20 of the cheapest places to live in the world

Gabriela Peratello

If you’re looking to cut your costs of living — and have an adventure at the same time, this guide is for you. From vibrant cities to a life by the beach, low cost doesn't need to mean boring. Use this guide as a starting point to pick a thrilling destination where you can enjoy life — and spend less too.

Planning on moving abroad or becoming a digital nomad? You could be better off with Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account. Use Wise to cut the costs of currency exchange when you travel, live, work and study abroad. More on that later.

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Top 10 cheapest countries to live

While there are places in the world which may be cheaper than those we’ve picked out here, they may not be attractive for practical and security reasons. This list is our top picks of countries which are both cheap to live in, and can offer interesting lifestyle opportunities for people wanting to relocate or digital nomads looking for a mid-term stay. Let’s dive in.

Vietnam

vietnam

With its expanse of coastline and interesting mix of both ancient and modern history, Vietnam² has been a popular expat destination for years already. Whether you want to relax on the beach in Phu Quoc, or live it up in Saigon, there’s probably something here for you, at a fraction of the price you might pay elsewhere.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank97/139¹
Key cities to considerHanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Hoian
Great forFresh, tasty food with luxury lifestyles available in the main cities if you want it — or a more authentic local experience in the smaller cities, towns and rural areas

Portugal

portugal

Portugal³ is a good choice for people looking for the advantages of living in a well developed country with a lower price tag. One of the cheaper countries in Europe, Portugal is another foodie delight, with beaches, and a large and settled expat community. You might well want to learn Portuguese if you want to make life easier for yourself.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank56/139
Key cities to considerPorto, Lisbon, Coimbra, Braga
Great forPeople looking for a cheap lifestyle which still comes with well developed infrastructure and services

Mexico

mexico

Mexico⁴ is already a popular destination for US citizens looking for a place to live or retire. The lower costs of living mean that — provided that you choose one of the safer cities to head out to — life can be good on a low or fixed income. Great place for a long term stay — or to explore while you work your way around as a digital nomad.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank100/139
Key cities to considerMerida, Cancun, Campeche
Great forHistory, culture, food, beaches — and an easy flight back to the US when you want to visit

Malaysia

malaysia

Malaysia⁵ has a good choice of places to live or visit. From busy bustling Kuala Lumpur (KL), to colonial Georgetown, you can pick from beachside life, vibrant cities, or sleepy towns. Georgetown in particular gets voted the best place to retire regularly, and offers good medical facilities and infrastructure; KL has options for families including good international schools; and Johor is right next door to Singapore when you want a change.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank95/139
Key cities to considerKuala Lumpur, George Town, Ipoh, Johor
Great forA taste of Southeast Asia with many English speakers, and good infrastructure in main cities and expat areas

South Africa

south-africa

South Africa⁶ has its problems, but there are plenty of places you can choose which are safe and fun to live in. Get out of the city when you can to check out the amazing wildlife, learn about the history and culture of the region and have the time of your life.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank77/139
Key cities to considerCape Town, Port St John’s, Cape St Francis
Great forModern cities, natural scenery, and of course wine

Indonesia

indonesia

Indonesia⁷ is huge, and offers a range of different experiences to people coming to live, work or retire. From Bali’s surf bars to the amazing natural environments spread across the archipelago, and the historical sites you’ll find throughout, it’s a pretty wonderful place. Indonesians pride themselves on being a country of varied people who all get along. It’ll be hard to choose just one place to stay, so be prepared to move around to get the best of the country.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank104/139
Key cities to considerSeminyak, Jakarta, Yogyakarta
Great forPick your destination right, and it’s great for anyone — surf bums head to Bali, culture vultures to Yogya, and if you want true Asian city bustle, pick Jakarta

Costa Rica

costa-rica

Costa Rica⁸ has a reputation for being a perfect place to visit to explore the National Parks, check out amazing wildlife, and get involved in some adventure activities. Can you imagine how fun it could be if you lived there and could do all this whenever you wanted?

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank66/139
Key cities to considerTamarindo, Nosara, Playa Hermosa
Great for:Nature lovers and adventure seekers

Read more about the cost of living in Costa Rica

Ecuador

ecuador

Ecuador⁹ has a lot to offer anyone — but it’s become especially attractive as a place for retirees and those on a fixed income thanks to the low cost of living and good medical care available. Choose mountain cities, coastal locations, or head for an adventure in the jungle.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank90/139
Key cities to considerQuito, Cuenca, Salinas
Great forPopular with retirees thanks to good healthcare, good weather and an affordable lifestyle

Bulgaria

bulgaria

Bulgaria¹⁰ has a rich history — from Roman settlers to the Soviet era, you can see it all clearly marked out in the towns and cities. Proud of their produce, Bulgarian food is pretty perfect if you like it fresh, interesting and heavy on the cheese. There’s also great — low cost — skiing, even in the capital, and wine so cheap it’s obscene.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank91/139
Key cities to considerSofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo
Great forFood, Roman history, exploring the Balkans

Philippines

philippines

While Manila¹¹ is a bit of a monster of a city, it’s a true experience with interesting history for people visiting or staying for a while. Outside the capital life is somewhat different — meaning you could also choose to head to a laid back beach resort or somewhere more rural if that’s your thing.

Numbeo 2021 Cost of Living Rank89/138
Key cities to considerCebu, Manila, Baguio
Great forFriendly people, laid back lifestyle, exotic destinations on your doorstep

Learn more about buying property in the Philippines

Top 5 cheapest cities to live in

To help you picture your new life overseas, let’s dive into a few specific cities from our top 10 cheapest countries and beyond.

Data throughout is taken from Numbeo.com — an aggregate site where users enter real time costs of living from their locations. The data is dynamic, and changes all the time — so check out the latest before you decide which of our top cities is the one for you.

Quito, Ecuador

quito
Capital of Ecuador, Quito has a stunning old town featuring colonial architecture which rates as the best preserved in the continent. Try it out if you’re looking for an exciting base to explore, or a longer term stay. If you’re a US citizen you can travel to Ecuador visa free for 90 days. For longer stays you’ll need to apply for an appropriate visa.

CurrencyUSD
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent554.68 USD¹²
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant32.50 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.87 USD

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

ho-chi-minh
Ho Chi Minh City — more commonly called Saigon when you’re there — can be a delight for adventurous people looking for a new experience. The food is fresh, cheap and amazing. The people are generally friendly — English is commonly spoken in tourist and expat areas — and the low cost of living means you can have a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget.

CurrencyVND
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent483.75 USD¹³
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant24.08 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.29 USD

Porto, Portugal

porto
Porto isn’t the cheapest city in the world by any means. But it’s a great bet if you want good infrastructure, great weather, friendly people and wonderful food. There’s a fairly established expat community, and the popularity with tourists also means that there are plenty of services aimed at foreigners.

CurrencyEUR
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent630.57 USD¹⁴
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant41.20 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi1.54 USD

Sofia, Bulgaria

sofia
Sofia has a rich culture which means a walk round the city will bring you to Roman ruins, Art Deco architectural masterpieces and more brutalist construction from the Soviet era. There are also many parks to sit in and enjoy a relaxed beer on a balmy spring evening, and skiing a stone’s throw from the centre all winter.

CurrencyBGN
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent545.04 USD¹⁵
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant35.13 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi1.06 USD

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

phnom-penh
Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, is a mix of lively and quaint neighborhoods, and home to most of the expats living in Cambodia. The infrastructure here is relatively good for the region, and most importantly, high speed internet is available. As with anywhere with large numbers of expats, services, restaurants and bars have appeared to cater to all tastes — so you’ll be well covered whatever you like.

CurrencyUSD/KHR
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent635.44 USD¹⁶
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant21 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.63 USD

Top 5 cheapest beachfront cities to live in

Cheap not enough for you? How about cheap and beachside?

Da Nang, Vietnam

da-nang
As beachside cities go, Da Nang is a gem. Miles of pristine beach, right near the main city living areas. Because it’s a draw for both local and international tourists there are plenty of expat amenities, but with a low price tag. You’re also a quick ride away from the historic town of Hoi An when you want a bit of culture.

CurrencyVND
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent452.94 USD¹⁷
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant20.92 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.49 USD

Thessaloniki, Greece

thessaloniki
Technically a port rather than being beachside, Thessaloniki is a short drive or boat ride from many gorgeous beaches. That means you can pick your beach according to your mood. And unlike the smaller beach resorts in the area which shut down off season, as the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki has plenty to do year round.

CurrencyEUR
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent722.88 USD¹⁸
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant45.78 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi1.59 USD

Phuket Town, Thailand

phuket
Phuket has had a somewhat shady reputation at times — and while there are places in the area you’d probably avoid if you’re on a family trip, Phuket town also hosts some real attractions. The island has many beaches to choose from, so you can head to a resort or get a bit more of a local experience by sticking to the main town.

CurrencyTHB
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent540.81 USD¹⁹
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant23.63 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.78 USD

Learn more about buying property in Thailand as a foreigner

Cancún, Mexico

cancun
In one of the safest parts of Mexico, Cancún has beautiful beaches and dive spots, as well as a traditional downtown — something for everyone. You can pick quieter places, or join the tourists for a more upbeat and rowdy evening if you want.

CurrencyMXN
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent497.63 USD²⁰
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant33.91 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi0.89 USD

Canggu, Indonesia

canggu
Finally — where would our list be without Bali? Canggu is our pick, but honestly, Bali is packed with beautiful beaches which have everything you could possibly want, plus awesome surf and gorgeous sunsets. It’s not the cheapest on the planet, but when it comes to expat friendly locations and great places for digital nomads, Bali is an excellent pick.

CurrencyIDR
Estimated monthly cost of living — without rent577.31 USD²¹
3 course meal, 2 people, mid-range restaurant26.36 USD
330ml bottle of Coke/Pepsi1.48 USD

Starting a life in a new country? Get a Wise account for cheap, hassle-free international payments

If you’re planning on moving abroad permanently — or even just taking an extended trip, you can save on currency exchange with Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account.

Open your Wise international account online before you head off, and get your linked debit card for easy spending and withdrawals. Top up your account in dollars and then switch to the currency — or currencies — you need for a low fee, and with the mid-market exchange rate.

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The world is a small place these days, and moving abroad is an appealing option as more and more of us become location independent. Choose somewhere new and exciting — and cut your costs of living at the same time. You could live better and spend less.

Wherever takes your fancy from our rundown of the cheapest places to live in the world, get your Wise Multi-currency Account to help you save every time you spend in foreign currencies.


Sources:

  1. Numbeo - Rankings by country
  2. US Travel - Vietnam
  3. US Travel - Portugal
  4. US Travel - Mexico
  5. US Travel - Malaysia
  6. US Travel - South Africa
  7. US Travel - Indonesia
  8. US Travel - Costa Rica
  9. US Travel - Ecuador
  10. US Travel - Bulgaria
  11. US Travel - Philippines
  12. Numbeo - Cost of living in Quito
  13. Numbeo - Cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City
  14. Numbeo - Cost of living in Porto
  15. Numbeo - Cost of living in Sofia
  16. Numbeo - Cost of living in Phnom Penh
  17. Numbeo - Cost of living in Da Nang
  18. Numbeo - Cost of living in Thessaloniki
  19. Numbeo - Cost of living in Phuket
  20. Numbeo - Cost of living in Cancún
  21. Numbeo - Cost of living in Bali

Sources checked on 11.12.2021


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