Friday, January 13, 2012

Is It Really Cheaper To Live Abroad?

(The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, HOW TO SURVIVE ABROAD, which should be available in the next couple of weeks.)


You hear a lot of claptrap passed around about how it’s so much cheaper to live in this country or that.

Some countries are very expensive, it’s true – Britain and the Scandinavian countries, for example. And some countries are noticeably cheaper by Western standards, like Thailand and India.

But prices are kind of leveling out, all over the globe, and If you’re expecting to lead a life full of creature comforts and carousing – some stuff will cost more, some stuff will cost less, but if you buy a lot of international brand-name products, you’ll probably end up spending the same as you would anywhere in the world.

(And if you’re working a low-level, non-corporate, locally based job, you’ll probably be making a local salary, so it’s not like you have some tremendous advantage.) 

Now, if it’s the simple life you want – there are some countries where living the simple life is rather a lot cheaper and more enjoyable, or at least more interesting, than it would be back home.

You can rent huts on the beach for $10 a night all over Southeast Asia. Even in a major city like Bangkok, if you want to eat nothing but local food, drink in alleyway bars with cab drivers, and rent a one-room studio with a squat toilet, you can probably live on $400 a month.

But if it’s the international life of Starbucks and internet and a new phone and nightclubs with DJs and fog machines and an apartment that actually has a kitchen and air-con and stuff – you could easily spend the same amount that you’d spend in the West. 

And don’t forget variables like health care. Quality health care might be pretty high compared to the cost of other stuff. 

In countries with shitty infrastructures, corrupt cops, unsafe streets, horrific pollution, etc., yeah, the cost of living is a lot lower than places like Switzerland or Germany, which consistently top “quality of life” surveys – and you get what you pay for.

And don’t forget about all the money you spend on plane tickets and visas and all that.

I lived on $600 a month in Thailand back in the ‘90s, but I also lived on $600 a month in back in America in the ‘90s when I was a student. Living like a student is always cheap and usually jolly.
(Until you hit middle age, of course, when the life of the student suspiciously begins to resemble the life of a bum.)

So yeah, no shit, if you live without a car or health insurance, eat only at cheap places or at home, and live in a cheap apartment, the cost of living will be less.

Is that awesome or pathetic? Is living like a student in one country really cheaper than living like a student in another country?

Living cheap is a lifestyle choice, not a geography choice. If you’re the kind of person who blows through all their money mindlessly every month, you can do that anywhere. I’ve seen numerous examples of it. And believe me, there’s always SOMETHING to blow all your money on.

The very useful website will give you some specific numbers about the country of your choice.

For example – cigarettes, rent, and hookers are cheap in Thailand, but wine and cheese is hellishly expensive. Francophiles need not apply. 

Judge it by your lifestyle, or the lifestyle that you want – if you spend all your extra money on Starbucks and McDonald’s in America, you could certainly do the same in Thailand.

If you want cheap rent and alcohol, you can find them, too. . .


brian said...

I believe the notion that living abroad is cheaper has to do with the absence of social pressure. The West in general, and America in particular, is very judgemental towards those who do not submit to keeping up with the Joneses. When you move overseas and regain your anonmymity, no one cares that you live in a studio, or that you work part time teaching English, etc. Since you have no ties, you have nobody to impress. True, you might want to have enough social status (i.e., loot) to impress local ladies, or perhaps have a decent trip when not teaching, but if you're not wasting your money on a 60 inch 3D flat screen, or a Lexus, or a McMansion in the tony ex-burbs, it can't be that hard.

English Teacher X said...

yeah that's a big part of it. Free your mind and your ass will follow.

Anonymous said...

Fashionable pessimism site.

English Teacher X said...

Just callin' em like I see 'em.

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