Can you Retire on $500 per month?

Lifestyle design is all about changing the way we live so that we can fulfill our passions and experience life now. We should all be striving for early retirement from lousy jobs. One of the best ways to start on that path is to substantially reduce non-essential consumption to be able to effectively retire cheap. Back in 2009, my wife and made a one year plan, to quit our jobs and move to a new country. Over those years, we’ve changed countries many times, started different businesses and jobs and even had a baby. We didn’t retire from working. We just retired from work that no longer challenged or motivated us. I still want to continue working on interesting projects. I still want to write. I want to do more good in the world.  However, we’ve sold our old business, house, and got rid of most of our possessions to focus on experiences over consumption.


Retire Cheap in Places like Bali

Retire Cheap in Places like Bali

How to Retire Cheap

Too many people still believe that retirement is for the 65 and older crowd who have worked and saved their whole lives and still have trouble making ends meet. How much money do you really need to retire? What if you could retire now, for as little as $500 per month? Of course, that means cutting back on most luxuries and living a relatively simple life but it does seem possible in lower income countries like The Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
If you could live on $500 per month ($6,000 per year) and you made 6% annually from safe investments, you would only need to have $100,000 saved to retire. ($100,000 X 6 % = $6,000 per year) Alternatively, if you could make $500 per month from passive income like rental income from your house, or some internet business, then you could effectively retire now. With the internet, there are endless opportunities for online businesses and other fulfilling activities that most of us would love to continue long into the future. Why stop doing something you enjoy just because you reach an arbitrary retirement age.

Living on $500 per Month

Here are some articles from others that have managed to live very inexpensively around the world.

Ken Baylis on, wrote two comprehensive posts (Retiring on $500 per month Part 1, Part 2) on living costs in several Asian countries. Here is the Breakdown.

Approximate expenses for apartment living on the cheap in Cambodia.

Rent: $90
Electric: $15
Water: $10
Cable: $35
Groceries: $130
Transport: $30
Miscellaneous  – Visa Insurance etc. $75
Total monthly expenses – $310

Approximate expenses for apartment living on the cheap in the Philippines.

Rent: P7,500
Electric: P1,300
Water: P120
Cable: P850
Groceries: P5,000
Taxis: P3,000
Miscellaneous  Visa, Insurance etc. P2,500
Total monthly expenses P20,270 – $431

(Here is another post with a $500 budget for The Philippines.)

From my experiences in Bali and Thailand, I know that living within these means is quite possible. Guest houses and inexpensive, but nice accommodations can definitely be found for less than $10 per night, particularly in off seasons. Long term stays generally get a bit of a discount but expect prices to substantially increase in the peak season starting at about Christmas.

The sample living costs that Ken Baylis offers are missing some other considerable expenses. Airfare is the biggest cost. If you plan on traveling extensively like my wife and I plan to do, then travel costs will greatly inflate your budget. This can be offset by traveling to local countries by bus or other cheap transportation, but for most JetSetCitizens, expect to add another $3000 to $5000 per person per year for air travel. That will increase your monthly budget by $300 or $400 per month.

Medical Care
Another key concern, for the older of us anyway, is health care. We all need to have decent access to medical care should we need it. Many credit cards offer coverage for vacations but there may be some difficulties getting reimbursed if you are a perpetual traveler. It is probably advisable to have some sort of international health care which can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 or more per month depending on the type of coverage. Global Insurance offers rates of $169 per year while World Nomads comes in at the higher end of the scale at $961 per year. Do your research and find an insurance provider with the coverage you need and also make sure it is a company that will pay out if the time comes.

The good news is that many countries like Thailand, Costa Rica, Hungary, and India have great, inexpensive medical care with English speaking doctors and dentists. Even if you need major procedures, you are probably better off then trying to go through the cash strapped medical system in your own country. Just make sure you have a substantial chunk of money readily available in case something serious happens.

Traveling Costs for Real People
Another key factor is luxury. It is hard to always save and scrimp. Cheap locations off the beaten path are great for a month or two, but most of us need to go to a big city and indulge in a nice dinner, a bottle of wine, purchase a new camera or clothes, etc. Of course, most of us need decent computers with reliable internet access. It is likely that you will want to take lessons, go sight-seeing, learn a craft or study a language, etc. Everything costs money.

$500 is definitely possible, but unless you are a real hermit, your expenses will be more. Talking to people in Asia, Central America and South America some numbers I commonly hear are $1000 to get by, $2000 to live comfortably and $4000 to live like a king.

$100 per month accommodation is certainly possible in many countries around the world, but it might be at the lower end for the preferences of some travelers. A more comfortable range would be from $300 to $700. For $700 you can often find a beautiful house, sometimes with a swimming pool, in lower income countries. Here are a couple of examples;

(2013 Update) My wife and I stayed a central apartment in  Chang Mai, Thailand for about $200 per month. It was small, but clean and in a great location. For long term stays, it’s possible to rent entire houses for $200 – $300 per month. I’ve also seen apartments for as low as $100 per month, but these are typically more suited as student accommodation.
Condos in Cebu, Philippines many in gated communities, sometimes with swimming pools for $300+

(2016 Update) Our favourite Chiang Mai apartment is only about US$150 per month. I share the name in my new post on Finding a Chiang Mai Apartment Rental.


Food can be found very cheaply in many countries, even if eating out. However, $5 per day as Ken Baylis suggests might be a little too low for my tastes. Even in an inexpensive tourist-oriented restaurant, eating out with some drinks can cost you more than $15 for one meal. Of course, it is not necessary to do this every day but many of the more expensive and trendier restaurants and bars are great places to connect with other foreigners.

Most of us will have a difficult time eating local food all the time. We all get cravings for various cheeses, bread, meats, or sauces. One trip to an international food store can often blow your budget for months. Based on my tastes and preferences I would say a more comfortable food budget would be closer to $500 to per month for eating out and groceries.

It is becoming increasingly common to find wi-fi Internet access even in more remote tourist enclaves. You may be able to scavenge free access if you are lucky, but for those of us building internet businesses, reliable and fast Internet connections are necessary. Don’t expect much in poorer countries. You will likely pay full western rates for a quarter of the speed if you are lucky. Expect to pay  $50 to $80 for Internet access if you can get it.  For those of us who will live more nomadic lives, buying your own long-term Internet connection is not an option. However, expect to pay similar amounts visiting internet cafes if your guest house or accommodations don’t have Internet included.

Real Costs of Retiring for Jet Set Citizens

Rent: $300 to $700
Utilities: $80
Internet: $60
Groceries: $200
Eating / Drinking Out: $300
Airfare (on a monthly basis) $300
Health Insurance: $80
Visas, translators, legal: $50
Total monthly expenses – $1370 – $1770

If traveling with another person or family members some of these costs can be shared, like rent, utilities, and internet connections. Other expenses will be per person. My wife and I expect a budget of about $2000 per month. This might be as little as $1000 in countries like Thailand but will shoot up to $3000 when we go to Europe or return to Japan.

Costs of Retiring For Two
Rent: $300 to $700
Utilities: $80
Internet: $60
Groceries: $300
Eating / Drinking Out: $400
Airfare (on a monthly basis) $600
Health Insurance: $160
Visas, translators, legal: $50
Total monthly expenses – $1950 – $2350

For $2000 per month you could have a very comfortable life in a tropical country with great food and a fantastic lifestyle. $1000 per month is very doable for those willing to sacrifice material comforts and give up western ideas of consumption. $500 is the low end of the scale. Possible for shorter term travel, but unless you are capable of living a very ascetic lifestyle, it is not practical for indefinite travel. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly encourage everyone to greatly reduce their environmental footprint on the world by living simpler lives. Living on $500 is still possible but it requires a disconnection from the rest of the world. It certainly would be hard to blog about it on $500 per month.

Live for Free
Another option is volunteer programs. There are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities around the world that cover all your living expenses so it is possible to live on next to nothing and do meaningful work to enrich the lives of disadvantaged people. Volunteer for a year or two and let your savings earn you a safe return on investment. You will then have more savings to begin your early retirement. Who knows, you may even find that volunteering brings you the spiritual satisfaction that you were looking for in life.

Here are a couple of links to get you started;

Volunteer Abroad
Projects Abroad

Do You Really Want to Retire?
Of course, the point is not to retire at all.  Lifestyle design is about liberating yourself from work you hate so that you can focus on your passion and really contribute something of value to the world. Your passion may be expressed through art, volunteering or starting a business. Go ahead and retire from your soul-sucking, dead-end job but you will go crazy living in a tropical paradise for the rest of your life. Retire now so that you can begin your life’s work.


September 2016 – Guide to Finding Chiang Mai Apartments
April 2012 – Live in Thailand on $500
The Cheapest Places to Live in the World. $500 per month?-

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

102 Responses to Can you Retire on $500 per month?

  1. H. Rogers says:

    I am 57 years old and single. I want to get away from here for good and live out my life in Thailand. I am wondering how far $80K will take me and how difficult will it be to live there forever instead of having to travel back and forth to the USA ?

  2. Carmelita Biffle says:

    I am a woman who has worked as a clerk all my life, so I won’t have a handsome retirement in the U.S when I retire next year or so. I wonder where I could live in the world for under $1,000 a month in total expenses? I would love to live a quaint small town where it is safe for a woman to go wherever she wants without criminals trying to do harm.

    • Miguel says:

      Check out Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama. Or David, Chiriquí, Panama. Or Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Panama. In Panama, you have lots of options wherein you’d be very comfortable for that much. Best wishes!

    • Miguel says:

      Oh, and you can find round trips to and from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Panama (via Spirit Airlines) for only about $500!! So, you’re truly not far away from home, if need be.

  3. Kim says:

    I have visited many country’s. I see a lot of possabililitiea I think if a few like minded individuals could come together a support system could be put into place. I am all for ideas

  4. laura says:

    we are a retired couple, want to find a quaint town/city in italy and a month to month rental without getting a car. can we do it on $900/mo just for rent? pls. help, planning for 2017

    • Miguel says:

      Yes, look into the region of Liguria. Also known as Cinque Terre. The beauty of these towns is that no car is required. And the scenes are breathtaking! They are unspoilt and unlike other places that can be tourist traps. Enjoy!

  5. Susan says:

    I have read the ladies comments…esp. Kim-agree there would be a greater degree of success with a like mind group!Now at 60 and single still full of adventure(I enjoy painting) so I’m a quite is doable
    with much research..women would benfit having a roommate for safety for sure..getting older knowing
    having a lot of things is NOT about this kind of happiness,the visual and learning experience is where its at!!!!

  6. Jean says:

    I have chronic pain butt live on social security of $1600 at age 52. I would still like to live in thailand and volunteer teach. Are there any oppurtinities for such?

    • John says:

      There are lots of volunteer opportunities in Thailand. However, don’t mention that you intend to volunteer because it would be against your retirement visa.

  7. sorya Alexander says:

    After 40years lived u.s,now retired and travel around Asia looking place to retired.I found a village in Cambodia cost less than $500.00 a month.Stay there 6months per year and in Seattle another 6 months.
    The cost are depend on how you want to live or life style can be more or less.
    I like this village a lot about 24miles out side Siem Reap city. couple times a week i drive motorcycle to town just to hang around International market meet friends or walk around.
    Life is good for me.
    If any body find some places around Asia cost around $500.00 Let me know.

  8. Janis Kenyon says:

    I’ve live on less than $500 a month for years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve been here since 1999 when I left Chicago and obtained citizenship through the court in 2013. I own an apartment which I bought for $23K in 2005. I attend free concerts regularly in the city where I get free health care. I eat healthy meals at home, do lots of walking or use the bus for 35 cents. I’m 67, single and retired with a monthly social security benefit of $828 in 2015. I have a few thousand dollars saved and make charitable donations. A home phone and internet costs $30/month. My last electric bill was $2 for two months. I buy used clothing and shoes. I want for nothing. I have a great life with few possessions and lots of enriching experiences with friends. I don’t miss the life of consumption of the United States.

    • John says:

      Hi Janis,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear that you the cost of living can be so low in BA. We hope to visit there in the near future.

    • Eli says:

      What city? Most of my relatives still live there but are so negative about Argentina that I’m considering Brazil.

    • Charlene says:

      Hi wonderful for you! I am looking for an affordable place to retire…59 single and researching like crazy..would love to hear back from you

    • Jackie Dokos says:

      Hi Janis,
      I grew up in Chicago, now live in Scottsdale, AZ and am approaching retirement. I have $1018 per month to retire on and am curious to know. Did you move there with a friend or know someone there before you moved? It’s pretty scarey to think of moving to another country on your own as a female. How do you connect with other expats?

    • Julie Stansberry says:

      OMGosh! Janis you are living out my dream! I would love to hear from you if you wouldn’t mind to get me started. I’m a 60 yr old female and want to retire and live abroad.

      Thank you!

    • John says:

      Hi Janis, my name is John and I like to retire in Buenos Aires. I am originated from Europa and spend over 30years in US. Iam single and my monthly social security benefits will be similar as yours. Can you tell me what price I can by apartment now at Buenos Aires and what are reguiremens to obtain Argentina citizenship?
      Thanks John

  9. Kerry says:

    I’m a 46 y/o female and a disabled vet with monthly compensation. Looking into leaving the U.S. Very confused about which country to choose. I have visited Italy and Spain but unsure if I could manage on 3k per month.
    South America is very appealing just afraid of crime would like a quaint town that’s safe for me and my service dog. Been doing a lot of searching on the Internet.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Kerry,
      Check out San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. You can live like royalty on 3k per month, statistically it’s much safer than where you’re coming from in the US and it’s a very pleasant 75~ degrees all year around with no bugs.
      Best of luck.

    • terry says:

      hi i am 48 still working living in England , would love to retire somewhere Cambodia etc where my pound goes further simple life but enjoy life perhaps when I reach 55

  10. chichiruh says:

    Im from the Philippines you can live there for about less than 1000 a month or less it depends on your lifestyle. 1000 a month is already above middle class there

  11. John says:

    I’m planning on retiring to another country with my wife and 3 children. My wife is from Cebu Philippines. I’ve been there 5 times now and am still wondering if it’s a good fit. Her family is there which makes it a possitvevwith extended family for the kids. Wondering if anyone has any suggestions. I’m open to anything. Heal care is important as well as education. We would have 2500 per month to live on.

  12. Paul says:

    I’m a 26 y/o electrician that wants to retire in Ireland in 10 years. I figure I’ll need about $300,000 if I put it into a safe investment that earns 6% every year which I hadn’t thought of before. I think I can live comfortably for $1000 a month. I found 3.5 acres in my favorite part of ireland for $40,000. I could buy that, build a tiny house on it and make a small, natural golf course on it for another $60,000. I would need to use a composting toilet and filter drinking water from a creek that runs on the property, and maybe use my electrician skills to build a wind mill to generate my power. So I think for $100,000 I can have an awesome property payed in full. If I spend $200 on food, $100 on beer, $200 average on vehicle maintenance, insurance, registration, $100 cell phone bill with internet hotspot, $100 on gas, $50 on clothes, etc., $100 on health care, and an average of $150 on airfare ($1800 a year) totaling $1,000 a month. I would have to become a citizen in order to avoid visa costs. At 6% a year, I would need $200,000 for my monthly spending which actually comes out to $12,000 a month, but I might need it due to inflation. So $200,000 plus $100,000 for the property puts me at $300,000. That should last me until I’m 65 and get my retirement money from the electricians union and maybe some sort of social security. I’m looking forward to retiring at 36. Do you think my plan will work?

    • EJW says:

      There are a few things to consider. Nowadays I wonder how easy it is to get 6% on a safe investment. Then there is inflation. I have lived abroad most of my life-am now in Sweden, where prices are five times more for lunch, for example, and at least ten times more for rent than 35 years ago. As for Social Security you won’t get that until past 67 and ypu need to make sure you put in enough years. I suggest buying the property in Ireland now. Go over there a few months a year and instead of retiring fully, go back to the US a few months a year or however many are needed to qualify for Social Security benefits later on. Good luck!

  13. Brad says:

    I’m a black Canadian,63,who is pondering retiring to a warm-weather country.Which country would be best for me in terms of climate,expense,health care and racial/ethnic harmony?

    • Julie Stansberry says:

      Hey Brad! Your post could’ve been written by me. Please keep me posted and let me know if you find a place in terms of climate, expense, health care and racial/ethnic harmony!

      Thanks, Julie

    • John Mickelson says:

      Brad, Try North Bali. Low cost of living, close to shopping, dining, beach, scuba. Check out Great options for Canadians who only want to spend 6 months out of Canada.

  14. Joe says:

    I would like to visit another country for 6 months to a year to evaluate the living atmosphere before committing to live there indefinitely. I would also like to find a travel companion to go with who has the same agenda to share the costs. I am probably a lot younger than most at 45, but that has benefits especially if I find an older companion with the same agenda as I can help out allot easier with various tasks.


    What reputable site can I visit regarding renting options in Costa Rica?

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