As the cost of living goes up, you dream of living abroad. You may be tempted to move to another country to enjoy a better standard of living, but don’t think you can afford it? Your wanderlust may not need a reality check after all. So where are the cheapest places to live as an expat in 2023?
We’ve gone around the world to find some of the cheapest places to live in and relocate to in 2023 – from popular expat countries like the USA and the UK, to further afield. We’ve crunched the data from various sources to come up with our own top cheapest places to live in and relocate to as an expat in 2023, while still being able to enjoy a high standard of living. We’ve considered various factors, such as GDP, unemployment rate, housing and rent, healthcare and economic growth. Here is our pick of the best places around the world with the lowest cost of living.
Top 5 cheapest places to live in and relocate to as an expat in 2023
Thinking of moving further afield? Worries about the cost of living crisis and inflation have been the biggest economic story of recent months. Month-over-month and year-over-year price increases have been at historic highs through much of 2021 and into 2022, with categories like energy and vehicles seeing increases of more than 40% since the beginning of 2021. However, while the cost of living is going up all around the world, there are still many countries where expats like you can enjoy a high standard of living at a low cost. Take a look at our picks – do you agree?
Cheapest places to live for expats in 2023
- 1/ Indonesia
- 2/ Brazil
- 3/ Costa Rica
- 4/ South Africa
- 5/ Spain
What makes these places the cheapest to live in and relocate to in 2023?
We’ve crunched the data from various sources, such as OECD research and trade data. To come up with the top cheapest places to live in and relocate to, we’ve considered the following factors, while still being able to enjoy a high standard of living:
- Nominal GDP
- GDP per capita
- Unemployment rate
- Cost of consumer goods
- Cost of rent and housing
- Economic growth
- Healthcare costs
At a glance
Nominal GDP: US$1,280.5 billion
GDP per capita: US$27,179.5
Unemployment rate: 15.5%
It’s no wonder more than 300,000 British expats have already chosen to make Spain their home. With the fifth-largest economy in Europe, a high degree of freedom, and a digital nomad scheme in the works, Spain offers everything you’d expect from a developed nation in Western Europe, at a fraction of the price.
The cost of products in Spain is about 85% of the OECD average. The general cost of living is therefore more than 21% lower than in the UK.
Rent and housing
Nominal house prices in Spain are below the EU average, which makes Spanish property an attractive investment for overseas buyers. That said, real house prices (i.e. the cost of property scaled against average income) are slightly higher, making Spanish property harder for first-time buyers to purchase than in the UK. The overall cost of rent, however, is around 33% cheaper than in the UK.
Spain has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Healthcare is free for anyone living and working in Spain, although anyone living for 90 days or longer will need private health insurance, even if they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Inflation in Spain has just reached its highest point in almost 40 years, climbing to 9.8%. This will likely impact the cost of living, although for now prices remain relatively low in Spain.
Spain combines a high standard of living with low living costs, making it the ideal European country for expats who want to make the most of their incomes. Unemployment is gradually decreasing from its peak of 27% in 2013, and a new raft of white-collar jobs focused on the metropolitan cities offer fantastic job opportunities for expats. Like many developed nations, Spain is feeling the effects of high inflation, but it will be a while before this causes the cost of living to reach the same standard as other developed EU countries.
4/ South Africa
At a glance
Nominal GDP: US$335.3 billion
GDP per capita: US$5,624.5
Unemployment rate: 29.2%
One of the top 10 countries in the world for Brits to move after Brexit, sun-swept South Africa is also one of the cheapest places to live as an expat.
The cost of consumer goods in South Africa is 55% of the OECD average, with the cost of living around 33% cheaper than in the UK.
Rent and housing
Expats can also expat to pay less than half the amount of rent as the UK. Those looking to buy property will find some of the lowest house prices in the developed world, with real house prices up to one-third cheaper than the OECD average.
South Africa has a subsidised public healthcare system, which pays up to 40% of a patient’s healthcare costs. All in all, healthcare costs are fairly cheap, but are means tested based on income, so higher earners can expect to pay more. Also, waiting lists can be very long.
At 6.5%, the rate of inflation in South Africa is slightly higher than in the UK, but still lower than the OECD average of 8.6%.
South Africa is just emerging as a developed nation, but still has a way to go. In 2023, the country finally achieved a ‘stable’ outlook from Moody’s, at a time when the world bank increased its growth projections for South Africa.
The country is still rife with poverty and inequality – however, expats who move to South Africa in an already stable financial position, may feel they’ve ‘got in on the ground floor’, with the country on track for increasing development and prosperity. More than half of citizens live in South Africa’s rapidly-growing cities, with Cape Town, Johannesburg and Polokwane ranking highest in terms of human development.
3/ Costa Rica
At a glance
Nominal GDP: US$61.8 billion
GDP per capita: US$12,057
Unemployment rate: 20%
Costa Rica popped onto every expat’s radar last year, when it announced it would be starting a digital nomad scheme. So what’s the attraction to this Central American country? Well, besides incredible coastlines and picturesque scenery, Costa Rica is a fast-developing nation with a high quality of life for expats.
Costa Rica is at the bottom end of the OECD’s price level index, coming in at 59% of the global average for consumer prices. That makes the cost of living in Costa Rica some 33% lower than in the UK.
Rent and housing
Costa Rican real estate is some of the most affordable in North America, and expats will find that their money goes much further in this tropical paradise – although the quality may not be quite they are used to in more developed nations. The cost of rent is around 64% cheaper than in the UK, putting it at around 83% of the OECD average.
Costa Rica provides a high-quality, universal healthcare system, which is open to all citizens, permanent residents and visitors. Patients are expected to pay for some procedures, which often come with long waiting lists, and so many expats in Costa Rica choose to take out international medical insurance. It’s also worth bearing in mind unvaccinated travellers to Costa Rica will be expected to have international health insurance when they arrive.
The World Bank calls Costa Rica “a success story in terms of development.” GDP growth in Costa Rica hit an all-time high of 10.6% in late 2021 as the nation recovered from the COVID-19 crisis. Costa Rica looks set to avoid the worst of climbing inflation. It hit 3.5% in January, although previous forecasts had suggested a very low rate of climbing inflation.
While many know Costa Rica as a great holiday destination, the Central American nation has quickly developed into a viable place for expats to move and live. With a low cost of living – which is expected to remain low – and a digital nomad scheme on the horizon, Costa Rica could soon become a top destination for expats from around the world.
At a glance
Nominal GDP: US$1,444.7 billion
GDP per capita: US$6,822.6
Unemployment rate: 13.5%
With the 12th largest economy in the world, Brazil has come on leaps and bounds over recent decades – and with its low cost of living combined with high industry, it’s a desirable destination for expats in 2023.
Equal to South Africa, the cost of consumer goods in Brazil is 55% that of the OECD average. The overall cost of living is around 40% cheaper than in the UK.
Rent and housing
Expats can enjoy incredibly cheap rent in Brazil, with average rent almost 74% lower than in the UK. Real estate prices in Brazil are the lowest in the OECD area, at around 55% of the OECD average.
Brazil was badly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, having the second-highest number of deaths after the USA. This caused credit ratings agencies to downgrade their appraisal of Brazil. Inflation rose to 10.54% in February 2022, up from 6.1% in early 2021. Still, Brazil remains one of the world’s largest economies thanks to its strong production, manufacturing and natural resources sectors.
Brazil offers free universal healthcare, which expats can benefit from too. However, this system is under-funded and rife with bureaucracy, and so nearly 25% of Brazilians choose private healthcare to benefit from faster, higher-quality treatment.
Brazil is attracting an increasing number of expats, and for good reason. With an extremely low cost of living, a strong economy – and of course, unparalleled cultural experiences – Brazil is a fantastic for families who want to maximise their incomes.
At a glance
Nominal GDP: US$1,059.6 billion
GDP per capita: US$3,921.6
Unemployment rate: 7.1%
With its beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan cities and vibrant culture, it may seem almost too good to be true that the tropical paradise of Indonesia tops our list as the cheapest place to live in 2023 – let’s break down the reasons why.
Indonesia has a price level index of 39%, meaning the cost of consumer products are more than 60% cheaper than the OECD’s global average. The cost of living overall in Indonesia is around 46% lower than in the UK.
Rent and housing
Indonesia ranks at the lower end of the scale for housing and rent costs, with the cost of rent roughly 75% lower than in the UK. Real estate prices are the third-lowest overall in the OECD.
With an inflation growth rate of just 2.1% (compared to a global average of 8.6%), the cost of living in Indonesia is expected to remain fairly low for the foreseeable future.
Indonesia is reaching the end of a 20-year development plan, which saw the country boom within a number of key performance metrics. It is now the 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, according to the World Bank, and the 15th largest economy in the world overall, with poverty now below 10%.
By far the most developed region of Indonesia is the capital city of Jakarta, but the region of Yogyakarta is not far behind – both combine Indonesia’s low cost of living with an diverse, metropolitan culture.
Cheapest places to live in the USA as an expat
Living in the USA can be an incredible experience, but it comes with a high cost. Still, there are several major cities (with a population over 500,000) where the cost of living is relatively low compared to the USA average.
One common measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). It is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
These are our top 10 cheapest places to live in the USA in 2023:
Average salary (US$) *
Average house price (US$) **
USA cost of living index ***
Cheapest places to live in the UK an expat
The United Kingdom is currently experiencing a cost of living crisis. Low wage growth, combined with high inflation and skyrocketing energy costs, has roughly doubled the cost of consumer goods in many parts of the UK.
But if you’re thinking of moving to or living in the UK as an expat, don’t be put off. There are still many areas that offer a relatively low cost of living. And, if you’re thinking of buying a property in the UK, the good news is there are many parts of the UK where family homes are still affordable.
According to property company Zoopla, the cheapest places to live in the UK (based on a ratio of property prices to average earnings) are as follows:
Average property price (GBP£)
Average household earnings (GBP£)
Property to earnings ratio
Cheapest places to live in London as an expat
You probably already know that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living Report 2021 ranked it the 17th most expensive city in the world.
But that high price is justified – London is Europe’s, and indeed one of the world’s most diverse cities, with 36.4% of the population born outside of the UK.
If you’re thinking of moving to London as an expat, you’ll be glad to know there are many areas where the cost of living is substantially lower. To help you decide where to move to and live in London, we’ve ranked the 10 cheapest London boroughs using average rent costs per month.
Average rent (GBP£) *
You may have noticed that these towns, while cheap, are somewhat isolated. And while Britain’s countryside is world-famous for good reason, as an expatriate, you may prefer to live closer to the action.
FAQ for the cheapest places to live in and relocate to in 2023
Many people who move abroad are surprised a just how high international moving costs can be. Here we answer the most popular questions help you move abroad in a smart manner.
What is the biggest expense when you relocate?
Typical Cost: starting from US$1,000 (£750 or €900) and can easily exceed US$10,000 for long distance moves overseas. Moving expenses and relocation costs typically include:
- Housing costs
- Transportation costs (size of the move, distance, transportation route and method)
- Packing and unpacking costs
- Storage costs
- Moving insurance costs
- Custom charges and fees
- Visa fees
- Immigration lawyer fees
- Furniture costs
Why do you need international health insurance when you move abroad?
Getting familiar with a country’s healthcare system and health culture is one of the biggest challenges that expats face when relocating overseas.
Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or you have experience being an expat in many different locations, it’s beneficial to understand the key healthcare factors when deciding to live and work abroad. Not only this, the pandemic has caused additional challenges that you need to be aware of when researching the healthcare system of your potential new home.
Naturally then, prioritising your health, including mental health needs to be top of your agenda as moving abroad, like any big change can present challenges. It’s a really good idea to make sure all your medical history and appointments are up-to-date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication should you require it.Why do I need international health insurance?
Tips to help you move abroad cheaply
The cost of moving abroad depends largely on where you’re moving from and to, and how much you’re taking with you. As a rough guide, international shipping company 1st Move International gives the following estimates to move the contents of a three bedroom house internationally from the UK:
- Sydney – £2,897
- New York – £4,758
- Los Angeles – £5,468
- Cape Town – £1,550
- Dubai – £2,224
As moving abroad will likely cost several thousand pounds, you’ll want to be sure you’re saving money wherever possible. Here are some tips:
1/ Sell your furniture and buy again locally
International shipping for large household items can be very expensive. You may also have to pay customs duties.
Unless you’re particularly attached to your furniture, you may be better off selling it online or at auction, then using the money to buy new pieces when you arrive in your new country.
2/ Work as a team
During your initial relocation period, you may need to travel back and forth between your current and future home – to deal with paperwork or attend job interviews, for example. This could rack considerable air fares.
It can pay to formulate a plan with family, friends or other expats looking to relocate so that the least number of people travel between destinations. That way, everyone can save a bit of money on unnecessary trips.
3/ Use local movers
Looking to move items from the airport or harbour your new country to your front door? Don’t rely on shipping companies from your home country – they are likely to charge more, and aren’t guaranteed to have the local expertise you need.
Instead, contact a local haulier for the best local rates and the extra reassurance of having someone who knows your new home better than you do.
4/ Take advantage of your local embassy
When applying for residency in a new country, you may have to visit an embassy to fill in paperwork.
It may be cheaper (and faster) to do this in your own country. Assuming the country you’re relocating to has an embassy in your country, you may be able to fill in and pay for your residency paperwork before you travel.
5/ Get everything sorted before you arrive
Whether it’s finding a new job, putting the deposit down on a rental property, or opening a bank account, make sure you do as much of the paperwork as you can before you travel to your new home.
Not only will this take a lot of the stress out of moving abroad, it will also help ensure you don’t waste money when you arrive. Living in a hotel can be very expensive compared to renting a property.
Another essential to sort out before traveling is international health insurance. This will give you access to high-quality, private treatment, so you won’t be stuck on a waiting list or have to pay expensive medical fees.
Wherever you move, we can help you safeguard your health
We’ve been providing international health insurance to expatriates like you for 30 years and in over 180 countries. Our international health insurance plans are custom-made to provide high-quality cover for a wide range of illnesses, at the right price for your budget – and with flexibility to suit your needs.
If you’re looking to begin a new life in a foreign country, don’t compromise on your health. Speak to William Russell and see how international health insurance could help to protect you and your family.