The Cheapest Places to Live in the World – 2012 Edition

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala


Somewhere in the world right now someone a lot like you is paying 1/3 what you do for a meal out, 1/4 what you do for a similar house or apartment, 1/5 what you do for transportation each month, and 1/10 what you do each year on health and dental costs. And they’re having a blast.

“May you live in interesting times” is a wish that’s certainly coming true for many in 2012, but not always in a good way. The U.S. recovery feels like the act of winching a sunken car out of a lake and it’s taking years to pull it off. Europe is in full meltdown mode, with little agreement on how to fix the problems. The boom in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) seems to be braking fast as demand from the rest of the world slows and internal politics make the situation worse.

[Note – there’s a newer version of this article with updates. See The Cheapest Places to Live in the World updates at that link.]

Even in countries doing relatively well, like Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Chile, Panama, and Mexico, when Europe and the U.S. get the sniffles, everyone else comes down with a cold.

A good $1.50 reason to live in Thailand.

But some people are living quite well right now without being wealthy. They’ve moved to one of the cheapest places to live in the world instead of staying where they were born and whining. If you’ve got some cash or a stable income, temporary economic problems present great opportunities. In some parts of the world, historic opportunities are here that may not appear again for decades or more. Even in stability, however, some very nice places to live just have a lower cost of living. So you live well for less.

As always, renters face different circumstances than buyers. Young mobile workers face different challenges and have different needs than retirees. In all cases, take what’s below as a starting point and do your homework! Every year when I do this post, I get dozens of comments and e-mails saying basically, “Here’s my situation. Where should I move to?” Perhaps there’s a business in there somewhere for a consultant, but I suspect most of the people asking this are looking for a free shortcut. There is no such thing. Research and personal visits are the only ways to find a place that’s right for you. Travel, try places out, and invest as much time in this choice as you would any other major life choice. And rent at first in case you make a mistake! Some places look better as a tourist than they do as a resident.

Now that House Hunters International has been exposed as being totally fake almost every episode, forget the idea you can travel to some place you’ve never visited, pick from three houses to find the perfect one, and be done in a weekend. Finding your perfect spot and a good value—renting or buying—requires some time and effort. Just like it would in your own town you know so well. Subscribe to International Living Magazine, find articles and expat message boards on places you’re considering. Look at Craigslist for that city to gauge rental prices. (Here’s the apartment rentals page for Ecuador, for instance.) Buy e-books written by people who live there. This is your future life we’re talking about, so invest in it!

And remember—moving abroad is not some freakish thing nobody has done before. Foreigners own the equivalent land area of New Jersey in Argentina. There are over a million Americans and Canadians who live at least part of the year in Mexico. If you added up all the expat Americans abroad, it would equal the population of Connecticut. So ignore the paranoid naysayers and go find your cheaper, more relaxed destination with a sane and humane health care system.

Cheapest Places to Live – Asia

Much of Asia is dirt cheap and there are plenty of places where you can live well on a fraction of what you spend now. Good food, lots of beaches, easy transportation, but…difficult visa issues.

In one interview I read, Godfree Roberts talks about his living expenses in Chiang Mai: $850 per month. He admits he has been living a pretty simple life, but that does include eating out for every meal. (In some countries, there’s not much savings in cooking for yourself.) So no, Thailand is not as cheap as it once was, but it’s still a bargain. Take a look at his medical expenses there especially. In the past you had to do visa runs from there though unless you had a corporate sponsor or were wealthy. That’s changing, finally. In short, if you have verifiable income of $2K a month and invest $25K or more in a condo or business, you’re in.

Indonesia is even tougher because your tourist visa time is so short. Almost every expat who lives there has a work permit or an Indonesian spouse. You can’t really buy property otherwise and you can’t stay long enough for a long-term rental. If you could and didn’t have a child in school, you could easily live on $1,500 a month without trying. It’s the same story with Vietnam, where the price is right but a tourist visa is only good for one month.

Laos and Cambodia aren’t much easier, though with some patience and persistence, you can live in those places a pretty long time if you go through the right steps. If you check one of the forums for people living in Cambodia you’ll find people paying $400 a month or less (sometimes far less) for rent. A foreigner can buy condos there and supposedly you can buy citizenship if you flash enough cash.

cheapest places

You could live here for next to nothing, but you might want to upgrade…

Here’s a great, detailed article on Living in Laos, where it would also be very easy to get by on less than a grand a month. You’ll be renting for sure: for now a foreigner can’t technically own so much as a motorbike.

Malaysia is still the easiest place in Asia to buy your way in. Their My Second Home program officially asks for proof of income of $3,000 per month and if you’re going to buy property they want you to spend at least $147,000. If you can do these though, it’s a very cheap place to retire, with great health care and excellent food.

India and Nepal are easier places to live, at least for a while, because you get 6 months on a tourist visa in India 60-150 days in Nepal. Moon Living Abroad in India will give you advice on the official and unofficial steps people take, as well as all the cultural pitfalls. In either of these countries it would very easy to live on $1,000 a month or less unless you’re in one of the major Indian cities. (Most people, given a choice, would not live in one of those uber-polluted places anyway).



Bargain-priced cafes on a pedestrian street in Transylvania.

Cheapest Places to Live- Europe

You will pay a lot more to live here, but Europe is down for the count right now and the list of countries in serious trouble is long. If you just look at debt crisis problems, the ones getting the most attention have been Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. I don’t expect Italy to get all that much cheaper unless all hell breaks loose, but you can already see massive real estate mark-downs in the others, in some cases going back to levels we last saw 10 years ago or more. If you’ve been thinking of buying a Spanish seaside condo or an ivy-covered cottage on the Emerald Isle, take a vacation and start looking at listings, especially auctions if you’ve got cash to invest.

I’ve seen a few articles that have Greece and “freefall” in the same headline. If you’ve got lots of time to wait for appreciation or want to buy a Greek island house to leave to your kids, you’ll find plenty of sellers. Remove the uncertainty though and just rent to get a deal for real. Look on Craigslist for Greece and you’ll find apartments for 250 to 500 euros all over the place, including one studio I saw with a penthouse view of the Parthenon. Start digging around locally on the islands and there should be plenty of vacation homes/condos for rent from people who can’t go on vacation right now.

In Spain, banks are in much the situation as the U.S., with lots of foreclosed real estate on their books they would love to get rid of. In some cases prices have dropped 50% and you can get 95% financing. Go for quality though and high-occupancy buildings for condos. There’s lots of junk on the “Costa del Concrete.”

Or you can just go where the living has been cheap all along. Head east to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, or Bulgaria and you’ll see prices too low to believe. You have to get out of the tourist zones of Prague and Budapest of course, but look at this photo for what condos are going for in Sofia, Bulgaria. I saw ski resort ones going for even less in an overbuilt resort zone and towns I liked up north had full homes for similar prices. And everything else is a bargain too. See prices for travelers in Bulgaria.


Sofia condo prices

The USA Outlook

There’s a good reason Florida is filled with Canadians each winter. With the loonie appreciating greatly the past few years and U.S. real estate prices tumbling, it’s been a good time to look south. If you were looking at picking up a bargain here though, better get on it. Prices declined by double digits in most states in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 they only went down 2.1%. This year they’re expected to rise a modest but significant 0.2%. So the trend line is clear. Barring a new disaster, we should be on our way back up right now.

Some places are already seeing a clear uptick. Bidding wars have returned to some spots in California. I saw more Sold and Pending signs in my Tampa neighborhood this summer than I saw the previous 9 months combined. New home builders are getting lots of orders again. If you’ve got good credit and a down payment, you can take advantage of record low interest rates.

If you’re renting though, the U.S. is not so attractive right now. A flood of new renters have come on the market and inventory is tight nationwide, especially in good school zones and areas with lots of young professionals. Again though, locality matters. The average rental price of a 3BR house in Detroit is $721. In San Francisco it’s $4,770. If your job is mobile, use this cool rental prices tool to check out options.

Cheapest places to live Latin America

Plaza in Grenada, Nicaragua

Cheapest Places to Live – Latin America

When it comes to value and ease of moving, Latin America is a no-brainer. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, your best bet is probably somewhere to the south of Texas. Most of these countries welcome foreigners with savings or a pension with open arms. Health care costs are reasonable and in cities at least, the quality is on par with home. Sometimes better: a doctor in Uruguay or Ecuador will make a house call for $40 or less and a doctor’s visit in Mexico includes free follow-up visits to check progress. It’s not unusual to see health care costs anywhere south of the Rio Grande for 1/5 or even 1/10 the cost of the U.S. – and that’s in major hospitals with more well-trained doctors and nurses waiting on you. The doctor will hand you a card with his/her cell phone number in case you need it.

This is often the easiest region for a trial run too: you typically get to stay three or six months on a tourist visa. Becoming a permanent resident is about 100 times easier than it is for foreigners coming to the U.S.

cheapest places to live

Kitchen in a $500 per month 2BR/2Bath apartment in central Cuenca, Ecuador

Here, for example, is what’s required to become a legal resident of Guatamala: pension and/or investment income of US$1,000 per month and additional income of US$200 per month for each dependent. Show them the money and a clean police record and you’re done. If you don’t want to become permanent, this is an easy place to kick back for a few months and then leave. Find a $200 apartment on Lake Atitlan and chill…

Your living expenses will drop massively, even in Mexico, if you don’t try to keep the exact same lifestyle you had at home. I actually upgraded my family’s life substantially living in Mexico (eating out and traveling more) and still spent 2/3 what I do at home—in a popular tourist town. Here’s what says about costs in one of my favorite small towns in Honduras: Copan Ruinas:

There are apartments and houses tucked away all over the village. While there are no real real estate offices most locals will point you in the right direction. Within the city limits a house will rent for anywhere from $80 to $300 (3 bedrooms, 3 baths, maid service, laundry hookups, garage area, etc).

Room and Board (3 homecooked meals a day) in a modern furnished room will go for about $200 or less per month. Note that these are the higher end places, there are many many houses and rooms available for less, it is a matter of looking around.

In general, the most expensive places are the most developed and have the most foreigners (Santiago, Buenos Aires, Panama City, coastal Costa Rica, San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic), though even those will be less than home for many expenses and you might not need a car. The only places in the Americas you’ll probably spend more than in the U.S. are Brazil and Canada.

So where are the absolute cheapest places in Latin America? It depends on urban/rural and buying/renting, but in general Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Ecuador are the best values. Be advised though that the last one is seeing a deluge of retirees. International Living has been singing its praises for years and the last retirement seminar they ran there got hundreds of attendees flying in. Any prices you see for Cuenca that are in an article more than a year old are probably prices you won’t get anymore.

Keep an eye on Argentina. Many economists see a huge second crisis on the way soon. Last time one hit, prices dropped like a rock.

The Africa Conundrum

Many of the world’s poorest countries are in Africa, but you hardly ever hear about foreigners moving there except as missionaries, Peace Corps workers, NGO workers, or other higher-calling reasons. That’s because although a place is cheap, that doesn’t mean its a place you want to move to in order to save money. If you want to live a simple life in a $20 per month block on a dusty plain, sure, you can live in lots of African towns for cheap, east and west. Most of the locals only earn a few dollars a day, after all.

It can be a bargain in rural Morocco with your squat toilet, but not so much in Marrakesh. If  you’re looking at going somewhere pleasant to settle down and live better than you do at home, that can be tougher. Morocco and Egypt are the only African countries I have in The World’s Cheapest Destinations book because to travel with all the amenities you expect on other continents you’ll spend far more here than you should have to. The same applies to living expenses.

South Africa is lovely, but not really cheap. A beach on the coast of Mozambique sounds nice—until you try to sort out residency and get a decent internet connection. I’m ready to have my mind changed with good examples, but I’ve seen so few up to now I can’t recommend moving to most spots there unless your job is taking you and covering living expenses.

Next Steps:

1) Research!

living in MexicoYou don’t read one article and then decide where to move to. At least you shouldn’t. Start with International Living Magazine as they’ve been covering this beat well for decades. You can get some stuff for free, but if you’re serious, subscribe. It’s a great investment for narrowing down your search and avoiding pitfalls. They sell detailed reports and e-books that are good. You can also buy Living Abroad in… books from Moon Handbooks, like the Mexico one pictured here. For free articles and more dependable e-books/reports, see

2) Travel!

Nobody, even if they know you really well, can tell you where you’ll be happy and fulfilled in this world. That’s true whether your budget is tiny or massive. You need all five senses on the ground in places you’re thinking of moving to in order to find the one that’s right. If you’re already traveling, that’s easy. Many travelers come to a place that seems like paradise, start looking around at apartments, and never leave. Others bop around from place to place every few months. Still others rotate back and forth between two destinations. You won’t know until you get there if you can have the life you want with the budget you have.

3) Network!

There’s already some expat living where you’re going unless you are incredibly intrepid. Chances are there are dozes to thousands there. Nose around, find out how to contact them, and ask questions. Buy them a beer or lunch when you arrive and they’ll save you weeks or months of hassles. Trial and error can be fun for shopping and restaurants, but it’s not so fun when you bust your budget for nothing. Search message boards, article authors’ e-mail addresses, and the local expat hangout after arrival.

4) Surround yourself with people who aren’t skeptics. 

Only 13.1% of the people in the state of Mississippi have a passport. (The other four worst are West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, and Kentucky). In New Jersey, it’s 50%. (The other highest ones are Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire). So obviously if you’re in a “blue” state you’re going to find more encouraging people than in a “red” state. If you’re in the latter, beware of the rah-rah USA types that think foreign travel is for commies and our dysfunctional health care system actually makes sense. Find your community virtually and get advice instead of scorn.

[Editor’s note – If you landed here from a search on the web, you might want to check out this newer version: Cheapest Places to Live 2015.]

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  1. Chris Edwards

    What a terrific article- one of the best I have read on this topic. So kind of you to provide all this information gratis- I plan to tour SE Asia in january in search of a cheap place to live and this info is a great help!

    Mucho Gracias amigo!

    • Rebecca

      Tried to read all the posts but too many. What do you do if you want to live in Mexico or South America if you are on disability? Can you?

  2. gary

    As per the above comment. Thanks so much for your efforts, Tim.


  3. Carla

    I recently found your site; nice one on the cheapest places to live in the world.

  4. Sonja

    I’ve actually been to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and I didn’t know that you could find nice, cheap apartments that were safe! You’re comment about $200/month and chill had me daydreaming about renting a vacation home. Now that would be amazing :)

  5. London Day Tripper

    If I were to choose, I would like to live in the Philippines. I heard so much things about that country which has good beaches, architectures, natures and most importantly, its people. Filipinos are hospitable and very kind and honest. It’s more fun in the Philippines!

    • Ken Warren

      Its also the home of more muslims than any country in the world. Not a bad thing if you’re Muslim?

  6. Aussie

    Thanks for sharing this informative will really help me.

    • Henk Hermans

      That is incorrect Ken. Indonesia is 95% Muslim. The Philippines is 85%-95% Catholic/Christian. The only problems they have are basically restricted to the island of Southern Mindanao – which is quite isolated –

  7. Anthony

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge on these locations. 68K (US Dollar) and less for some of those prooerties in Bulgaria? That’s great! I know Spain is fairly cheap as well. My friend is determined to live in Central America, maybe South America. He is a Vet who lives on about $900 a month. He’s been homeless for about two years now, moving from shelter to shelter. I finally show him your blog and he finally understood he could live someplace else. He’s still making typical excuses but he’s finally coming around.

  8. Robert

    I’ll probably retire in Latin America if I can find a safe place. Mexico seems too dangerous. Right now I live in one of the most expensive places in the world, Hawaii.

    • tim

      Most of Mexico is as safe or safer than Honolulu. Just stay away from the border zones and you’re fine. I feel much safer when living in Guanajuato than I do living in Nashville or Tampa, my previous and current cities. Far fewer auto accidents per 1,000 people as well, which is how you’re far more likely to die anyway.

      • debra

        Tim –

        I’m curious as to the quality of care in the hospitals in Mexico. Would have any knowledge? FL hospitals have become abysmal. Thank you.

        • Tim Leffel

          In any of the big cities (including Leon or Queretaro), the care at private hospitals is better than you’ll get at home, with more personal attention and more doctors/nurses paying attention. With far lower costs, you have more time to recover from surgery in the hospital too instead of having to rush out asap. The times people return to the U.S. are when they need something super-specialized or experimental, or they need to use Medicare.

    • Ralph

      Might consider Costa Rica – like Hawaii but safe and much less expensive.


  9. Chris

    I’m living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and you can get a nice room for 50$ a month with 5$ more for the bills, buy a second hand bicycle for 35$, and eat for 1$ (even less in some market). So finally if you don’t need any luxury 300$ a month is a nice budget, you can even get some beers every night for this amount…;)

    Cambodia a gorgeous country with lovely people, and for the visa no problem, you can apply for a business one for 285$ a year (multi entries) without any justification.

    • suzanne

      Hey Chris, I am currently living in Bangkok and I am considering moving to Siem Reap, how is the work situation there? Can you tell me a website that has rooms for rent listed or did you just go and look? I am really open to any information you can give me on relocating there. Thanks

    • Gerd

      Hi Chris, Since your are living already in Cambodia you may know about easyness to get approved a business visa there. What about quality of Internet services and medical services in mayor cities? Would you consider Cambodia as a place for retirement? Any information is welcome..

  10. Sofia

    Very comprehensive overview, and its worth to add a line to the Greece recommendations. Local people here, getting used to a good life in the past decade have made lots of investments in additional summer houses and cottages. Most of them have one or two currently, some have even more.

    Suddenly, in 2011, the local government has set a tax of ~3000 euro/year for each house, which rised the issue of keeping those cottages almost for every family (one of my friend spent the whole year salary on this tax to keep his three houses). Now, many locals try to rent these auxillary property out.

    As a result, the rental volumes and competition became so hugh, that you can argue with an owner to drop a price for a nice villa on a seaside to a ridiculous 250 euro a month. And its going to go even further in 2013.

    • Tim Leffel

      Thanks for the insider info Sofia. Great to know these deals are out there.

  11. Heath

    Thanks for this–it’s one of the few informative and comprehensive articles I’ve read about overseas retirement locales thus far!

  12. Chris

    Hello! Great article! I have been thinking of moving away from America for sometime. I have made a lot of poor investments and lost almost all my retirement :(. I have a steady retirement check of $300.00 dollars. I know its not much, but its what i have. Can you suggest a good place for me to move? I have a little but of a savings and i don’t require much. I don’t need a car, bus or train is fine. I am open to all types or food. I love coffee and tea. I like a stable internet connection, doesn’t have to be super fast. Thank You!

  13. Tracy Didas

    Nice article. I wish I could afford to leave my current job and house and just pack up. I would love to live out the dream of moving to an island in the Pacific Ocean and retire. Would be nice. :-)

  14. lorra

    i’d still prefer to live in the philippines,lots of beautiful places to visit,lovely beaches,hospitable and friendly people,and costs of living is affordable

    • kevin

      you know, i just returned from a month travelling the philippines. wonderful people, better infrastructure than where i live in C.A., but i did not find it overly appealing. very crowded in most areas and more importantly, too many risks of natural disasters. i liked bohol, but it was struck by a typhoon and earthquake just 2 weeks after i left. this island was deemed a lot safer than most areas. i have decided to stay in nicaragua. my $700 pension works for me here in san juan del sur.

      • Ron

        Are you still in sjds, I would like to visit. 700 per month is very cool.
        Can io get some more info?
        Been there once and will return soon.

  15. Mp Libby

    Great article.

  16. David

    I live in Guatemala, have lived her almost 18 years and it is as cheap to live as you said. I rented a home for years at US$250 per month in Guatemala City. I have lived in Antigua for US$400 a month in a three bedroom colonial home. My wife and I shop at the local market for almost all of our fruits, vegetable and some meats. Prices are between 1/5 and 1/20 the price in the U.S. The country gets a bad rap because of violence, but I HAVE NEVERY FELT UNCOMFORTABLE IN 18 years.

    • Tim Leffel

      Thanks for the on-the-ground feedback David. Appreciate it!

    • Brandy

      Hi David. I am curious what you do for work? My husband and I would love a slower paced life in central or south America, but having a job is obviously important. We have 3 young children as well.

      • Ralph

        Not sure, what do you do now for a job. I think in most of these places – you have to go there and rent a place and see what you can find. I know, at least here in Costa Rica, people seem to find things to do, business to start


  17. Scott

    If you wanted to come the UK – Scotland and the North of England is quite cheap to live. Not mega cheap like the places listed above, but you could live quite comfortably on a minimum wage job.

    Sure, it’s not the warmest place on earth, but there is plenty to see and do!


    • joe

      thank you for this suggestion. i would like to live in Britan and Scotland. But it feels so difficult to do, considering how far away it feels. But I have a pension and other savings, so I think I could make it….I’d love to live in the Scottish Highlands…and die there, too.

      • Serenity

        Sorry but I have to advice against that. I am from the sothern Europe and after living in UK, for 7 years I have to say this climate and conditions are unfriendly and extremely unhealthy. Hardly any sun and cold, cold, cold, summer is short and often rainy. People are quite ill here and never can get enough vit D …it does interfere with your bones, joints and teeth and overall health. North of Midlands and Scotland is even worse, even less sun and freezing winds. I live in fairly nice part of the countryside and still feel the life quality here is terrible plus the added costs… Highly would recommend to any human being that wants to feel connected with the Earth and the sun and be as healthy as possible to avoid Britain, go and live somewhere with decent weather where you would enjoy being outside.

  18. Cat

    I absolutely wish I could live somewhere less expensive than the US and still manage to have a job paying one comparable to that in the US. I think that’s the challenge…

    • Tim Leffel

      It doesn’t need to pay the same if your monthly living costs drop by 50-75%.

    • Michael Charalambous

      Ohhh but Cat, you can, you can. Check out websites like mine, or probably better as I havent started too much yet… Google Location 180, Traffic Generation Cafe, Smart Passive Income – all of these websites teach you how to do this :)

  19. cynthia Cusick

    I was thinking of moving out of the U.S. and wanted to know the availability of careers in these places. I have a master degree in social work and have taught college for years. Thank you.

    • Tim Leffel

      No easy answer to that one Cynthia—you’d have to dig in and research for whatever country you’re interested in moving to. The first would naturally lead to NGO work, the second to teaching at a university abroad, but it depends on what you could line up yourself.

  20. Rick

    Great article as many others have mentioned. Curious as to the countries you have lived in and your age? I’m going on 44 lived in Aussie and Asia a great many years and seen many places. Back in Canada until my daughter graduates school and want to head abroad again! Don’t have lots of cash or a big pension stashed away but know quality of life is much better and fewer dollars abroad and am looking very much forward to it. Canadian real estate is a joke and am lloking for a much simpler life abroad…and get back nto teaching ESL abroad and enjoy what the world has to offer outside NA. Once again great article and this is the first time I have commented on an article! PS I am subscribed to International Living and they need to hire you!!!

    Take Rick from Canada!

  21. Alexander

    Hi there

    Like your well written articel, though must disagree, living almost 10 years in South Africa, first few years in CT, yes gotten expensive now, but still fairly reasonable in the Garden Route with beautiful beaches, mountains and unspoiled nature – here you can still make it on about R 12000 – R 15000/ month, that includes the rental for a nice beach flat or smaller house with or without seaview, only paying R 2500 incl. and see & hear the waves, put some money in the bank and live off the interest which can pay up to 8.3% and more on your investment, you wont get that in the US or Europe, therefore, might be a bit more expensive in SA but nice living here still, friendly people, totally laid back, noone cares what you got or aint got, or what you wear or aint wear:) and trust me crime isnt a major issue down here…. still alive after many years in SA

  22. Michael Charalambous

    This is an excellent resource. You’ve pointed out so many excellent places to stay, so many other resources to follow and most importantly – given me some amazing ideas.

    I especially like the idea of Honduras… especially if I can find somewhere at those prices – I’ll be saving so much money as my income is in pounds sterling!

  23. James

    I went through the first 12 results in Google for this question and wasted my time. This post was a different story. Real details and numbers, plus places to go for more info. Thank you!

  24. curtis

    Good article overall, but why in the hell would you bring up healthcare and red states. If someone doesn’t like the current healthcare proposed by berry o it does not mean we think the healthcare we have/had is/was good enough. The thought of you looking down at the people that do rah rah for the United States makes me sick to my stomach. If you look at people in your travels the way you look at southerners you should stay near the people who also feel it normal to do so.

    • Tim Leffel

      Curtis, anyone who travels a lot knows we have an inferior health care system compared to any other developed country and we pay far too much for it on top of that. All the opposition to recent attempts to change that came from (mostly red state) Republican congress members. Thankfully most of the changes made it through despite them, so 40 million more people at least have ACCESS to health care insurance. In most of the rest of the world, it’s 100% access, no arguments. So many people leave the U.S. for better health care above all else. It’s a huge driver of emigration going out, especially among the self-employed who can work remotely. For some, the #1 reason they left.

      I lived in Tennessee for 15 years and am in Florida now when I’m not living in Mexico, so obviously I like the South just fine. But the poorest states are the most obstructionist when it comes to progress. It’s no coincidence that the poorest states are the most conservative ones.

  25. Ben

    Nice & informative article plus interesting comments.
    I have a question to pose & would like some informed advice.
    I’m 38 & looking to move aboard and enjoy life with my girlfriend (37), I’ve recently been looking at Thailand with the basic plan of going there for 6 months if we like it then spend the next 6 months looking at leasing & running a guest house to provide an income etc (I currently run a hotel in the UK), I have researched the visa, owning issues & am aware that there are obstacles etc to this which may make it a no go plan. We have circa $100k savings.
    I have read many articles on the above with most intoning “don’t do it, more hassle than it worth and you will lose all your money” etc.
    My question is does anyone currently do the above and is it viable and secondly would anyone have any other idea’s/options that I might explore; I’m pretty open to which country as long as it has a fair/decent infrastructure etc?
    I suppose I’m saying that I have $100k in the bank and am looking to live a simple (ish) life in the sun, am willing to work (but not too much) or not but that can be sustained… not too much to ask!
    I know the 2nd part is a pretty open question but welcome any & all informative & relevant comments.
    Many thanks in advance.

    • JohnLee

      Hi Ben, if you and your girlfriend are getting married and will have children, please read my last 2 comments on March 4th.

      Where you child is born can make a huge difference to your family’s lives. If you can afford the public housing (HDB) in Singapore, you really should let your child born there and become its citizen.

      Singapore has many hospitality jobs, but I don’t know how many of them are available to foreigners who only speak English. Since you already have relevant experience in this area, you should at least look into it. In addition to searching various Singapore job websites, I’d contact every hotel/motel/casino in Singapore to see if they have openings.

      Properties in Singapore:

      Note: Singapore is hot all year long, so try to look for apartments within 5 minute walking distance to MRT station. Forget about owning a car there, you don’t need it, and it’s the most expensive in the world.

      If you have any questions regarding Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, or Dubai, let me know, good luck.


  26. mladen

    i do not speak spanish ,portugis, bulgarian,romanian or any asian languange.
    would anyone be interested in travelling together and or sharing expenses? i would probable
    stay for up to six months and do not want to be allone there.or recomend towns or places where canadians or americans hang oround?

    • LFrazier

      Also interested in travel. Where are you thinking of heading to?

  27. Paul A Johnson


    • Tim Leffel

      There are good books and websites out there with this kind of information Paul, but most big cities in Mexico have an open scene that’s easy to find and the capital is in many ways more liberal than most U.S. cities.

    • Anthony

      Zona Rosa in Mexico City is the LGBT area of the city. Mexico City is affordable but more expensive than many other cities in Mexico.

  28. Aaron

    Hi Tim, I purchased your World’s Cheapest Destination book in preparation of going to Copán, Hondruas for a period of 3 months. It was well worth the price due to the tons of useful information that I can’t find elsewhere.

    Anyhow, my parents are very afraid of my going to Latin America, but now I’m getting a bit afraid as you called to attention the mishaps of Honduras. In your book, you only mentioned Teguicigalpa being dangerous, but many news outlets say that San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city in the world. Should I take any precautions since I plan on arriving in to San Pedro Sula and taking Hedman Alas bus to Copán? I’m relatively well traveled, but I can’t deny that the media exposure is at least slightly hitting me, especially since I might have to stay in San Pedro Sula for a night if I arrive too late.

    Again, thanks for the very wonderful book you took the time to write!

    • Tim Leffel

      San Pedro Sula is not as bad as Tegucigalpa, but if you do have to stay the night, book a hotel in a good area with other tourists/biz travelers and get out of there the next day. Travelers do this every day because some flights arrive late, and you seldom hear about any trouble. As in most big cities, the stats are skewed by what’s happening in the worst neighborhoods, not what is happening overall. The bus will be fine. It’s not like Honduras is a bandit state—the trouble comes from drug transporters and they just want to get on with their business.

  29. Gary

    You really missed the boat. The Philippines is the best. The largest US embassy in the world is right here in the Philippines. English is well understood all over the country. I have been here for three years now, love it. Easy to get a visa too.

    • Gerry Adams

      Gary what are the particulars in regard of long stay visas, say for tourism?

    • Anthony

      Just like Tim said in his recent post, whatever works for you…. PI is okay, even better if you like Asian women for those of you reading this that are single and looking for a long term relationship.

      Otherwise I don’t think its much different from any other South East Asian country.

  30. Lynn Sutton

    Honduras is not a very safe place as a whole. It is more than just drug dealers that you have to worry about. The richest people there, have armed guards around their houses, and even then my nieces,half hondurian, were terrified several times. The richer islands are not as bad, but then again, it is not inexpensive. Not quite as bad as Columbia, but definitely nowhere near as safe as the US. Costa Rica, is probably a safer bet, but rebels are moving into a few areas causing problems. Places like Belize, Mexico and others, some of their cities or towns have problems with even their police being corrupt, though not all. Just do extensive research. Check with state dept about warnings and crime statistics, and search for local newspapers, some have them in english. Good luck.

    • Tim Leffel

      Lynn, you had me until this part: “Not quite as bad as Columbia.” That’s outdated thinking as Colombia’s crime stats are now far lower than Honduras, Guatemala, and others. Medellin is now far safer than most Central American cities.

      If the U.S. had to put out State Dept. warnings about its own cities, Chicago would rank worse than most of Latin America—far more monthly homicides than almost anywhere in the hemisphere. And there are worse smaller cities than that on a homicides per capita measure. We’ve got far more guns and far more people willing to use them.

      • Gerd

        Dear Tim, You are right, Colombia has become a quiet place to live although cost of living has almost tripled since 2003 for those paying with USD. I have lived in Costa Rica for more than 10 years and I feel safer in Colombia than I have felt in Costa Rica 10 years ago. As long as you spare out the Caribbean side of Colombia you´ll find nice people everywhere in Colombia. The best city to live in Colombia for foreigner should be Medellin (well organized, clean, good public services, nice looking city).

  31. JohnLee

    After spending many years in the U.S., my conclusion is that it is one of the most dangerous countries to live. It’s dangerous in terms of financial crisis on personal level; one major accident or illness is all it takes to bankrupt most working adults. No matter how much tax or insurance premium you’ve paid, when that large medical bill arrives, you’re on your own.

    With cancer treatment cost in the U.S. ranging from $200k to nearly $1million, do you actually believe those insurance giants and their lawyer teams are going to pay for it?! They know that when you’re really sick, time is not a luxury you can afford, on the other hand, they have plenty of time (& financial resource) in the world to fight you in court.

    That, is the inconvenient truth for most Americans.

  32. JohnLee

    If you watched Frontline’s documentary on world’s health care system, you’d see that Taiwan is ranked number one, and it is where I currently live.

    I strongly recommend Taiwan for the following reasons:

    1) It has some of the most talented doctors in the world, who charges much lower rate than the ones in the U.S., and most of them understand English. And if you have work visa, student visa, or permanent residency, you’ll get many treatments for free due to the government-run health insurance. Currently I pay only US$27/month and the amount of benefit that I get is staggering, of course you may increase your coverage by obtaining private health insurance too, and the Taiwanese health insurance companies are much more honest, unlike the huge U.S. corporations.

    2) For the most part, Taiwanese people are very friendly and honest to foreigners (especially Caucasian), if you don’t look Asian, they’ll expect you to speak little or no Mandarin and treat you at least as nice as their fellow citizens. Taiwanese might not be as polite as Japanese, but they’re certainly more friendly than most other countries*, come visit Taiwan and see for yourself. It’s nothing like China or those developing South-Eastern Asian countries.

    3) You can choose your life style here in Taiwan, ranging from affluent/modern part of eastern Taipei to the gorgeous rural setting of QingJing farm. Which means you can buy the latest purse from Louis Vuitton, or go up to the mountain to feed sheep or buy the best organic tea in the world.

    4) Taiwan probably has the best foods in the world in terms of selection and quality, I’m serious, this is often the #1 reason foreigners having a hard time leaving. You can find upscale multi-national cuisine that cost more than US$1,000 as well as $3 noodle soup that will knock your socks off. They’re very different from the common Chinese restaurants that you find in the U.S., whose foods are prepared by disgruntled illegal immigrants.

    5) It’s not difficult to immigrate to Taiwan, the most common way is to get a job. Many exchange students came to Taiwan to study while working part-time (yes, it’s legal here), after they graduate they’d find a full-time job here in Taiwan, then after having that work visa for 7 years they can get permanent residency. I know a college girl from Germany who is working at a food stall here, she freaking love this country and said she’s going to get marry and settle in Taiwan. If you’re pregnant, I strongly suggest that you give birth in Taiwan, that way your whole family will become Taiwanese citizens very quickly and enjoy terrific health care and retirement benefit. If you have about US$1million, you can invest in Taiwan or start up a business here and obtain permanent residency right away, and yes, there’s plenty of money to be made here.

    6) The cost of living is cheaper than the major U.S. cities (except for cars, but you don’t really need one here). Again, there’s a wide range of choice for you. Rent in Taiwan is noticeably lower than comparable cities overseas, but if you want to purchase property in upscale neighborhoods it can easily cost over a million dollar. The rent for my 4-year-old 540sq.ft. apartment in New Taipei City, next to MRT station, is US$540/month, and utilities/TV/internet are much cheaper than in U.S. For US$1,200 you can rent a 3-bedroom apartment in a pretty good area near MRT station.

    7) You can buy just about every single thing online! Taiwan has several huge online stores, you can stay home all the time if you want. You can even buy outstanding cuisines from various cities in Taiwan and they’ll deliver it promptly in refrigerated trucks! There are also tons of certified organic groceries available online. Also, there are reliable online merchants who can help you buy products from overseas too, i.e. electronics from Japan, stuffs from, etc. If you don’t control yourself you could easily become a shopaholic or severely obese!

    8) Education is top-notch in Taiwan. There are several really good universities, technical schools, and high schools here in Taiwan. Just ask any foreigners who have studied in Taiwan. Again, there’s almost no discrimination here and foreigners are often treated better than the locals. Last year a Turkish guy won the highest award for travel host of television programs, he came to Taiwan 6 years ago studied Mandarin and German at NTNU, and even with noticeable accent and average look, he appeared on various shows on TV and later got a job hosting a travel program.

    OK, so what’s the catch of living in Taiwan?

    1) Do not drive in Taiwan. Imagine you’re at the wost hour of Manhattan NY, with crazy taxis everywhere, except this time you are surrounded by lots of crazy scooters too. Also, you need to have a sparrow vision (over 300 degree wide) and reflexes when you cross the street, because at least 50% of the drivers in Taiwan won’t yield to pedestrians unless there’s a group of people crossing. Thankfully if you live in the major cities of Taiwan, there are public transportation available to take you to almost everywhere you need. Living next to a MRT station is still the best, which are available in Taipei, New Taipei City, Kaohsiung, and Taichung (in the near future).

    2) Even if you enjoy real-life Grand Turismo, most import cars here cost twice as much as in the U.S., and Grand Theft Auto is quite common (yet there are still lots of Lexus, Mercedes, and BMWs).

    3) While violent crimes are no where near that of South Central Los Angeles, non-violent crimes are not uncommon, Taiwan is safer than most Asian countries but it’s not as safe as Japan, Singapore, South Korea, or the popular areas of Hong Kong. Thus, remember to lock your doors/windows, park your car wisely, and like all big cities, stay on bright and populated streets. If you are an attractive young girl, some guys will definitely hit on you or even follow you around. But don’t panic, just stay in populated area, call the police or jump into a taxi (which are widely available and cheap). Even if you’re a Victoria Secret model, as long as you’re with a group of friends, you should be safe in Taiwan.

    • Valery Platt

      Hi John i am 26, currently living in Namibia.I have no dependants.I would love to relocate to Taiwan.Where to i start?

  33. JohnLee

    One more thing, the reason I didn’t recommend people giving birth in Hong Kong or Singapore is their high housing prices, especially Hong Kong (currently the most expensive real estate in the world). But if you can find a job that pays well in these two countries I’d highly recommend you move there, because they have very low crime rate, low taxes, terrific public transportation, affordable high quality health care, wide variety of food and shopping options, and English is widely spoken and written.

    By the way, if you or your family becomes citizens of Singapore, you can purchase very nice public housing (HDB) at reasonable rate, much lower than what others would pay for private housing. So I would really look into the amount of income you can obtain while living in Singapore and see if you can afford their HDBs, if you can, let your child born in Singapore and become its citizen, it’d probably be the best gift you can give him/her.

  34. Roger

    I have lived in the united states all my life and have traveled out of country many times uk german ireland and costa rica and have to say by far all these places are much cheaper then michigan (detroit) only reason I come back is family but soon I will be looking at moving out the states cause obama messed it up this guide was really helpful about me making my decision were I want to go I want to thank you and give you kudos

    • Anthony

      Sorry Regan, then Bush really messed it up, Obama just didn’t make any major corrections but for health care but its much flawed.

      Americans need to change more than the Government does. Once the people change, then big changes will come.

      That won’t happen but for a major climate/natural disaster that causes major shifts to where people live.

  35. Y


  36. Geoff Tamplin

    You repeatedly recommend International Living as a source of information, but they seem to think that ONLY places with tropical or semi-tropical climates are the ONLY places worth moving to.
    For me, they are all unfit to live in; I have always preferred locations where the temperatures only rarely go above about 72 degrees, and in fact, the cooler the better. That’s why I lived for years in upstate NY, in the Catskills, and now live in southcentral Alaska.
    I suspect there may be thousands of us who prefer climates more temperate or subarctic-temperate climates.
    Problem is that cost of living here in Alaska is higher than many other places, so I am looking for a place for retirement (fixed but reliable income, and global healthcare insurance coverage) where cost of living is much lower.
    Thanks for the website; I just “discovered” it and will be checking you out regularly.. Hmm… perhaps even follow one or more of your ads…

    • Tim Leffel

      If you read it regularly, they also focus on some destinations with a cool climate IF there’s a good opportunity there price-wise or if the high cost is truly worth it: Ireland, France, and Argentina come up regularly, for instance. Uruguay is not tropical either and they’ve been pushing that destination hard for years.

      You must know though that you’re in the minority for wanting a cold climate by choice rather than because of work or family reasons. There’s a major migration each winter of temporary snowbirds heading to their second home in Florida or the tropics—so much that rental car companies practically give you a car to drive it the other way come April. I’ve never heard of anyone going the other direction for pleasure except to ski.

      I split the difference living in Guanajuato, Mexico. Rarely gets above 90, rarely gets below 50. Sunny 330 days a year. And reasonably priced all around.

  37. matt hill

    i really enjoyed reading your article here. thanks for writing it. towards the end of your africa section, you said “i’m ready to have my mind changed but thus far have seen so few examples”. i sold my condo in boston’s northEnd and retired to north east madagascar last year. it’s been great so far. happy to share my experience with you or answer any questions you have about prices and living conditions here. just send an email to and remind me of this context. thanks again for the article.

  38. Manuela

    I don’t think living in a red state has anything to do with anything. It’s economics. I am a dyed in the wool conservative who is thinking about retiring outside the US. I reside in New York and it is a hell hole here, regulatory, tax and cost of living wise. New Jersey is probably worse. That is why people are running from here to live overseas. Actually they are running to liver anywhere else. The people that wrote this article really should keep their political opinions to themselves.

    • Manuela

      I cannot even believe they wrote this, “So obviously if you’re in a “blue” state you’re going to find more encouraging people than in a “red” state. If you’re in the latter, beware of the rah-rah USA types that think foreign travel is for commies and our dysfunctional health care system actually makes sense. Find your community virtually and get advice instead of scorn.”

      What a bunch of morons.

    • Tim Leffel

      An ex-editor from International Living once told me “3/4 of the Sovereign Society readers are firmly Republicans, 75% of International Living’s readers are firmly Democrats.” You only have to watch Fox News a few hours to see why blue state residents travel more and move abroad more. It’s not just economic – it’s a willingness to embrace the world and its cultures instead of fearing them.

      We could talk all day about regulation and taxes, but going by economic size and output, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation. There’s not a lot of innovation coming out of Mississippi or Arkansas. Or my old home of Tennessee. You get far fewer services for what you pay than you do in New York. Internationally there’s even less correlation: high-tax Scandinavian countries are doing great, as they have been doing for decades.

  39. Jeremy

    Manuela, I used to live in Oklahoma and hardly anyone I knew there had ever been outside the USA. When I went traveling for six months, they all thought I was completely bonkers. Then I moved to Washington State and I don’t know anyone who has NOT been outside the country. When I say I’m looking to move abroad, they don’t think there’s anything strange about. There is definitely a red/blue state divide on this and it’s not just economic. I was just as broke in both places—and so were my friends! Where you live makes a huge difference in how travel and moving overseas is perceived.

  40. Lisa

    I have to use a scooter to minimize walking distances…any advice on locals that are more friendly for the disabled?

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