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My top picks for Asia and Latin America


I’m sitting in a comfortable, overstuffed leather chair this morning typing away at this letter while a team of local women give me a traditional Thai foot massage.  30 minutes in the chair will set me back about $4, and I can’t think of a better way to part with my money.

It is with great hesitation that I’m even sitting in this chair– not because I don’t like massage, but because this particular chair happens to be at the airport.  You see, I’m waiting for my departure to Europe, and if it weren’t for an important meeting in Spain that I’m looking forward to, I would be staying right here in Asia.

It’s not that I don’t like Europe– I love it, actually… the scenery, the people, the history, the architecture. It’s hard to not feel alive on a summer day in Krakow, racing down a ski slope in the Italian Alps, or driving a Porsche down the Croatian coastline.

In terms of value for the money, however, Asia has Europe beat hands down.

Take this simple, $4 massage; it would be difficult, and entirely cost prohibitive, to find a team of European professionals who would be willing to provide this level of attention; Europeans feel that ‘serving’ another human being is elitist, which is part of their egalitarian socialist dogma. The session would be courteous, at best.

Many cultures in Southeast Asia, on the other hand, are happy to go the extra mile, especially when there is a gratuity attached.  The ladies who staff this airport location, for example, wouldn’t even let me remove my own shoes and socks– they did it for me.

Having another person do that honestly makes me feel a bit uncomfortable… but providing this level of service is what they are accustomed to, if nothing else than for the gratuity at the end.

The motivation to earn more by providing excellent service is clearly more prevalent in the Orient than in Europe.  Neither mentality is right or wrong, just different. Naturally, though, as a consumer, I prefer a greater level of service.

Price is also a major factor. In Asia, with few exceptions like Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, you have to put up with some level of squalor– trash in the streets, gratuitous displays of poverty, etc. While these indications are not completely lost on Europe, it’s safe to say that cityscapes in the west, in general, are cleaner.

That being said, however, the price difference is enormous. The cost of living very well in Europe is easily five times the cost of living very well in Asia.  Is Europe five times as nice? Depending on what you are looking for, most likely not.

As I look around the world and price compare, I wholeheartedly believe that Asia and Latin America still provide the most value for the money.  My top picks for those regions are:

– Latin America –

1) Chile: Strong economy, beautiful landscape, modern and developed infrastructure. Living costs are low, and the cleanliness makes it feel like you are in Europe. The biggest concern with Chile is that it is growing too quickly; the Chilean peso is one of the best performing currencies in the world, so costs for foreigners are going up.

2) Panama: Also a strong economy with developing infrastructure and increasing local standard of living; costs in Panama City are going up, but if you get out of the city, you’ll find that you can still live incredibly well for very little.

3) Colombia: Clean, modern, and home to some of the best weather on the planet (especially in Medellin). You have to be willing to look past the “Colombia stigma,” but I guarantee it’s well worth the exercise in intellectual independence.

– Asia –

1) Malaysia: Home to a growing influx of Islamic funding, the country is on solid economic footing while maintaining very low living costs. Medical care is strong, and the “My Second Home” program provides an easy route to permanent residency.

2) Philippines: Stable economy, cheap real estate, and excellent English proficiency. Manila and Quezon can be tough, but just outside of the cities you can find inexpensive, pristine coastal property. I know many expats who are happily living out their years being fed grapes on a hammock with just a meager retirement pension.

3) China: Lack of English proficiency can be very frustrating… but China is becoming nicer and more livable by the day. In terms of its modernity, it will be the first developing nation in Asia to match the west, and it will happen in the next 5 to 10 years.

Naturally, I will provide more about these locations in future letters, but I wanted to give you a quick overview today; if you have any specific questions or your own additions, please let me know.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • steve

    Always a pleasure to read your comments.

    How would you rank countries in Latin America and Asia in terms of healthcare available to expats and pleasant weather?



    Simon, I love the site and consider it proof of my personal good fortune that I found it. I look forward each day to your posts. Thank you.

  • John

    Surprised you didn’t mention Uruguay in So. America ! I’d live there any day rather than Columbia !

  • Scott


    I’m trying to acquire information regarding the better places to live in China. I have no problem commuting anywhere in the country or even outside if there is a solid career available. What would your recommendation be for a family of three with a 5-year-old?

  • Charles

    Thanks Simon
    I am a recent subscriber and am enjoying your postings. You asked for feedback after discussing the several countries you find most desirable. How about some idea of cost of living like the cost of a week’s worth of groceries, a restaurant meal, a decent modern 1200 sq ft house that a retiree might want to live in.

  • Austin marshall

    please give more info on PANAMA

  • Austin marshall


  • http://sovereignman.com charles fishman

    What South/Central American countries do you recommend where one can get by mostly with English?

  • Mike Hardegree

    Simon, liked your brief thoughts on the various Asian and Latin American countries. My wife and I are seriously considering moving overseas. We lived in Pattaya, Thailand in the 2000 to 2001 time-frame (textile business related). I know alot has changed, but how would you rate Thailand in general compared to the other Asian countries you mentioned. Also, have you spent much time in Northern Thailand in Chang Mai? If so, how would you rate that area?

    Thanks for your thoughts, and enjoy your newsletter immensely!

  • Friend

    Hi Simon.
    What are the possibilities making 6 month border run when they only let you stay 6 months per year?

  • Pablo Aura

    Hi My friend,
    first of all thanks very much for your letter. It has become a very important part of my daily reading routine, it is honest, straight to the point and filled with usefull and motivational information.

    Just to coment on your letter I will add Mexico, I live here by the way, for this reasons:
    1. Bussiness and size of the economy: mexican economy is very dinamic and much bigger than regular latin american economies, everybody finds jobs-bussiness here. That’s why we are filled with chileans, colombians, argentinians, uruguayans, europeans or even asians, etc.
    2. It’s so close to the states: you can find several flights a day to any major city in the US for a few hundreths bucks and a few hours trip. You can even drive if you are so inclined.
    3. It’s cheap: in general at least a third than living in NY or LA.
    4. Countriside is beautifull and even cheaper.
    5. Anyone with an outlandish look has an edge, it’s a country where foreigners thrive just because everyone will help them or trust them easier.

    1. Right now it’s unsafe in many parts of the country, but not any worse than Brazil.
    2. Taxes are geting a bit higher.
    3. Mexican idiosincracy, you have to get used to people that just doesn’t know how to say a simple and straight “no” as an answer.

    I will rate it as a very good place for a second residence.

    Best regards,


    PD if you ever need any advice to make your way along in mexico let me know, I’d be happy to help.

    • WorldCitizen

      Pablo, I agree witrh your assessment of Mexico except unfortunately for one problem. If the traveler or resident happens to be an American, life can be difficult in Mexico in dealing with the people. Mexicans are still upset over the Mex-Am War more than 150 years ago. They simply do not like us gringos. They will happily take our money but would prefer, speaking honestly, that we stay home and just send in the money by Western Union. Except for that problem, Mexico is a gorgeous country with a great climate and the cost of living in most places is still reasonable. Now..if those Mexicans working in the tourist industry could be taught the concept of “customer service” everything would be great.

    • Friend

      What part Mex you in Pablo?

  • George

    Singapore is not clean?What about Thailand?Are neither among your top picks?

  • http://www.sovereignman.com Emile Mann

    De ar Simon: would you be so kind as to tell me if the Mexican banks insure
    the monies of their depositors.

  • WorldCitizen

    You are the first writer on expat issues I have read to praise Colombia as a permanent residence. I agree wholeheartedly. The Colombian people are fantastic, the rebels have been defeated for the most part, the climate in Medellin is nearly perfect, and the cost of living, while increasing, is still reasonable by European and North American standards. And the women! Well…’nuff said.

  • Jack Blurton

    I love your information from all around the world. I would like you to go to the Philippines and give your actual comments from there. If you would like I can give you some contacts from there, or meet you there in six or seven months.

  • adam

    Thanks for all of the great information. I really enjoy reading your posts and it is one of the only sites I make time for every day. I am wondering about Costa Rica. You have mentioned it but not really in depth. I am considering buying some property to spend a portion of the year as well as for investment. Any thoughts, tips, ideas etc.

    thanks again!


  • Me

    Dependant on what you are looking for Bali should be considered, especially if you don’t like big cities for any length of time.
    English proficiency is good, lifestyle is great. The medical care is not fabulous but flights to Singapore, Bangkok are very easy and cheap. It would almost certainly appeal to the hedonist…..which I am admittedly not. Indonesia is growing at a tremendous pace. Its a bit of the Asian wildcard in many ways and I wouldn’t live in Jakarta or many other Indo cities if you put a gun to my head but Bali is truly a jewel in the region. I think a great place to live but not necessarily do business or buy property.

    • http://rauschenbach.us Möpsi

      My sis agrees about Bali. She spent a summer there once, then went back recently with her kids and produced one of her children’s travel videos there. http://www.thelittletravelers.com/dvd.htm. She says they are an island of supremely happy people, and that Jakarta is close enough for managing some outsourced factory work, or whatever.

      For hermits and internationalists with families, the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner-style Green School is a truly international school with global acclaim, and a real rising star. And the local shaman priests throw fireballs at each other, according to a picture from the local newspaper and a few hundred eyewitnesses, which might interest those who are into strange spiritual studies / quantum physics / hyperdimensions / information field theory, etc.

      Living in Bali paradise among the happy people, outsourcing ones “Tim Ferris style muse” to Jakarta, and banking/incorporating in Labuan would make an interesting love triangle. I have been seriously thinking about it, and my interest doubled once Simon mentioned Labuan last week.

  • Daniel

    Hello Simon,
    I enjoyed the letter concerning your top picks for Asia and Latin America. I am currently scheduled for a mildly long trip to Oceania or Australia and New Zealand. I am just going for the fun and experience, it comes out to about 3 months in each country.

    I was thinking that if I figured out a few methods to support myself while abroad I would probably like to continue my trip and maybe travel to Europe, Asia or South America. Hell, if I had the funds I would love to go to all three regions.

    From your letter, Chile sounds great, I was in Colombia earlier this year but only for 1 week so I tried to do a bit of exploring. Anyways, I found it to be very beautiful, the people generally had sunny dispositions and like you said, the weather was great.
    I was hoping though, that you could delve further into Chile and what you would recommend doing and/or seeing. I’m not much of a “tour guide” kind of guy and from what I’ve recently gleaned of your letters, I don’t think you are either.

    All the best,

    p.s. I am, of course, still very interested in what you have to say about other countries, no matter the continent, and what to expect when there.

  • domlanic

    Thanks for the informative (but even better, motivational) content; I spend part year in Australia & UK, planning time in Thailand with Philippines a longer term possibility.
    I am in doubt about international money transfer- nobody wants to feel hog-tied by govt regulation on transfers, nor feel that every inch of our travels is tracked by the credit card/ ATM/ Travellers Cheque/ Western Union trail. What (legal) ways can you advise to move money around without Big Brother’s nose being in our wallets?

  • Christian

    Medellin is now safe and more clean then Panama labor is also more availlable but the english speaking is more complicate then Panama if you speak only English Panama will work for you because they where always so many American with the canal you have many many that do speak English but renting condo is getting MUCHO PLATA for $750.00 you will leave in an old dirty building i was looking to rent for a friend and was amaza by there price of course i am taking in the city direct
    new condo $1200 and up $1750.00 to $3,000.00 for nice condo with furniture
    in case you want to know

  • Ying


    I am surprised that Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, New Zealand, and Thailand are not on the list.

  • sur pars

    I live next door to China and I can tell you if it is only money you seek China is the place to go but remember you will have to barter in your health due to the enormously polluted air and water not to mention the adulterated foods-it does take its toll on the lungs and throat for sure and God help you if you ever get sick and have to patricipate in the Chinese Medical system-a friend of mine had to have his 9month baby boy admitted on medics order as they said he had severe pneumonia -anyhow 10 days later they told him to get his son discharged as he was on the verge of dying as they did not know what was wrong with him so he hurriedly had to cross the border along with his son and wife to Hong Kong where the health system is far better-anyway to make a story short his son passed away in HKG as it was too late.
    So I thought while the readers are looking at the roses in China remember even the petals on the roses there have thorns so take care in case you feel like sniffing in some fragrance.
    I would rather live in Europe after weighin in all the pros and cons.

    • Joe

      I agree with this assessment. China is great for making money, but it comes with a price. Pollution is pretty bad. The last time I visited, I came back with a hacking cough that didn’t go away until 2 weeks later. Is your health really worth it?

  • william whipple

    i want to go to ghana and take several electronic items with me such as webcams . they are much more expensive in ghana than here in the usa. do you think this makes economic sense?

  • John Miller

    Simon, I see one other person mentioned Indonesia (See Anthony Bourdain, “the end of the road”). Their post stressed Bali. Bali is of course great, but the rest of Indonesia is also very friendly people, tropical beauty, eminently affordable, and rapidly growing. I am planning on Java as the end of my road.

  • Allen

    Dear Simon,
    Allow me to add a few points.
    1. I have lived in Asia for over thirty years and have a good feel for the region.
    2. I have been all over the world including the jungles of South America and Asia..the mountains of the Himilayas..the Khyber pass….etc…i am pretty streetsmart….and have always been cautious…and only once had a problem…..and only felt threatened in two places..the first is Rio…
    the second place is Malaysia….I was there last year for a wedding…Chinese friends….and in the center of the city…my girlfriend and I were mugged and beaten up in public…it took the manager of McDonald’s over one hour to try to get the police to come..they did not…she finally stopped a passing patrol car…they took us to the Central Police Station….where the electricity was out..they had to use an ancient typerwriter to get our story down…..and so forth…in the lobby of our hotel….a German couple were there waiting for their ambulance….she was mugged..he stabbed…this the second time he was mugged in Malasia….the hotel manager..advised us that a male was stabbed that morning near the hotel…..and per our Malaysian friends..this is the norm in the country….you have to be cautious…the newspapers were given our story..and a police superintendant came to apologize….the net story is that with the Bumiputra policy..that is the localization…where the Chinese were squeezed….there is a nation of spoiled Malaysians…without jobs…looking to pick fights with the visitors….me…and the local Chinese…talk to any local Chinese or Indian and you will get a very different picture from what you see at first glance…of what has happened in this once very lovely country.
    On a related story…I just came back from the Philippines….researching residency….and cost of living and property….residency in cheap…for those about to retire….US10,000 will get you Permanent Residency….and housing and food dirt are of a high standard..and very inexpensive……and a pleasant environment where English is widely spoken….but stay out of the South…..

    • http://www.ronin.ph Ronin

      Hi Allen,

      “I just came back from the Philippines
      …US10,000 will get you Permanent Residency”

      Using a very good (legit) consultant you can get PR via the Quota Visa system for around USD3500. I’ve been here over a decade on the Tourist Visa though as it is so totally simple to extend and extend with only a few days overseas every second year



  • Gibby

    Hello Simon,
    I’d be interested in your thoughts about Belize.

  • Joe

    I just came back from visiting Argentina and Uruguay. I have to say that Argentina is relatively cheap compared to the States. Not only that, the food and wine is a great bargain. Uruguay was not as cheap on a relative comparison. Despite what I have read from others, it is slightly cheaper than the US but not enough for me to consider moving there for retirement. I qualify this statement as I only visited Montevideo and Punta del Este, the latter obviously being an International party scene.

  • Dani

    How come Belize didn’t make your list?

  • Chris

    Simon could you please go into more detail about Colombia. Crime rate, ease of starting a business, cost of living, etc. Thanks.


    I would like more info on PR in the Phillipinies,It cost 10,000 ?

  • Martin Adams

    Dear Simon,
    Prior to asking you the following question, I felt I would be remiss to not thank you for each day being so generous with your time providing so many individuals like myself with your vast,, informative and highly credible knowledge of an invaluable nature, yet so generously at no monetary cost.
    I have long desired to ex-patriot from the U.S.A. and would have succeeded in doing so a few years ago if it were not for the complexities entailed; especially im my personal situation.
    I’m a 47 year old male who has been receiving monthly Social Security Disability Insurance checks for 8 years. I only receive approximately one thousand dollars per month and my primary dual concerns are:
    1- Fear of the consequences-specifically getting kicked off Medicare- subsequent to notifying The Social Security Administration I have moved out of the United states.
    I’m aware from reading Disability Law that with the exception of a dozen or so Countries, I have the legal right to expatriate. However, based upon my low income level, I must be able to live in a Country where I can obtain the specific medication’s I take each month, as I will lose my eligibility to participate in my Medicare Part D drug plan.( In addition to losing Parts A and B as well.)
    Do you have a suggestion how I could go about acquiring credible information concerning the availability and expenses regarding the aforementioned medical questions?
    Lastly, have you met or spoken with others in my situation? If indeed you have, I’m concerned whether or not you have noticed a pattern of such people getting dropped from Medicare Disability subsequent to expatriating.
    I would not be the least bit surprised-to underestimate my reaction- If I were to learn that the legal words on paper assuring ones rights to expatriate when receiving Disability payments were incompatible with ones De-facto rights in a “Real Life” scenario.
    If you have the time to answer my question in the months ahead, I would be greatly appreciative!

    Thanks Simon,


  • Douglas

    I have been to China as recently as 2007 and have to agree that many things are quite a bit less expensive; such as the foot massage ( and they don’t allow tipping in China either ). The food and medical care are top notch and inexpensive. Hospitals are readily available to foreigners *(xray and MRI = $250, appt with a Neurologist took one day to arrange and cost $5.00), and medical care is integrative with Traditional Chinese Medicine which includes Acupuncture, Massage, and Herbal remedies as well. In many ways Western Medicine is really backwards.
    As a nurse and acupuncturist (and massage therapist) I was struck by the disparity between the care in our hospitals and theirs, yet we live in a fear based culture that cannot seem to easily assimilate the ideas of personal responsibility or preventative care for our own quality of life.
    Ordinarily, an American wouldn’t think of living abroad in a “communist” country however, I think Simon is right that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of having to perhaps learn another language and overcome our cultural bias. And Asia is going to recover from the world recession much faster than Europe or the U.S.

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