Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our COST OF LIVING in CUENCA, ECUADOR - Two Years Later!!!!

Is it really two years later?   I clearly remember that day on December 5th, 2012 when we landed for the first time in Cuenca, Ecuador (No, we didn't do an exploratory visit prior!).  We didn't have a clue about how our life in Ecuador would unfold.  All we knew was that we wanted to simplify our life, retire early while we still had our health, move somewhere with mountains, rivers, warm weather and less rain than the Willamette Valley, and where the medical care and cost of living was affordable to allow for our early retirement.  This was the list of priorities as we researched and read about the best places to retire in and out of the USA. There were and continue to be many challenges and frustrations living in a new land away from the familiar and predictable lifestyle of a culture we knew - but it's worked for us and we are both in agreement to stay here and call this "HOME."

This "Oregon to Ecuador" BLOG was created a couple months before we finally left for Cuenca, while we were still living in the family room of our empty house, waiting for renters and attempting to get all of our necessary documents apostilled and ready for our entry into Ecuador.  Our journey had just begun, and I started this blog as a way to stay in touch with family and friends so they could read about our ex-pat adventure.

Never did I imagine that our Ecuador Blog (NOW OVER 101,000 HITS) would be read by so many people wanting to know all they can about Cuenca before taking the same steps to possibly make this their city and home.  Through this Ecuador Blog we have met so many people - many just leaving their kind comments, and others whom we've personally met once they've arrived here. Some have been for a reason, some for a season, and others have become dear and intimate friends that hopefully will be for a life time.  

Lots of changes have taken place in the past two years living in Cuenca.  We moved 5 times in the first 4 months before we found our longer-term home.  It's okay to move a lot.  Is it fun?  Not if you have lots of stuff to move.  We didn't!  The first 4 places were furnished and we just had to roll our suitcases down the streets of El Centro (we always seemed to move just within a few blocks from the last place).  We've stuck with this last apartment and it's become our comfortable, affordable, and lovely little apartment .

The greatest and most difficult change for me was when we sold our Oregon home in October.  It was the BIG "burning of the bridge" - one that we had talked about for a few years, but this time it really happened.  I actually went through a huge grieving process - lots of tears and sobbing the day I received the "good news" from our dear realtor that said, "Congratulations!  It is finished!"  Such final words to read and digest for me.  Yet, I was so grateful we were able to sell our home and no longer have that burden - dealing with a 100 year old renovated farm house while living thousands of miles away. Am I glad?  Yes!  Am I sad?  Yes!  I am still adjusting to the fact that my Oregon country home of 40 years is no longer in my life - but I still have my years of precious memories.  

The greater challenge for Bo has been the language barrier.  He's the one in our family who has always been the spokesperson for any challenges that may arise. He's also a "people person" who loves to share with others.  It has not been easy for him to have to depend on me to  be his translator.  But, we've made it work. I have been enjoying watching Bo learn Spanish and go out there and speak it more and more two years later!  He has conversations with the locals, has become more familiar with our small community where we live, and is now able to communicate with our Ecuadorian family of friends.  He continues to purpose to learn the language, takes weekly lessons, and is DOING IT!!  Has it been easy? NO!  Is it possible that he will speak fluent Spanish the longer we live here? ABSOLUTELY!  His desire to learn the language is what makes it happen!!

The second greatest challenge for Bo that required getting used to was being "jubilado."  Retirement for an ex-corporate guy ain't easy.  "Now what do I do with my time?????" Two years later, Bo has to schedule free time for himself to get caught up on personal things because he's out there doing stuff, has met some great "guy" friends, and then has his wife to hang out with (that would still be me!!!!).  So, lots of changes for Bo, but HE'S DOING HIS RETIREMENT LIFE IN CUENCA!!!

The reality is that there have been many challenges and "suddenlies" in ex-pat life for both of us, individually and as a couple.  But, we have purposed to make this journey work together because all the pros outweigh the daily life challenges and frustrations we would be facing anywhere - it's a part of life!!   We either figure it out or we allow life's challenges to steal our joy and take us down (and they have, but we've climbed back up).  I often wonder how other couples are doing?  Did they come here thinking it was going to be like the USA?  Did they come here together, or did one want to come and the other followed along because they felt they had to or they'd be left behind?  I wonder about individuals living here.  Are they here feeling bitter because they couldn't financially make it back in the states, and would they go back if they could?  Or, did they come because they are adventurous souls and love to travel and aren't attached to their STUFF (if they even have STUFF)? If we listen closely, we can tell who is here with an open heart embracing the culture and loving the Ecuadorian people and lifestyle, and we can hear the bitter, negative, complaining from those who don't really want to be here but believe they have no other choice. 

I continue to see more and more ads for garage sales and ex-pats now liquidating their STUFF here because they are returning to their previous country.  LOTS!  Some say it's because of health reasons, others say it's because they ran their course here and are moving on (or "back"), or they miss their family, they don't like the weather, the culture is too frustrating for them (one guy we met disliked the people and pace here), and so many other reasons.  Some leave after a few months and others leave after several years of living here completely settled in.  I imagine that those who are planning to make their future transition from their USA comforts to a new life in Ecuador must question if they themselves will be able to adjust to another culture, language and lifestyle when they read about those who don't make it here.  Personally, I know it is not an easy transition, but it is worth the adventure, experience and blessing of how it has changed the way I view life and live now.

We just returned from three weeks back in "chilly" Florida - going back with the purpose of selling our two vehicles and Bo's Valkyrie motorcycle.  We also had to go through years of family photos, saved cards, letters, and some sentimental keepsakes.  Because we don't have children, it was another emotional "letting go."  I mailed select family photos to my younger brother, and I threw away 60 plus years of keepsakes.  Sentimental people save those things - that would be me!!!  So, more tears (sentimental people cry a lot too) and heartache of tossing and shredding the most important of my STUFF.  Yet, it's finally done and I have another sense of freedom because I don't have to cart around boxes of papers and photos anymore.  I can now treasure and enjoy the ones I kept and will have with me in Ecuador.

Do we miss the USA?  Sometimes we think we do until we journey back there and go into reverse culture shock.  The cost of food seems like it's doubled in two years. One afternoon Bo and I walked out of a not-so-fancy Florida restaurant because lunch for two (hamburgers) was going to be $40, and that was without the tip!  We cooked and ate most of our meals at home, and there was little to do without it costing a lot in the way of arts, culture, and exploring.  Florida is not an area that we would even visit if not for our dear friend who is truly family to us.  We are thankful the weather was "chilly" and we didn't suffer the Florida heat and humidity during this trip back. 

It's always an eye-opener for Bo and me to return from the USA and re-evaluate our Cost of Living in Cuenca, which is a huge reason why we enjoy living here.  We continue to keep a DAILY spreadsheet of every cent we spend, and it's an accurate way for us to make adjustments so that we can be wise with our retirement funds and still live comfortably and affordable.  For those contemplating retiring in Cuenca or those who are newly arrived, I hope this gives you insight to how we as a couple who do not live extravagantly budget our monthly expenditures.  It's changed from when I've shared past "Cost of Living in Cuenca" posts (by about $500) - but it continues to stay within an affordable lifestyle that has allowed us to retire early while we're still IN THE YOUTH OF OUR OLD AGE.


RENT - $280 Monthly.  We have been in apartment #5 for 20 months now. (Remember, we moved 5 times in our first 4 months in Cuenca.)  We are always looking for the next "WOW" place, but every time we weigh the pros and cons of leaving here, we stay.  Mostly because we love our location, but paying such an affordable monthly rent allows us more money to travel and to save.  Also, after hearing about how much money other ex-pat friends of ours have poured into their rentals with no chance of reimbursement from their landlords, we are grateful that our place was clean, had no leaks or mold, and our landlord has been kind and generous to us.

ELECTRIC - $25 Monthly.  When we first moved into this apartment, our utility bill was $10 or less.  Well, we didn't have the luxurious appliances and lamps and electrical drawing units that we now have.  At first, we thought there was an error on the bill, but after a visit to the Electric Company and personally checking out the meter in our building, we were able to rest in the fact that this is our personal usage here.  We were spoiled paying only $10.  Yet, $25 is a lot less than what we paid in Oregon during our cold damp winters or air-conditioned summers.

PHONE - $41 Monthly.  That's for an internet plan for the two of us through Claro.  At first, we used to buy minutes, but we decided we wanted to have the least expensive internet plan with enough monthly minutes for calls and texting.  This has worked out fine for our personal usage.

INTERNET - $28 Monthly.  Our internet is through ETAPA.  We live in El Centro, so this works for us.  We have had few problems with losing internet or slow speed, so again, this works for us.  Don't listen to all the horror stories you hear or read about when it comes to internet issues here.

FOOD - $300 Monthly.  We both like to cook!  We like to eat most of our meals at home.  Bo is the main cook!  I LOVE to eat any meal prepared by Chef Bo!  So, our daily expense for food comes from shopping at the 10 de Augusto Mercado one block from our apartment, and shopping at the tiendas around our neighborhood.  We go to SuperMaxi if we need specialty items such as capers, and that is only about once a month.  We visited Feria Libre a couple of times, but it doesn't pay for us to go that far out of our way when we have everything we need for our gourmet cooking right around the block from us.

DINING OUT - $150 Monthly.  We figured this high because it allows us to meet friends for special dinners and special occasions.  We enjoy going to the $2.50-$3 Almuerzo (lunch) places, but we also like eating at some of the nicer restaurants around Cuenca.  More friends makes for more occasions to eat out and celebrate the good life together.

HOUSEHOLD - $30 Monthly.  This covers paper and cleaning products, and toiletries.

TRANSPORTATION - $25 Monthly.  We walk to most places because our apartment is centrally located.  However, sometimes we take buses and taxis when visiting friends who live outside of El Centro if it's too far to walk.

IESS INSURANCE - $82 MONTHLY.  This covers both Bo and me at 100% for any medical emergency that might arise.  We are also covered for any outpatient needs for medical, eye, hearing, physical therapy, prescriptions (if they have it in stock) etc.  Dental is not covered for free until we reach 65.  Our family doctor who is not in the IESS pool charges us $10 per visit and is available for a same-day appointment.  So, all of our medical needs are taken care of, and we have had positive experiences whenever we've had to use any of Cuenca's health care facilities.  Back in the USA, our monthly medical premiums were already up at $600 for the two of us, and that was for catastrophic coverage only.  

MEDICAL EXPENSES - $200 Monthly.  These expenses are outside of the IESS coverage for dental, medical, prescriptions, and eye. 

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES - $300 Monthly.  This covers attorney fees, Accounting fees, Computer repairs, Spanish lessons, and any other professional services that we might incur.

MISCELLANEOUS - $300 Monthly.  Monthly, I have an iHerb package coming from the USA for special purchases such as vitamins, teas, herbs, food items, etc.  This also covers entertainment, travel expenses, clothing, donations, Gym, Yoga classes, Massages, Haircuts, USA Mailbox expenses, and more.


In two years, God has blessed us with every need and lots of wants in Ecuador!  We love that our cost of living is still so affordable here and has allowed us to retire early.  Mostly, we enjoy the many relationships and genuine friendships we have that are already golden!  What's not to love about LIVING IN CUENCA?

Each morning comes with renewed hope.
Market Grains along the street of Santa Teresa near the Mercado.
Some of my adorable students who come to our apartment every Tuesday night for English lessons.  They are the joy of our week.
Cuy (Guinea Pig) is a delicacy in Cuenca - and very expensive! 
Christmas is a big deal in Cuenca - and vendors are lining the streets with their christmas wares.

A young child enjoying his magazine.  Is he reading or just looking at the photos?  Families work long hours with the hope of being able to afford to give their children an education.
My dear friend and flower vendor, Anita with her daughter, Patricia.  They bring joy to my heart whenever I see them.
Our neighborhood girls - sisters and cousins.  Family is priority here!
It's MANGO season again, my favorite fruit!  The  wheelbarrows filled with ripe fruits are delivered daily in the early mornings, right below our apartment.  Vendors will arrive and wheel them away to sell the fruit along the streets of El Centro!

Farmland with abundant produce outside El Centro
The San Francisco Flower Market is three blocks from our apartment.  
We enjoy riding the buses of Cuenca.  
The University of Cuenca Campus
A group of cyclists pedaling through the heart of El Centro along Simon Bolivar
Cuenca always has a parade!
Someone's home along a country road in Cuenca
Cuenca is never lacking for year-round colorful flowers
A family name plaque over the door says, "God Bless Our Home"
My favorite dessert in all of Cuenca - Almond Chocolate Torte!
A cherished photo of Sr. Diaz shaking Bo's hand and thanking him for another meal.  We are sad that Sr. Diaz is no longer living on his corner.  His family took him to their home because of his failing health (he is 94 years old).  We miss seeing and talking to him.

I hope you continue to enjoy my photography and reading my blog about our life in Cuenca Ecuador!!


  1. Hi Linda, you and I have much the same outlook it seems on the budget aspect. We're not in Cuenca quite yet. . . In our exploratory trip last Spring, I came up with figures pretty much approximating yours with room to "fudge" over.

    Phone, Internet, Medical expenses are all categories to be prayerfully deliberate and consider the strengths and weaknesses of deciding one way or another. Nothing is ever perfect, but some decisions are better than others.

    Yes, relationships are so very important! Not just coming to have a more affordable life in Ecuador, but also friends to share life together, especially in our jubilado stage of life.

    Your writing is wonderful, and the photography is better than mine now is. I really enjoy reading your insights. . . learning new things every day - and confirming what I have already experienced. Good to have another expat's viewpoint to check things out with. Your postings are valuable in that way, too.

    1. Welcome to our BLOG, David!
      Thank you for your kind and inspiring words - I will continue to share my insights, our journey, and more of my photography with the hope this blog will be informative and a fun and helpful site for others contemplating moving here. I hope your plans to come to Cuenca are going smoothly, and that you will find everything you hope for in this beautiful and amazing country and city. Stay in touch.
      God bless you and keep you and may He give you peace during this transitiion.

    2. Glad to be here at your weblog, Linda!

      I've been chronicling *our* adventures getting out of the States as well for the last several months. You'll find the link at my Google+ account page - click on my name next to the Lion/Lamb above. I don't know your feelings on posting links in the comments section, so I'll just leave it at that.

      I haven't had the time to be as clear headed as you, or as well thought out as you. But once I "get it," I write in your league, I think! Blogging is my therapy to help me figure things out in the midst of the life changing move that is ours coming to Cuenca and Ecuador, and if I can help someone in my shoes trying to do the same thing and live in Cuenca, I am honored to be a helping part.

      Linda, our plans to come to Cuenca *are* going smoothly, thanks to our Lord above!

      Cuenca. . . as a way to live within our means. . . check!

      Cuenca. . . as a way to improve our health. . . check!

      Cuenca. . . as a place to give to others in compassionate uses of our time and talents in Jesus' name. . . check!

      Would very much like to stay in touch. . . Our Spring exploratory trip to Cuenca resulted in a meetup with what proved to be a couple involved in a "Christian" cult. I've since learned to not be quite so assuming in the future. Perhaps you and Bo would like for the four of us to meet once in Cuenca. We're just mere weeks - and days - away!

      Dios le bendiga tambien, and may His perfect peace that the world can't give be yours this Christmas.

    3. Hi David,
      Your reasons for coming to Cuenca will be a blessing for you and to others. Stay in touch and contact me when you arrive. We can make arrangements to meet. If you send me your e-mail, I can respond in more detail to your experience on your exploratory trip to Cuenca. Looking forward to meeting you and your wife.

    4. Linda, you are too kind. . . (humble bow)

      Stay in touch - why, certainly! (smile)

      Likewise, looking forward to meeting you two once we catch our breath after arriving in Cuenca.

  2. Linda,
    Love your posts - especially the photos. I'll be getting my resident visa in February at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Atlanta. And shortly after that, I'll be on my way to Cuenca. Can't wait to meet you. Wish I were there now for all the holiday festivities.

    Hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas!

    1. Juanita,
      Thanks for sharing your progress - you must be so excited as the days shorten for your final exit and move to Cuenca. It has been such a busy time here with the holiday vendors, shoppers, and entertainment for the Christmas and New Year Season. Ecuadorians really celebrate here. You will get to experience it in 2015. On Christmas Eve day, the "All Day" Paseo del Niño" parade will be happening. I'm sure to be out there with my camera capturing the joy and celebration of this religious and humble people as they honor what they believe to be the time of the birth of Christ Jesus - and with colorful costumes and incredible floats.
      Stay in touch, and let me know when you've arrived!
      Have a joyful holiday season,

  3. Linda, CONGRATS on your 2 year anniversary! May you remain as enthusiastic for years to come :)

    LOVE your posts! I have lived in Cuenca 4 years, but still find your not only hugely entertaining, but also the most informative of all Gringo blogs that I have read :) GREAT BLOG!! FANTASTIC PHOTOGRAPHY!!

    Ok, now questions. First the most serious one - WHERE IS THIS CHOCOLATE ALMOND CAKE? I WANT IT NOW!!
    Next, where and how do you pay for your IESS insurance? I had it deducted from my bank account here. But 3 days ago, there arrived their message, stating that they could not deduct the payment due to insufficient funds. This is not the case , but neither IESS, nor my bank reply to my emails.
    So, I am thinking that it is easier to pay to their bank account. BUT HOW AND WHERE? SOS PLEASE!
    Finally, since you mention that you are always looking at apartments. Have you seen or do you know of anything for rent in El Centro or elsewhere? Something like what you have (a WONDERFUL PLACE) and for not more than you pay. Only restriction - cannot be Planta Baja or 3-rd floor. 2nd is ideal.

    Would be so grateful if you reply fast, at least about IESS.


    1. Hi Jane,
      Thank you for commenting with kind and encouraging words about my blog and photography. I'm glad you are personally enjoying what I write about and photograph.
      The Chocolate Almond Cake is at Popacucho's below the Gringo Tree edificio. TO DIE FOR!
      I pay our IESS at the WESTERN UNION caddy-corner from the El Centro IESS location on Gran Columbia (I don't like anyone taking money automatically from our account.)
      There are always places for rent in El Centro, but you have to be looking and listening. Most places that are in the price range we are paying are not furnished. They are rare if they are in the quality condition our place is - and we did have to invest in furniture and everything else to make this home - which it is now! Just keep on looking. There's something for everyone in time.
      Have a blessed Holiday celebration.

  4. Merry Christmas to you and Bo. It was wonderful as usual to read how you have embraced your new lives in Cuenca. I look forward to your posts, pictures and admire your love of the people and the simple things of life. My husband, Jeremiah, and I wish you all the best in the coming year and pray for God's blessings on you and Bo for good health and happiness and safe travels as you live in Cuenca and tour Ecuador. Paulette and Jeremiah Mehl

  5. Hi Paulette,
    Yes, we continue to love living in Ecuador - and we are looking forward to our 2015 here in this beautiful country and city. Thank you for God's blessings over our lives, and may you and Jeremiah also have a blessed holiday season and a wonderful 2015.

  6. Got to this from Zero Latitude today in Madrid, Linda! Seeing it there, reading through it, and seeing your beautiful photos made my morning AND reinforced our own happy decision to live in Cuenca! Hoping to get together with you both asap in the new year! xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

    1. Dearest Sheila,
      Isn't Zero Latitude a great resource? I appreciate what Sara has created and accomplished with this informative site - and honored to have my blog listed there for others to find and read. I'm so glad you could read my latest post from Madrid and happy about your decision to live in Cuenca. Today is the usual overcast and misty morning, but soon that warm equator sun will burst forth and the sky will be a majestic blue - love the daily seasons here! Hurry home and we'll toast in the New Year. So much to be thankful for and look forward to in 2015. I'm excited to travel and see more of this beautiful country we live in. We plan to visit the Cajas soon and spend time with our "adorables" at Rancho Prado. Perhaps you and Todd want to join us?
      See you soon,

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Linda,

      I love your eloquent writing and greatly appreciate your authenticity. I am considering a move to Cuenca in summer 2015. how is Internet connection? I work online and it is important. I would love to stay in such, this is the best blog.

    4. Welcome to our BLOG, Alecia!
      How exciting for you as you make plans to relocate to Cuenca soon!! There are many different options for internet here, and the service will depend on where you plan to live. We have a friend who works online daily without any problems. Do stay in touch and thank you for your kind words about my blog being the best!
      See you in Cuenca,

  7. Hi- We have lots of mutual friends in Cuenca- Jim and Diane, Todd and Sheila and a few others. They've told me so much about you that I am eager to meet you and Bo. I'm their friend from Paute. Thanks for sharing your experiences in your blog. Really enjoyed it. Hope our paths cross soon. God bless!

    1. Hi Lynne,
      How nice to hear from you. Todd andSheila have mentioned that we must meet you! So let's make a plan to do that when they return from Madrid. We look forward to the New Year and meeting more wonderful people now living in Ecuador - like you. Happy New Year and hope you continue to enjoy our BLOG and my photography.
      May God bless you and guide you in the new year,

  8. Hi Linda,

    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. We find it priceless. We are considering moving to Cuenca and are wondering if there is a good quality photo lab where we would be able to print our photography.
    Patrice & Stephen

  9. Welcome to our BLOG, Patrice!
    I hope you continue to enjoy reading about our adventure in Cuenca - it has been my pleasure to share our journey so that others contemplating a move here will know a couple that is "doing it!!" After two years here, it has become home - and looking back at the challenges and changes we had to accomplish to become Ecuador Expats continues to amaze me that WE DID IT! So, I like to encourage others to keep on going if this is the the end-goal. YOU CAN DO IT TOO!! I have a Fuji Lab in El Centro on Gran Columbia and Padre Aguirre that does an excellent job printing enlargements of my photography. They also do canvas prints and more. There are other places in Cuenca, but this is who I continue to use because they meet all my expectations for quality work. Stay in touch and God bless you as you journey on with your big decision to move to Cuenca. It's a fabulous city to live in.

  10. Hi Linda,

    It is encouraging to see a positive outlook on Cuenca in your blog. We feel that the Lord is calling us to slow down, find rest and make time to serve in Cuenca. What are some of your favorite organizations to volunteer? You two seem to have sweet hearts.

    Have you found that some areas of town are home to more gringos than others? We are a young family from Texas (not yet in our 30's) and have a toddler girl. Hoping we also do not need to purchase a car and that food, parks and recreation are a bus ride or taxi away?

    Thanks for the time!

    1. Welcome to our BLOG, Jenn!
      I hope you continue to read and enjoy my posts and photography. Mostly, that you will find my sharings helpful and informative as you make plans to follow God's call to Cuenca. There are many organizations here to volunteer, so you won't be lacking for the right place to plug into and serve others. A dear friend of mine who just moved here is going to be teaching and translating for a local church, with opportunities to visit the Amazon areas and do missionary work. Again, lots to do here! Yes, there are areas of town known as "Gringolandia." Some expats prefer to live close to each other because of the language, like the newer areas for living, and do not want to live in El Centro. There are many expats who love living amongst the Ecuadorians also. It's all a personal preference, but both options are always available. As for a car, the bus and taxi transportation here is sufficient for us - but we like walking and do a lot of that too. Food, parks,and recreation are all walking distance depending on where you live. You will work all of that out once you arrive and become familiar with the City life here. How exciting that your young family will be on a new adventure as you listen to the call of God. He always has a better plan than we could ever imagine. You'll look back one day, connect the dots, and smile. Walk by faith and not by sight.
      God bless you as you prepare for a new life and adventure in Cuenca.
      Do stay in touch...


Leave us your comments and I will respond with any questions you may have. Enjoy our Blog! Linda (y Bo)