The Retire Abroad series inspired me to build a special tool for the FIRE community: The Earth Awaits. It’s a tool made to build you budgets for hundreds of cities worldwide, taking your family size, budget, housing needs, and a bunch of other things into account. I think it’s the best way to explore the places in the world you can retire– right now.
Retire abroad… on $774 or less?
I mentioned in a previous post that I made up a little game that the STB-Mrs.-Vagabond and I like to play. It’s called “If we ran away from home today to retire abroad with nothing but our dogs, where could we live safely, thrive, and most importantly, be happy?”
Though we’re still a long way from our final retirement goal, it might surprise you to know that we could already retire abroad to some very inexpensive places in the world. To be honest, they’re not all on our list of places to end up, but this kind of thought exercise is incredibly liberating. Often, just knowing that we have options gives us a feeling of empowerment and control over our lives.
This is a post that I hope to make into a series, touching base at least once a year on some exotic and exciting places one might retire on our retirement budget as of that point.
One of my favorite sites when I fantasize about slow travel is Numbeo. Numbeo is a great, crowdsourced site that solicits price information for common goods and services from all over the world. Some places have few contributors, so I’m selecting from locales with at least 250 data points within the past 18 months as of the time of writing.
Numbeo ranks locations based on their cost of living relative to New York City, which is assigned an arbitrary score of 100. A city with a score of 30 would be approximately 30 percent as expensive to live in as New York City.
As of August 2015, we could retire with a monthly income of $774. Though this might not seem like a lot to some, it’s important to consider that compared to most of the world, we are obscenely wealthy. The worldwide average salary at this time is $1,480 per month, but that is hugely skewed by the few ultra-wealthy nations of the world pulling up the average. Our $774 per month is about the monthly income in Brazil, and is more than the average monthly income in Colombia, China, Mexico, and almost three times the average monthly income in the Philippines. Generally speaking, were we to live in some of these countries, we’d want to be on the more luxurious end of the lifestyle. A lot of the prices quoted here are only correct for an average-to-below-average apartment. Remember: this is just an exercise, and with time and patience, our options for both location and lifestyle will grow. We’ll try to “spend” less than half our budget on housing and bills, but it may be a bit tight in these early days.
Without further ado, here are five places a couple could settle for $774 a month (followed by their Numbeo score) in 2015!
5. Cebu, Philippines (35.36)
Cebu is a province in the Philippines, and one its most popular resort destinations. It is located approximately in the center of the string of 7,000 islands that make up the nation. While our $774 is a little bit on the low end of what an expat could comfortably live on here, it’s only barely so, and having modest needs and taking advantage of free amenities would be key to enjoying life here on a small budget.
For starters, there are clean and beautiful beaches everywhere. Those seeking to retire abroad to a tropical climate may consider Cebu to be perfect. Cebu city has an raging (though slightly bawdy and maybe a little seedy) nightlife. There’s SCUBA diving in crystal clear waters, and hiking to the many waterfalls and other natural wonders.
After our housing, entertainment, and utility budget, there would be approximately $220.14 left, and in a land where $10 buys you about 20 pounds of oranges, a pound of chicken breast comes in at $1.76, and a pound of rice is 48 cents, that’s plenty.
|1 Bedroom Apartment, In City Center||$392.74|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$68.30|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$26.20|
|Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$32.76|
|Public Transport Pass for 2||$16.38|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$17.48|
4. Medellín, Colombia (30.61)
Gone are the dark days of Colombia’s narco-trafficking past. These days, the cartels are on the run, and even the dreaded FARC has mostly been dismantled. North Americans are flooding into Colombia’s cities to retire abroad affordably and comfortably.
Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its comfortable temperatures and permanently green foliage. The city has a modern, efficient, and comfortable metro system, making owning a car more of a hassle than a help. The neighborhoods most popular with expats in Medellín are El Poblado, Laureles, and Envigado. While some of these apartments are out of our price range, a 1 bedroom apartment in Laureles can be found for an average of $370, which would be affordable on our budget. We’ll use the Numbeo value of $257, but it’s likely that if we were to really run off today, we’d splurge on the desireable neighborhood.
There is so, so much to do in Medellín. Some examples include exploring the colonial architecture, shopping in modern malls, eating the delicious food, taking in some reggaeton music or salsa dancing, or taking a long weekend to visit one of the other spectacular cities of Cartagena or Bogota.
On our Numbeo budget, we’re left $314.90 for food and extras! We’d probably use $100 of that to live in Laureles, and then eat the huge amount of local and delicious produce the rest of the month!
|1 Bedroom Apartment, Outside City Center||$257.09|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$73.08|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$20.99|
|Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$40.84|
|Public Transport Pass for 2||$55.54|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$11.56|
3. Asunción, Paraguay (35.9)
Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay, is the home to almost 540,000 people. It is one of the oldest cities in South America, and is known for being both safe and beautiful. The Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio de los López, and a wealth of colonial buildings all make the city a bargain retirement destination.
Asuncion is a landlocked country, so that means no easy beach access– but it’s also right on the border with Argentina, so Buenos Aires is just a one (admittedly very long) day bus ride away.
After all shelter, utilities, and a few meals are paid for, we’ve got $269.44 left in the budget for some day trips into the country, groceries, and further entertainment.
|1 Bedroom Apartment, In City Center||$279.89|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$56.36|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$60.63|
|Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$40.40|
|Public Transport Pass for 2||$38.48|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$28.80|
2. Concepcion, Chile (39.84)
Concepción is a coastal Chilean city located at about the midpoint of the nation. It boasts both ocean and mountain activities, or perhaps you could take in a futból match amongst tens of thousands of ardent local fans (an experience that will cost you about $10 USD for the very best seats in the house!)!
Like all the South American and European locations on this list, access to the United States is excellent, with daily flights to numerous large U.S. cities. You’ll have access to great seafood and produce, and unlike many other places in Chile, the high population of English-speaking university students will have happy to talk to you if your Spanish is, as a local might say, un trabajo en elaboración.
After our basic needs, we’re left with the princely monthly sum of $167.77! OK, OK, I admit that this might be cutting it a bit close– but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s all about flexibility. If this is where you really wanted to be, who wouldn’t give up one of those meals out, or maybe pick an apartment outside the city center? Now get out there and have a Pisco Sour on me!
|1 Bedroom Apartment, In City Center||$331.86|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$101.82|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$30.97|
|Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$32.44|
|Public Transport Pass for 2||$88.50|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$20.64|
1. Braga, Portugal (43.83)
The lone European entry on our list is Braga, Portugal. Portugal is a growing destination for retirees, both early and traditional, because of its rock-bottom prices relative to the rest of Europe, access to excellent health care, and all the amenities of a developed nation. What’s more, you have easy access to western European countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and Belgium– a treasure trove of culture, food, and activities, via comfortable (and fun!) trains and budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir.
Braga is the third largest municipality in Portugal, but it’s population is still only 181,000. Braga was founded around 20 BC as a Roman outpost, and is known for it’s elegant cobblestone streets, gorgeous architecture, and mediterranean climate (It’s close to the Atlantic ocean, but being a bit inland, Braga is technically classified as Mediterranean weather). Every year, the people of Braga perform a Roman reenactment, dressing up in togas, centurion uniforms, and other period garb, transforming the city center into a bustling Roman settlement.
After accounting for the basics in Braga, plus some basic entertainment, we’re still left with almost $260.09. Since a dozen eggs will run you about $1.48, it would be easy to eat for two with plenty left over for entertainment, hobbies, and maybe a little travel every few years.
|1 Bedroom Apartment, Outside City Center||$246.97|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$87.23|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$16.77|
|Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$65.62|
|Public Transport Pass for 2||$71.08|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$26.24|
I’m Not Ready to Pack my Bags
Truthfully, I could live comfortably in most of these places right now– but the goal is to thrive, and have the freedom to move onwards to almost anywhere if someplace just wasn’t the right fit. These budgets are absolutely barebones, and while we want to be frugal in retirement, they’re a little low for our long-term comfort level.
All of that said, it’s incredibly exciting to write an article like this. I’ve had countless conversations just like this with STB-Mrs.-Vagabond, and it always makes me ecstatic to consider the adventure before us. What about you? Where would you retire abroad on our budget? What do you think about these destinations? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re interested in tracking your own progress towards retirement, please consider setting up a free Personal Capital account. You’ll be able to track your investments and other assets, and you’ll help me keep this site going long enough to find out where the next $774 will take us!