Cheap Cities for Expats — But Would You Really Want to Live There?

city of Sanaa, YemenLast week we published the top cities in the world for high cost of expat living. Now it’s time to flip it around and show you the lowest-cost cities. I explained the methodology here.

While most of the high cost-of-living cities are in the Pacific Rim and Europe, most of the lowest cost cities are in Africa.

So, without further ado, here are the least expensive cities for expats in the world.

  1. Sanaa, Yemen
  2. NukuAlofa, Tonga
  3. Tripoli, Libya
  4. Thimpu, Bhutan
  5. Colombo, Sri Lanka
  6. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  7. La Paz, Bolivia
  8. Tunis, Tunisia
  9. Kampala, Uganda
  10. Dushanbe, Tajikistan
  11. The question is, would you want to actually live in any of them?

    I confess I don’t know much about these cities. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be happy in Libya, Yemen or Tajikistan.

    Other notable low-cost cities include Pyongyang, Korea (287), Tianjin, China (284), Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina (282), Kathmandu, Nepal (281) and Quito, Ecuador (280). In the United States, Indianapolis, IN (285), Memphis, TN (272) and El Paso, TX (270) are the least expensive cities ranked.

    Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam ranks at 264.

    Low-cost cities in countries already popular with expats include Belmopon, Belize (256), Panama City, Panama (216), San Jose, Costa Rica (206), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (198), Bangkok, Thailand (181), Mexico City, Mexico (180) and Manila, Phillipines (177).

    The lowest-ranked western European city is Gibraltar (183).

    Could you see yourself living in any of the the lowest-cost cities?


  1. During the Tunisian Revolution, I kept seeing the news feeds coming out of Tunis and couldn’t help thinking that it looked awfully pretty. I bet the North African climate is awesome. Give ’em a couple years to straighten out their government and I bet it would be very popular.

    I don’t know much about Dushanbe and Tajikistan, but having visited the magnificent Dushanbe tea house that the City of Dushanbe gifted to their sister city of Boulder, Colorado, I can bet it’s a colorful culture with terrific food and great textiles, arts, and crafts. Boulder gave them an internet cafe.

    • Karen, I’m sure you’re right about Tajikistan — my problem with it would be the climate. 🙂

      As to Tunisia, here’s what Lonely Planet has to say:

      “With a balmy, sand-fringed Mediterranean coast, scented with jasmine and sea breezes, and where the fish on your plate is always fresh, Tunisia is prime territory for a straightforward sun-sand-and-sea holiday. But beyond the beaches, it’s a thrilling, underrated destination where distinct cultures and incredible extremes of landscape can be explored in just a few days. Tunis is refashioning itself as an ambitiously modern Arab capital, though both its long Ottoman and not-so-distant colonial past still have a powerful, palpable presence. In the north, lakes teem with pink flamingos, surprising deep-green forests rise up from the coast, and gently rolling plains are dotted with olive and citrus trees. To the south, the ever-enchanting sands of the Sahara stretch deep into Africa and the traditions of the indigenous Berbers persevere.”

      I also have some positive feelings about Tunisia because the Egypt scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tatooine desert scenes from Star Wars were filmed there. 🙂 Let’s hope the civil unrest settles down.

  2. San Jose in Costa Rica made the list of cheap expat places to live, but you have to consider why you would live there when there are so many places in Costa Rica that have expat opportunities – infrastructure, communications and medical facilities – also why drive in San Jose’s traffic when you could be hanging on one of Costa Rica’s 300 beaches?

    – Tee

  3. I lived in Dushanbe. It’s hot, depressing, and the sand storms and filthy tap water (with sticks, leaves, literally mud coming out of it) is horrible. People are still dying of cholera there, and the government is oppressive. As for women’s right. There are 0. Go there if you want to help protect women who are one step up from slaves.

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