A few thoughts and observations on the cost of living in Quito, now that I’ve lived here for two years.
Europeans and North Americans generally find that their money goes a lot further than it would in their own countries. The essentials cost far less: housing, petrol (gas), electricity and water. An apartment in a good neighbourhood can be had from US$350 a month, or less if you choose to live in the Old Town or a more “popular” sector. Internet, cell ‘phone contracts and cable TV are comparable to the UK I imagine, though I don’t own a television. Because the climate is temperate (we’re on the equator after all) homes don’t have central heating which helps to keep fuel bills down (just throw an extra cover on the bed when it gets chilly at night). Public transport is good, though invariably crowded. A bus or trolley ride will set you back 25 cents irrespective of distance. A taxi journey will rarely cost more than $5. Be wary of pickpockets on the trolley bus and know that kidnappings in taxis are not uncommon. I speak from experience on both counts.
There are free public hospitals for those in need of medical treatment, but rather like the NHS in the UK you can expect long waits for operations, and resources are limited. I had an endoscopy in Eugenio Espejo Public Hospital in 2012; a flexible tube was inserted down my throat to examine my lungs and take a sample of tissue. The procedure endured about five minutes and was unpleasant. No sedation was administered, just a few nurses to restrain me. And a friend spent three weeks in a hospital bed awaiting a special kind of pin to fix his broken arm; there were none available in Ecuador at that time. Private medical insurance however is a fraction of what it costs in the US. This will give a good idea:
Health insurance in Ecuador (with thanks to Pro-Ecuador.com)
Food is inexpensive if you are prepared to shop in local markets and stores, and buy fresh produce. Street vendors sell whatever is seasonal at great prices, like four avocados for a dollar. Megamaxi is a rather upscale supermarket where you can find imported goods (at a price). I find I really don’t miss anything (perhaps Marmite?). Domestically produced spirits (liquor) are good quality and inexpensive. Wine is another matter. Nearly all wine is imported (Ecuadorian wine is unspeakable) and hails from Argentina and Chile. Due to import tax prices are HIGH. A bottle of Casillero del Diablo, a mass market Chilean wine produced on an industrial scale, though good quality, retails for around $15, twice the price you’d expect to pay in the USA or UK. And European wines are exorbitant and limited in choice. Beer is very affordable at 0.80 cents a bottle but there are only a couple of national brands.
Restaurants abound at every price level. I don’t think the packed lunch exists here as everyone heads out at 1pm for an “executive” or fixed price lunch ($1.50 – $3.50). You’ll get a tasty soup, a main course, a glass of juice and perhaps a scoop of icecream or a piece of fruit.
Spanish language books are expensive. Lack of demand I’ve been told. A paperback can easily cost $20 – 25. The solution is to find used book stores where prices start from $2 – 3. Technology also turns out expensive. Cameras, computers, tablets, Android ‘phones and the like are all imported and heavily taxed. Kitchen appliances are costly too. Cinema is inexpensive. A ticket can be had for $4 (and Multicines offers a two for one deal on Wednesdays). Theatre is scarce, but there’s a lot of street entertainment, especially at week ends. I’ve been spellbound for hours by comedians in Parque El Ejido, and delighted by traditional dance displays throughout the main plazas of Quito. I recently saw the Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas in concert for free. Public displays of art and photography are common, and there’s ALWAYS a fiesta! You’ll experience parades featuring marching bands, cheerleaders, indigenous dancing, clowns and floats bearing beauty queens. Very uplifting.
Clothes are comparatively expensive and the choice isn’t great. Zara is considerably dearer than Europe and seen as a designer label.
Overall, the cost of living is low for expats in Quito. But bear in mind that the minimum salary is at present $318, and the average salary for workers in the private sector $625. Ecuadorians always seem strapped for cash…
Let me know if I’ve missed anything and I’ll be happy to fill you in! Or if you live here and want to add something or disagree feel free to comment.