Cost of living vs quality of life – where should you live?

Beaches and skyscrapers, Dubai Beaches and skyscrapers, Dubai

As a digital nomad, it’s so important to get the balance right between choosing a country you really want to visit, and being able to afford to stay in that country for an extended period of time. The great thing is there are so many countries in the world that tick both the affordability and quality of life boxes. From personal experience Southeast Asia is a great place to visit for these reasons, while many people I’ve spoken to rave about Central and South America. Thanks to this incredibly connected world we now live in, it’s not hard to find out everything you need to know about almost every country, and make an informed decision before going there.

Sarah and I both earn money while travelling by working as freelance writers through Upwork. It’s a great way to make a living, and while this is the freelancing site we use, there are several you can join today and start making money. No matter where we are, we’ll earn roughly the same amount per hour, so it’s important to find a place where we can afford to live, while at the same time having enough money to get out and enjoy what a particular place has to offer.

La Barbeliniere, our housesitting assignment in France

La Barbeliniere, our housesitting assignment in France

Of course there are many ways you can keep costs down while in a country. We did housesitting in France for six months which took care of all of our rental costs and utility bills, saving us thousands of dollars in the process. We’ve also done our fair share of Couchsurfing, staying with some amazing people in Belgium, France and Switzerland. But visiting some countries can be very expensive and put a real strain on your bank account. The last thing you want to do is go to a country, only to find you can’t do anything because it’s so expensive. We come from Australia, so we know what it’s like to live in an expensive country.

Comparing the costs of living around the world

I recently stumbled across a website called Numbeo. It allows you to compare the cost of living in 125 countries around the world, and that number is growing all the time. You can find out the cost of everyday items such as groceries, meals in a restaurant, beer prices and rental costs for most of the world’s most popular countries. You can even choose two places and compare the costs side by side. For example, I compared my home town of Melbourne, Australia with one of our favourite places on Earth, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Here’s what I found out (in Australian dollars):

The quality of life in Chiang my was outstanding

The quality of life in Chiang Mai was outstanding

  1. Meal in an inexpensive restaurant – Melbourne $15, Chiang Mai $1.56
  2. Water (1.5L) – Melbourne $2.16, Chiang Mai $0.54
  3. Loaf of bread – Melbourne $2.80, Chiang Mai $1.50
  4. Bananas (1kg) – Melbourne $3.21, Chiang Mai $0.68
  5. Domestic beer (0.5L bottle) – Melbourne $4.76, Chiang Mai $1.77
  6. Taxi (per km) – Melbourne $1.69, Chiang Mai $0.39
  7. Utility bills (per month) – Melbourne $197.88, Chiang Mai $65.27
  8. Gym membership (per month) – Melbourne $71.03, Chiang Mai $34.15

These are just some of the many costs you can find on Numbeo. As you can see living in Chiang Mai is far cheaper than living in Melbourne, and if you’re earning the same amount of money as a freelancer no matter where you are, you’re money is going to go a lot further in a cheaper country!

Where should you live?

Of course there are some countries you may not want to live in regardless of the cost of living. It’s totally subjective for every person, and what one person may enjoy in a place, someone else may detest. Conversely, some people will be happy with a higher cost of living in return for a higher standard of life. For example, we couldn’t wait to get out of India. For some people India is a wonderful, mystical place, but for us it was a disaster. We flew from Delhi to Dubai and despite the fact we were going to experience a sharp rise in the price of pretty much everything, we were only too happy to be going there. Conversely, despite being a beautiful country, we had to get out of Switzerland within a week or so of being there. It is just so expensive, and it’s no wonder Zurich, Basel, Geneva and Zug are the four cities with the highest cost of living index.

Here is a list of the top 10 cheapest, and top10 most expensive places to live in the world:

Cheapest places to live

1. India, 2. Moldova, 3. Nepal, 4. Pakistan, 5. Algeria, 6. Kosovo, 7. Georgia, 8. Ukraine, 9. Tunisia, 10. Macedonia.

Most expensive places to live

1. Switzerland, 2. Norway, 3. Iceland, 4. U.S Virgin Islands, 5. Australia, 6. Denmark, 7. Singapore, 8. United Kingdom, 9. Papua New Guinea, 10. Kuwait.

Switzerland was beautiful, but boy was it expensive!

Switzerland was beautiful, but boy was it expensive!

As I’ve already said, there are countries in both lists that you wouldn’t want to live in for a number of reasons, one of which is the cost of living. For example I don’t think Papua New Guinea or Kuwait will be on my ‘must visit’ list any time soon. However, there are countries that offer the perfect combination of affordability and quality of life. We spent a couple of months in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) and were blown away by how cheap and enjoyable it was to live there. It was the perfect combination, and we’re not surprised that it’s such an incredibly popular destination for digital nomads.

Where should you go?

It’s totally subjective of course, everyone has their own opinions on what makes a place awesome, and what makes a place horrible. It will all depend on how much money you have, what you’re earning capacity is, and what you like to do in a place once you’re there. If you’ve been offered a job in a particular country and are being paid standard local rates, your opinion may be different to someone who is earning the same amount of money online regardless of where in the world they are. Also, one person may be more than satisfied just sing themselves in the local area on foot, while another person is into joining tour groups to local attractions. How you live your life and what you want to do will have an enormous bearing on where you can and should go.

For the full list of countries in order of affordability, you can check them out HERE.

Tell us in the comments section below what countries you’ve been to that get the combination of affordability and quality of life perfectly right. For me, its hard to go past Thailand, but for you it could be somewhere else…

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