Cheapest place in the world to live?
April 23, 2009 10:07 PM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest place in the world to live that is relatively safe?


I currently live in Toronto.

I'm wondering what the cheapest place in the world is to live, that is also relatively safe, for about a year, maybe two. (I'm male, which I guess helps define 'relatively safe'.)

Please take into account only cost-of-living (spending), not local wages (earning). I'm assuming I would only spend money I've saved.

Cost-of-living is my main question but cheap travel suggestions (ie, other than flight) are welcome. Boats? Over-land legs of trips?

As a point of reference, the cheapest place I personally know of would be a small town in one of the more out-of-the-way provinces of China, where I know I could find an apartment for about CAD$50 rent/month + spend about $100/month on food. I'll leave entertainment/miscellaneous out of my budget/question. So about $1800 for one year. However, a brief search shows USD$1358 as cheapest round-trip Toronto-Beijing flight. So total about CAD$3400 for a year, but with the average/year falling off as I stay longer.

Is this as cheap as living gets in the world?

In particular, does anyone know about very cheap living in South America that might have much lower travel costs? (I'm pretty good at picking up languages so assume that's not an issue).

Visas are also an issue. I won't assume everyone knows what's available for a Canadian, but any information is appreciated.

Thanks very much.

(I found this but it was mostly US. Also this after I wrote all this, which was helpful, but was talking about $500/mo and I guess I'm talking about living even dirter-cheaper.).

(One more thing: I need electricity.)
posted by skwt to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure on exact prices, but you could live pretty cheaply in Nicaragua and possibly Honduras, especially outside the major cities or tourist destinations. Travel would be cheaper, too (book a cheap flight to a touristy destination - Cancun etc. - then take local buses down). Flights from North America to South America can still be pretty pricy in my experience, and the overland route is much tougher, at least across the canal.
posted by mosessis at 11:26 PM on April 23, 2009

I've heard Paraguay talked about as a very inexpensive place to live, and some googling reveals similar opinions, though nothing I'd consider authoritative at first glance. Might give you a place to start, at least. Personally, I'd go for a small town in eastern europe/eurasia, but the travel costs would still be there & the language barrier may be a challenge.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:36 PM on April 23, 2009

You could pick just about any country in sub-saharan Africa and live about as cheaply as possible whilst still meeting what appear to be your minimum requirements (roof, electricity, relatively safe). There's many places where a small room with (somewhat) reliable electricity and water (don't drink it w/o boiling first) won't run you more than $15-25 USD / month. Depending on your dietary needs you could eat on that much or slightly more at a minimum, say $50 USD max for a fairly local staple diet with few meats / other "delicacies." Flying into a Nairobi or Johannesburg is going to cost you about $800-1200 USD depending on the deal you find, but once you get here, local mini-bus travel is dirt cheap (in-town travel for the equivalent of a few pennies USD, over-land / cross-country for a few dollars, maybe $10-15), albeit not necessarily so safe.

A majority of the population in almost every country in this region is unemployed and most live on less than $1 USD a day (i.e. less than $365 in a year). I'm not sure there's a cheaper place on the planet that you could find.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:40 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was going to suggest Nicaragua too - rural, of course. Parts of Guatemala as well, but there's more crime there.

One thing to take into consideration is that if you went somewhere you'd never been, you'd have to spend time and money finding the best deals. For instance, it would take you a while to find the right village in Nicaragua to stay in, and to find a landlord (likely a family) who will not look at you as a walking dollar sign.
posted by lunasol at 11:46 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by mdonley at 11:49 PM on April 23, 2009

Unless you're a US citizen as well, you can't join the Peace Corps, but what about VSO or a similar organization? You could live for cheap, go someplace foreign, and do something good all at the same time!

mdonley: not sure Indonesia qualifies as "safe"
posted by zachlipton at 1:17 AM on April 24, 2009

"Safe" is going to be necessarily vaguely defined, but I hardly think Indonesia is any more dangerous than Nicaragua or Honduras.
posted by pompomtom at 1:34 AM on April 24, 2009

posted by mattoxic at 2:01 AM on April 24, 2009

posted by dydecker at 2:37 AM on April 24, 2009

Indonesia is safe as long as you don't live in Aceh or have Chinese blood. And there isn't an economic crisis going on. They don't do economic crises very well.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2009

"Cheapest" over what time frame? If you could buy a shelter for a one-time payment of CAD $500, does that beat the CAD $50 monthly rent option?

There are a couple of small towns in the U.S. that are offering free land to newcomers. The bigger their population, see, the more money they get from the state for their school systems. I read about some places in Kansas doing this. You could probably bike to Kansas from Toronto, given a few weeks' time.
posted by profwhat at 5:19 AM on April 24, 2009

Indonesia, probably Lombok. I stayed on Gilli Air for about three weeks during the off season (November 2007) and despite it being the Ibiza of Indonesia I was paying 80,000 IDR a night for a room, which is currently $7.44 USD. I was paying 80k IDR because I wanted a fan. I could have got a room for 50k IDR or even less. Decent food was available from about 10k at the local eating spots, 20k at cafes IIRC.

Mainland Lombok, away from the tourists centres, I imagine would be even cheaper.

The main reason I went to Indonesia was because of the cost of flights. I live in Australia so it's right next door and thus very cheap. Anywhere else nearby - South East Asia, India - would have cut into my living allowance too much.

Being in North America, South America, as suggested earlier, is probably going to have the cheapest places that are the cheapest to get to.

The only other advice I would give is try to find a town that is near the water.
posted by hifimofo at 6:11 AM on April 24, 2009

*WHY* do you want to live cheap?

To outlive the recession? Safety is your only concern? How about medical care, entertainment etc.? Would you want to live in Africa on 50 US$ a months and just drink water and eat rice?

I would probably go to Thailand, Indonesia or Columbia.

Try here:
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:17 AM on April 24, 2009

I'm with Indonesia too (Lombok might be your best bet) although India is also very cheap and you feel a bit more plugged into the world there.
posted by rhymer at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2009

Iceland, right now, is really, really cheap, if you're coming from a country like Canada with a favorable exchange rate.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:28 AM on April 24, 2009

lunasol is very very right. In my experience the incredibly cheap local prices seem to have a difficult time penetrating the rich foreigner force field that I project.

Speaking the local language, or having a trusted local friend, are necessary preconditions to finding the real prices. Things that initially might seem like (slightly) good deals can turn out to be 200-300% overcharges once you get to understand the local markets.

So wherever you go, please keep that in mind.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:50 AM on April 24, 2009

With the amount of time you're talking, you gotta think about visas. I believe Indonesia maxes out at 60 days? I mean if you can find a sponsor (online), you can get a year, but otherwise you'll have to go in and out fairly often - costly + time consuming.

If you're looking for cheap in South America, Colombia ain't it. Bolivia is far less expensive. India hands out 6 month visas for next to nothing, and you can easily get by on $7-8 CAD a day if you're not moving around too much. Pakistan is far cheaper, but you said "relatively safe". Oh shit, how bout Lao? I used to live there. You can easily get by on $5-7 CAD per day. If any of these places interest you, lemme know and I'll give you some more details/specifics. Do you want city? beach? valley/mountain?
posted by gman at 7:03 AM on April 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this has been helpful.

To be more specific, I'm trying to find a place that would be good to write in peace in for 1 or 2 years.

This means that I'd have a laptop, and I wouldn't want to worry about it being stolen. So this rules out grass hut-ish scenarios. I'm willing to pay for at least this level of security.

I`d also prefer not to cook my own meals (though boiling water sounds okay). I have no dietary restrictions, but I will want to eat as healthily as possible to keep my energy up, ie, not just rice. This kind of eating style was included in my China price.

I'm white.

Not also a US citizen.

I`ve traveled in developing countries before so I know about `foreigner prices`, but thanks, the more info the better.

I'm not looking for an adventure. The less exciting the better really. So I'm not interested in WWOOF/VSO scenarios right now.

The Kansas thing profwhat mentioned sounds interesting. Anyone know if it applies to non-Americans?

gman, I'd love some specifics. Anywhere but city I suppose. Beach? Mountain?

allkindsoftime, after this additional information I`ve given, would you still recommend sub-saharan Africa? Because I'm pretty open to that.

Thanks again.
posted by skwt at 10:34 AM on April 24, 2009

gman, if it's not inconvenient, could you post your more info in the thread for others to take advantage of?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2009

The Kansas thing profwhat mentioned sounds interesting. Anyone know if it applies to non-Americans?

This is out of your budget but might be useful info.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:38 AM on April 24, 2009

Of course I'll post more here if asked!

My opinion - you'd be best off in SE Asia, rather than Sub-Saharan Africa, or South America (which would actually be easiest for visas). I say this because of the amenities you require - reliable Internet, good cheap food, and reasonably safe/clean accommodation.

I spent 6 years bouncing around. As well, I've also lived in a few countries in SE Asia. We'll start with Thailand - in my opinion (I'm not gonna say that from here on in as it's obvious), the food there is unrivalled. I mean, if I had to choose one type of food to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of my life, it'd be Thai - for freshness, diversity, and cost. There aren't many places in this world where I LOVE the local breakfast options. As you mentioned, you don't wanna do much more than boil water. For this reason, Thailand or Lao are perfect. Many Thais don't even have a real kitchen because street food is so readily available and you save nothing by cooking at home. A meal of rice, meat, and veg will run you 15-30 Baht (it's 35 to the USD). A bottle of Coke is 10 Baht, but why would you go there when you can have a massive fruit shake for 15? Transport is pretty cheap (and comfortable). Within towns, there are Songthaews which can get you places for real cheap. An overnight train ride from say, Bangkok to Chiang Mai (12 hours) will set you back about 12 USD. Always take 2nd Class Sleep Fan (not A/C as it is freezing), and get a lower bunk because then you'll have a window which opens and a wider birth. Smokes are about a dollar a pack, as is a bottle of Heineken, if you're interested. Now, based on your 'no city' criteria, what about Pai? It's approximately 2.5 hours from Chiang Mai in the North. You will not find a better combination of beauty/amenities/cheapness in the country. Yes, it's touristy at times, but they have local markets, so you won't get screwed. But hell, even the tourist restaurants are ridiculously cheap i.e. a dollar for a meal. Accommodation there would normally set you back about 4 USD/day, but lemme tell you - it's in abundance, and you could easily negotiate a longterm stay (a month+) for 3 USD (100 Baht). You'd have your choice of SAFE huts just outside of town, or guesthouses right in Pai itself. If you want permanent Internet, you may have to take the latter option.

In Lao, I actually ran a business in a village/town called Vang Vieng. My land was across the river in a small village called Ban Hunyea. Gorgeous! It's almost exactly the same as Pai, but a bit less developed. Vang Vieng is a 3 hour ride from the capital Vientiane - which is just across the border from Nong Khai in Thailand (an overnight train from Bangkok). VV is cheaper, but may not have as much Internet access as you'd like.

Here are your Thai visa options. If you do the 90 day thing, you can head down to Penang in Malaysia (no visa necessary) for a couple days to renew - ridiculously good Indian food, or you could head to Lao (closer but requires a visa). I have not a clue as to the visa requirements in Lao these days. As with most countries, I am sure a company will sponsor you for a year visa for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10,000 Baht ($300 USD). I could help you find this out.

Lemme know if you want me to give India some more thought...
posted by gman at 11:42 AM on April 24, 2009 [17 favorites]

I second gman's recommendation. When I lived briefly in Thailand, I met a lot of farangs that would just regularly pop across the border to renew their visas, no problem. I've even heard it's possible to get agents to do it for you, but that sounds sort of sketchy. And it's probably the best bang for your buck you'll get anywhere. However, you're going to have to pay at least US$1K to get there, so take that into consideration. Oh, and violent crime rates are very low.

Another great thing about Thailand for a writer: you will meet so many characters there - the aforementioned benefits (plus the gross sex-tourism aspect) draw a lot of less-than-savory western characters to Thailand who will make for great fiction fodder. Not so great for Thailand, but great for your writing.

India would be great except that you really can't expect to ever get a moment of peace there as a foreigner. That was my experiences, at least, although I was only there for two months.
posted by lunasol at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2009

However, you're going to have to pay at least US$1K to get there, so take that into consideration.

Bangkok would be one of the cheapest places to fly into in Asia. Africa's gonna cost way more, and unless he leaves from Buffalo, South America's also gonna be about $1k. Having said that, that kinda money over 1-2 years doesn't mean much on a per day basis.
posted by gman at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2009

I'm a student at university in New Zealand, down south in the city of Dunedin. I live in a flat with 4 other people and we pay around $94 a week each for rent. I survive well on $80 for food and power a week. This is around the average price for rent in the area for flatting, and works out to be a great, cheap system of accommodation. Renting a small house somewhere else around the rest of the country wouldn't be much more expensive.

But yea, it's affordable here and the people are friendly and vibrant, it's a great place to live.

(The prices are in the local currency, the New Zealand Dollar, $100 of which works out to be around $57 USD at the moment. )
posted by sam_mulqueen at 9:53 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

In Lao, I actually ran a business in a village/town called Vang Vieng.

What year? I might have seen you there. I would probably advise the OP to head further up the river to Luang Prebang. The thing to remember is that the country is old school Communist. This is a fundamentally different place than Thailand or even Cambodia to be a foreigner. You will feel safe here because the govt has the people scared shitless if they in any way put to risk the wonderful hard currency the foreigners bring into the country.

Another recommendation in the area is Nakhon Ratchasima (aka Khorat), the provincial capital of the north-eastern Isan province in Thailand. Very modern, they have a VFW that used to have awesome hamburgers. Also have nice annual celebrations, modern transportation to/from, places for shopping, etc. Because it's in Isan it will be fairly inexpensive. But from there you can make easy trips to Cambodia or Laos for a week or so if you want. $1,800 won't get you as far as it would in Indonesia, but if you desire something a bit more built-up than thatch & mosquito nets for 3-6 months, it's an option.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:15 AM on April 25, 2009

What year? I might have seen you there.

2000-2001. My place was named after my girlfriend at the time - Hope's Oasis. I would have been the disgruntled dude giving off bad energy to a clientèle I loathed. If there were more than a couple foreign owned places when you were there, you may have met me. See, after Time's Karl Taro Greenfeld wrote this piece, we were all booted. If you scroll 2/3rds of the way down, you'll see mention of my place. My bartender (who subsequently bought my establishment 3 months before they kicked us all out) gave them an interview. And although he said positive things about Lao, it was a negative article which embarrassed the shit out of the government. The US had just given them $18 million to fight opium, but the Lao government also didn't want to hurt tourism.

"Laos is a full-on, rad place that's totally blowing up. Everybody's coming to Laos and not just for the dope but because of the people and stuff."


I would probably advise the OP to head further up the river to Luang Prebang.

That's totally another option. Bigger than Vang Vieng, but smaller than Vientiane. Just depends what you like - prices will be similar, but more mid-range restaurants, etc. available.

the provincial capital of the north-eastern Isan province in Thailand.

As I remember it, Isan is a region, not a province. There are a bunch of provinces in Isan though. Civil_Disobedient is right though - it's cheap. And the people are great - same as the Laotians.
posted by gman at 6:12 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks errbody!
posted by skwt at 11:45 AM on April 27, 2009

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