If you’re craving the ultimate adventure, complete with new cuisine, culture, and linguistic challenges, the expat life may be for you. Whether you work remotely, teach English, or find a job locally, living outside the US offers a slower pace of life, and immense personal rewards.
For skiers, surfers, and backpackers, living abroad gives you the time, and proximity, to explore some amazing outdoor spots that most Americans will never see. So how do you choose your home-away-from-home? Here are some of our favorite affordable cities for expats around the globe.
Taipei consistently tops the list for ideal expat cities, and for good reason. Business-friendly Taiwan offers tons of opportunities for English speakers, and fast internet for digital nomads.
If you’d like an affordable city that offers world-class cuisine, one of the best public transit networks on the planet, and a buzzing nightlife, you can’t do much better than Taipei.
While its capital has all the creature comforts of a world-class Asian city, Taiwan’s no concrete jungle. In fact, Taiwan manages to pack practically every outdoor sport under the sun onto one little island. Taiwan’s got a whopping 258 peaks taller than 3000 meters, making it a prime destination for climbers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Most of the island is accessible by public transit, affordable, and well-maintained. Add to that Taiwan’s impressive network of rivers and gorges for rafting and kayaking, and of course, the prime coastal surfing spots, and Taiwan literally has it all.
Highlights: Easy access to outdoor sports, great infrastructure, lots of jobs, fast internet
And now for something completely different: Tirana, a cheap little city with lots of Balkan charm.
As far as expat destinations go, Tirana might be considered “up and coming.” After decades of isolation, Albania is one of the Balkan Peninsula’s best-kept secrets. Although the country is still relatively undeveloped, the locals are famously friendly and many speak English. Tirana itself has some fascinating museums and monuments, plenty of cafes for relaxing and making new friends, and reliable internet access for remote workers.
From Tirana, you can reach mountains, historic Balkan towns, and miles and miles of stunning Adriatic coastline. Plus, you’re within a day’s journey of everywhere in southern Europe, from Rome to Istanbul. And with the low cost of living, you can budget plenty of your time and money for travelling.
Albania has something else to offer Americans: one of the most generous visa policies in Europe. US citizens can live here visa-free for up to a full year.
Highlights: Low cost of living, generous residency for Americans, friendly people, in the heart of southeastern Europe.
If you’re a freelancer, or a digital nomad, you might think western Europe is outside of your budget constraints. But then there’s Lisbon.
At first glance, Portugal and its shining capital city seem too good to be true. Not only is it scenic, buzzing with culture and nightlife, and sunny about 300 days of the year, Lisbon consistently ranks as the cheapest capital city in western Europe. Lisbon offers all the creature comforts, like great public transit and drinkable tap water, at a fraction of the cost of other European cities.
And for surfers and beach lovers, there’s no better choice than Portugal. From Lisbon, you’re just a few hours away from some of Europe’s best surfing spots, including Peniche and Ericeira. Bring your wetsuit—the Atlantic Ocean is cold year-round. However, Lisbon’s laid-back culture and mild Mediterranean climate will ensure that the waves will be calling to you, no matter what the season.
Highlights: cheap for western Europe, great infrastructure and culture, excellent surfing
If you’re more of a snow bunny than a beach bunny, Slovenia might be just your speed. Bordering Italy and Austria to the west, this charming country offers its own little corner of the Alps, for a much cheaper price. Winters can be mild, so ski and snowboard resorts sometimes rely on snow machines, but Slovenia’s slopes are a laid-back and budget-friendly alternative to the Alps’ more prestigious ski resorts. In the summer, Slovenia offers some of the continent’s best hiking and backpacking.
The country’s capital, Ljubljana, offers a youthful, cosmopolitan vibe that can make it feel much bigger than its 300,000 or so inhabitants. The high quality of life, low cost, and nearby natural splendor have made Ljubljana a recent favorite for international students and outdoor-loving expats. Just a few hours to the south are the famous coastlines of Croatia and Montenegro, making this a great home base for exploring the western Balkans.
Highlights: High quality of life for the cost, budget skiing in the Alps, fun and friendly culture
Located on Australia’s tropical northeastern tip, Cairns is smaller and more affordable than nearby Australian cities like Brisbane. However, the city offers plenty of opportunities for workers in an unbeatable location, close to some of Australia’s best beaches and the legendary Great Barrier Reef. With its own international airport, Cairns is just a short flight from Southeast Asia’s top destinations, including Hong Kong, Bali, and Manila.
Cairns’ scenic location and lush, tropical climate have attracted plenty of newcomers. It’s one of the highest-rated Australian cities on digitalnomad.com, scoring well on expat necessities including internet speed, clean air, tolerance, and fun. Another plus: Cairns is the only city on our list where there’s no language barrier for English speakers. Whether you find a job locally, or plan to work remotely, Cairns is an excellent home base for exploring Australia, and the South Pacific.
Highlights: Warm weather, English-speaking, great beaches nearby, accessible to SE Asia.
Are you living abroad, or considering it? What world cities are on your expat bucket list?