It’s 2020, which means you can clearly see what’s ahead. This is the year to live the dream: Quit your day job and move to a foreign country where it costs so little you might never have to work another day in your life. In 2019, 2018 and 2017, I provided plenty of temptation by examining the cheapest places to live around the globe. For 2020, I again tapped into International Living, which releases an Annual Global Retirement Index of the top places to retire. But don’t think this list is limited to retirees: It’s also for people who want to move to a place where the cost of living is much cheaper than in the US—so cheap, in fact, that you might not have to work.
With the Annual Global Retirement Index, International Living’s editors systematically gather and sift through the wealth of opportunity the world offers, comparing, contrasting, ranking and rating their findings to help potential expats pinpoint the best-value destinations around the world. “We strive to create an Index that provides the most accurate—and useful—insights for readers,” says International Living’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens. “There’s no one-size-fits-all destination, but by gathering insights and specific data from our correspondents around the world, we’re able to compare apples-to-apples and create a snapshot of what each of the 24 countries we rank has to offer across categories like Cost of Living, Healthcare, Visas and Residence and more.
Annually, the International Living editors refine their methodology each year. “We tweak the Index each year to make our comparisons more helpful to potential expats,” says Stevens. The Climate category, for instance, now favors places that offer a variety of options. “The sun may shine year-round in a beach locale, but not everybody likes hot and humid and so this 2020 Index gives favor to those places that might, for instance, offer both beach and a cooler highland option,” says Stevens.
Another change is in the Cost of Living category. “We took the cost of housing out entirely and created a new category, which combines buying and renting, which now makes it easier to compare day-to-day living costs,” says Stevens.
The winner for the best—and cheapest—place to live in 2020 is Portugal. “It’s the best-value destination in western Europe today,” says Stevens. “A place where not only do dollars really stretch, but where the quality of life is high, healthcare is excellent and low-cost, the pace is slow and pleasant and the populace is unendingly welcoming.”
Read on for the lowdown on the 10 cheapest places to live in 2020.
Looking out at a panoramic view of Porto in [-] Portugal. GETTY
Why: One of the world’s friendliest, easiest and safest countries, Portugal tops the International Living Index for 2020. Adding to Portugal’s appeal are its gracious people, attractive beaches, brilliant sunshine and rich culture. “After living here for more than seven years, I’ve been asked many times, ‘Why Portugal?” says Tricia Pimental, International Living’s Portugal correspondent. “My response is often to enumerate factors like affordable lifestyle—which includes quality professional healthcare—temperate climate, high safety rating and excellent food and wine.” But Pimental says the real reason is even more ephemeral. “It’s the overarching sense of well-being we experience here,” says Pimental. “The country’s natural geographical beauty blends with its architecture of various eras, dating back millennia, to evoke a sense of permanence and timeless tradition. When you add to that the kindness and gentility of the Portuguese people, it is a winning combination.”
Vineyards in the Douro region of Portugal. GETTY
Where To Move: Whether you’re looking for fine museums, hiking paths, surfing beaches, ancient ruins or places to polish your golf game, it’s easy to find it in Portugal. In most regions of Portugal, there’s a pleasant climate year-round. Want an urban lifestyle? Check out Lisbon—the oldest city in Western Europe—or Porto, the second largest metropolitan area. For a quieter way of life, look to the secret hill towns like Marvão—the highest village in Portugal—and Castelo de Vide, which has lots of stores, cafés, restaurants and awesome mountain views. British and other European expats have been settling in the Algarve for years. Another find: Coimbra, a lively university town.
The Cost: Portugal is one of Western Europe’s most affordable countries, and expats typically find that their expenses are about a third of what they would be in the States. In the capital city of Lisbon, a couple can live comfortably on about $2,200 a month—and it’s much less for a single person. In smaller cities and in the country’s interior, a couple’s budget will be about $1,700 a month. And there are areas where your money goes even further, like Peniche on Portugal’s Silver Coast, where you can live for less than $1,400 a month. Another example is Marvão, where you can own a historic homestead in a mountain national park for a mere $403 a month. About a 20-minute drive away in Castelo de Vide, you can find houses in need of a renovation for as little as €10,000 ($11,068).2. Panama
Why: Panama is warm and tropical. The currency is the U.S. dollar. The tax burden is low. There’s a large English-speaking population—including excellent doctors. It lies completely outside the hurricane belt. High-speed internet and cell coverage are remarkable, as is the power, air and water quality. And the country’s famed Pensionado—which provides easy residency to expats—is one of the best retiree programs in the world today and it’s open to everyone. “You’ll never run out of things to do here,” says Jessica Ramesch, International Living’s Panama editor. “What few people know is that this is also a cultural capital. Panama City is home to active, vibrant communities from all over the world, and every art form is celebrated here.” Another factor: Panama is relatively close to the US: Miami is about three hours away by plane.
Where To Move: Panama is about the size of South Carolina and has mountains, beaches and cities within an easy striking distance—no matter where you go. Most people are attracted to the cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, but the well-maintained Pan-American Highway runs the length of the country, making it easy to get around. An hour from Panama City is Coronado, where many Panamanians have beach homes. El Valle is a quiet enclave about a two-hour drive from Panama City known for its ocean beaches and small-town appeal. And then there’s Pedasí,on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean.
The Cost: In Panama City, a couple can live on on a monthly budget of as little as $1,700. A single could shave about 20-30% off those numbers. Leave Panama City and costs are even more affordable. In Volcán, a couple can live an enjoyable, peaceful escape on a monthly budget of $1,514. Another advantage to Panama: zero income tax if you earn revenue in other countries.3. Costa Rica
Why: “Costa Rica continues to be a top contender year after years on the list of countries for International Living’s Retirement Index,” says Kathleen Evans, International Living’s Costa Rica correspondent. “There are so many reasons to love this stunningly beautiful Central American gem.” There’s affordable medical care, a dozen microclimates, abundant nature, warm locals, a straightforward residency process, plus pioneers who have already paved the way. Plus: This year, the country celebrates 71 years since the abolishment of the army, making it the largest democracy without a military force. This gives Costa Rica the enviable luxury of peace and stability—unusual for many countries in the region.
Where To Move: Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia, but it has a wide variety of landscapes and climates. Choose from rainforests, seaside villages and mountain towns. In the capital of San Jose, the capital, and the surrounding Central Valley you’ll find a temperate “eternal spring” climate. Guanacasteis known for its dry, hot beaches. Around the pristine Lake Arenal, expats live in the hills with lake views.
The Cost: In the The Central Valley—home to about two-thirds of Costa Rica’s population—a single person can live on between $1,500 and $1,800 a month Many couples report living well on $2,000 a month—including all their costs, but that amount can go down to $1,585, depending on where you live and how you spent your budget. You can eat at a little local restaurant for just $4 or $5. A housekeeper will come and clean once a week for $50 a month and a visit to a physician will set you back $50 or less.
Why: Life here is simple. There’s high-quality healthcare, stunning beaches, a vibrant life and culture and a low cost of living. “My wife, Diane, and I moved to Cancún in 2014,” says Don Murray, International Living’s Riviera Maya correspondent. “The country has something for everyone: beautiful, warm oceans, crystal-clear tropical lakes, fertile farmlands, temperate-but-majestic mountains, starkly gorgeous deserts, small towns or sophisticated cities. And it’s quite easy to fit in.”
Where: Because of its geographic diversity, you’ll find every climate: from warm and dry to hot and sultry to spring-like temperatures all year in the Colonial Highlands. Popular spots include the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende, which are brimming with expats who can make a newcomer feel welcome. Other places to check out are the Pacific coast beach town of Bucerías, which has great restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries, and Toluca, which has the most museums in Mexico outside of Mexico City and is only an hour bus ride from Mexico City.
The Cost: “The cost of living is notoriously low,” says Murray. “In fact, there are many places in the country where a wonderful life can be had for the price of one monthly Social Security check and this improves even more when you figure the normally favorable exchange rate from dollars to pesos.” A couple can live in Mexico for $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on the location—including rent and healthcare. For instance, in Toluca, a home with a front yard and backyard, costs less than $500 a month, a fancy restaurant will cost $20 for two people and Uber rides cost about $1 to $2, wherever you’re going.5. Colombia
Why: “Colombia is South America’s rising star,” says Nancy Kiernan, International Living’s Colombia correspondent. “For the last several years it has ranked highly in the retirement index thanks to its lower cost of living, stunning scenery, world-class healthcare, close proximity to the U.S. and the warm, welcoming Colombian people.” As the expression goes: you don’t just meet a Colombian: You meet the entire family.
Where: “One of the major draws to this beautiful country is its climate,” says Kiernan. “Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in world, meaning you can find whatever climate you desire—there is something for everyone.” Warm and tropical on the Caribbean coast, eternal spring in the lower Andes mountains,and even cooler in the upper mountains. Sitting just above the equator, Colombia has the same climate all year long. So whichever climate you choose, you will enjoy it in January, July or October.
The Cost: Things are much cheaper here than in the US. You can go out and have a nice breakfast or lunch for $4 or a nice dinner for $8. Getting a retirement visa to live in Colombia is also quite easy. William Edwards, an expat who lives in the mountain city of Medellín, says the cost of living is 60% less than it was living in a small city in Maine. Think $1,394 to $1,994 a month for a couple, even less for a single person.6. Ecuador
Why: “I have found a secure nest in Ecuador,” says Donna Stiteler, International Living’s Cuenca, Ecuador correspondent. “The weather is spring-like, there’s no need for a car, and rents are an affordable $500 for a nice condo overlooking the historic downtown.” This year, Ecuador scores well in the Benefits/Discounts and Cost of Living categories. “There’s tight knit active expat community and lots of activities to get involved in — day trips to nearby towns, card games, dinner clubs, trivia, art classes, hikes in the cajas and long lunches with friends,” says Stiteler.
Where: Whatever you want—small village life, big-city conveniences—you’ll find it in Ecuador. Lush, green hills and fertile valleys are the norm. There are beaches that are warm but rarely muggy (and no hurricanes or tropical storms). There are temperate climates in the Andes where you do not need a heating or cooling system. Consider Quito, the country’s capital; Loja, where the Ecuadorians make it easy to feel welcome; and Cuenca, Ecuador’s most popular expat destination.
The Cost: Ecuador is is good for your pocket. For instance, in Cuenca, a frugal single person can get by on less than $1,000 per month. Since the land produces excellent food, mostly with year-round growing seasons, prices at local mercados are so low; it is difficult to carry more than $15 worth of fruits and vegetables. Household help is available for $10 to $20 per day, and services like pedicures and haircuts are just a few dollars. No need for heating and cooling bills in most of the country, and you can live most places without a car, paying 30 cents or less for buses, and $2 to $5 for cab rides. Rentals are plentiful and affordable: Imagine a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in downtown Cuenca for just $500 a month.
Why: Malaysia—a popular expat destination since the late 1960s—is known for its idyllic beaches, seductive islands and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in Southeast Asia. Expats can own property freehold, there is no inheritance tax and Malaysia places no tax on income earned overseas. “Malaysian law is based on the British system and all road signs are in both English and Malay, which makes driving around easy,” says Keith Hockton, International Living’s Malaysia correspondent. He has his wife, Lisa, moved to Penang in early 2010. “The unofficial first language of the country is English, so you don’t have to learn another language here if you don’t want to. And the other attractive thing for us is the outdoor lifestyle.”
Where: “If white-sand beaches are your dream, you have more than 878 islands to choose from here. Both my wife and I hike a lot; so living near the Penang Botanic Gardens is a bonus,” says Hockton, who lives in Penang, a small tropical island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. Known as a foodie haven, Penang’s largest city, George Town, is home to eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene and the best street food in the world.
The Cost: In Penang, a couple can live comfortably on $1,455 a month, including rent. Eat where the locals eat and you can’t go wrong with a meal for less than $5. “As for healthcare, when you compare surgery prices between the U.S. and Malaysia, the benefits are obvious,” says Hockton.8. Spain
Why: Spain has the highest living standards—and for a lot less than in the US. “There’s no question of having to give up anything in living here. In fact, you’ll gain a lot,” says Marsha Scarbrough, International Living’s Spain correspondent. “Outside the tourist zones, you may need to know a little Spanish to get by, but there are plenty of beach areas with large, English-speaking expat communities. In my experience, Spanish people are friendly, helpful and curious about other cultures.”
Where: Spain has a surprising range of climates: hot and dry in the south and cool and mild in the north (Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and the Basque country have forests, mountains, stunning coastline and food to die for). There’s even skiing in the Pyrenees and in the mountains of the south. Michele Cohen believes she struck lifestyle gold when she moved to Girona with her husband, Stanton. The city has a Mediterranean climate, a relaxed lifestyle and is close to Barcelona’s international airport—and it’s cheap. “Food is less expensive,” says Cohen. “Imagine going out for a three-course meal and paying less than $30.”
The Cost: Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe. Even in Madrid, one of the most expensive locations, you can live (modestly) on $2,000 a month. Rent is cheaper than the US, and living in a city you don’t need a car—which is a huge saving. Because of the warm climate, many basic food items are inexpensive here.9. France
Why: “France has all the ingredients we look for at International Living: good food, good wine, haute couture, a good climate, unspoiled countryside, glittering culture, excellent healthcare, colorful traditions and history and, as a bonus, the glamour and sophistication of Paris—arguably the world’s most bewitching capital,” says Tuula Rampont, International Living’s France correspondent. “And France is more affordable than you may think.”
Where: In the Languedoc-Rousillon, you’ll find a warm climate year-round, delightful medieval villages, white-sand beaches and prices that are still reasonable. If you prefer a cooler climate, look to charming Normandy, just two hours from Paris. For mountain-lovers, the Rhône-Alpes region of France is a dream come true. In 2016, Carol Jean Lonsdale swapped a fast-paced life in the US for a much slower one in Brittany. “We wanted more culture and more access to the rest of Europe, to be able to get in the car and be somewhere completely different in a few hours,” says Lonsdale. “Plus, housing is more affordable here, and healthcare, too.”
The Cost: One of the best things about living in France is the excellent healthcare system: Universal coverage is guaranteed to all residents (expat and otherwise) after three months, and healthcare prices are rock bottom. How much you spend on living costs in France depends on your own lifestyle: Opting for the highlife in Paris will make a larger hole in your budget than living in a quiet corner such as the Charentes or the Auvergne. A couple can live on a budget of $2,083 to $2,483—it’ll be less if you’re single.