The cheapest European cities for expats

TransferWise content team
18.10.16
5 minute read

You can’t get away from paying for some things in life, like food and housing. But you can get away and pay less.

So we’ve looked at the cheapest cities in Europe you could live as an expat.

We’ve examined the cost of everyday items, but also factored in the overall quality of life you’ll get in return for that cost of living. Because some of the best things in life are still free - like having a friendly community or a sandy beach nearby.

Here’s the top ten cities in Europe where you get the most from your money.

10. Berlin, Germany

berlin

Berlin is on the rise, but remains surprisingly affordable for a major European capital.

The city is also very welcoming to expats and has a thriving nightlife and cultural scene. You’ll pay about €3 for a bottle of beer.

Housing is more expensive than it used to be, but rent is still about 40% lower than Paris. You’ll pay about €550 for a large studio apartment.


9. Barcelona, Spain

barcelona

The cost of living has dropped in Spain over recent years. Barcelona is about 20% cheaper than the capital, Madrid, and many expats prefer its unique vibe and sandy beaches.

One Londoner even discovered that it would be cheaper to live in Barcelona and fly to his job in the UK each day. The weather probably influenced his decision too.

The best suburb for an expat on a low budget is Nou Barris. The district is a great melting pot and home to lots of students. You can get a two bedroom apartment there from about €400 a month.

If you're making the move, make sure you download these apps.


8. Tallinn, Estonia

tallin

Tallinn is a modern, fast developing city with a thriving startup scene and an Instagrammable old town. The cost of living has been rising steadily, but it still offers great value-for-money.

Monthly rents start at around €350 for a furnished studio apartment, while a lunchtime meal with a drink in town is about €8.

If you live in London or Paris then you might want to take a seat for this next bit, though.

The cost of commuting by public transport in Tallinn is exactly €0. That’s right - zilch, nada, nothing. The trams and buses are free for all residents.


7. Warsaw, Poland

warsaw

When Poland joined the EU, it gave Poles more freedom to live abroad. Many are now returning however as the economy develops - along with plenty of expats. The cost of living is still low, even in the capital Warsaw where most settle.

The food can be very cheap, especially if you buy local ingredients. Look out for Polish sausages, ham, cheese and dark rye bread. Pierogi are cheap and delicious too.

The most affordable housing can be found in Praga, although possibly not for long. So many artists and young professionals are moving into the area that it’s becoming increasingly trendy.


6. Riga, Latvia

riga

When cheap flights arrived in Riga, it was British stag parties that first discovered its affordability. Fortunately, you’re now far more likely to sit next to other expats when you arrive here.

Latvia might be a small country, but Riga is a vibrant city packed with culture. Seats at the National Opera House start at just €7. You can even buy dinner for two and get change from €20.

Riga is often compared with Tallinn to the north, but prices are lower here - especially for housing. You can get a 3 bedroom apartment in the centre of Riga for under €700.


5. Athens, Greece

athens

Athens is one of Europe’s oldest and greatest cities, although it’s certainly going through hard times. This has significantly lowered the cost of living in recent years.

It’s more difficult to get a job here now as an expat, but many still enjoy a high quality of life - especially pensioners, students and international freelancers.

The cost of rent has dropped the most. Prices are now about 80% lower than in London. It’s possible to get a one bedroom apartment in the city centre for under €300.


4. Istanbul, Turkey

istanbul

You get two continents for the price of one in Istanbul. Half of the city is in Europe so it’s just made the list.

Imported goods are expensive here, including alcohol. Yet housing, food and services like healthcare are very affordable. Many expats can even afford domestic help.

If you want to shop for bargains, leave the boutiques and head to the city’s bustling markets and side streets.


3. Lisbon, Portugal

lisbon

Lisbon doesn’t feel like a capital city. It’s more affordable than much of western Europe, but also has a relaxed pace of life, a low crime rate and stunning countryside nearby.

Apart from imported goods, the price of almost everything is lower here - even compared to neighbouring Spain. Rents for example are about 25% lower here than Madrid.

You can eat cheaply too, as long as you avoid the tourists. You’ll find the locals in small, noisy cafes that serve traditional food like salted cod. A cup of coffee is usually just €1.30.


2. Prague, Czechia

prague

Prague is packed with enough history, culture and art to rival most major European cities, yet you’ll enjoy it at a fraction of the price.

Czechia is in the EU (and now likes being called Czechia), but has kept its own currency, which remains weak against others.

Stay away from the tourist traps and your money will go far in Prague. You’ll pay about €5 for lunch with a drink and about €1.5 for half a litre of beer (and there are some great bars). A large studio apartment is about €400 per month.


1. Budapest, Hungary

budapest

About 40,000 expats now call Budapest their home. They’re attracted by a very low cost of living and increased opportunities for expats, as well as plenty to do when not working.

Plus, there’s this really catchy song about living in Budapest.

Hungary has also kept its own currency, which has remained weak in recent years. If, like George Ezra, you want a house in Budapest with a hidden treasure chest, you’ll pay under €1,000 per square metre. You can also rent a three bedroom apartment for just over €500.

The treasure chest isn’t included.


P.S. TransferWise is hiring in both Tallinn and Budapest - get in touch!

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