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Top 5 Expat Destinations On A Shoestring

1. Colombia

Photo: ho visto nina volare

If easy living and cheap prices are what you are after, Colombia is the place to be. Here you will have a rich and vibrant culture at your fingertips and within your budget. If you’re looking for the expat experience, Medellin and Bogota have got the largest gringo population.


As mentioned above, Colombia is dirt cheap. Your average two bedroom apartment in Medellin will set you back a mere $250 per month including bills! The country’s capital Bogota is more expensive with a similar apartment coming in at about $850 a month. Wining and dining is also at least half of your average western cost. These people love to eat, drink and dance, so take a leaf out of their book, what’s it going to cost you?!


The best option is to try and earn money in your native currency, however if this isn’t possible, ESL is there to fall back on. English is a sought after language in Colombia so you shouldn’t have much problem getting private lessons and you can charge up to $20 per lesson. The best paid ESL jobs are in the universities but these are much more competitive.


Working visas are very easy to get in Colombia and if you aren’t planning on staying over a year they are completely unnecessary. A tourist visa lasts 6 months and a monthly extension of that visa is inexpensive (around $40) and easy to get.


Medical care in Colombia is adequate but inconsistent. Emergency rooms are usually overcrowded and many private medical providers require payment before they have treated you, even in emergency situations. Make sure you have an up to date International Health Insurance policy to ensure homogenous medical care.

2. Mexico

Photo: schlaeger

Another rich Latin culture at a knockdown price. Their colourful society is famous for its slow pace and crazy fiestas. No matter what you want, this country has it, whether that is beaches, ruins or their world famous food. Because of its obvious pull, the country has a very strong expat community in places like Puerto Vallarta or Playa del Carmen. On the other hand, you can go for total authenticity and immerse yourself in Mexican culture in Guanajuato city. Andale!


Mexico is cheap but if they know you’re not from around there, prices tend to rise. Make sure you know how much you should be paying for something before you buy it. In tourist driven Puerto Vallarta, it’s easy to rent a no frills apartment for as little as $200 a month. And if you do as the Mexicans do, you should be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle on a monthly budget of $600.


Again ESL is handy work but it pays much less than in Colombia. Big resorts usually hire foreign entertainment staff who are multi-lingual, but other than that it’s quite difficult to get a job in Mexico. They have strong immigration rules in order to prevent a non-Mexican doing a job that a Mexican could do.


The visa process in Mexico is long, frustrating and expensive. A standard tourist visa gives you 180 days in the country. After this period is up, by law, you must leave Mexico for up to 72 hours, but it all depends on the mood of the border official that day.


Mexico boasts high quality medical care, however it is similar to the Colombian model and does vary greatly from region to region and many practitioners expect money up front. Of late, there have been complaints of price gouging in facilities near expat resorts. This won’t be a problem if you have health insurance because you will have access to the insurer’s provider network of reputable medical clinics and hospitals.

3. Thailand

Photo: MikeBehnken

Thailand is a backpackers’ paradise. It’s a rite of passage for any one worth their weight in the world of travel. The country offers everything from bustling cities and picturesque beaches to party islands. Its diversity and friendly people have attracted a huge expat community especially in Bangkok and
Chiang Mai.


In Chiang Mai you can easily pay as little as $60 a month for a 5 bed home! A meal from a street vendor costs $1 and eating out in restaurants is similar in price. Bangkok is slightly more expensive in relation to accommodation but the price varies greatly from area to area.


Again ESL is your best bet. Due to their thriving tourist industry, Thai’s are crying out for English teachers. Private Schools and corporate gigs pay the best, but if you are in the countryside you can live quite well on 25,000 baht a month which is just over $780. Another option is to try your luck in the hostels, restaurants and hotels which cater to tourists in your area.


The visa situation in Thailand is quite flexible. Tourist visas are valid for 90 days, so if you haven’t gotten around to organising a job before you get there, you have 3 months to do so. However you must sign a contract with a Thai school which will tie you down for at least a year. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you will have to go to a Thai embassy outside the country, renew your visa and wait 24 hours before returning to Thailand.
You will find Thai embassies in:

Yangon, Burma

Vientiane, Laos

Phenom Phen, Cambodia

Hanoi, Vietnam


Healthcare in Thailand is very good. It’s cheap, efficient and widely available in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Good basic medical care is available in rural areas but English speaking providers are very few and far between.

4. Vietnam

Photo: Dave_B_

Vietnam, Thailand’s less visited cousin, can seem a little rough around the edges, with its bustling, cramped cities and insane traffic. As it isn’t quite as accustomed to western travellers, more often than not visitors suffer a certain level of culture shock. But don’t let this put you off, its amazing culture and top notch (and very cheap) cuisine make those who do make their way there, yearn to return. The expat community in Vietnam is small but enthusiastic and can mostly be found in Hanoi and Saigon.


Sharing a house with one other person will usually cost you between $350-$400 a month. Food is very inexpensive; a steaming bowl of the local delicacy Pho will set you back $1 and a roadside beer is a bargain at 25 cents a glass!


With the fear of sounding like a broken record, teaching English is the way to go. On the downside, your average English teaching position pays quite badly in Vietnam so personal networking and private tuition will be a necessity.


How you go about getting a visa for Vietnam depends on where you are employed. If you have an English teaching job before you leave, your school should apply for your visa or at the very least assist you in the process. On the other hand you could just go with a 3 month holiday visa and renew
it every 90 days.

Note: There are a lot of shady companies who deal in visa extensions, to be on the safe side go to your local embassy.


This is where Vietnam gets a little rough around the edges. International health clinics provide good care for minor illnesses and injuries; however serious injury requires evacuation to either Bangkok or Singapore which is extortionately expensive if you don’t have International Health Insurance.

5. Bhutan

Photo: bsmethers

Bhutan is a country that worries more about Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product. This little slice of paradise is nestled in between China and India and is well off the expat beaten track but is well worth the trek. It’s gaining a reputation as an adventure holiday hotspot with everything from Mountain biking, trekking, rafting and hot spring tours available.


In order to control the recent surge in tourism and protect the country’s beautiful environment the government charge a straight fee of $200 a day to every tourist who wants to set foot in Bhutan. If you are an expat this fee won’t apply to you. A nice apartment in an urban area of the capital Thimpu will set you back $90 a month but it is very easy to find cheaper as the country offers the cheapest housing and recreational activities for expats in the world.


It’s difficult to find work in Bhutan, so it would suit location independent expats such as travel writers or online business owners. There are opportunities to teach through organisations and volunteer programmes such as Bhutan Canada.


A visa application to Bhutan is quick and simple; you just have to fill in a one page document. However, getting to the small country is slightly more difficult. Only one airline flies there and that’s Druk Air. Druk Air only flies from Bangkok, Delhi, Calcutta and Kathmandu and if you decide to fly from an Indian city you will need to apply for an India Transit visa which is very complicated and time consuming.


Medical treatment in populated parts of Bhutan such as Thimpu and Paro are quite good and free for absolutely everybody. However, services in rural areas are very limited and sometimes medicine is in short supply making evacuation more likely. Be prepared and make sure your insurance covers you for any eventuality.

3 comments so far

June 28, 2012 at 3:33 am

60 USD per month for a 5 bed home in Chiang Mai?

Categorically untrue.

600 is more realistic.

August 16, 2012 at 8:41 am

sorry but some of these figures are way off

August 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Forget Mexico. I moved there in 2007; left in a hurry in late 2012. The cartels decided a few years ago to start selling meth and other hard drugs to the local Mexican youth (after decades of having the opposite policy). The cartels did it so they could more easily recruit young people into the cartels..but it had the opposite effect. The kids got so crazed on the drugs that the cartels won’t hire them; the kids now steal to buy drugs. Crime is rampant. I lived at Lake Chapala and expats there are subject to constant theft and robbery. It;s the Big litte secret…expats won’t talk about it fearing more drop in real estate prices. Stay away1

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