Living Large in Ecuador on $800 a Month

When Susan Schneck tired of the rat race she started looking for other places to live. In her search she looked closely at Ecuador. The climate was good, the culture was great and the cost of living was a fraction of the United States and even countries near Ecuador.

Susan has now lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for two and a half years. She makes her living from putting on workshops and selling books. As part of my ongoing series of expats who found a way to live and work abroad I wanted to hear more of what she had to say about living in Ecuador.

Here is a bit of what she had to say.

How did you end up in Cuenca, Ecuador?

When I realized my job in the US was killing me I came here and retired at 54. I was living off my books and then my teaching pension kicked in at 55. I could retire young. Most people here are in their 60s. Through Americans Retiring Abroad I learned about the three C’s in looking for a place to live as an expat: culture, climate and cost of living. I added a fourth ‘C’ which was community. There are a lot of Americans and Germans living in Cuenca. I speak fluent Spanish, but I just feel more comfortable with the Americans. After all, I am American.

I am a big fish in a small pond here. I give raw food classes to expats. I wrote The Live Food Factor and Beyond Broccoli and now give workshops on how to self-publish and market your own book. Here there is not all the competition there was for workshops in Southern California. Here I can do what I love and still save up a bit.

I have a great condo with a great view. Every day I wake up and I am so grateful for the life I have. I would have to be a millionaire in San Diego to live the life there that I have here. But here I have a penthouse here with the perfect view. In San Diego I always had a tiny apartment. Here I have the big place that is the party place. It feels like a totally new life.

How do you get a visa to live in Ecuador?

You can get an investment visa for a 25,000 dollars investment you put in a CD. If you buy property that is taxable at around 25,000 you can get a visa. As the real estate would be taxable at 25,000 dollars it will however, cost you more than that to actually purchase it. You can get a pension visa if you can prove you make more than 800 dollars or more a month. You can also get a volunteer, work or student visa.

Ecuador has made it very easy for expats. After living in Ecuador for three years you can become a dual citizen. Ecuador does not have income tax so it is really great. This is paradise.

What if someone was 35, too old for a student, too young for a pension visa, how would they go about getting an Ecuadorian visa?

If you can prove that you make 800 dollars or more a month through the Internet or other means you can get a visa here.

How much do Ecuadorian visas cost?

They do not cost anything, but you should hire a lawyer to do it. Even though I speak and read fluent Spanish I thought it was worth paying the lawyer 900 dollars to get my visa done. But because the customer service is not that good here know that just because you pay for a lawyer does not mean that you are going to get what you paid for.

What is the cost of living like in Ecuador?

Ecuador wants to get more gringos here. Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica do too, but now they are getting too expensive. In Costa Rica it is half the cost of living as the US, but in Ecuador it is 20 percent the cost of living of the US. You can live in Ecuador for 800 dollars a month and I know that because I do it.

Groceries can be as cheap as 100 dollars a month here. If you want to live with someone else you can live for 100 to 200 dollars a month. You can get an apartment for 250 dollars a month. Most landlords are happy to rent to gringos. Americans have a better reputation of taking care of places.

You can live like royalty for 2000 dollars a month. If I was in San Diego I would be living at poverty level with that income.

How do you find places to live in Ecuador?

You would go to There you can sign up for a free newsletter and it is a life saver. Through the newsletter you can find out who has upcoming workshops. You can find out who is going to have garage sales which are not Ecuadorian customs. You can find out which restaurants have jazz. We gringos have a great community. It is really wonderful.

How do you handle health insurance in Ecuador?

I have US health insurance which is supposed to pay 80 percent of locally provide health care. There is an American guy here who sells local health insurance. You can also pay 10 dollars a month to get the Ecuadorian insurance. I am not a believer in the Western Medical treatment. If I got cancer there is no way I would get chemotherapy. The chemotherapy will kill you before the cancer will. In an accident I may have a cast put on but I never go to the doctors for pills or medication and that is why I am so healthy. But if you did want chemo in Ecuador you can get it for 8000 dollars instead of 100,000 dollars in the US. You can get a face lift here for 500 dollars.

How safe do you feel in Cuenca?

It is very safe. Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador. Quito and Guayaquil are not safe. I would not walk home at night in Quito or Guayaquil. I would walk home at night in Cuenca. Twenty four percent of people in Quito and Guayaquil are unemployed. That is one reason Americans come to Cuenca, because it is so much safer. You still have to be aware here. As the Muslims say, “Pray to Allah but tie your camel too.”

How is Internet service in Cuenca?

Great. I have great Internet. Some people have sketchy Internet and that is why I would not live in the countryside. Their Internet is not working half the time. I have a friend that lives in a small town and has to pay 300 dollars a month. I pay 33 dollars a month and it works 98 percent of the time. I paid 70 dollars for Internet access in the US.

What are some of the major cultural differences between the US and Ecuador?

The only difference I struggle with is customer service. The architect says he is going to fix the leaky roof, yet every day something takes precedence over fixing it. There is a custom here of telling white lies. If somebody does not really know how to give directions sometimes they will make something up because they want to save face. I have a maid that was stealing money from me for God knows how many months.

You have to look out for dishonesty or lack of complete honesty here. I had a friend that fell in love with an Ecuadorian man. He lied to her and said he was 50. When she went to marry him she realized he was 60. Now they are happily married, but that is very Ecuadorian. They are very macho. They will cheat on the woman. They expect the woman to wait on them even though they too work from nine to five.

If any gringo comes here and starts a business here they will get all of the business of the expats because the customer service is so much better than that of the Ecuadorians. Ecuadorians are not motivated by being the best or trying to beat the competition.  You can’t buy supplements here and you can’t find cheap clothes. With the electronics they charge double because of the import duty – any cars, electronics or even alcohol.

How do you as an expat meet people socially in Ecuador?

The Gringo Tree Newsletter on Cuenca Highlife has a lot of information as to where expats are meeting. We meet at a restaurant every Tuesday night. People come to my raw food classes. Soon after meeting others you will be invited to parties. There are parties here all the time. When I was in California I went to two parties a year. Here they are all the time.

How do expats find jobs in Ecuador?

I know people who come here and teach English nine hours a week just to get their visa handled. There is a big ESL school in Cuenca. Nowadays you can get an ESL certificate online so you can teach. They will pay you 6.50 dollars an hour. If you have a pension on the side you can live really well and you have your visa via teaching English. Some people who only make 600 dollars a month pension they come here and teach English and live that way. With 800 a month you can live well, but you can’t travel. People go back to the US and they take the alpaca rugs or sweaters and sell them there on eBay and make enough money to pay for their trip to the US.

How are expats received by Ecuadorians?

Very well. People are always happy to meet the expats. Latinos are so friendly.

What are some of the creative ways expats earn money in Ecuador?

One woman makes and sells cheese and yogurt to expats. The expats make money by catering to the other expats. They will open restaurants catering to other Americans. One couple makes really high quality bread to sell to other Americans. Expats try to find a niche where Ecuadorians have not found them. There is one American who is going to bring her colonic equipment here and give colonics. I have a friend that does astrology readings. She does it so much cheaper than what she does it in the US.

You have to do it cheaper here than you would in the US. A massage therapist here charges 20 dollars which is much less than what she would in the US. The Ecuadorians charge 13 dollars an hour but provides much lower levels of customer service.

How do others who did not speak Spanish before arriving handle language issues?

I know a lot of Americans that do not have any intention of learning Spanish and still get by.

How is life different for you in Ecuador than it was in the US?

I am free.

What do you mean by that?

I am free from the rat race. I do not have an alarm clock. I can take a bus for 25 cents. I walk most of the days within a three mile radius of my home and that is my life. I have more friends here in two years than I did in 23 years living in San Diego. I am living the life of my dreams.

How is public transportation in Ecuador?

It is excellent. You do not wait for more than five or ten minutes for a bus. Here you can live quite well without a car.

What advice do you have for others that are thinking about working and living in Ecuador?

I would say, “Do it.” Jump into it and do it. Definitely visit before you ship all your stuff here but90 percent of the people who come here and check it out decide to move here and then have  no regrets.


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33 thoughts on “Living Large in Ecuador on $800 a Month

  1. I would actually like to talk to someone who could answer questions about living in Ecuador.

  2. I will graduate next year with a master’s in clinical mental health degree. My question is, can I find a job as a counselor in cuenca? How much do counselors make a month over there?

  3. I am an American Expat living in San Cristobal De Las Casa Chiapas. I am 55 years old and I am retired. I moved to Mexico over 6 years ago. I currently live on about 1000 dollars a month. I make my living by renting three rooms in my house. I rent them on Airbnb which acts like a social media website and it allows me to know who I am renting to. Moving to a foreign country can be quite a transition. I lived in NY my whole life prior to coming to Mexico to live. The early days were difficult. Culture shock, standard of living and customer service or lack thereof. It took some time. I always kept this thought in the back of my mind. It is going to be worth it. I just had to get the instant gratification syndrome off my mind. I am fluent in Spanish probably as well as English . I am born in the US with a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother. That said, I still had difficulty adjusting. I originally moved to Merida in the Yucatan. Merida has a huge Expat community. I really got tired of that in short order. I eventually moved to Chiapas. I have not looked back.

    As for the economics of living here. I think that you can live for less than I do. You can rent places with utilities for as little as 200 dollars a month but you can also rent places for much more. I pay 600 per month and I have a 10 room house with 5 bedrooms and 6 baths. I rent out three rooms and take in about 1000 dollars a month after utilities. I have a full time houskeeper for 2000 pesos which is about 160 dollars a month. My electric is about 125 dollars a month, cable, 30 dollars a month, phone and internet around, 30 dollars and gas of hot water about 90 dollars a month. Water is fixed at 70 dollars a month. Drinking water about 30 dollars a month. Remember though that these amounts that I pay include guest usages so they are greatly inflated. If I were living alone the costs would be far reduced.

    Groceries are much cheaper than the US. Fruits and vegetables are very cheap especially when they are in season. I pay about 10 cents on the dollar for fruits and veggies compared to the US. Meats are much cheaper that the US . Chicken is about 1 dollar a pound for whole and about 2 dollars for breast meat. pork varies from 2 to 4 dollars a pounds and steak is more expensive. Milk is about 1 dollar a liter, eggs 3 dollars for 30 eggs. Cheese varies from 3 dollars a pound to 7 dollars a pound. Imported cheese costs more. Alcohol cost about 50 percent less than in the US.

    After 6 plus years I am a Mexican citizen. I am so happy I have done this. I no longer have the stress levels I had in NYC. I no longer work at a breakneck pace. Moving to Mexico is the best thing I have ever done. It is not for everyone. It require quite a bit of personal effort.

    • Wow Sonia! That is awesome information. I really appreciate your honesty and details! Yay for you in carving out a life that is meaningful! Felicidades!

  4. My daughter, granddaughter & I have been living in Otavalo for two years. Within the first week we were here, we made friends with a family who runs a pizzaria. They helped locate housing & took us to buy our stove & refrigerator & some clothes for my granddaughter. Because of their help, we got the Ecuadorian prices instead of the gringo prices. We have found it very easy to make friends here & almost always as one or the other to go with us when we need to make a major purchase. One way to tell if someone is really a friend is whether they ask you to “borrow” money or not. We were asked by 3 different new “friends” to borrow substantial amounts of money when we first got here. In consulting with some other Ecuadorian friends, we were told not to loan money & that the people who asked us for it should be ashamed. Everyone now knows that we do not loan money, but that we freely offer our friendship & mutual assistance in other areas — How to make chocolate chip cookies & carrot cake, having a friend’s child stay a few days while they are in the hospital, etc. Our friends reciprocate.
    As regards a permanent residency visa — It is not free. It costs $320 plus a $30 filing fee. There are other smaller fees all along the way to receiving the visa, such as canceling your original visa & getting your cedula (the equivalent of a social security number), which is the accepted ID here. We were not charged anything for my granddaughter’s visa because the immigration office said the child’s visa was part of her mother’s visa, which was a wonderful surprise. My daughter did not need to use an attorney, but I have needed one because of a problem with one document that I need to have certified by the Ecuadorian Consulate in the U.S. However, the lawyer we are using charges very reasonable fees (about $30 an hour) as opposed to all of the other lawyers I have heard of. He does what he says he will in a timely manner. He also lived in the U.S. & speaks English, which is helpful because, although we speak decent Spanish, we are not fluent yet & need to understand what is going on at the immigration department. Since the changes in the immigration process a couple of years ago, it is much easier to get your residency visa now. If you have all of your papers in proper order when you get here, you can complete the process in 6-8 weeks. So, pay very close attention to what you need to bring, have notarized, apostilled, translated (better to have it translated here instead of in the U.S.), or certified by the Consulate in the U.S. before you come.
    We rent a lovely 4 story house with 3 bedrooms & 2 1/2 bathrooms for $200 a month. It is within 4 blocks of the central park & we can walk almost anywhere we need to go. When it’s to far to walk, buses & taxis are very cheap.
    My advice is: Please don’t come here if you aren’t willing to learn at least some Spanish & are only looking for a cheap place to live. There are a lot of unhappy retirees here who are causing very bad feelings on the part of the Ecuadorians towards Americans. We really don’t need any more of that. Sure, anywhere you go in the world, some people will try to take advantage of you & others will go out of their way to be honest & helpful. I dropped my wallet on the seat in the back of a cab the other day & after he drove off, the cabbie saw it & went around the block to bring it back to me. I was fortunate because I had $60 & my house keys in it. What a great guy. Home robbery is common here & he had the perfect opportunity, but was an honest person, like the majority of the people here. We have been treated very well, the majority of our friends are Ecuadorians, including both mestizos & indiginus. My daughter is a massage therapist & is the only gringa practicing with a group of Ecuadorian alternative care practitioners. She pays $60 a month for her own private space & makes $25-$35 an hour. I am teaching English for a private institute & make $12.50 an hour. I will be starting my own classes in the next couple of months & have the capacity to make up to $4000 a month if I teach 9 hours a week — 3 classes of 1 1/2 hours, 2 times a week with 16 students each. (Of course, there’s also prep time.) I am just waiting to complete my visa process & get my cedula.
    I don’t know why Susan says there’s no income tax in Eucador. I am not clear on all the ins & outs, but my Ecuadorian friends tell me it depends on how much you make. Also, you had better be giving facturas (official receipts) for your services because government employees go around to different businesses, posing as customers, just to be sure the businesses are issuing facturas. If you are caught not doing it, you can be majorly fined & even deported.
    So, all in all, we are very happy here. Almost everyone we meet helps us with our Spanish because they are so thrilled that we are learning it so well. We have met some rude people who don’t seem to like us because we’re Americans, but they are few & far between. The most important things are that we are polite, patient, making a serious effort to learn the language & customs, helpful when we can be & are always willing to laugh at ourselves for the silly mistakes we make. We also frequently apologize for being ignorant Americans. Which we are because we are learning a whole new culture & it often makes no sense to us! It’s true the people are friendly & happy to meet you. Your behavior determines what happens after that. But, you have to be willing to immerse yourself in a very different culture & be open to loving it or at least be patient with what you don’t like.
    It’s true that, by U.S. standards, the customer service is poor, as mentioned by many others; but these guys really don’t have much of an idea of what it’s all about. They’ve never had that kind of customer service here & don’t know what it is. When North Americans give a good example of customer service in their own establishments here, it’s very likely things will begin to change. You know, teach by example…But the people are friendly, kind & big-hearted. I would trade that any day for a lower standard of customer service!! Ecuador is my home.

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