Do you ever think about travelling local-style? The idea would be that instead of a 10-day vacation where you see only museums and meet throngs of fellow tourists, you go to a completely foreign place and settle there for 6 months, or a year. Some people do this as a way of life, spending even two or three years in a new land, finding work and experiencing life from a very different perspective with each move. If you decided to do this, where would you choose to go? Many of us might long to try Madrid or Paris, or perhaps somewhere more tropical like Costa Rica or the Bahamas. The problem, of course, is that life in these tourist hot spots would not be financially breezy, even if the weather was.
Here, we’ve compiled information on some places in the world where the more daring traveller might go. Living expenses are incredibly low in these ten cheapest cities in the world, but the ways of life are worlds away from western culture. On the whole, we shouldn’t envy the locals of these cheap cities much, because expense is relative – and in the following ten areas, local salaries are accordingly dismally low. Western travellers might arrive in one of these ten cities with savings worth much more than they were in their native country. However, this form of travelling has been denounced by many as pushing up local prices and making things even less sustainable for locals whose salaries remain low. Another problem with travelling to some of these incredibly cheap but relatively poor cities is that circumstances can be volatile, socially and politically.
However, if you’re curious about leaving your comfort zone and trying out a lesser-seen destination on a tiny budget, you’ll find your US dollar stretches almost unbelievably far in these ten cities.
10. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Although the thought of living in the capital city of Saudi Arabia might be daunting because of the strictly traditional lifestyle – especially for women – things are extremely safe here for foreigners. Inside expat compounds one can relax — the religious police, or mutawa, are not allowed inside, and so women may dress as they wish, and men and women can mix for sports and recreation, of which there is much choice. Swimming, tennis, well-outfitted gyms are all features of expat compounds. Outside the compound there is the Souk al-Thumairi, a traditional Saudi market where local handicrafts may be bought. If you’d rather more Western shopping, malls and shops such as Gucci and Versace abound, although the latter stores are exceptions among the otherwise cheap living costs.
9. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
In this Saudi Arabian city where bread costs $1.61 US per loaf and gas is $0.13 per litre, things are very affordable! We can’t give you the cost of a glass of wine, because you cannot consume alcohol in this Muslim country, but there are other benefits. It’s relatively cheap to renovate and refurbish here. Things can be difficult for women unaccustomed to the culture and religion: Females are not allowed to drive or to talk to men who are not family, unless it is to ask for something in a shop – women are advised not to tell the shop owner, “please ” or, “thank you” as it might be seen as flirting.
8. Panama City, Panama
Life here is morally freer than in Saudi Arabia, and cheaper. One can have breakfast for $0.40 US. Get a cup of coffee (15¢) and a bag of torrejas de maiz or corn fritters (25¢) from a food vendor. Grab a cab for ridiculously low rates, or the bus if you’re more daring. Stop at the doctor’s and pay $6 for an independent appointment. Next, go shopping, and buy a pair of jeans for $1.99. Your apartment in a popular area might cost $500-$800 in rent per month, depending on whether you need one bedroom or two. A decent dinner out (not fast food) will cost you $10. For $2,000 per month, a single person can live luxuriously in Panama City.
7. Bucharest, Romania
Although some locals might complain about this seemingly dilapidated city that is a product of past communist rule, there is much to enjoy about life in the historical Bucharest. The average price of a bottle of wine is $4.12 US, and brand cigarettes cost about the same for 20. Bread is also very affordable, and the culture is much warmer than the slightly drab gray of the landscape. Many of the best cafes and restaurants are tucked away, however, where tourists will never find them. No one’s trying to deprive the small industry of these venues. Rather, it just happens a lot of the best places are the smaller, “homemade” businesses that are reportedly down side streets, in nooks and crannies of the city only locals know.
6. Algiers, Algeria
There isn’t much introductory information on this cheap city, in part because of its generalized violence in recent history which makes it an unpopular choice for immigration. This is a cheap city to live in, but local salaries are also quite low. For a professional (an engineer or doctor, for example) from another country, salaries will be more, in which case life can be very inexpensive indeed. Making phone calls, for instance, cost about 1¢ per minute within the country, and 5¢ per minute outside the country. Restaurant food (high-end) is reportedly 5 to 6 times cheaper than in the United States. Overall, life can be cheap, but unfortunately, in the not-too-distant past that reality applied in more ways than one — so tourists are advised to be somewhat cautious in this city.
5. Kathmandu, Nepal
Life in this South Asian country is nothing if not interesting. In 2006 the last monarch gave up rule and in 2007 Nepal became a republic. Since then, the country has been working hard to battle poverty and increase their GDP. Both have improved, but there is more to be done. Life is cheap for foreigners. A loaf of bread costs on average $1.26 US, and 20 brand-name cigarettes just $1.54. If you move here things will be cheap, but get ready to be patient. The electric grid is not big enough for the population so loading is practiced, effectively meaning you’ll have electricity when you have it, and not a whole lot. The same inconsistencies may also apply to running water and more. We hear the delicacy momo (something like Dim sum) is not to be missed, though…
4. Damascus, Syria
Damascus is in a time of crisis and flux, so it’s understandably an extremely cheap place to live – though not desirable, unless you’d willingly choose to take on the political instability. Being heavily guarded, however, central Damascus is relatively secure, and residents have described life in Damascus as being like living in a bubble. Life goes on as usual, with the young, middle class apparently, “out smoking and drinking like nothing’s going on.” With 20 smokes costing only $1.58 and wine at under $6.00 a bottle, this is easy to do.
3. New Delhi, India
As the seat of government is in this city, local food is extra cheap, with vendors vying for clients. Try the canteen AP Bhavan for some very cheap, very good regional fare. The subway system here actually works well, making getting around easy. With some wonderful world heritage sites and other monuments to visit, such as the tomb of India’s second Mughal emperor and the Purana Qila (old fort), there’s architectural beauty to be had for free. Great, inexpensive shopping can be had at the wholesale market called the Chandni Chowk, built by the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. Need to get a toaster or your shoes repaired? Try the street corners, and expect to pay under a dollar.
2. Karachi, Pakistan
Despite the fact that people in this city live under daily threat from police fighting Taliban insurgents from the nearby border with Afghanistan, the city’s economy continues to thrive. This port city is considered one of the fastest growing megacities in the world, but it has its share of problems. This is where American journalist Daniel Pearl was killed, and also where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the grizzly mind behind the September 11th attacks, made his base. Where 20 brand cigarettes at $1.56 are 3¢ cheaper than a loaf of bread, is living here so cheap because of the problems? And is it worth finding out? Artillery and opium come through Karachi’s port. Things are very cheap here, but safety is not guaranteed.
1. Mumbai, India
With a loaf of bread just 91¢ here, and 20 cigarettes $1.53, things are inexpensive in Mumbai. The street food is reputed to be excellent, and Crawford Market, for shopping, has low, fixed prices. Travellers can ensure they get the local and not the tourist price simply by being informed and haggling. The same goes for shopping elsewhere — abandon the idea of one-stop shopping and definitely avoid the premium convenience stores. Instead, ask locals, and you’ll find places where the prices cannot be beat. Where else can you get internet for $15 or take a date to the movies for $8 for two? Only in Mumbai.