Living abroad doesn’t have to be expensive.
In fact, if you’re careful with your planning, you should be able to live almost anywhere in the world for less than $1,000 a month. That was my goal when planning to move to Central America.
I was looking for somewhere affordable where I didn’t have to spend a lot of money but could still have fun.
One of my friends had lived in Guatemala a few years prior and recommended that I look into it. He told me that Guatemala was extremely cheap in comparison to many other Latin American countries and that it wasn’t swamped with tourists.
And you know what, he was right! It cost me less than $500 a month to live in Guatemala.
Guatemala is far from a rich country but if you’re looking for somewhere relaxed and rich in culture, then it’s perfect.
I lived in Guatemala for 3 months and I want to share my amazing experience with you, to show you that living a great life abroad doesn’t have to be expensive.
Day To Day Life
I moved to the mountain town of Quetzaltenango (known locally as Xela). This town sits at a whopping 2,330 metres (7,640 feet) at its lowest part and is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains as far as the eye can see.
The reason I chose to move to Xela was mainly because of the great hiking opportunities. On top of that, I was told that learning Spanish there was ridiculously cheap!
Because I was planning to travel around Latin America for a while, I thought it would be a good idea to learn the basics of the Spanish language so that I’d be able to communicate with locals.
Every morning I made my way down to one of the many markets to buy fresh fruit. I couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. I could buy 5 avocados for less than $1, watermelons for 75c, 15 bananas for $1 and papayas for 50c.
Supermarkets weren’t very popular because you could buy everything you needed at the market. There were literally markets every 2 blocks which meant there was always a great supply of fresh, mouth-watering fruit.
After indulging on fruit for breakfast every morning I would welcome my local Spanish teacher to my house for private 1-on-1 Spanish lessons. These lessons only cost $3.40 an hour!
In a few short weeks, I was able to learn essential grammatical skills and hold basic conversations. With the lessons being so cheap, I could afford to have 5 x 2-hour lessons every week. For a total of 10 hours per week, I was only paying $34.
Not too bad if you ask me!
My recommendation for others is to organise a private Spanish teacher rather than going through a language school. Most of the private Spanish teachers work in language schools anyway but teach private lessons in their free time because the language schools only pay them $2 per hour.
If you prefer to go to a language school you will pay around $7 per hour. In theory, this is still relatively cheap but it’s still more than double what you would pay if you organised your own private teacher.
The best way to find a private teacher is to look at flyers at libraries, cafes, hostels and laundromats. There are plenty of highly skilled teachers available looking for work so finding one shouldn’t be a problem.
After 2 hours of productive Spanish lessons, I would usually reward myself by going to one of the local restaurants.
This was a great way to practice the Spanish I had been learning and enjoy a hot meal. A 3-course meal would only cost $1-$2. There were many times I had no idea what I was ordering or eating due to lack of comprehension, but it was a great way to try many of the local dishes and experience the local cuisine.
After lunch, my routine generally involved on my blog, write articles online, hang out with friends or explore the city. The best experiences I had were walking around town, getting lost and trying to find my way back to the apartment.
The evenings generally consisted of playing board games with friends, reading books and going out to the local bars.
The most expensive part of living abroad for most people is accommodation. There are ways to find free accommodation but Guatemala was so cheap that I didn’t need to.
For a private room with a double bed and ensuite, I was only paying $115 a month. This price was all inclusive meaning I didn’t have to pay for electricity, internet, gas, water or yoga classes.
I lived in a shared house which also had a Yoga Studio. During the week there were 4 yoga classes every day and on the weekends between 1-2 classes a day.
While I didn’t take classes every day, I would occasionally enjoy a night yoga class to unwind after an already relaxing day.
Most of the people living in the Yoga House would practice yoga every day and were very tranquil. It was a great vibe to be around because everyone was so relaxed and open minded. In total there were 10 bedrooms at the Yoga House but there were normally only 6-8 people living there at any one time so it never got too crowded.
On Sunday evenings there was a shared dinner where friends from the community would all bring a dish and everyone would share their food. These Sunday dinners had anywhere between 10-25 people each week and were a great way to have an amazing meal at a low cost.
Obviously, this type of living arrangement isn’t for everyone because many people prefer private apartments. While these options are more expensive, you can find a really nice 2 bedroom apartment for $175 – $225 a month quite easily.
I personally loved living in a shared house though because I was able to meet so many people and learn about the best things to do around town from locals that had been living there for 15+ years.
Guatemala isn’t a large country which means that visiting other cities and towns is as simple as taking a bus.
The best form of transport is chicken buses. These buses are old School Buses from the US that are now used in Guatemala for public transport.
To be honest, the buses can get quite crowded sometimes but it’s all part of the experience. Funnily enough, I enjoyed taking long journies on these crowded buses where everyone around me was talking Spanish and playing music. It gave me a great insight into the local culture and made me feel a million miles from home, which I loved.
For shorter trips, these buses only cost 15c. For this price, you can get from one side of town to the other. On the other hand, taking buses on longer journies for up to 8 hours would cost anywhere between 50c to $5.
If you enjoy hiking, I recommend climbing the Tajumulco Volcano. This is the highest point in all of Central America and can be climbed in either 1 or 2 days. Unfortunately, when I was living in Guatemala it was closed due to local conflict.
Some other great hikes that I took include the Santa Maria Volcano, Acatenango Volcano and Lake Chicabal.
If you enjoy exploring new cities, you must visit Antigua. It’s the largest touristic town in Guatemala and for good reason. The city centre has amazing views of volcanos (both active and dormant) and is famous for its Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture.
However, the best weekend trip I took was to Lake Atitlan. This enormous lake in the Guatemalan Highlands is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Views of 3 breathtaking volcanoes can be admired from one of the many small towns that surround the lake.
During my time at Lake Atitlan, I woke up every morning in a tent with views of the stunning lake and magnificent volcanoes so close that I could almost touch them. In the day time, I hiked the mountain tops and went kayaking in the lake.
If you’re only going to do one thing in Guatemala, I recommend visiting Lake Atitlan!
Living in Quetzaltenango (Xela) in Guatemala was amazing.
While it may not have all of the luxuries of a more developed country, it has something much greater, a country rich in culture. You can live a relaxed lifestyle in a quiet town, surrounded by volcanoes and mountains for less than $500 a month!
If money has been the one thing holding you back from moving abroad, this is proof that it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Moving overseas is as simple as saving a little money, booking a flight and working things out once you arrive.
Where is the cheapest place you’ve lived abroad? What was it like?