Live the high life on a low budget abroad

Tango dancers at a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Photo: Christian Haugen / Flickr Creative Commons

Tango dancers at a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Photo: Christian Haugen / Flickr Creative Commons

Before, it used to be that countries had a monopoly on where you live. You used to be stuck wherever you were born. With the advent of globalization and improved travel infrastructure, expats have a wealth of options to choose from.

Most publications only talk about living abroad in the context of retirement. Luckily, vagabonders don’t put off travel until the end of their lives. Here is an article from U.S. News & World Report about the world’s most affordable retirement haven.  There are also accompanying articles on 5 places to retire on Social Security alone and 7 affordable places to retire abroad.

In an era of rising costs and frozen salaries, the manageable expenses of living in emerging countries is attractive. Renting an apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador can cost as little as US$200 a month. Health care can be an even bigger bargain. A visit to the dentist in Taipei, Taiwan for a routine cleaning can yield a bill of US$6.

Younger vagabonders looking for action and excitement might want to consider that perennial expat favorite, Buenos Aires, Argentina. How to live like a rock star (or tango star) in Buenos Aires is a blog post by Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek. He shares his tips and tricks for living like a VIP without going broke.

For a more in-depth look, check out this New York Magazine piece: A moveable fiesta. This story is aimed more at those who dream of having a jet-set playboy lifestyle. One thread it explored beyond the cost benefits was the ego boost of being a big fish in a smaller pond. One of the people interviewed commented that if you’re a nobody in New York, you can be a bigshot in Buenos Aires. It’s far easier to mingle with models and actors, hang out at posh restaurants and clubs, because the social barriers to entry are a lot lower for expats.

We shouldn’t just get carried away by the low price tags, however. It is important to do your homework on issues like visas & immigration, political stability, infrastructure soundness, the language barrier, and many other things before deciding to live overseas. Your pocketbook (and your sanity) will be all the better for it.

The standard advice is to “test drive” a place by living there for 1-3 months, especially during its worst season for weather. A visit of less than a week isn’t enough time to get past the “honeymoon period” and truly see the pros and cons of a location. You might realize you can’t stand the traffic, pollution, or inefficient service. These are common complaints for developing countries.

Are you living a better life abroad than you would back home? Share your stories and examples in the comments. Bonus points for quoting prices and living costs.

Posted by | Comments (6)  | July 2, 2010
Category: Expat Life, Lifestyle Design

6 Responses to “Live the high life on a low budget abroad”

  1. Carl Says:

    For sure. China has been a great place to live through the Great Recession. You can have a really nice life here on much less money, and you’re still in a major city with a lot of energy and activity. (Downsides include the pollution, the traffic, and the weather.) My large 2-bedroom apt. is almost half what I paid to rent a studio apt. in San Francisco, and daily costs are generally minimal as long as you stay away from pricey Western-style places.

    I returned recently from Bali, where you can rent a large house with a swimming pool for US $3000 A YEAR. I wrote about this on my blog, because moving there really tempts me.

  2. Martijn Reintjes Says:

    You will always here about Buenos Aires, but what other cities are perfect to live this kind of lifestyle?

  3. Rebecca Says:


    China sounds great right about now!


    You offer great advice by “test driving” a place before permanently moving. Not only does this apply to living abroad but it applies when you move from state-to-state or region-to-region. Many people probably wished they “test drove” a place (I know I do) versus just going for it and moving. If we only knew then what we know now. The good news is that you can always cut your losses and move forward with your life with the wisdom you possess.

  4. Colonic cleansing? Says:

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  5. Colin Says:

    My favorite thing about living in cities like Bangkok, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul and Hong Kong are the incredibly low costs and high availability of food. You can always eat out and buy whatever you want to eat or drink whenever you feel like it with excellent service.
    I hate going back to North America and actually having to look at prices when I scan through a menu.

  6. Patrick Says:

    I have lived in Quito for over 16 years, I am happy to help with any questions you might have about the country.