Do you regularly catch yourself staring out of your cubicle window, daydreaming of foreign adventures, and exploring new countries? Escaping the routine of the 9–5 is a dream many of us share, and increasingly, people are actually making it come true. “Sure,” I hear you say, “maybe once I win the lottery I will work abroad!”
But the good news is, travel doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many affordable countries where you can live and work—maybe even involve travel—while getting much more bang for your buck. Today, we’re looking at the 10 best and cheapest countries to live and work. But first…
How a lower cost of living can be one of the best perks to working abroad
Most people expect long-term travel or living abroad to cost a fortune, and sure, if you pick expensive countries, your hard-earned money might not get you that far. But if you avoid popular, super expensive destinations, like Italy or Australia, and stick to some of the cheapest countries in which to live and work, you might be surprised how well you can live on a moderate salary. Why slave away in a downtown office when you could be exploring new cultures, having adventures, and earning a decent living abroad?
In fact, a low cost of living is one of the biggest draws for many people to move and work abroad. Although salaries will often be lower, your expenses should be too. There are also many well-paid jobs to be found, which will allow you to stretch your money even further while living in a cheap destination.
10 best and cheapest countries to live in
Here are 10 of the cheapest countries to live and work this year, according to meaningful travelers like YOU.
For those wanting to live and work in an exotic place, but not pay a fortune, Vietnam is any budget travelers dream. It’s one of the best and cheapest countries to live in for expats. Although Vietnam is still a bit of an insider tip when it comes to cheap countries in which to live and travel, there’s plenty to see and do. Vietnam has stunning landscapes to explore, delicious local cuisine for foodies and is also somewhat of an adventure travel destination.
The main cities are Ho Chi Minh city in the south, capital Hanoi in the north, and Da Nang in the center of the country. Most jobs will be found in these cities.
The currency, Vietnamese Dong, is currently worth around VND23,000 to $1 and is one of the few currencies that has weakened relative to the dollar in recent years.
- Popular jobs here: The most popular job for foreigners in Vietnam is teaching English. There are many opportunities for English teachers, with average monthly salaries ranging from $1,100 to $1,700 USD, which is higher than in many neighboring countries.
- Cost of living: As with most countries, the cost of living in Vietnam depends on the city or region you choose to spend time in. Cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are of course more expensive than rural locations, but the pay is also higher. A small apartment can be rented for around $250 a month while eating out costs are around $1–3 per meal if you stick to local restaurants or street food, and around $10 at Western-style restaurants. Transportation is very cheap, with local public transport starting at around $0.30 and taxis from just $0.50 per kilometer.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is probably the most popular country in Central America, and for a very good reason (not just because it’s one of the 10 cheapest countries to live in). Lush jungles, tropical beaches, and friendly locals will make you fall in love with this country and it’s ‘Pura Vida’ vibe immediately. And you don’t need to go broke while living and working there, because Costa Rica is one of the cheapest countries to live in for Americans. Bargain flights from the US can also be found easily, making a trip to Costa Rica even more attractive. Although Costa Rica is more expensive than other countries in the region, such as Guatemala or Nicaragua, salaries also tend to be higher, which makes up the difference.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English, Tourism, SCUBA Diving
- Cost of living: A meal in a local restaurant will cost around $3-6, rent runs from $300-800 per month depending on the size of apartment and location, local transportation starts from $0.70 per trip.
You might be surprised to find Bulgaria on our list of cheapest countries to live and work, but hear us out. If you’d love to work and live abroad in Europe but are put off by the high price tags of countries such as Italy and France, turn your gaze to Eastern Europe. Bulgaria is one of the cheapest countries in Europe to live and has quickly become a favorite among travelers. A modest budget could allow you to live like a king in Bulgaria, and the country’s central location is perfect for exploring the region, with countries like Greece, Turkey, and Romania on your doorstep. Bulgaria has a rich and vibrant history dating back over 8,000 years ago, so there’s plenty to explore in your time off.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English, Tourism jobs
- Cost of living: Rent a 1-bedroom apartment starts at $230 per month, a meal in an inexpensive restaurant will set you back around $5 and a trip on the public transport can cost as little as $1.
Viva Mexico! Why travel further than you need to, when Mexico is just a hop, skip and a cheap flight away for most Americans and Canadians. Mexico has something to offer everyone. Think Mayan ruins in the jungle, turquoise Caribbean waters and laid-back beach towns on the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and have we mentioned the street food yet? From tacos to tamales, ceviche to aguas frescas, the food isn’t only drool-worthy, but also super cheap. If you avoid tourist traps like Cancun or Playa del Carmen and opt for more local destinations like Merida or Guanajuato, living costs can be a fraction of those in Western cities.
- Popular jobs here: Tourism, Teaching English, Au Pair, and Sales positions are all available.
- Cost of living: A one-bedroom apartment costs $200-$500 per month, street food starts from $1 per meal, and a monthly pass for local transportation starts at $16.
5. South Africa
Do you really want to work and live abroad, but worry about getting lost in translation? Worry no more, as there are also some affordable countries where English is spoken, like South Africa—#5 on our list of the best and cheapest countries to live in. Possibly the cheapest English-speaking country to live in is South Africa. Not only can you get by without having to go to language school, but most South African cities also have a high standard of living, similar to Western cities, which will make the transition much easier. This makes it a strong contender as the cheapest English speaking country to live in!
If that’s not enough, then Africa’s most southern country is also one of the most culturally and naturally diverse on the planet. From safaris to whale watching, river rafting to zip lining, you definitely won’t get bored in South Africa.
- Popular jobs here: Despite being an English-speaking country, South Africa has 10 other official languages, so teaching English is still a popular option. You can also find a whole range of jobs in Tourism or with international companies.
- Cost of living: Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is around $350-500 per month, a domestic beer is around $1.70 and a meal at a local restaurant starts from $8.
It might not be your typical work abroad destination but working in China can be both very affordable and very lucrative at the same time. Salaries here are higher than in many other Asian countries and the economy is booming, which means that there are plenty of jobs to choose from. Of course, the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing will come with a higher price tag, but salaries will also be significantly higher. China is an incredible country to explore and many work abroad programs will host events and even throw in free Mandarin classes, so you might even end up learning a whole new language while there.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English is the most popular job for expats in China, but Au Pair jobs can also be found easily.
- Cost of living: The cost of living in China can be surprisingly low if you avoid the biggest cities. Rent for a 1-bed apartment starts at $300, a meal in a local restaurant costs around $3.
7. South Korea
South Korea isn’t the cheapest country in which to work and live, but it’s made this list because salaries are very competitive, and programs often include free accommodation, which reduces the cost of living significantly. Teaching English is the obvious work choice, as South Korea has made a name for itself as one of the best destinations in the world for teaching English as a foreign language. Korea’s modern cities rival those in the US and Europe, the countryside is stunning and diverse, the food is incredible, and the people are friendly, making it a great destination to work, save money, and travel.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English, Sales
- Cost of living: While higher than in Southeast Asian countries, Korea is still very affordable, with rents for 1-bed apartments starting at around $375 and restaurant meals starting from $6.
No list of the best and cheapest countries in the world would be complete without a mention of Thailand. Even before the movie ‘The Beach’, travelers all around the world had fallen in love with the Country of Smiles. Living costs are incredibly low here, even in big cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Beach resorts tend to be slightly more expensive but are still cheap compared with other beach resorts around the world.
Crystal clear waters, a fascinating culture and incredibly tasty food make Thailand the perfect place to live and work. To top it off, Thailand is also among the cheapest and safest places to live in the world.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English is the most common, but Hospitality jobs are also available
- Cost of living: It’s possible to live perfectly well on $600 in Chiang Mai, for example. You can find $1 meals at street stalls, markets, and food courts in malls. Rent can be as low as $150 per month for your own studio in a Western-style complex. A ride on a public bus starts at around $0.30.
If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on a budget, Peru might be the perfect country for you—bonus that it’s one of the cheapest countries to live and work!. Ranked as one of the cheapest countries in the world, your dollar will stretch a lot further here than in other South American countries. Hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu are musts for any visitor, but there are many other lesser-known gems to discover too. Living and working in Peru will give you plenty of time to explore the Inca kingdom, from the sand dunes in Ica to the Amazon rainforest.
- Popular jobs here: Teaching English and working for non-profits and conservation projects, but you can also find work in Marketing or Tourism.
- Cost of living: Rent for a 1-bed apartment can be as low as $250, while a meal in a local market will set you back $1-3.
If your heart is set on working and living in one of the cheapest countries to live in Europe, Poland is another fantastic and affordable option. Much less known than its neighbor Germany, Poland is slowly becoming a hotspot for international travelers and expats. The big cities of Warsaw and Krakow are very modern and have all the Western amenities you could need, but at half the price you’d spend in Germany. Teaching is an option, but there are also a whole set of professional service job opportunities to be found that can pay very well.
In particular, EU citizens will find Poland a destination of interest, as it’s part of the Schengen zone, meaning that you can travel here without a visa.
- Popular jobs here: Customer Service, Teaching English
- Cost of living: Rent for a 1-bed apartment starts at around $350 and a meal out at an inexpensive restaurant is only around $5.