5 of the best South American Cities to live in & Cost of Living Guide

best cities to live in South America

In this post we’ll look at some of the cheapest and best cities to live in South America. We’ve got five suggestions that might suit digital nomads or remote workers looking for a new base in South America. They offer both affordability in global terms and a higher quality of life than you might find in some of the continent’s other major cities. We also have a cost of living table featuring 20 large cities from across South America which should allow you to get an idea of how living costs compare from country to country.

5 of the Best Cities to Live in South America

Buenos Aires, Argentina

living in south america
Buenos Aires by Andrew Milligan Sumo, CC BY 2.0

The Argentine capital is arguably the continent’s most exciting city to both visit and live. It’s a truly 24-7 place with its famously late party culture ensuring Buenos Aires barely ever gasps for breath.

Buenos Aires in many parts feels like an elegant European city but boasts the energy of New York and a truly Latin American soul. That blend of cultures and influences, combined with the vast size of the metropolitan region, ensures you’ll be spoiled for choice in terms of cafes to work in, restaurants to dine in and bars to drink in. For those who love truly big cities, it probably should be your first point of call when considering where to live in South America.

The other positive, at least from the point of view of a foreigner moving there, is that Buenos Aires is seriously affordable, in large part due to the economic problems in Argentina and the severe deflation of the Argentine Peso in recent times. While those looking to find a job in the city will also see their relative income slashed as a result, those working online and earning in another currency should feel the benefits.

Estimated Living Costs* – 700 US Dollars per Month

*The estimates in this post on the best and cheapest cities to live in South America are designed to cover the basic living costs of a single person (e.g. groceries, essential items, some evenings/afternoon out), as well as the cost of renting a room in shared accommodation or a small private flat where it’s viable to do so. The figures are for more budget-minded people but are only a very rough guide as everyone’s living habits and situation will be different. They are based on September 2022 data.

It’s also notable that most South American cities have their dangers and areas best avoided. The budgets quoted should enable you to avoid living in the worst neighbourhoods but those who want a higher standard of accommodation in the very best districts will most likely find it difficult to stick to the figures quoted.

You will also need to factor in any travel or health insurance packages, the cost of which will vary depending on your age, circumstances and a number of other factors. Digital nomads and remote workers in South America may wish to check out SafetyWing who offer flexible Nomad Insurance from $42 per 4 week period as well as some more extensive remote health plans which suit regular travellers and even work in your own country.

Medellin, Colombia

Once the home of Pablo Escobar and the infamous Colombian cartels, Medellin has reinvented itself in the 21st Century. Indeed today it is actually recognised as one of the safest cities in South America, and is perhaps the most popular destination on the whole continent for digital nomads.

A major draw is unquestionably its affordability. South America is quite a cheap continent to live on the whole, certainly when compared to North America or Europe. Medellin is cheap even by South American standards with renting accommodation great value, even if you’re looking to live in the very heart of the city.

Its burgeoning international, nomad scene is another draw and it’ll be easier to meet other people from different countries around the world than in other cities in Colombia. It feels like a city that is going places with loads of exciting new startups and projects to get involved with, while it’s also one of the cheaper places in South America to learn Spanish.

Estimated Living Costs – 600 US Dollars per Month

Montevideo, Uruguay

best cities to live in South America
Montevideo via Ana Raquel, CC BY-SA 2.0

At the other end of the cost scale, the Uruguayan capital Montevideo is a great option for anyone less conscious about saving money, and more interested in having a secure place to live with some benefits that you seldom find elsewhere in South America.

Montevideo is a much smaller city than Buenos Aires, its near neighbour just across Rio de La Plata. Living so close to BA is certainly nice in terms of expanding your options for travel, as many other major South American cities are quite isolated. However Montevideo has many advantages on the Argentine capital for those looking to move for a longer period with a more stable economy and an excellent healthcare system among its perks.

It also has a much more laid back feel which will be a welcome bonus for many and it has a sense of calm that is almost completely lacking in other South American capitals. It is significantly more expensive though so digital nomads and remote workers will find much better value elsewhere.

Estimated Living Costs – 1300 US Dollars per Month

Cuenca, Ecuador

Quito is the most popular city in Ecuador with foreigners and it does have one of the bigger expat communities. However Cuenca is a really viable alternative, that in many respects is a much more liveable city.

The third largest in Ecuador, after Quito and Guayaquil, Cuenca was also the cheapest of the trio although the gap has closed in the last couple of years. It’s also something of a cultural hub with some of Ecuador’s best festivals, culinary options and scenery. Base yourself in or close to the pedestrianised city centre, and you won’t have to worry much about the hassles of travelling via public transport which can be a frustration in cities across the continent.

Once you get used to the altitude (Cuenca lies at 2,560 metres above sea level) you can also take advantage of its unique location that enables you to explore the Andes mountains, head into the Amazon rainforest or hit the Pacific Coast, with all three easily accessible from the city.

Estimated Living Costs – 800 US Dollars per Month

Santiago, Chile

cost of living in South America

Finally we head to Chile and another of the best places to live in South America and another stunning backdrop. Santiago may not be near the Rainforest but it also boasts an Andean location with great opportunities for hiking and skiing nearby, while it’s less than two hours by road to the coastal towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.

Generally considered to be one of the safest and most developed big South American cities, Santiago has grown into a modern capital and comes with everything you might expect to find in such a place. From historic districts to grungy alternative barrios, Santiago has many different sides.

In terms of costs, it ranks as one of the more expensive cities in South America, but the cost of living has fallen slightly of late relative to many other major cities across the world. It’s certainly still really affordable when compared to most major cities in Western Europe or North America.

Estimated Living Costs – 900 US Dollars per Month

Cost of Living in South America (2022) – Cities Compared

For the table below (and figures above), numbeo’s cost of living data has been used to come up with estimates for the cost of living in 20 South American cities.

While it is based on real data, provided by people actually living in each of these places, it’s clearly not an exact science. During these uncertain times, the economic situation in many South American countries is regularly changing so actual living costs may quickly go up and down.

At the very least it should be a useful initial index for anyone considering moving to South America to live, even if it’s only for a short period. However your actual costs may end up being very different to the figures quoted depending on your lifestyle and spending habits.

City Estimated Cost of Living (Monthly in US Dollars)
Montevideo, Uruguay 1300
São Paulo, Brazil 950
Caracas, Venezuela 900
Santiago, Chile 900
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 850
Brasilia, Brazil 850
Quito, Ecuador 800
Cuenca, Ecuador 800
Guayaquil, Ecuador 800
Lima, Peru 800
Santa Cruz, Bolivia 750
La Paz, Bolivia 700
Buenos Aires, Argentina 700
Cordoba, Argentina 700
Asunción, Paraguay 700
Salvador, Brazil 650
Fortaleza, Brazil 650
Medellin, Colombia 600
Bogota, Colombia 600
Cali, Colombia 500

As you can see, Colombian cities currently rank amongst the very cheapest places to live in South America, at least in terms of the larger urban areas.

It is though really important to do your research into accommodation costs as these can vary wildly even between different barrios in the same city. That’s certainly true in Brazilian cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where if you wish to live in a really good, safe neighbourhood then you may need to seriously increase your accommodation budget which could easily push your overall living costs well past $1000 each month.

This post on the best places to live in South America was published in January 2021. The figures were updated in September 2022.

5 of the best South American Cities to live in & Cost of Living Guide

2 thoughts on “5 of the best South American Cities to live in & Cost of Living Guide

    1. Hi Johan, It’s a tough question to give a clear answer to as there are still some parts of Colombia and some districts in all the major cities that aren’t particularly safe, but overall Colombia is nowhere near as dangerous as it has been portrayed over the years.

      Cities such as Medellin and Bogota have got a lot safer over the past decade or two with crime rates falling dramatically and while foreigners can still be a target for petty theft, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as it once was.

      There’s some good info here on safety in Colombia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top