Whether we are getting together with our gringo friends or getting to know the locals, one of the most popular topics of conversation here is the cost of living. The reason this is so fun to talk about is that, compared with what we are used to in the US, prices here are really wacky (in either direction). This post is dedicated to a complete non-expert's unofficial observations on the Ecuadorian economy from a gringo's point of view.
Let's start off with the list of things that are randomly, abhorrently expensive here:
- Sunscreen - $25 for a small 4-5 oz. bottle
- Liquor - $80 for a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label
- Electronics - $1200 for an iPhone5 (yikes....guess I need to be careful about flashing those bad boys around....)
- Ecuadorian chocolate - $9/bar
- Touristy Travel - a week long trip to the Galapagos Islands can easily cost around $4000/person
Ecuador also has some very interesting trade relationships with other countries. Many items I expected to be cheap, because they are grown here in Ecuador or in nearby countries (coffee, chocolate, wine), are actually really expensive. While the backbone of Ecuador's economy is built upon exporting raw goods (chiefly oil, bananas, seafood, gold, and flowers), they don't do a lot of processing of those raw goods, so many things have to leave Ecuador and be imported back in at a higher cost.
The locals also tell us that the current President is all about making Ecuador more reliant on domestic business, so many imports are highly taxed. Because of this, what we as American's bring into Ecuador is highly scrutinized - one computer, phone, etc. per person. We even know a woman whose parents shipped her a box of clothes that was confiscated by customs and sold off, because apparently you can only bring in the clothes that will fit in your suitcases. They don't want people smuggling in these foreign items that are so expensive here to sell for profit (e.g., iphones, American-brand clothes).
And then, there's the list of things that are unbelievable cheap:
- Cabs - $2 can get you anywhere you want to go
- Fresh meat/seafood (from the markets) - $2.5/pound fresh shrimp.....and Kelly's in heaven!
- Fresh produce - You can always buy a bag of 25 oranges for a dollar on the street. What???
- Public Transportation - buses in Quito are 25 cents without exception; long- distance, cross-country buses are $2-4 each way
- Restaurants - there is a ridiculous number of decent (not amazing....just decent) restaurants that sell a four course lunch for $2-4. But that's all I will say about that, since Brian has already laid claim to a blog post fully dedicated to "almuerzo" (lunch).
- The Help - private housekeeping costs between $10-20 per day. PER DAY.
- Beer - there are about four types of local beer here, and they all cost about $4/six pack and $2 each at a decent bar/restaurant. Side note - they are all equally bad.
- Gas - $1.40/gallon....not helping with your traffic problem, Quito!
The item from that list that has taken a lot of getting used to for us is private housekeeping. For the month of October, we are subletting a room in a 3 bedroom apartment in downtown Quito from a local couple. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they have a housekeeper come from around 8 am - 5 pm, and she spends the day cooking and serving elaborate breakfasts, lunches (each meal complete with fresh squeezed juice of some variety), packing up leftovers for dinners, doing the grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and excessively cleaning the entire apartment from top to bottom. While this has been wonderful, it's hard not to feel guilty and lazy when you feel like everything is being done for you. But in our hosts' eyes, it is a win-win situation; the housekeeper has steady, well-paying work and they get taken care of to the max.
After all is said and done, Ecuador is a country where you can definitely choose to live on the very-cheap, which is one reason for the large (and increasing) number of American ex-pats retiring here. Our own financial goal is to break even and completely fund our travel through Brian's remote, part-time work (my full-time job is comprised of grocery shopping, cooking, planning all of our travel, and being less awful than Brian at Spanish). After we see how these first few months shake out, I'll dedicate a post to our traveling budget, tips for traveling on the cheap, and the lessons we're learning along the way.
Until then - hasta luego amigos!