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The Astronomical Cost of Rent, and a Comparison of Apartments in the U.S., Mexico, and Thailand

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

When looking through apartment listings in various cities in the U.S., I'm overwhelmed by a sense of dreariness and a feeling of dread. I've been starting to think that I never want to get stuck in a one-year lease ever again.

There is very little flexibility when renting. Occasionally you might come across a management company that offers a six-month lease at a slightly higher monthly rate than for 12 months.

I've been hearing a common theme from friends and co-workers over the past year. Many don't want to get trapped in a lease and are considering alternative ways of living—van life, living off-grid, or leaving the country entirely.

Overpriced "box-style" apartments

Overpriced "box-style" apartments

The sad thing is, even when the rent is high—$1000 and up—there is often nothing special about the apartment. More often than not, it is a cookie-cutter-style box with not much character or charm to boast of. There are no amenities, such as a porch or balcony (which, if they existed, the landlord/management company would undoubtedly raise the rent by hundreds of dollars, usuallyy without even so much as a decent view.

Old appliances, sometimes old carpets. Just a basic box. Not designed with any thought of providing residents with a space where they can have a decent, comfortable life. Rather, they're designed to be easy to build and replicate and for fitting as many units as possible into a small space to maximize profits. Often, for the residents to inhabit these dreary spaces and shell out high rents each month, they need to pay a high percentage of what they are earning and work longer hours.

Being aware of alternatives to this arrangement can only be a good thing. In fact, it can be liberating and offer an entirely new lifestyle.

If you are considering living abroad for a period of time, the amenities offered when renting an apartment really open up. It's night and day—an entirely different world. Let's take a look at a few recent apartment listings I came across in Mexico and Thailand. I did some simple searches on Airbnb and Craigslist.

First, a few apartments (studios or one-bedrooms) in Puerto Vallarta. My goal was to stay under $600/month, but I was willing to go higher for some nice amenities, charm, and the things I like. I'm a sucker for a good view and don't mind paying more each month if the apartment has a balcony.

Here is a place I found with a balcony and a spectacular view of the ocean. For one month, the cost is $735. Cleaning fees are included, and all utilities are covered as well, including high-speed internet. The furnishings are basic, functional, and completely fine for my purposes. I don't think there is anywhere in the US where I could find something similar. An apartment of similar size, with a balcony and view of the ocean, would likely cost at minimum $1500–$2000 per month. Higher in one of the larger cities such as SF, LA, NY.

A few apartment photos in my price range in Puerto Vallarta

A few apartment photos in my price range in Puerto Vallarta

Time Is More Important Than Money

Not too shabby. I think I can afford it, and live well on my digital nomad monthly income from teaching online part-time, thus freeing up many hours each week to work on my writing and art and building my own business.

Time is the real treasure in life. You can always make more money.

With this arrangement, I can afford to live well and have plenty of time to do the things I love and work towards becoming completely self-employed and independent.

A one-way ticket to Puerto Vallarta is in the range of $200–$250 from most major airport hubs.

The prospects are even better when searching for apartments in Thailand. Here are a few photos from the listings for Pattaya. Once again, just doing a simple search on Craigslist and Airbnb monthly rentals. There are places listed for as low as $250/month. I decided to limit my searches to anything under about $450 per month.

My first choice is always to live near the ocean. These apartments are within a few blocks of Pattaya Beach. Each building has a rooftop pool, a gym with modern equipment, and a common area where you can relax and take in the view, read, or do some work. You have a view of the ocean from your large windows and often a nice, spacious balcony. Modern appliances, nice furnishings. All utilities are included, even high-speed wifi.

Pattaya apartment near the ocean

Pattaya apartment near the ocean

High Rent and Low Wages Keep Stress High and Contribute to Poor Health

Many people agree the US rental market is overinflated and overdue for a crash at some point. The rents can't keep increasing as they have been. More and more, people can't afford to live with the low, stagnant wages most jobs offer. The rental scene overall is depressing, offering very limited options for basic survival living in a box—another factor negatively affecting the overall low mental health of the population.

Pool at an apartment building in Pattaya

Pool at an apartment building in Pattaya

For those who are self-employed or who can work remotely from anywhere, there are some amazing overseas alternatives out there. The happiness and peace of mind of having a nice, very affordable place in a great location is one of the huge appeals. Your money goes much farther.

The joy, serenity, and peace of mind of living somewhere that makes you happy is important beyond measure. Waking up each morning to a beautiful ocean view, and knowing that I'm not going broke, is priceless.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.