cost of living

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Jeff Stern, Ecuador, Produce

Produce from Ecuador

One thing I will always appreciate about Ecuador is the low cost of high quality fruits and vegetables, plus the fact that everything is local.

Nonetheless, in the five and half years we've lived here, the cost of living has risen substantially. Despite heavy press coverage about Ecuador as a cheap destination for living abroad, well, let's just say I have to pop that bubble. It's not that cheap and it's not always that safe.

One thing that does always get me is the lack of products. One week you'll find something on the shelf, the next week it will be gone. Sometimes it won't reappear for months, other times it won't ever reappear. So if you really want something and you see it, it behooves you to stock up.

I'm talking mostly about imported goods-things like Tahini, Heinz 57 Ketchup, certain spices. But sometimes fresh produce too-for years there were jalapeños on the produce shelves-then they were gone. The basic fresh fruits and vegetables and other staples like salt, oils, vinegars, they´re always around. Exotic ingredients come and go, and the imported ones especially have slowly been going extinct in the last few years.

Here's a few basic items and their cost at the local Supermaxi-Ecuador's only sort-of upscale supermarket. The tiems would be a little cheaper at Santa Maria, the more mass market super market, and even cheaper at one of the local open air markets, but not by a whole lot.

1 Dozen Extra Large Eggs-$2.15

Standard Can of Tuna-$1.22

Cherry Tomatos-$1.60

Hearts of Palm-$1.82

Kilo of Strawberries-$3.44

1 kilo Bananas-$0.95

Lentils 500g-$0.99

700g Limes-$1.38

Many web sites tout the low cost of living in Ecuador. Many assume that because it’s a poor country in South America, it somehow might be cheaper than where ever else they are. And Ecuador does have lower overall living costs than many other countries in South America, especially if you live outside of the major urban centers of Guayaquil or Quito. But living in Ecuador is still not cheap. Operating a business in Ecuador, despite lower labor costs, is not as cheap as one might expect. Everything has its price. And the low prices in Ecuador are long gone. Sure, fresh fruits and vegetables are very cheap. But most everything else isn’t. Why not? The costs of doing business are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. These costs include:

  • 24 hour armed guards needed at most business locations (or paid for through higher per square meter costs for commercial space) are a given nearly anywhere, driving up the cost of doing business.
  • The same goes for living in a decent neighborhood, especially in Quito or Guayaquil-24 hour guard service or at least a daytime presence of a caretaker is required in many areas to fend off crime, and this cost is added to your HOA or condo fees.
  • High tariffs on many imported goods and machinery drive up production costs and thus overall cost of goods.
  • Low productivity, onerous labor laws, and obligatory “13th” and “14th” salaries per year make low labor costs much higher than they appear at first glance.
  • Small user pools make health insurance costs high for very little maximum coverage (most policies max out at $19,000 per year). While medical care is generally much cheaper than say in the US, it is still a heavy burden.
  • Obtaining licenses and permits is time-consuming and onerous, often taking several entire days. Businesses are often forced to close while obtaining these permits, and thus can only make up the lost income but adjusting prices.

Think twice and plan carefully for your next trip or if you are planning on moving to Ecuador for an extended period or permanently.

I recently came upon a fellow expat’s blog from Cuenca. His analysis of cost of living is an astute one and you can read it here. As they say, it’s not the high cost of living, it’s the cost of living high. You can also live quite frugally in Quito, even though Quito and Guayaquil are probably the most expensive parts of the country to live in. Nonetheless, if you live outside of Quito, a family of four can do quite well here on under $2,000 monthly.

We needed some lemons today. You can get lots of produce here at streetlights, especially fruit. The vendors price everything at $1 for a totally frictionless and change free transaction-it´s usually a very fair, if not better price, than what you´ll get anywhere else. Here´s what we got:

$1 Worth of Lemons

32 Lemons for $1

70G Bar Kallari 75% Chocolate $2.21

50G Bar Caoni Chocolate $1.28

280G Can Pomodoro Italian Tomatoes $1.16

Whole Pineapple ($3.08/kg) about $1.2o per pineapple

White Onions $0.80/lb

Eggplants $0.63/lb

Apples Imported from Chile $0.86/lb

Bag of 25 Frozen Mini Empanadas $3.66

Bag of Lettuce $0.99

Prices from Supermaxi Tumbaco, Ecuador on 20 September 2001

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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