Each year I do an updated rundown of the cheapest places to live in the world, the countries with the lowest cost of living that are also desirable and welcoming. If you move abroad from a country like Canada, USA, UK, or Australia to any of the destinations on this list, you should be able to cut your expenses in half at the very least. In many cases, your expenses will be a third or less of what they used to be.
Unlike a lot of the homebound people writing articles on this subject, especially the ones sitting behind a desk working for corporate media sites, I actually know what I’m talking about. I’m the author of the best-selling book on Amazon about moving abroad, A Better Life for Half the Price, which is now in its second edition. I interviewed more than 100 expats around the world for the two editions and articles on this Cheapest Destinations Blog, plus I live in Mexico myself as a permanent resident. I’ve traveled to every country I write about except Georgia (hope to finally rectify that soon) and you won’t find any stock photos in this post.
I’m frequently quoted in the media as an expert on living abroad and I’m the co-founder of the Nomadico newsletter for digital nomads and location-independent workers.
This article is meant to point you in the right direction if you want to dramatically cut your expenses by finding a cheaper place to live or just keep the expenses the same but radically upgrade your life by moving abroad. If you’re dreaming of a move, at least sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad Insiders monthly e-mail update. Then do a trial run before making any life-altering decisions.
You won’t be alone if you decide to move overseas for a life upgrade and a lower cost of living. There are millions of people who have taken this step, saying goodbye to high living expenses by emigrating to one destination or becoming a digital nomad, flitting between the cheapest places to live. There’s an assumption from people who haven’t traveled much that the most affordable countries to live in are not going to be as pleasant as where they are now, but that’s often a mistake. If nothing else, you can easily get better weather and a nicer apartment or house for the money compared to U.S. prices in Canada, western Europe, or Australia/New Zealand. If you’re American, you’ll definitely get cheaper health insurance—or you might not even need any insurance because medical costs are going to be far lower.
By moving from where you are to where you could be, it’s easy to cut your monthly rent in half (or double your apartment space), cut your healthcare costs drastically, eat out more, and have more fun. You’ll probably discover some positive side effects like eating more fruit and vegetables (because they’re so cheap), getting more exercise (because many foreign cities are more suited to pedestrians), and dialing back your stress (because people aren’t in such a hurry all the time).
Living Abroad Changes in 2023
The years of 2020 and 2021 were a nightmare for travelers and nomads and last year was the one where things finally started getting back to normal. As I write this, China is the only country left still shut down and grappling with deadly virus outbreaks. The past two editions of this update have had to include the “countries that are open” disclaimer, but thankfully we’re past that now.
The big change recently apart from that has been the major trend of nations offering “digital nomad visas” under different names and plans. While most traditional residency visas have been long-term and geared to retirees or salaried workers, these are aimed at the rapidly growing legions of laptop workers who can live anywhere they want, with no office to commute to. There have been more announcements than actual implementations, but some of the countries where you can apply for one right now, reasonably priced countries, include Panama, Colombia, Portugal, Spain, and Romania.
As I noted in this post a while back though, there are plenty of countries where you don’t need a digital nomad visa because they give you four months, six months, or a year on just a tourist visa. Then you can often renew that or just leave the country and return to start over. There are others, like Thailand, and Argentina, where temporary residents just do a visa run every few months to a neighboring country.
Cutting Your Cost of Living in Half
In most of the affordable places to live that I’m highlighting here, one person can squeak by on $1,000 a month or a couple can live on $1,500 a month, not including travel. That’s leading a reasonably comfortable life without making lots of sacrifices—the two of us have done it ourselves in Mexico plenty of months.
Obviously if you’re willing to truly live like a local who is earning half that amount, you can get by for less. You could find plenty of places in the world where your neighbors are literally earning a few dollars a day. It doesn’t take a lot to be upper-middle class if you’re earning a few hundred dollars more a month than your average local. If you can live on their terms, you can get by on what they do. Most people who say, “I’m living in Mexico for just $500 a month” are doing that by living like a local would.
Since most people who grew up in a first-world environment aren’t willing to go that far, however, they just add a digit or two to those numbers and live far better than they could have in their home countries for anywhere close. In many of these countries, someone earning $4,000 a month is easily in the top 5% of income levels. You suddenly become one of the elites. You can live it up (and spread the wealth around) just because you’re earning in a desirable currency that’s worth a lot and spending in one that’s not worth as much. Geo-arbitrage. Where you live now, however, that’s probably “barely getting by.”
Here are the most affordable places to live in the world that are reasonably comfortable, with numbers around what an average foreigner is spending. Here’s where you can live a half-price life and still have good infrastructure (including internet fast enough to run a business or work remotely), a decent house or apartment to live in, and a fair number of the conveniences you’re used to. You can enjoy the place you’re living and go out instead of staying home with a book every night eating rice and beans.
By the Numbers, the Lists of the 10 Cheapest Countries to Live In
The funny thing about researching the cheapest places to live as you get radically different answers depending on the source. That’s because many of those sources are unreliable or they have a not-so-hidden agenda, like partnerships with real estate agencies or seminars they make money from on both ends. So you see places like Costa Rica, Belize, Malta, or Ireland on the list when they haven’t been affordable for at least two decades in terms of actual living costs.
So before I get into details, here are the lists from three crowd-sourced websites, leaving out the ones that almost no expats move to unless it’s an international company job posting (like Pakistan or Libya).
The most reliable site I’ve found by far when comparing living expenses between countries in Numbeo. Every six months they update their overall rankings and here’s how the last one played out on a worldwide basis of the bargain living destinations that also have sizable expat populations.
Here’s their list of the 10 cheapest places to live in the world for 2023:
10 – Indonesia
9 – Argentina
8 – Peru
7 – Morocco
6 – Turkey
5 – Egypt
4 – Nepal
3 – Kyrgyzstan
2 – Colombia
1 – India
See the full list here as I’ve skipped over quite a few countries without many independent expats, including a few in the Balkans and Africa.
Here’s how costs of living play out in places where nomads are actually living, according to NomadList. This one took some work to compile because they seem to include a lot of cities where the last working traveler set foot in sometime around 2018. I’ve left those out and only included the ones with a community in at least the double digits.
10 – Bolivia (multiple cities)
9 – Thailand (multiple cities)
8 – Malaysia (multiple cities)
7 – Peru (Arequipa)
6 – Vietnam (multiple cities)
5 – Egypt (Cairo, Luxor)
4 – Laos (Vientiane, Vang Vieng)
3 – Nepal (Pokhara, Kathmandu)
2 – Indonesia (multiple cities)
1 – India (multiple cities)
Competing site WeNomad does things a bit differently and they don’t total the cost of living. But just to give you an idea, here are the nomad spots with the lowest Airbnb rental prices around the world, according to their readers:
10 – Mexico (Guadalajara, Puerto Escondido, Mexico City, Oaxaca,
9 – Argentina (Buenos Aires)
8 – Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang,
7 – Georgia (Tlibisi)
6 – Morocco (Taghazout, Casablanca, Marrakech)
5 – Colombia (Medellin, Santa Marta)
4 – Thailand (Ko Lanta, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Bangkok)
3 – Egypt (El Gouna, Cairo)
2 – India (Goa, Bangalore,
1 – Turkey (Izmir, Antalya, Istanbul)
I left off Sri Lanka because that country is in a deep financial and government crisis right now. When that subsides, it’ll be worth looking into again. I also left off Armenia because I’ve never seen or heard of any digital nomads living there for more than a few weeks. If you’re an exception, ping me in the comments and let’s talk.
Only a few dollars behind #10 above were places I would say are cheaper than Mexico: Bulgaria, Albania, and Malaysia.
Take all of these with a grain of salt as they can only be as good as the data users have voluntarily taken the time to input. On that WeNomad list, for example, Bansko, Bulgaria Airbnb prices are listed at an average of $632 per month, but everyone I met who lives there is paying half that or less. I rented my apartment for a month (not through Airbnb) for $280 through a local agency. (And lists compiled by someone at one of the travel sites that doesn’t have research access will be even more suspect.)
The 12 Most Affordable Places to Live That are Comfortable and Welcoming
In general, the very cheapest places on the planet to travel are also the countries with the lowest cost of living if you’re willing to put up with a fair number of challenges. If you’re earning less than $2,000 per month for a couple and looking for a cheap country to live in, head straight to one of those that’s topping the lists above: Nepal, India, Indonesia, or Egypt.
Price should never be the only factor though and each of those destinations comes with lots of challenges for remote workers. Sure, you may be able to live in a fantastic apartment even with wages considered paltry in the USA or Canada, but if it’s a hassle to work and even go grocery shopping, that gets old fast.
Power outages, slow internet (depending on where you are), and visa difficulties are just a few of the obstacles you’ll face to get those rock-bottom living costs. Only India makes it easy to actually stick around for a while once you jump through the right immigration hoops, but day-to-day living there is far from smooth or easy. Here are some living in India costs that will provide more details.
So this year I’m highlighting `12 of the cheapest places to live in the world that are also desirable expat locations, easy places to keep working and earning a living while enjoying a higher standard of living for what you’re earning. All are covered in more detail in the book A Better Life for Half the Price.
These are not in order; I’m starting in Asia this time and then heading to the Americas and Europe.
Low Cost of Living and Good Value in Vietnam
In most respects, Cambodia is the cheapest place to live in Asia outside the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately, the country threw up so many barriers to entry after Covid hit that you really had to want it badly to move there so very few foreigners have returned.
Vietnam doesn’t cost much more though and it’s a much better value in terms of accommodation, amenities, and ease of communicating in English. The country is one of the best values in the world for travelers and expats alike, with terrific food and bargain beer prices. Vietnam is ready for expats again and they’re not all headed to the same city: you’ve got plenty of variety here between Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hanoi, and other spots.
Many expats say there’s a deeper pool of qualified tech workers here if you’re running a business and English proficiency can be good in the south. Da Nang is one of the cheapest cities to live in that you can find in Southeast Asia and Vietnam’s visa setup means you don’t have to run for the border constantly like you do in Thailand and Indonesia. Most working foreigners don’t cook much here; it’s cheaper and easier just to eat out all the time.
Numbeo says Ho Chi Minh city is priced similar to smaller Chiang Mai in Thailand and is around 25% cheaper than Bangkok. See our post on the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City.
Thailand Is Back to Regain Its Digital Nomad Crown
After a pause in the action, Thailand is fully open again and I’m actually writing this post from an apartment rental in Phuket, where I’m running into loads of digital nomads, just like the old days.
I said back in 2019, “If you want lots of like-minded expats around as you work on your online business, then do not pass Go, just head straight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. You’ll find cheap living, a zillion coffee shops with WiFi, and regular meet-ups that will be fun and educational. The street food is so good and cheap that many never bother to cook anything. This is one of the most affordable cities in the world: you can get by for less than $1,000 a month here without trying too hard. Chiang Mai may just hold the title as the cheapest city to live in worldwide for those expats who need to run a remote business or work remotely.”
We’re back to those days again because all those nomads doing visa runs who had to leave when the pandemic hit have returned—and they brought a few friends. For the moment, the rent prices are reasonable outside of vacation zones in high season while the market adjusts. In the meantime, weed was legalized and the visa rules got slightly better. You can stay for six weeks with a visa upon arrival, for starters, and a few people I’ve talked to say it should be possible to stay on for a year with visa runs every three months if you do it right. The rules are always in flux here though, so find a local message board and ask the people currently doing it for details.
As far as big cities go, it’s hard to top Bangkok for value. If you’re a big city person who loves great food and nightlife, it’s one of those low cities where you can have a Los Angeles kind of blast for 1/4 of the price. Chiang Mai is even cheaper and is easier to navigate, while you’ve got dozens of beach communities to choose from. You can find a good lunch for two bucks.
Health care is great in Thailand and you’re always a bus ride away from the beaches. If you are old enough to qualify as a retiree and you’ve got some money to put in one of their banks, it’s relatively easy. This is one of the least expensive places to retire in the world if you’re old enough and have some cash put away to meet the requirements. There are signs it’s going to get easier for nomads too though if the digital worker visa they’re supposedly working on comes through.
See my latest posts on costs in Thailand from my recent visit.
Bargain Rents and Great Food in Malaysia
The sleeper choice that doesn’t get much attention in the nomad world is Malaysia, despite the fact that it has some of the world’s best apartment rental values and three distinct cuisines done well: Malay, Indian, and Chinese. There are nice beaches and nature areas, but plenty of city attractions and air-conditioned modern conveniences too. Kuala Lumpur is a major Asian flight hub, with lots of budget options.
Two of you could live it up in Malaysia for $2K per month rather easily and live in an apartment that would cost you more than that alone in nearly any major city in the USA, Canada, UK, or Australia.
Malaysia used to be an awesome place to retire thanks to its Malaysia My Second Home program, but during the pandemic while the country was locked up tight, they changed the requirements drastically, raising the income beyond the means of most current expats. That’s no longer worth considering unless you’re a millionaire and if you are, why would you move to Malaysia? Hopefully the government will reverse course, but meanwhile it’s only worth moving there for a temporary time on a tourist visa if you’re nomadic.
If you do manage to find a way to stay longer, Malaysia has some of the best apartment values on the planet. You can rent a $600 to $800 large, multi-bedroom apartment in Kuala Lumpur or Penang in a high-rise and it’ll be really nice, in an elevator building with a view, security, a gym, and a swimming pool. Utilities are quite reasonable too and your high-speed internet bill will be under $30.
Living in Albania as a Permanent Tourist
Albania gets the cheap living edge on the weather in Europe–it’s above Greece and across the sea from Italy–and its visa situation is one of the most lenient in the world for Americans. U.S. passport holders can basically waltz in and rent an apartment for a year without applying for residency.
This may be the cheapest place in Europe to live by a beach where you can go swimming in the summer. There’s a lot of coastline to enjoy. There are also rugged mountains with great hiking opportunities. I’m heading to the coast of here in 2023 and rental prices at the beaches drop in half on Airbnb once you cross over from Corfu in Greece. Here’s the view from a $570-per-month Sarande apartment on Airbnb:
You can find a nice apartment with a view in the capital of Tirana for just 250 to 600 euros per month, the higher end of that being for two or three bedrooms in an elevator building. Naturally, when you get outside of the capital it’s even cheaper unless you are waterfront looking out at the sea. One expat I interviewed for my living abroad book was paying $90 per month in Pogradec and another had gotten a two-bedroom apartment for $180 per month in a beach town.
You could easily get by for $1,000 per month here total (the average local wage is half that) or live the high life for less than two grand all-in. Pull out the equivalent of a dollar at a coffee shop and you’ll get two or three espressos.
See more on the cost of living in Albania here.
Bulgaria Living Bargains in Europe
Yes, Bulgaria is on most counts the cheapest country to live in for the whole continent of Europe, yet it’s a gorgeous place with green mountain ranges and peaceful towns. This is one of the cheapest places in Europe to go out drinking or to ski.
It also has some of the cheapest real estate in the world if you want to buy a house or condo for the price of a used car. There are multiple attractive choices if you want that European feel with a monthly cost of living that’s a fraction of what you’re spending now. Thanks to the fact a lot of people have moved elsewhere in Europe to work, you can buy a house in Bulgaria for less than you probably spent on your last used car. If you ever wanted to throw caution to the wind and take a flyer on some real estate, there’s little downside when you can buy a condo in a ski town for $30K or a full house for about the same in the countryside.
This is a country where you can enjoy €1.50 beers in a bar, a multi-course meal for €6, and health care prices that are lower than your co-pay in the USA. As one resident there laid it out, “A visit to the doctor will generally run between 15 and 50 euros, the high end being for a specialist who speaks English.”
Living in Romania as an Expat
Romania is not on many location independent workers list but it is one of the best values in Europe and it has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world as well, so it’s easy to get your work done. You’ll probably get speeds of 100 mbps or more for half what you’re paying now for a slower connection. So this is one of the cheap places to live in Europe that’s actually a good remote working spot. It has surprisingly reasonable costs on rent, food, and transportation, to the point where it’s cheaper than the Asian cities we have highlighted overall. If you’ve got $2K a month to spend here for a couple, you’ll have a very high standard of living.
It also has some of the cheapest international flights when it’s time to escape winter or go see the relatives. Add to that bargain prices on apartments, food, drink, and utilities and Romania is a country where most westerners can chop their monthly expenses by 2/3.
Romania has also started offering its digital nomad visa, so it’s one of the rare cheap living spots in the EU where non-EU citizens can stay in for more than three months without getting residency. That gives you 12 months, which can be renewed. The income requirements are double what you’ll actually need to live comfortably here—currently 3,300 euros, so it’s not for people just getting established as remote workers.
They have a real winter here for sure, so you may want to make plans to go traveling then unless you live near one of the ski resorts. The food is plentiful and reasonably priced, the booze is cheap, and getting around is inexpensive. There are some beautiful towns in the Transylvania region especially, with a strong cafe culture. Bottom line, its one of the most attractive and cheapest places to live in Europe if you’re not loaded. Get more details here from a resident on living costs in Romania.
Morocco Living in an Exotic Location
This country has long been one of the best values in Africa but it has gotten even more reasonable the past few years thanks to currency exchange values. The infrastructure is good, you can find a comfortable apartment for a reasonable price, and for a Muslim country it’s fairly relaxed in its attitude toward foreigners of different faiths.
It’s also a major tourist destination and for good reasons. You get beaches and the desert, nature and major cities, ancient architecture but decent infrastructure and internet access. There’s a wider variety of food than you’ll find in most countries on the continent. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are generally around a dollar a kilo and you can get a basic restaurant meal for less than $4. Taxis and local buses are cheap and rents run $250 to $750, so a couple could easily live well here on two social security checks or a modest income from an online business.
There’s not one single place that foreigners gravitate to here. There are some expat communities in each of the major cities, as well as in the coastal areas and the northern towns. With prices here now though that are on par with Southeast Asia and the Balkans, I expect more young foreigners to gravitate to attractive spots like Chefchaouen and Essaouira.
Live Large in Egypt
I haven’t talked much about Egypt for the past few years as they were going through plenty of political turmoil and then the pandemic hit. It’s worth taking a fresh look though because there’s a reason the country keeps showing up on “cheapest places to live in the world” lists like this: it’s a great value.
Egypt’s currency has been on a downward decline this year, following spurts of dropping in the past. Ten years ago one U.S. dollar would fetch 6.2 Egyptian pounds. The past few years, a dollar would get you between 15 and 16. As I write this, a buck is worth more than 24 pounds. This would be a fantastic time to lock in a lease priced in the local currency.
Or you could be spontaneous and just rent a place on the hotel booking sites for a month or more. When I searched Luxor for 30 nights, I got loads of hotels with a pool for less than $900 (daily maid service and breakfast) or this 2BR apartment on Booking is around $650 including taxes for a month.
Anything that involves labor is going to be a good value, from taxis to haircuts to helpers. Even in a resort area like Sharm el Sheikh you can get a basic meal for two or three bucks and go see a movie in an air-conditioned theater for $4. Surprisingly, you can get a beer for cheaper in Egypt than you can in Thailand or Ecuador.
Big Drops in the Cost of Living in Colombia
I feel like I’ve been saying, “Colombia got a bit cheaper this year” for at least five years now. Just when I think the peso can’t drop any more against the dollar it does, making even more expats hear about what a great life they could be having in Colombia. Once again, it got even cheaper to live in Colombia last year and the trend is still looking solid.
I wasn’t as excited about Medellin living as I expected to be after all the hype I’ve been hearing for ages. Perhaps I need to go back again and stay out of El Poblado, the high-rise area where most of the foreigners live. I sure was loving the prices though, especially for food and drink. My $50-a-night Airbnb was super-nice, with a great balcony I could work on, and I saw loads of attractive apartments even in the best part of town for $500 for one bedroom, $750 for two, with views like this.
I’ve interviewed lots of expats in Colombia, both virtually and in person. They all genuinely enjoy their life there and it’s certainly an electric place to be right now if you’re an entrepreneur. Medellin might be the best digital nomad spot in the Americas, though Mexico City is finally starting to live up to its potential to be that. But if you don’t need the personal networking so much, move to Santa Marta, the coffee region, or some other perfect spot with a mountain view.
Health care prices are fixed and transparent, and care is good in the cities. Get more details here on the cost of living in Colombia.
Historically Cheap Living in Argentina
I’ve been running this Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003, so I’ve seen Argentina be cheap or not cheap so many times that it’s like a yo-yo depending on whether an economist or a populist is sitting in the president’s chair. (The last one in the latter category just got sentenced to six years in prison.) Right now Argentina is having one of its worst times ever financially, which is saying a lot, but that’s a turn of good fortune for you if you can come in with cash on vacation or move there while earning dollars, pounds, or euros.
I was back there this year and couldn’t stop eating and drinking constantly because the prices were so good. I’m talking $2 taxi rides, $3 Argentine craft beers in a brewpub, and $20 steak or seafood meals for two with multiple courses, wine, and dessert. If you asked me, “What is the most affordable city in the world right now?” I’d say “Buenos Aires” without hesitation. For major capitals, it’s the least expensive metro in the world, one with very few sacrifices to enjoy the good life regularly.
Argentina has some of the best Apartment rental bargains in the world right now, so you could lock in a long-term lease as a renter with no hassles. Or find an even better deal through a local agency. Then go enjoy all the red wine and grilled beef you can stomach while enjoying the Andes Mountains, Patagonia, and the beautiful desert landscapes around Salta. When I hit someone living in Patagonia up for Argentina living prices, she gave me these nuggets: “50¢ for a kilo of sugar, $4 for a good bottle of wine, and $15 a month for my cell phone bill.”
The country seems to prefer a natural state of crisis and is prone to shooting itself in the foot with fiscal policy, so take advantage of the mess to live a half-price life in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, or Patagonia. You can get a short taxi ride for $2, bargain-priced food of high quality for fast-food prices in the USA, great wine, and median rents under US$500 in the largest city.
I recently returned to the country and enjoyed $2 bottles of wine, $6 steak dinners, and craft beers in a taproom for as little as $1.50. Rents posted in office windows ranged from $200 to $800 for the majority of them in Buenos Aires. But will it last? Your guess is as good as mine. You have to keep an eye on the financial news and see what’s going on with the blue rate vs. the official exchange rate. Then work out how you’re going to get to your money every month here at the bottom of South America.
Ecuador for Expats
Ecuador is the grayest expat destination on this cheapest places to live in the world list, with it regularly showing up as one of the cheapest places to retire in the world. It’s an especially affordable place to live for retirees, with a low income requirement that can be met with just social security payments alone. You can live in the Andes Mountains, live by a Pacific beach, or have great medical care and cultural activities in the largest cities like Quito, Guayaquil, or Cuenca.
Cuenca and Vilcabamba have been retiree havens for quite a while, especially for those who looked at their meager retirement savings and realized they were going to be in rough shape if they stayed in the U.S. or Canada. Most of them are paying between $300 (for a one-bedroom apartment) and $650 a month for rent of a house or condo and nobody I’ve talked to living there is spending more than the equivalent of two social security checks for a couple.
There are a lot of perks for retirees living abroad here, including 50% off all national and international airfare, 50% off all cultural and recreational events, and 50% off some utility charges. You can stay 90 days on a tourist visa and can usually extend it within the country.
Health care is generally good overall and costs about 1/5 to 1/10 of what it does in the United States, with good facilities in the cities. The economy is precarious though, the leadership is very authoritarian, and if you like to drink alcohol you’d better stick to what’s made locally. Anything imported has taxes of 100% and up. See a detailed round-up with the cost of living in Ecuador, according to the expats living there.
Cheap Living in Mexico
My adopted home of Mexico is not the absolute cheapest country to live in, but it’s easy to get to for a good price by air and is a great value once you arrive. You can fly to Mexico from the USA or Canada for about the same price as you can fly across one of those countries much of the time, on the home team carriers or one of the Mexican budget airlines.
I have lived in central Mexico on and off for more than a decade with my family, here full-time since late 2018. Because the Mexican currency has dropped against the dollar, it is cheaper here now than when I first visited in 2002. The peso generally trades between 18 and 21 to the dollar now, in that same range for the past four years or so. This makes our closest neighbor to the south a screaming bargain anytime you go to a restaurant, buy a beer, take a taxi, get a haircut, or hire a carpenter. The list of things you can buy in Mexico for a dollar is a very long one. Yes, there’s been some inflation, but Mexico is fairly self-sufficient so most of what’s gone up in price has been products that relied on foreign parts or ingredients.
As a family of three, we lived on $2,100 a month in Guanajuato when we were renting a four-bedroom apartment, before we bought a house. Now two of us probably average $1,500 to $1,800 a month in expenses and it got down to about $800 when we were locked down for a few months in 2020. In normal times, that’s with having a housekeeper coming every week, having a handyman come to do improvements or repairs, going out for a meal or drinks when we want, and traveling regularly within the country. We aren’t very frugal at that level because we don’t need to be. We can eat out when we want, go to cultural events, and enjoy life to the fullest.
We have a high quality of life here, can afford plenty of travel since our living expenses are low, and we get to walk around a UNESCO World Heritage site every time we take a walk. Most expat couples we know here are spending less than $3,000 per month, even if they’re retired and have hefty savings. You really have to be eating a lot of imported food and eating at the best restaurants in town to go beyond that. (You could spend that more easily in San Miguel de Allende, where some 1/4 of the population is English-speaking foreigners.)
You can stay 180 days on a tourist visa in Mexico, then get another 180 just by leaving and coming back. They tightened up a bit on this in 2021 and the mood of the immigration person seemed to make a difference, but now Mexico is moving to an electronic system where 180 days is automatic. If you have sufficient income to stick around, the residency process in Mexico is straightforward.
In colonial cities, it’s easy to get by without a car and Mexico has an excellent variety of bus and air options between cities.
Just understand that I’m talking about Mexico away from the tourist resorts. Los Cabos could cost you as much as your current home and it’s not such a bargain in Playa del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta either. You need to go inland or to a beach without a lot of moneyed tourists around. Interior Mexico is much cheaper with the exception of Mexico City, since that is one of the major cities of the world and the most desirable areas have above-average rents.
More of the Cheapest Places to Live in the World
I limited my list to 12 this year but there are a few in those top-10 lists at the top that are obvious omissions. Plus there are a few in my living abroad book that are not covered in this article. So here are some quick notes on a few other places to consider when looking for the cheapest places to live.
Turkey – I love the country, hate the politics, so I have trouble recommending this place, even though I lived there once and have fond memories from the pre-Erdogan era. His ego is so large that he thinks he can override the laws of economics and he has put Turkey’s economy into a tailspin that is going to be tough to dig out of. So the Turkish lira has dropped more than almost any other currency in the world the past few years.
A dollar got you 1.75 Turkish lira in 2012 and at the beginning of 2020 it got you 12. Today as I write this a buck will get you 18.6 lira. Because of this, rents in Turkey are now 45% less than in Thailand according to Numbeo and restaurant prices in oceanside Antalya are half what you’ll spend in Algarve, Portugal.
Hungary – As with Turkey, the country of Hungary has gotten more right-wing, more authoritarian, and less democratic over the past decade and unlike in Turkey, the ruling party hasn’t destroyed the economy so badly that they’re likely to get kicked out in the near future. They have F-ed it up a good bit though: a dollar was worth 212 forint a decade ago, then 300 to 325 during the pandemic, now 390 today after popping above 400 a few times. To give you an idea, rent prices in Budapest are currently about half what you’d have to spend in Barcelona and consumer prices overall are 30% less.
Hungary is like a half-price Austria, with good food, good wine, fun nightlife, and a lot of beautiful countryside. It’s easy to get to the rest of Europe from here for vacation and within the country you can go from hopping capital city to a chilled-out house on Lake Balaton or the sunny southern vineyard lands in a few hours by bus or train. Expats living in Budapest that I interviewed were paying anywhere from €290 to €800 for rent, the latter a 2-bedroom place in a top central neighborhood. In smaller cities it’s easy to find something similar for €500 or less.
Hungary is part of the Schengen zone though, so it works better for digital nomads than those who want to stick around all year. You generally have to have a work permit or go through a lengthy residency process to live here permanently unless you’ve got proven Hungarian roots. Here’s a breakdown on the cost of living in Hungary, based on reports from expatriates living there.
Georgia – This was a digital nomad hotspot before the pandemic, but the trend accelerated greatly when location independent workers started looking for a place they could hang their sun hat after they had to leave Southeast Asia or Europe when borders started closing. A fair number ended up in a country perched between the two, on the Black Sea near Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and eastern Turkey.
The picture has gotten a little more complicated in the country of Georgia thanks to the huge influx of Russians trying to escape military service or just get out of the aggressor nation until Putin gives up on his war games. Rents have reportedly doubled in Tlibisi since the Ukraine invasion by Russia so check on the situation before making moving plans.
The country has the most favorable visa entry program in the world, with the citizens of a whole lot of nations allowed to stay for a year on a tourist visa. Go away for vacation, come back, and you’ve got another year before you have to worry about your visa.
The cost of living in Georgia is also quite low, basically on par with Sofia, Bulgaria. You have access to great hiking, winter skiing, and vineyards in one of the world’s original wine regions to explore. There’s even a bit of beach on the Black Sea coast.
Peru – As I’m writing this, the president of Peru just got impeached and arrested, but putting that aside, Peru is one of my favorite countries in the world, with few competitors. Maybe at some point I will go live there, but you can only stay for six months max and then you have to leave for at least six months. On top of that, they make it quite hard to graduate to residency. So while this is a cheap country if you do it right, they don’t make it very easy to stick around.
Panama – The favorite country of many living abroad publications has a lot going for it for sure, including a dollar economy, a stable government, a duty-free approach to import prices, and now a digital nomad visa. It’s a major airline hub and a crossroads of the Americas. Not as low-priced as some of the others in this article, but still a terrific value overall. It’s still a cheap place to eat at a restaurant, go out for drinks, and buy electronics thanks to Panama’s open market policies.
Panama has the world’s best pensionada program for retirees, but really you don’t have to be retired or even old. You just need to show $1,000 a month in income to get a long list of incentives and discounts with your residency. It’s not unusual to pay $20 to see a doctor, $35 to see the dentist and get a cleaning, or a shade over $10,000 for surgery at a hospital affiliated with Johns Hopkins.
Indonesia is one of the cheapest places to travel around in Asia as a backpacker, but they make it extremely hard to get residency of any kind and they keep passing more draconian laws. The most recent one is designed to outlaw sex between couples that aren’t married. And that’s if you’re not gay, because of course you can’t be married if you are.
Also, the Bali of today is traffic-jammed and trashed, a far less pleasant place than the Bali of Eat, Pray, Love fame.
Philippines – If you’re intimidated by learning a second language and are interested in the cheapest English-speaking countries in the world, put the Philippines at the top of your research list. The country has historically not been as great a value as most others in Southeast Asia, but currency declines have helped on that front and many costs are now, on average, lower than in Thailand.
While Manila is not anyone’s favorite city it seems, there are lots of great island spots to choose from that are at the opposite end of the traffic extreme. If you love tropical weather it’s ideal and you’ll never have communication problems since everyone educated speaks fluent English.
If the idea of moving abroad and having twice as much to spend gets you excited, do it right by checking out the packages at my Cheap Living Abroad site and save yourself dozens of hours of research and dead-end paths. It gives more depth on the cheapest places to live abroad, including the pros and cons of each country. If you like to hold a real book in your hands, yes there’s a paperback available worldwide at Amazon. An audiobook on Audible too.
You may have a fear of change, a sense of complacency, or local roots that go to deep keeping you from making this kind of move. If you’re a good match though, let me save you lots of time and hassle in the planning and doing. After all, what’s your time worth? What’s the value of skipping months of mistakes before and after such a life-changing event?
Or if you’re still in the dreaming stage, get on the insider’s list and get a free report on where you can stay four months or more on a tourist visa. That’ll put you on the list to get a monthly e-mail update from me, without the heavy sales pressure you’ll get from some other living abroad publications.