Moving to one of the cheapest places to live in the world can change your life. Your income or savings suddenly goes so much farther. Just think if suddenly the amount in your bank account tripled. That is the impact of moving to a country with a cost of living of 30% of your home.
And, the cheapest country to live in doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the things you love about your life. We’ll explore some of the cheapest countries to live for Expats in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. We will stick to countries that have stable populations of long term Expats. At present, Pakistan is the cheapest place to live in the world, but they won’t make our list.
- How to judge the cheapest countries to live in
- Other considerations for choosing your home
- The resources we used to choose the cheapest places to live
- Cheapest places to live in Europe
- Cheapest places to live in the Americas
- Cheapest places to live in Asia
- Cheapest countries to live in Africa
- What is Geoarbitrage, and how does it work?
- Is the cheapest place to live in the world the best home for you and your family?
For most Expats, those countries are not going to be a realistic option for a new life abroad. We know this makes this a subjective list, but it is the approach we feel offers the most value.
The countries we have chosen are attracting digital nomads, freelancers, remote workers, and retirees. While the fact that they are some of the cheapest places to live is important, they are also great places to live.
See our article on the best countries to live in for advice on choosing your next home.
How to judge the cheapest countries to live in
The cost of living across a country is not uniform. Cities generally have a higher cost of living than country areas. An exception is often prestige beach towns.
Your needs and life choices will impact your cost of living. The cheapest place to live in the world will differ for different people. Your choices around eating in vs eating out, domestic help, and leisure activities will all impact your calculations.
You’ll need to look carefully at cost-of-living calculations and estimates. Cost-of-living calculators use very different methods to come up with their cost-of-living estimates and arrive at different conclusions. We’ve used a range of resources to come up with our top cheapest countries to live in for Expats.
Other factors to look at are what infrastructure and services your new home offers. Affordable (or even free!) healthcare, excellent public transport, and a quality public education system can reduce your expenses dramatically. Importantly, your cost of living will depend on how you (and possibly your family) use these services. The cheapest place to live is one that has value for you.
Other considerations for choosing your home
You need to be able to get a visa to live there
The cheapest place in the world is useless if you can’t live there. You’ll need to explore your visa situation and residence permit options before selecting a new home. Many low cost-of-living countries offer a range of visa options; you just need to find one that fits your circumstances. Once you are resident, you may have pathways to citizenship and a second passport.
Whatever makes you happy needs to be available there
Similarly, you’ll need to decide on the things other than cost-of-living that are important to you. Does crazy traffic drive you insane? Maybe crime and security are your number one concern. Are 300 days a year of sunshine vital to your happiness?
You need to be safe and feel secure
Safety and security are always important, but low cost-of-living countries don’t need to be a compromise on this point. See our article of the Safest Places to Live in the World for much more information
For more inspiration on these factors see our article on the Best Countries to Live in. It will help you choose the perfect place for your next home. We look at all the factors to take into account when making your selection.
The resources we used to choose the cheapest places to live
- The Legatum prosperity index considers a range of livability factors for countries across the world. This includes cost-of-living and the cheapest places to live.
- US State Department per diem rates give some insight into how much is required to live at a relative standard in different countries.
- Numbero crowdsources in-country surveys of cost-of-living from Expats. Their statistics show the cheapest place to live in the world.
- The Expat Insider survey highlights which places Expats love, including the cheapest place to live in the world.
- Trading Economics DPI (Disposable Personal Income). This report gives insight into how much money residents have to live and can help to find the cheapest places to live in the world.
Cheapest places to live in Europe
Europe covers a vast range of countries. While the European Union (EU) includes 27 member states, Europe usually means the entire continent, which includes around 50 countries. So, which are our top three cheapest countries to live in Europe for Expats?
Portugal is, for many people, the cheapest country in Western Europe. The country offers amazing variety and world-class attractions for a much lower cost than you’d imagine. While top-end properties in the biggest cities of Lisbon and Porto are not cheap, they still offer real value for money. And, outside those centres, your money will go a very long way.
Portugal’s average salary is €900 per month.
Food is consistently cheap and high quality. This is true from a supermarket, local speciality shops, and restaurants. Happily, beer and wine is also excellent value. The architecture, dating from various eras is world-renowned. And, it is not just Porto and Lisbon that have beautiful architecture, every small town will have something for you to marvel at.
Portugal also offers quality, affordable healthcare and education. There are good quality transport options, and internet and communication services are cheap and reliable. You will also pay less for your utility bills than in many countries that offer a similar standard of living.
Portugal has a consumption tax (like VAT) called IVA. This tax has three levels with the general level at 23% it seems high. But, it is not the highest in Europe, and because the tax is on lower base costs, the impact is much smaller. The reduced rate is 6% and is on non-processed food and accommodation. This lower rate means these big-ticket items on your money bill attract much lower tax levels.
While it is not the cheapest place to live in the world, Portugal offers amazing value for Expats.
If you would like to investigate your visa options to move to Portugal then have a read of our Portugal Blog. Even better, book an appointment with our lawyer in Portugal so that he can help you understand which visa route is the best for you.
Bulgaria is a country of 7.5 million people situated in Sout-Eastern Europe. It tops many lists as the cheapest country in Europe, and it delivers excellent value for your money.
Bulgaria is a stable democracy and is a member of the European Union and Nato. But the average salary in Bulgaria is just €400 per month.
The capital Sofia is famous for its architectural beauty and green space. Bulgaria has a wide range of natural features from beautiful beaches to snow-capped mountains.
Coming from other first-world countries, everything will seem cheap in Bulgaria. You could rent a quality two-bedroom apartment near the centre of Sofia for less than €300 a month. You can pay as little as €50 per month for your utilities, and a quality internet connection will be around €15 per month. A beer and a pizza can cost as little as €5 in a nice café in Sofia.
Heading out of Sofia lowers your costs even more. The second city, Plovdiv, has rental prices of about 60% -70% of an equivalent place in Sofia. A move to some of the more remote areas of Bulgaria will offer even bigger bargains.
Montenegro is a small country on the Adriatic Sea. It has outstanding natural beauty and a range of options for Expat life.
Montenegro’s average salary is €511 per month.
In Montenegro, your accommodation will vary. And, the cost may vary depending on the season as well as location. Beachside housing that is cheap from October – June will be expensive during the prime summer months. Tourist areas like Kotor and Budva feel this more than most areas.
Groceries are very reasonable and are generally high quality. Budgeting €25 per week would not be unreasonable.
Private health insurance can be as little as €300 per year. Some people choose not to use insurance as a doctor’s appointment can be as little as €15 to see a GP. And, standard prescription medicines are mostly less than €10.
For more ways to Live and Work in Europe, see our article here.
Cheapest places to live in the Americas
Central America, South America, and the Caribbean offer a huge range of options for Expats to choose from. Happily, some of the cheapest countries to live for Expats are also some of the most welcoming.
Panama is a country on the rise for Expats. Although it is geographically small, it packs a huge amount into that area. Expats have the choice of the Pacific or Caribbean coasts or the temperate mountain areas between the two.
The Panamanian government actively encouraged health tourism. This policy has helped to build a world-class private health system that costs a fraction of equivalent care in the USA.
Panama links its currency, the Bilboa, to the USD at a 1:1 exchange rate. The average salary in Panama is around USD$1,300 per month.
Utilities, including high-speed internet, are also cheap, even for the region.
The fact that Panama has a zero % tax rate on foreign income also makes a huge difference to many Expat’s budgets!
Local food, both in supermarkets and restaurants, is reasonably priced and excellent quality. The fusion of Spanish, Caribbean, African, and local traditions have made eating in Panama a treat.
In contrast to Panama, Argentina is enormous. From the Europe influence architecture of Buenos Aires to the native beauty of the Pampas, the country offers endless choice.
An average salary in Argentina is around USD$800 per month.
The Argentinian peso has dropped in value versus most currencies in recent years. This deflation means that Expat income and savings go much further. Imported goods are expensive, but you’ll pay less for locally manufactured or produced goods than you’d elsewhere.
Rental prices could be as much as 75% lower than the equivalent place in the US.
Eating out, entertainment, and playing sports will all cost a fraction of what people from the US and Europe are used to paying.
Argentina has many visa options that Expats are taking advantage of which you can read on our Argentina page. Alternatively we have a fantastic immigration law partner who you can book in with to understand the best visa or citizenship route for you and your family. Click here to make your appointment.
We’ve included Grenada as one of the cheapest counties in the Caribbean. It is more expensive than many mainland countries, but it offers great value if you want the Caribbean island life.
As many things are imported there is an extra cost, but local produce and food are very cheap.
Accommodation and real estate are as much as 50% lower than the equivalent in mainland USA.
Healthcare on the island is good, but you’ll need good insurance for serious issues. Should you need advanced or emergency care, you’ll often need transport off the island and without insurance, this could be expensive.
Grenada is one of the cheapest places to live in the English-speaking world.
Cheapest places to live in Asia
Asia is the biggest continent on the planet and consists of around 50 countries. It is home to five of the top ten most populous countries in the world. And, about 60% of the world people live here.
Cambodia has had 15 years of steady growth but has come off an incredibly low base. The government has spent strongly on infrastructure and attracting foreign investment. This means that there is excellent infrastructure for Expats to take advantage of.
Average salaries in Cambodia are as little as USD$60 – USD100 per month, depending on where you are. Living essentials are priced accordingly.
Prices of accommodation, utilities, and food are very low. A comfortable cost of living for a couple could be as low a USD500 each.
Cambodia is fast attracting Expats. The idyllic coastal towns and the pristine jungles of the highlands all offer their own attractions.
Expat health insurance is cheap and covers basic care where you are and specialist care in larger centres.
Thailand is famous for the value it offers. The beautiful kingdom is consistently ranked as one of the best places for Expat quality of life.
The average salary in Thailand is around USD500 per month.
Cost-of-living is a fraction of western countries. And, for that money, you get access to world-class healthcare as well as some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Names like Chang Mai, Koh Samui, Hqau Hin, and Phuket are famous. Digital nomads, retirees, freelancers, and remote workers all find so much to love in these tropical paradises.
Thai food, culture, and the welcoming people make this an irresistible package for growing numbers of Expats. And, a couple can live well on around USD$2000 per month.
Vietnam is rapidly attracting more and more long term Expat residents. The country is a great melting pot of cultures, offering a range of attractions.
Vietnam has an average salary of around USD$250 per month.
Accommodation is cheap and plentiful and comes in a wide range. From a small bedside bungalow to a luxury mountain villa, you’ll find what you’re looking for at a mind-blowing low price.
Food ranks high on many Expat’s favourite things about Vietnam. From a market to a street vendor, and top-end cuisine, Vietnam has it all. And, the only thing better than the quality is the price.
Expats report comfortably living on USD500 – USD$1200 depending on how luxurious a life they live. This budget often includes domestic help with cooking and cleaning.
Health insurance is cheap, and most Expat centres offer easy access to foreign-trained, English-speaking medical staff.
Cheapest countries to live in Africa
Africa has some of the cheapest places to live in the world, but not all are popular Expat destinations. We’ll focus on two countries that are low cost-of-living, but that have significant Expat populations.
In 2017, it was estimated that almost 1 million Expats from non-African countries were living in South Africa. Countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Portugal, and India, were the most represented in the group.
South Africa has definite challenges, including security in some areas. But, for many, this is offset by the amazing quality of life in this low-cost country. While unemployment rates are still high, there are many opportunities for employment and for location independent businesses.
The average salary in South Africa is about USD1,00 per month.
The coastal hubs of Cape Town and Durban and the economic centre of Johannesburg attract the most Expats. Even lower cost-of-living is available outside these centres.
South Africa also ranks consistently highly for Expat families. This is due to excellent education infrastructure and cheap, quality childcare and domestic help.
While South Africa has 11 official languages, English is the most used. It is the language of government, law, and largely of business. This makes South Africa one of the cheapest English-speaking countries in the world.
Living in Keya is much more than just wildlife and beaches. Nairobi is East Africa’s most developed city and is a hub for regional business. Expat life will come with some challenges in Kenya, as it does in many places.
Kenya’s average salary is around USD600 per month.
Expat life can be luxurious. From the city to the beaches, a low cost-of-living lifestyle of luxury can be yours. Domestic help is economical as is local produce, from seafood to high-quality meat and vegetables.
If the traffic of Nairobi doesn’t appeal to you, the tranquil beaches of Mombasa may be a better choice.
Kenya is also a low-cost-of living country with English as an official language.
Fancy living in South East Asia as a Freelancer or Digital Nomad? See our article to find out how.
What is Geoarbitrage, and how does it work?
Geoarbitrage (or geographic arbitrage) is just a fancy term for making your money go further by moving. The idea is broader than just looking at the cheapest country to live in.
Geoarbitrage is looking at your entire financial situation. Once you have a holistic picture, then you can start making decisions to improve your quality of life.
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re a European Union citizen. Which would make more financial sense?
- Live in Switzerland (highest cost-of-living in Europe)
- Pay tax in Belgium (60.2% top marginal rate)
- Earn a Bulgarian income (the lowest in Europe)
- Live in Bulgaria (lowest cost-of-living in Europe)
- Pay tax in Estonia (21.3% top marginal rate)
- Earn a Luxembourg income (the highest in Europe)
All this being equal, scenario B will mean you are financially much better off. This example is overly simplistic, but it helps to demonstrate the idea.
Geoarbitrage can take other factors into account.
- Geoarbitrage using exchange rates
Drawing a pension in Euros or dollars and spending it in Thai Baht or Argentinian Peso will give your income a massive boost. Your money will go much further. But, if those exchange rates shift then moving to a new country may make sense.
- Geoarbitrage for taxation
Registering your income in a low taxation country means you keep as much as possible. Countries like Portugal and Panama have excellent offers for non-citizen residents.
- Geoarbitrage for healthcare
If you are concerned about healthcare costs or need expensive care, a move may be the answer. Argentina offers a 12-month health visa. You could live in Argentina while you receive world-class medical attention at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.
Moving to a country with a fully public healthcare system means you’ll never have to pay another cent towards living a healthy life.
- Geoarbitrage for family
Would free childcare help your family budget? WIll a year’s paid parental leave help your decision about having kids? How about free schooling and university for your kids? These are on offer in many countries.
Geographic arbitrage is not for everyone. The calculations can be complex and you’ll be changing lots of things in your life. But, with a successful geoarbitrage strategy, your financial position can improve dramatically. Considerations like visas, work permits, taxation law and treaties, and more all must be covered.
Is the cheapest place to live in the world the best home for you and your family?
The cheapest countries to live in the world offer an opportunity to improve your quality of life. Choosing a country with a low cost-of-living means that your income and saving will have much greater buying power.
The cheapest countries to live may have economic issues that impact you. If you will be looking for work in your new home, then the unemployment rates will be an important statistic for you. Unemployment rates often vary depending on location and profession, so make sure you understand more than just the headline rate of job seekers.
Happily, some of the cheapest countries in the world offer amazing benefits for Expats. Moving to one of the cheapest places to live doesn’t have to mean lower quality infrastructure, healthcare, or education. In many cases, it is quite the opposite.