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Does $7 per day sound impossible?
If you are reading this you are curious as to how to do it.
The good news is, it is possible. The bad news is, comfort is a relative concept.
As a couple pushing 30 (pushing it really hard!) you arrive at a point where sleeping on cold hard floors and living off bowls of plain rice is not an ideal travel experience.
In this article you’ll see how we live abroad cheap and very nicely in Cambodia for about $15 per person per day and how making only a few basic sacrifices can have you still living comfortably for $7 per person per day.
Whether you want to live that cheaply though, depends on you!
How did we get here?
Backpacking long term can get quite tiring. Everyday a new destination, night busses, noisy dorm rooms… After 8 months on the road we decided we’d take a break from being on the move and just live in one place for 3 months.
If you read our article about House Sitting then you’ll know that you can live abroad for free… or at least with minimal chores and care-taking as payment for your accommodation.
However, if you want the live abroad experience without having to “work” for it then, as long as you have a few dollars in your pocket, it’s easy – and when I say “a few dollars”, I mean it!
Costs vary from country to country, so you need to do some research before you choose where to go. South east Asia has a very low cost of living, so we’ve ended up in Cambodia. You may be surprised how cheap some countries are though, we researched Greece, there are apartments going for $200 a month right now!
The below figures apply to our experience in Cambodia but, Laos, Philippines and Vietnam are pretty close in costs from what we have seen. Even Thailand is still very affordable.
Everything is quoted for 2 people living together – so cut the figure in half for the per person per day magic number!
One of the primary expenses whilst on the move is accommodation. The good news is, if you want to live abroad cheap, staying somewhere long term (or even mid-term) is going to be cheaper than the bills you get on the road.
For less than $6 a day we have a large studio apartment in Sihanoukville. 5 minutes by moped to the beach, air con, kitchen, hot shower, fully furnished and in a safe, gated apartment block with security guard at night.
On top of the rent, we pay $10 a month for internet and about $80 a month for utilities.
TOTAL = $8.40 per day (for two people)
We opted for a very nice place, you can actually get a quite acceptable place a little further from the beach for about $60 a month (depending on how long a contract you want, cheapest rates are on 6 months+). Go with a fan only room and your electric bill is unlikely to hit more than $30 per month.
Total = $3 per day. (If you want a shorter term – 1 or 2 months – stay then finding a dorm room or hut, bills included, can run in lower than $3 per day… But expect to be showering using a bucket)
Transport has been one of our biggest expenses on the road. Regular intercity busses, trains and flights have been eating through our bank account. Staying in one place means no more major transport costs.
So long as you choose a city or town with plenty of things going on, you can explore your location in depth rather than pay out to travel many KMs at a time.
We hired a sturdy new moped for $110 a month (inc. 2 helmets and a lock). If we are just running around town then we rarely spend more than 50 cents per day on fuel.
Occasionally we have to pay parking fees (bike theft is common in Cambodia, so paying to park is the smart option).
Corruption in the police force means occasional bribes in order for us to ride here. Being white means paying bribes, even if you are doing everything by the book. Estimate $10 a month, but it depends on how often you get pulled over.
Total = $4.25 per day
If you are happy with an old bike, then $60 per month is possible, but be very careful who you hire from. There are lots of scams around, especially where they hire you a cheap bike, keep a key to the lock, follow you and then use the spare key to steal the bike – then charge you the whole cost of a new bike.
If you live in a small town, or very central, then walking or renting a bicycle (less than $1 per day) will keep your costs even lower. In big cities we could get a bus trip for less than 20 cents.
Total = $2.25 per day for the moped & fuel option. $1 – $2 per day for the other options.
Food & Drink
You gotta eat, and water from the tap isn’t drinkable in a lot of countries. We are real foodies and don’t want to limit ourselves to eating pot noodle every day. Even so, here in the tropics we find fresh, great quality fruit and veg at bargain prices. Eating well can be super cheap.
We eat fresh, we also have a small stock of western foods (like real cheese!) to keep our tastebuds happy.
Eating out (street food) is about $1 – $2 per meal, restaurant food is $2 – $5. Five bucks at the beach restaurant here will get you a whole Red snapper with enough sides that you won’t be walking home afterwards.
To eat at home, we pay about $8 a month gas. We can easily put together a days food for 2 people for under $5 if we try hard, but we often like to cook well, so $5 – $10 per day might be more realistic some days.
10 litter water refills cost 75 cents. Although this water is relatively safe, public opinions varies on the quality. Big bottles of water (1.5 litre) that are a bit safer, should never cost more than 50 cents (less when bought in bulk)
Total = $10 per day
With street food for a dollar, or cooking basic noodle/rice dishes at home, 2 people can live off $4 a day (Dinner out, breakfast/lunch at home).
Rather than buying bottled water, you can boil water from the tap or drink from the cheap 20 litre refill bottles (0.85cents) .
Total = $4.40 per day
It depends on you of course. We like to be social and fortunately we have a lot of bars/clubs and beach front restaurants to choose from here in Sihanoukville. With draught beer for 50 cents, its cheaper than juice or tea. Suck on that “responsible drinking” campaigns!
During the day, going to the beach is free!
A day at the beach followed by a few beers with friends and maybe some live music, you might spend $6 per couple. You won’t want to go out every night, so get some locals round for a movie night and you are unlikely to spend more than a dollar on snacks!
Total = $3 per day – averaged over the month.
The best things in life are free. Just chill at the beach, swim in the local waterfall and make some new friends. If you don’t drink alcohol then you’ll save even more, although beer is cheaper than juice here in Cambodia!
Total = $1.25 a day, maybe less.
Aside for all the standard things you deal with, living abroad can incur some additional costs
We pay around $3 a week for Laundry (Washed, dried and folded!), but you could hand wash your own stuff for only the cost of detergent.
Things break and wear out, so a few dollars here and there for clothes, shoes and toiletries.
We also need a visa to be here in Cambodia. This costs $25 per month (plus a small agent fee).
Total = $4 per day (So about & $120 a month, inc. $50 for 2 visas)
You can probably get stuff for free if you need to really penny pinch! Make friends with locals and get the cheapest prices on anything you do have to buy by taking them to the market with you and getting them to negotiate in the local language.
Total = $3 (So about $90 per month, inc. $50 for 2 visas)
So how much does it cost to live abroad?
Probably a lot less than it costs to live at home!
Cheap: $29.65 per day per couple (If you are living alone it will be less but not half)
Cheapest: $13.90: Which equals less than $7 per person per day.
Skinflint: Yes, 2 people can live for way under $15 a day. There are plenty of locals living on $2 or $3 per person per day – or less.
If you want to live in a hut and have little or no electricity, it can be done, but apart from gaining a better understanding of how the poor people of the world survive on the poverty line, that sort of lifestyle is not really for most travellers.