It’s the ultimate fantasy: Escape the 9-5 by moving to a place where it’s so cheap you barely need to work — and could even retire early. The Panama-based Live and Invest Overseas advises people on how to do just that, and the company has just announced its list of the 10 best places in the world where you can move in 2018 and live very well for very little.
We caught up with Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, who told us why each of these places made the coveted list. And for more great affordable travel spots, check out “The 33 Cheapest Places To Travel In 2018.”
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Topping the list of places where you can live on the cheap — Lisbon. “This is a very pleasant place to be and our top pick,” says Peddicord, who describes Lisbon as a “noble and elegant city” full of “awe-inspiring landmarks that were constructed during the Golden Age of Discovery.”
According to Peddicord, Lisbon — and all of Portugal, for that matter — offers a competitive cost of living that is among the lowest in Western Europe, thanks to an “enviable tax situation” and plenty of real estate bargains. It’s possible to live here comfortably but modestly on a budget of as little as $1,300 a month, including rent, food and more. If you want to buy, a 538-square-foot apartment in one of the lowest-cost neighborhoods can sell for $90,000.
Other things that make Lisbon appealing: centuries-old, pastel-colored stone structures, formal gardens, parks with elaborate fountains, roads laid with cobblestones in contrasting colors and “sea scenes that are like works of art,” said Peddicord.
2. Cali, Colombia
Medellín ranked near the top of last year’s list. This year, Cali has taken the spotlight, thanks to rental rates that are 25% to 30% less than in Medellín, making it an extra-attractive bargain. “For so long the world has been too afraid to spend time or money here,” says Peddicord. And that has helped made Cali, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca, a steal. Plus, it’s now safe.
Another appealing aspect of Cali: It’s located at an altitude of almost 3,300 feet, so it has an agreeable climate. “Afternoons can be hot, but with the approach of sunset a refreshing breeze sweeps through the city,” says Peddicord. “Early mornings are crisp and perfect for being outdoors.”
A beautiful city, you’ll find towering palms along wide boulevards, tree-shaded streets and plenty of parks and green spaces. And the people (Caleños) are polite and friendly. “They’ll bid you good morning or good afternoon when you pass, and they’re always up for conversation,” says Peddicord. “Spending time here, you’re reminded how nice life can be when it’s built on these kinds of basic values.”
3. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, and its capital, Santo Domingo, is the place to be. Established in 1496, this is the oldest European city in the Americas, and its charms run deep. “The structures at the heart of this old town are classic Spanish colonial but simpler, statelier and somehow more refined than their counterparts across the region,” says Peddicord.
Look for lively streets, a busy harbor and a city that’s becoming the epicenter for tourism investment across this country. There’s a newly opened JW Marriott, and an Intercontinental and a Hard Rock Hotel are also underway. On the Plaza de España, you can dine at alfresco restaurants and watch the buzzing harbor. “Carnival is bringing a ship a day to Santo Domingo’s cruise dock,” says Peddicord.
All of this tourist growth translates into better infrastructure and modern conveniences like five-star restaurants, shopping malls and movie theaters. A couple can expect to spend about $1,450 a month to live here, including rent and food.
Another highlight of moving to the Dominican Republic: It has one of the easiest and quickest residency and naturalization programs. “The country is rolling out the welcome mat for anyone interested in living here full time,” says Peddicord.
4. San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Looking for well-priced Caribbean beach living in a cozy and welcoming community? The fishing village of San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye is where you’ll find it.
“This is a small town of expats from all over the world working together to create the life they all came in search of,” says Peddicord. “They’re opening businesses, indulging artistic interests, planning community events and inviting each other over for beach barbecues.”
On this tiny island in Belize, golf carts are the preferred means of transportation, and the coast is dotted with five-star hotels, along with high-end condo communities, restaurants, art galleries, supermarkets and wine shops. Peddicord says that she wouldn’t describe property prices as a steal, but she says that “they can be a bargain compared with elsewhere in the Caribbean.” A rental off the beach can run as low as $1,000 a month, and expats can expect to spend about $1,965 a month total on rent and living expenses.
The best part: “If your dream of a new life overseas is all about soft white sand, lapping azure sea and swaying palm fronds, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, should be at the top of your I’m-going-to-go-have-a-look list,” says Peddicord.
5. Saint-Chinian, France
Provence is well-known, but it’s expensive. A south of France alternative is the Languedoc, home to Saint-Chinian, which Peddicored describes as a “quintessential French country village where everyday life is like something out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
“Sitting on a hill in Saint-Chinian (a very pleasant thing to do, by the way) you can think you are in the middle of nowhere,” says Peddicord. “But, in fact, Spain is near enough that you can pop over for dinner and Paris is just three hours away by TGV.”
This town is notable for burgeoning wine industry, as well as its property prices, which half of those of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. (A couple will spend about $1,628 on rent and living expenses.) One advantage: It’s possible to live in Saint-Chinian without a car, due to excellent train and bus service.
The people of Saint-Chinian are also very friendly. “Americans often think of the French as rude and aloof,” says Peddicord. “In Saint-Chinian, the reality is nothing to do with the stereotype.”
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6. Abruzzo, Italy
With its pretty Adriatic coastline lined with beachside cafés, mountains for skiing and rolling vineyards, Abruzzo is a slice of heaven — and it’s Italy’s best-kept secret. It’s also the richest region in this part of Italy, according to Peddicord, and it’s a place where “small, historic towns are working hard to attract investment to save their historically significant but nearly deserted streets.”
Nowhere is this more true than in Città Sant’Angelo, which has historic churches, a contemporary art museum and — this will make you feel right at home — an outdoor outlet mall that feels like something out of Southern California.
“Abruzzo has everything Tuscany offers and more — at a fraction the cost,” says Peddicord. A couple could live here comfortably on $1,400 per month or less, including rent.
7. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia is a Central European country that became an independent nation in 1991, joined the EU in 2004 and has finally shed its turbulent past.
These days, this mountainous region with 29 miles of Mediterranean coastline combines the best of all worlds, and its charming capital of Ljubljana is the place to live. “Ljubljana is a modern city with all the amenities of 21st-century living that manages to retain a small-town charm,” says Peddicord. “Local farmers bring their produce to market in wooden carts each day.”
The city also offers easy access to beaches, olive groves and ski resorts, as well as Venice, which is only two-and-a-half hours away. Or you can head just 45 minutes north of the city to Lake Bled, where you’ll find a the charming Bled Island, medieval Bled Castle and pristine mountains and forests.
What’s the cost to combine this Old World charm and real-world infrastructure? Peddicord says that a penny-pinching couple could live in Ljubljana for as little as $1,059 a month.
8. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
This little beach town on Mexico’s Riviera Maya was once a sleepy fishing village. No longer. These days “Playa” (as the locals call it) is home to over 10,000 foreigners. “Expats make up 7% of its total population,” says Peddicord. “In the 1990s the population was growing so rapidly that Playa was the fastest growing city in Mexico, and growth has continued strong in the 2000s.”
The appeal? It’s one of the safest areas of Mexico, plus, “the regional economy is stable and jobs are plentiful,” says Peddicord, who points out that expats in Playa own and operate bars, teach English and manage real estate offices. Many are also raising families here, thanks to an excellent international school founded by expats.
Another plus? “Playa’s population is incredibly eclectic for such a small town,” says Peddicord. “From young couples to retired couples, from families to groups of students, it seems to appeal everyone alike. It’s also a welcoming destination for the LGBT community, with several gay bars around town.”
“When it comes to day-to-day living, you’d have no trouble finding anything you’d want or need,” says Peddicord. This little town has 12 supermarkets and two Walmarts. The cost of living the beach life in Playa is more than reasonable and one of the many attractions for the large expat population. A couple could spend well under $2,000 per month, including rent, utilities and transportation.
9. Bali, Indonesia
“Bali enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world,” says Peddicord. “Multi-tiered Balinese temples adorn even the smallest villages. The locals are unfailingly friendly and some of the most serene and pleasant people you are likely to find anywhere.”
Adding to its appeal: a picture-postcard coastline with world-class diving, surfing and more. And for expats, Bali is heaven. There are plenty of bars, cultural events and dining options that range from excellent street food (for a pittance) to white-glove restaurants. You can also visit galleries, study yoga and go golfing. “There are always many interesting options for how to fill your days,” says Peddicord.
Peddicord’s pick for the best place to live: the small town of Sanur, an unpretentious suburb of the larger city of Denpasar. “Quiet and laid-back, Sanur feels far removed from the crowds of tourists who flock to Bali for vacations and honeymoons,” says Peddicord.
It’s possibly to live affordably in Sanur — and to indulge in a five-star, luxury lifestyle. “Whatever your budget, you’ll find that you can live substantially better for less money in Sanur,” says Peddicord. And you’ll meet plenty of like-minded foreigners “who have become enchanted with the laid-back lifestyle this town excels in.”
What’s the cost of paradise? On Bali, a couple can live really well for about $1,671 a month.
10. Da Nang, Vietnam
Da Nang is the third-largest city in Vietnam, but according to Peddicord, it feels like an old movie, full of retro sophistication that lends an aura of yesteryear. “Were it not for the skyscrapers, bridges, malls, endless stream of motorbikes and the whir of air conditioners, today’s Da Nang could easily be 1960s Da Nang,” she says.
The appeal to expats? A nice lifestyle that will cost a couple $1,175 a month — or less. Plus, it’s a place with “economy on fire, led by forward-thinking executives, many educated overseas, with an entrepreneurial spirit unparalleled in the region,” says Peddicord.
Da Nang’s location is also part of its appeal: It’s equidistant between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. And it is the designated tourism jewel of Vietnam, with several UNESCO World Heritage sites nearby, including My Son with its ruins of Hindu temples, pretty Hoi An and the ancient capital of Hue.
For more great affordable travel spots, check out “The 33 Cheapest Places To Travel In 2018.”