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Budgeting Tips: Living in Ecuador on $1,000 a Month

Author: Daniel Jackson

If you're thinking about retiring abroad, or if you're a digital nomad looking to settle down for a stretch, Ecuador may be the just the place. The country has become one of the most popular expatriate destinations in recent years. The cost of living in Ecuador is very low, especially considering the country's solid infrastructure, attractive colonial cities, and incredible cultural and natural attractions.

The cities of Quito, Cuenca and Vilcabamba are favorite mountain destinations, while the coastal cities of Manta, Salinas and Guayaquil appeal to beachcombers and seafood lovers. Although there is some variation in housing costs and other living expenses between major cities in Ecuador, the differences are typically small, especially if you're a flexible, budget-conscious shopper.

A Sample $1,000 Budget

Getting by on $1,000 per month is very doable as an expatriate living alone in Ecuador. Your budget might look something like this: $350 for a one-bedroom apartment, $80 for utilities and Internet service, $225 for groceries, $100 for personal and household items, and $45 for bus and taxi fares. You could spend the remaining $200 on satellite TV service and dining out, for example, or you could use it to build up an emergency fund for unexpected medical costs or other sudden expenses.

Housing Costs

Ecuador has excellent housing options for expatriates. International Living magazine's 2015 survey of the top retirement destinations in the world gave Ecuador a perfect score in its buying and renting category, which takes into account rental and purchase prices, value for money, and how difficult it is for expatriates to participate in the market. No other country in the survey matched Ecuador's perfect score.

Renting an apartment or condominium in Ecuador is straightforward. There are no special expatriate restrictions, as long as you hold a valid visa giving you the right to live in the country. Housing options in Ecuador run the gamut from simple beach bungalows to luxury homes with tended gardens in gated communities. For someone on a $1,000 monthly budget, the options are narrower, but pretty good nonetheless.

According to international price data collected by Numbeo.com, a single expatriate can get a standard one-bedroom apartment in a desirable part of town for between $260 and $350 per month, depending on location and proximity to the city center. If you intend to share housing with another person, you could upgrade to a very nice three-bedroom condo for between $500 and $680 per month on average. Centrally located apartments with convenient access to services, shopping and entertainment are at the upper end of the price range.

Utility Costs

Electricity, water, garbage service and broadband Internet service cost roughly $80 per month in total, according to Numbeo.com. This figure can vary quite a bit depending on location and personal habits, however. For example, someone living on the north coast in 82-degree heat every day is likely to run the air conditioner much more than her counterpart in 68-degree Quito, racking up a bigger electricity bill in the process.

Local Spanish-language cable service is available in virtually every Ecuadorian city. DirecTV satellite service is also available, including packages with a wide variety of American channels. As of October 2015, the second-tier plan with 146 domestic and international channels costs less than $70 per month at standard prices.

Food Costs

Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and relatively cheap in Ecuador, as are consumer staples, such as chicken, bread, rice and eggs. Foreign-label food brands are available in many major cities in Ecuador, although they are generally quite expensive relative to local brands. Stick to locally produced foods to keep your food costs down. Most expatriates and tourists are advised to avoid tap water in Ecuador. Bottled drinking water is widely available and not too expensive at around $1 for a 1.5-liter bottle.

International Living suggests a monthly grocery budget of $225 per person in Ecuador, excluding alcoholic beverages. This is probably a reasonable expectation for most people. However, frugal shoppers will find that it's possible to cook every meal at home for quite a bit less than $200 per month.

While cooking at home is a great way to save money, meals at local restaurants are not terribly expensive in Ecuador. According to Numbeo.com data, a meal at an inexpensive neighborhood restaurant costs about $3 on average. A three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant comes to about $20, excluding alcohol. A half-liter bottle of Ecuadorian beer averages about $1, while a 12-ounce import beer costs around $2.65.

Health Care Costs

Ecuador earns high marks from International Living for delivering affordable, high-quality health care to its citizens and resident expatriates. This is a big reason why Ecuador has become so popular among expatriate retirees.

Virtually all sizable cities in Ecuador have quality medical facilities with modern equipment and highly trained professionals. A visit to a general practitioner costs only around $30, while visits with specialists run $30 to $40, both far cheaper than prices in the United States. Medical tests, surgical procedures and other services are similarly inexpensive. Dentistry is also a bargain compared to typical U.S. prices.

Health insurance is available to expatriates in Ecuador, typically at much lower prices than what's available in the U.S. However, International Living reports that many resident expatriates in Ecuador choose to self-insure by paying into a personal account each month earmarked for medical care. This option would be unthinkable for many in the U.S., where medical costs are so much higher.

Other Costs

Other incidental and variable expenses include general personal and household items and transportation costs. According to Numbeo.com, local bus service is about 25 cents per ride or $15 per month. Taxi fares start at a $1 base fare plus about $1.60 per mile. Many expatriates purchase and drive private vehicles in Ecuador. This may be a possible option on a $1,000 budget if you have the funds available for the initial purchase and you can share the regular costs of insurance, maintenance and gasoline with a spouse or a roommate. If not, buses and taxis are probably a better option. Many expatriates also hire housekeeping services; a thorough weekly cleaning service costs about $80 per month in Ecuador.

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