Cost of Living in Asia – What are the cheapest places to live?

Living in the cheapest city in Asia, Karachi.

We’re going to take a look at the 2023 cost of living in Asia, featuring some of the major countries and cities across the continent, including those most popular with people looking for a new life abroad. This should give you an idea of how expenses compare across this vast continent. We’ll highlight some of the most expensive and cheapest places to live in Asia.

Table of Contents

To help estimate the cost of living in Asian countries, we have created indexes with a bit of help from Numbeo and which both provide data for living costs across Asia and indeed the rest of the world. However these indexes should only be taken as an estimate and means of comparison.

The figures are loosely designed to cover the cost of rented accommodation for one person in addition to all typical living costs like groceries, electricity bills and any other usual expenses. They do not allow for any medical insurance costs or health bills which will vary depending on your age and circumstances. You can get a quote in under a minute from SafetyWIng who specialise in travel medical insurance for nomads and those spending a lot of time overseas. Read our SafetyWing nomad insurance review for more on them.

What are the cheapest places to live in Asia?

Living in Delhi, India
The Indian capital Delhi – one of the cheapest major Asian cities.

Cost of Living in Asia (2023) – Country Comparison

CountryAsia Cost of Living Index (US$/Month)
South Korea1550
Saudi Arabia1250
The Philippines900

Above we have compared the living costs in 12 of the largest Asian countries. We’ve taken the average of estimated living costs in the five largest cities in each country, where sufficient data was available.

Most of the places with the highest cost of living in Asia are located in either the Middle East or the Far East. Saudi Arabia ranks near the top but living costs are even higher in some of the smaller oil-rich Gulf states such as Qatar and the UAE. It can be slightly hard to compare those countries though as many jobs include free accommodation and other benefits which will reduce the cost of living to a minimum in many cases.

South Korea ranks as the most expensive country in Asia in 2023 of the twelve featured above. That’s a bit of a surprise given the country is typically thought of as being a bit cheaper than neighbouring Japan. However economic problems and the weakening of the Japanese Yen in recent years has changed that somewhat and the country is now slightly more affordable for foreigners.

China meanwhile is getting more expensive but there is significant regional variation with good value still found in many cities aside from Beijing and Shanghai. Despite boasting the world’s second largest economy, China is still more affordable to live in than South Korea and Japan, although a bit pricier than most of its other neighbours such as India, Nepal, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Asia living cost chart
USD monthly living cost comparison of the seven largest Asian countries by population.

Many of the cheapest places to live in Asia for expats and digital nomads are found in Southeast Asia. Beach destinations in countries like Thailand and The Philippines are among the most popular places to live in Southeast Asia and serve up a nice balance of a great climate in beautiful surroundings without the high costs you might associate with such a setting.

However the cheapest major country to live in Asia is Pakistan where costs are less than half of those in Thailand and less than 30% of the most expensive countries in the continent. The whole Southern Asian region offers low living costs though with India and Bangladesh also very cheap to live in by any global standard.

What are the most expensive & cheapest cities to live in Asia?

CityCountryAsia Cost of Living Index (US$/Month)
Hong KongHong Kong2500
Tel AvivIsrael2150
SeoulSouth Korea1950
Abu DhabiUAE1850
RiyadhSaudi Arabia1350
BusanSouth Korea1350
JeddahSaudi Arabia1200
Phnom PenhCambodia1100
ManilaThe Philippines1050
Ho Chi Minh CityVietnam1000
Kuala LumpurMalaysia950

In terms of the individual cities with the highest cost of living in Asia, Singapore is clear of the rest with some of the highest living costs in the whole world. The Southeast Asian city state ranks amongst the most costly destinations for a range of goods including alcohol and tobacco but also of course offers some of the highest salaries in the region.

Hong Kong meanwhile is also very expensive to live in with costs significantly higher than those in even the priciest cities in mainland China. The likes of Tel Aviv, Doha, Dubai, Seoul and Tokyo also rank amongst the most expensive places to live in Asia.

Singapore street food
Market stalls in Singapore, one of the world’s most expensive countries.

Head over to Pakistan though, where the average monthly salary is under 300 USD as of 2023, and it’s quite possible to get by on well under $500/month, even in major cities such as Lahore and Karachi. The Indian subcontinent is home to some of the cheapest cities to live in the world and that region will most likely be your bet for finding the very lowest cost of living in Asia.

It’s worth remembering that in most countries, you can find significantly lower costs away from the capitals and major cities, many of which are featured in the table above. It’s harder to find reliable cost of living data for smaller towns but it’s safe to say the cheapest city in Asia will offer even cheaper living than Karachi, which ranks as the least costly city in Asia of the 37 we looked at.

Factors to consider when budgeting for life in Asia

  • Balancing quality of life & affordability

A lot of the places with the cheapest cost of living in Asia, have some significant negative points when it comes to the overall standard of living. That can vary from significant safety concerns to very limited healthcare and basic infrastructure. There are also a number of repressive regimes which starve citizens of the kinds of freedoms that may be considered the norm in most of Europe for example. Therefore you’ll want to consider what you’re losing out on and what the risks are, if your main priority is finding somewhere where you can live cheaply and save money. Some of the most popular and best cities to live in Asia that are affordable and offer a good quality of life include the likes of Chiang Mai in Thailand and the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

  • Are you a drinker?

Alcohol costs vary a lot across the continent and if you’re somebody who enjoys regular evenings out and drinks a lot, this will have a big impact on your living costs. That’s particularly true in the Middle East and many Muslim countries where alcohol, if available at all, is typically very expensive. Singapore is another place where drinkers can see their living costs soar relative to non-drinkers whereas it shouldn’t take up anywhere near as much of your budget in other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand. 

Drinking beer in India.
A cheap beer with a view in India. Alcohol and tobacco prices vary wildly across Asia though!
  • Travel Opportunities

One of the best things about living abroad in a new part of the world, is not just discovering a new city, but also the travel opportunities that will present. If you’re moving to a totally different region, you’ll suddenly have a whole range of options for doing trips to places you have never previously been. Basing yourself in a major transport or air hub will help with that. Places like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in Southeast Asia are good options as they are major hubs for some of Asia’s biggest budget airlines with some bargain flights to other cities and islands in the region. If you’re in a more provincial city without a big airport, you’ll have vastly reduced options in terms of exploring and may need to take an extra connecting flight or long distance train/bus to get on your travels which will clearly cost more money.

  • Visa Fees

Unless you’re a digital nomad and are planning short to mid-term stays in a number of different Asian countries, you’ll most likely need to factor in any relevant visa fees or resident permits when budgeting for a new life in Asia. These will vary from country to country and depending on where you’re from and your personal circumstances. In many cases, you may not simply be able to hop on a plane and move to live somewhere new. Assuming you are eligible for a work visa or other type of long-stay residency, you’ll want to factor in how much that may cost you, as well as any potential renewal fees in the future.

  • Will you have the right to buy property?

The data featured on this page is all based on renting accommodation. However if you’re planning to stay somewhere for the long-term and are looking for cheap places to live in Asia, you may also want to consider whether you’ll be able to buy property as there are countries where that’s not possible or very difficult as a foreigner. While not an immediate concern in terms of budgeting, buying a property will almost certainly be your single biggest spend down the road and the likely cost of doing that is also something you may want to consider before heading abroad. Property prices may not necessarily correspond with the Asia cost living index featured above, although it’s likely that the cheaper countries will also be the ones where property is more affordable.

This look at the cost of living across Asia was published in June 2023.

Cost of Living in Asia – What are the cheapest places to live?

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