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Living Abroad For Less Than $1000 Per Month

During a walk around Playa del Carmen yesterday, I happened to pass by a small, colorful building down a narrow side street, a street that I had never been down before. In the front window of this building, hanging from some sort of rotting suction cup hook, was a handwritten sign advertising “Estudios En Renta Por Mes” (Studios for Rent by the Month). And even though I already have a place to stay down here, my curious nature led me inside the doorway where I soon found myself asking the woman behind the desk if I could have a look at her studio apartments.

Olga, the woman behind the desk, happily led me up two flights of stairs before opening up one of the doors and inviting me in. I walked around the cozy studio, inspecting the king-size bed, the small sitting area, the recently renovated bathroom and the new air-conditioning unit, before being shown the common area on the first floor, which consisted of a large, well-maintained kitchen and a pleasantly laid out space with a half dozen tables and a few old sofas.

The price for one of these studios? $300 USD per month, with wi-fi and all utilities included.

PARADISE IS CHEAP!

In all honestly, this wasn’t exactly the most amazing apartment I’d ever seen and if I was in need of a place, I’d still have wanted to continue my search. However, after I thanked Olga for her time and walked back out to the street, I couldn’t help but think how cheap it really is for anyone to live in this tropical paradise known as the Riviera Maya.

With a $300/month studio apartment (that is four blocks from white sand beaches and two blocks from the center of town I might add), one would be hard-pressed to spend more than a $1000 per month in total to live here. In fact, one could very easily live a good life here for closer to $700 per month.

Naturally, such a realization leads me to wonder why more people don’t take advantage of such opportunities. After all, so many of us speak often about our desire to make a change in our lives by taking an extended break in some exciting and foreign land. But too often we conclude that “now is just not the right time” and so we put off our goals for yet another year, usually because of a simple mis-belief that to achieve such a goal would require an extraordinary amount of money.

THE QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF IS…

How much do you spend per month on your current lifestyle, the one that you may be itching to break free from?

My immediate guess would be that most people are spending much more than $1000 per month once you take into account rent/mortgage, food, utilities, car payments and the rising cost of pet food.

Now consider this… I’ve almost never, during the past 11 years, spent more than $1000 USD in one single month of living overseas. And I’m not always a super-frugal nomad! If there’s something I want to do, I’ll pay for it without worrying too much about the cost and rarely have I had to skip out on something because it was too expensive.

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, for anyone worried that an extended overseas break will instantly drain your bank account, I now wish to share some of the places around the world where I’ve managed to live on less (and in most cases, much less) than $1000 per month.

*This is not a list of places I’ve traveled around for less than $1000 but places where I’ve rented a house or apartment, settled comfortably into the culture and unpacked my backpack for a while without moving around.


WHERE YOU CAN LIVE FOR LESS THAN $1000 PER MONTH

  • Mexico – I’ve now spent 11 of the past 13 months living in Mexico, the first half living in the beautiful Pacific coast village of Sayulita and the second half in Playa del Carmen along the Caribbean Sea. The two apartments I’ve rented have both been modern, more than comfortable and within five minutes walking distance to stunning beaches. And they each cost less than $500 per month in rent. Good, fresh food costs very little in Mexico, public transportation is dirt cheap and most activities that I enjoy (swimming in the ocean, attempting to surf, exploring local towns and villages and walking wherever my legs will take me) don’t cost much, if anything, at all. I’d say that on average, I spend approximately $800 per month to live well (according to my basic nomadic lifestyle) in wonderful Mexico.
  • India – On two occasions during my many visits to India over the years, I decided to stop traveling and actually stay put in one location for an extended period of time. First, it was the Tibetan village of McLeod Ganj, where I rented a wonderfully warm and cheerful rooftop room, with a view of the snow-capped Himalayas from my bed, for $120 USD per month. In all honestly, I could have eaten 10 meals per day, taken taxis everywhere I went (although I much preferred walking in the fresh mountain air) and signed up for as many yoga and meditation classes as I wished and I still would’ve had difficulty spending $500 per month. And last year, when I spent one month living in Calcutta, I found a decent budget hotel room for $5/night and spent a total of around $400 during my stay without once paying attention to what I spent. Of course, Calcutta is not on everyone’s list of places to live for a month, but it’s just an example!
  • Australia – Yes, Australia. At the end of 2008 I spent five months living in Melbourne and it was an absolute bargain. Using the excellent Gumtree.com I found a room in a shared house, located only a 15 minute walk from the center of the city, for a mere $400 USD per month. And even with frequent pub visits, live music shows, festivals, day trips and a shocking number of meals at my favorite Indian and Vietnamese restaurants, I managed to keep my expenses under $1000 every month quite easily.
  • Thailand – When I spent a stretch of time teaching English in the northern city of Chiang Mai, I shared an apartment with a friend of mine. I believe we paid about $200 USD each for our seventh floor pad that had a clear view to the beautiful Doi Suthep mountain behind the city. We ate all of our meals out (most of them at a random place called “Mr. Smiley’s” that was indeed owned by the happiest person on Earth), took frequent day and overnight trips all around northern Thailand, enjoyed daily foot massages and again, never paid much attention to how much we were spending. In the end, I had an incredibly rewarding, fun-filled experience for approximately $500 per month. And if you’re yet to be convinced that living in paradise doesn’t have to be expensive, just last year I spent a month on the absolutely perfect Thai island of Koh Mak, where a simple but super-comfortable beachfront bungalow set me back only $300 for four weeks!

Of course, the above isn’t even close to being an exhaustive list of countries where one could live for $1000 or less per month. These are just a selection of my personal experiences in order to help debunk the myth that living overseas, even in a first-world country such as Australia, requires some sort of winning lottery ticket. Had I wanted this post to be any longer than it already is, I could have added Argentina, Indonesia, Nepal and a few others to the list.

I also know that there are other expenses involved with such a trip as well, most notably the flight from your home country to wherever it is you want to go, but even with that cost, chances are you’ll still end up spending less per month than you’re spending right now. And again, that fact alone should help eliminate ‘money’ from your list of excuses as to why you’re unable to do some traveling or live overseas for a while at this point in your life.

There certainly may be other obstacles standing in your way, but now that we’ve tackled one of the biggest ones, we’ll start to tackle the others in the near future as well!


Have you ever lived somewhere around the world on less than $1000 per month? Or perhaps you’ve always thought that such cheap international living was impossible?

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328 Responses to Living Abroad For Less Than $1000 Per Month

  1. Emily says:

    Hi James,

    As someone that has never travelled outside of Australia I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. Not only was it enjoyable, it was also extremely informative!

    I plan on moving to Melbourne in the next few years and I had absolutely no idea that accommodation in Melbourne could be so cheap (15 minutes from the CBD!!!!)

    Inspired

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  3. Doug says:

    I couldn’t agree more with what Suchi said: Explore your options and find a more “local” (cheaper) way to live…

    In Central and South America, I’ve found that you will easily pay double what you otherwise would for rent, hotels, restaurants, etc, if you patronize businesses that cater to foreigners, rather than locals.

  4. Suchi says:

    As an experienced nomad myself, I can confirm that even today, in 2014, you can live quite well in Argentina (Buenos Aires) for about $1000 a month. A 2-bedroom apartment with a balcony and all expenses can be had for under $500. I’d also add to your list a few places in Europe where I’ve traveled and lived, like Bulgaria (Sofia or elsewhere) and Portugal. Lisbon is a gorgeous, delicious, sunny place to be, but sticking to the $1,000 mark can be done if you are smart about it. Maybe $1,500 would be better, but still, what a great life you can live there… But my biggest advice would be: don’t just live, eat and drink where all the expats go! Explore your options and find a more “local” (cheaper) way to live…..

  5. Rachel says:

    I’ve lived in Bangkok for 12 years and rarely spend more than $750 a month, and that includes my one-bedroom apartment close to the sky train and only $350 a month – a rent, I might add, that hasn’t increased in the 12 years I’ve lived in it :)

    Bangkok is affordable, particularly if you eat Thai food and don’t go out drinking every night.

    Most months, I can cover all my basic expenses for around $600 and that includes taking care of and feeding two extremely hungry rabbits and eating out several times a week with friends. The other $150 I spend on things like DVD, computer games, shopping etc.

    I compare that with my $3,000 a month in Los Angeles, a lifestyle I might add that was far worse than what I have in Thailand, and you couldn’t pay me to leave :)

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  7. Chris says:

    Well i have just returned from living in Thailand for the past 4 months. I also went to Laos and Cambodia during my stay and I wanted to share what I spent to aid others in getting decent uptodate advice.

    Room for rent with AC/Balcony/Fridge/Bed/Cupboard/Seats/Shower wc 3800bht month
    Elec – Air on for a few hours a day + usual elec bits = 950bht a month
    Water approx 283bht a month
    Food a day (3 meals out, 1 cafe 2 street) 400bht day = 12000bht
    Motorbike hire and fule / run = 100bht a day = 3000 bht a month or less
    7 eleven / water / cakes / phone credit / tooth paste / washing powder 100bht a day or 3000 per month
    Visa runs 2500 per month
    Nights out 2 a week light drinking (3 beers and a couple of ld’s) 3000 per month

    Total to live in Thailand = 28533bht a month = £548.00 at 52bht to the £1

    To give you more of a flavour of our life out there (the above based on 2) our days went something like this.

    Get up about 9ish, go for a swim, eat at the market for breakfast, then out into the country for a ride on my bike, stop for a drink, back to room, washing, walk along the beach, dinner at a street stall, drinks in a bar, snacks from 7eleven, home bed.

    This is an honest day of me being a Falang. The above figures also include visa runs and trips to Laos / Cambodia. I hope that this has been helpful.

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  11. Ryan says:

    I smiled when I read the part about Thailand, I was there with my partner last year and we ended up leaving after our three week trip under budget, and that’s after we splurged on the last week and got a super nice penthouse in downtown Bangkok for 4 nights! Depending on whether you rent a place for a month or use a guesthouse, living in Thailand is very affordable. We used public transportation all the time, for example the BTS in Bangkok to get us all across the city for less than a dollar. Food stands are delicious and super affordable (a must in Asia), our first night in Bangkok we both ate for a combined total of $3 and easily had the best fried spring rolls of our life (we could never find the guy after that though, god damn those were good!). So glad I came across this blog, I am now totally looking forward to my next trip!

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  13. Randy says:

    Hello my friend!

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve been reading your blog since I was 17 and am now 23. I was so inspired by you that I even joined the US Army so that I could travel. While it was a great expire I didn’t meet very many of my travel goals… but the good news is I just moved to Playa Del Carmen Mexico and am on day 5 of 365ish. This is what I’ve experienced so far…

    -swam in the ocean
    -Had my first vegetarian meal
    - had a “house warming” party
    -Ate like a King for 2.70
    -had several successful conversations in Spanish
    -met people who invited me to stay with them when I travel through Colombia, Germany, Costa Rica,
    - made friends with Canadians (who came over and cooked us a meal)
    - danced in the rain (badly)
    - witnessed a man cry when talking about dolphin killings.
    - drank tequila in front of the mall with a German guy.
    - Drank Colombian tequila on the beach with Colombian newlyweds
    - smoked Mota on my roof under the stars.
    - rode a bus for 5 pesos.
    - met Penelope Cruz
    - Raged in a club.
    - made friends with a beautiful French girl.
    - Let go of the past
    - Shopped in a Mexican Walmart
    - ate delicious ft long quesadillas for less than $1
    - Felt like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be for the second time in my life.
    - haven’t been drunk since I got here and still had tons of fun!

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU I could not have done it without you!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Randy – There’s not much to say apart from keep on enjoying your experiences and making the most out of every day! I’m honestly very happy to see the excitement and I have no doubt that this is only the beginning for you. And the next time I’m in Playa you’ll have to introduce me to Penelope Cruz!

  14. I envy you says:

    Once you spent all your savings, and not including what you put on credit cards, how do you earn your income while youre abroad to pay for your travelling? Ive heard teaching English in SE Asia only pays a few dollars per hour. Do you come back to America once a year to work for three months and save it all? And how much do you use couchsurfing.com , hospitalityclub and similar sites to stay for free?

  15. Kashan says:

    As a tourist $1000 is I thought was almost impossible, but as a regular local it might be. However, with these tips, I’d probably try and return to some of these countries on an even longer backpacking trip!

  16. Gearheart says:

    Since this article was first published in 2010, would you say that this is your most successful post re: longevity?

  17. Christy says:

    Would you say that your method works for traveling inside the United States? Thanks!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Christy – Absolutely! You can definitely apply the same principles when in the US to keep things as inexpensive as possible.

  18. Christy says:

    I’m considering travel writing exclusively in the fifty states and territories. Would you say your method would work for me? Thanks!

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  24. Megan Gleeson says:

    Hi James,

    I was intrigued to read your post about Chiapas. I was wondering, in general do costs increase the higher up the mountain you go? My ideal climate is mild to cold. I hate the heat, so when you mentioned the cool winters in San Cristobal you caught my attention. I would like to live somewhere that is inexpensive and food can be grown though. What are your thoughts on this? Also, do you feel that Chiapas is a safe area for single women?

    Thanks so much,
    Megan :)

  25. Alex Cardo says:

    Thanks for this really informative post. I’ am also sure that life in paradise shouldn’t cost too much! I’ve never known about Koh Mak. Can you post a report about this “cool” apartment for only $300/month??? I’ve been really impressed by this price! I found for myself one luxury apartment complex in Pattay, but it cost about $100/day, but for $300 a month…Please share your “SECRET” “super-comfortable beachfront bungalow”‘s name!

    • Bruce X says:

      Generally, you show up in the city and ask locals where you can find a cheap apartment. I live in a beach resort in Mexico for 3 years, and paid $230 US per month for a minimally furnished 2-bedroom a 20 minute walk from the beach.

      The catch is that you won’t find these places on the internet – you have to show up and start hunting in person.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Alex – On Koh Mak, the bungalow is called “Sucharnawee” and it’s right off one of the piers that the ferries arrive at. Great stretch of beach, friendly people, inexpensive and while it is about a 30 minute walk to the main beach on the other side of the island, I still found it more than ideal.

  26. Debi says:

    Your life sounds exciting & inexpensive. May I ask how you make money? I would think that if you get a job in one of these countries, the pay somewhat matches the cost of living. I suppose unless you work on computers are something along those lines. I mean if you work for someone in the USA online in some way, then I would think that the pay would out match the cost of living in one of these amazing countries. I was just wondering…thanks.

  27. Bruce says:

    I visited San Cristobal back in 2005 for a week and thought it was terrific. I remember thinking at the time that it might be an ideal place to retire some day: much cheaper than Canada or the USA, mild year-round climate, and a good mix of both the old traditions and modern conveniences.

    I haven’t been back since, and I’m almost afraid to return – I’m worried that by the time I could actually retire there it will become a completely different place!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Bruce – Well, I visited SCC this year, just a few months ago and I’m confident that the town is still as you picture it. I instantly loved the place myself.

  28. James says:

    I have lived in Chiapas for over 3 years now and found it the most beautiful place I have ever lived. The weather is perfect and I mean PERFECT all year. I say perfect because it is mountainous and you can slide up and down the mountains to find your ideal climate.

    Comitan de Dominguez is a pretty large town with a moderate to warm climate. There are modern stores like Sam’s Club and Walmart but the city still has the atmosphere of the small villages.

    Down the mountain and a little warmer is the town of Tzimol. It doesn’t even have a Pemex, but one is being built. There are no ATMs and no chain stores, unless the pharmacy and Telcel stores count. High rent here is about $100.00 a month US$. I have looked at nice little houses renting for $35.00 a month. Electricity and propane are under $100.00 a month. That could go up if you are an excessive user of either. Eating locally grown can cost about $100.00 a month per person or less. If you want to drive up to Walmart,15 minutes to Comitan, then your food costs can go way up.

    Up the mountain you will find lots of little towns on the way to San Cristobal. There the rent is high because it is a popular tourist town. They have Sam’s Club, movie theaters etc.. It is very cool in the winter in San Cristobal and many Canadians love it there because it is like summer in Canada all year! You can pay as much as $1500. a month for rent but finding something under a $1000 is pretty easy. Local grown brings more of a premium because of the tourists but you can still live for a lot less than most places similar outside of Chiapas.

    Chiapas also has a coast line and it is hot and humid. There are no famous tourist destinations there so the cost are lower. I have not priced anything there for a long time so I have no examples. There are plenty of low elevation places inland also that are hot and humid.

    Chiapas is a low cost place to live and most of the state is safe from violence, only the southern coast may have some cartel related problems…

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  30. I really like the possibilities you are painting. I am a serious swimmer an need to continue training w/o the 8 hr tour of duty between. I would love to tap your brain to blueprint these next chapters. I just might be ready to take the chance in January 2014.
    Do you think I will encounter resistance in doing a daily ocean swim?
    Are there some places better than others to train daily?
    Innoculations?
    Any info is appreciated…

  31. Sandra Beernaert says:

    Hi! How did you find a place, what sites, to house sit? How long are the durations, usually?
    I want to do “something”, sell my house in Canada and leave. Prefer to find something that I don’t need a car, modern, small, clean, by water, anywhere(!)
    Might need to work p/t to cover expenses……idea’s??

    • gearheart says:

      Do a browser search for phrases like house sitter, house sit, etc. There are several websites out there where people list their homes or services. You join, post your profile, what you’re looking for etc and then you search the places that suit where you want to go. Sits can last anywhere from days to months. We sat a B&B in Cabo Mexico for a month (the owner closes in summer). I’ve met people who sit for months, but going from one sit to another, but all in one area or country. Try it… but read about it first, since there are some drawbacks (as in anything). Good luck.

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