Cheapest Country in the World

Drum roll, please… The cheapest country in the world, according to our just-published Quality of Life Index, is… Narau, formerly Pleasant Island.

But this tiny South Pacific republic taking top honors in the Cost of Living category has little else to recommend it: dangerous waters, a heartland laid to waste by phosphate mining, and an offshore detention center for Australia…not even an official capital.

Hmm…that doesn’t sound too appealing. What’s next on the list of our “cheapest in 2007” report? Turkmenistan. A government which outlaws opposition. A landlocked country, 80% desert. Inflated “official” economic statistics. A 470-mile border with Afghanistan.

Looks like we’ll have to skip down a few places, to #10, before we get the perfect balance of cost of living against quality of life.

But first, a word about our Western bias. In researching and preparing the 2007 Quality of Life Index, our sources, staff, and contributing editors all have definite, preconceived ideas about what constitutes a high or low standard of living. Please also remember that statistics obtained from official government sources are not always current, accurate, or reliable. And some statistics are highly subjective. Since the statistics we gathered don’t always reflect our own experiences, we sometimes interject a subjective factor to make the numbers better reflect reality.

That said, the 10th cheapest country in the world, and our top pick, is Uruguay, one of Latin America’s First World countries; a country with one of the continent’s highest standards of living, lowest levels of corruption, best infrastructures, and lowest cost of living. Uruguay beats every other country in Latin America in our Cost of Living category.

IL’s Roving Latin America Editor recently bought property here. Here’s what he reported back to us while he was scouting:

“It’s a gorgeous spring day in the Southern Hemisphere, and I just came from looking at an apartment in the old section of Montevideo that was listed for $19,000. I made a three-cent phone call to set up the appointment, and while I was waiting I had a cheeseburger which cost me 43 cents. A bottle of good cabernet wine is $3.20, and cigarettes cost a buck.”

Uruguay is a paradox. South America’s second-smallest country–about the size of Missouri–looks like Europe, and it feels like Europe, but with Third-World prices. Wedged between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has the lowest poverty level in Latin America and the highest life expectancy. The literacy rate is 98%.

If you love the coast, you’ll find Uruguay irresistible. The 210-mile stretch of coastline between the Brazilian border and the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo is among the finest in South America, with endless white-sand beaches, lonely stretches of highway where the woods go right to the water, wildlife preserves, and dazzling resorts. It’s a good place to live and invest, and–thanks to the spillover of the Argentina financial crisis–a place where your dollar still goes a long way. Right now, you could buy a large beachfront home here for just $125,000.

With a stable economy and a strong commitment toward outside investment, Uruguay offers a great deal of reliability. The monetary currency is the Uruguayan peso. After the large Argentine devaluation in 2002, Uruguay had a gradual devaluation of its currency. Although the U.S. dollar weakened with respect to the Uruguayan peso in 2005, you will find the general cost of living to be about 30% to 40% cheaper than in the U.S.

Uruguay has been granted the qualification of “investment grade,” as dispensed by recognized companies, such as the British IBCA and the American Duff & Phelps. This demarcation indicates that Uruguay is considered a country free of risk for investment. It ranks as one of the top three countries in Latin America for the ability to pay its external debt.

Wherever you go, the friendly people will charm you, the natural beauty will seduce you, and the remarkably affordable cost of living will entice you to stay. As is true in any country, real estate in some areas is more affordable than in others. If you want extensive infrastructure, ease of access, an established expatriate community…you can have all that. And if you’re looking for a hideaway retreat by the sea, you can find that too…and all at a surprisingly reasonable price.

Laura Sheridan
Editor, IL’s Quality of Life Index (See here for more World Rankings.)

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Uruguay and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter. Sign up for IL’s free daily postcards here and we’ll send you a free report: Live in First World Comfort in Uruguay…Without Paying for it.


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