The Cheapest Places to Live in the World – 2011

 

Pokhara, Nepal - cheap place to kick back for a while

Every year I do one of these cheapest places to live posts. Some of the info is evergreen, some is timely, but if you want you can check out the posts from 2010 and 2009 in the archives. Many destinations stay predictably cheap, some go up or down a lot depending on exchange rates (see News Flash: Travel Prices Fluctuate).

I’ve gotten a few insights from the comments over the years. One is that some people watch way too much TV and don’t seem to realize that 24-hour cable news thrives on scaring them. The other is that people have very different reasons for asking this question: “Where can I live for cheap?” So this time I’m breaking it up a bit by life situation. That has a huge impact on the answer.

Arbitrage – Earn $ in an expensive country, spend it in a cheap one

For the past 12 months I’ve lived in Guanajuato, Mexico, living on roughly 60 percent of what I spent living in a mid-sized city in the U.S. (Nashville, TN–where I had a 9-year-old mortgage). On that 60 percent we have not had/needed a car, but have lived a much richer life: eating out more, not worrying about the bar tab, having a weekly maid, taking a taxi whenever we felt like it, etc. Our living expenses average around $2,500 total a month not counting long vacations or international business travel. We pay medical and dental expenses out of pocket since they’re so cheap—no need for insurance.

I earn money in the U.S. and from Europe, but spend it in a country where only about 1 in 10 people earns more than $25 a day. There are plenty of wealthy people here and the middle class is rising fast, but it’s still a bargain for most items.

View from our 4BR/2bath $800 apartment - including utilities

The thing is, Mexico is the 14th largest economy in the world, with only Brazil being bigger in Latin America. So it’s not the screaming bargain it once was and you’ll certainly find lower prices further south. You could really go wild on the arbitrage scale by living in one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Apart from Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and a few specific cities (like Buenos Aires and Panama City), you could live very well in Latin America for a fraction of what you’re spending in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. People are complaining about inflation and higher visa fees in Argentina, but an article in Americas Quarterly magazine says a college professor teaching 31 hours a week is lucky to make $1,000 a month in Argentina tops. Most have extra jobs on the side as they don’t earn this much.

If you earn $2,000 from some portable job you can take with you, you’re instantly living better than most locals. Take that downstream to poorer countries like Ecuador, Honduras, or Guatemala and you might be looked at as one of the “wealthy elite.” Many expatriates live in those places for under $1,000 a month without trying very hard.

The visa situation changes in other parts of the world, but if you can get that sorted you can take advantage of the same arbitrage in other places. On the new development side though, note that the dollar is faring much worse now than it was a year ago, so Thailand, Malaysia, and some other spots in Asia will cost you more than before. They’re still a fantastic deal though, if you can put up with the regular visa runs. One new spot to consider is Sri Lanka. Long a war-torn place that most people steered clear of, it’s finally peaceful and bargains abound.

If you’re the adventurous type, consider places where lots of apartments formerly filled by foreigners are now empty: Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan for a start. This would be a great time to kick back in the Sinai for a while…

Living on the Cheap while Vagabonding

If you’re just traveling around the world from place to place, not needing to settle down for any reason, then the cheapest places to travel are generally the cheapest places to live. It gets a little trickier if you need high-speed internet access and Skype to keep some semblance of a business going, but even that part gets easier every year. If nothing else, you can usually get one of those USB sticks through the cellular phone company to receive a signal if your guesthouse/apartment isn’t wired.

The beauty of this approach is that you’re not bound by a long-term lease and you don’t have to be bothered much about short visa lengths in Southeast Asia. Kick back in the real bargain places like Laos, Cambodia, rural India, Nepal, Indonesia. When it’s time to go, just go. Here’s a good place to start: 6 Places to Live for Super-cheap.

Working Abroad

If you’re getting paid locally, this is such a case-by-case basis that it’s hard to make generalizations. The trick anywhere is to make more money than you’re going to spend. When I taught English in Turkey, I broke even. Barely. When I taught English in South Korea though, my wife and I saved 30 thousand dollars in a year. So just because a country is cheap doesn’t mean you should move there to work. You may be better off going up a few rungs, whether you’re a scuba instructor, college professor, translator, bartender, or fruit picker. Here are some books on the subject.

Retirement Time

If you’ve got cash in the bank and a steady check coming in from a pension, IRA, or social security, you are really in the sweet spot. Some countries want you badly and are willing to throw out all kinds of incentives to get you to come spend money in their country. Cash is king and you will be treated like a king if you set your sites on one of these places, like Malaysia, Philippines, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador, or Belize. Goodies may include tax incentives, free importation of goods, retiree discounts, and an easy path to a residency visa. In some cases you’ll get a discount on plane tickets within and out of the country. Nice! Just put your country of choice and “retirement incentives” in Google. If you’re coming up empty, check for e-book reports that lay out the details in the resource links at the end.

 

View from a sub-$500 home in Cotacachi, Ecuador

Figure out though if you want an expat center or immersion center. In the former there will be lots of people who look like you, speaking the same language as you, but prices will be much higher. If you pick a place that’s not dominated by foreigners, you’ll get more of a monetary advantage from moving.

Locking in Temporarily Cheaper Real Estate

If you’re a business-minded investor who has the time to sit on a house for a while, this is a historic investment opportunity in many housing markets. Prices have dropped 25-50% in parts of the U.S. because of the housing bubble bursting and to call it a “buyer’s market” is laughably understating the problem in many states. If you were in the market for a beachfront condo in Florida, or a house in Arizona, you’ve got plenty to pick from if you can wait out the turmoil.

Latin American countries have seem similar declines in markets where Americans were buying, from Ajijic to Zihuatanejo and south to Costa Rica and Roatan. Canadians and ever-wealthier locals have taken up some of the slack, but not much. Some markets are out of whack though, like Argentina, where locals are putting all their savings into property because of inflation worries and distrust of the banks.

Prices have also plummeted in places where the economy is in tatters and it’s probably going to get much worse before it gets better. Some of these are very desirable places to live, spots that may have seemed unattainable before, like Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland. Any place that’s been on CNN a lot, like Thailand was last year and Honduras was before that, usually turns into a buyer’s market quite quickly.

Ready to get going? Here are posts with some good resources.

I want to move abroad. Where do I start?

Quit your job, see the world

What your colleagues and relatives think? Screw that.

 

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Comments
  1. Tyson

    Great stuff as usual Tim; I love this yearly post!

    Two questions for you (or others):

    1) For now, I’m firmly in the “need high-speed internet access and Skype to keep some semblance of a business going” crowd. Could/would you give a different Top 5-10 destinations based on that as pretty much a requirement most days?

    2) Can you still save up ~$30k teaching English in S.Korea?

    Thanks again!

    • tim

      Tyson, I know webmasters, bloggers, and freelancers working in a couple dozen different locations now that are finding no problem with internet access. Just understand that it’s easier in cities than rural areas, easier in your room a hotel that costs $15 a night than one that costs $4. For #2, I’ll have to defer to people who have done this more recently, but from what I hear, a couple can still pull it off if they get what they’re promised and they pull in private lessons on the side like we did. Korea is richer now than it was when we were there and wages have gone up for qualified teachers at a good school. Same story in Japan and the Gulf countries in the Middle East.

  2. jenny

    Just discovered your blog and am amazed at the wealth of information you have.Really enjoying reading it.

  3. Juanita

    I’m living in a very cheap place in Latin America, but I’m afraid to say where it is because as soon as a few thousand foreigners come here, the prices will go through the roof. Thanks for putting in the point about an “expat center.” If you must be with lots and lots of people from your home country, you will pay far more than if you are more independent, simple as that. No matter where you go in the world.

    • Shari

      Hi Juanity, I’m very interested. I understand you not wanting to broadcast things and why. I’m retired with a limited income and looking for a good reasonable place to live out my life. And,,I can keep my mouth shut lol. Please send me any informations you can, Thanks

  4. proin

    Thanks for sharing the information with us. I would also like to share that in recent years, Hua Hin, Thailand has seen emerging number of visitors which is becoming popular with those who seek a more holistic lifestyle, away from the congestion. A great travel destination to watch out for.

  5. Mra

    It also depends where you live in a country. I lived in a city in Nicaragua and paid $200 a month on rent. Then moved to a village and paid $30 a month on rent (2-3 bedroom house).
    Great info in this blog!

  6. rita

    Great info, my 12yr old and I want to move to another countries every 6months, how can we find housing from the US and how do we know what location is safe?

    • tim

      Rita, trying to do that long distance will cost you more and be far less reliable. There’s no substitute for feet on the ground. Get a short-term rental and then start looking around. Many cities have a message board of some kind though, so that will give you a few places to start anyway.

    • Lynn

      Hello Rita,

      I am so glad to hear you want to move to another Country. I want to so bad but I am totally scared. I too have a 10 year old son and I am concerned for his safety. We currently live in Maryland and I tried of the hustle and bustle. It my dream to live in another Country and just take life slow. I have 23 years with the Government and don’t care. I just want a clear mind. I was thinking about Costa Rica a one point.

      ps Geat information TIm!

  7. Christine

    I really enjoy your site and your very useful information. I have always wanted to travel and live in these destinations but the only thing that is keeping me back is safety. My parents are convinced that if I travel anywhere abroad as a 20-something American girl, I will surely get kidnapped, even if I travel with a friend. Are there adequate security measures in place at these places you stay at? I also hear that the law enforcement is very corrupt. Have you had or witnessed any of these problems?

    • tim

      If your parents want to see real danger, tell them to watch the local news each night. You’re often safer abroad than you are in gun-packed USA. See today’s post (August 10, 2011).

    • Anna

      Christine… I both agree and disagree with Tim.

      The United States is likely more unsafe in terms of violence. But, the safety concerns are different in another country, so the self-protecting instincts you use here, don’t always work in another culture.

      And, I am betting if your parents believe a kidnapper is hiding behind every foreign tree, that you have been raised in a very protective environment, and might be unsafe anywhere you go outside of their protective circle, because they have not allowed you to become independent, and to develop self-protecting instincts, that don’t include them setting limits and rushing in to save you.

      When you are in a foreign country, you have to know your boundaries, and to recognize when a situation makes you uncomfortable for good reason, and not just because the faces, culture, and values are different. And, you need to be able to maintain those boundaries without causing offense.

      To get there, you can practice becoming aware of what is going on around you, and to read situations that you are in, but also those you choose not to join. So, you consciencously know why you make those decisions, and so you are following just because everyone else is.

      And, if you are really ready to try your wings… Look into a year’s stint with the Peace Corp, where you’ll live with a local family. But, be sure not to see the host’s home as a place of absolute safety, and a substitute for your parents, as you will be provided a room, not someone to hold your hand. And, there is the occassional problem. Talk to Peace Corp veterans before you go. For a shorter stint, try Pueblo Ingles, where you are only there for a week, and are with the same people all the time. These would be less foolish starts than jumping in with two feet to a situation where you are all on your own. And, you’d become familiar with being in the unknown.

  8. tomas

    I lived in India from 1995 working for a US company and i lived like a true king. I used to pay at that time a rent of approx 80$ for a bunglow. maid, gardner, watchman and driver cost me another 80$. my overall expenditure on eating, rent, utilities and people was not more than 250$ at that time. Am sure its expensive now. But sometimes i think about those days and feel really good. I have been doing some research to go back to India and Coimbatore is on my list for big cities with with supposedly one of the sweetest waters in world, good healthcare and relatively cheap place to live compared to many other cities. Also Kotagiri a hill station is on my list for cooler weather.

    • anoop

      mr tomas, I don’t belive in you, you might have stayed in a hut not a bunglow.

  9. tim

    Great site. I will book mark this for future reference. We have 3 kids (2,5, 7) and are homeschooling while traveling the world. We are in Thailand now and we will be going to Malaysia, Nepal, India, and Laos for the next few years. We look forward to Latin America so our kids can learn Spanish.

    Our kids are getting the best education of their lives and we have all grown much closer as a family. I highly recommend family travel! I believe that family travel is easier in foreign countries because the locals love kids! Everyone is so eager to help.

    • Sally

      How do you support yourselves?

    • Jackie

      This is exactly what I want to do with my son! Please, can you give me details about how you make money to live and travel with this kind of lifestyle?? As soon as I can understand how to make this financially possible, I’m so doing it! -Jackie

      • tim

        Jackie – there are lots of good books and e-books on this subject. Start with the ones in this post referenced below. But the short answer is, you either need to set up a business you can run from anywhere (including as a freelancer) or you need a transferable skill you can apply in a foreign country.
        http://travel.booklocker.com/2010/09/06/quit-your-job-see-the-world/

  10. Xavier

    I am a 45 year old male and I live in Houston TX. I’m married with a 16 year old daughter. I’m hispanic and I speak spanish but I’m not fluent. The thought of retiring to one of these places sounds very fascinating to me. Especially when I read that I can retire at 45 to one of these locations. I’d be willing to teach spanish or something like that to earn $ to live. Any thoughts.

  11. BlahBlah

    Could you make a list based on everything added up. Like, compare the cheapness and the education, and jobs, an adventorous and cultural country and just even it out.

    • tim

      That’s what you get a subscription to International Living for. Or you go travel and figure out a good match. Or enhance your library with the right books. Surfing the web for free info is not going to get you there.

  12. isaac

    i was thinking about solomon islands tim. any thoughts?

    • tim

      Isaac, Don’t know them—sorry.

  13. Macedonian85

    Well done as always. Too bad that those “cheapest places” are disappearing year by year. The place i live in (Macedonia) was one of them, now it is getting extremely expensive and the salaries are remaining the same. Sad for people that live here and many places like that.

  14. Jay Kane

    Great post! I’m really considering living in another country…I can be so much more well off financially! I may even use some of my HereStay.com reward air miles to pay for the trip down there, saving me even more money!

  15. Clayton

    Tim,

    I have diabetes….What is the healthcare like in most of these cheap places to live compared to say Canada…..I am 43 and retired with a good pension……

    • tim

      It’s hard to make a blanket statement, but in most cases it’s as good as what you’re used to if you’re not in a rural area. It won’t necessarily be provided by the government like you’re used to though, depending on your residency status. You’ll need to dig deeper and do some research. For every expat-friendly country out there, somebody has covered this in detail in a book or e-book.

  16. Scott

    I retired at 40 in 2007. Did Panama then spent 2 years in the UK and Europe. Spent the past year and a half in the Philippines. Looking for my next stop. Maybe Malaysia?

    • bill

      thinking about phillipines subic any sugines

  17. Richard

    I was just investigating places to live around the world and your article was very insightful. I have spent a lot of time in South America and your article presents some other interesting possibilities. Cheers, Richard

  18. gr8daneabudhabiGmail

    UAE: Sharjah is dirt cheap and Ajman cheaper at 5500 dirhams– $1600. for a studio for one year because they way overbuilt during the housing bubble. Make great money teaching and tutoring at American Univ. of Sharjah and others. Food staples are also subsidised.

    dutch537012@yahoo.com

  19. gr8daneabudhabiGmail

    Also very safe in Arab countries and children and teachers and old people are valued highly in Islam. Visa is free and Abu Dhabi has $300 mil. per day from oil– and prices are rising. Oman is also fantastic.

  20. gr8daneabudhabiGmail

    A Turkish man sent me this: In Turkey there are some abandoned houses in tiny coastal villages (great beaches) which the gov’t will give to live in for free for you and your families lifetime. Some retired Brits have moved there and citizenship is obtainable within 5-10 years. 500 usd per mo. is enough to have a good life in turkey. You can find decent fully western style flat for about 200 usd for long term accomodation in coastal and cities if you get some help from a local. western style stores and supermarkets are all over the country and prices are same for everybody. you can afford food shopping in local markets for about 200 a month except meat. meat is expencive, about 10 usd for 1 kg. and if it is really a indicator a beer from store is 1 usd and 3-5 usd in modest bars.

    • Shane

      I’m a fan of the beer index too but your friend’s prices are a little out. Though rents for apartments in some coastal resorts are surprisingly cheap, I’m grieved to say a supermarket beer will set you back $2 (3.5TL).

  21. karen

    well..do you know of any sustainable communitities or houses or farms where people can live for the rest of their lives?

  22. anoop

    Hello everybody, I been round the world many times, In Asia veitnam is a good place to leave and enjoy, In Africa capetown[s.africa] and mombasa[kenya] are cheap and nice place. In south America peru is good place to leave. manta in eqaudor and Elsalvador in Brazil are also lovely places.
    Anywhere you go you should be familair with the local language and the people movement and you should be very brave. If you like to enjoy life you have explore.

  23. michael

    I,ve enjoyed reading all this , would love to see the world and live anywhere other than the US. I am an electrician by trade, and was wondering how to find work prior to leaving ?

    • tim

      In general, you don’t. You go, you make contacts, you find work. For a job like that though, you’re competing with locals making far less than you’re used to, so you’ve got to find a way to live on less or get commercial work with foreign companies.

  24. Mia

    I know of much cheaper soooo we moving to a diff.state we never been so.wish us luck

  25. nick

    hi tim
    ive been thinking of moving to somewhere cheap and close to the open water i noticed you were talking about living a wealthy lifestyle for cheap but im more interested in living a very simple lifestyle for even cheaper just from your own experience what is the absolute cheapest you think you could live and where
    -thanks

    • tim

      Nick – this is impossible for me to answer for anyone. If you want to live like a poverty-stricken African who wakes up each day wondering where the next meal will come from, I imagine you could do that for a dollar a day, as much of the population unfortunately does. But most who have grown up in the west like things such as ample food, a roof that doesn’t leak, clean drinking water, and indoor plumbing. Start asking what the locals live on, then ask the expats what they live on. Somewhere in between is probably the “simple life” minimum that’s still healthy.

  26. Robert Gutierrez

    Tim- thanks for the articles, very insightful. Also, thanks for the chuckles. Some of your replies to reader comments are hilarious. Keep up the good work!

  27. tina

    Hello,
    I am grappling with a crossroads currently. 41, single Canadian woman, living in San Diego, USA for the last few years and ready to move on. I’ve lived all over the world but have pretty much been in North America the last 4 yrs due to work contracts.
    currently hoping to get my review site popular and maybe make a buck or two from it so that I can maybe work for myself.
    anyways, I’ve been focusing on australia for 2013 again and settling, but the more I have to deal with visa’s, and high cost of living, I’m rethinking it. If I have to go there, not sure if someone will hire me or sponsor me and spend my savings with no way of knowing if I’ll ever get a job or citizenship, I’m now very unsure.
    I’ve been to mexico a bunch of times, my mom and dad spend months at a time there every year, this year i met them in PV and we travelled to La Penita and Guyabitos area.
    I’d seriously consider mexico. I want a life style of growing my own veggies, walking into a village for shopping, being near a beach, and feeling safe and secure. I’ve never not felt safe in mexico, except when in TJ or border towns.
    I’d even like to find a job in mexico, maybe waitressing in a beach bar (I’ve never waitressed before), the simple life is what I am craving, I want out of the corporate life, suits, cities, superficialism, and crave something simple. Maybe I could get a cert to teach english and do that on the side?

    Even with all my travels in mexico, I haven’t found one particular place that I’m like ” i want to live here!”
    I like mexico cuz i could just drive there with my car. Visa seems easy enough?
    I guess what I’m asking is where would ya’ll suggest for easy visa, ease of move, and a lifestyle that is beach simple but with the option to head to a nightclub and city life every once in awhile without much fuss?

    am i asking too much?

    thanks
    T

    • Gregg

      Hey I was wondering if you ever received a reply your question? Just what you desribed about Mexico is exactly what some friends and I have been thinking about. Anyway if you have any info you’d like to share you can message me back. Thanks.

  28. Jose

    Definetly the beer is very cheap and the flat can be cheap depending on its size.
    Could one manage to live there not knowing Chinese at all?
    Thanks

  29. Shari

    Hi Tim – You seem to know your way around, and it’s been a while since I’ve traveled abroad. I live now on Vancouver Island Canada, 67, retired. I’m looking for some place in the warmer climes where I can live comfortably, cheap. I pick up languages quickly, so I don’t see that as a problem. Any suggestions?

  30. maya

    I live at world cheapest country Pokhara, Nepal,it is natural country.we all know that World highest Mt.Everest “SAGRMATHA” is also situated in Nepal.The totle cost of living per month is approx $100 per one person.

  31. Mario

    Sorry men, but Ecuador cannot be counted as a cheap country anymore, since we started using US Dollars as currency and Correa became president, prices sky-rocketed and the cheapest meal would go from $4 to $6 USDollars so…. not that cheap really compared to central america or asian countries.

    • tim

      I’m going back in October so I’ll see for myself, but I have talked to a lot of expats who live there and they rave about how cheap it is (still). Maybe not compared to Nicaragua, but compared to most of South America as well as Panama, Belize, or Costa Rica, it’s still a screaming bargain.

  32. adam brown

    The cheapest place I have lived is…. Wales. A lot of people have never heard of it. Its the western bit on the British Isles, rains a lot, 3million people live there so it could be described as sparsely populated. Advantages to Far East and other exotic destinations are that the health service is there, bit layed back but its free. There are few robberies or murders so security is similar to England which is good. There are land taxes called Council Tax which is about 120 dollars US, rents can be cheap room 240 dollars US then you can scrape enough to eat if you go the supermarkets just before closing time to buy the reduced food. The trick is to live somewhere in a group of friends, remote, out of the way, solar powered is possible because there is more land and space available. I know some people who have heated indoor pool rigged up and solar powered studio inside barns all hidden away, etc etc If you want a few specific clues then email me from the letters spelling …. aich aye you en tea ee dee bee aye en que you ee tea @ googlemail.com

  33. Kat

    Hello, thank you for the well researched article! Do you have any information on the HEALTHIEST as well as cheapest places to live? I am thinking in terms of biking, hiking availability, buying organic fruits and vegetables (and the vegetation to grow your own), warm weather year round for getting outdoors more often (wet & dry is fine), relatively low pollution, access to health food stores and stuff things like that (without huge emphasis on tourism). Any info would be appreciated.

    • tim

      If you’re looking for Whole Foods stores, you’re out of luck in cheap countries. But there are plenty of countries where organic is just the way they grow things anyway if that’s your concern and plenty of “eternal spring” destinations where you can be outside all year long. Lots of them from Mexico on down through Ecuador and hill towns in the tropics of Asia that stay temperate.

  34. Kat

    Thank you for your input & your willingness to help out!

  35. Mike Kennedy

    Hello, thanks for the great article!

    My girlfriend and I wanted to travel the world, spending maybe 6 months to a few years in one country, then moving to another place, and just repeating. However, we realized that you had to apply for visa after visa and I think many places only allowed visitors to stay only 60 days to 3 months, with some 6 months. So it seems our idea may be dead.

    My question to you is: Did I read something wrong, and could we really pull this off?

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Tim Leffel

      Every country has different visa laws. Some—especially in Latin America—let you stay six months. Others give you a month and you have to leave the country and come back if you want to stay longer. You have to research it place by place.

  36. jai

    which are the best places with secure organic food with life expectancy more than 90 yrs with smart people and job security

  37. Diane

    I have a quick question. Can a nurse practitioner practice (as a prescriber as they do here in the US) in any of these countries? I was eye-balling Costa Rica as well as some areas of Thailand. I need to be somewhere warm!! Thanks!

    • Tim Leffel

      Don’t know offhand—you’ll have to do some research. There are certainly plenty of foreign nurses in a lot of countries, but I imagine each one has different tests and standards.

  38. John Steeples

    when living in different parts of the world don’t you have a visa problems. I’m looking for a nice place to live for the rest of my life. I like Indonesia but you need Visa Thailand and all the other places in the world where should one go to live in tranquillity

  39. Tony Jones

    I live in the south of France and work from home on a reasonable internet connection. Live is cheap here and more important so is the Quality of live!

  40. Anja

    I can highly recommend Panama. It is very inexpensive to get a residence visa and cost of living is low.

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