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Moving overseas can seem like a costly proposition, at least with all the upfront expenses – but relocating to some cities can actually save you money in the long haul.

According to the March 2014 Worldwide Cost of Living Index, completed twice a year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, affordable cities can be found on almost every continent. The report compares prices of 160 goods and services, from cars to bread to wine, across 131 cities.

For reasons of geographical diversity – as well as to include cities whose international communities, career opportunities and levels of safety would particularly appeal to expats – we focused on what it would be like to live in five of the 10 cheapest cities on the Economist’s index. The other five, not detailed below, were Karachi, New Delhi, Damascus, Algiers and Riyadh. 

Mumbai, India
Ranked 131 out of 131

The most affordable city on the Economist’s report, India’s most populated city is also one of its most diverse. When the Suez Canal was built in 1869, making Mumbai one of India’s primary trading ports, the city’s population exploded – particularly with merchants and settlers from Europe and Asia. As well as becoming a melting pot of different cultures, the metropolis developed into an epicentre for opportunity, particularly in business and in the film and fashion industries. 

“If you have the drive and the talent, you can come from anywhere in the country or the world and make a name for yourself in Mumbai,” said Kaamna Bhowjwani-Dhawan, Mumbai native and founder of travel blog Momaboard. As a result, the city has a very work-hard, play-hard mentality, Bhowjwani-Dhawan said, with a vibrant social scene centred around the newest velvet-roped clubs and trendy bars. The social scene can be enjoyed relatively cheaply, too: movie tickets and cocktails cost half as much as they do in New York City and London, according to international price database Expatistan

Other aspects of living in Mumbai are also relatively affordable. Public transportation and taxis run one-tenth the price of their New York or London counterparts, with an 8km taxi ride costing just 161 Indian rupees (the equivalent of $2.70 or £1.59). Service is cheap, too. “For under $1,000 [60,000 Indian rupees or £600] a month, you can hire a staff of a cook, a housekeeper and a chauffeur,” said Bhowjwani-Dhawan.

Despite Mumbai being listed as the world’s most affordable city, many residents said they feel the housing costs can be prohibitively expensive; some younger residents cannot afford to move out on their own, despite good salaries. As a result, “many suburban areas which were considered far-flung have now become thickly populated,” said Deepa Krishnan, native resident and owner of Mumbai Magic Tours. In particular, the city has expanded to the north, where more affordable modern high-rise apartment complexes have emerged, complete with gyms and swimming pools.

In South Mumbai, apartment buildings are smaller – only three to six storeys – with many built in the Victorian British Raj or Art Deco styles (in fact, Mumbai has the world’s largest concentration of Art Deco buildings outside of Miami). In West Mumbai, meanwhile, the suburb of Bandra attracts Bollywood movie stars and business owners to its individual bungalows. In Mumbai, 85sqm is 65,500 rupees (£660 or $1,105).

Kathmandu, Nepal
Ranked 127 out of 131

As a gateway to the Himalaya Mountains, Kathmandu has a very outdoor-oriented culture. Not everyone is a Sherpa – but even office workers will often leave their desks to work outside in the sun. When not working, locals enjoy the always-growing restaurant scene or hanging out at the bars; by law, bars must close at midnight, so nightlife here gets started earlier.

Housing and basics contribute to Kathmandu’s affordability. Bread costs 36 Nepali rupees ($0.37 or £0.22) for two people, a full restaurant lunch costs about 385 rupees ($4 or £2.39) and a litre of gas costs 141 rupees ($1.50 or £0.89). At an average of 34,000 rupees ($300 or £215) a month, rent for a 85sqm house is particularly affordable.

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