Dateline: Canggu, Indonesia
So, you’re thinking about taking the leap and relocating – packing your bags, getting a visa, and venturing into the great unknown.
You wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t crossed your mind once, twice, or maybe fifty times.
Luckily, we are fortunate enough to be living in a time when it has never been easier to do this. And if you are an entrepreneur or digital nomad, the possibilities are endless.
Owning a laptop means you can create your own business from anywhere in the world – places with lower taxes and a lower cost for high-quality living where you can indulge in incredible foods and beautiful beaches.
However, only a select few are brave enough to move where they want to go. This article will help you find the right place for you to create your new home for a more stress-free lifestyle where you can work less while still earning more money than you could at home.
Below, we have listed the seven cheapest cities in North America for digital nomads. The cities have been chosen based on their cost of living, accessibility, taxes, sense of community, safety, and finally, internet connection. They are not listed in a particular order because I believe that everyone is looking for something different that matches their own wants and needs.
Tulum is one of my favorite cities. This chilled-out beach-side town truly has something for everyone – from hammocks and huts to lay your head on the beachfront to villas with infinity pools. In Tulum, you’ll find the whitest sand you’ll ever see, unspoiled blue waters, and cenotes where you can go diving or swim with sea turtles.
Tulum also has a distinct small-town boho vibe as it hasn’t been hit with a wave of chain businesses and a multitude of identical apartment blocks like its northern counterparts, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The city is undeniably some kind of paradise.
In recent years, this seaside town has become something of a haven for expats from around the world, many of whom have set up their own successful businesses like Teetotum Boutique Hotel, Ki’bok Cafe, and Hartwood Restaurant.
Tulum is also highly accessible from the US and many other countries through Cancun International Airport, but a new airport in Tulum is also in the works.
It’s not as touristy as you’d expect, and it’s incredibly inexpensive in terms of cost of living. Nomad List claims that an expat can live comfortably for about $1,035 per month. While income tax is a fairly high rate of 30% in Tulum (if you live there full-time), real estate taxes are significantly low. Therefore, if you’re thinking of investing in property, now might be the right time.
Finally, the Internet connection in Tulum is good, and the expat community is highly social – especially on the beach and while enjoying drinks in the evening. Out of all of Mexico, Tulum has my vote as number one, not just as one of the cheapest cities in North America but as a fantastic place to live.
AMBERGRIS CAYE, BELIZE
Ambergris Caye looks like a postcard with beaches that stretch for miles, some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. When Madonna writes a song dedicated to an island of about 20,000 people, you know it’s a place you want to go to.
The island’s only town, San Pedro, boasts all kinds of entertainment. There’s bingo, beach bowling, and even strange games involving chickens. Belize also boasts a well-developed health and fitness scene with plentiful with yoga classes and fitness clubs.
As an added bonus, Belize is actually beckoning entrepreneurs to come to the island, and the government even provides a service that can help you get started by giving you special training, advice, and technical help with starting your business.
You will also find more expats in San Pedro than anywhere else in Belize. This is because the quality of life is so high, and the expat community is very tight-knit socially. It is worth noting that the cost of living in Ambergris Caye is higher than anywhere else in Belize, but the trade-off is apparent – and it’s still a whole lot cheaper than anywhere in the US, UK, or Australia.
Unfortunately, and perhaps the only downfall in Ambergris Caye is the internet connectivity. A good provider is costly here, and even then, a steady connection is not guaranteed.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR, NICARAGUA
Funky is the word that I would use to describe San Juan del Sur.
This brightly colored little surf town is rapidly expanding before our very eyes. A couple can live a respectable life in this town for as little as 1,500 USD a month, and right now, the market is hot for buying real estate. If you’re earning a bit more, spending 1,500 USD per person will get you a luxury place to rest your head and settle your stomach.
Nicaragua is also very accessible from the US with direct flights running frequently, but it is regretfully a little more difficult for those coming from outside of the US. Becoming a resident here is easy, too. There is also a small expat community based in San Juan del Sur, but you don’t need much in such a small town.
Finally, if you’re looking to start your own tourist business in Nicaragua, you may be exempt from paying taxes for the first ten years if you prove that your business stimulates the local economy.
JACO, COSTA RICA
Jaco hasn’t always had the best reputation among expat destinations, but who doesn’t love a comeback story?
Personally, this is one of my favorite spots in all of Central America to visit. As a colorful city with colorful wildlife (just look up for scarlet macaws and toucans), Jaco’s natural beauty and laid-back culture and lifestyle will draw you in.
Jaco isn’t only a draw in for expats and tourists from abroad, it is a huge tourist destination for other Ticos (Costa Ricans) as well – especially on weekends. During those times, the town’s already great nightlife becomes bigger and better. If this isn’t your scene, that’s no problem. There are jungle walks, mountain biking trails, and hidden waterfalls all to be explored.
This beach town, which is located an hour from San Jose and its excellent international airport, has quite a young expat community with most people aged between 20 and 40. This is no doubt due to the fun vibe of the town and the pura vida lifestyle of the locals.
Cost-wise, Jaco is exactly what you make it. It can be easy to overspend, but it’s also easy to save a lot. It also boasts a very low property tax. One could life a comfortable life here on between AUD 1,400 and AUD 1,700 per month. But, as usual, this can be more or less depending on what you want.
Whether or not you’re going to love Jaco will ultimately come down to your own personality, and there are a handful of drawbacks to living here. First, Jaco is loud. I’m not only talking about the nightlife and traffic, but even when you are nestled at home, the sound of birds is constant and vociferous.
Additionally, while Jaco has cleaned up its act in the past decade or so, it’s still home to a few unsavory activities. However, these things are easy to avoid if you use your common sense.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA
Let’s be real – small beach towns where everybody knows everybody might not be your scene. A great trade-off for city life on the cheap in Central America is Panama City.
The average cost of living a middle-to-upper class life here is anywhere between 1,440 and 1,938 USD, which seems quite expensive at face value, but believe me that you can make this money back in other ways.
Panama’s economy is strong and steady, and the country’s taxation laws allow you to only be taxed on the money you earn in Panama. So, if your work is location independent and based online, then you will be paying virtually no tax.
On top of this, internet speeds are good, the weather is beautiful, and the city’s already modern infrastructure is rapidly improving. If you get tired of the city’s bustle, then the beach is just 15 minutes away, and you’ll find a thriving expat community here. Other perks include easy access to and from the US and the use of the American dollar.
Las Vegas, Nevada
In the US, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find a city that’s both affordable and fun to live in. New York and San Francisco are lively and exciting, but you’ll often wind up paying around $2,000 in rent to live in a shoe-box. Even Austin – a longtime US digital nomad favorite – has experienced a drastic increase in cost of living.
On the other hand, you might be able to live on the cheap in a smaller Midwestern city, but you’ll quickly find that it’s hard to meet fellow nomads or expats – and good luck finding something to do on a Friday night.
Las Vegas, however, provides the perfect balance between affordable and fun. The city is well-known for its gambling and entertainment industry, and if that’s not your scene, you can also easily explore the stunning mountains that surround it.
The largest benefit of moving to Las Vegas, however, is its tax-friendliness. Unlike high-tax states like New York or California, Nevada generates enough gambling revenue to negate the need for state income tax, sales tax, and other taxes – namely property tax – are low compared to similar states.
It’s also surprisingly affordable. The city consistently ranks among the cheapest cities to live in the US thanks its low cost of living. You can easily find a decent one-bedroom in Vegas for under $1,000 per month, and you can expect to spend around $1,800 a month to live comfortably in the city – provided you don’t spend a fortune gambling. All in all, you get a lot of bang for your buck in Vegas.
Canada has some of the most incredible landscapes that the world has to offer – you can explore the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls while enjoying delicious butter tarts – yum.
For being the country’s capital, Ottawa surprisingly has one of the lowest costs of living in the whole country, making it one of the cheapest cities in North America. The cost of living here is about 2,200 USD per month, including housing, food, entertainment, phone, internet, and transport. Property costs are significantly lower (almost half the price) than in Toronto with condos going at 269,000 USD.
Internet speed is great in Ottawa, and the city is host to some incredible co-working sites. The most common expats you’ll find in Ottawa are Brits, the French, and Americans, but there are also tons more. Ottawa has a vibrant expat community.
Now, there’s one thing that turns me off of the idea of going to Canada altogether, and that’s the visa process. If you want to move to Canada, you might want to start thinking about it two years ago. It can take up to three years from the time you first apply until you actually get your visa. This can be a grueling process filled with piles of paperwork, so you should need to be dead-set on living in Canada before you apply.