View of beach in Carvoeiro town with colorful houses on coast
You don’t need to retire to live in your dream spot. | DaLiu/Shutterstock
You don’t need to retire to live in your dream spot. | DaLiu/Shutterstock

The World's Most Beautiful—and Cheapest—Beach Towns for Expats

Get on island time all of the time.

How many times have you been on an island vacation dreading return to “real life,” wishing there was a way this beachside bliss could last just a little longer? After a pandemic and domino effect of political headaches continuing to make the American Dream seem not so dreamy, more than a few people have picked up and moved to a seaside spot where rent is less than a car payment (and internet still reaches speeds quick enough for those multiple daily Zoom calls). 

Wondering what the secret is to snagging a seaside villa without shelling out a fortune? We polled expats and looked at average cost-of-living estimates from sites like Numbeo and Nomad List to find affordable (and downright beautiful) beach towns—and cities on some of the most stunning coastal stretches—everywhere from Mexico to the Mediterranean. Here are the spots where your dollar goes far, and your quality of life goes farther. Now all you need to do is make that move to paradise.

Camilo Beach in Lagos
The challenge will be deciding where on the 100 miles of coastline you want to call home. | Smileus/Shutterstock

Algarve, Portugal

Monthly cost of living: $1,476
It's hard to believe a region with a hundred miles of coastline, cobblestone streets, and more sun than pretty much anywhere else in Europe has a cost of living this low. Most of the region is English-speaking, and home to 100,000 transplants from all over the world. And the city is cheap. Dirt cheap. A three-bedroom apartment will run you about $950, but if you don't need much space, $650 gets you a one-bedroom smack in the center of the city. Beers are two bucks, and dinner out is under $10. You get the idea. And if you get homesick, head to Lisbon and you're about a six-hour flight from the East Coast.

colorful wooden fishing boat
A low-key version of the Côte d’Azur. | Evannovostro/Shutterstock

Ajaccio, Corsica

Monthly cost of living: $1,375
Corsica’s capital offers the glam you’ll find in the nearby Côte d’Azur (a seven-hour ferry ride away) minus the astronomical cost of living that comes with annual events like the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival (plus, you know, private villas). Crayon-colored fishing boats bob in the harbor and pastel-hued homes—as well as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, now a museum—line the old town’s narrow streets. You’ve got plenty of white-sand beaches in and around Ajaccio to choose from (plage de Pero being one of the most popular), and when you’re tired of those, you can hop on a boat from the old port to the nearby Iles Sanguinaires (Blood Islands) or head to one of Corsica’s other popular seaside towns, like Bonifacio in the south, crowned by a medieval clifftop citadel. And for a mere $700 a month, you can call a studio in the center your new seaside home. —Lane Niese

Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial architecture plus some of the beach beaches in the Caribbean. | Jess Kraft/Shutterstock

Cartagena, Colombia

Monthly cost of living: $515
Living in Cartagena is sort of like going on a tropical Caribbean vacation every day. That goes for partiers, history buffs, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The snorkeling and scuba diving here are world class (and only about $30 a trip). The city's historic center is a museum of Spanish Colonial architecture, and a roomy walking path takes you through it all and down to the main harbor. The nightlife is as intense as you'd expect in Colombia, and an all-timer night out will run you about $100 if you do it right. Party a little TOO hard and fear not—healthcare in Cartagena is surprisingly good, with large hospitals and comprehensive health insurance for under $50 a month.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Rent is less than $300 and you’ll have beaches practically all to yourself. | iamtripper/shutterstock

Hoi An, Vietnam

Monthly cost of living: $550 to $1,100
Bigger Vietnamese cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh get most of the expat love, but neither boasts much of a beach. Hoi An, on the other hand, is not only bordered on one side by spectacular green mountains, it's also a skip and a jump from spectacular stretches of sand you'll have largely to yourself. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can get a house or apartment for as little as $300 a month ($500 gets you a nice one with everything included). To fully experience the area, your best bet is to rent a motorbike (about $60 a month). In a place this beautiful, you'd be ill-advised not to.

boats on shore
Welcome to one of the North Atlantic's best surf towns. | zodyakuz/Shutterstock

Taghazout, Morocco

Monthly cost of living: $1,037
Thanks to its hyper-fast internet connection and proximity to Western Europe, Morocco has become a hot destination for entrepreneurs cutting personal costs to support their tech ventures. Rent plus a chic co-working space will run about $500/month combined, meaning you won't be stuck looking for a buyout from your beachfront villa all the time. Taghazout has also become one of the great North Atlantic surf towns, where you'll see people carrying boards through Middle Eastern bazaars like they're baskets of fruit.

Split, Croatia
Most just pass through and have no idea what they’re missing. | Tupungato/shutterstock

Split, Croatia

Monthly cost of living: $1,021
Though the European coastlines can be comparatively expensive, there are still bargains to be had in Split. This little town on the Adriatic Sea has beaches that people from all over the world travel days to lie on, yet beers are still under three bucks in most bars and rent in the city center can be had for less than $600. The city is also seasonal, so if you're down to become a full-time resident, you'll have Split to yourself from October to late April. It's a perfect balance of roaring international resort city in the summer and sleepy beach town in the winter, with a lush Mediterranean climate, friendly folks, and great history to boot. If you get tired of one lifestyle, another is only a couple of months away.

Canggu, Bali
Like a surf town in Hawaii, only much, much cheaper. | Ataka/shutterstock

Canggu, Bali

Monthly cost of living: $500 to $1,400
Five hundred dollars a month seems downright unrealistic to live in one of the best surf towns in the South Pacific, especially one that's drawn flocks of Americans looking to work remotely. Artists, designers, yoga instructors, startup gurus, and other foreigners call Canggu home, lending the city a youthful, albeit rustic, wellness vibe. Cafes, restaurants, and juice stands line the streets, and parties and events pepper the week. The place feels a bit like those little surf towns you find on the less populated islands of Hawaii, but at a fraction of the cost. Sure, things like milk, wine, and other imports cost a little more here, but with average rent around $250, you can splurge.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
Yes, this could be your new home. | nito/shutterstock

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Monthly cost of living: $1,393
If you've ever visited Las Palmas, you might be surprised to see it on a list of affordable places to live. But, like so many cities, visiting and living are two different things. Rent for a place off the ocean runs only about $600 for a one-bedroom, $1,000-ish for three. The weather is some of the best in the world, with pretty much perpetual sun soaking the beaches along the coast. The city itself has a busy, urban feel, with quick escapes to beaches and the inland countryside and plenty of friendly people to party with. For a city experience with easy access to nature, this is the best seaside option in Europe.

palm tress on beach
This piece of paradise is just a two-hour flight from Miami. | Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Monthly cost of living: $1,400
Though the Dominican Republic has some of the grandest, most affordable oceanfront homes in the Caribbean, the real draw in Las Terrenas is the solid expat community. Thirty years ago, Europeans knew it best as a popular vacation spot—but they got hooked and stayed. Once you've established residency, it's relatively simple to work, own a business, import a car (tax-free), and get citizenship. You'll find yourself in good company with a diverse mix of people, and if you ever get homesick, you're a two-hour flight from Miami.

camels on beach
Camels are part of the package here. | Marc Stephan/Shutterstock

Diani Beach, Kenya

Monthly cost of living: $500 to $1,000
Kenya may be known for its safari wildlife, but its east coast white-sand beaches are the stuff of dreams. Just dip a toe in to find out for yourself that the Indian Ocean is as blissfully soothing as they say it is. The strip that makes up Diani Beach, just an hour or so away from Mombasa (double it if you hit traffic, which you will), has it all: still waters thanks to coral reefs, beachside shacks with local Swahili dishes, skydiving, deep-sea fishing, and a subdued nightlife. Rent starts as low as $200 and go up to around $2,000, if you wanna be extra with five bedrooms, a gated compound, and a pool. And you can still get that wildlife fix: Wake up early to camels strolling on the sand, swim with whale sharks on a water safari, or drive to Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, located a little over an hour away. —Vanita Salisbury

Island living at its best. | Guayo Fuentes/Shutterstock

Roatán, Honduras

Monthly cost of living: $570
Relaxed Roatán is the largest of Honduras’ three Bay Islands: Stretching 40 miles long and five miles at its widest, it’s surrounded by the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, the largest in the Caribbean Sea (and the second-largest worldwide after Australia's Great Barrier Reef). The place is an aquamarine dream: idyllic beaches teem with inviting accommodations, tempting beach bars, and magical snorkeling and dive spots. The interior is craggy mountains covered in jungle. Everything smells fertile. And if you're looking for a good balance to your lifestyle, you can do it on the cheap: A pint costs $1.50 and fitness clubs are $45/month, if that's your thing.

View Of San Francisco Nayarit Beach
When you’re ready for “city” living, Puerto Vallarta is less than an hour away. | Jose Moreno/Shutterstock

San Pancho, Mexico

Monthly cost of living: $1,100
San Pancho has the feel of a California surf town, with towering cliffs, impressive waves, and a downtown lined with restaurants serving up all things organic. The only difference: Dinner for two in these restaurants will only run you about $30 to $50, as opposed to triple digits in California. The city itself isn't big, but it sits smack in the center of Riviera Nayarit, so you can hop through towns like Sayulita, San Blas, and the upscale Punta Mita within a short drive. And if you get a hankering for the big city, Puerto Vallarta is less than an hour away. For a quiet, coastal expat life in Mexico, this little gem on the Pacific is tough to beat.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
The perfect mix of pulsing nightlife and slower-paced coastal living. | pisaphotography/shutterstock

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Monthly cost of living: $1,160 to $2,097
Koh Phi Phi island is one of those places where couples sit back on their last night of just-wedded bliss and say, "Why don't we just MOVE here?" Sure, they're joking, but why the heck not? If dropping your life back home isn't an issue, this little slice of paradise (The Beach was shot here) has beautiful apartments in new buildings overlooking the sea for about $1,000 a month—and that's on the high end. The nightlife can get raucous, with cheap drinks and loosely interpreted liability laws. For a quiet beach home, this might not be the move. But it's perfect for the young and free who enjoy interacting with travelers from all over the world—and doing it cheaply.

Granada cityscape
With a decently sized expat community, you’ll live a bit easier here than other parts of the country. | Elena Simona Craciun/Shutterstock

Granada, Nicaragua

Monthly cost of living: $668
Because Granada is one of the most painstakingly preserved Spanish Colonial towns in North America, it tends to draw a lot of history-inclined tourists. Those tourists bring with them a wealth of fancy restaurants, cool bars, and a sizable expat community that makes living here a little easier than in, say, Managua. The only thing that can cost a little extra is electricity, with an average bill just under $100 a month (if you're partial to air conditioning).

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you’re after small town living, Rio’s vibrant clubs, bars, and beaches are maybe not for you. | IrenaV/Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Monthly cost of living: $1,400
Despite being home to 14 million, Rio still embodies beach life in a very real way. The gorgeous metropolis is encircled by soaring granite mountain pinnacles and claims 46 miles of oceanfront, but most visitors see only the famous four-mile crescent strip. Copacabana, Rio’s iconic beach, fits into the typical beach resort zone calculus: Every block away from the beach equals a 10% discount on everything, as well as a 10% increase in unpredictability. Rio is not shy about its unbridled sexuality, PhD pickpockets, veteran beach bums, thumping nightclubs, and plentiful open-air corner snack shops and bars—which is to say, this is a very popular city for people who waved goodbye to the American career hustle.

Saint George's, Grenada
The tiny island offers plenty to explore. | carma sumrall/Shutterstock

Saint George's, Grenada

Monthly cost of living: $1,018
The so-called "Canada of the Caribbean" only spans 21 by 12 miles, but there are months of discovering to be done along its shoreline and lush mountain interior of steep, curvy roads winding past waterfalls. Nightlife is in the form of live calypso bands and upbeat soca music. A buzzing traffic circle near Grand Anse Beach—the island’s finest—frames an improvised outdoor marketplace baptized as "Wall Street" because it’s bookended by banks. At night, vehicles blast music, starting parties where locals mingle, dance, buy open-air-grilled meat, and swill beverages peddled from ice chests in pickup beds. Follow the smell of barbecue or the call of steel drums and you’re all set. If you can’t smell or hear something delicious, jump on an incredibly cheap minibus till it happens.

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Matt MeltzerBruce Northam, and Lane Nieset contributed to this story