Ecuador cost of living – a year of expenses

GREEN: expenses in Cuenca, Ecuador(2013). YELLOW: expenses in San Francisco, CA (2012)

I have now lived in Cuenca for just over a year! Incredible how time passes by. A lot of people are fascinated by cost of living comparisons, so here’s mine, now that I have a full 12 months of data. I have spent on average, about $1000 per month total over the last year living in Cuenca, some months as little as $600, averaging 2.8 times the minimum wage in Cuenca.

San Francisco vs. Cuenca

I used to live in downtown/financial district of San Francisco, California. I was able to live reasonably cheaply because I have a rent-controlled apartment* (San Francisco limits rent increases to the consumer price index, so that even though rent has sky-rocketed, people who moved to SF a long time ago pay much less).

The biggest difference is that I shared an apartment with a roommate in San Francisco and here I live by myself. If I had rented an apartment in SF, my expenses would probably be double. In Cuenca, I eat out way more (since restaurants here you can get by with $6 instead of $25 for dinner). However, I do not have a car, which was something I had in San Francisco along with a couple other convenience services for the time-crunched office-worker (organic veggie delivery, pick and drop/off laundry/ dry-cleaning delivery service).

My Ecuador expenses by month

I am now inviting all readers to see my Cuenca expenses. This graph is from (which tabulates all credit card purchases plus ATM cash withdrawals). Here is what I spent month by month in Cuenca versus in San Francisco:

GREEN: expenses in Cuenca, Ecuador(2013). YELLOW: expenses in San Francisco, CA (2012)
GREEN: expenses in Cuenca, Ecuador(2013). YELLOW: expenses in San Francisco, CA (2012)

*The anomalies and other notes:

  • Bought a computer and a dSLR camera lens December 2012.
  • San Francisco expenses should higher than shown above because I excluded car depreciation (i.e. I bought a car, used it and sold it for way less).
  • I spent December 2013 with my parents in California, not in Cuenca.
  • Cuenca expenses are higher in some months due to non-recurring expenditures. I.e. $200 refridgerator purchase, $200 temporary visa, $300 permanent visa fee…
  • I took vacations to Puerto Rico (December 2012), the Dominican Republic (January 2013) which raise expenses those months.
  • I have taken cheapie vacations (Banos de Ambato, Quito, elsewhere in Ecuador, Peru which raise expenses slightly those months).
  • I haven’t paid for any international airfare for the last 2 years because of significant frequent flyer miles. Otherwise expenses would be significantly higher.

Ecuador cost of living breakdown

  • Rent – $100-170. Furnished room or cheapie unfurnished apartment
  • Groceries – $150. Buying most stuff from the local markets, some gringo-groceries from the big supermarket (Supermaxi), and some ridiculously overpriced stuff from the local health-food store (Nektar)
  • Eating out $130 – 4 times/week at modest restaurants $6 per time, 4 times a week getting snacks (yoghurt, juices) at $2/instance. Relatively cheap because I don’t drink.
  • Thermal pools – $40 – monthly fee for Piedra de Agua thermal pools /spa membership
  • Ballet classes $40 – 5 times a week
  • VPN fee $40
  • Taxis and buses $30 – I mostly walk, with the occasional bus or taxi.
  • Gym membership $20 – for weight lifting
  • Cell phone minutes $20
  • Internet cafes $20
  • Skype $10 – for calling the US
  • The rest is discretionary – trips around Ecuador, clothes, housewares, gifts
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