Living Abroad For Less Than $1000 Per Month

Derek Popular, Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice 394 Comments

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.


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.


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.


  • 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 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, and assuming you don’t plan to hire movers to transport all of your possessions across the globe, 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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Comments 394

  1. Mainland Navy Dad

    Any suggestions for a disabled (but still walking and getting around) US military veteran, wife and 2 teenage girls? I have been looking to get out of the mainland states for some time. Budget is limited to about $2,000 a month… Ideas welcome. Access to medical facilities (I have Crohn’s Disease) is important – nearby or not too long of a trip to regional military/VA hospital is important to us unless there is good state/governmental/private care that is affordable. Ideally not in a super humid area year round. We lived a lot of places in the US and are looking to explore. I really love the pacific islands and cool breezes most of the year, fresh foods and unique culture. Considering where to take a family is a whole other concern. I know the budget is small. We want to explore and live a little with what we have. I am a nerdy computer guy that spent 10 years doing real estate flips and running a sales team of dozens of agents. I love small business and would probably like to start-up something wherever we go – either helping other small businesses get published and online or in some real estate or hospitality business where I have some experience. Tech and island retreats seem opposites – but there seems to be a need for some upgrades – I can help. We volunteer with numerous charitable and community organizations and would love to do the same wherever we end up. Ideas welcome if any.

    1. Post

      Thanks for commenting and a few of the places that come to mind based on what you’re looking for:

      – Bali (you can live well there for $2000 and it pretty much has everything you need; it’s also less humid as you go higher up)
      – Canary Islands (from what I’ve seen so far, you can live here for $2000 and have all you need)
      – Lisbon, Portugal
      – Brasov or Cluj or Sibiu, Romania
      – Budapest (very affordable)
      – Ecuador (popular with American expats and affordable)
      – Chiang Mai, Thailand (inexpensive, lots of culture, very livable city)

  2. Dawn

    Hey there Kathryn,
    I am so encouraged by your post. I have a bug about moving to Ireland and spending my last year’s living small while painting.
    I spent my life in the moment and have no complaints. Can I survive on my social security of 800.00 no anywhere in Ireland, near the coast would be best since in a California girl, of 64

  3. Stephanie

    Great post! I have lived abroad for a short period of time previous (6 months) and I was lucky enough to know a family that let me stay with them for my transition. Flights I agree are the most expensive thing, and making sure you have all your paperwork in order. I need to click around more on your site, but do you or anyone you know of have blog posts about moving abroad with a pet? We are looking at relocating but as we have a furbaby we would love to take him with us as I am not willing to give him up. Some places are harder than others to get them into, and then upon return to your home country there are more requirements. Also, one must secure a place before going to explore as its much harder to take a cat with you (we would need a portable litter box, leash train, etc). …. dogs are better at wandering around with you for the day. If anyone else reading this has any tips please let me know also! I also tend to worry about areas where animals stroll the streets much more than in the US. Thoughts?

    Good post!

  4. Warren

    Hi Wandering Earl;
    My wife and i went to China for four months. I took $1000. Canadian. We had a little money left over , so you know we were being frugal.
    We rented a small hotel room with some cooking facilities. We did buy dinner for our friends once, that cost $100. We only went on 2 travel tours. Mostly we just either walked, or took the bus. We bought food at open markets and Walmart. Ate 3 meals a day. Had wifi, and also watched movies. It really helps if you have a local (in this case my wife) know how to shop.

  5. thomas.balfour

    why not mention the Philippines,. i have been there several times,and plan on making my move there in the next year or so. very good health care, everyone speaks English, and fairly cheap rent outside the major cities, and wonderful food.

  6. Kathryn Chapman

    I haven’t done so yet, but in two weeks I’ll be on my way to Ireland with a year-long work visa. I suppose that since I have yet to actually go, I can only say so much about the expenses. But Ive saved up enough to have ~$800-$900 to spend a month. I don’t intend to take on paid employment (even though I can if I need to), but using the websites and, I’ve managed to secure spots in several B&Bs/farms/hostels that will provide me free room and board in exchange for ~25 hours of work per week. I have these accommodations lined up from a week after I get there all the way till January 2017 (and then I don’t know what I’ll do next yet). I seriously can’t imagine why I would be spending more per month than what I’ve saved if I’m living on farms that are far away from any sort of city.

    So even in a place like Ireland, it’s still possible!

  7. walt bowlby

    Why have you not mentioned Georgia Republic as a country you can live in for less than $1000 per month? My son lived there for a couple of years on far less than that amount. And he done well. I may have overlooked it but I don’t recall Georgia Republic on your list. I am thinking of moving there someday if I decide to move back overseas.
    Retired Millitary and Retired on SS

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Walt – These are places I have visited myself and I haven’t been to Georgia yet but yes, I have heard that you can live there quite inexpensively so thanks for bringing it up.

      1. walt

        You are welcome! I enjoy your information. interesting read. A lot of folks have no clue about cost of living in various locations. My son married a woman from Tbilsi Georgia. He said the average Monthly income there is about $500 a MONTH ! and his inlaws are doing fine with that amount.

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