Whether you want to retire abroad in Ecuador, Italy, or Thailand, the choices for retired folks are endless. There are excellent sites in almost every country you can think of, and all of them extol the virtues and usually the “cheapness” of living there. But before you grab your “retired” hat and your passport and head down to the doctor’s office for a round of shots for the trip, (yes shots… lots of shots) you should really think it through.
I really started to think about retiring abroad a while back. The whole thing started when I was watching a popular show about folks retiring overseas and they showed a beachfront house in Ecuador for only $139,000. Seriously? I thought, “I could be retired on the beach”, I mean right on the actual beach, for $139,000! Immediately I realized that if I could retire and live “on the beach” for that much how much cheaper would it cost to live a block away from the beach? ( I can still walk!) Very cheaply, as it turns out. In fact, for $500 a month, I could retire and be living in Paradise.
Now, most of the stories you read will tell you about the inexpensive food, (60% of US prices) the cheap housing, and the cheap transportation ($1.00 bus rides). There are scores of You-Tube videos with sun-tanned seniors living in retirement abroad in some exotic spot like Panama City or the Yucatan on $1200 a month. To retire overseas seems to be the new trend.
The stories seem to be so great, but that’s because they are not making an honest comparison. They’re not comparing apples to apples, more like apples to bananas. When you start to think about the cost to retire abroad its good to look at some real numbers for retired seniors, starting with the cost of an apartment.
A two bedroom apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador, comparable to one in the states is about $500 bucks a month (Craigslist) and a 3 bedroom is $800. Not a bad price at all. And some of them are modern and spacious. Now let’s look at, say, Myrtle Beach, North Carolina. A three bedroom in Myrtle Beach (Craigslist) can be had for $850 a month with a lease. Not much different. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that an apartment in Cuenca is $200 a month cheaper.
Retire in Ecuador
How about food. Well, how about a nice meal at a medium priced restaurant. At the El Maiz Restaurant in Cuenca nothing on the menu is more than about $8 and with drinks and a 12% tax (not including tip) so, with a couple of glasses of wine, your bill comes to $25 0r $30. Not bad.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, a half- rack of ribs with a side costs $14 at Ruby Tuesdays. Add in sweet tea, ( the “house wine” of North Carolina) and 8% tax, dinner for two is about $40 bucks…only $10 more.
Often the sites that attempt to show how cheap the food is are referring to an all “vegetarian” meal or some variant of “guinea pig and beans.” I’m not saying anything bad about the guinea pig, I’m just saying that you can’t compare it to “baby-back ribs.” So, if you figure eating out, even five times a week, that’s only saving $200 a month on “dining out” food.
Most stories on the web tell of how you can travel “all over town” for just a dollar. ($1) That seems cheap enough. But remember, that’s traveling around on public transportation, not in your own car (as you would in the US). In Kansas City riding on the KCATA – the public bus service is $1.50 a trip or $50 a month with reduced fares available at $25 a month for retired seniors over 65. That’s a better deal than Cuenca!
Cost of Living in Ecuador
So, just looking at these three areas, housing, food and transportation we see it would only be $400 a month cheaper or about $5,000 a year to live in Cuenca for a comparable retired lifestyle. If you subtract the cost of traveling back to the States only once a year to see the kids and the grand-kids, $1,900 airfare for two, $400 car rental for a week, not to mention hotel, dining and gifts, all of which could easily add up to $3,000, you end up with a savings of $2,000 or less than $200 a month.
$200 is a lot of money if you’re on a retirement budget, but to get the savings you have to travel quite a distance, learn a new language and possibly have to trade barbecue “baby-backs” for guinea pig…..
With more and more people dreaming about Ecuador, including me, I just had to look into it a little more. And, as usual, the web is full of interesting information. So many folks are already enjoying the beautiful, cool mountains of Cuenca and the pristine beaches of Salinas or Playas that it worries me that I might get there too late. But, from what I’ve read so far, there is still plenty of room for a few more crazy gringos.
The biggest decision you have is whether to settle in a spot like Cuenca, with its fair mountain weather or a warmer coastal community. Edd Staton has written a great article on Cuenca’s weather and says that the average temperatures run between 50 and 70 degrees. He even hints that its better than Hoboken, New Jersey at 100 degrees. (can it be?) I haven’t been to Cuenca yet, but I’ve priced out the travel and hotels. I think a trip to Cuenca is in my future. Edd’s articles are a treasure of useful info for anyone thinking of visiting or relocating to Ecuador.
Connie Pombo has written on the subject of moving to Ecuador and touches on some very important points to consider before you uproot yourself from America and head to Ecuador. She points out that many folks move down only to turn around and go back. She wisely notes that while many are drawn by the low cost of living, they are not prepared for the changes in culture and language. The language barriers drive many to create little “ghettos” of expat cafes and stores. To retire overseas might take some getting used to, gringo.
Bryan Haines of GringosAbroad.com has a ton of useful information on moving to Ecuador including his experiences with getting a drivers license and dealing with the legal issues that confront the expats. His story on why some retired expats decide to turn around and leave is very informative and adds to the knowledge you want to have if and when you decide to give Ecuador a try. He has noticed that “quality of life” issues bother many. Things like how you wash your clothes or the different diseases they might encounter. To some, it was just not being able to get their favorite brands of snacks. I suppose that you never really know if that stuff matters until it all changes. But, that’s one of the interesting parts of travel.. discovering what really matters.