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The Cheapest Places to Live in the World in 2024

Each year I do an updated rundown of the cheapest places to live in the world, from the perspective of someone who wrote the book on this subject and regularly travels to the countries featured. So unlike a lot of these lists written from people who sit behind a desk all year, I’m bringing you the real deal with costs on the ground you can expect in 2024.

cheapest places to live in the world

This is always going to be subject to your style of living, of course. There are people living on $2,000 a month in Western Europe because they’re frugal and there are people spending $10,000 per month living the high life in Thailand or Mexico. We can look objectively at who has the cheapest cost of living overall though, what the average person spends who lives there.

In keeping with the name of my book that’s now in its second edition, A Better Life for Half the Price, these countries all let you live well for less. If you are moving abroad from a country like Canada, the USA, Ireland, or New Zealand to any of the destinations on this list, you can easily cut your expenses in half—or just have twice as much fun on the same amount. You’re using currency arbitrage to upgrade your standard of living.

One last bit about me and I’ll move on to the findings. I have interviewed more than 100 expats around the world for the two book editions and articles on this Cheapest Destinations Blog, plus I live in Mexico myself as a permanent resident. All the photos in this post I took myself while doing on-the-spot research. I frequently appear as a podcast guest talking about living abroad and I’m the editor of the Nomadico newsletter for digital nomads and location-independent workers. If you want to hear from me regularly, sign up for that and/or the monthly Cheap Living Abroad Insiders e-mail update.

Big Brother of the Internet likes us bloggers to get to the point and answer the question for impatient searchers before we get to the explanation though. So before I run down the methodology and my personal opinions, here are the countries that show up the most as the cheapest places to live in the world for expats and digital nomads who need good internet and infrastructure:

Sri Lanka

There are a few countries that are similarly priced to the above that you could consider that show up on some lists such as Laos, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru and—depending on the current exchange rate—Mexico.

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 if you’re American, 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 2024

There were a couple of recent years that were a nightmare for travelers and nomads but tourism is back with a vengeance. Most regions are back to their 2019 levels of visitors and Europe is way above those levels, so don’t expect any big rent sales because the place is empty like it might have been a few years ago.

A few cities, like Lisbon and Tlibisi, are significantly more expensive now for rentals than they were just a year ago when I last wrote one of these reports. Portugal and Georgia have seen the biggest price jumps, so don’t trust the numbers you read on those if they’re from 2022 or earlier.

Showing up on “cheapest places to live” lists for the first time that I can ever remember is Brazil, thanks to an exchange rate that took it from being the most expensive country in South America to one of the cheapest in the space of a decade. The Brazilian real has gone from 2 to the dollar back then to 5 to the dollar now, meaning we get 2.5 times more for our money than we used to. It’s a similar path with the euro.

I left off Sri Lanka last year because the country was in serious turmoil, functionally bankrupt, and they are still in recovery mode. It is showing up on a lot of lists again and might get on here next year.

Meanwhile, in my adopted home of Mexico, a stronger peso and a period of inflation like everyone has experienced have together made the place more expensive in dollar terms than a year ago. The change hasn’t been drastic—basically a rise of 15% or so in the local currency value currently—but that’s enough that everyone has felt it.

low cost of living countries

My adopted home town for a half-priced life

The major trend of nations offering “digital nomad visas” under different names and plans is continuing, but the reality of the final offerings hasn’t, for the most part, measured up to the demand of what remote workers really want. I went to a meeting last year with the architects of the Malaysia one where they were talking about submitting pay stubs to the government (in a room where almost everyone was self-employed). These visas from Spain and Brazil have come with a hefty tax bill at the six-month mark onward. So don’t jump on a place to live just because they offer a digital nomad visa. Find out the real deal from people who have actually gotten one.

You may be better off with plain ole residency, like I have in Mexico, or just coming and going on a tourist visa. A lot of countries give you four months or more upon arrival. In those places, you don’t need a digital nomad visa because they give you four months, six months, or a year on just a tourist visa. (Get a free report you can download on that here.) Then you can often renew that at least once or just leave the country and return to start over. There are others, like Thailand, Vietnam, 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 as little as $1,000 a month or a couple can live on $1,500 to $2,000 a month, not including travel. That’s leading a reasonably comfortable life without making lots of sacrifices—the two of us coast by on that range ourselves in Mexico most months. Add another grand or two and you’ll be leading a comfortable upper-middle-class life with a nice apartment or house, some domestic help, and whatever you want to eat and drink, going out regularly.

Obviously if you’re willing to truly live like a local who is earning the average local salary, 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 Chiang Mai for just $500 a month” are doing that by living closer to the way 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, in a place like Nepal, the top 1%. 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 a country where the local cost of living is lower.

Here are the cheapest places to live in the world that are reasonably comfortable, with access to what you need. 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 house or apartment you’d actually want 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 regularly instead of staying home with a book every night eating rice and beans.

For regular updates from me after you read this, get on the monthly list here:

Cheap Living Abroad Insiders

By the Numbers, the Lists of the 10 Cheapest Countries to Live In

The funny thing about researching the cheapest places to live is that 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. (Those who are really paying attention know that Ireland has become one of the richest countries in the world.)

So before I get into details, here are the lists from three crowd-sourced websites, leaving out the countries that almost no expats move to unless it’s an international company job posting. (But if you do get posted to Pakistan, Syria, Libya, or Nigeria, you will be living very well in your walled compound.)

The most reliable site I’ve found by far when comparing living expenses between countries is 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, leaving out the places with almost no expats living there by choice:

10 – Argentina

9 – Morocco

8 – Tanzania

7 – Kenya

6 – Colombia

5 – Tunisia

4 – Turkey

3 – Nepal

2 – India

1 – Egypt

See the full list here as I’ve skipped over quite a few countries without many independent expats. This is the first time ever that I’ve seen Egypt in the top spot and in some ways that’s a more pleasant place to live than India or Nepal, with less pollution once you get outside of Cairo. It’s also the first time I haven’t seen Indonesia near the top of the list. I’m not sure if that’s because Bali has gotten more expensive or it’s just a currency exchange development.

living in Nepal

A whole bunch of countries that are popular with foreigners are so close on the list that they’re almost a wash. So if you’re considering any of these, cost is not really a factor to set one apart from the other: Malaysia, Peru, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Philippines, Honduras, Brazil, Romania, Guatemala, Thailand, Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, and Cambodia. What’s surprising to me is that Numbeo ranks Fiji and South Africa around the same level as that pack too, countries that you don’t normally think of as great bargains.

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 the place sometime around 2018. I’ve left those out and only included the ones with a community in at least the double digits.

10 – Brazil (multiple cities)

9 – Sri Lanka (multiple cities)

8 – Thailand (multiple cities)

7 – Malaysia (multiple cities)

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)

The changes on NomadList weren’t dramatic, but Brazil and Sri Lanka are both showing up a lot more and made it into the top 10. Keep in mind though that if you’re Canadian, American, or Australian, it’s going to cost you a lot more for a Brazilian visa in 2024 and you have to apply in advance.

Just barely behind were Colombia, Bolivia, and Turkey.

Cheap living abroad

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 – Philippines (Davao, Cebu, Palawan, Manila)

9 – Colombia (Medellin, Santa Marta)

8 – Bulgaria (Plovdiv, Sofia, Bansko, Varna)

7 – Nepal (Pokhara, Kathmandu)

6 – Sri Lanka (2 beach locations)

5 – Indonesia (5 locations in Bali, though the rest of the country is cheaper)

4 – Thailand (Ko Lanta, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Bangkok)

3 – Turkey (Izmir, Antalya, Istanbul)

2 – Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hoi An)

1 – India (Bangalore and Goa—though there are so many cheaper places)

This list has some real oddities on it and I’m not sure I trust the data. They still have Tlibisi as one of the cheapest cities even though Airbnb rentals there have more than doubled in the past year and a half. They have Bali as being cheaper than the rest of Indonesia, which it is definitely not at all. They also have Bangalore in their #1 cheapest spot, even though it’s probably the third most expensive city in India behind Delhi and Mumbai. The list has Puerto Vallarta as being cheaper than Sofia, Medellin, or Bucharest, which anyone living in PV will tell you is delusional. Be skeptical of this source when it comes to pricing.

Take all of these with a grain of salt actually as they can only be as good as the data users have voluntarily taken the time to input. (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 to live in the world are also the countries with the lowest cost of living. That may mean you need to be 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, Sri Lanka, Turkey (for now), 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. If you could get locked up for saying or printing anything bad about the government, as has happened to people in Egypt and Turkey, you’ve got that hanging over your head too.

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. India is one of the few countries that 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.

This year I’m trying to keep it simple and remove some of the shades of gray though, so I am highlighting 12 of the cheapest places to live in the world that are also desirable expat locations. These are easy places to keep working and earning a living while enjoying a higher standard of living for the money you’ve got coming in. If you’re on a pension or social security, you’ll be able to live twice as well as you would be able to where you grew up if you’re from a country like the USA, Canada, UK, or Australia. All are covered in more detail in the book A Better Life for Half the Price.

These are not in price order; I’m starting in the Americas since the majority of my readers are in the USA and Canada, then heating east to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Colombia is Still a Great Bargain

I feel like I’ve been saying, “Colombia got a bit cheaper this year” for at least five years now, but this past year that slide finally stopped. After reaching a record low against the dollar, the Colombian peso has settled down around the 4,000 mark as I write this, which still makes the country very attractive from a cost of living standpoint.

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:

Medellin low cost of living

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 latest election produced something different: a radio talk show host who campaigned holding a chainsaw. He wants to dollarize the economy in an attempt to tame some of the world’s worst inflation.

For now, Argentina is still stuck in 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 you can convert into stacks of Argentine pesos. (And you will receive stacks, so bring a purse, daypack, or fanny pack.)

eating well in Buenos Aires, Argentina

$20 for two with wine and tip

I was back there last 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. Friends who have visited since have been raving about what a terrific value the place is. 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.

That’s the big capital city though. You could move to Mendoza, Salta, or some other smaller place and likely get more living space for your money.

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. 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. It is beloved by the likes of International Living and it regularly shows 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 unless they’re really living the high life.

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.

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 and it looks a whole lot like Greece, which is a ferry ride away. There are also rugged mountains with great hiking opportunities. I made it back to Albania in summer of 2023 and found that rental prices at the beaches drop in half on Airbnb once you cross over from Corfu in Greece. Here’s the view from a Sarande apartment we rented for $35 per night on 

cheapest places to live in Europe - Albania

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 an espresso for you and a friend or two.

See more on the cost of living in Albania here.

Bulgaria Bargain Living in Europe

I like Bulgaria so much that I went there twice last year: once on a ski trip in Bansko and Borovets for a week and again in the early summer for a month. Bulgaria is, by most measures, 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.

Bulgaria has a low cost of living and beautiful scenery

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 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 a tiny fraction of what you would pay in your birth country. 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 $40K or a full house for about the same in the countryside. 

This is a country where you can enjoy €2 beers in a bar, a multi-course meal for €7, 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.” I got a haircut for the equivalent of two dollars last time I was there and the amazing subway and tram system in Sofia makes getting around the capital city cheap and easy. See more here on the cost of living in Bulgaria.

Living in Romania as an Expatriate

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.

Numbeo puts Romania’s costs as about even with Thailand, Guatemala, Brazil, and Honduras, with a lower cost of living than Georgia or Cambodia. 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, it’s 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.

A better life for half the price - move abroad

Time to Consider Egypt Again

When I first started backpacking around the world in the 1990s, Egypt was a major expat hotspot and we saw loads of foreigners living in Cairo, Dahab, and Hurghada when we were there. As with Argentina though, Egypt is a country that seems to invite trouble and here it’s not just financial: there have been deadly flare-ups at times also. On the finance side, their pain has been our gain: one dollar fetched 2 Egyptian pounds at the beginning of 2013. As we enter 2024, one dollar gets you 31 pounds. The only countries that have fared worse are Turkey and Argentina.

We’ve had years of relative calm, thankfully, so the expats have been trickling back and as mentioned at the top, you see Egypt showing up on a lot more lists of bargain places to live. It’s not the basket case many outsiders think it is: Egypt’s per-capita GDP is above $10,000 now, which is 2.5 times higher than Pakistan’s. Sure, it’s basically a dictatorship, as it has been for decades apart from a brief Arab Spring diversion before the military took over. But if you can put that aside (as many do for Turkey and Hungary), at this points it’s a stable country that’s on the rise.

Egypt has been one of the world’s major tourist destinations for as long as we’ve had tourists, and for good reasons. From the Great Pyramids to Luxor to Aswan, some of the oldest and greatest antiquities are here. You can go diving or snorkeling in the Red Sea, take a river cruise along the Nile, or ride a camel through the desert. Sure, you get all the worst elements of tourism too, but at least it’s easy to get from place to place as a result. Getting around to the main centers along the Nile is a bargain. The 10-hour train ride between Cairo and Luxor can cost as little as $3 and the most expensive train tickets you can possibly buy are $55 in first class from Cairo to Aswan or $90 for a first-class sleeper in a compartment for two. You can get to most anywhere from Cairo on a standard bus for less than $8, including Alexandria, or pony up three or four more dollars and go first-class on main routes. Taxis require a lot of exhausting bargaining, but are often a few dollars for a ride of 15 minutes.

When I pulled up Numbeo, it knew I was in Mexico and said, “Rent in Egypt is 78% lower than Mexico.” Wow! It lists the average price of a three-bedroom apartment in the city center as $271. There aren’t many places in the world where you can find an average that low. It’s less in the burbs.

Or you could be spontaneous and live in a hotel 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 a 2BR apartment on Booking is around $650 including taxes for a month. Looking through Airbnb monthly rentals might make you want to pick up and move right now.

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.

You can get a restaurant meal for less than $5, a soda or coffee for less than a dollar, and a beer out for less than two. The average utility bill is less than $40 including high-speed internet. (Constant air conditioning will bump that up of course.)

Low Cost of Living in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the world’s best values n terms of accommodation, amenities, and ease of communicating in English. The country is one of the best deals in the world for travelers and expats alike, with terrific food and bargain beer prices. Vietnam is ready welcoming to expats and those foreigners are 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 deep 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.

Thailand, a Perennial Digital Nomad Favorite

living in Thailand

View from a $120 hotel in Thailand

Thailand has roared back in a big way and Chiang Mai has regained its crown as the most popular digital nomad spot in the world. I visited Phuket last year and saw plenty of them there as well, plus you’ve got loads of expats in Bangkok, Ko Samui, and other spots.

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.”

What has changed in recent years? Well, weed was legalized for a start, plus the visa rules have changed about a dozen times, with a digital nomad visa in the mix too. You can stay for six weeks with a visa upon arrival 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. The retirees got hit with higher bank balance requirements and they’re grumbling about having to report to immigration regularly, so Thailand may be becoming more like the rest of Southeast Asia: a tough place to retire in a simple and legal way.

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. See post on costs in Thailand from my most recent visit. 

Malaysia Living With Bargain Rents and Great Food

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 level made it no longer worth considering unless you’re a millionaire and if you are, why would you move to Malaysia?

There was a huge rush for the exits and many well-off foreigners that left are never going back. The government really shot itself in the foot with that move, with many millions of dollars in spending going elsewhere. Now there are signs that the government will reverse course, so stay tuned. 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.

English-speaking Islands in the 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.

A decade ago you got 42 pesos to the dollar in the Philippines, you get 55 as I write this. You can get a meal out for less than five bucks, a beer in a bar for under $1.50, and cheap taxis or ride shares across town. English private school education is reasonable and rents are a good deal in most areas.

cheap place to live - Philippines

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. There’s enough geographic variety here to keep your domestic travel schedule full for years.

India, the Low-cost Living Champ

As you can see by the three crowd-sourced websites I cited in the beginning, India is generally acknowledged as the cheapest place to live on the planet for foreigners who want to move abroad. At the same time though, you may see Mumbai or Delhi pop up on lists of the most expensive cities to live in.

How can this be? Well you can look at India’s population like a sandwich. There’s the bottom half of the roll that’s hundreds of millions struggling with poverty. There’s the top half that’s the elite: the business tycoons, the old-money families, the tech workers living abroad and those who have returned. In between is the middle class, which is growing each year in percentage terms.

Most of the elite live in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. So you want to avoid those places unless you have a family reason to be there. Indian cities are incredibly polluted anyway, so you’ll probably want to live somewhere less crowded anyway for the sake of your lungs.

The rest of India is crazy cheap, whether you’re a traveler or a resident. See my post on the cost of living in India and two of my books provide pricing info as well. This is another country where the local currency has continually declined against the dollar and India is 50% cheaper than some other popular expat countries such as Mexico and Panama. Also, this is the best country in this article for getting a visa that lets you come and go for 5 or 10 years.

More of the Cheapest Places to Live in the World

I limited my list to 12 affordable places to live in the world but there are a few countries 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 that you can get residency fairly easily or stick around for a while on a tourist visa. (It’s that visa difficulty that has kept Indonesia and Nepal out of this article.)

Cambodia – In some respects, Cambodia is the cheapest place to live in Asia outside the Indian subcontinent, at least outside the capital. Unfortunately, the country threw up so many barriers to entry after Covid hit that you really had to want it badly to move there—or even visit.

Despite a fancy new airport, visitor numbers for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are nowhere close to 2019 levels. I feel like the delays and obstacles set them back for years, so very few foreigners have returned so far. The country has a lot going for it though, so it’s worth a visit or trial run if you love Southeast Asia.

This post on the cost of living in Cambodia is getting old, but it will give you a general idea anyway. Prices stay relatively steady because a whole lot of goods and services are priced in dollars.

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 with my family, here full-time since late 2018. It is cheaper here now than when I first visited in 2002, but inflation combined with the peso’s rise in 2023 have meant that prices have gone up by 15-20% in the space of a year. Our closest neighbor to the south is still a 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 or so 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 1/5 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. If you have sufficient income to stick around, the residency process in Mexico is straightforward.

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.

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 29 lira. That’s 10 more than when I wrote this post a year ago. Because of this, overall prices in Turkey are now on par with Albania according to Numbeo and restaurant prices in oceanside Antalya are less than 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’ve set the country back a decade and a half economically. They have F-ed it up a good bit though: a dollar was worth 230 forint a decade ago and is at 350 today. 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.

Budapest Hungary

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 more than doubled in Tlibisi since the Ukraine invasion by Russia so check on the situation before making moving plans. Inflation seems to have hit worse here than other countries too.

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.

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.


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.

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. For weekly updates for working travelers and digital nomads, check out the Nomadico newsletter


Tuesday 28th of May 2024

What happen to Nicaragua !! Cheap and fairly safe

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 5th of June 2024

"What happened" is right. Nobody is talking about it or going there anymore because the former rebel has become a dictator for life. Read the recent history and it's brutal. It's the next Venezuela now unfortunately.


Tuesday 13th of February 2024

Your opinions about Pakistan make me doubt the authenticity of the rest of your article.

Tim Leffel

Tuesday 13th of February 2024

Prove me wrong with statistics of Americans and Canadians moving there by choice, not because of being stationed there for a job.


Thursday 11th of January 2024

My Filipino coworker has a house in Mindanao, he has two armed bodyguards to prevent kidnappings.


Thursday 4th of January 2024

Hi Tim, a clarification / question about something you wrote that Dean's comment actually touches on: you say "Vietnam’s visa setup means you don’t have to run for the border constantly like you do in Thailand and Indonesia."

I may not be interpreting your assertion correctly, but my understanding is you absolutely *do* still have to do visa runs; it's only recently changed from every 30 days to the more lenient every 90.

I suppose monthly is a lot better than quarterly!

As Dean notes, you can do the application online, but you still have to physically get your butt out of the country to turn that clock back over (same day out and back should be possible, but I also read numerous FB VN group stories about border officials --in the time honored spirit of grafting when possible-- needing to be bribed before they'll let folks back in the country. Officials on the Cambodia side, to be clear.)

Tim Leffel

Friday 5th of January 2024

James Clark from Nomadic Notes would know better than me but from what I've heard from him and others, 90 days is the usual in Vietnam, unlike it being the best case in Thailand (with at least one immigration visit). But the rules are always in flux though so it's best to check the local expat Facebook groups. Regardless, you're not running for the border constantly as my blogger friends in Thailand seem to be doing when they live there. Thailand is really uptight about keeping tabs on everyone, including the retirees that still have to visit the immigration office frequently and waste half a day just to confirm their address and get a stamp. There are super-cheap flights in that region too so it doesn't have to be overland. Siem Reap just opened a shiny new Chinese-built airport that supplants the old one, so now there's real competition into there, for example.

Gipsy Dean

Thursday 21st of December 2023

A thing you leave out and is very important for us nomads that are not digital is the turn around time in these countries. For example Albania, a US citizen gets a year and than has to leave, But for how long? Can you leave and come back the next day for another year? Some of these countries only 90 days a year or 90 days in a 6m month period. This is the most important information to have and I realize it is not always easy to get because some countries keep moving the goal posts but someone like you Tim should be able to get a hand on this to a degree that is helpful. One can bounce back in between Argentina and Chile for 90 days each for ever as of right now. Oh, and hello from Nha Trang Vietnam the best place to be in this country! I am waiting so see how many 90 day visas I can do back to back. The advantage here in Vietnam is you can apply for your next visa on line so you know in advance if you will get it, then you can leave your things in Vietnam and do a quick border run by air or land with only a carry on or small backpack.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 21st of December 2023

I do cover this in depth in the book Dean. But as you say, it is a moving target and each country has its own rules. Thailand tends to change those rules multiple times every year, so it's best for someone interested in a specific country to do their homework. I generally only get this detailed for my own (Mexico) because I've had all three of the main visa types. Plus I talk about how to deal with the Schengen Zone restrictions since I got around them myself last year and there are so many American nomads strategizing about those plans each year.