Buying a home overseas is not only for the wealthy. In some cases, living abroad is cheaper than living in the United States.
The U.S. government doesn’t compile official data on how many Americans reside overseas but the State Department estimates 9 million live abroad (a number that does not include military personnel serving in the armed forces). It’s a good bet not all of them have seven-figure bank accounts.
If you are considering a move abroad, cost can be a key factor when it comes to where you reside. With the help of International Living, we’ve put together a list of 10 places around the globe where many Americans can afford to live comfortably. These are not the cheapest places to live but they are locations that offer good value.
International Living, which annually publishes a Global Retirement Index, doesn’t consider the average cost of housing across a nation when putting together its index. It would not accurately represent the cost of housing that Americans want. Too often in these countries you’ll find beautiful homes on the water selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars and tumbledown shacks that go for hundreds.
“Instead, we have our guys on the ground take a representative sampling of properties we know expats would find attractive, in the towns and cities we’re recommending, and we compare those across countries,” Executive Editor Jennifer Stevens wrote in an email.
The locations they chose for our list offer something for everyone. Mexico’s Riviera Maya has year-round warm weather. Cuenca, Ecuador is known for its beautiful 16th and 17th century architecture. Arequipa, Peru offers outdoor adventures. Malaga, Spain is part of the Costa del Sol which has the highest concentration of golf courses in Europe.
Living overseas isn’t for everyone. But if you are looking for a fresh start, you might want to mull one of these locales.
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Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in the middle of the 16th century. The former capital city is famous for its colonial architecture that combines decorative elements of Spanish and native design. The use of glistening, white sillar (volcanic rock) for the construction of these buildings earned it the nickname, the “White City.”
For those interested in an active lifestyle, Arequipa is a hub for hiking in the nearby mountains and canyons. Sand surfing, fishing and mountain biking are among the other outdoors activities available. If your ideal lifestyle is a bit tamer, strolling Arequipa’s lovely cobblestone streets is also great exercise. You’ll need some kind of workout because Peruvian cuisine is considered some of the best in the world.
Arequipa is Peru’s second-most populous city with 800,000 residents. It averages 300 days of sunshine each year.
Real estate in Arequipa can be affordable, especially if you move away from the historic center and popular areas such as Cayma and Yanahuara.
Most homes in Arequipa are fairly large. It is difficult to find small studio condos. Much more typical are two- and three-bedroom apartments, houses and townhouses.
Home prices in Arequipa reached a high a couple years ago with a booming economy and mining industry. With a slowdown in the mining industry, property values have fallen but are predicted to increase as new mining developments get underway nearby.
In upscale Cayma, a three-bedroom condo can be had for $150,000 or less. Smaller two-bedroom condos near Plaza Aventura start at $65,000. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is about $350.
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Cosmopolitan yet laid-back Cascais is 20 miles west of Lisbon on an estuary of the River Tejo – also known by its former Roman name, the Tagus River.
The city was a small fishing village until King Luis I chose it as his summer retreat. Portuguese high society followed, constructing lavish villas and ornate mansions.
It’s not only the arresting beauty of the bay that charms locals and visitors alike. Cascais is known for its great beaches, manicured parks, shops offering traditional items such as pottery and lace, and upscale clothing boutiques. A multitude of restaurants provide outdoor seating, and interesting museums can be enjoyed by the art or history buff.
The city, which has a population of more than 200,000, is meticulously maintained. Streets are spotless. Red, yellow and purple blooms burst from street lamp baskets, and roundabouts are decorated with intricately designed flower arrangements. The town is blessed with a year-round moderate climate, with temperatures ranging from 55 to 77 degrees.
The village of Cascais is one of wealthiest municipalities in Portugal, but that doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed as being too expensive. Real estate prices in Portugal are among the lowest in Europe, making it an affordable option if you seek a European base. And as a foreigner, you can legally own property there.
Many Portuguese prefer to live in apartments or condos. One-bedroom condos start at $120,000. Prices for condos run about $362 per square foot in the city center and $175 per square foot in the suburbs. Rent on a two-bedroom apartment is about $750 monthly.
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Central Valley, Costa Rica
Expats have been flocking to Costa Rica’s Central Valley for decades and it’s not hard to see why. The springlike climate, central location and ready-made expat community are just a few of the reasons more and more people are deciding to call it home. As a result, supportive communities have formed, providing schools, clubs, sports and a variety of cultural activities.
It’s hard to beat the Central Valley when looking for a beautiful, friendly and relatively inexpensive place to live.
A major draw is the comfortable year-round climate. The elevation, between 3,000 to about 4,500 feet, means temperature highs in the mid-80s during the day to lows in the mid-60s at night.
As the name would suggest, the Central Valley is central. You can be in San Jose, the country’s capital, and its suburbs within an hour to an hour and a half.
The Central Valley – home to about two-thirds of Costa Rica’s population – is also the place to find elegant residential communities, excellent medical facilities, good restaurants, luxurious hotels and spectacular natural wonders, including volcanoes and rain forests. The most popular areas for foreigners are to the west of San Jose, including towns such as Grecia, Atenas, San Ramon, Sarchi, Escazu and Santa Ana.
Costa Rica puts no restrictions on foreign property ownership, but no one is allowed to own property within 50 meters of the ocean. If you buy a house, condo or piece of land valued at $200,000, you qualify for a Costa Rican residence visa as an investor.
Three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes start at $150,000. Rent on a furnished, two-bedroom home is about $500 monthly.
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As Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca is the economic center of the southern sierra and has long been known for its beautiful 16th and 17th century architecture. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nestled in the Andes Mountains and surrounded by four rivers.
Cuenca is famous for its colorful festivals, distinctive food and breathtaking scenery.
Founded in 1557, Cuenca was not connected to the rest of Ecuador by a paved road until the early 1960s. Since then, Cuenca has developed rapidly and today has a strong infrastructure and efficient transportation system. With a population of more than 500,000, Cuenca is a pedestrian-friendly city. Most expats forgo vehicle ownership in favor of walking, taxis and buses.
Although it’s near the equator, Cuenca sits high in the southern Andes at an altitude of 8,300 feet, and its residents enjoy year round springlike weather.
This is also the artistic mecca of southern Ecuador. Artisans produce fine leather goods, custom-made guitars, filigree jewelry, ceramics and an array of other high-quality products.
Proximity to the United States and Canada is one of Cuenca’s appealing traits. A connecting flight to Ecuador’s international airports in Quito and Guayaquil is less than an hour and costs about $60. From either of these locations, nonstop flights to Miami take about four hours.
The price of a three-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse starts at $75,000. Many expats use the purchase of real estate to obtain a residence visa. Rent for a three-bedroom apartment is about $500.
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Granada is an elegant colonial city on Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) – the largest lake in Central America – and its picturesque setting is anchored by the famous and much photographed yellow church in the city center. Located in western Nicaragua, it is the country’s sixth most populous city with about 150,000 people. The timber, gold and silver industries have made it Nicaragua’s center of commerce.
Granada enjoys warm, sunny weather year-round. Expats have flocked to Granada in recent years for its low cost of living, quality health care and walkable amenities. It has a perfect blend of culture, beautiful avenues and city life. The friendly expat community will welcome you with open arms, and you’ll quickly find your calendar filled up with activities. There is a strong volunteer service within the community, and many expats look for ways to improve the quality of life of Nicaraguans.
With all the foreigners who have moved to Granada recently, you’ll have no problem finding restaurants with your favorite comfort foods, as well as the usual international fare, and of course, Nicaraguan dishes.
Restored colonial houses start at $200,000. Newly constructed one- and two-bedroom homes can be found for $60,000. Rent on a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is about $550 per month.
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Malaga is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back 2,800 years. Located on Spain’s popular Costa del Sol on the northern side of the Mediterranean Sea, it is the sixth-largest city in the country, with a population of more than 500,000.
Over the past decade or so, Malaga has been transformed into a clean, bright city with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor. It is brimming with museums – including Museo Picasso Malaga in honor of native son Pablo Picasso – great dining and plenty of shopping.
Costa del Sol is home to the highest concentration of golf courses in Europe. With its subtropical-Mediterranean climate that delivers mild winters and an average of nearly 300 days of sunshine a year, it is ideal for year-round golfing. Marbella Club, designed by Dave Thomas, offers spectacular views of Gibraltar and the north African coast from the seventh hole.
Spain puts no restrictions on foreigners buying real estate in the country. For many Europeans, the Costa del Sol is the most popular part of the Spanish coastline to buy, rent or invest in real estate. As a result, many parts of the Costa del Sol are overbuilt and overpriced. Location is everything here. Depending on whether it’s beachfront or in the foothills, there’s a huge variation in prices.
A one-bedroom condo in the historic center sells for around $170,000. A one-bedroom apartment rents for about $800 a month.
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Medellin is nestled in a valley between the western and central ranges of the Andes Mountains. With a population of 3 million, it is Colombia’s second largest city. Medellin’s fabulous springlike climate – the year-round average temperature is 72 degrees – earned it the nickname the “City of Eternal Spring.”
Thirty years ago, Time magazine called Medellin “the most dangerous city on Earth.” The city gained a poor reputation for being a drug-cartel stronghold in the 1980s and ’90s. But in 2012, the Urban Land Institute declared Medellin “the most innovative city in the world.” Crime has plummeted, and Medellin is prosperous and much safer. In the Crime Index 2018 Mid-Year report, 26 U.S. cities are considered more dangerous than Medellin.
Today, Medellin is a thriving metropolis, attracting a growing number of expats because of its low cost of living and quality of life. A new transport system includes a clean, modern subway and tram system and an escalator and cable car system that climbs the mountains above downtown.
Medellin has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.
Houses start at $55,000 and can cost less than $100,000 in the city’s upscale neighborhoods. Rent on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment can run between $400 to $1,000 per month.
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On the tip of the Azuero Peninsula, on the Pacific Ocean, lies the town of Pedasi. The tranquil, rural town – a five-hour drive from Panama City, Panama’s capital – is surrounded by green pastures where cattle graze, only a few miles from the ocean.
You’ll find cottages with clay tile roofs and homes built from clay, but you won’t find high-rise buildings.
The many beaches in the greater Pedasi region, just outside the village, provide the main source of income for locals – fishing. Considered the “Tuna Coast” of Panama, the waters are filled with fish. Sport fishing is a popular pastime.
Another attraction that has gained popularity in recent years is surfing. Surfers worldwide have discovered Playa Venao, a surfing beach 40 minutes away.
Panama’s first female president, Mireya Moscoso, was born in Pedasi and made many contributions improving the infrastructure of the town during her time in office. Her efforts have given the locals a sense of pride in their town. The first thing you might notice when you visit Pedasi is how clean the town is, and that the homes are all well-kept and painted in bright colors.
In Panama, foreigners and Panamanians basically have the same property rights. Buying property in Panama is similar to the process in the United States. Also, the U.S. dollar is accepted as an official currency along with the Panamanian balboa and has been since 1904.
A two-bedroom, two-bathroom home starts around $135,000. Many expats prefer to build their own homes because prices are relatively low. Rent for a two-bedroom home is about $750 monthly.
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Penang Island, Malaysia
Penang Island is a small tropical island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. The former British colony has a population of just over 700,000, with the majority living in the capital, George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers a balance of nature and sophisticated amenities, from jungle-covered hills bursting with wildlife to modern high-rises to pristine beaches.
Penang has delightful shopping, enticing food and a vibrant culture. You’ll find many of the same high-end stores you would in the United States. You can walk through the jungle, laze about on a secluded beach, take a food tour, or drive a few hours to visit an orangutan shelter.
Malaysia does not limit the type of real estate expats can buy, but it does impose a minimum-purchase price that varies by state. In some states, you can purchase a condo for a minimum of $135,000, but in others the minimum is $264,000. The guidelines are always changing, so do some research before deciding on a new home.
Three-bedroom, three-bathroom condos in a high-rise buildings start at $200,000. Rent for a similar unit is about $750 a month. You can sell your property at any time, but Real Property Gains Tax is 5 percent after five years. If you sell before then, you are subject to 30 percent tax on the profits.
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Riviera Maya, Mexico
Stretching from Cancun to Tulum, Mexico’s Riviera Maya is a premier beach destination with its white sands, turquoise waters and year-round warm weather.
Mexico is the most popular country for American expats, with an estimated 1 million living there. And the Riviera Maya has quickly become a favored area.
The region has prospered thanks to a high level of investment from the government and the private sector. It has modern infrastructure, services and amenities, as well as traditional Mexican culture, such as music, food and events. Riviera Maya offers something for everyone, whether you want a seaside village, resort-style living or a sophisticated city atmosphere.
The Mexican government decided in the 1970s to make the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula a focal point of tourism. Once they subsidized the building of hotels on the island area of Cancun, that kicked off development up and down the coast, quickly turning it into a popular vacation spot.
The Riviera Maya enjoys warm weather year-round thanks to its tropical climate. Tropical storms and hurricanes can be a concern.
Although Mexico’s constitution prohibits foreigners from owning property within 30 miles of the coastline and 60 miles of the U.S. border, it is legal for Americans to purchase property in the restricted areas. Within these zones, property must be purchased through a bank trust.
One-bedroom condos with beach access start at $90,000. Move inland, and prices drop as much as 30 percent. Rent on a two-bedroom condo is about $900 per month.
Kathy Orton/The Washington Post