13 countries that hit the sweet spot between cheap housing and good quality of life for US expats

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Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Sao Paolo, Brazil. Getty Images
  • More Americans than ever are working remotely — it's led to an uptick in homebuyer migration.
  • While some will relocate within the US, others may consider a move to another country entirely.
  • There are many countries around the world where expats can live affordably. 

So you're thinking about moving abroad?

For many Americans, the demise of the daily commute to the office has opened up a whole new world of possibilities about how and where to live. 

As more companies transition to the hybrid or remote work model, a study from freelancing platform Upwork, shows that 18.9 million Americans now plan on moving to a new home. The Upwork findings come from a survey of over 23,000 people. According to the company, 28% of respondents say they intend to move more than four hours away from their existing residence.

"From working habits to commuting patterns, there is an undercurrent of change," Upwork researchers wrote. "This is especially true when we look at the geographical implications of remote work. For the first time, remote work allowed many people across the country to see a life in which the location of their job and where they live did not have to be one and the same."

While many Americans will relocate to a housing market within the United States, others may consider a move to another country. To determine where American expats can live comfortably, Insider ranked the most affordable housing markets across the globe that can also offer a good quality of life. 

To get a sense of potential top countries for Americans to move to, we used house price-to-income ratios data from the International Monetary Fund, the most recent Human Development Index, and an analysis on the average cost of a 2-bedroom flat in the city center from financial site Finder. We looked at the 57 countries excluding the US for which data was available from these three data sources.

After sorting through dozens of countries, we were able to identify the places outside of the US where Americans can live relatively inexpensively and that also have a high standard of living based on the average rank of the three sets of data we used.

If Americans are daring enough to make the miles long journey, Ireland — which tops our list — not only offers them a relatively low cost of living, but also breathtaking views of nature. The same can be said for Peru and countless other countries that round out our top 13 list.

Read on to see where US expats can get the most bang for their buck. Finder's analysis gave home prices in pounds, but we converted the average cost of a 2-bedroom flat to US dollars at the exchange rate as of August 29 for the 13 countries below.

12 (tie). Belgium

Ghent, Belgium.

Ghent, Belgium. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 108.263

Human Development Index: 0.931

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $201,582.28

Belgium, a European country with a population of over 11 million, highly ranked for its gender parity, and with approval of a four-day workweek option, may interest some people looking to move out of the US. Expats moving to Belgium should check what visa is best for their situation, such as a work visa or its Golden Visa.

Financial services company ING highlighted in an article a few months ago that the housing market in the country had been robust throughout the pandemic and predicted that house price growth will moderate. Deloitte's 11th edition Property Index - Overview of European Residential Markets also gives some sense on what demand has looked like for this and other countries.

"The high demand for product remained during the year 2021," the report said. "This supported the ever-increasing housing prices and is decreasing the affordability of housing in Belgium. This is pushing more and more households to the rental market and obliges them to stay there for a longer period in time."

11. Bulgaria

A city view of Bulgaria.

A city view of Bulgaria. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 99.113

Human Development Index: 0.816

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $92,587.21

Bulgaria is another country that made our list. Expats may enjoy heading to the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast or the country's mountains. Its lower cost of living than the US may be an attractive option for Americans looking to move here, especially retirees as it ranks as the second cheapest country to retire on Expatra's ranking. The country has seen its population decline though, in part because of emigration.

Supply woes can be a challenge for the real estate market in Sofia, the country's capital. The managing director and head of research of Bulgarian Properties wrote in a post that the real estate market in Sofia was "characterized by very high demand and insufficient supply" for the first half of 2022. The managing director of the Bulgarian real estate company added that this "explains both the accelerated price growth and the slowdown in sales growth."

9 (tie). Brazil

Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Sao Paolo, Brazil. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 84.141

Human Development Index: 0.765

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $97,275.17

Brazil, one of the most populous countries, also made the list based on the data sources we used. The country, with over 200 million people, is one place where people can get a digital nomad visa; that may interest some US remote workers that want to move away.

InterNations' Expat Insider 2022 report found the country ranked high on a few categories, such as for leisure options, local friendliness, and ease of settling in.

Brazil's housing index has gone up over time. International property investment specialist BRIC Group wrote that the country is having a "booming property market," citing ABRAINC Q1 2022 data showing an increase in new properties sold from the same time in 2021.

9 (tie). Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia.

Jakarta, Indonesia. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 84.887

Human Development Index: 0.718

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $87,893.62

As Fortune reported, Indonesia ranked as the second best place for expats according to InterNations' Expat Insider 2022 report. The report notes that almost three-quarters of expats in the country see the cost of living positively.

As Insider's Amanda Goh reported on expats, there is demand in Bali in Indonesia.

"The last 18 months — I've never seen it been busier in Bali," Nathan Ryan, the founder of Bali Realty, previously told Insider. "In terms of sales numbers, we're probably doing three to four times the volume of our usual average from the last decade."

Americans may also be interested in the country's digital nomad visa.

8. Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 96.168

Human Development Index: 0.938

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $270,699.66

Finland may been part of the top of our list in part because of its high Human Development Index, but the country also ranks highly in other rankings not part of our analysis. It's known as the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. It also ranks highly for its gender parity, ranking second in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

The housing market in this Nordic country looks different than its peers. 

"According to a recent Statistics Finland report, Finland is the only Nordic country with regions where residential property prices have been falling for some time," economist Juho Nyholm and senior economist Katja Ahoniemi of the Bank of Finland wrote in May. "This has contributed to the fairly level price trend for the country as a whole."

7. North Macedonia

A city view of North Macedonia.

A city view of North Macedonia. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 88.021

Human Development Index: 0.774

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $63,275.58

North Macedonia is one of the oldest inhabited regions of Europe — but that doesn't mean its citizens are averse to change. 

In 2019, after a years long dispute with its neighbor to the south, Greece, the country formally changed its name — solidifying itself as an independent sovereign nation. In the year following, it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, further demonstrating its determination to become a force among global powers. 

As the country's reach grows, its real estate market is blooming. Macedonia news outlet Republika reported that although housing activity has been "dormant" in the country for years, apartment prices have increased in the country's capital, Skopje, by 12.4% since 2021. 

6. Peru

Lima, Peru.

Lima, Peru. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 77.046

Human Development Index: 0.777

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $96,103.18

Each year, foreigners from all over the world come to Peru to witness its natural beauty. Home to one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, the country receives millions of visitors. 

Peru's tourism industry has stimulated its economy making it one of the fastest-developing countries in South America. As foreigners visit Peru, its real estate sector has also blossomed — especially in the country's capital Lima. 

Despite a slowdown in buyer activity during the early stages of the pandemic, demand for housing has returned to the city. The New York Times reported that home prices in Lima rose by 14.7% year over year in February.

4 (tie). Romania

Victory Avenue in Bucharest, Romania.

Victory Avenue in Bucharest, Romania. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 80.375

Human Development Index: 0.828

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $106,651.09

Bordering the Black Sea, Romania is a mountainous country with castles, monasteries, and churches that line its hillsides. 

Like many countries around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted Romania's housing market. During the initial outbreak of the virus — and similarly to the United States — housing demand and supply fell sharply in the country, according to the Bucharest University of Economic Studies. 

However, the population's interest in homeownership has since reemerged. Romania-Insider reported the country's construction projects increased by 6.5% year-over-year in the first quarter of the year — marking the strongest pace of growth since the onset of the pandemic.

4 (tie). Cyprus

Cape Capo Greco, Cyprus.

Cape Capo Greco, Cyprus. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 89.303

Human Development Index: 0.887

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $113,683.03

Located in the eastern Mediterranean sea, Cyprus is a paradise of picturesque beaches  and towering mountains. However, the country is not only known for its beautiful landscape — the original "Island of love" is said to be Greek goddess Aphordite's birthplace. 

And just like the enchantress herself, Cyprus lowers millions of tourists to its shores each and every year. If foreigners want to live on the island long term, they can participate in the country's golden visa program, which paves the way to permanent residency with an investment of $351,564 or citizenship with a real estate purchase of $2,343,760.

Buyers should prepare for a hot housing market that has been stimulated by real estate investment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. According to real estate database Property Expert Cyprus, in the first five months of the year, real estate transactions increased 42% from the same time period in In 2021.

3. United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 71.323

Human Development Index: 0.890

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $162,906.61

Hailed as one of the fastest-developing countries in the world, the United Arab Emirates' business friendly climate has made it suitable for investors from almost every sector — especially real estate.  

In July, one of the country's most famous cities, Dubai, introduced a law that aims to stimulate real estate growth in the region. The National News reported the law will allow "certain privileges to real estate investment funds" in an effort to increase the country's position as a "global destination for real estate investment."  

That's not the only privilege real estate provides expats in the UAE — through the country's golden visa program, foreigners can obtain permanent residency with the purchase of a $544,499.20 home.

2. Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul, Turkey. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 86.189

Human Development Index: 0.820

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $55,073.19

Turkey is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Home to Istanbul — one of the only cities in the world located on more than one continent, it is a melting pot of both oriental and European culture. 

As such, the country's population is multicultural, boasting more than 4 million foreigners as of 2020. With so many expats, it's not surprising that Turkey's real estate market is ripe with foreign investment. Data shows that home sales to foreigners rose 81.8% in June compared to the same time period in 2021. 

For many expats, the country's golden visa program is a good incentive to purchase property — although it will cost them $250,000. The controversial passport program, which has been adopted in countries throughout the world, allows wealthy individuals to obtain permanent residency or citizenship through investment in either real estate or business.

1. Ireland

Dublin, Ireland.

Dublin, Ireland. Getty Images

House price-to-income ratio: 93.853

Human Development Index: 0.955

Average cost of a 2-bedroom flat: $237,913.97

Known as the Emerald Isle, Ireland is renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty. Each year, millions of foreigners come to the small island to visit its national parks and partake in its numerous festivals

As Reuters reported, Ireland's real estate market is suffering from an imbalance of inventory and demand that has driven home prices to highs not seen since 2007 — a time when increased housing construction and investment led to a housing downturn in the country. 

However, despite significant price growth, experts say a repeat is unlikely and forecasts project that appreciation will slow to 4% by the end of 2022.

How we came up with this ranking

To create this ranking, Insider looked at house price-to-income ratios for 57 countries excluding the US available on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) site. That data from the second quarter of 2021 comes from the Bank for International Settlements and World Economic Outlook.

We also looked at the most recent Human Development Index for those 57 particular countries to get a sense of places with high standards of living. According to the United Nations Development Programme, this index "is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development" including having "a long and healthy life."

To get a sense of prices for these various countries, we looked at research from Finder. That analysis looked at 106 countries' average cost, in pounds, of a 2-bedroom flat in the city-center, including the US. We only looked at the 57 countries excluding the US we had data for from the IMF.

We then ranked each of the three rankings separately for each of the 57 countries where a lower house price-to-income ratio meant a better rank, a less expensive flat meant a better rank, and a higher Human Development Index meant a better rank. We then found the average of these three ranks for each country. We then ranked the countries based on these averages, where a lower average meant a better spot on our list. For instance, since Ireland had the lowest average among the 57 countries we looked at, it ranked number one.

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