While many Americans believe they cannot afford to retire abroad, with rising costs of retirement in the United States, the reality is many cannot afford to stay. For budget-conscious retirees, or those who did not accumulate the nest egg they had hoped for, one of the most popular overseas destinations is Ecuador, where a retired couple can live on less than $1,200 a month. While a typical budget for a retired couple is likely to be more in the range of $1,600 to $2,400 per month, Ecuador is firmly among the nations with the world's lowest cost of living for retirees.

Ecuador’s Economy

While it is not the strongest economy in the region, it is improving—depending heavily on the exports of oil, bananas, shrimp, gold, and other agricultural products. In response to a national economic crisis in 1999, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its national currency. This makes planning to retire in Ecuador much easier, as Americans do not need not worry about exchange rates. Using familiar currency also helps keep prices in perspective while shopping to identify good deals.

Inexpensive Public Health Care

Ecuador’s health care system is among the best in Latin America. Between 2000 and 2014, the country jumped from 111th on the world’s list of countries with the most efficient health care to 13th, with the U.S. ranking 44th on the list. As of 2015, Ecuador's national health care plan, managed by the country's Social Security Administration, has no pre-existing medical condition restrictions, and membership is open to all citizens and legal residents. As of 2015, the individual cost to join is equal to 22% of Ecuador's minimum wage, or approximately $78 per person with 4% additional costs for dependents. The bottom line is that the healthcare needs of retirees cost dramatically less in Ecuador than in the U.S.

Participants in the public health care system receive all medical procedures, screenings, and medications completely free of charge. There are no co-pays or deductibles, dental care is included, and prescriptions are free or highly discounted. When a hospital is unable to perform the procedure required, the state transfers the patient to a capable private hospital and covers all charges incurred. While the public health care system is an amazing value, patients should expect to encounter long wait times and a great deal of paperwork along the way.

Inexpensive private insurance is also available, but with medical visits and procedures costing so little, many choose to pay medical costs themselves. Most procedures cost 10 to 25% of those performed in the U.S., and medications can cost as little as 30 to 40% of what they would cost in the U.S.

Discounts for Retirees

One of the most senior-friendly countries in the world, Ecuador provides a high standard of living for its senior citizens. Ecuadorean citizens over 65 are literally sent to the front of the line. To give them more time to relax and enjoy their retirement, by law, seniors do not have to stand in line for everyday chores, such as paying bills or banking.

All seniors also pay lower property taxes and are eligible for 50% discounts off all public transportation, national and international airfares, all cultural, sports, artistic, and recreational events, and even monthly bills, such as electricity, water, and telephone service.

Low-Priced Luxury in Cuenca

Located near El Cajas National Park, Cuenca has a beautiful natural setting. High in the Andes at an elevation of 8,400 feet, Cuenca features an ideal climate with year-round temperatures in the mid-70s and a majestic landscape with snowy peaks rising above beautiful lakes. The area's old-world architecture has a distinctly European influence, which many have likened to Barcelona and Paris.

Most expatriates in Cuenca use public transportation rather than owning vehicles. Bus rides cost 25 cents, and taxi rides usually cost between $1.50 and $2.50—and seniors get a 50% discount. With so much locally grown food, it is easy to eat healthily and save money on grocery bills. For example, avocados cost just 25 cents, and a head of lettuce is 50 cents.

You can rent an unfurnished apartment from $300 per month, or buy a small condo for less than $40,000. The comfortable year-round climate in Cuenca saves residents on energy costs because heating and air conditioning are rarely necessary. To enjoy all that the city has to offer, plan on a budget of $1,600 a month per couple if renting and $1,100 per month if you are purchasing a home. These estimates take into account a relatively active lifestyle, as most locals in the area live on much less.

A sample list of living expenses totaling $1,680 for retirees living a somewhat luxurious lifestyle in Cuenca may look something like this:

  • Housing (rental of a luxury three-bedroom, unfurnished apartment), $500
  • Utilities (including phone, water/electricity, Internet, and satellite TV), $155
  • Weekly maid service, $75
  • Groceries, $450
  • Maintenance and fuel for one car, $140
  • Miscellaneous expenses, $80
  • Entertainment (two people dining out six times a month), $200
  • Public health care, $80

Cheap Beachfront Property in Bahia de Caraquez

Many who dream of dirt-cheap beachfront retirement property quickly fall in love with Bahia de Caraquez. This area boasts some of the cheapest beachfront property in the world. There are plenty of homes available for under $100,000, as well as condos for less than $50,000.

Vilcabamba 's Low Cost of Living

Many expatriates living in Vilcabamba report living quite comfortably on just $800 per month. Two-bedroom furnished houses rent for as little as $225 a month, including utilities. Restaurants in town serve full meals including soup, chicken or fish with sides, and juice for just $2.50. Vilcabamba is a tourist town, featuring over 50 restaurants, with more amenities than a typical small Andean village.

The affordability of living in Ecuador's southern highlands is certainly appealing, and it is a great area for anyone who loves country living. Nature lovers enjoy exploring nearby Podocarpus National Park, which supports a diverse range of flora and fauna.

A sample list of living expenses totaling $1,135 for retirees living a modest yet active lifestyle in Vilcabamba may look something like this:

  • Housing, $250;
  • Utilities (including phone, Internet and satellite TV), $150;
  • Maid service, $60;
  • Groceries, $250;
  • Maintenance and fuel for one car, $140;
  • Miscellaneous expenses, $30;
  • Entertainment (two people dining out six times per month), $175;
  • Public health care, $80.