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For Cheap Apartments, Look Outside the USA

There are plenty of cheap apartments to rent around the world, just fewer and fewer in the USA–or in Canada, Australia,  and England for that matter. You don’t have to live with unaffordable housing, but you might need a big change of address to get back to sane prices you can really afford.

cheap apartment view in Mexico

A $600 apartment view in my city…

This week I’m staying in someone’s home in Brooklyn and just for fun I’m looking at real estate ads in shop windows to see how prices are faring here. So far, the cheapest place I’ve seen for rent was $2,850 (a tiny studio) and it’s routine to see places listed for more than $6,000 per month. In Brooklyn. That’s $72,000 per year just for a place to live. 

It’s still cheaper than living in Manhattan though. The median rent there is $4,100 per month and the average is much higher, thanks to people willing to pay 10 grand or more per month for a place with a view. 

Buying won’t help much either. The cheapest place for sale I’ve seen in Brooklyn was $380,000 (a studio) in an “up and coming area” that’s not close to much of anything, but in a new building at least. That doesn’t count the monthly co-op fee though, ,which is more than $1,000. 

The High Cost of Living in the USA

If it feels like living costs are getting more and more expensive where you live, or at best leveling off finally, it’s probably not your imagination. You can tack the headline, “Rent prices hit a record high last year” to cities as diverse as Sydney, Geneva, Tampa, Sioux Falls, Little Rock, and Vancouver. So this is not just an American thing, but since most of my readers are from there, I’m pulling stats for that country.

Rent prices across the USA are finally stalling after years of runaway increases, with Zillow saying we started 2024 “only” 3.3% up from this time last year, but the median rent price in America is still nearly $2,000. And it’s a lot easier finding a place for that price in Louisville or Lubbock than it is in big cities. United Van Lines info says that people in the USA are typically packing up and moving to less expensive cities within the USA and here’s why, according to this article

Affordability for both home buyers and renters has declined significantly over the past four years. The share of median household income needed to pay rent has risen from 26.7% in November 2019 to 29.9% in November 2023. The share of income needed for a monthly mortgage payment on a typical home purchase has risen even more dramatically, from 22.7% to 38.6% over the same time frame. In many places, costs are so high that a family making the median household income wouldn’t even qualify for a mortgage. 

Meanwhile, most of the expats I interviewed for the second edition of A Better Life for Half the Price are paying half that amount in a foreign country, often furnished.  People in my private living abroad Facebook group can’t believe the prices I list routinely are for real, then they move and find a two-bedroom apartment for 600 bucks after they move and they can see that it’s real.

Where can you get a nice apartment for less than half the national U.S. average? Pretty much anywhere I featured in my living abroad book, even in big and fun cities like Buenos Aires, Bangkok, or Budapest. Go down a notch or two on city size and the vast majority of rental listings will be below that mark, with the higher-end ones being something special or geared to corporate workers from abroad. In most of the countries featured, a listing for $2,000 per month is rare to see at all. It might be a mansion with a pool. 

Pity the young couple living in the San Francisco Bay area that wants to buy a house. The median there is currently around $1.2 million. The entire state of California has a median price of $783,600 according to Bankrate. It’s more than half a million in a slew of other states too like Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Utah, and Washington (both the state and D.C.)

Want to know what $1.2 million will get you in Mexico instead? How about a 5-bedroom house on the ocean with a view like this?

oceanfront house in Zihuatanejo

via Christie’s Zihuatenejo

But if you head to the interior in any of the cheapest countries to live in, you’ll routinely find listings of houses and condos for sale for less than $200K, in desirable cities with great weather, not some obscure place where nobody is moving too

Like this one in Cuenca, Ecuador. This fully furnished two-bedroom penthouse condo with these views was listed at $170K before it sold, which is more than 200K less than the median home price in the whole USA of $387,600—and it probably sold for less.

cheap apartment in Cuenca to buy


Even at the luxury level it’s easy to find a whole array to choose from for less than $500k in that city, which means someone could sell their California house and then move into a mansion here while having plenty left over to be set for life. (See more here on the cost of living in Ecuador for the non-rich.)

Stratospheric Housing Prices and Easy Cheap Living Alternatives

The median price for an apartment in Manhattan passed the $1 million mark  a years ago and that even includes the parts that run through Harlem and the Lower East Side. The median sale price of a condo on the market as I write this is $1.36 million. You can expect to pay at least $800,000 for a basic 1BR place of 750 square feet in Manhattan—before the monthly co-op fees.

Or you could spend $185,000 instead and get this place in a prime neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The complex has a pool, barbecue area, and gym.

Condo in Buenos Aires

How about if you have no intention of buying and just want to rent? As mentioned at the beginning, the median price for a rental apartment in Manhattan is now above $4,100. And don’t think you’ll be spreading out much either: that will get you all of 774 square feet. Something that would be called “really tight” in a normal city but is considered spacious in New York City.

“Oh, those are just the crazy expensive places” you’re probably thinking. Prices can’t be that crazy in the whole country.”

No, if you want to live in a depressed area next to mobile homes with confederate flags and cars up on jacks, you can pay a lot less. In general though, in anywhere desirable that’s thriving instead of declining, the prices just keep going up and up. Even in the depressed state of West Virginia, the median house price is now $284,000—more than a quarter million dollars. Only a handful of states are below that mark and most are not places you move to for good weather. 

In the cities that are growing because they’re filled with educated people working at well-paying jobs, the price hikes are much higher than in places where people are leaving. (And by the way, the pandemic predictions of people leaving New York City and a subsequent price decrease didn’t come true.)

This is not just a big city problem though. The median home price in Bozeman, Montana is $720,000.

In Nashville it’s $413,600.

In Tampa it’s $413,000.

In Austin it’s $485,000

Sure, there are pockets around that are still a relatively good deal: cities like Little Rock, Omaha, or Pittsburg that have some cool things to do. In those the ratio of annual salary to starter home isn’t 5X or more, but don’t expect the deals to last. And even in those cities, the “good deal” is that you’ll only spend $200,000 on a house instead of three times that elsewhere. It’s still years of your net income and by the time the mortgage is paid off, three or four times that really.

All across the developed world, the gap between housing prices and income levels has been widening. In Sydney, London, Vancouver, and Amsterdam, fewer and fewer first-time buyers can afford to do anything besides suck it up and keep paying higher rents.

If you’re already in a home you own in those cities, you’re in great shape. If you bought 30 years ago, you’re a poster child for the investment benefits those realtors love to tout. If you’re trying to buy now though? It could go well, but you may end up looking more like the suckers who bought in 2007.

For most people, real estate in a mature market is not a very good investment once you factor in the total cost of maintenance, interest, and insurance. You’d do far better just buying an index fund that tracks the S&P 500. 

What’s driving prices in some of these premier markets is the same factor that can drive your exit: purchases by foreigners. “Foreigners snap up half of London’s princeliest dwellings according to Savills, an estate agent,” said one Economist report. It’s a similar story in Vancouver with investment from Asia. One report I saw a few years ago said, “Housing appears to be more than 40% overvalued in Australia, Britain, and Canada.”

Make Your Own Arbitrage Deal

Bulgaria house for sale cheapSo what if you do the same thing, but go downmarket as a foreigner instead? If UK prices have got you thinking you could never buy a house in your lifetime, take trip to Bulgaria where you could have picked up this house pictured here two years ago for €5,720. That’s not a typo! The price is less than you’d pay for a beat-up Fiat.

It’s also not unusual. Check out Bulgaria real estate listings on sites like this and you’ll find 100+ places going for 50K euros or less. Right now you can go buy a furnished studio apartment in the nice ski town of Bansko for less than the limit on your Amex card, or get a two-bedroom place you could live in year-round for under $40,000. 

“Oh Tim, you can’t find house deals like that anymore in Europe.” I’ve been hearing that since 2014, when I put out the first edition of my living abroad book. Wrong. I see bargain places all over Bulgaria still. This one was just reduced to €25,000. 

cheap real estate in Europe

If you’re trying to avoid cold winters, prices aren’t that cheap in Lisbon and the Algarve in Portugal, but there are bargains galore in that country once you get out of the most popular areas with foreigners.  Spain is priced higher, but there are plenty of condos and houses priced to sell quickly. Some villages in Italy have been selling houses for one euro to those who promise to fix them up and live in them. 

So you don’t have to go to the Balkans or the former Iron Curtain countries to find real estate bargains, but they do have plenty of them if Albania, Romania, or Slovakia is on your radar. 

Where to Find Cheap Apartments for Rent Around the World

In any of the countries I’ve covered a lot on this blog, you can generally find a cheap apartment that’s less than half what you’re spending in the USA or Canada without looking very hard. I know people where I live in Mexico who have moved here and chopped their monthly rent by 2/3 or more. People are still finding sub-$600 furnished apartments in much of interior Mexico, even after a recent exchange rate drop in the dollar.

Then there are countries that cost less than Mexico. In this part of the world, you can often find better deals in Guatemala (especially on Lake Atitlan), Honduras, Peru, and even Colombia and Argentina these days. Living in Ecuador can easily cost you 1/4 what you would spend in a comparably sized city in the USA, Australia, or Western Europe. 

Many expats living in Thailand who write about their experience are paying less than $500 per month for a nice place and you find the same story throughout Southeast Asia, from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh to Bali. It’s cheaper still if you decide to live in India or settle down in Nepal.

Heading over to Europe, just surfing around online will uncover cheap apartment deals like this:

In Bulgaria, where I mentioned the cheap housing prices, even in the capital of Sofia you can find a two-bedroom apartment for less than 700 euros, in Plovdiv for less than 500. In the rural areas, “How much have you got?” See more here on the cost of living in Bansko, Bulgaria.

In Budapest, for half what I was spending in Tampa, Florida for a 3-bedroom condo, I could get a huge 3BR place with parquet floors, a balcony, and garden. This studio apartment in an elevator building near a metro line is $470 per month including utilities and internet.

bargain apartment in Budapest for cheap living abroad

I mentioned before that you can live in Albania for about a year just on a tourist visa if you’re American. It’s easy to find cheap apartments too. Head here to find listings in English for two-bedroom apartments going for €400 to €800 per month. That’s in the capital city. They’re less almost everywhere else. 

In most cases though, you’ll find much better deals upon arrival. When trying to find a long-term cheap apartment rental abroad, you normally need feet on the ground to avoid the places priced for free-spending foreigners.

These are not unusual cases either. From Romania to Slovakia, Turkey to Montenegro, there are loads of empty apartments and houses for rent at a fraction of what you’re paying now. If you’re just renting, rather than buying, your risk is minimal. If you don’t like the place after a while, run out the term and then move on.

Pick up A Better Life for Half the Price, see which places look appealing, then go do a trial run or two. Rent a place for a year if you like it and start sorting out prices and neighborhoods. Then if you do decide to buy, you’ll know the pros and cons and have a good feel for values.

Counting a renovated kitchen, new wiring, and other upgrades, we’ve spent all-in around $110K on our house in Guanajuato, Mexico. (We are in the process of adding a roof terrace, which will add on more but will increase the value accordingly.) Getting the same amount of space close to downtown where I last lived in Tampa would cost me…$565,000 at a minimum. That’s where prices start for a three-bedroom, two-bath condo like we last lived in. Most are far more.

We paid $2,100 a month for rent (plus utilities) and were getting a great deal compared to others in our complex. Now though, apartments similar to what we left in 2018 are hitting the $3,000 mark. We couldn’t pay that much in Guanajuato even if we wanted to. 

It’s difficult to spend that much per month in Mexico outside the beach resorts unless you’re renting a luxury mansion through Airbnb. Most couples and families living here are spending less than that each month on their total expenses! Your view of what’s normal can change quite a bit once you decide you’re not putting up with unaffordable housing anymore.

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Wednesday 10th of April 2024

Thank you for this article. We were considering buying in Anguilla, before arrival but now I just told the real estate lady we rather rent and look around. Her answer was "You know you can rent this (what we were looking) house too, and the rent will be subtracted from the buying price. Thats a great deal.

john francis

Friday 26th of March 2021

Well Thanks for the info, i Appreciate it

Anthony Thomas

Tuesday 18th of February 2020

Even in Brazil, prices for apartments and housing in Sao Paulo is about 1/3rd of what it is in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the entire South Bay (Torrance, Manhattan Beach, etc).

That was 2016 when I was there, but I'm sure prices haven't jumped up that much.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 20th of February 2020

They're probably less now in dollar terms because the real has weakened since then.

Bernhardson Wayne

Monday 17th of February 2020

Regarding Buenos Aires, the price seems a bit low. Our modest two-bedroom apartment, well-located in Palermo, would now sell for about US$200,000 (we paid a small fraction of that in 2002). When buying or renting in Buenos Aires, you must also consider the monthly "expensas" (association fees), which can be substantial if work needs to be done on the entire building.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 20th of February 2020

Yes it's probably better to rent in BA right now. You can find a 2BR apartment on Airbnb these days for less than $1,200 per month in the best areas, less than $1,000 further out. With no agency to deal with and no paperwork.


Monday 17th of February 2020

Well your advice about renting first is the most important. First an airbnb for a week, then scout out places priced for locals. I'm in a nice area (Zapopan) of Guadalajara paying $200 a month in an airbnb although I was lucky most pay closer to $300. Next month Vietnam and the rest of SE Asia where I won't pay much more than $300 with A/C for my own studio apt. Guanajuato is nice but there is only so much to do there and no beach! A couple making close to $200,000 a year don't really mind paying $4000 a month because you get what you pay for, most people would go stir-crazy in Albania in a month or two. But that aside it is just a fantasy for most people because they just can't break free!