Cost of Living Uruguay vs USA

I wasn’t going to get dragged into another Uruguay costs social network discussion again, but some Facebook Uruguay Expats group members pulled me back in.

I’ll say this: There are at least three to five types of “Uruguay Expatriation” with very different costs:

Type 1 Expat. Live in a North American/English/Oceania-oriented Expat Compound (e.g. something like the Sugarloaf Development pushed by International Living). Everything you need is there, the world is gated off, and they discourage going to town. “Everything is here in The Village, why are you being unmutual?” Meanwhile missing out on the true Uruguayan life in the beautiful and affordable resort city of Piriápolis which they show on their website. In which town I could rent a 2-bedroom sea-view raised apartment for under $800 USD. Or simpler, away from the beach properties, cheaper. But the Type 1 Expat would not consider such integration.

Montevideo 35% cheaper than Boston
Comparing Montevideo Uruguay and Boston, MA, USA cost of living

Type 2 Expat. Live in a Major City or Major Resort Area, in upscale US-upper-middle-class-equivalent with a full North American lifestyle (anything based on the Expatistan cost of living calculator that factors in buying 42″TV, new VW Golf TDI, regular meals out, regular pub drinks out at “an expat bar”, regular paid entertainment – read the assumptions on it.)

Type 3 Expat. Live a downsized but perfectly acceptable existence outside of big Expat Villages, Major Resorts, and Pocitos/Punta Carreta. Rent the small casita or apartamento, or buy a very nice but modest house, for less than half what that equivalent property would cost in the USA.

Type 4 Expat. Live like a local. And not a paid-by-Northern Hemisphere type of local. (edit 2014-01-30 removed reference and link to organization we no longer recommend.)
1 and 2 are definitely more expensive than North America. 3 and 4 are definitely less.

I can compare my Qwest/Centurlink bill for Phone/DSL to my Antel bill for the same and say the bill is cheaper. I could also show you pictures of pricing at fruitstands all around my Uruguyan immediate neighborhood (in a faded, 2nd-or 3rd-rate resort town), and compare them to Safeway and Kroger City Market pricing (in a faded, 2nd-or-3rd-rate resort town in the USA, Dillon, CO.)

I could compare the comparative lack of automobile need in Atlántida with safe walkability and cheap regional bus service ($2.30 USD all the way into Montevideo), to what basic commuting whether by car or by intercity bus in the USA. I could compare laundry costs (for living simply without a home washer dryer) to my coin-op laundry in Colorado or North Carolina, or the local laundry service in NYC, and Uruguay local laundries would be cheaper. A non-data-plan non-smartphone big bundle of minutes and text for mobile would be cheaper in Uruguay, even with Antel. Ingredients for quality home-made meals would be cheaper. Frozen and fresh seafood of quality would be cheaper (Chilean mussels, nom nom nom.)

Despite the much higher cost of electricity in Uruguay, as a Type 3 expat I don’t use nearly as much as I did in a full-blown North American middle-class aspiring upper-middle-class existence. Heating and supplemental cooking is the biggest hit. Meanwhile energy-savings bulbs, especially the environmentally safest LED versions, are far more available and inexpensive in Uruguay than in USA. I could post photos of the Disco and Tienda Inglesa light bulb aisles vs. Safeway and Home
Depot equivalents.  Electric heat is a bitch, but I also had electric heat in Tacoma, WA and in the heart of downtown Boston, MA.

In Uruguay, a Type 3 or Type 4 expat would not have central or full-room baseboard electric heating; one learns to spot-heat the part of the home in use at the time rather than the entire potential living space. That offsets much of the higher electricity cost.

We’re paying a delta of about $80 USD to Uruguay government electric monopoly UTE over what was our pre-winter bill. That’s not tremendously different from the winter delta in our Tacoma Power or Boston Edison bills when we lived there in those similar sized apartments. Those had one big built-in electric baseboard heater for the bedroom and just one other for the entire kitchen/living/dining open space. In Uruguay we have a mix of portable electric fan heater, halogen radiant heater, and oil-filled radiator heater. We bring them to where we will be and spot-heat only as needed. More green, more economical, and horrifyingly “third world” to a Type 1 or Type 2 expat. Yes the UTE bill is a pain for a few months. But overall, our “monthly nut” is still far lower.

I could pull many more examples. And I would be able to prove that overall it is far cheaper to live in somewhere decent and interesting in Uruguay, than anywhere decent and interesting in the USA. But not to Type 1 or Type 2 expats. As a Type 3 expat, it is trivial to live more inexpensively in Uruguay than anywhere I’d care to live in the US.

Unlike some, I will admit that the other “side” is also right – that it is far more expensive to live as a Type 1 or Type 2 Expat in Uruguay than in the USA.

Even so, even with the flawed Expatistan Calculator, Montevideo, Uruguay is 35% cheaper than Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Let’s call the 5th type a Type 5 Expat as the “International Relocation” Expat – they probably don’t care since their employer, government agency, NGO, whomever, is probably picking up most if not all of the cost. Unless the “trailing spouse” that comes along for the ride has expensive, non-expensable tastes, nobody cares how much it costs.

This post is repurposed and rewritten from my reply on that FB group. I may even post it back over there. I know there are people who will either rant about how I must be lying or who claim I have some agenda. It really makes me wonder about people… and is a great example of Cognitive Dissonance Reduction. If your USA lifestyle was McMansion oriented or big NYC Apartment with lots of entertainment, or the upscale Florida or California upper-middle-class community, you are going to spend a lot more money in Uruguay – if you try to re-create that exact same lifestyle.

But then I must ask, Why Bother? If you’re changing your country and even continent, and your primary language, why are you recreating your old life?

PS I haven’t gone anywhere near the lower cost of medical care yet. Whether pay for service, or via the hybrid public-private “mutualista” polyclinic/medical home system of care. Future posts.

Published by

Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at http://about.me/MarkMercer. I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at https://google.com/+MarkMercer

10 thoughts on “Cost of Living Uruguay vs USA”

  1. Hi Marcos, would love if you could add the following to your Facebook post Shared from Uruguay Expat Life – it showed up on my wall, but I can't comment on it: I was asked to round up on the cost of living to make it "comfortable." Rents have also gone up a lot in the past few months, and I was shocked to hear the prices a new coworker is being quoted, whereas if you're already in a lease things can't go up as much. I am no stranger to budgeting and am between a 2 and 3 on your scale – used to be a 3 but have advanced enough in my career to afford more nights out. I do like nice dinners but am definitely not trying to recreate the US lifestyle in Chile – I think it's easy to forget that the US isn't the only country where people like creature comforts, and there are ways to spend money that don't involve trying to recreate your homeland. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Emily: You can "like" our Uruguay Expat Life Facebook page and post the comment. It should lead to some interesting discussions.
      Love your "Don't Call Me Gringa" page!

      Lisa

  2. The expatistan calculator also neglects how different places work tax. In the US the price is BEFORE tax on the items. In some places the prices are by law the FULL price with tax.

    Plus I don't have any great need for a house keeper, etc etc…

  3. This is such an interesting and informative post! This is the first time I've ever seen anyone write about "levels" of ex-pats and you were dead on! We are transitioning to Brazil now and it's difficult to explain to Americans that we won't be living in a high rise in Rio De Janeiro! We are going to a very small town in the interior and will attempt to be comfortable and take advantage of the slower pace of life that the locals enjoy.

  4. Utter Bullshit about #1. There isn’t any place in Uruguay where they provide everything for you. Sugarloaf is a very very poor example. I assume the author hasn’t been there but has ‘made his mind up’ from some marketing material. There is nothing at Sugarloaf! Friggin hell. Is this guy for real?

    If you come to Uruguay and live ‘like a local’ you should give up your USA citizenship and then get a job. This is the only way to live ‘like a local’, otherwise you are just playing to be a local and patronizing the locals. You want to work 60 hours a week for $1000 USD?

    1. 1. I’ve been to Sugarloaf. Yeah, there’s nothing there. But assuming the project hadn’t gone to hell, and actually had built out all the amenities they touted, it would have been a “gringo ghetto”.

      2. I did get a job in Uruguay, so don’t be a jerk. I went back to freelancing, and am having more fun and overall success in doing freelance writing, web work, and social media consulting, but I did get a job here. Paid DGI (taxes) and BPS (social security). Which is quite clear to other readers of our blog over our various posts.

      3. No reason to give up USA citizenship. Neither USA nor Uruguay opposes dual citizenship. Stop putting up strawman arguments and false dichtomy logic failures.

      4. Living like a local does not require one to be patronizing. It means I shop at the same feria (weekly market), the same local corner stores (autoservice – self-service), the same supermarket (usually the Disco), chat with the shopkeepers, support the local kiosco for recharging my prepaid phone minutes, grab a chivito at the chivito carrito, just like my Uruguay-middle-class neighbors do. As opposed to shopping only at high-end stores and buying imported home-country products at ridiculous costs, and ordering things shipped from USA.

      It means I have a simple, inexpensive kitchen stove with supergas, and relatively tinny construction, the same as my neighbors (and many of my expat friends) do, made here in the Mercosur bloc by a Mercosur-headquartered company. The same locally-made, market-appropriate refrigerator, instead of a giant double-door GE or Whirlpool. Yes, I liked my big double-door Whirlpool refrigerator in Colorado, USA. But I’m not in Colorado, USA anymore and I didn’t feel like spending $2500 USD to buy the same thing here, with all the shipment costs from North America. (Those brands being either US or Mexico-made). It means I bought inexpènsive, locally-made furniture. Admittedly not great stuff, but affordable, and perfectly functional. While also having good high-speed internet and a great flat-screen monitor, as do my uruguayo neighbors.

      We have a much better life here, on a low-for-US, middle-class-for-Uruguay, budget. Due to structural changes in the USA economy and job market for older professionals, we’d probably be in a shelter soon if we stayed in the USA, and certainly on food stamps and Medicaid. So yes, bottom line, living in Uruguay, comfortably, like a Uruguayan local, is more affordable than living in the USA for many people.

      Obviously if you buy into the “like-for-like” fallacy and must have your exact brands of US shoes, jeans, refrigerators, automobiles, central heat/AC, and no doubt your “posh tea” (which either you or your clone complained about on Facebook’s Uruguay Expats group), it costs more to live here in Uruguay. But that’s making the patronizing, “I’m better than the Uruguayans, I can afford the good stuff!) choice. I suppose you are in favor of the Punta del Este Trump Tower, too.

      PS perhaps you should look into Andorra?

    2. BTW thank you for posting from the Maldonado departamento of Uruguay, home of Punta del Este.
      IP address 190.135.174.33 and fake email address of
      realistic@iwouldratherbesuccessful.com, which is a domain that doesn’t exist. Perhaps you and your lovely partner could register it, and start your own “Go Trump Uruguay” blog? I’d be happy to quote our services if you’re not familiar with building and publicizing web and social content sites.

  5. Another way to adapt? Do buses or main highways have wifi? Or can do some kindle or paper-book (!) reading.

    1. Some of the buses have WiFi. We have competing private bus lines (another instance of “libertarian socialism”!). Also three different types of lines — the city/urban buses, the Suburbana lines out from Montevideo to the other communities to about a 60km radius, and then the “Interdepartamento” long-distance lines (ok, a 4th too, international lines.)

      For the most part, the urban buses don’t have WiFi. On the suburban buses, the Cutcsa company does on most of their buses. 3G/”3.7G” (HSPA+/HSUPA) from Movistar. The horrible COPSA (“Crap-sa”) buses don’t, and the last time they were probably cleaned and re-upholstered was likely before WiFi was invented. Raincoop buses are in decent shape but don’t have WiFi. There are a few other brands depending on route (UCOT, Comesa, SATT, Zeballos Hermanos, etc.) but I think only Cutcsa currently has WiFi. In practice about 3/4 of their buses have WiFi, and about 2/3 of the ones that have it, actually have it working! I do run into some where the access point is on (“Movistar 3G”) but clearly the actual mobile broadband connection is off. The suburban buses also serve as the local buses between and within communities along their routes, so those are the ones with which I’m most familiar. I take them not only to Montevideo but for shopping or errands, and to visit friends, in other communities along the Costa de Oro.

      Don’t yet have any experience with the long-distance and international buses. I suspect that some of the in-Uruguay long-distance ones may, since Antel, Movistar, and Claro all cover most of Uruguay, especially along the highways.

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