This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for VagabondBuddha.com. Here are my Top 15 Favorite Places to Retire Cheap Internationally 2020 for year-round.
Year-round means you have to include retirement weather in the offseason. Cheap means it must be possible for a cheap single person to live there for $1500 USD or less per month. There are even a few where people are able to live on $800 month or less.
In the next two weeks I will be ranking places around the world for other qualities, like, best white sand beaches in the world, best colonial-era towns in the world, and best small towns in the world, so subscribe so you can watch those.
Methodology: I am normally more scientific in picking my favorites, but this year I decided to rank them purely based upon my gut reaction. My method only works if you have spent considerable time in each place, which I have. You can get all of 50+ retire early for cheap in paradise reports at VagabondBuddha.com.
Now I will show you pictures of my Top 15 Favorite Places to Retire Cheap Internationally 2020 as I read my paragraph about each. Full reports of each town are available at VagabondBuddha.com. I will read them in reverse order so you have to wait until the end to hear my top 3. Okay, here we go.
Top 15 Favorite Places to Retire Cheap Internationally 2020
(Starting with my least favorite and moving to my most favorite)
Kampot Cambodia (15th): 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 this colonial-era center is full of foreign-owned restaurants charging $4 to $6 USD per meal but the local owned restaurants have meals starting around $1 USD. The smell of marijuana is everywhere. There is a gentle river flowing through town and kayaking several places up stream. The sun sets over gorgeous mountains as you drink $1 USD beers on top of house-boat bars that line the river.
Merida Mexico (14th): Merida was one of the first cities the Spanish built in the Americas. The Spanish used stones from the previous ancient city to erect the churches, government buildings, and homes of the wealthy invading colonists. Merida still enjoys the arts, literature, and music from the original Americans who have maintained their culture to some extent. Merida is just 20 minute from the turquoise water and white sand beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula. There are nearby Cenotes, the famous Pink Lake, and the colonial era central park in the center of Merida with the Catholic Church built in 1596. You will notice remnants of the Castle Walls as you stroll about. The streets surrounding the central park (Zocolo) are blocked off on weekends and families stroll about. The nightlife goes late into the evening with many types of live music including Jazz, Mariachi, and Techno. Mérida has been attracting expats over the last decade because of the tropical climate, beautiful beaches, low cost of living, cultural diversity, and colonial homes that are fun to renovate and occupy.
Arequipa Peru (13th): 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 and the city lights the cathedral built in 1566. I could live easily in Arequipa and the cost of living is reasonable. The only thing that makes me hesitate at all is that it felt a little too cool. In the middle of the day you can walk around wearing only a single layer. But after about 4pm, it gets cool fairly quickly. Bring a light jacket or sweater.
Cuenca Ecuador (12th) 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 in 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 really a colonial-era show piece with many of the best restored buildings in 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 expat grocery store where you can get foods from Home.
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia (11th) 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 and expensive as Singapore. It is not for everyone, but if large, organized, clean, and safe cities are your thing you will love it here.
Porto Portugal (10th): It has a beautiful landscape and a romantic yet safe feeling to it. It is like living in a story book. 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.
Penang Malaysia (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. 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. 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 (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.
Camiguin Island Philippines (7th): 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 mall and daily ferries to larger islands to the north and south. Make sure to check out the 100 year old clams. We have several tours you can take in our retire cheap report.
Oaxaca, Mexico (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 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. This is my favorite city in Mexico.
Dumaguete Philippines (5th): Dumaguete itself is a quaint little city that you may not expect to find in the top 5 places to retire. But the city has everything you need in terms of public, 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. It is sort of like Camiguin but 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 in the islands.
Playa Del Carmen Mexico (4th): I have been going to Playa del Carmen since 1992. The beaches have suffered some erosion but you can still find beautiful stretches of white sand beaches with turquoise blue water. You will not be able to stay within a cheap budget if you try to live within a few blocks of the beach in tourist apartments, so go in 5 to 8 blocks. You can run on the beach in the morning and walk on the beach at night. There are super expensive tourist restaurants near the beach and on 5th avenue. But if you eat at the local family-style restaurants and cook mostly at home, you should be able to live in this true paradise for pennies. If you would like to live in a more Mexican feeling village stay a few miles south in Tulum (Report), in the village about 1 kilometer behind the fancy beach resorts. These places are just a $1 bus ride apart on a local collectivo, see reports for details.
Hoi An Vietnam (3rd): Old Town Hoi An is a walk back even before the 16th century when Europeans arrived in sailing vessels to trade with the far east. The architecture and foods reflect an integration of east meets west and the best of each rubbed off and called this home. There are tree-lined two-lane streets with flowers hanging from second-floor balconies and open street markets overflowing with fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Young Vietnamese entrepreneurs grab a spot of the sidewalk and barbeque octopus and frog legs on wood-fired grills while people from all over the world line up with money in hand. People can try flavors that cost 5 times as much and are not as fresh at home. A beautiful beach is just a 6km bicycle ride away. There are 4 museums in Hoi An and 10 art galleries. You can dance the night away and get up in the morning and go to yoga. Grab the bus to Da Nang for $2 dollars or a minivan to a hill station called Da Lat for $11 USD.
Bali Indonesia (2nd): 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.
Nha Trang Vietnam (1st): Nha Trang is a well-known beach town in Vietnam. It has a beautiful beach right in front of the city and more private ones north and south. It is one of the best places in the world to enjoy a beautiful beach with a city behind it that has delicious cheap food and accommodations. Sure, you can pay an arm and a leg here if you want, but once you try my best cheap food places at side-walk restaurants you won’t pay more except on special occasions. There are proper vegan and vegetarian restaurants with many kinds of meat substitute dishes that are delicious. We stayed in a beautiful 1 bedroom apartment 1 block from the beach for $15 per night with equipped kitchen, wifi, and balcony. I loved running on the beach every morning and walking along the ocean at night. There is nothing like a world-class city on the beach, but cheap living too? Are you kidding me?
At this point you might be thinking, “Why is Thailand not on the list?” Good question. I had Chiang Mai Thailand as number 1 on my list last year. Over the last few years, the Thai government has shown little interest in attracting or maintaining retiree expats. If you are there already and happy, then I am not recommending you depart. But if I do not recommend making any long term plans to be in Thailand over the next few years. Lets see how Thailand reacts to the coronavirus. Maybe the loss in tourism money will get them to open the welcome gate to retiree expats again.
I do still recommend Thailand as one of the great places to visit for a month or two, but it just doesn’t belong on my Top 15 Favorite Places to Retire Cheap Internationally 2020.
Subscribe so you will see when I post my top places according to several other cheap criteria, such as, best white sand beaches in the world, best colonial-era towns in the world, and best small towns in the world, so subscribe so you can watch those.
Okay, thanks for watching my Top 15 Favorite Places to Retire Cheap Internationally 2020 video. Make sure to grab a copy of my free eBook, “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 13 Years.” Just look for the free eBook link at the top of this post.