Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the third largest city in Ecuador and a popular expat destination. The population estimates for Cuenca vary from 400,000 to 650,000. "This city has a little of everything. The old and the new blend very well indeed. Lots of great restaurants, lots of music, the weather is the best, the mountains are breathtaking, the prices for me are just right. I really have everything here I could ever wish for," said one expat.
If you're moving to Cuenca, here are 11 things to know before moving to Cuenca:
Can you live in Cuenca on $1,000 a Month Budget?
When expats discussed, the cost of living in Cuenca, most agreed that you could easily live on $1,000 per month. "I rent a two bedroom, two bathroom condo on the 11th floor on the Rio Tomebamba. 24-hour security guards, underground parking I pay $300 a month for rent, gas $8, water $10, cable $52, internet $34 and security is $50. I live on about $1000 a month as a single guy. Of course what you spend will depend on your lifestyle. I have friends that live on $5000 a month but they have higher cost accommodations and travel a lot, eat our often etc. "[A retiree can live comfortably on] One thousand a month for a single and $1500 for a couple," wrote an expat who retired in Cuenca. One expat wrote, "I live on less than $1,000 per month, very comfortably." Another said, "We live a very good life for about 1/3 the cost of what life was costing us in Washington State. The cost of living will depend on how you chose to live."
Cuenca Has a Large Expat Community
Cuenca's large expat population can be a positive or a negative depending upon your perspective, but something that you should be aware of when moving to Cuenca. "Unlike every other foreign city in which I've lived, and there've been a few, the density of retired gringo's in Cuenca can be a bit much. But, that's just me. Still, I was not yet at the point in life for South Florida, if you know what I mean," remarked one expat in a discussion comparing Cuenca and Quito.
"Cuenca seems to be the starting off place for many newcomers because of the large and fairly close-knit expat community there. But be aware that it's because of those expats that the prices are higher in Cuenca than in other areas of the country. You're paying 'gringo' prices for everything if you're not careful, and don't speak Spanish," commented one expat.
Expat Health Insurance in Ecuador
Expats interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get quotes our partner, International Citizens Insurance, a trusted expat health insurance broker. They will provide you with comparison quotes from some of the biggest expat health insurers: Cigna, Aetna and GeoBlue.
Beware of Gringo Gouging in Cuenca
"If you have funds, you can afford to live anywhere in the world. Ecuador can cost almost as much as the U.S. because of 'gringo gouging.' Best way to find housing is not to read paid ads but to first find a neighborhood and buildings you might like, then look for signs and call the numbers directly. It takes an enormous amount of work to figure out which landlords are honest and fair and those who are not. Even if they seem correct, they may turn on you. The name of the game is $$$ and if you are not on a budget, then nothing really matters and you can pay double or more than a local would... This later remark is noteworthy... paying more contributes to the economy, but also creates understandable resentment among locals," said one expat who
moved to Cuenca.
"Do your research as there is a lot to know and understand I would strongly recommend you rent from people whom own the property. There are shysters that simply sub-let and you will have no protection of insurance and loss from people whom come and go there. Beware is the operative word here. We found a B&B first however the price went up to $550 mo instead of the 300 which was advertised. They said the 300 ones were taken (not true they didn't exist). We were lucky enough to meet others on the street that told us of better places for $210 mo. We moved. Ask around especially the cab drivers, they know a lot," added another expat in Cuenca.
Meeting People in Cuenca
"There are many ways to be involved. I am taking courses in Italian at the University. There in an active and increasingly organized expat community. It is easy to meet people and the variety of different venues, classes, groups is increasing on a weekly basis," remarked one expat.
International Schools in Cuenca
"There are US-accredited and other international schools in Ecuador's two international cities, Quito and Guayaquil. The problem is Cuenca, which is basically provincial, though Ecuador's number three city and a regional capital. Despite some promising-sounding names, there are no truly 'American' or 'Bilingual' schools in Cuenca. As far as I know, the private schools are bad, the public schools, obviously, worse. My perception right now is that in Cuenca it will take creative solutions, a combination of homeschool, private groups, maybe a private school, and maybe a language school. In sum, if you go to one of Ecuador's two international cities, you will have no problem, if you go to a provincial city or town, then creative solutions are necessary," summarized one expat in a discussion about schools in Cuenca.
Some expat students do attend these schools: CEDEI (bi-lingual program, 40% English) and Colegio Aleman Stiehle (German with IB program).
Things to Do in Cuenca
An expat living in Cuenca wrote, "Cuenca has a lot going for it as far as the arts. There are always free concerts that you can attend in the city. Art festivals, Choirs, Orchestras you name it." "You are literally a half hour from the town center to Cajas National Park with its extraordinary beauty," added another expat. "There are many cultural attractions, many concerts, many holidays, a very active expat community -- almost too much to do! Gringopost, Cuenca Hi Life all have many current announcements, as does expat exchange," said an expat in Cuenca.
Life in Cuenca Revolves around Family
"This is a very family oriented society and life revolves around the family. My local business colleagues are always spending time with their families on the weekends and we should learn from them. They have a wonderful network of family around them. Religious events are a time for parades, church and other activities," commented one expat. "Family is extremely important! So is Soccer, Volleyball & Jogging. People work hard but make up any reason, or holiday to start a party & DANCE," said another.
Rent Before You Buy in Cuenca
Expats typically advise newcomers to rent before they buy for a number of reasons. For one, you'll be able to spend time exploring neighborhoods. Secondly, you'll get to know locals, and, hopefully, find a trustworthy real estate agent should you end up buying. And, finally, if you end up deciding after six months or a year, that Cuenca isn't the right spot for you, you can easily move on.
A family planning to spend a month in Cuenca asked about the best areas to live in Cuenca. Here is some of the advice they received, "Maybe search for places near Parque de la Madre or el Vergel (an area near grocery stores & close to the historic center where many of the language schools are located). Anything listed near Vicente Solano (it's a main road). I've seen some furnished air bnbs on Solano that give monthly rates." "I like the El Vergel neighborhood and always stay there at a nice little inn. It is close to El Centro but quieter and more laid back I think, there's a supermarket and stadium, restaurants, etc," added another expat.
"A few years back we stayed at Apartamento Otorongo. We recently heard from friends who stayed there this summer with their 2 children. They got a 2 bedroom apartments. It is more like a compound than an apartment building. We really enjoyed it there and so did our younger friends and their family. Check out the website which is hotelotorongo.com. I think that is it. Near the University of Cuenca, close to gelato stores, walk to center city, nice people own the place. The guests meet frequently in the yard gazebo for snacks and drinks. My only suggestion would be to bring some extra towels with you or buy some at the market. If it is still the same you get 1 towel per person per week. Very cheap the longer you stay. Clean. Good location. Check it out online and see if it fits the bill for you and yours," suggested another expat.
Jobs in Cuenca are Scarce
"Teaching English. It is very hard (as in impossible) to earn a living in Cuenca. Salaries are pathetic - maybe $750/month for a full-time gig. I teach English 10 hour/week for $10/hour. DO NOT COME TO ECUADOR if you need to work to pay your bills," cautioned an expat in Cuenca.
"Unlike Quito and Guayaquil which has many multi-national companies, jobs here are fairly non-existent, however, entrepreneurial opportunities abound. Many people are retired, however, once you have a Permanent Residency Visa... no matter which type you get...you can open a company to do any number of things. People here have restaurants, export business, real estate businesses, retail shops, etc. It's very simple to open a business here once you have a Cedula," explained one expat.
What to Bring to Cuenca & What to Leave Behind
We asked expats what they wish that had brought when they moved to Cuenca and what they could have left at home. They answered:
"Wish I had brought: more rain gear, especially shoes (low quality shoes here), books (not a country of readers even in Spanish), back-up computer. The best thing I brought was a small space heater," said one expat.
"I wish I had brought: Electric blanket, Thermos, underwear, More vitamins. I wish I had left: Dress shoes, Dress clothes, Sweaters," wrote another expat.
"We wish we would have brought a Leatherman, our Vitamix and a portable water filter. We could have done without so many clothes," commented another.
Anything Electronic is very expensive. So bring those types of items and your small appliances. I brought my kitchen aid mixer this trip. I did buy a small hand mixer in Ecuador, but it was almost $50 and its a hand mixer. I would bring itemes like 1000 count sheets, nicer towels. They of course have sheets and towels but the quality is not as good.. I found a very comfortable mattress here so you wouldn't have to bring that. Mattress are big so that would give you more room for other items. Bring anything that you are attached to, if you like a particular name brand," advised one expat.
The Risk of Sunburn in Cuenca
"I burned quite quickly in Cuenca, I was told it was the elevation combined with being close to the equator. We have found sunscreen to be ridiculously expensive. If you have the space, stock up on it," commented one expat.
"It is not so much the location relative to the equator but altitude. Cuenca and Quito are both in the Andes above 8,000 feet and UV rays are very strong. You can get a burn in 30 minutes. For just a visit bring a couple bottles of Bull Frog SPF 40 or above," warned one expat in a discussion about sun exposure in Cuenca," said another.
"All true and good advise. The people in Cuenca carry umbrellas for the sun, not so much for rain. If they don't have an umbrella they shield their faces with a newspaper. They choose the shaded sides of the bus or street. They know about the sun. UV eye wear for everyone! those rays are not good, they break down lots of chemistry...high energy. And they are not a bit stronger at 8500 feet, they are much stronger. You would wear long sleeves in cuenca anyway. Its not Florida or AZ, the air is thinner. The hat...lots of cool hats to wear. One gets used to all this," added another expat.