Places to live cheap

So where in the world can you go if you retire on a small pension?

What are the trade offs?

You might look at Belize. The man that previously owned our house started a small hotel there. I did some research and I think that Belize was one of the few “good” counties where a foreigner could own real estate. I think also that to be a permanent resident in some countries one must has some minimum guaranteed income like a pension.

Pretty much anywhere far away from a large metropolitan area. Think small Rust Belt towns in the East or rural towns in the Midwest.

Tradeoffs? You’re living in Bumfuck, USA. Personally I could handle that, but many can’t.

Outside the US, perhaps someone else can help you.

Have you ever traveled abroad? I’ve met a few unhappy Americans in my travels and usually the issue is that they can’t handle being treated like foreigners.

There are several expat retirement forums with great resources, so you should definitely check them out.

In terms of “in the world,” Panama and Ecuador are known for their senior citizen benefits and they both welcome foreign retirees. Personally, I’m planning a trip to Cuenca, Ecuador next year to check it out. A week’s stay including round trip airfare is less than I spent last year on a three day fishing trip.

The draw is obviously the lower cost of living. The downside is being far away from friends and family (if that’s an issue for you) and the language difference might be a problem for some people. Most of the things I read about Ecuador say you can get by on English only, but I believe I would pick up the language without much problem.

I heard of Belize before as a destination.

I’m pondering on some issues: The heat and humidity, living in AC all the time

Whether you’re in an expat “compound” or you feel isolated in terms of accessibility of the country, and fear of crime or corruption.

Never thought about an expat forum. Thanks for the tip.

Maybe someplace in the US would be good too. Just haven’t researched it. I like it to get cool sometimes and kill all the bugs.

You might consider Chile. Stable government, good healthcare etc and a pleasant climate if you choose the right part.

I love Chile, and spent 2 years working there recently.

Chile is quite expensive. My guess is that a cheaper cost of living can actually be found in parts of America.

There are a whole world of options, and just as many variables.

Are you fine renting? Do you want someplace expat oriented or are you happy to go local? Do you want to settle in one place forever, or do you want to move around a bit now and then? Are you willing to do some token work? Are you worried about language? Medical care? Travel times back home? Food? Do you want to approximate first world conditions? Are you expecting museums? Beaches? Bars? A nice house?

If you are qualified, all the retirees I’ve seen in Peace Corps have had a positive experience. It’s a two year commitment and you will be expected to work, but you don’t have to pay anything to get in and language training and medical care is taken care of. It could be a way to try out living abroad (and basically anything will seem luxurious after Peace Corps!).

Somalia. Your ammunition costs may be high, but everything else is dirt cheap!

The most difficult hurdle is documentation, to remain legally in the country. There are basically two choices:

  1. Get a proper residence visa, which in most cases requires some form of proof of an external source of income. The threshold is pretty high, usually about $1500 a month nowadays, and they also require that you buy health insurance, as they are reluctant to have you taking advantage of their universal medical plan… It can take many months to accomplish, and usually has to be done in your home country through the consulate.

  2. Live near a border with an equally friendlly country and do a “visa run” every time your tourist visa expires, which can be every 60 or 90 or 180 days. Just leave the country, and turn around and re-enter with on a new clock. I did that in Guatemala and Chile. In Jordan, I had a residence card, but had to keep taking my car out to Syria and back in. This only works for countries that admit you at the border without a visa in advance.

Someplace in the US with a low cost of living seems like the best choice for the average American. In most places out of the US, English is not the first language and you might be handicapped by not knowing the local language. Plus are you going to be OK with not having access to American groceries, culture and goods?

Would Belize, Panama or Ecuador be that much cheaper than a small town in the US, especially given the added costs of trying to keep up a residency permit/visa? I kind of doubt it.

Northern Arkansas has a reasonable cost of living and a fairly hospitable climate.

It certainly can be. China may not be a great choice for lots of people, but I lived extremely comfortably for maybe $250 a month- that’s eating out every night, a weekly massage, nightlife on the weekends, etc. Add $100 for an apartment and you are golden.

A lunch of noodles is $.50. A good dinner is 3.00. A liter of local beer is .20. My massages were $1.10 an hour. On the road, an overnight train ticket might be $4.00, and a private room at a backpacker oriented guest house is $10.00. A taxi across town might be $2.00. If you want to go on vacation, an airline ticket to Malaysia is $50.00.

Plenty of drawbacks, for sure. But plan it right and for the same money you can live as a rich local rather than a poor American.

You need to consider how frequently you are coming back to the U.S.: that can get expensive.

A lot of people live in a van in the U.S. and can travel widely:

Belize has a few possible advantages over other Central/South American countries:

(1) English is the official language
(2) The Belizean dollar if pegged to the US dollar (1 US dollar => 2 Belizean dollars)
(3) It is a Commonwealth Realm, which might provide a bit more political stability.*

I am not sure how low the cost of living is, I get the feeling that while is is lower than in the US it is higher than other parts of Central America.

*There is the issue that Guatemala claims Belize as part of their country (I have been in Guatemala, maps there frequently show Guatemala extending to the Caribbean with no sign of Belize). I have spoken to a few native Belizeans who are confident (possibly misguidedly) that the Queen would never let Belize become Guatemala, either by force or politically.

This should be a major consideration.

I would not want to be at the mercy of immigration officials who feel like throwing out tourists who have overstayed their welcome.

One thing that makes the USA a very cheap country for Americans, is that Americans never have to buy anything at full retail. Everything you need, furniture, appliances, clothing, is regularly discarded by Americans with plenty of use left in it, at a small fraction of the original price. You can furnish a house for a few hundred, without even trying, or free with a little effort and networking around your friends and family and neighbors. In nearly any “cheap country”, those kinds of things are very expensive, and nobody ever discards them until they are beyond repair. An unfurnished flat doesn’t even have a sink or closet, they have to be bought at full retail, and a foreigner won’t know how to avoid getting hosed, even then.

Also, housing is often very scarce in the third world, where rentals are heard about by word of mouth and quickly occupied whenever they come up. And a lease in the local language can be a minefield. The only place it is easy to find a rental is in a resort area, where a lot of properties are maintained for short term occupancy, and will be commensurately expensive.

Local food will be very cheap, but chances are you will have no idea how to prepare or cook it, and there will be a learning curve there. Any foods outside the local cuisine will be more expensive than in the USA. Shopping will need to be done almost daily. Maybe cheaper in the long run to hire a housekeeper to shop and cook for you.

You’re going to love Ecuador. I’ve been there six times, and it’s a wonderful country. The very last time I went I tore some ligaments in my foot walking to the plane in Albany, NY (there wasn’t a covered jetway and I slipped on the tarmac). My hotel arranged for a doctor to come to my room. He treated me, provided me with crutches and painkillers and I was never charged a cent. The people there are so nice. Another time I left my new leather jacket in a casino, and I didn’t realize it until I was checking out the next morning. The hotel sent someone to collect it for me and deliver it to the airport, directly to me. I made friends during my travels there that are still close friends to this day.

Check out the CIA Factbook entry for any foreign country.

Belize, for instance, has a 30 or 33% Duty on any money brought into the country.

English may be an official language, but Spanish is the lingua franca.

The ‘rich foreigner’ is a popular target.

I knew one fellow who tried the ‘live like a King in Belize’ routine - he was back in less than a year, with 25% of his money gone, and a nasty STD to show for ‘hot blonde’ who just had to have him!.

The natives who were amazed by his (as a tourist) great wiz with hashish were not so friendly with him as a neighbor.

A friend of mine loves Costa Rica. I have never been there. But my friend is fairly fluent in Spanish. I love Barbados, but if you are staying anywhere near the coast, it is not so cheap. I don’t know what rental costs are in the middle of the island, probably fairly cheap. And with a daily temperature range of 75-88 (24-31) winter and summer (a native Bajan once asked me if it was winter or summer that it got cold up north) you can get away without air conditioning.

The real problem with these tropical paradises is medical care. Oh, they have doctors and hospitals, but I don’t quite trust them. One Bajan friend had bladder cancer and they were trying to treat it with naturopathic remedies. Finally, another friend of his, a doctor, arranged an operation for him in Chicago. I don’t know how it was paid for. That was several years ago and he seems fine.

Then there is Detroit. Rental costs practically nil. But oh the weather…