Gap Year

10 Cheapest Countries to Work and Live In Abroad

Working overseas is both an alluring and overwhelming prospect for many people. The thought of living in another country is definitely exciting but it raises some important points to consider. The process of finding a job, securing a visa, and affording the necessary expenses of everyday life can be enough to deter even the most adventurous. Luckily, it is not always as complicated as it seems. There are countries where you don’t have to sacrifice standard of living even with a lower salary.

The following destinations were picked based on the following criteria: low cost of living, ease of the visa process, and potential for job prospects. While you may not get rich in some of the picks below, you will certainly gain priceless skills and experiences.

1. Ecuador

Photo by: Emma Kilcup, Living and Learning International Alum

South America is full of cheap countries to live and work but Ecuador is among the best. Geographically diverse, Ecuador is home to the Galapagos Islands, the Andes Mountains, and part of the Amazon rainforest. While many are drawn to Ecuador for tourism, it is also a great choice for those hoping to move and work abroad.

In Quito, one-bedroom apartments in the city center can be found for as low as $300 a month. This paired with affordable food and transportation costs makes life in the capital attainable. Guayaquil, Quito, Vilcabamba, and Loja are also favored among expats making the move to Ecuador. A shared three-bedroom apartment in Cuenca could cost you as low as $206.

  • Average monthly local salary: $472
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $392
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $227
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $3
  • Cost of living in Quito is 70% cheaper than New York, NY

2. South Korea

Americans benefit from working holiday visa agreements with six countries: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Ireland, and South Korea. Of these choices, South Korea is the most affordable even when considering the capital city Seoul. On this special visa, U.S. citizens who are recent graduates between the ages of 18-30 can work and travel in the country for up to 18 months.

Don’t meet the criteria for the working holiday program? South Korea is also a popular destination for those wishing to teach English overseas and for good reason. English teachers there enjoy a high salary and employment packages that usually include paid accommodation and flight reimbursement. As if this wasn’t attractive enough, most employers also tend to take care of your visa for you. Jobs can be found in Seoul as well as smaller cities and rural locations. Of course, your money will go farther outside of major metropolitan areas though you can live well in the big city on teacher’s wages. Outside of Seoul, popular cities for working professionals include Busan, Incheon, and Daegu.

  • Average monthly local salary: $2,390
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $585
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $504
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $6
  • Cost of living in Seoul is 66% cheaper than New York, NY

3. China

China is huge so it goes without saying that there is something for nearly everyone. Whether you choose a bustling city or secluded village, the cost of living is more than manageable across the board. In Beijing, it is estimated that food shopping costs around $140 a month for a single person eating a local diet. Eating out in the capital doesn’t have to be a treat either, with a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costing around $5. Conversely, a smaller city like Harbin carries a lighter price tag for food with your monthly shop averaging around $119 and a cheap restaurant meal offered for $3.

If life in Beijing or Shanghai isn’t quite your speed, Guangzhou, Tianjin, and Chengdu are popular cities that don’t spare any amenities.

  • Average monthly local salary: $1,035
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $496
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $359
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $3
  • Cost of living in Beijing is 57% cheaper than New York, NY

4. Portugal

Photo by: Sierra Whitney , Travel for Teens Alum

Tucked away on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is often overshadowed by its neighbor Spain. But just because its culture isn’t as pervasive doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. Portugal boasts a relaxed pace of life, gorgeous weather, and a cost of living that’s among Western Europe’s cheapest.

With the whole of the western part of the country on the coast, you’ll have no shortage of fresh fish and seafood. Produce is cheap and often locally grown. As far as capital cities go, Lisbon is very affordable but Porto and Faro are among the alternatives where you can live comfortably on less than 1000 euros a month.

  • Average monthly local salary: $1,011
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $705
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $400
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $9
  • Cost of living in Lisbon is 57% cheaper than New York, NY

5. Georgia

Georgia is becoming an increasingly popular home away from home for expats due to its friendly visa process. Often confused with the US state of the same name, this eastern European country is beginning to put itself on the map as a cheap and friendly country for work abroad.

Georgian food and wine are underrated and Georgians take eating and drinking quite seriously. Foodies will find no better destination for rich dishes that can also be classified as cheap eats. In terms of entertainment and daily life, expats will find the prices as friendly as the people. In the capital, Tbilisi, a monthly travel pass will cost you a mere $10 and a trip to the movies costs less than a fiver. Foreigners looking to relocate to Georgia also find Kutaisi and Batumi quite easy on the wallet.

  • Average monthly local salary: $297
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $263
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $181
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $5
  • Cost of living in Tbilisi is 80% cheaper than New York, NY

6. Spain

The fact that I’ve lived in Spain for the past three years may make me a bit biased. But truthfully, it’s an extremely affordable place to live while maintaining a high standard of living. Being part of the EU makes it somewhat more difficult to get a work permit, but many Americans live and work in Spain on a student visa through teaching or au pair programs.

A little bit of income goes a long way in Spain, even in Madrid. As an American, I’m still shocked at the low prices of fresh fruits and vegetables. Here, living on a budget doesn’t mean sacrificing healthy eating. Spain also maintains a culture of eating out and sitting on terraces so a delicious meal and a nice local beer or cup of coffee won’t break the bank. A menú del día, a daily lunch special offered at most restaurants during the week, includes a drink, dessert, starter, and main and can be had in Madrid for around 10-12 euros (~12-14 dollars).

Outside of Madrid, affordable and expat-friendly cities include Valencia, Alicante, Sevilla, Murcia, Logroño, and Toledo. Living alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Alicante cost me 420 euros a month. I now pay 480 euros a month (utilities included) for a shared two-bedroom apartment just outside of Madrid’s city center.

  • Average monthly local salary: $1,582
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $776
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $412
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $13
  • Cost of living in Madrid is 50% cheaper than New York, NY

7. Cambodia

Photo by: Maggie Davis, Rustic Pathways Alum

International Living estimates that around 100,000 expats live permanently in Cambodia. Foreigners visiting and living in the country report feeling like special guests due to the warmth of the locals. Cambodia is an especially friendly country for entrepreneurs wishing to set-up a business.

It’s not just the hospitality and ease of business that sets Cambodia apart. Expats can enjoy a comfortable life without the high cost. Someone who wants to live alone in the capital, Phnom Penh, can expect to pay anywhere between $200 to $650 with the average rent price coming in at $430. In Kampot, rent prices in the city center average around $300.

Expats tend to congregate in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap but smaller places like Battambang, Kampot, and Kep are on the up-and-up.

  • Average monthly local salary: $214
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $384
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $317
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $3
  • Cost of living in Phnom Penh is 66% cheaper than New York, NY

8. Costa Rica

The first time I visited Costa Rica in 2012, I was taken aback by the sheer number of Americans living and working there. Through a mix of retirees, business owners, and hospitality workers, one thing was clear: the pura vida (pure life) lifestyle was contagious. I was not surprised then when several years later, a friend in Baltimore made the move to San Jose.

Costa Rica’s casual and relaxed approach to life pairs perfectly with its beaches and jungles. Whether you’re into hiking, sea kayaking, or surfing, ecotourism thrives. If city life is what you’re all about, expats are particularly happy in Arenal, Jaco, Tamarindo, Escazu, and Heredia. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Playa Jaco will run you between $400-530 a month.

  • Average monthly local salary: $787
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $501
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $280
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $7
  • Cost of living in San José is 65% cheaper than New York, NY

9. Morocco

This north African country is known for its hospitality. Moroccans are notoriously friendly and welcoming so many foreigners find it easy to call Morocco home. Rent prices across the country are low and living comfortably on $5 or less a day is a happy reality. A one-bedroom apartment in Rabat averages around $462 versus $379 in Tangier. When not grinding out the 9-5, Morocco has countless beaches, mountains, and the Sahara Desert to explore.

Casablanca, Fes, Tangier, and Marrakesh are a few of the other great options for life outside of the capital, Rabat.

  • Average monthly local salary: $458
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $341
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $195
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $3
  • Cost of living in Rabat is 74% cheaper than New York, NY

10. Mexico

Photo by: Tommy Zanca, IMAC Spanish Language Programs Alum

Mexico has long been a tourist destination for Americans but more US citizens have been making the move permanent in recent years. Mexico’s food, culture, and low cost of living will likely continue to draw in weary expats looking for a more relaxed pace of life. Even on a local salary, foreigners relocating to Mexico won’t struggle to enjoy the finer points of life: friends, family, great weather, and an unpretentious and outstanding culinary tradition.

Cities preferred by expats, outside of Mexico City, include San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Playa Del Carmen, Puebla, and Merida.

  • Average monthly local salary: $475
  • Average monthly rent for one-bedroom in city center: $337
  • Average monthly rent for shared apartment in city center: $222
  • Cost of meal in inexpensive restaurant: $5
  • Cost of living in Mexico City is 71% cheaper than New York, NY

In Closing

Living and working abroad can be well within your reach with these affordable countries. Aside from building your resume, relocating to a destination overseas can broaden your understanding of the world and the people in it. Picking up the local language as well as making international friends will enrich more than just your work experience -- it will probably change your life!