I am going to show you pictures I took of my Best Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap in 2021, as I tell you about them. But full reports of each place are available at VagabondBuddha.com.
This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for VagabondBuddha.com
It has been a year since I rated the top places in the entire world to retire early for cheap. So here are my favorites for 2021. Things have changed drastically since last year’s list so pay close attention.
This ranking is for year-round early cheap retirement. Year-round means you have to think about 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 some places on this list people are able to live on $800 a month or less.
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 livability. If 2+ people are rating 10 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 reports written 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 2021
(Starting with my least favorite and moving to my most favorite)
Medellin Colombia Retire Cheap Report (15th): This is the first time Medellin Colombia has appeared in the top 15. Medellin Colombia pushed Merida Mexico out of the top 15 this year because Medellin has cooler year-round weather and is not as dependent on tourism. Medellin is a gorgeous place surrounded by green luscious hills, beautiful people and things to see, a rich and interesting history, workable Internet speeds, and a reasonable cost of living. Medellin has been called the city of eternal spring by both foreigners and locals alike. It is almost never too hot or too cold. Laurels is a beautiful neighborhood of people who are Colombian. You can watch Colombians, eat with Colombians, and have fun with Colombians in a safe, beautiful neighborhood. The people of Medellin are proud and they should be. It is a lovely place. Like many parts of the world, the people shine even while their government and other influential citizens pay far too little attention to creating an environment that fosters a middle class. Two hours from Medellin is Guatape, the most colorful village I have seen in Colombia. Each home has a painted mural on the front in vibrant colors, that tells you who lives there based upon the kind of work they do. If you prefer to live near the beach, then check out Santa Marta Columbia for a quaint affordable beach town. Cartagena is gorgeous and amazing but would not generally be considered cheap.
Kampot Cambodia Retire Cheap Report (14th): Kampot moved up one spot to number 14th this year. Kampot is not a place for the average western-style consumer. The simplicity of life here would be unbearable for most westerners. Kampot doesn’t really excel in any one category in my mind as compared to other retire cheap in paradise locations around the world. But it somehow just grows on you. This is the slowest pace of living anywhere in the world. The center of Kampot is full of foreign-owned restaurants charging $4 to $6 USD per meal but the locally-owned restaurants have meals starting around $1 USD. The smell of marijuana is everywhere. There is a gentle river flowing through town and kayaking is available in several places upstream. The sunsets over a gorgeous mountain range as you drink $1 USD beers on top of house-boat bars that line the river in the city center. If you need more cultural opportunities but love the overall feel of Cambodia, check out our Siem Reap Retire Cheap Report. If you want to live in a smaller town with less foreign influence, check out our Battambang Cambodia Retire Cheap Report.
Lake Atitlan Guatemala (13th): Guatemala moved into the top 15 this year starting in the 13th position with Lake Atitlan. 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. San Marcos is a hippie spiritual natural healing artist community. San Pedro is an ex-pat party animal hangout along the waterfront with a traditional indigenous family village on the hill behind. Santa Cruz has a waterfront of beautiful villas and small boutique resorts. Santiago integrates an indigenous culture with the traditional Roman Catholic religion and has the largest Guatemalan traditional markets with coffee shops selling locally grown coffee. Panajachel integrates a large local community with a large ex-pat community with many restaurant choices, a local arts and crafts market, a nice nightlife, and a boat launching point to the other villages. Santa Catalina and San Antonio are almost exclusively local communities with daily ex-pat and tourist visitors to see the colorful buildings of San Antonio and the beautiful pottery of San Antonio. In Guatemala, check out Antiqua if you prefer a colonial-era cultural experience with five hundred years of art, architecture, and foods to delight your senses.
Arequipa Peru Retire Cheap Report (12th): Arequipa remained in 12th position for 2021. 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. The central park is a gorgeous place to spend an evening as the sun goes down as the city lights the cathedral which was constructed 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.
Cuenca Ecuador Retire Cheap Report (11th): 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 coming 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.
Porto Portugal Retire Cheap Report (10th): 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, 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.
Penang Malaysia Retire Cheap Report (9th) 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 the 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.
Guanajuato Mexico Retire Cheap Report (8th) This gorgeous colonial-era city has some of the richest architecture in all of Mexico. Most streets are so skinny or steep, automobiles can’t drive down them. Many streets are underground so the surface feels like a small European Village. The Valenciana silver mine produced two-thirds of the world’s silver for 200 years. I love it here because it is a city in rolling hills. It has the highest walkability factor I have ever seen. After our arrival from the bus station, we have only gotten into a vehicle once. The international food choices for a city of this size are perfectly respectable. There is Lebanese, Chinese, Thai (limited), Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Argentinian, and French. For a town this size, it has a very active nightlife if you like live music, concerts, theatre, modern dance; probably because it is a university town.
Oaxaca Mexico Retire Cheap Report (7th): Oaxaca State has a large indigenous population with 50% of the population with different indigenous cultures speaking different local languages. Oaxaca city hosts the Guelaguetza festival, 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 foods in restaurants and food carts.
Camiguin Island Philippines Retire Cheap Report (6th): Camiguin is a small island with a fairly low density of people. If you are looking for less civilization and more nature, this may be your place. There are several waterfalls cascading down the sides of the fairly dormant volcano-filled mountains landing in swimmable pools of water. There are a few hidden white sand beaches on the island itself but mostly you will need to visit the even smaller islands just one or two kilometers off Camiguin. You can snorkel, scuba dive, fish, ride bikes and scooters, and beautiful locals. Here are a few really good restaurants and many more local foods. There is one small shopping mall and daily ferries to larger islands to the north and south. Make sure to check out the 100-year-old clams that grow to 1 meter (3 feet) in size. We have several tours you can take in our retire cheap report.
Top 5 Places in Entire World to Retire Early Cheap for 2021
Queretaro Mexico Retire Cheap Reports (5th) Queretaro wasn’t in the top 15 list last year and has jumped all the way to the top 5. 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 favorites 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.
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Retire Cheap Report (4th) Kuala Lumpur moved from 9th place to 4th place this year and Playa Del Carmen Mexico, which was in 4th place last year, fell completely off the list. 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.
Dumaguete Philippines Retire Cheap Report (3rd): Dumaguete moved from 5th place last year to 3rd place this year, mainly because Hoi An and Nha Trang, Vietnam, two of my favorites last year, were taken off the list completely this year. I will explain Vietnam’s troubles in a moment. 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 a small car). The real fun starts when you hop on a ferry to one of the beautiful islands nearby like Apo or Siquijor. Dumaguete is sort of like Camiguin but more centralized with more people and business to make everyday life a little easier and more diverse. 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 on the islands.
Puerto Morelos Mexico Retire Cheap Report (2nd): Puerto Morelos Mexico came from nowhere and jumped onto the Top 5 list just a few months ago. I have always been a fan of Quintana Roo Mexico where it is located, but I had never actually stayed in Puerto Morelos. 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. 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 in the colonia area instead of the overpriced restaurants in the tourist white sand 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.
Bali Indonesia (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 be wondering why Vietnam and Thailand do not appear anywhere on the list when they were both highly recommended in recent years. They are both struggling with a bit of nationalism presently. So both governments have been tightening their visa requirements on foreign visitors.
I am happy to report that the citizens of both Vietnam and Thailand smile when you walk by so it is only their governments that are taking a dim view of foreign visitors. Hopefully, their governments will become more friendly again soon because they are lovely places. We will keep you posted as things change on the ground.
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 love these countries and many more, I only use data I have collected in the last few years. But do look for reports on these as more of the world opens in 2021 and 2022.
Finally, make sure to read and watch my list of things you must know before you decide to retire cheap internationally. It includes 14 years of many of my best tips, tricks, and ideas I have about living internationally. It could save you from a decade of problem-solving if you start knowing everything I learned the hard way since I left the USA in 2007.
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 2021. Make sure to grab a copy of my free eBook, “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 14 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?