Browsing Posts tagged cheapest places to live

Panama beach

Panama can be one of the world’s greatest places to live on a lower budget than you could in a developed country, especially if you’re a retiree. It’s also a place favored by thousands of very wealthy Latin Americans and business tycoons, however. So whether you find the place a bargain largely depends on where you live and how you live.

As I’ve been mentioning lately, I’m working on a book called A Better Life for Half the Price, about moving abroad to a cheaper destination to lower your monthly expenses. Panama doesn’t figure into my World’s Cheapest Destinations travel book except as a brief honorable mention. While it’s cheaper than Costa Rica, it’s nowhere near as good a value as some other countries in Central America. It is a poster child for publications such as International Living though and has been for at least a decade. That’s for a lot of good reasons:

- It’s a very stable country politically.
- It uses the US dollar as its currency and inflation is minimal.
- The banking system is good.
- Health care is excellent and affordable in the cities.
- Taxes are low, including on alcohol and electronics.
- Regulations are minimal for setting up a business.
- It’s easy to get a residency visa.
- The pensionada program for retirees has terrific benefits.

Panama is no backwater dirt-poor country though relying on what they can grow or dig out of the ground to build wealth. There’s a large middle class employed in all kinds of decent-paying jobs, from call centers to quality construction to the Panama Canal to banking. Most multinational companies have a base here and the whole country is like a big duty free zone.

luxury real estate Panama City

I did an interview that will air soon with Taylor White of the Overseas Property Insider Podcast. He’s stacking cash buying and selling real estate in Panama City, so he subscribes to the philosophy of “You’re going to spend what you’re going to spend, no matter where you are.” For some people that’s true and they didn’t move to Panama City to save money. Taylor spends about as much as he did in San Diego. You can spend a few hundred grand on a fancy condo with a view and there are plenty of temptations in terms of high-end restaurants, clubs, casinos, and beach resort excursions. For many, especially wealthy Latinos, the capital of this country is a “work hard, play hard” city akin to Miami. Living here can cost far less than Miami if you’re careful, but you can easily spend as much as you would there if you want.

There are retirees living in Panama City for less and the live abroad magazines and newsletters continually highlight people getting by on two U.S. social security checks—around $2,400 per month. A typical basket of goods and services is lower here, especially domestic help, transportation, domestic food, wine, and entertainment. Real estate is high for the region though as this is considered a “safe haven” investment for Venezuelans, Argentines, and others.

Outside the Big City

There are plenty of other places to live in Panama, however. Many retirees are attracted to the Chiriqui highlands around David and Boquete or the Bocas del Toro islands. Both these areas have far lower prices to rent or buy.

Panama adventure

Former Texan Richard Kongable lived in a few places in Panama before moving to a rural area near Volcan, on the side of a mountain. I tried a few other places in Panama before settling here,” he says. “I like that I never need heat, I never need air conditioning, and there’’s always a gentle breeze. I’m on the edge of a valley, with a volcano on the left and two rivers. I can see islands in the ocean even though it’s an hour and 20 minutes away.”

Richard rented his house for years for $300 a month and thought he was going to have to leave eventually when the American owner put it up for sale. Instead the owner fell into health problems and needed to sell in a hurry, so with no buyers in sight Richard got the 1,600 square foot house for half price: $25,000. He estimates that his family of three spends about $1,700 a month, including car expenses and about $300 a month for his son’s private school.

Retirees Kris and Joel Cunningham pay $385 per month for a house in a nice middle class neighborhood on the edge of David, Panama and they love it. “We have woods and a river behind us, there’s only one way into the neighborhood so it feels really safe. We’re surrounded by local professionals who are just lovely people.”

The Cunninghams were paying $1,200 per month in Sarasota, Florida where they lived before on their mortgage and taxes. If they had been renting, it would have been more. “The house next to us, similar to what we have now, was renting for $1,500 per month,” she adds.

They have been living on her husband’s social security payment and have a little savings from selling their house in Florida. Kris was about to start receiving her own social security payment when I talked to her, which will double their income and enable them to meet the income requirements for the pensionada program: $1,000 for one person plus $250 for each dependent. “It’s already so cheap though, I feel kind of guilty getting all those extra discounts,” she says.

Kris Cunningham says she has been pleasantly surprised by low costs in Panama, particularly groceries. “Food is definitely a great deal, especially fruit and vegetables. If you spend $20 on those in our local market it will be more than you can carry. We paid two or three times more for almost everything at home, including meat and fish. If you buy what the locals buy and cook, living here is very cheap.”

There’s the key advice that applies almost anywhere in the world: eat what’s local and you’ll probably be both healthier and wealthier. The usual advice that goes with that is to avoid imported products. With some of the cheapest wine and liquor prices in the world here though, you don’t have to make any adjustments in what you drink. This is one of the few places in the world where California wine is cheaper than in Napa Valley and Chilean wine is cheaper than in Santiago. (See this post on prices to booze it up in Panama.)

Cambodia living

How do these expenses for living in Cambodia compare to yours?

A 2-bedroom apartment with a pool for $350, a $5 massage for an hour, a full-time nanny or housekeeper for $120 a month, meals out for $2, taxis for a dollar or two.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ll be putting out a book later this year on cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. In the course of that, I’ve been interviewing loads of expats living in different countries. If you pinned me to the wall and said I had to tell you which country was the absolute cheapest place to live in different regions, Cambodia would be the answer in Southeast Asia.

cambodian food

Cheap Living, Easy Visa

On top of the cheap living and the pure ease of getting things done, you’re welcome to stick around for a while. “This is one of the easiest countries in the world to get a business visa,” said Justin Garnett. “You just pay a little extra when you arrive for the upgrade. Then you can extend for a full year for $280. From there it’s very easy to rent a space and open a bar, a restaurant, or a service business. As long as you don’t do anything stupid, it’s no problem.” Just keep it above board, he advises. “As soon as you start f#cking with the system, it’s going to come down very quickly. The judicial system is not going to be your friend.”

Khmer livingWhen I spoke to Humphrey of New Zealand, who lives in the capital, he echoed the ease of getting a visa in Cambodia and not having any hassles. “When I need to renew my visa, I give them some money at a motorbike shop or travel agent and hand over two photos. The next day I have my passport back and it’s done.”

Plus you don’t have to worry about sneaking around if you want to tend bar or take scuba divers out for PADI certifications. “This is one of the few countries in the world where you can just roll up and work,” says Humphrey. “It’s not like Thailand.”

Apartment and House Deals in Cambodia

As with anywhere you’d want to live, it pays to take your time finding a place to stay to get the best deal. If you look online though, the prices are quite reasonable even for those in a hurry. In Phnom Penh, the most expensive places are right by the river and you can pay as much as you do now if you want. But they go down quickly as you count the blocks back from there. It is common to spend $250-$300 for a one-bedroom condo and $400-$650 for one that has several bedrooms and lots of facilities. In Siem Reap prices are far lower. If you spend $600 there you’re going to have a swanky villa with a pool, all utilities included. Most of the condos and apartments you can find online range from $250 to $550 per month. Go to a smaller town with fewer tourists and it drops again from there.

When I asked Humphrey what he spends on a regular basis, he stressed that he was living large and wasn’t very careful with his money. “I earn about $2,000 a month and I spend about $1,500,” he said. Even in the nicest bars, it’s still 50-75 cents for a half pint of beer. Liquor here is cheaper than at duty free in an airport. If you spend more than $4 on a meal it was a very fancy place. Women are cheap, but I’m not a player now,” he insists. “I have a girlfriend.”

“There are plenty of dirty old men on a pension down at the beaches though,” he adds, “and I know a few that easily get by on $1,200 a month. They live well on that amount.”

Justin is a family man, so his story is very different. He’s got a house full of relatives in the compound, a place where he spends around $750 on rent, utilities, and maintenance for a 4-bedroom house “with a huge garden.” He estimates that he probably spends $3,000 a month supporting the extended family of his wife he met here, along with his own kids, but can’t imagine going back to his old life in Australia. “I pull up to the house and the kids run inside. I always know there’s someone to take care of them. We’ve never ever paid a babysitter.”

market stall

He now has a vacation getaway place he made happen from his savings. “I bought a block of land with a 3-bedroom house that needed some improvements,” he says. All told I’ve spent$21,000 and I have an acre of land. If you buy land somewhere, you can build a home here for 10 grand.”

I also interviewed a hotel manager living in Siem Reap who was just plain flabbergasted at how cheap it was where he was living. “I don’t know anyone who pays more than $500 a month for a nice large apartment or house here,” he says, “And even if you run the air conditioning 24/7 you won’t be able to spend more than $300 per month on all utilities added together.”

happy hourHe has worked in several other countries in Asia and can’t imagine spending less than he does now on food and drink. “I cannot think of anything outrageously expensive except some imported food stuffs.”

Cambodia is not for everyone, of course. It’s a hot tropical country with the bugs and diseases that implies. Most people fly to Thailand for serious medical care. The Khmer Rouge killed off everyone who seemed intelligent, which didn’t exactly result in an enlightened gene pool. The beaches here are okay, but they don’t compare to those in neighboring countries.

Do your homework and give the place a trial run before making a move. If your funds are limited, however, this is probably the best bargain in Asia outside the Indian subcontinent.

Want to hear about the best opportunities for cutting your expenses and having a better life? Subscribe to the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter!


Nicaragua cost of living

$2 appetizer platter at a nice restaurant in Nicaragua

“If you make $1,000 a month, you can drive a small car, take your family out to decent restaurants sometimes, and visit a place like this on the weekends.” That was an offhand comment from my Nicaraguan guide Pablo when we were at the overlook area checking out Lake Apoyo between Managua and Granada. “On that salary, you are middle class here.”

A lot more people are stepping up to that level in Nicaragua as the economy keeps improving and its relatively low crime rate make it a place international companies want to invest. If you’re coming from a developed country though, it’s an incredibly cheap place to live.

I do an annual post and individual country rundowns on the cheapest places to live in the world and there’s one key thing they have in common: most people earn less in that country than most people earn in yours. The big picture really is that simple. If you come from a country where the median income is above $40,000 per year, as it is in the USA, Canada, or Australia, then you’re clearly going to feel richer if you go live in a place where the median income is more like $6,000 a year. Even if you’re just living off a Social Security or pension check.

shopping Nicaragua

1/5 the price of Safeway, Kroger, or Tesco

These official numbers are kind of clumsy, of course, whether you’re talking about median income, per-capita GDP, or some other yardstick. Some “work” isn’t counted correctly, bartered goods don’t figure in, and naturally people under-report their real income if there are tax implications. Still, whether an average worker in Nepal makes $600 a year or $900 doesn’t make a big difference for my point. Compared to the Nepalis you’re loaded, even if you’re making the equivalent of a fast-food burger flipper.

If you’re living in a more expensive place, however, your money is worth less. Your purchasing power is crappy. Per-capita GDP may be almost six figures in Norway, but you’ll pay out the nose for virtually everything you would spend money on. It may be only 1% of that in Cambodia, but you can find a good meal for a couple dollars. In a sit-down place with a waiter. Then in the U.S., you have to factor in health care costs, which are astronomical if you’re not covered by a company health plan. This illogical, for-profit arrangement does not exist in most of the rest of the world.

Which brings us back to my travels in Nicaragua earlier this month. I was working on a few articles on assignment, so I had an English-speaking guide driving me around, one who had grown up in Miami and then moved back to Nicaragua when he was in high school. He wants to get back to the USA at some point, to take his kids to Disney World, but he’ll keep living where he is. His electric bill is usually eight or nine dollars. His house is paid for. His family eats very well on what he makes.

Granada house for sale

House in the center of Granada, for the price of a BMW…

I had coffee with a retired couple living in Granada and I’ll profile them in the book I have coming out later this year. “My pension alone is 3-4 times what the average Nica makes,” Jim told me. We spend around $1,800 a month, which is extravagant by local standards. We live in a big air-conditioned house with a swimming pool and pay $650 a month in rent. We eat out whenever we want, wherever we want. Medical care is so inexpensive here we don’t even have insurance. We just pay for things as they come up. I had to go to the best hospital in Managua for surgery and it was cheap enough that I put it on a credit card.”

Another couple I’ve been corresponding with there has lived in Leon, Granada, and now San Juan del Sur for around $1,400 a month, while having a really good time. They’re sensible with what they spend, but not all that frugal when it comes to having fun. Their housing is only $300 of that.

Flor de Cana

$4 – $8 for a bottle of rum with set-ups in a bar

I like Nicaragua and I could live there, but this is just one country out of many that will have a detailed chapter. It’s one of the best deals, yes, but there are plenty of countries out there where the per capita GDP is 1/4 or less than what it is where most people reading this blog are from. Some of them have pretty good infrastructure too: popular destinations like Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, and Colombia. It’s just that a “middle class life” has a much lower price tag.

After surveying people who have signed up for the Cheap Living Abroad e-mail newsletter, the verdict is in on the book title:

A Better Life for Half the Price

The second and third choices will get worked into the subtitle.

For those who are serious about cutting their expenses in half and upgrading their life in the process, there will be other packages available with worksheets, webinars, and more. Details to follow, but sign up here to get the inside scoop.

James Nomadic Notes blogI got on a “night here, morning there” call with James Clark of Nomadic Notes recently. James is a digital nomad working from Ho Chi Minh City—Saigon—in Vietnam. He’s not there all the time, but for long enough stretches to get a feel for what it costs to live there.

I’m starting to compile info for a book I have coming out next year on cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. You don’t have to necessarily move to one of the cheapest places to live in order to do that, but Vietnam certainly is one of the cheapest places to live or travel. Here are some highlights of our conversation, with the inside scoop on day to day living expenses in HCMC.

How did you get yourself into a position where you can travel and support yourself from the road?

I found that I liked traveling a lot once I started and liked working on the internet, so I figured out a way to work for myself and keep doing both. For the last ten years I’ve been doing web design while traveling, working from various places around the world. I’m from Australia, but I haven’t had an address there since 2010. I’ve mostly been in Southeast Asia.

vietnam coffee hcmcI’ve been living in Vietnam most of the past year, in Ho Chi Minh City. I tried out a lot of places on for size for while traveling, using different spots as a base. I knew a friend who lived here and liked it, plus there were some other online friends I knew were based here. So it was easy to move here and make this my new home. I work during the day at cafes [thus a hefty $5 a day coffee budget] and there are probably 15 people I know here who are working online, on businesses. It’s nice to have people to go out with and bounce ideas off of.

What is the visa situation for living in Vietnam?

When you fly in you can get a one month visa on arrival or a three month one you apply for online before you come. I have a multi-entry visa. Some friends have business visas, but that’s more complicated to get and you usually need to be employing people or you are sponsored by a company. I have to leave the country periodically and return to start a new three-month cycle.

What is it like setting up a rental there?

The first place I rented was just a room in a house for $250 a month, but you can get your own private furnished one-bedroom apartment in District 1 where I am for $500 that will be decent. That includes a maid who comes three times a week and does your laundry. All of them include internet. Electricity is never included, which is $20 a month or so, more if you have the air conditioning running all the time.

Every time I’ve returned, I’ve found a place within one day for a short-term rental. I’ll book a guesthouse room for one night and the next day I’ve found a place.

What do you spend on a monthly basis?

I did a detailed blog post noting my expenses for one month and that was less than $800, living rather frugally. You could spend more on an apartment and go out more, but still, for $1,000 you can live quite well here.

pho in Saigon

It’s so cheap to eat great food there, I assume that’s not a whole lot out of your budget.

Yeah, the room I’m renting right now doesn’t even have a kitchen. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not a very good cook anyway and the food is so good here, I wouldn’t bother. [On eating out and groceries in that one-month tally, James spent a total of $246.]

You can get a lot of great international food here, but the street food is excellent. A filling bowl of pho will set you back about $2, half that outside the central district.

Is there anything that costs more than you expected or is a poor value?

The shopping is not so good here compared to somewhere like Bangkok if you want to buy clothes or something. You wouldn’t buy electronics here because the taxes are really high on top of higher prices to begin with. So if my Macbook dies, I’m not replacing it here, that’s for sure. Still, there a lot of people that walk around with iPhones here, which is really surprising!

Ho Chi Minh City

Rent a scooter for $60-$80 a month and join the locals in the choreographed mayhem.

I assume your okay with the tropical heat?

I’m used to heat and sometimes it’s hotter in Australia where I’m from. I spent three winters in the northern hemisphere and that was enough for me. I enjoy the heat.

Have you had any trouble with internet censorship or site blocking?

Here it’s really easy to get around, not like China. The blocking here is much lazier. You can change the DNS in your IP setting and bypass everything. If you haven’t done that, most of the cafes have already bypassed the blocking anyway.

How do you support yourself on the road. It’s not through Nomadic Notes, right?

Vietnamese spring rollsI already had my business running before I ever started the travel blog, so there was never any pressure to monetize it. I’ve put some different ads on it now and then to experiment, but it’s never been enough to really make a difference. Thankfully I don’t have to use it to generate my income. I get that from a combination of web design, SEO work, affiliate marketing, The job and my income streams have changed considerably over the years. I have to keep up on it and I feel like if I went away for a month and didn’t pay attention I would have a huge amount of catching up to do and it would be really daunting.

What advice would you give people who want to become a digital nomad and work from the road?

It doesn’t take nearly as much preparation as people think. Often the barriers are an excuse to not get started. Everything you need is everywhere these days; it’s just a matter of getting on a plane and going. If you already have a job where you can work online or do your job remotely, it’s not a big step. You can always do some trial runs for a month or two—it doesn’t have to be a full-time thing. Do it part-time. For me it was nice to go back to Melbourne for a while, then after a few months go somewhere else again.

Is there a limit to you long you feel you can travel non-stop before needing to settle down for a bit?

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I do definitely need to stop and work out of one place for a while. I had a bout recently of nearly two months of solid travel and that wasn’t ideal. For me a month in a row is about the maximum.

Find travel and living abroad posts from James Clark at and on Twitter @NomadicNotes. There’s also a Facebook page by the same name. Since I haven’t been to Saigon for ages, all photos here are courtesy of James. No scraping!

Would you like to feel wealthier?

You could work more hours. Or get a higher-paying job. Or become a hermit and never go out or buy anything.

Or you could just move.

cheap living Mexico

At an exchange rate of 12.5 to the dollar…

Each year I do a rundown of the cheapest places to live in the world, giving readers examples of real “normal person” costs in places where you can live well for less. By nature it can’t be complete—it’s an idea generator. Invariably it also generates lots of questions in the comments and by e-mail, so next year I’m going to answer all those questions in a book. The final title will be determined later, but let’s call it Cheap Living Abroad right now. If you want to keep up with the progress, help shape the content, or be a reviewer when it hits, go sign up on this page.

When you do, you’ll get a free report on “14 Places You Can Stay for Four Months or More on a Tourist Visa.”

For now though, let’s look at where you will be able to get by on far less money than you can in your own country by living somewhere else. Here are some of the cheapest places to live in the near future based on actual prices, economic conditions, exchange rates, and ease of staying for a while.

It’s not hard finding a cheaper place to live than where you probably live right now. That list would probably be 100 countries long. You could just pull up Gross Domestic Product breakdowns and compare it to your country’s. A list like that will only take you so far, however. Just because Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, or Haiti is cheap doesn’t mean you’re going to want to live there. Other places are a bargain and very desirable—like Indonesia or the Philippines—but the visa situation makes it very tough to buy or even set up residency unless you’re going to marry a local, get a job with a multi-national, or start your own corporation.

Also, keep in mind that tourism deals do not always translate to cheaper residency. Just because you always see ads for beautiful Croatia holidays at bargain prices, don’t split for the city of Split thinking that rents and restaurant meals are going to be cheap. Tourist towns are priced for tourists.

The cheapest places to live in the world don’t change drastically from year to year, so last year’s report is still full of great ideas. Economic conditions change though, as do visa requirements, so here’s an update for the coming year, arranged by continent.

Cheapest Place to Live in Europe

In terms of economic growth, Europe is the sickest region in the world right now. So while it’s not cheap, in the real estate world you can find lots of value. Even if you’re not buying, there’s big supply and low demand in countries where people are trying to get an income from second homes, where relatives have moved in together to save money, and where overbuilding has created a glut of empty apartments. If you’re already a European Union passport holder, moving to another country here is a no-brainer. You’re mobile, you’ve got budget flights home to see the relatives, and you’ve got very few visa hurdles.



Prices for rent or purchase are great in Hungary. Even in Budapest you can find a furnished apartment in a convenient area for 300 euros or less. Prices for eating out, drinking wine, and entertainment are half what you’re probably paying in your home city. Head to a smaller city and prices drop more.

If you have ancestral roots in the country, you can get a fast-track citizenship, with a dual passport. You have to speak Hungarian, but this is a back door into the EU and Hungary would be a great place to live in Central Europe. This is one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations for travel and you can hop on a train here to visit neighbors Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania. For more details, see my post on traveler prices in Budapest (and assume as a resident, you’ll find lower ones…)

Romania, Slovakia, and BulgariaRomania living

I’m lumping these three together because they all have a glut of housing for the same reason: a lot of their citizens are living abroad in order to make more money than they can at home. In the cities this means anyone who comes in with cash can find a nice apartment for 250 euros relatively easily. If you head into the countryside, there are entire blocks of empty homes that are either temporarily or permanently empty. If you’re a buyer, you can pick up a house or new condo for less than US$50,000. If you’re a renter, “How much have you got?”

Slovakia isn’t as well set-up for inter-city transportation as the other two, but you can get between the main population centers on a train or bus. In Bulgaria and Romania, you will eat and drink very well for cheap and you can move between cities for a few dollars. See past posts on prices in Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.


I visited Lisbon and then did a week-long bike trip through the rural Alentejo region of Portugal earlier this year and found the prices on some things comparable to what you would find in Eastern Europe. But you get those cheap prices in a warmer climate that borders the ocean. And if you learn the language here, you can use it in huge Brazil.

With the economic crisis in Europe hitting Portugal hard, it’s a buyer’s market for real estate. With unemployment high, there’s little opportunity for living expenses to rise for those renting and buying groceries either. The great wine here is a terrific bargain and there’s a tremendous amount of inherent beauty. The big drawback for Americans is this is a full member of the EU, with the same residency hurdles you will face anywhere else in Western Europe. Prepare for a long, drawn out process with the bureaucrats.

cheaper living Portugal

Spain and Greece

Neither of these countries is nearly as cheap as Eastern Europe or even Portugal, but in many ways they’re in far worse shape. A completely collapsed economy and a burst real estate/banking bubble are hanging over both like a never-leaving storm cloud and unemployment is at levels the USA hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. Basically half the people in their 20s are out of work and many in their 30s and up are too. That means more people living with their parents, more families cramming into one house instead of three. Then there are all the coastal towns where speculation went awry and where many of those Brits who bought homes desperately want to get out.

All this means that there’s a “name your own price” real estate atmosphere in many areas, buyers taking whatever they can get in a market where sellers vastly outnumber buyers. You need to be in it for the long haul to profit from this, of course, but there’s probably not been an opportunity like this for at least four decades. If you’re a renter, land with some cash and patiently ask around. You’ll probably find a house in Greece or Spain for a tiny fraction of what you’re paying for a tiny apartment in, say, London, New York, San Francisco, or Sydney.

Ireland (wild card pick – for buyers)

It has been a long time since Ireland has been called a cheap country, but right now it is a cheap place to invest in real estate. This has been one of Europe’s most troubled economies after rising fast and falling even faster. International Living reported this year that you can now get a fixer-upper for under US$30,000, a move-in-ready condo for US$50,000 and “You can buy your dream home here for one fifth of what it cost in 2007.” Prices are especially good in areas where Irish bought second homes they now want out of and developers built like the party would never end. Your daily costs will be on par with what they are at home—this is the EU after all—but if Ireland has a strong pull on your heart, having a home here that you got at a bargain basement price would be a great long-term investment, something to pass on to the next generation. If you’re of Irish descent, you can get an Irish passport too—a huge advantage when you travel to places with reciprocal visa fees. Do it soon though: Ireland is exiting their bailout program after three years, so the window won’t be open forever.

As for rental prices, as in most of the world it’s cheaper outside the big cities. Stats say rents in the country as a whole are only 40% of what they are in New York City. But for the price of one-bedroom apartment in Dublin you can get a three-bedroom house in smaller towns.

Beach in Nicaragua

Cheapest Places to Live in Latin America

From Mexico down to Argentine Patagonia, the Americas offer a wide range of choices for living better for less. Pick your climate, pick your culture, and choose city, mountain vista, or beach. Then learn some Spanish: only in Belize and the Gringolandia places can you get by with English only. (If you must,those would be Ajijic, Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, San Miguel de Allende, Roatan, Granada, coastal Costa Rica, or Boquete.) A bonus consideration for this part of the world: you can almost always stay at least 90 days on the tourist visa you get on arrival.


It’s not the cheapest, but for ease of access and retirement incentives, Panama is tops. If you can show a monthly income of $1,000 or more (plus $100 for each dependent), getting a retiree visa is quite straightforward. And you don’t have to be retired either—there’s no age requirement. If you buy property worth $100K or more, your income requirement drops to $750 per month. You can import $10,000 of goods duty-free plus a car. You also get lots of discounts within the country, including internal flights. In three months you can become a permanent resident. Spend $300K in the country and you can get citizenship. There are other long-term visas for starting a corporation that hires locals, investing in agribusiness, or investing in reforestration.

Why move here? Think of it as Costa Rica with lower prices and fewer hassles. Instead of looking like they’re trying to keep foreign residents out, Panama puts out the message that they actually want you to come. But you can get much of what draws people to Costa Rica: jungle wildlife, a long coastline (Pacific and Caribbean), beautiful tropical islands, coffee country highlands bursting with flowers, and the most cosmopolitan city south of Miami. Infrastructure is far better here than the rest of Central America and the economy keeps growing at a rapid rate: the word “recession” passed this place by without even stopping in to say hello. Besides that, they’ve got the cheapest booze in this hemisphere.

cheapest places Latin America


This is, in most respects, the cheapest destination in the Americas. Take a look at these traveler prices in Nicaragua and know that as a resident, you’ll find even better deals than this. Many people who moved to Nicaragua say they’ve done it because the country seems like a land of limitless opportunity, a place where you can turn a blank slate into something beautiful. The economy is stable and growing and with a population just starting to gain much of what the first world takes for granted, this is a country on the rise. As with Panama, it shares many attributes with its neighbor Costa Rica, but with a far lower crime rate. (But, it must be said, less environmental protection and worse education.)

Even in Granada, the area with the most expatriates, you could get by on $1,000 a month, or $1,500 for a couple, without trying very hard. Bump that up to $2,000 a month and the two of you would be living like elites. Take that same amount into the countryside and you’re one of the richest people in town. About the only thing you’ll pay more for here than you would at home is imported items like clothing or electronics. Anything grown in the region, which is everything from coffee to pineapples, is going to be a fraction of what you would spend normally. This is especially true for services since labor costs are low. Medical costs in the top private hospital in the capital are typically 1/5 of what they would be stateside. The best news is, it’s straightforward to get residency here and the income requirements are quite low—as in $1K for a family, less for a single person. You can stay for five years at a time after getting legal and can import $20K of goods duty-free. If you spend a hundred grand or more on a house, you can even work without asking.

Rents for a basic apartment start at $150 and if you spend more than $500 you’re likely getting a furnished family-sized home with plenty of amenities. You can buy a luxury home in Granada or San Juan del Sur that’s tricked-out with everything you’d want, but get past those two magnet towns and you can a lot of house for your money.


If they were more welcoming to foreigners, Bolivia would be an expat paradise. Prices are low, labor is cheap, and in places like Sucre, both the climate and the aesthetics are quite pleasant. You supposedly only need to show $1,000 a month in income–not carefully checked—to become a resident. Bolivia has been Venezuela’s closest ally besides Cuba for a long while though and the anti-Americanism has lived on past the death of Chavez. Because of the political track record, this is not a place where you want to buy something of great value: it’s not unthinkable that the leadership will freeze or take your property, as it has already done with many private companies.

Getting permission to live here for a year or two is technically not hard, but actually getting to the finish line of that takes superhuman patience. Check out this blow-by-blow blog post with each document needed to get an idea. But hey, you get 90 days on arrival while you’re sorting it out. Or you can just come for three months and move on.

Cuenca prices

Cuenca taxi prices, in US dollars


Despite a big rise in the price of alcohol and an economy on the rise from oil and minerals money, Ecuador is still one of the cheapest places to live while having a good life. Not just in the Americas, but in the world. This is a place where it’s hard to spend more than $6 on a city taxi ride, even in Quito, and where spending $1,000 on rent will get you the kind of apartment or house that would be featured in a high-life living magazine at home. Ecuador is a country where you see full houses with land or historic building apartments near the Plaza Grande where the President works for sale for less than $50,000 (sometimes much less) and where I recently spent $2 on a three-course set meal two blocks from the center of Cuenca. Take a look at these prices for travelers in Ecuador. Oh, and doctors make house calls still, for a premium of about $10 over what the office visit would be. (Hint, it’s probably less than your co-pay in the USA.)

The most popular spot for retirees is the third-largest city of Cuenca, but even there the numbers of them are not overwhelming: the local tourism office estimates it’s 4,500 tops, in a city of around half a million. The mini-boom has driven up prices a little for rent or purchase, but they’re both still 1/4 of what you would pay at home. Get out of the three big cities and it gets even cheaper. Retirees who get legal residency have a lot of perks, including big discounts on already reasonable internal flights. You’ve got a whole range of climates in this one country, from sea level beaches to snow-covered mountains. That means they can grow just about anything too, so the range of cheap fruit and vegetables is staggering. All told, many couples living here spend $1,000 to $2,000 a month total and are living an above-average life.

My home town, Guanajuato


You can certainly find cheaper places to live than my frequent home of Mexico, but it is possible to live here on half of what you normally spend in most parts of the USA in the interior, plus there’s the added advantage that it’s easy to get in and out of. I can get to my home in Guanajuato from Florida faster than I can get to Montreal or San Francisco. For not much more money. You can easily get by without a car in even small cities, health care is excellent and affordable, and there are plenty of other foreigners to get advice from—by some estimates close to a million of them.

Mexico seriously tightened up its immigration requirements in late 2012 though and there’s been a big outcry over the new income requirements. Technically you need to show an income of $2,000 a month plus $500 for each dependent. In reality though, some consulates have been requiring more to be on the safe side. On the other hand, I’ve also heard reports of some embassies and consulates (especially in Canada) just looking at one month’s pension statement and granting approval. This initial application must now be done in your home country before you leave, then you have 30 days after arriving in Mexico to go through the rest of the process locally, which takes several visits and close to $300.

If you’re not looking to put down roots, you can forget those income requirements and take advantage of the very liberal visitor visa: you get 180 days upon arrival just for the asking. Many snowbirds come down for six months and then return home. Others come for 180 days, go on vacation outside the country, then return and get another 180 days. There’s a year of living abroad, immersed in the language and culture, without a single visit to an immigration office.


As with Mexico, you don’t come here because Belize is the absolute cheapest, but many move here for other compelling reasons beyond the price. The country is not big on rules, so it makes sense that getting residency here is pretty easy, for now anyway. If you’re 45 or older and can show monthly income of $2,000, you can tap into the Qualified Retirement Program. That gets you a residency visa and allows you to import household goods and a vehicle duty-free. To work or open a business, you come in on a renewable tourist visa, stay for 12 months (paying $900 in fees to renew each month along the way), then you should be approved. No income check required.

It’s relatively easy to find a simple house to rent for $600 or less, especially in the Cayo district or other towns away from the beaches. Prices to buy are not such a bargain though and it’s hard to find anything decent now for under $100K. Costs for eating out and buying groceries are high for Central America as well, in many cases double what you would pay in neighboring Guatemala. Still, many couples manage to live a good, laid-back life for between $1,500 to $2,500 a month, depending on their location and how much they’re spending on rent.


Placencia, Belize

Guatemala and Honduras

Both of these countries are dirt cheap places to live. Unfortunately, they’re also two of the most crime-ridden countries in the Americas. It’s all about drugs moving through, so the violence is very localized. If you’re the type that can figure out the lay of the land and avoid the trouble spots, go to it. Especially as a renter, there’s not a big risk, plus you can’t really buy a place on Lake Atitlan as a foreigner anyway. So just rent a house for $250 a month there or an apartment in Antigua and move on later. In Honduras, most of the trouble is in the cities, which are unpleasant places to live anyway. Get into the smaller towns or the islands and it’s a different story.

living in Thailand

Cheapest Places to Live in Asia

In the most current annual cost of living survey done by The Economist, half of the 20 cheapest cities to live in were located in Asia. If you get out of the big cities, you’ll be even better off.


This is first on the list not because it’s the easiest or the best deal, but because so many people dream of living here after visiting. A lot stay on to teach English, run a bar, or move in with that Thai girl who says she loves him, finding a way to keep making visa runs or get legal after a while. Getting a retirement visa is much easier than getting one for a youngster and if you get a one-year visa being the latter, you still have to leave the country and come back every 90 days. But then there’s this quote I saw on a residency site for staying long-term: “Permanent Residence Permit in Thailand is an opportunity that the Thai government offers to only 100 people of each nationality every year. ”

Thailand is a better place to rent than buy for most foreigners since rents are cheap ($400 can get you a furnished apartment in an elevator building and a pool or a a whole house in some areas) and you’re only allowed to buy a condo, not a home.

Anyone who has been here knows the benefits of Thailand, from great food to fun nightlife to gorgeous beaches to ummm, abundant pleasures to suit any lifestyle. It’s also an easy overland trip from here to Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Bangkok remains one of the world’s cheapest airports to fly in and out of from elsewhere.

Cambodiacosts living abroad

In many respects, Cambodia is the cheapest destination in Southeast Asia and there are a lot of good reasons to live here, especially if you have a job where you can work remotely. For a pauper’s salary in the US, Canada, or Europe, you can like like royalty here. A taxi across Siem Reap will cost you $2, you can eat a great meal for under $4, and you could get an hour-long massage every day of the week for $5 a pop. In a country where the average income is under $100 a month, you can pay more than average for domestic help and still be amazed at how little it costs. Plus US dollars are used far more often than the local currency.

Like most of the rest of the region, this is a steamy and hot place, so don’t come here looking for eternal spring. This is the tropics from top to bottom. There are beaches though, so you can live near one or just travel south on breaks to cool off.

Buying property in Cambodia can be tough since technically you can only purchase a condo unless you form a corporation, but there are ways around every rule in this country if you’re determined, and you can buy your way in to citizenship if you so desire. But many find it easier and less burdensome to just rent. It’s possible to rent a multi-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood for less than $200 a month, including utilities.


As with Panama in the Americas, Malaysia is not the cheapest place to live in Asia, but it is the most welcoming to retirees with some cash to invest. You can buy almost any kind of property freehold and once you do so (above a certain threshold), you’re all set for a residency visa. This is a formal program called My Second Home Malaysia, which you can read about in English here.

It’s easy to try Malaysia on for size, with most rentals suitable for a couple being under $1,000 a month outside of the capital, even in the top neighborhoods, unless you’re getting a penthouse or a palace. As a rough guideline, in most parts of Asia a couple could live on $2,000 to $3,000 a month and have it made.

This is a hot tropical country, but with lots of coastline and islands to get you seaside.

living in Asia


In many respects Vietnam is cheaper than Thailand and there are plenty of great reasons to live her if you’re dreaming of a home in the tropics. Since most of the population gets around by motorbike, you can join them and your moving around costs will be cheap. As usual you’ll go though some hassles to get residency, but there’s a strong network of expats you can tap into in the cities to get it sorted out. Even in the biggest cities you can find a nice furnished apartment or hotel suite for under $400 a month and if you go to a smaller place, you can get a whole house and a maid for that. Here are some sample traveler prices in Vietnam.


Cheap Asia travelingIf you want to go live somewhere for cheap for a while for your finances to recover, you can come to India on a 180-day tourist visa and get by for very cheap. Despite more luxe travelers visiting and the middle class growing larger each year, this is still a country where far more people are poor than rich and the daily cost of living for the basics is  among the lowest worldwide. When you get that $1 meal though, it’s actually varied and tasty, not just manioc mush.

Outside the two biggest cities, you could live very well for under $1,000 a month (and scrape by on far less if you needed to). You can find an apartment for $200 or less or just check into a hotel and stay there.


This is probably the cheapest country in the world to travel in right now, so naturally it’s also one of the cheapest places to live. It’s not easy to get residency here, but you can come in on a three-month tourist visa and then extend it. (Or find the right person to pay off and stay for longer.) If you like gorgeous mountain scenery every day when you look out your window, this is your place. Outdoor activities are abundant, meals are cheap, and you won’t pay much to rent a place to live. You’ll probably want to get out of crowded and polluted Kathmandu though. Head to Pokhara or travel around a bit to get a feel for the right place to settle.

Cheapest Places to Live in Africa

I get zero questions or e-mails about living in Africa, so I’m giving it a short shrift here. Obviously if you live like a local, there are plenty of places where you could get by for two or three dollars a day. Living on $50 a day would put you above the bulk of the population in most countries. But it takes a special kind of person to live in Africa out of a lifestyle choice rather than a job/charity one.

My friend Andy of HoboTraveler has lived a lot of stints in Tome, Togo and here’s his take on that place and Africa in general.

If I were going to move anywhere in Africa, it would probably be Morocco. It’s exotic, but it has good infrastructure and interesting architecture. It’s in my World’s Cheapest Destinations book because it’s one of the best values out there. You can get by in French.

Egypt was a natural cheap living option before, but let’s pass on that for now, shall we?

Spots on the East Africa backpacking trail are worth looking into, especially South Africa (not cheap, but cheaper than where you are now probably), Mozambique, and Mali for instance.

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