We’ve all been there. Sat at work on a spectacularly boring day, gazing out the window and dreaming about moving somewhere less resolutely meh. But it’s one thing dreaming about moving to London, or Paris, or Tokyo, and quite another turning up there, looking at the square feet of space your meager savings will buy and realizing that you haven’t thought this through at all.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. While there are plenty of countries it will likely bankrupt you to move to, there are plenty more where even the most middle-of-the-road foreign income will see you living like a king. Here are 10 countries, gleaned from the annual Cost of Living Indexes published by Numbeo and Expatistan, where it’s cheapest to live in 2017:
America’s southern neighbor is mainly famous in the north for sombreros, Tex-Mex, and drug violence. But as we revealed in a recent article, there’s so, so much more to the ancient home of the Aztecs than that. Aside from the long history and vibrant culture of Mexico City, there’s some 60-odd indigenous groups speaking a mix of languages, crumbling Aztec ruins, unique traditions from each Mexican state, and coastline galore. Oh, and did we mention it’s very, very cheap?
Numbeo estimates the cost of living in Mexico to be nearly 60% lower than living in the US. Outside the capital, you can rent a 3 bedroom apartment near the center of a city for an average of $480 a month. You can get a meal for two in a decent restaurant for twenty bucks. A transport ticket costs under 40 cents. Someone, get us to Tijuana.
Of course, this is all assuming you’re moving abroad with a US salary or pension. In terms of local purchasing power, Mexico sits somewhere in the middle of the list, meaning a local on the average wage can buy maybe half the stuff a local on the average wage in the US can.
It would probably be stretching the limits of acceptable writing to describe Tunisia as the jewel in North Africa’s crown, but we’re gonna do it anyway. The tiny desert nation is home to 10 million, all crammed into a handful of ancient cities that are staggeringly beautiful. This is the place where all the Tatooine scenes were filmed for the first Star Wars, which should give you some idea of how visually-arresting the country is. Then there’s the crazy affordability. The cost of renting a 1 bed apartment in a bustling city center? $160 per month.
On the other hand, Tunisia suffers a downside Mexico doesn’t: it borders Libya. Since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been a haven for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and about a bazillion other crazy rebel groups, all itching to kill Western tourists. In 2015, an armed gunman trained in Libya attacked a five star hotel in Sousse, killing 38, including 30 Brits; making it the deadliest day for UK citizens since the 7/7 London bombings a decade earlier. As a result, the UK Foreign Office now advises against all but essential travel to Tunisia. The US government likewise advises extreme caution when visiting.
Hands up: who can point to Moldova on a map? Eastern Europe’s least-visited country is a tiny sliver of land sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, and locked in a perpetual war with its pro-Russian population. We don’t mean that metaphorically. Moldova’s eastern flank has been occupied since the early 1990s by an insurgent army who set up their own, autonomous republic known as Transnistria. Although the conflict is “frozen” (no one has been killed in ages), it is still a potential flash point in Europe’s poorest nation.
On the other hand, if you don’t mind Soviet architecture, cold winters, and the possibility of Putin annexing your living room, Moldova has a lot going for it. Aside from being crazy cheap – the cost of living is 62% lower than in the US – it’s one of the biggest wine producing nations on Earth, with over 200 km of tunnels filled with wine buried beneath one monastery. Plus, Chisinau is getting a reputation as one of Europe’s party capitals. Double plus, you get to say you’ve lived in Moldova. How many of your friends can say that? None.
It’s the country where Everest lives. That’s all you really need to know about Nepal, a fascinating mountain nation that has been wowing travelers ever since they first set eyes on it. Sagarmatha, as the locals call it, is just the biggest of the world class peaks dotting this frozen, high-altitude land, each sheerer and scarier than the last. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also ancient Buddhist temples, mysterious mountain villages, and wild elephants you can ethically ride and oh our God yes, that’s actually a real thing. Shut up and take our money!
Speaking of the $$$, Nepal’s actually kind of an odd one. Numbeo ranks it as a hair more expensive than Mexico, but Expatistan ranks Kathmandu as cheaper than any city in Moldova. So we’re adding it here just to be on the safe side.
However, before you leap on that plane, we should warn you that things aren’t all peachy. In 2015, Kathmandu suffered a horrifying earthquake that killed 10,000 and nearly leveled the city. The damage costs were equivalent to 50% of Nepal’s GDP, and reconstruction is still barely underway. Although locals would doubtless appreciate you adding your tourist dollars to the local economy, it’s perhaps still a bit soon to think about moving permanently.
We’re not exaggerating when we say Syria was once one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If you don’t believe us, check out these pictures. It was a land of mountains and winding rivers and valleys and ancient castles and cities that have been standing since the dawn of time. As the Syrian Tourist Board is currently at pains to point out, a stretch of coast about 120 miles long that has miraculously avoided the fighting remains wonderful. And it’s about 63% cheaper than living in the US, too.
Of course, even the relatively safe coastline isn’t somewhere you should be heading anytime soon. Since 2011, Syria has been caught up in the deadliest civil war of the century, with an estimated 250,000 being killed and around 4 million being left homeless. ISIS, al-Qaeda and other groups are fighting Kurdish paramilitaries, Assad’s regime forces, and about 100 other rebel factions as Russian jets scream overhead, dropping bombs. It ain’t a safe place. But even a war as awful as this can’t last forever. Perhaps in another decade or so outsiders will be able to go back in and witness the beauty of the Middle East’s most tragic country.
You didn’t expect a wealthy petro-state to be on this list, did you? Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is an oil rich collision of east and west, a place where gigantic glass towers dominate the money-soaked capital, and emerging dictator Ilham Aliyev has made a hobby out of jailing democracy activists. About the size of South Carolina (or Scotland), the ‘Land of Fire’ is both a hyper-expensive Dubai of the Caucasus Region, and a place where you can rent an apartment for less than $150 per month.
So, what’s with this great contrast? Well, you know how New York and California seem to suck in all the money and energy, and London is like Britain’s NYC plus Britain’s Silicon Valley? Baku is like London plus every single other city that isn’t in terminal decline. The rest of the country is basically a rural world of farming sheep and kicking back and eking out an existence on the average wage of $260 a month, an amount that makes $150 for an apartment suddenly look like daylight robbery. Still, at least you get to live in a country that has a place called ‘fire mountain’ that really is a mountain that’s literally on fire.
If you want all the excitement of living in the Caucasus region, but for some inexplicable reason don’t dig the idea of residing within driving distance of a flaming fire mountain, you could always opt for Georgia. The Christian flipside to Azerbaijan’s Muslim culture, the two neighbors are historic allies, largely due to a mutual dislike of nearby Armenia. The big difference comes with their neighbors to the north. While Azerbaijan and Russia have a cold yet cordial relationship, Georgia got invaded by Putin in 2008.
Since then, the tiny South Ossetia region has been under de-facto Russian control, in a situation kinda like that of Moldova and Transnistria. Only Georgia has the additional headache of another area like that. The unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia declared independence years ago, with Moscow guaranteeing its territorial integrity; meaning Tbilisi actually has control of far less of its 69,000 square kilometer territory than most similarly-sized nations.
On the plus side, Georgia is perfect if you like untouched wilderness, craggy peaks, and little mountain villages lost to time. And if you like your beer to cost 70 cents, which is really the important thing.
If you want a (potentially short) life of non-stop excitement, you could do worse than moving to Pakistan. India’s long-term rival, Pakistan is home to Karachi, the world’s most violent megacity, an unrecognized republic controlled by insurgents known as Balochistan, deadly terror groups, armed kidnappers, and the occasional mega-earthquake. It’s also a nuclear state that frequently tries to start wars with another nuclear state (India).
In fact, Pakistan is so fundamentally wild that its government recently issued a decree that all foreigners must stay within a single city unless they hire a security detail and inform the government of their travel plans, in case they wind up with a severe case of death. With advice like that, hearing that an apartment can go for as little as $77 per month likely comes as cold comfort.
Still, if you go happen to go out there, at least you’ll be in one of the prettiest, most historic countries on Earth. Aside from the mountains, there are forts built by the Mughals, old colonial relics from the British days, and some of the grandest Islamic monuments ever built.
According to Numbeo, Ukraine is home to the cheapest McDonald’s combo meal in the whole of Europe. You can get a Big Mac, fries and a drink for under $2.50. We’re not gonna say this is a good reason for you to pack your bags and head to Ukraine, but it’s certainly a reason… another being that life in general in Ukraine is 65% cheaper than life in America.
Not that this is much use to the locals. The average salary across the whole nation is under $200 a month. As a result, Ukraine only just misses the bottom 10 countries for local purchasing power, ranking under Zimbabwe, Moldova and El Salvador, and only just higher than Nigeria and Nepal. An average Ukrainian salary will buy you 26% of what an average American salary will buy you. Then there’s the not-quite-frozen conflict in the country’s east, which has killed about 10,000 in nearly three years (once again, as with so many on this list, Russia is involved).
On the other hand, if you can stomach the screaming inequality, unbelievably cold winters and territorial crisis, then Ukraine is almost breathtakingly beautiful. There’s its snatch of haunting mountains in the West, its two great, ancient cities of Lviv and Kiev, and, finally, its ridiculously good-looking citizens. If you need us, we’ll be booking our flights to Kiev.
This is it, possibly the cheapest country on planet Earth. India has mid-range restaurants where two people can eat world-beating food for under $10. It has taxis that will wait for you for an hour and charge less than a dollar. It has apartments for slightly over $100 per month. In the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram, utilities can cost only twenty bucks a month. With an income of under $1,000 a month, you can live like a freakin’ king.
It’s also, y’know, famously one of the most picturesque nations on Earth. There’s the Taj Mahal, the ancient city of Varanasi, the Himalayas, Raj-era hill towns, creaking old railway lines, the lush, tropical south, and the venerated, epic, eternal Ganges. You’ve got Bollywood, curry, tigers, ancient history, epic gorges, friendly people and a floating temple that is literally made of gold. Plus, Octopussy was set here. Man, we must’ve seen that movie… twice.
Of course, it ain’t all fun and highly-choregraphed dance numbers. There’s shocking inequality, extreme poverty, deadly diseases, sporadic ethnic violence, and the eternal possibility of nuclear war with Pakistan. But is it worth it? You check these pictures and decide for yourself. (The correct answer is ‘yes’.)