Today, I found out that something I wrote got featured on SFGate. Someone asked on Quora about the cheapest place to live for a year. I answered and SFGate republished it.
I have been to more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa, South and Central America and I would say that if cost is all you care about, regardless of the standard of living, you would have plenty of options to live under $300/month. Below are some of my favorites:
Lumbini, Nepal: This is believed to be the Birthplace of Buddha. In the sacred garden, you can find around 20 temples, each built by a different country. You can ask to live in a temple for free, though donation is always welcome. You can eat a meal for less than $0.30 and if you go to the local market to buy your own stuff, it’s even cheaper. The downside is that electricity is a luxury there. Internet is almost nonexistent. And no, you won’t find entertainment unless your definition of entertainment consists of listening to wolf howling at night or chanting prayers.
Kathmandu, Nepal: If you must have Internet, the capital of Nepal is an option. 3 years ago, my friend and I rented a 3-story house there for $500/month. It had 2 living rooms, a fully furnished kitchen and 5 bedrooms. We also had a huge balcony and a rooftop. Another friend of mine got a deal at a hotel for a room at $150/month. You could eat well for $1-3/meal. Internet was $20/month and decently fast. The downside: earthquake. It’s also a landlocked country so there is no beach. But who needs beach when you have the Himalaya?
Sucre, Bolivia: the constitutional capital of Bolivia. It’s beautiful city with lovely climate and smiley people. We got a nice room at a hostel for $200/month for 2 people (which means $100/pax). You can eat a meal with soup, rice and your choice of meat, usually chicken or pork, at the market for around $1-1.50. It’s even cheaper if you eat at street food stalls. For Internet, most hostels/hotels have it. You can also go to a cafe, order a cup of coffee with a piece of cake for $1 and use their wifi for free. I wrote Sucre because it’s my favorite city in Bolivia, but anywhere else in Bolivia would be equally cheap. Another city in Bolivia I would highly recommend is Cochabamba. The downside: another landlocked country so no beaches for ya.
Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka: This name alone brings back so many fond memories. This is one of the most beautiful beach villages I have been to, and given that I have spent most of my life on beaches around the world, I have quite high standard for my beach villages. I never tried to get a monthly deal there, though I found a nice room on the beach for $15/night so I imagine you would be able to rent a room a couple of blocks away from the beach for less than $200/month. The food is amazing. You can have a nice dinner on the beach with a drink for around $3. You can also do a lot of water sports here like surfing and sailing. It’s also very convenient, only 2 hours driving from the capital Colombo and half an hour from the beautiful city of Galle. The downside: tsunami. It was almost in the center of the tsunami in 2004 that killed 1,700 people in Sri Lanka.
Most countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and the Philippines are good to live for around $500/month. Malaysia is on the more expensive side but I would say it’s good value because of the startup ecosystem, the diverse landscape and the fact that almost everyone there can speak English quite well.
Like Tomo Huynh said, a country with a low GDP doesn’t mean it’s a cheap place to live for foreigners, especially if you don’t speak the language. Cuba is cheap for locals but ridiculously expensive for tourists since foreigners have to pay a different price for almost everything, it’s even ruled by the government. I have been to 8 countries in Africa and except for Ethiopia, most of them are expensive for foreigners to live.
Hope that helps!