Have you ever fantasized about quitting your job and moving to a place where it’s so cheap that you barely need to work — if at all? “It’s a great idea, and it’s not that far-fetched,” says Kathleen Peddicord, who has turned this fantasy into a business. As founder of the company Live and Invest Overseas, Peddicord advises global nomads on where to move in order to live on the cheap.
A long-time global nomad herself, Peddicord is originally from Baltimore. She left the U.S. about 20 years ago for a job in Waterford, Ireland, then made a pitstop in Paris before setting her sights on Panama City, where she now lives with her husband and family.
A note: In each case, the budget referenced is a base amount that gives a snapshot of monthly living costs for a single person and includes the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood where an American would be comfortable living. You could reduce your total budget by renting a smaller place. Costs for groceries, transportation and entertainment are also per person; internet and cable are often bundled with a telephone plan. And in some destinations, items like electricity or heat are listed as free because they’re either included in the rent or unnecessary. These budgets do not include travel, clothes, health insurance and other costs.
1. Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal
“Looking at the whole world map right now and based on my experience and the input of people I know, this is my pick for the top place to live,” says Peddicord, who also describes Portugal as “the best-kept secret of old-world Europe.”
Carvoeiro, a town on the Algarve coast, qualifies as the most appealing place on earth to call home for several reasons, says Peddicord: “The take-your-breath-away views from the rocky coast, the constant sunshine, the near-perfect weather year-round, the food, the wine, the history — it all adds up to top-shelf living for a very bargain price.”
“It’s also a great place for single women to start a business and start a life,” says Peddicord. The current down value of the euro helps contribute to the budget factor. “I think Carvoeiro is the best place to live abroad, unless you hate Europe and hate the beach.”
Total monthly budget: $1,150 per person (€1,069)
Telephone/Internet/Cable TV: €70
2. Santa Familia, Cayo, Belize
“If you want to leave the troubles and the worries of our age behind, the little Santa Familia village in Cayo, Belize, is calling your name,” says Peddicord. “Life in Cayo is back to basics, simple and sweet. You know your neighbors, they know you and you all look out for each other.”
Peddicord recounts a 60 Minutes segment that Morley Safer did on Belize about 25 years ago. “He sat in a row boat and said ‘The news from Belize is that there is no news from Belize.’ And it hasn’t changed since then. That’s the reason Belize is on my list.”
Cayo is a region of wide-open spaces, fresh air, warm sun and fertile land. “It’s the world’s best place to disconnect and unplug,” says Peddicord, which can have its disadvantages, too. “It’s is a paradise where the roads aren’t paved and the internet goes out constantly.”
According to Peddicord, Belize is a country with limited government, limited resources and limited budgets — which is a positive thing, since the government leaves its residents well enough alone. “People are self-sufficient and self-reliant. The whole country is like a small town in the Midwest.”
Total monthly budget: $1,200 per person (2,397.50 Belize dollars)
Rent: 1,200 Belize dollars
Transportation: 190 Belize dollars
Gas: 25 Belize dollars
Electricity: 350 Belize dollars
Water: 12.50 Belize dollars
Telephone: 100 Belize dollars
Internet: 100 Belize dollars
Cable TV: 45 Belize dollars
Entertainment: 175 Belize dollars
Groceries: 200 Belize dollars
3. Chiang Mai, Thailand
“Since the 1800s, the Thai city of Chiang Mai has been luring expats from the West with its uber-low cost of living, great weather (especially compared with elsewhere in Thailand), rich history and distinct culture,” says Peddicord.
“The biggest advantage to life in Chiang Mai is its cost in general and of health care in particular,” she says. A person can live here comfortably on as little as $1,000 per month , and you can see an English-speaking doctor for $20.
The heart of Chiang Mai lies within its old city walls, where ancient and modern Buddhist temples coexist with public and international schools, residential and commercial neighborhoods. Modern Chiang Mai has grown beyond the ancient walls and offers mega-malls, huge multi-national grocery and department stores, and all other trappings of life in the 21st century.
“You will need to learn some basic Thai to get by, but there is an established expat community here that communicates in English,” says Peddicord.
Total monthly budget: $1,000 per person (36,380 Thai baht)
Rent: 25,000 Thai baht
Transportation: 400 Thai baht
Gas: 300 Thai baht
Electricity: 2,000 Thai baht
Water: 200 Thai baht
Telephone: 600 Thai baht
Internet: 1,000 Thai baht
Cable TV: 1,100 Thai baht
Entertainment: 1,280 Thai baht
Groceries: 4,500 Thai baht
4. Barcelona, Spain
Peddicord’s next pick: Barcelona, in the northeast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. “It is a vibrant, colorful, proud city that combines the passion of the Spanish with the efficiency and organization of the Catalans,” she says, pointing out that it’s a city with a strong energy that has not been dampened by Spain’s ongoing economic woes. And it’s incredibly affordable to live here, versus vacationing here.
Another advantage: “Spain’s second-biggest city is easily and quickly explored, thanks to its compact, well-laid-out design and the opportunities for diversion, entertainment and discovery,” says Peddicord. You’ll find art and architecture from pre-Roman times to the modern era around every corner. “This is a city of galleries, museums, monuments, theaters, restaurants and shopping, with the beach just right there.”
Total monthly budget: $1,600 per person (€1,518.60)
Cable TV: €20
5. Granada, Nicaragua
“Nicaragua is a beautiful country with a troubled history that appeals to the romantic, the poet, the eco-traveler, the surfer (the break off Nicaragua’s Pacific coast is world-class) and the bargain hunter,” says Peddicord. “The cost of living, of real estate and of everything else is a steal.”
Geographically, Nicaragua is blessed with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest and rivers. “In this regard, it’s got everything Costa Rica’s got, all less discovered, less developed and less expensive,” she says.
Architecturally, too, Nicaragua is notable. “Colonial Granada is its architectural jewel,” says Peddicord. “This city, one of the oldest in Latin America, is busier and livelier today than at any other time during its near five centuries of history, attracting tourists and expats in record numbers.”
And Peddicord says that when you see it, you understand why: “The setting for this colonial town is like something out of a fairy tale — the lake, the volcano, the mountains. At night, the backdrop is an ink-streaked sky that, just before the sun sets, illuminates the yellow and white cathedrals in ways that would have inspired Matisse to set up his easel.”
Total monthly budget: $1,225 per person (35,945 córdobas)
Rent: 22,870 córdobas
Transportation: 500 córdobas
Gas: 290 córdobas
Electricity: 3,525 córdobas
Water: 285 córdobas
Telephone: 150 córdobas
Internet/Cable TV: 1,000 córdobas
Entertainment: 2,450 córdobas
Groceries: 4,875 córdobas
6. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo
“This laid-back and quiet city is one of the most pleasant places to live in Asia and is incredibly welcoming,” says Peddicord. “Its biggest practical advantages are the low cost of living and the high standard (and low cost) of health care.”
The city is small and walkable. “Life revolves around the water and is lived out-of-doors,” says Peddicord. “At home, you can fill your days snorkeling, diving, boating and ferry hopping from the city center to neighboring islands.”
And while Kota Kinabalu might seem outside the box and comfort zone for most people, Peddicord says there is an emerging expat community, and it offers a mix of adventure and the exotic, as well as a “serene, close-to-nature lifestyle at a cost that’s a global bargain.”
Total monthly budget: $850 per person (MYR3,833)
Cable TV: MYR70
7. El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia
“Escobar’s dead and the city he and his goons once terrorized is today at peace,” says Peddicord, describing Medellín, set in the mountains of Colombia. Her pick for where to live in Medellín: El Poblado, a neighborhood located in the heart of the city. “Medellín is culture rich and Euro chic; its people are well dressed, well mannered and welcoming. The city offers a comfortable, tranquil and idyllic way of life for a super affordable cost.”
The current exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Colombian peso also allows expats to live a luxury cosmopolitan life at a great bargain. Another advantage: the weather, thanks to Medellín’s location. “The climate is lovely all the time — upper 70s and low humidity,” says Peddicord.
Medellín has also benefited from fear factor. “People have been afraid of it and have stayed away longer — both investors and tourists,” says Peddicord, who points out that it’s much cheaper, cooler and less touristy than Colombia’s better known city, Cartagena.
Total monthly budget: $1,650 per person (4,760,000 Colombian pesos)
Rent: 3 million Colombian pesos
Transportation: 150,000 Colombian pesos
Gas: 300,000 Colombian pesos
Telephone/Internet/Cable TV: 300,000 Colombian pesos
Entertainment: 410,000 Colombian pesos
Groceries: 600,000 Colombian pesos