired Expatriate Community in Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador” by University student, Denise M. Bustamante from Scripps College.

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What Parts Of Daily Life In Cuenca Are Most Appealing To Expats?

There are a myriad of reasons as to why Cuenca appeals to expats. One of the most popular is the fact that the city is very pedestrian. In the downtown and its surrounding areas, it is both easy and enjoyable to walk from one place to another. Even if you’re not feeling like walking, most taxi rides in the area are under $2. And for just .25 cents there is always the option of the local city bus. With a couple insider tips for riding the bus in Cuenca the local buses can be a very economical way to get around.

Another appealing aspect is the aesthetics of Cuenca. A mix of colonial and modern architecture, open air markets, a plethora of parks and plazas, the river that borders downtown, and not to mention the stunning Cathedral of Immaculate Conception that rivals any of its European cousins provide a pleasant backdrop to daily life in Cuenca.

The cost of food is also a draw. The almuerzos (or lunches), usually consisting of a soup, an entrée, fresh juice and a pastry start around $2. A great free resource “16 Good & Inexpensive Restaurants in Cuenca” can be downloaded here.

Dinner, though more expensive, rarely exceeds ten dollars, even at some of the nicer Cuenca restaurants. Produce is incredibly affordable. For example, an almost unusable (in terms of quantity) amount of spinach will cost you one dollar. Most items are sold in bunches at the mercados, and bunches are often 25 cents apiece. One great mercado to check out is 10 de Agusto Mercado 

Cuenca also boasts a rich and varied cultural vivacity. It is rife with museums, restaurants, handicraft markets, etc. It seems as though almost every weekend there is some kind of music festival or holiday or cultural event worth attending. Most of the museums are free or cost $1-2 per person to enter, and the local symphony — always a popular event — is free and often performs in beautiful locations around town, such as the Pumapungo Theatre or the Old Cathedral, built in the 1500s.  [/color-box]


Is It Difficult For Someone To Live In Cuenca Without Speaking Fluent Spanish?

First off, everything is much easier if you speak Spanish. With that said, Cuenca is one of the cities with the highest number of English-speakers in Ecuador, in large part due to the considerable expat population. Most business owners, restaurant and hotel workers, and public service officials speak at least a basic level of English. It is not uncommon to hear English spoken on the street.

For the expat interested in learning Spanish, there are quite a few Spanish schools located in convenient places in the downtown area. Another option is to hire a private tutor, which usually costs between $10 and $20.

In any case, Cuenca has a large enough population of English-speakers, at any level, that a potential expat’s lack of Spanish fluency should not be a deciding factor.

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Are There Many Artistic, Musical, Theatrical Events?

As mentioned before, Cuenca is host to a wide variety of cultural events, including but not limited to: dance expositions, concerts, gallery exhibitions, museums, art festivals, and film screenings. There are very few things that Cuencan entertainment doesn’t provide. [/color-box]


What Is It Like For A Single Woman To Live In Cuenca?  Local Perception Of This?

In women, it is uncommon to be single, especially as a younger woman. Catcalling is a daily, almost hourly, occurrence. However, it is a relatively safe city and, if basic precautions are taken, life for a single woman is not much different than in the United States.

For older women, there are actually groups in town that offer support to older single women who have decided to make the move to Cuenca.

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Where Are The Closest Day Trips And What Do They Offer?

One of the most appealing things about Cuenca is the amount of day or weekend trips available from Cuenca that are both easy and affordable. Cuenca is surrounded by smaller villages, some of which specialize in certain local foods or artisan handicrafts. Gualaceo is a town only an hour away by bus, which boasts a thriving local market which offers cuy and delicious roast pig. Vilcabamba is a beautiful town set in the mountains, where visitors can go hiking, horseback riding, or simply relax in a number of beautiful hostels or guesthouses. Chordeleg is near Gualaceo, but its main attraction is the local silverwork which produces beautiful jewelry. This is only a sample of the nearby towns, but as Ecuador is a relatively small country, there are a great number of small trips that can be embarked upon from Cuenca.

And don’t forget the Cajas, the southern range of the Andes. If you love the outdoors, you can always take a day trip to the Cajas to enjoy some hiking around some of the lakes, followed by a stop at one of the local trout farms to have some dinner.  [/color-box]


What Types Of Restaurants Are There? Much Foreign Food Offered?

Cuenca and Quito, Ecuador’s capitol, are probably the most international cities in Ecuador in terms of food. For the self-professed foodie, Cuenca can provide many of the options available in your home country. There are many Italian restaurants, serving both pizza and other specialties, as well as vegetarian, sushi, Chinese, American, etc. There is also a good variety of more exotic (for Ecuador) ingredients available in the big chain markets. Of course, there are hundreds of Ecuadorian restaurants, ranging from incredibly cheap to more expensive.

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 What Type Of Healthcare Do Expats Get?  How Much Does it Cost?

There are two main categories of healthcare in Ecuador: public and private. The former is covered by the IESS, Ecuador’s Social Security Administration. Any resident of Ecuador can register with the IESS with just their ID, or cédula. The price of this coverage varies depending on household size and whether or not you are employed, in which case your employers would foot part of the cost. Most expats take advantage of this public healthcare, and in general report overall satisfaction with the coverage and services provided.

Private insurance costs vary based on the provider and the level of coverage depends on how much you’re willing to pay for the monthly premium, but generally ranges between $40 a month and a few hundred. [/color-box]


 What Quality of Medical Care Do They Have in Cuenca?

Cuenca is one of the biggest and most modern of Ecuador’s cities, so the level of medical care here is comparable to many developed countries. Ecuador was recently named the second most retirement-friendly country on the planet, and this is due in large part to the accessibility, quality, and affordability of its health care. Procedure costs are generally only 7-10% of the cost of similar procedures in the U.S. and Europe according to Ecuador’s Investment Corporation. With the possible exception of those with serious pre-existing medical conditions, expats can expect a high level of medical care here in Cuenca.

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 Is It Difficult for An American To Buy Property In Ecuador

First off, it’s important to note that a large percentage of expats choose to rent property in order to avoid the potentially complicated paperwork involved in buying. Many who do decide to buy do so in order to fulfill requirements for the Investment Visa, which requires an investment of at least $25,000 in the form of property, land, or cash in an Ecuadorian bank. If you do choose to buy, it is recommended that you hire a local lawyer and notary, even if you speak relatively fluent Spanish. Check out this website for more specific information about the process of buying property in Ecuador. [/color-box]


 How Do The Expats Living In Cuenca Get Acquainted?

Expats often connect in casual, ordinary ways — e.g., you’re passing through Parque Calderon and a couple stops you to ask where you’re from. You talk for 10 minutes and they ask if you want to go with them to dinner that evening at a friend’s house. You go to dinner and meet 4 more people, one who asks you to go to breakfast the next morning with some friends of theirs, etc. There are also events and restaurants in town that are popular with expats, where you are guaranteed to meet people. The local symphony and the regular music and art festivals are always brimming with expats, and sports events such as the World Cup and the Super Bowl are always good reasons for get-togethers, along with birthdays, hiking and board games. Several local restaurants have a large expat clientele, such as Fabianos and Don Colon — you will always hear English and find expats there. And don’t forget there are always plenty of expats learning to speak Spanish, so that’s a great way to connect with others and get better acquainted with local culture at the same time.

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Are There Typical Daily Activities That Expats Participate in?

Expats can participate in the same kind of activities here in Ecuador that they did in their home countries. Lots of expats wake up in the morning, drink some coffee and head out to walk the dog, go to the gym or meet some friends for breakfast. Then they hit the grocery store, relax with a book, cook dinner and watch a movie. What you do on a daily basis is really up to you. [/color-box]


How Many Expats Work In Cuenca? In What Types Of Fields Do They Work?

The majority of expats living in Cuenca are retirees, although some make extra money with part-time or freelance work. In general, those who work full-time are younger and involved in entrepreneurial fields such as opening their own restaurants or hostels or online businesses. Some also teach English either privately or at local schools. It is by no means difficult for an expat to find work in Cuenca. It just so happens that a lot don’t.

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 Does Anyone Know The General Life Satisfaction Rate Of Expats Living in Cuenca?

That’s a tough question — as expats move to Cuenca for many reasons. In general, the expats who are most satisfied with their lives in Cuenca are the ones who connect with the local community, learn how to speak some Spanish and remember they’re living in a different country with a different culture and different ways of doing things.  These Expats are open to the small, time-consuming adventures that can happen every day, such as trying to find a replacement screw for a kitchen cabinet from one of the local hardware stores. People moving here solely for financial reasons or trying to escape an unpleasant situation usually don’t last very long.  For a list of other reasons why Expats leave Ecuador click here.

The biggest changes that most expats make after living in Cuenca a little while seem to be around housing — whether it’s a house or apartment in the city or in the country. That decision often depends on individual health and overall preferences–Cuenca is a large city with urban pollution challenges, high elevation, cool temperatures, cultural events and virtually no bugs, while Yungilla is a valley outside of Cuenca with less pollution, lower elevation, warmer temperatures, not much to do and more bugs. [/color-box]

Have a question you want answered? Want a further explanation on one of the above questions ? Let us know in the comments below as we are always looking to provide practical answers for the expat community. Your input is both welcome and appreciated!

19 Responses

    1. While there isn’t a huge selection of foreign food as compared to Quito, there is still a few options. Japanese, Mexican, American, Peruvian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Medeteranian and probably a few I’m forgetting

  1. I tend to stop reading an aarticle when I see bad info being served up. The cost of rental property here in Cuenca has dropped sharply rrecentl. The 500 to 700 per month rate is more like 350 to 550 at the mmomen. I’ve rrecently seen friends rent very for as low as $280 and 350. I’ve personally visited other large and we’ll appointe properties in for under 400. I don’t know how long this trend will last, butnow is the time find a cheaper place and lock in the price with a 2-year leas.

  2. I have a question. My husband & I spent 2 1/2 weeks in Ecuador last summer, and fell in love with the people, the culture, the food and the climate! We are considering retiring in Cuenca, but have concerns about the altitude. How serious a problem is it for seniors? He will be 72, and I am 63.

    1. I am 69 and had no troubles with the altitude. However, everyone is different. When at high altitudes one should drink a lot of water and do not do too much strenuous exercise at once, take time to acclimate and build up to it. Some people just cannot tolerate altitude and there is no way to know without experiencing it. If that happens to you, you may be happier living at a lower altitude and visiting the higher cities like Quito and Cuenca.

  3. The most important question a prospective ex-pat thinking about moving to Cuenca is this: “Do I want to be personally and embarrassingly reminded on an hourly basis of the kinds of Americans whom I fled the USA to avoid?” If the answer to this question is no, then Cuenca is not for you. ‘They” are seemingly everywhere; mostly making fools out of themselves in ways that defy the imagination. With few exceptions the Ecuadorans that I know are nice to them only to take their money. Good for the Ecuadorans. Keep smiling and take as much as you can.

  4. I have a question: what is the best way to receive retirement funds in a local Ecuadorian bank without incurring the high transfer fees or high withdraw rates associated with taking money out of a US -based bank? Will the US deposit directly into an Ecuadorian bank?

    1. REPLY TO PAULINA ABOUT GETTING MONEY TO ECUADOR. After you get your cedula, open a bank account. I recommend Banco de Pichincha. Then you can make Swift system transfers from your US or Canada bank to Pichincha. Ask your bank how to do that. Ask someone at Pichincha for their Swift number etc. It is routine and there is a small charge. Then you will be able to withdraw money from Pichincha ATMs which are all around the city.

  5. How long to you have to be a resident to qualify for the public health insurance? Can you buy reliable appliances, i.e., washer/dryer, refrigerator, etc. in Ecuador? I have a friend who bought his in the U.S. and shipped them there.

    1. Appliances are good and cheap here. I got a refrig and a microwave made right here in Cuenca.
      For med insurance I don’t recommend that. Keep your money in your pocket. Prices for med care are cheap here. Other people might have a different opinion.

  6. If you have questions about moving to Cuenca, get accurate and up to date information by contacting me on my Magicjack at 310-742-4618. I have lived in Cuenca for 4 years and will be happy to answer any questions you have. I don’t charge for my assistance, but rather want you to get the right information.


  7. My son, his wife and Grandson will be living in cuenca from mid June until mid august. His wife speaks fluent Spanish. Just completing his first year of medical school he will be involved in a hospital?
    They are in the process of getting the needed vaccinations including yellow fever?

    Any suggestions on vaccinations, safe places to live, security, etc.
    Any help and advice is appreciated.
    Thank you

    1. Why on earth are they getting vaccinations , especially yellow fever? Are they going to be living in the Amazon? No vaccinations are needed to live in or visit Cuenca

  8. I am seeking information about the ease, cost and legalitiy of shipping personal household possessions to Ecuador. I would like to see if anyone in the San Francisco Bay area would like to share a shipping container summer of 2019. I own an apartment in Ecuador already, but am not yet a legal resident. Thank you.

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