How Much We Saved By Living Overseas

We left the U.S. in mid 2018 not knowing exactly how much money it was going to cost to travel the world. This article will tell you how much we saved by living overseas. I’ll first tell you how much money we spent per month in our previous two countries, which happen to Malaysia and Mexico. Then I’ll compare that with how much we spent living in Washington, D.C. for one month.

(If you prefer to watch a video with the same information then click this link: How Much We Saved By Living Overseas).

In 2020 we arrived in Malaysia for what was supposed to be a short trip. But when flights were unexpectedly canceled due to covid, we ended up staying for a year. We lived in some great places that year. Penang and Ipoh in the northern part of Malaysia are known for their great food. And Cameron Highlands, up in the mountains, is known for it’s fantastic mild weather. Then in 2021 we spent 6 months traveling around several parts of Mexico. And then in the beginning of 2022 we spent a month in Washington, D.C. Let’s compare the cost of housing in each of these three locations first.

Housing

In Malaysia most of our apartments were in high-rise buildings.

Between Malaysia, Mexico, and Washington, D.C. our nicest apartments were in Malaysia. Many of our apartments were more like staying in a resort. They had a nice swimming pool, a fitness center, and one of them was only a few minutes walk to the beach. In Malaysia we mostly rented three bedroom apartments. We didn’t need three bedrooms because it’s just the two of us. But the three bedroom units seemed to be the most available, and the one bedroom units were harder to find. Compared to Mexico and Washington DC, our apartments in Malaysia were generally the largest.

In Mexico we had a mix of two bedroom apartments, one bedroom apartments, and a studio apartment. The apartments in Mexico were overall more medium sized. And about half of our time in Mexico was spent in San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic, which happen to be more expensive cities for housing.

In Washington, D.C. we lived in a tiny basement apartment. We got a pretty good deal on this apartment because it was the slow season.

Keep in mind that our spending on housing includes AirBnb fees which are quite high. You would avoid the Airbnb fees and probably pay much less if you were renting directly from the owner and staying long term.

Here is a breakdown of our monthly average hosing costs.

$586 Malaysia

$806 Mexico

$2,068 Washington, D.C.


Food

One of our favorite dishes in Mexico was pork marinated in citrus juices.

Malaysia has great food. There is so much variety in the food there, with different types of dishes from many different cultures. The price of food in Malaysia is definitely the cheapest of the three countries. We went out to eat a lot there because the food is so inexpensive. Our favorite food in Malaysia was roti canai (a flat bread) and nasi kandar (a curry, chicken, and rice dish).

Food was a little more expensive in Mexico than it was in Malaysia, but we did go out to eat a few times per week. Of course we ate a lot of tacos, as you would expect. But Mexican food is more than just tacos. We ate mole which are sauces that come in many different flavors. And we also enjoyed huaraches, which are thicker tortilla type patties with different toppings.

In Washington DC, the food was more expensive, so we mostly went to the grocery store. We didn’t eat out too much during our time there. If we went out to eat in DC as much as we did in Malaysia and Mexico then our spending on food in DC would have been much higher. Our apartment in DC was within walking distance of our favorite supermarket called Aldi. It has relatively inexpensive food that we would take to our apartment and cook ourselves.

Here is the breakdown of our average monthly food costs (restaurants and groceries)

$351 Malaysia

$472 Mexico

$493 Washington, D.C.


Transportation

Owning a car is almost mandatory in the United States, but not in most in the rest of the world.

Malaysia, Mexico, and DC, all have very sufficient public transportation systems, but they are priced very differently. A ride on the metro in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia would range between US$0.25 and US$3.00 depending on the distance. In Mexico City it was a flat US$0.25. And in DC the minimum price is US$2.00, and prices can go up to US$6.00 during peak hours. And in DC our neighborhood had a free street car that saved us a lot of money. Our highest spending on transportation was in Mexico, but the numbers are a little deceiving. In Mexico we traveled to 14 different cities, and the spending amount you see below includes the buses to get to each of those cities.

Here is the breakdown of our average monthly transportation costs.

$39 Malaysia

$123 Mexico

$84 Washington, D.C.


Activities

We visited six different archeological sites in Mexico.

We didn’t do a whole lot of activities in Malaysia because that’s where we were when covid first started and the country went into periods of lockdown off and on. However we did get to do some activities in Malaysia when things were more open. In Mexico most of our spending on activities was for visiting archeological sites all around the country, and also for some cooking classes and day tours. In Washington, D.C. our activities concentrated on visiting the museums and the monuments, and almost all of these are free.

Here is the breakdown of our average monthly spending on activities.

$59 Malaysia

$115 Mexico

$75 Washington, D.C.

Miscellaneous

Laundromats in Malaysia were closed when covid first started, so we did our laundry using a bucket.

This is for things like clothes, supplies, toothpaste, laundry, cell phone data, etc.

Here is a breakdown of our average monthly spending on miscellaneous items.

$101 Malaysia

$77 Mexico

$127 Washington, D.C.


Health

We had to take an ambulance to the emergency room in Mexico when Ryan’s blood pressure dropped and he passed out.

The health care is fabulous in Malaysia. The best things about health care in Malaysia, are the low prices, the high quality, the availability, and we appreciated being able to communicate in English. We made sure we had all of routine checkups done while we were in Malaysia because the health care is some of the best in the world. In Mexico we had a few routine appointments, and one trip to the emergency room. We were impressed with the health care in Mexico too (although not to Malaysian standards, but perfectly adequate). In the US health care is so expensive, so we didn’t make any medical appointments there and fortunately we stayed healthy. If we were living in the US we’d be spending a lot more on health care.

Here is a breakdown of our average monthly health care costs.

$76 Malaysia

$119 Mexico

$0 Washington, D.C.


Health Insurance

Seriously, why does health insurance have to be so complicated?

One of the most common questions we get is about our health insurance. We have an international health insurance policy through IMGlobal that covers us everywhere in the world. Here are a few of the details about our health insurance policy:

  1. We get a discount because we pay for the whole year instead of monthly.
  2. Our plan is valid everywhere in the world.
  3. Our plan requires us to be outside the U.S. for at least 6 months per year.
  4. We have the silver plan with $5000 deductible per person. This deductible is reduced to $2500 outside the U.S.
  5. Our plan only partially covers pre-existing conditions.
  6. The plan only covers covid in our home country (United States) and in the country where we were when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic (for us, that was Malaysia). It did not cover us for covid in Mexico (or any other country besides USA and Malaysia), so we bought an additional travel health policy through SafetyWing while we were in Mexico.
  7. We have never filed a claim or met our deductible so far, so we can’t comment on that process.

Here is a breakdown of our average monthly health care costs.

$198 Malaysia

$365 Mexico

$222 Washington, D.C.


TOTALS

Here are the totals when you add up each of these categories (this is for two people).

$1410 Malaysia

$2076 Mexico

$3069 Washington, D.C.

I know this is not a perfect comparison between these three places. We adjusted our lifestyle in DC to match its higher cost of living by living in a smaller apartment, not eating out as much, and mostly choosing activities that were free. We also balance out our budget by living in less expensive places so that we can occasionally afford a more expensive place.

So, back to the question, how much have we saved by slow traveling overseas compared to living an everyday normal life in the US? Well, we’ve always tracked every penny since we lived in Charlotte North Carolina. Since we began traveling the world in 2018, we’ve spent an average of $2,107 per month for our life outside the US. That’s about half of what we were spending living in the US.

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