This is the year to pursue the dream: Quit your job and move to one of the cheapest (and best) places to live in the world, a country where it costs so little you might be able to stop working.
For the past six years, I have been examining the cheapest countries to live around the globe (you can see the reports from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017). For 2023, I once again tapped into the experts at International Living, which releases an Annual Global Retirement Index of the top places to retire.
And here’s the thing: This list isn’t just for retirees. It’s for anyone who is looking for a better life, a more affordable life or just a way to escape from it all—the frenetic pace of life, the violence, the politics, the divisiveness.
This list is also for people who are tired of the 9-to-5 grind and want to find the cheapest places to live in the world, countries where the cost of living is considerably cheaper than the U.S.—so cheap that you might not have to work.
“Consider your options overseas, and things start to look up,” says International Living’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens. “You can, in fact, step off the hamster wheel. When you can slash your cost of living by half—or even more in some places—it opens up lots of possibilities for better living. If you don’t have to work so much or for so long, then you can afford to spend your days the way you want with people whose company you enjoy. You can kiss the commute, the job, the cold, the politics goodbye and set yourself up in a place where every day brings an adventure.”
International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index is designed to help point people to the specific spots that would be best for them—given their budget and their priorities. According to Stevens, this year’s list is shorter and tighter than in years past. “We’re always fiddling in a bid to make this Index as useful as possible,” says Stevens. “So for 2023, we’ve combined some categories to better focus people’s attention on the factors that are most important for them to consider—cost of living, climate, visas, housing, healthcare, for instance.”
And while International Living uses numbers and statistics—like the cost of living and the price of housing—it’s not meant to be a scientific survey. “The value of the Index comes from the fact that the rankings are generated with a real-world context in mind, with input from people living and spending time in these places,” says Stevens. “While we do rate countries—our recommendations are, really, for specific communities within them. That’s why that on-the-ground element is so important.”
Some countries dropped off the list this year because the visa situations have made it problematic or really expensive for expats to live there full-time. “Malaysia and Vietnam fall into this category,” says Stevens. “We still like those countries—they’re beautiful, the weather is warm, the people are welcoming, the costs are seriously low—but the current visa situation makes a full-time stay difficult from either a cost or logistical standpoint.”
Read on to find out about the top places that will make your dreams come true.
Why: This year, Portugal was named the top country to live. “It wins in part because of the strength of the U.S. dollar today. It’s a timely pick—because Europe is effectively on sale if you’re shopping with greenbacks. It’s a good time to go,” says Stevens. “Beyond that, Portugal’s visa options make staying there long-term relatively easy.
Where to Move: “Big cities like Lisbon and Porto are going to cost more, smaller towns less,” says Stevens. “A few spots to consider in Portugal: Lagos, Vilamoura and Tavira.” Lagos is a town with history on Portugal’s sunny Algarve coast. Vilamoura is a landscaped resort community with gorgeous beaches. A former Roman seaport, Tavira is filled with buildings covered in blue and white tiles.
The Cost: “The day-to-day cost of living is low compared to the States—a couple can comfortably cover expenses (including rent and everything else) for about $2,800 a month,” says Stevens. “A single could live well on about $2,000 a month, all in (less in more rural areas).”
Why: Mexico takes the second spot for 2023. “As in Europe, your dollars stretch incredibly far in Mexico today, and for that reason, it, too, makes a timely pick,” says Stevens. “And, of course, Mexico is so close. It’s easy. And it’s incredibly affordable.”
Where to Move: “Mexico just offers so many options for people—steamy beaches on the Caribbean, dryer coast on the Pacific, Colonial cities rich with art and culture, lakeside living in a place like Chapala, where the weather is spring-like year-round,” says Stevens. “A few spots in Mexico we recommend: Lake Chapala, Playa del Carmen, Queretaro.” Lake Chapala is located in the cool highland region. Playa del Carmen is a renowned beach city. Queretaro is a sophisticated highland city.
The Cost: “A couple could live comfortably in most places we recommend for a little under $2,000 a month—on $2,800 a month, you’d be living large, dining out all the time, fancy house, plenty of funds to travel on,” says Stevens. “For a single, plan on a budget from $1,500 to $1,900. You can definitely live simply in Mexico for less, mind you—those are reasonable figures for somebody who wants to live very comfortably.”
Why: Panama takes the third spot for 2023. “Panama—as always—just simply scores well across the board, and that means it’s often here at the top of the Index,” says Stevens. “Panama sits below the hurricane zone, and it has great visa options that allow expats (of retirement age or not) to come and stay. The pensionado visa, in particular, is really geared to retirees and makes it worth their while to come with benefits that include tax breaks and discounts. Healthcare in Panama is first rate—particular in the city—and you can live at the beach and be just an hour from a real metropolis. The weather is warm year-round, Panama uses the U.S. dollar (though you won’t feel the pinch of inflation there the way you may at home because even though prices may be up—they’re still a fraction of what you pay at home).”
Where to Move: A few communities we like in Panama: Panama City, Coronado, Boquete. With its mix of skyscrapers and leafy neighborhoods, Panama City needs no introduction. Coronado is a vast residential complex that fulfills just about every expat need. Boquete is a Panamanian highland town.
The Cost: “In Panama, a budget of $2,900 a month will see you living comfortably anywhere in the country as a couple. A single could live in a rural area on about $1,400 a month, though closer to $2,000 a month would be a more reasonable figure for city or more cosmopolitan living.
Why: “Ecuador is still a largely undiscovered country not yet homogenized but still offering the conveniences of modern living, including high-speed fiber-optic internet, American dollar currency, temperate weather, good public transportation and affordable healthcare and housing,” says International Living correspondent Donna Stiteler.
Where to Move: There are expat-friendly spots all over Ecuador. “Larger expat communities are in Salinas, with its beaches lined with modern condos; Cotacachi, a small, sleepy village where craftsmen make everything from leather goods to alpaca ponchos; Cuenca, the modern Andean resort town which is the cultural center of Ecuador, where music, art and New Orleans-style architecture attracts visitors from around the world; and Vilcabamba, the home of the “Valley of Longevity” known for its Indigenous centurions and laidback expats who sit outside at cafés trading philosophies,” says Stiteler.
The Cost: “There are few places in the world where the cost of living is as affordable as it is in Ecuador,” says Stiteler. “You can easily live off $1,500 to $1,800 a month depending on location and lifestyle. You can own a home on a Pacific Coast beach or a condo with great views in the Andes for around $150,000. Rentals are plentiful and affordable too, with two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos starting at $500.”
5. Costa Rica
Why: “With a lower cost of living, ease back and forth to North America and affordable medical care, it is not surprising that Costa Rica remains firmly near or at the top of international retirement lists,” says International Living correspondent Kathleen Evans. Another thing going for it: political stability. It’s so stable that it has been nicknamed the “Switzerland of Central America.”
Where to Move: Costa Rica has something for everyone, with a dozen climate zones and hundreds of microclimates. “If you like hot weather, the dry tropical beaches of Guanacaste or the verdant jungles of the southern zone and Caribbean will not disappoint,” says Evans. “Prefer something eternally temperate? The higher elevations of San José and the Central Valley would be the location of choice.”
The Cost: “A couple can live comfortably, but not necessarily extravagantly, for approximately $2,500 to $3,000 a month. This includes renting a two-bedroom home/condo with North American style amenities, air conditioning, plus groceries, entertainment, transportation and healthcare,” says Evans.
Why: “Sunny weather all year, a welcoming culture, an incredibly relaxed lifestyle and a relatively low cost of living. These are just a few of the things that Spain offers,” says International Living correspondent Sally Pederson.
Where to Move: “Spain offers a wonderful variety of climates and settings. A sun-baked Mediterranean coast is a place where you’ll never have to shovel snow again—at 300 to 320 sunny days a year, it’s one of the sunniest regions in Europe,” says Pederson. But there are also green regions similar to Oregon (the northwestern coast) and for those who like the snow, there are the Pyrenes Mountains.
The Cost: Though the cost of living in Spain has increased in the past year, it continues to be relatively low and the price tag depends on location. If you choose a quiet small town, you can live on $1,900 a month. For instance: “In the sunny regions of Valencia and Andalucia, it’s even possible to land a one-bedroom apartment for as little as $700 a month,” says Pederson. “The freshness and low prices of food are another key part of the lower living cost.”
Why: A newcomer to this year’s list is Greece, which has made strides in creating more visa options to allow people to stay longer. “And, of course, it’s beautiful and good-value, too,” says Stevens. Other perks: “some of the best food in the world and a rich, deep history,” says International Living correspondent Lynn Roulo.
Where to Move: The country is best known for its islands. “With three major bodies of water and six distinct island groupings, the Greek islands can keep visitors endlessly interested in exploring. If Greece becomes your home, island hopping becomes a part of your life,” says Roulo. But don’t think it’s all sun all the time: This is a country with seasons. For example: “If you live in Athens, expect very hot summers and cool, rainy winters,” says Roulo.
The Cost: “Practically speaking, a couple can live comfortably in Greece from around $1,900 a month and a single from about $1,600,” says Stevens. “But keep in mind that for a renewable residence visa, you need to show you have at least €2,000 a month.”
Why: “French culture takes a firm stance on fine living. While many may talk about the benefits of a balanced life—taking time for yourself and your loved ones, focusing on your health and well-being, and appreciating the beauty of everyday things—France has elevated these ideals to an art form,” says International Living correspondent Tuula Rampont.
Where to Move: “If weather isn’t a factor, head north for a slice of the French art de vivre at a fraction of the cost. Not only are the regions of Normandy, Brittany, Lorraine and Alsace, culturally and historically intriguing, they also offer the best value for money in all of the country,” says Rampont.
The Cost: France can appear expensive, but that’s not the case. Some food items cost the same as in the U.S., but the real cost-cutting comes from real estate prices. “Housing costs are, on average, around 34% less than that of the U.S.,” says Rampont. Overall, a couple can expect to pay as little as $2,083 a month, including rent, utilities and more.
9. Italy (tied for #9)
Why: According to International Living correspondent Chip Stites, Italy is “unique for those desiring a longer, fuller life, a sense of adventure and pleasure at a leisurely pace matched by few countries anywhere. The biggest surprise is how much lower living expenses are in a country that is protective of its lifestyle, its economy and its heritage.” Best of all: the average Italian living one to five years longer than the average American.
Where to Move: “From the sun-drenched beaches that surround southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia, to the seasonal skiing and hiking in the Dolomites and Alpine lakes in the north, there are enough climate zones, food styles, wines and customs to satisfy even the pickiest retiree,” says Stites.
The Cost: The cost of living in Italy is low: “The average Italian lives on less than half of what the average American lives on,” says Stites. Real estate prices can go as low as $20,000 in a village in the south. A couple can expect to pay about $1,829 a month, including rent, utilities and more.
9. Thailand (tied for #9)
Why: “There is no doubt that the allure of Thailand begins with its sun drenched, warm climate and appeals to those who have a keen sense of adventure and an eye for natural and cultural beauty,” says International Living correspondent Rachel Devlin. Another part of the appeal: “Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn’t colonized by any European countries and therefore maintains a culture untouched by any other influences,” says Devlin.
Where to Move: “Its diverse natural beauty means that expats are spread from islands surrounded by emerald waters, the high-rise metropolis of Bangkok or the rice fields and laidback lifestyle of Northern Thailand,” says Devlin.
The Cost: Thailand is affordable, especially when it comes to real estate. “Foreigners are able to buy condos very easily and there are bargains everywhere. It is possible to buy a two-bedroom condo for under $30,000 and rentals can be as cheap as $180 per month if you need something small and quaint,” says Devlin. When it comes to the cost of living, a couple can expect to spend as little as $1,596 a month.