As I share my Best Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap in 2023, I will show you videos I took while my feet were on the ground in each of them. But full written reports of each place are available at VagabondBuddha.com.
This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for VagabondBuddha.com. So, after living outside the USA in hundreds of towns in 67 countries over the last 16+ years, here are my top 15 favorite places to retire early for cheap in 2023.
This ranking is for year-round early cheap retirement. Year-round means you have to think about the weather in the off-season since you will live there, year-round. Cheap means it must be possible for a cheap single person to live there for $1500 or less per month. In fact, there are places on this list where some people are able to live on $800 a month.
I will rank locations purely based on my gut reaction from when I was there. My method only works if you have spent considerable time in each place. I have had my feet on the ground in all of these places. In my opinion, being on the ground is the only possible way to rank locations.
Collecting data from 10k miles away doesn’t provide any gut reaction about quality of life. If 3 people are rating 15 places and they have only personally been to five each, how valuable is their opinion about a place they have been versus a place they haven’t been?
But remember, these are just summaries. Pictures and videos filmed by me along with detailed written reports by me are available at VagabondBuddha.com.
I will cover my top 15 places in reverse order so you have to wait until the end to hear my top 3. Okay, here we go.
Best Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap in 2023
(The places are in reverse order from 15th place to 1st place. )
Arequipa Peru Retire Cheap Report (15th): Arequipa is a gorgeous colonial-era city in the Andes in the Southern Part of Peru. Walk along the cobblestone streets and you will find an endless array of both foreign and domestic foods. Central park is a gorgeous place to spend an evening as the sun goes down as the city lights the cathedral built in 1566. I could live easily in Arequipa and the cost of living is reasonable. It is also a beautiful college town and has one of the highest per capita incomes and a large population of educated intellectuals. The only thing that makes me hesitate at all is its elevation which made it feel a little too cool in the afternoons. In the middle of the day, you can walk around wearing only a single layer year-round. But after about 4 pm, it gets cool fairly quickly, so carry a light jacket or sweater in the evenings. Consider our Cajamarca Peru Retire Cheap Report if you are looking for a more traditional Peruvian experience in a smaller more quaint colonial-era setting.
Antigua Guatemala Retire Cheap Report (14th): Antigua Guatemala is the most well-preserved colonial-era city in all of Central America. With 500 years of history, art, and architecture, along with an amazing array of foods from around the world to delight your senses, Antigua is one of the best places in the world for the integration of colonial culture, indigenous culture, and international visitors. Antigua is a place that many experienced world travelers call home after they have seen much of the world. Because of Antigua’s elevation, it remains relatively cool throughout the year. There are also many hiking trails around the city including an active volcano that erupts almost every night. You can take a tour there and watch the volcano light up the skies at night. If you are more of a mountain lake lover, check out our Lake Atitlan Guatemala Retire Cheap Report. This beautiful lake a mile high in the sky is surrounded by seven villages of varying character that would provide a home for people of many different kinds of interest including a hippie spiritual natural healing artist village, an ex-pat party animal village, several indigenous culture villages, and a large ex-pat community village.
Cuenca Ecuador Retire Cheap Report (13th): Cuenca is on almost everyone’s retire cheap in paradise list and it is easy to see why. It is a smaller colonial-era city in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador at the perfect elevation. So it stays cool even in the warmest summer. Expats have been retiring here for decades because the city center is a colonial-era showpiece with many of the best-restored buildings in all of South America. Somehow the cost of living here has remained relatively low and stable, partly because Ecuador uses the American dollar. There are multiple large public markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables from locals and even an ex-pat grocery store where you can get food from Home.
Nha Trang Vietnam Retire Cheap Report: (12th): Nha Trang is the most cosmopolitan city in Vietnam if you consider international food choices, clean parks and beaches, neighborhoods that still feel like Vietnam (despite international tourism), and less visible pollution in the air (it is a city on the ocean). It doesn’t have the breadth of historical culture you will see in Hanoi or Hue, but it makes up for that with modern cultural amenities that cultural explorers expect. You will read that some people do not like Nha Trang because it has a large tourist industry near the beach. But I wouldn’t live in tourist areas if I moved there. I would live in a beautiful neighborhood that I showcase in my retire cheap report. What surprised me the most about Nha Trang, was how cheap it was to live there once you get to know where the locals shop and eat. If you love life in Vietnam but would like to be surrounded by more English-speaking Western Expats, try our Da Nang Vietnam Retire Cheap Report, or check out our Dalat Vietnam Retire Cheap Report if you would prefer a hill station with cooler year-round weather.
Bangkok Thailand Retire Cheap Report: (11th): Bangkok is one of the best cities in the world even before you adjust for its low cost of living. The food choices are unmatched with the integration of East and West cuisines. It has one of the most modern and clean transportation systems in the world, so you will not have to waste your money on a car. The Grab taxis are so cheap you can get your groceries home for just a little more than public transportation. Riding the water taxis from Khao San to the King Taksin Bridge while stopping at all of the temples, the flower market and the King’s Palace is probably the most interesting cultural experience you will find anywhere in the world. Thus, even before we talk about the crazy nightlife and shopping in Bangkok, it is one of the most interesting places in the world. Plus you are just a $50 flight to the best island beaches in SE Asia. But if you prefer a smaller mountain town that hosts the digital nomad capital of the world, check out our Chiang Mai Thailand Retire Cheap Report.
Baguio City Philippines Retire Cheap Report (10th): One of the first things you will notice about Baguio is that it is never too hot or too cold there. It is a mile high in the sky so it has moderate highland temperatures. The next thing you will notice is the green and beautiful central area of Baguio. The sidewalks are well maintained, and there are plants growing everywhere which are maintained by Baguio City year-round. There is a very large central park full of manicured grass and picnic tables with a lake full of paddle boats you can enjoy with your family and friends. It also is one of the most creative cities in the Philippines, with college students dressing up in Japanese Anima costumes walking around, and drawing chalk characters on Session Road when it is closed to automobiles on Sundays. Because this is a college town, there seems to be a never-ending set of things to do and events to attend that often include cheap street food and fun arts and music. Plus, Baguio is one of the most walkable cities so if you decided to live close in, you would not need a car.
Puerto Morelos Mexico Retire Cheap Report (9th): I have always been a fan of Quintana Roo Mexico where Puerto Morelos is located. Normally I like larger cities with more things to do and with more cultural choices so I am not completely sure why I have such a great gut feeling about Puerto Morelos. I think it has to do with two major concepts that touched me deeply. There is a colonia area just a few kilometers from the white sand beaches that is at the edge of thousands of acres of untouched jungle. So a few times per week, monkeys would be playing in the trees outside our windows. On other days gorgeous birds would land in the trees outside our apartment and sing to us. Plus, Riviera Maya is normally a very loud and crazy place. But the colonia area of Puerto Morelos was one of the quietest places I have ever stayed in Mexico. Plus, there are a bunch of delicious and cheap family-owned restaurants on the colonia side instead of the overpriced restaurants in the white sand tourist beach areas. But whenever the white beaches called us, we were just a 30 pesos ($1.50 USD) taxi ride to the most beautiful beach in the world. This combination of nature, beautiful animals in their serene environment, and crazy gorgeous white sand beach heaven really made me love this place.
Penang Malaysia Retire Cheap Report (8th) Hours will feel like minutes as you stroll around Georgetown colonial-era and spot colorful street art around every corner. The number one attraction here is finding the best Mama’s restaurant in town for a $2 USD meal. Once you taste the amazing local foods, you will have a hard time convincing yourself to pay $8 to $10 USD in tourist restaurants. As a former British colony, people are still required to speak English in many schools here. There are art galleries listed, things to do, music and nightlife, and arts and entertainment. The Canteen in China House Restaurant is still listed as the premier live music forum. Make sure to take our beach and Buddha tour, the street art tour, our old town walking tour, our nightlife tour, and try out our favorite restaurants. Most of our retire cheap in paradise reports include these types of tours.
Porto Portugal Retire Cheap Report (7th): Porto Portugal has a beautiful landscape and a romantic yet safe feeling to it. It is like living in a storybook. The central area of Porto is highly walkable. Porto has gorgeous ancient architecture. It is like walking through a living museum with single-lane cobblestone pre-vehicle streets. There are beaches, wine tours, a symphony, many food choices, hiking, biking, great day trips, weekend getaways, sports stadiums, sailing, water sports, cruising, parks, nature, etc. Porto has an old-world charm that you usually only find in more expensive cities. Plus, it has the LIDL grocery store chain which sells amazing gourmet foods for really cheap. Porto is the best cheap base to explore Western Europe. It is a little cooler than I normally like but it reminds me of San Francisco (California) weather near where I grew up and I love that place too. You may need to take the Porto Metro underground a little outside the city center to find cheaper rents to meet the $1500 USD total living costs, but isn’t it nice that you won’t need to buy a car? Consider reviewing our Coimbra Portugal Retire Cheap Report if you would prefer to live in a smaller less congested college town in Portugal or Sintra Portugal Retire Cheap Report if you would like to live in a small Portuguese mountain town enchanted with famous castles.
Oaxaca Mexico Retire Cheap Report (6th): Oaxaca State has a large indigenous population with 50% of the population, with different indigenous cultures speaking different local languages. Oaxaca City hosts the largest most famous indigenous festival in the world, held annually to celebrate their native culture of music, costumes, dances, and food. Some of the most well-preserved ancient ruins in Mexico are nearby in Monte Alban and Mitla. Oaxaca is at a perfect elevation so it is not too warm in the summer or too cold in the winter. The indigenous people suffered great hardship under the Aztecs and then again when the Spanish showed up in 1521. The colonial-era center of the city is one of the most beautiful and well preserved of anywhere in the world. The central park (Zocolo) is a joy to experience night and day with music, dance, and beautiful food in restaurants and food carts.
Top 5 Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap for 2023
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Retire Cheap Report (5th) Kuala Lumpur is a large modern city with all the conveniences that implies. It has several of the most beautiful and modern malls, hotels, resorts, and public transportation in SE Asia. All the famous movies from all over the world play in multiple languages and all of the most famous expensive brands in the world have stores in the malls. If Singapore and Bangkok had a baby, they would name it Kuala Lumpur. It is not as gritty as Bangkok nor as boring, expensive, or antiseptic as Singapore. It is not for everyone, but if you like a large, organized, clean, and safe city, you will love it here in Kuala Lumpur.
Queretaro Mexico Retire Cheap Reports (4th) Queretaro is now one of my favorite places in Mexico for a retirement destination. It has moved up this year because it has a more modern economy that has withstood the economic hardship over the last year better than my other favorite places in Mexico. For a one or two-week vacation, I would still pick a beach in Mexico. But for everyday life in cooler colonial-era Mexico, I would pick Queretaro. Queretaro has one of the highest per capita incomes in Mexico because it is the silicon valley of Mexico. There are many great restaurants in town because of the higher incomes but also many foreigners that live in Queretaro because of the large international business community help support the diversity of different kinds of restaurants. But I would live in the colonial-era center of Queretaro where there is a large selection of foods both expensive foreign and inexpensive local family restaurants. There is also a large selection of nightlife venues with live music, many coffee shops, museums, and arts and crafts.
Dumaguete Philippines Retire Cheap Report (3rd): Dumaguete is a quaint little city that you may not expect to find in the top 5 places to retire early for cheap. But the city has everything you need in terms of a public market, restaurants, and grocery stores with many international foods. Plus there is a central city area where you could live and walk everywhere. But I would prefer to live up the hill about 8 kilometers in a smaller city called Valencia. There are hot springs, waterfalls, and public markets, but you will need a scooter to get around (or small car). The real fun starts when you hop on a ferry to one of the beautiful islands nearby like Apo or Siquijor. If you are a diver or love snorkeling, consider living in the suburb of Dumaguete called Dauin. Dauin has an enviable Marine Sanctuary that you can swim to every day from the public beach. The Dumaguete city center has just enough people and businesses to make everyday life a little easier and more diverse without feeling overwhelmed. Plus it is a university town which has influenced the dynamic nature of the city and has one of the best hospitals and medical schools in the islands, especially for a smaller town.
Koh Samui Thailand Retire Cheap Report (2nd): You may have had the impression that the Island of Koh Samui was only a playground for the rich and famous looking for expensive white sand island beach vacations. But on our latest visit to Koh Samui just a few months ago, we found perfectly respectable places to stay in safe neighborhoods where locals live for relatively cheap rates. We also found local markets and local family-owned restaurants with absolutely delicious foods that would not break the bank. So we now understand that we could live an amazing everyday life in Koh Samui. We would live, eat, and shop more like the locals. So, now we could just pack a lunch and jump on our scooter to visit the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world whenever the mood strikes without paying tourist prices. So after 17 years of coming to Thailand, I now know that I could stay on budget in one of the most beautiful and exclusive places in the world. That makes Koh Samui our first choice to retire cheap in Thailand now. Okay, now for my favorite place to retire cheap in the world. If you are looking for more of a hippie island vibe in Thailand just a 30-minute ferry ride away, check out our Koh Phangan Thailand Retire Cheap Report.
Ubud Bali Indonesia Retiree Cheap Report (1st): Ubud is a beautiful traditional village in the mountains of Bali where many people love to stay and eat in many of the healthy international food restaurants. This is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. It was, of course, beautiful; the landscape, the beaches, the people. The joys of this relatively small island are spread out everywhere. So you will need to have a vehicle or rent a scooter like most people. Make sure to ride your scooter to Utuwala on the southern tip of Bali to see the fisherman boats, the local fish market, and children dressed in their school uniforms. Also, take the ferry over to Lembongan for the weekend and visit the famous cliff beaches and umbrella graveyards. Finally, bring your camera with you when you visit the terraced rice fields when they are in full green before harvest.
You may also be wondering why some countries that you love do not appear on this list. For example, I love countries like Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Nepal, and Turkey. Although I have visited and loved these countries and many more, I only use data I have collected in the last few years when I write these reports. But do look for reports on these as we continue our exploration.
Also, subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you will see when I post my best white sand beaches in the world, my best towns for cultural explorers, and my best small towns in the world.
Okay, thanks for considering my Best Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap in 2023. Make sure to grab a copy of my free eBook, “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 16 Years.”
This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for VagabondBuddha.com. The world is your home, what time will you be home for dinner?