Becoming Cuenca

Cuenca is No Longer the Most Expensive! (Or Was It Ever?)

Feb 1, 2024

The headline is correct and was written to get your attention.

For headline readers, they will completely miss the gist of this post.

For people like you, who actually read articles, you will find it interesting and informative with the latest official and best information available.

It is true that Cuenca is no longer the most expensive.

In Ecuador, that is.

And according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC – Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos).

Earlier this month, INEC said the cost of the basic family basket, made up of 75 products, reached $817.54 in Cuenca. That is up 5.4 percent from 18 months ago.

The basic family basket is a group of 75 essential goods and services needed to satisfy the basic needs of a family of four.

Crunch the numbers and the basic family basket is rising at an annual rate of 3.63 percent. To put that into perspective, the inflation rate for the United States in 2022 was 6.5 percent and 3.4 percent in 2023.

As you can see, the rise in food prices in Cuenca is slower than the United States. And food prices are definitely more affordable here.

Luis Tobar, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the Salesian Polytechnic University, told the Cuenca Dispatch in 2022 that raw materials from the U.S. are a driving force for inflation in Ecuador.

Despite that, the inflation rate in Ecuador remains well below the United States. For those on Social Security, you are actually making more with the annual inflation adjustment by the Social Security Administration.

Oh! The most expensive city for a basic family basket is now Quito, where it costs $830.76 for a family of four. Using INEC’s numbers, that means it costs 1.61 percent more to live in Quito than in Cuenca.

Livingcost is a crowdsourced database with a cost-of-living calculator for prices comparison in 9,294 cities in 197 countries all over the world.

Crowdsourcing is the collection of information, opinions, or work from a group of people or organizations, usually sourced via the Internet. For worldwide data, this is the best one can do as getting official statistics and data from all 195 countries in the world is impossible.

Using Livingcost, I found out that the monthly cost of living in Ecuador is $789 while it is $2,434 in the U.S. and $1,931 in Canada.

Before you start objecting to those numbers being ridiculously low, I will offer a way for you to compare the cost of living in Ecuador versus those two North American countries.

Throw the dollar figures out as they definitely do not reflect our lifestyle. A very good example of their numbers is a one-bedroom apartment in the center of the city. That one-bedroom apartment is 40 square meters or 430 square feet.

The average size of a newly built one-bedroom apartment in the U.S. in 2018 was 757 square feet. That is down from 2008, when the average newly built one-bedroom was 790 square feet.

I find their “Utility Bill” of $53.00 for a family in Ecuador (electricity, heating, water, etc.) to be rather realistic. It is a very good statistic if those utilities do not include cellphone service.

Let’s use the dollar figures from Livingcost for your math calculations as it will be apples-to-apple.

Using those dollar amounts, one can conclude the cost of living in Ecuador is about 32 percent of the United States. And it is 41 percent of what it costs to live in Canada.

You know your monthly budget, so if you live in the U.S., just take a third of what you are spending now to figure out about what it will cost you to live in Cuenca. This is not totally accurate, but you will certainly be in the ballpark.

Numbeo has been mentioned by me numerous times, including in my book. It is the largest reliable crowd-sourced online database of consumer prices, real property prices, and quality of life metrics. The website was founded in April 2009 by a former Google employee to enable users to share and compare information about the cost of living between countries and cities.

Using Numbeo’s metrics, here are some cost-of-living comparisons to help you understand what it will cost you to live in Cuenca. The comparisons include rent:

 

73.2% lower than San Diego, CA

67.6% lower than Seattle, WA

66.0% lower than New York, NY

63.4% lower than Boston, MA

61.8% lower than Chicago, IL

61.8% lower than Houston, TX

59.0% lower than Denver, CO

56.9% lower than Raleigh, NC

54.5% lower than Vancouver, BC

52.5% lower than Toronto, ONT

 

The bottom line to the monthly cost of living in Ecuador being $789 is its worldwide ranking. Livingcost says the cost of living (including rent) puts Ecuador in the lower half.

Breaking things down, rent and utilities has Ecuador in the lowest 38 percent in the world with its #124 ranking.

Livingcost itemized some of the costs of groceries by listing several commonly bought food items:

 

🍏 Apples, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $2.09

🍌 Banana, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.20

🍺 Beer, 0.5 liter or 16 fluid ounces: $1.48

🍞 Bread, 0.5 kg. or 1.1 pounds: $1.46

🧀 Cheese, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $6.10

🐔 Chicken Breast, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $5.89

🍹 Coca-Cola / Pepsi, 2 liters or 67.6 fluid ounces: $2.02

🥚 Eggs, 1 dozen: $2.14

🥛 Milk, 1 liter or 1 quart: $1.12

🧅 Onion, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.02

🍊 Oranges, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.22

🥔 Potato, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.10

🍚 Rice, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.24

🥩 Round Steak, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $6.00

🍅 Tomato, 1 kg. or 2.2 pounds: $1.12

🌊 Water, 1 liter or 1 quart: $0.66

🍾 Wine (mid-priced), 750 ml. bottle: $11.00

 

Joanna and I feel most of these prices from the crowdsourced database are very close to reality in Cuenca. What I have presented to you is pretty much reality and not some out-of-the-blue figures that are easily thrown about on the Internet.

From our four years of shopping for groceries, we found that bananas at Mercado 27 de Febrero can be cheaper than the price stated above. We have returned home many times with eight or nine bananas for just a dollar.

We don’t know what type of bread is $1.46 per loaf, but ours is certainly more than that. The price stated may be for some generic white bread.

To lump all cheese together is not fair as there are some cheeses that cost a lot more than others. For instance, Joanna and I love Parmigiano Reggiano. At a worldwide average price of $21 per pound, it is definitely one of the most expensive cheese in the world.

At the other end, there is queso fresco, which is unaged cheese. That is abundant in Ecuador, so prices for it are rather cheap.

Most expats want cheese with a bite, so they end up spending more for imported cheeses. And that can be rather difficult, especially a good, aged cheddar cheese. If you ask expats which cheese, they miss the most, aged cheddar is a clear number-one.

Many cheeses can be found at Supermaxi, which is the large grocery store in Ecuador. Think of it as a Kroger or Safeway for size and offerings. It is definitely not as fancy as a Harris Teeter or a Fresh Market.

We have found many of our higher quality cheeses at El Club Del Queso. It is run by two young Ecuadorian women.

Recently, we bought four wedges (300 grams / 10.6 ounces each) of this delicious cheddar that comes from a place that most would never expect: Islas Galápagos.

Located on the grounds of the Enchanted Galápagos Lodge, on Santa Cruz Island, El Queso Chueco (The Crooked Cheese) artisanal cheese factory recently captured two prestigious honors. They are currently making an award-winning Camembert, Cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan, Vacherin, and yogurts.

El Queso Chueco ages their cheddars for a minimum of four months. That is why it is considered gold in Cuenca by expats. Especially at about $13.60 per pound.

Egg prices can be all over the place. It depends on where you go and how many you get. If you go to Supermaxi, you will pay about the price stated by Livingcost. And many expats have stated on Facebook that those eggs are not fresh.

We don’t know about the quality of eggs at Supermaxi as we get our eggs from a wonderful Ecuadorian woman at Mercado 27 de Febrero. Her prices have gone up quite a bit, but we usually pay $3.75 to $4.00 for a flat of 30 very fresh and delicious eggs. At four bucks for 30, it comes out to $1.60 per dozen, which is lower than what Livingcost stated.

To show you how accurate some of Livingcost’s figures are, Joanna and I think their milk price is spot on. It is so spot on that $1.12 is the regular price right now at Supermaxi.

Meat prices are another tough one to qualify. First of all, meat in Ecuador is not aged like they are in the United States. For the most part, the meats here are tougher because of a lack of aging.

Then, as has been stated, your source will drive the prices. Supermaxi will have cheaper meat prices as it is owned by Corporación Favorita, the largest private company in terms of income, and the second largest employer in the country.

We have a good portion of our meat bused in from L&S Artisan Meats, which is located just outside of Cotacachi, in Imbabura province. It is owned by an American couple, so their meat is a lot closer to what you find in the United States.

Because it is bused in and more of an artisan meat, it costs more, but Joanna and I love to cook, and we want high-quality ingredients. Many expats are in the same boat with us, so they are ordering from L&S Artisan Meats, too. In our four years in Ecuador, we have watched L&S Artisan meats grow.

I found it interesting that despite so many people claiming online that Cuenca is THE most expensive large city in Ecuador, Livingcost’s crowdsourced database for the average monthly cost disagrees:

 

$901 Manta

$869 Guayaquil

$804 Quito

$801 Cuenca

$769 Durán

$755 Santo Domingo

$741 Montañita

$607 Loja

$603 Machala

$593 Esmeraldas

 

Based on population, Manta appears to be an outlier as Guayaquil is the largest city in the country, followed by Quito and Cuenca. Manta is the seventh largest city, but its coastal real estate is probably what drove it to the top.

Being a numbers guy, it should be noted that Cuenca is seven percent cheaper than Guayaquil. Just another reason to bypass Guayaquil and head for Cuenca.

Collecting reliable data online can be a challenging task for any researcher or journalist. With the infinite amount of information online, it can be difficult to decipher what is true and accurate and what is not.

I have tried to use my four decades of experience as a journalist to find sources that the mainstream media uses and what many people respect.

And I guarantee you will find expats who object to the figures I have presented. But most expats will agree that what has been presented in this post is very close to reality.

I hope this information helps.

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

You may want to sign up to be notified when I post new information and photos. By doing this, you will get the latest as soon as it goes online.

And please! Have several reliable sources of information before making any decision about moving to Cuenca. I consider myself a trusted source, but you definitely need more than me for your big resettlement.

Salud, mi amigo.

 

Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.