My Affordable Overseas Retirement Plan

The reason why I have to retire where there's a very affordable cost of living is probably familiar to many readers. I was battered financially during the last recession, and I further complicated the situation by making a couple of bad investment decisions. I'd planned for decades to retire and live in Vienna, Austria and invested a great deal of time and money assuring it would come to be, including learning to speak German. That dream is no longer even the remotest of realities. No problem, I have decided to move to Cuenca, Ecuador.


Panorama of Cuenca, Ecuador


Cuenca is one of the best places in the world to retire if one's budget is small but living abroad is the goal. By small, I'm talking $800 to $1000 a month. With that low of a monthly cost of living, I expect learning Spanish to be my major challenge.



You're probably wondering why I decide to retire in Ecuador? Then, why did I choose Cuenca over all the other cities in Ecuador? I did a lot of research because as things are now, I have no cushion to fall back on. Plus, if I make a wrong decision I'll have no resources to move again once I relocate to retire. What I did was list what I absolutely needed to have wherever I relocated to, followed by what I'd want, and finally what would be nice to have but that wasn't a deal breaker. Ecuador was not the only country I considered, and was not top of my list initially. Thailand was. Then when I narrowed down my choice of countries to Ecuador, Cuenca was actually behind Quito. But when I took into consideration everything I wanted and needed in a new home, and compromised on what was far from a deal breaker, I became 100% convinced that Cuenca is the best city in all the world for me to be.

Why I chose Cuenca...

I'm not someone who likes the heat much, but I'm no fan of cold weather either. Cuenca is neither cold nor hot, but remains at a comfortable Spring like 15 Celsius / 60 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, give of take the odd anomaly that has recorded an all time high of 81 and low of 0. Both bearable for this Canadian.

I used to enjoy winter sports and mountain climbing, which somewhat influenced my original retirement plan, which included living in Austria. Three decades later sports and mountain climbing are not even on my radar as recreational pursuits. In fact, when I scratched them off the list of wants in a retirement location, I did so saying to myself, "What way I thinking?" I enjoy wilderness hiking, and photography and writing are my hobbies now, with writing earning me a livable income when the cost of living it comparable to Cuenca. So all I need are unspoiled vistas to explore and photograph, and access to high speed Internet to distribute my writings.


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I also detest humidity. Dry heat is tolerable, but humid heat I avoid like the plague. Being on the Equator is warmer, so most of my initial short listed options were not far from latitude zero. However, most equatorial locations are way too hot or far too humid to be comfortable. Cuenca is ideally located, close to the equator but at an elevation of 2500 metres.

I wanted to live somewhere unique and beautiful. Cuenca has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site for good reason, it's a gorgeous colonial city. Of course there are other beautiful colonial cities in Ecuador, but Cuenca is the cultural heart of the country. As a senior in this center of music, art and literature, you can attend an orchestra performance, a play, an art gallery opening, and so on free of charge.


A key consideration for anyone my age relocating for retirement is that there has to be decent, affordable health care facilities. The health care in Ecuador is of high quality and inexpensive.

Of course moving overseas for retirement can result in a feeling of alienation. I have lived in countries where I did not speak a word of the language before arriving and actually find the challenge of assimilating an adventure. Not everyone feels the same way though, and many an expiate has returned home because they could not get over the "culture shock". Cuenca’s large and growing expiate community is one of Latin America’s largest and most diverse, with English speaking British, American, Australian and Canadians in the majority. Thus there are restaurants, bars and such that cater to the English, expiate community.

Cuenca is a popular destination for international language students, so there are many affordable options for learning Spanish. I estimate that immersed completely in a Spanish community, with formal language education I will be able to learn the local language in 3 to 6 months. Maybe I won't be fluent, but I'll speak and understand Spanish well enough to function day to day.

An affordable cost of living is top of my list of must have benefits for any retirement destination. Cuenca's biggest draw as a retirement destination is its low cost of living. The continuous decline in the US dollar has caused the cost of living to rise sharply for overseas retirees whose incomes are denominated in US dollars, but who live where goods are priced in the local currency. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as the country's currency so, for the time being at least, the declining value of the US dollar does not have too great an impact. However, as with most countries still using the US dollar, its depreciation is giving rise to talks of changing to a local currency. So Ecuador may convert to an independent currency at some point.

Lunch in Cuenca can cost between $1.00 to $3.00, with a couple of dollars being the norm. The city's markets have an abundance of fresh, tropical fruits and vegetables that cost just pennies per item. Fresh fish and shrimp arrive daily from the coast, and much of the local poultry and meat is free-range.


Related articles: Montañita Beach Life | Cuenca, Ecuador | Advice On Retiring To Ecuador | Advice On Retiring To Ecuador Part 2

Bus transportation throughout the city is 25 cents, the meter in a taxis starts out at $1.50, and gas is a third of what it costs in the USA. Because Cuenca provides inexpensive, yet excellent public transit, going without a car is no problem. Personally, I prefer to walk if the weather permits, and in Cuenca it usually does.

Rent for a nice, furnished apartment is as low as $300 per month, while unfurnished apartments can be found for as little as $200 per month. To purchase a small condo or even a free standing house prices start at around $40,000.

Since there is no wide seasonal fluctuations in temperatures, there is no need of heat or air conditioning in Cuenca, resulting in a significant utilities cost. A comfortable retirement income in Cuenca is $1000 a month, but it is best to have a budget of $1500. Retirees automatically qualify for permanent resident status if their government pension totals only $800 per month, the amount the Ecuadorian governments deems an adequate income to be self sufficient. However, I intend to have a house keeper, as many retirees want or need, and a Spanish tutor. I budgeted that a house keeper will cost around $300 a month and a tutor a couple of hundred.

My choice was to move to Cuenca because of the culture and high speed Internet availability. However, Cuenca is not the most affordable retiree destination in Ecuador. In smaller towns like Cotacachi and Vilcabamba $650 or $700 a month allows for a very comfortable retirement lifestyle. The reason I decided against retiring in smaller communities like Cotacachi was mostly because there's not much in the way of entertainment. I may be retiring, but I intend to fill my days with things that are interesting to do and see. Cuenca is a well developed, full service city, so I'll be able to fill my days with cultural entertainment.