Europe’s 7 cheapest cities

Skopje’s Turkish quarter, Photo: Panoramas

Matador U grad and Road Warrior Megan Wood compares seven international cities in Europe with a low cost of living.

When I was a student living in London, I kept a running tab in my head of how much everything cost. A pint of beer for four pounds? That would be eight American dollars. A t-shirt from TopShop priced at forty quid? Maybe Kate Moss can afford 80 dollars for casual clothing, but I can’t.

Many people dream of living in Europe, but London, Vienna, and Paris come with high price tags. Luckily, Europe isn’t limited to these international capitals. I used Xpatulator, a website that publishes a list of 300 international cities and ranks them quarterly by cost of living, to find the seven least expensive cities in Europe. Thirteen different categories are compared, including the cost of food, housing, recreation, education, and medical care.

Hardship level measures how ‘difficult’ it is for an expat to live somewhere. Xpatulator describes it as “the relative difference a person and their family will experience and the relative impact on their lifestyle when moving between different locations.” A hardship level of 40% represents “extreme hardship.”

Once I narrowed down the list to the seven most affordable cities, I compiled information on currency, language, climate, hardship level, things that are cheap, corruption and some random, interesting facts. It’s no surprise that the seven least expensive international cities are all located in Eastern Europe.

Sources used:

Currency – Google
Language – Ethnologue
Weather – BBC World Weather
Hardship Level – Xpatulator
Things that are cheap – Xpatulator
Corruption – Transparency International, Perceived corruption levels are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being low corruption and 0 being the highest

Note that Americans who want to live in Europe will need a visa for their intended country. Go to the State Department’s website for country specific information. For visiting rather than living, many agencies can arrange cheap all inclusive holidays in these cities.

Chisinau Railway Station, Photo: Bdell555

7. Chisinau, Moldova

Currency: The Leu, with plans to convert to the Euro in 2010-2012
Language: Romanian
Weather: Hot, dry summers and mild winters
Hardship Level: 30%
Things that are cheap: Groceries, alcohol
Corruption: 2.9
Miscellaneous: With warm summers and mild winters, Moldova has ideal weather for growing grapes, which means excellent wine and a well-established wine industry. Jobs for foreigners may be difficult to find; it’s estimated that 25% of Moldovans work abroad.

6. Bucharest, Romania

Currency: The Romanian Leu
Language: Romanian
Weather: Average summer temperature is 73 degrees Fahrenheit, windy because of the Romanian plain, and winter weather below freezing.
Hardship Level: 30%
Things that are cheap: Alcohol and tobacco
Corruption: 3.7
Miscellaneous: Once called “Little Paris,” Bucharest is home to an eclectic culture that includes great nightlife, numerous museums, French-influenced architecture, and numerous cultural festivals throughout the year.

Bucharest Expat is a good information source with over 2,000 active community members.

5. Skopje, Macedonia

Currency: The Denar
Language: Macedonian and Gheg Albanian
Weather: Humid, subtropical climate with hot and wet summers. Winter months are equally wet and often snowy, though rarely freezing.
Hardship Level: 30%
Things that are cheap: Recreation, culture, and restaurants
Corruption: 4.1
Miscellaneous: Skopje is a mix of Christian and Islamic culture. A major earthquake in 1965 destroyed some of the historical architecture, but the city is being rebuilt with an emphasis on public parks and preservation of the remaining Ottoman architecture, including medieval hotels.

Pristina, Photo: Alchaemia

4. Pristina, Kosovo

Currency: The Euro
Language: Gheg Albanian
Weather: A humid, continental climate with average summer temperatures in the 80s and snowy, mild winters
Hardship Level: 40%
Things that are cheap: Education and groceries
Corruption: 2.8
Miscellaneous: In the summer, locals spend as much time at outdoor cafes as possible. Cafe culture is as much about being seen as it is about drinking coffee. The streets are said to be safe after dark, even for single women.

For information on toddler play groups to women’s clubs in Pristina check out inyourpocket.com/kosovo.

3. Sofia, Bulgaria

Currency: The Bulgarian Lev
Language: Bulgarian
Weather: Because Sofia is located in a high valley, it has cooler temperatures than the rest of Bulgaria, with summer temperatures in the high 70s and winters in the mid 40s.
Hardship Level: 30%
Things that are cheap: Household costs like electricity, rent, and taxes
Corruption: 3.6
Miscellaneous: Sofia is one of the best locations on this list, bordering the Black Sea and Turkey. Expats consider it a “large small town,” easily walkable, with opportunities for rugby and outdoor activities. Sofia is a great jump-off point for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer in Vitosha, a mountain town just south of the city.

For an expat’s guide to living in Sofia, try ExpatinBulgaria.com.

2. Tirana, Albania

Currency: The Albanian Lek
Language: Tosk Albanian
Weather: Tirana has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.
Hardship Level: 40%
Things that are cheap: Groceries, healthcare and personal care
Corruption: 3.3
Miscellaneous: With daily power outages and no international train service, Tirana is not the easiest place to live. Tirana is an ideal place to learn Albanian as very little English is spoken.

1. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Currency: The Marka
Language: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Weather: Proximity to the Adriatic Sea keeps Sarajevo’s climate moderate with an average of 170 days of rainfall.
Hardship Level: 40%
Things that are cheap: Education and household costs
Corruption: 3.2
Miscellaneous: Described as a “little city or a big village,” Sarajevo is dealing with post-war reconstruction, political corruption and social instability.

Read one expat’s interview about daily life in Sarajevo.

Community Connection

If you’d like to live in Europe but don’t have the money to get there, check out Matador’s guide on How to Move to Paris With No Money.

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  • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

    yeah sarajevo (which, by the way you spelled completely wrong) is pennies compare to graz, austria. even better in mostar, b&h. totally beautiful and worth the visit as well.

    • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

      *is pennies compared to graz, austria.

      i guess my typo is karma for calling out your typo. :) anyway, there should be an edit button for comments on here.

      • Heather Carreiro

        I totally just realized our editing dyslexia! That got by at least two people. Readers are always welcome to give us corrections – thanks again.

        • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

          ah, simple mistake. i didn’t catch it the first time, either. (it’s also wrong in the “Read one expat’s interview about daily life in Saravejo.” link.)

          • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

            i really understand the initial misspelling of sarajevo, but you guys have corrected it twice now and still missed two of the times it’s misspelled. (it was spelled incorrectly all 4 times the city is mentioned.)

  • http://rt-now.com Rob

    What about Prague? Very cheap and much cooler than all of these places.

  • andy

    good article, although I’m surprised there are no mentions of the actual cost of living, or even any examples of what certain things cost. Just a “things that are cheap” category.

  • MrG

    Rather live in Ibiza, Mallorca, San Sebastian or Marbella.

  • http://annemerritt.blogspot.com Anne

    A very cool list, Megan! It’s refreshing to see a list of European travel destinations that breaks away from the usual Rome-Paris-Berlin refrain.

  • http://playopenminded.com Luciano

    Heh, the list has 4 cities with population under half-a-million; does not mention horrible terrestrial connections to Balkans, very expensive flights (flights to Sarajevo got cheaper only like few months ago); roads from hell, almost no work available for foreigners (minus some international community that is still lingering after “post-war reconstruction” took place). Not to mention xenophobic people, continuous conflicts in Ex-Yugoslavia (three towns listed from there, hardly “cities”) Et cetera.

    As usual, American would pass on the real qualities those places can offer to people interested in culture and history – Sarajevo was founded couple of centuries before Americas were found, there is tons of cultural and historical values in or around all those places mentioned; intertwining religions and nations that struggled through centuries to put a foundation for living together.

    There is much more relevant information to write about each of those places and author completely fails to approach such list seriously, instead she offers such a superficial list compiled through Internetz and even than she does poor job – Wikipedia does much more justice to those places than she does.

  • Mike

    After living in Sofia I can assure you that the temp in summer is way above the mid 70s…….try high 90s and your closer to the mark, it also has very cold winters, sometimes as low as -10c. On top of that the cost of living if you earn a Bulgarian wage is actually quite expensive.
    Rent is cheap, beer and cigs are cheap. Food and clothes are expensive.
    If i was to move back to Bulgaria I would actually live in Plovdiv (the second city) not Sofia.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing Mike!

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  • Nick

    How does Slovenia stack up on this list, particularly Ljubljana or the areas around Lake Bled? Anyone know?

    • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

      since slovenia is on the euro now, it’s becoming more expensive. ljubljana is cheaper than austria, but more expensive than croatia and/or bosnia and herzegovina. still, there are many cheap restaurants and a lot of bars have great drink deals. ljubljana is a beautiful city, i highly recommend. (sorry i don’t have any solid facts….)

    • http://www.ljubljanacityhotels.com/ Ljubljana

      Hi Brian, i live in Slovenia. A national cinical joke in Slovenia is: we have European prices and Balkan salaries.
      We have same prices or even higher for food ( my friend just got back from Berlin and was surprised that restaurants are cheaper there than in Ljubljana), Bled is quite popular and touristy – prices are reasonlably high ( a midrange meal in Bled expect to cost you around 15- 20 eur, pizza a little less) But it is worth visiting anyway. If you want to see the major attractions in Slovenia, one week is enough. You may check for more in Bled touris board: http://www.bled.si/en/

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  • http://myscrapbookmisapuntes.wordpress.com Ana O’Reilly

    I was wondering why you chose to include the level of corruption of each city and why you feel it’s important to mention? How does a 3.0 or a 2.8 influence one’s choice?
    Thanks,
    Ana

  • http://www.Savvy-Writer.com Rebecca

    Great list! I want to visit Romania. Our neighbors across the street from us are Romanian. They’re a very close knit family.

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  • Jerry Mendel

    I have visited several of the recommended cities
    I’ve been to Tirana 3 times; July 2010 was most recent. The people seem quite nice and friendly. English is widely spoken, even by older people. I saw a current American movie at a small mall attached to the Sheraton Hotel. The theater had about 50 seats, all of which were red. velvet armchairs. On warm evenings, it appears that everyone is at outdoor cafes and parks. Lots of people, but very quiet; delightful atmosphere The number of late model luxury cars with U.S. license plates is amazing. Apparently, they are stolen in the U.S. and shipped to Albania. I wonder why the U.S. Embassy doesn’t investigate?
    Sofia is O.K., but I think that Varna is much nicer. It’s a small resort city on the Black Sea with nice beaches and new shopping malls.
    A nice looking house (I saw pictures) about 20 miles from Varna can be had for under US$35,000. I had a great lunch at the Happy Bar and Grill. Huge portions and low prices. While I was waiting for the food, the waitress brought me some magazines. Can’t remember this happening anywhere , ever.They have a branch in Barcelona. Moving to Bulgaria? You better learn the Celtic alphabet. In a supermarket, I couldn’t figure out what was in a can from the picture.on the label.
    Bucharest. Not bad. The people seem either very nice and helpful or the exact opposite; No phonies.
    Skopje? I don’t think so.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing Jerry. Wow, a house in Varna for around US $35k?

  • Hellas

    To meganlwood

    I don’t understand if you are ignorant or just a fool
    There is no country macedonia
    The only macedonia I know is a north region of Greece that has Thessaloniki as a big city
    It’s the one that Great Alexander was born and there is no Macedonian Language
    The language that Macedonians speak is pure Greek
    If you refer to Skopje, FYROM is their right name
    Please revise your article as soon as possible
    Also if you don’t know about the countrys you are reviewing then don’t write any article

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hellas,

      This is a political debate that Matador is not going to become a part of. Megan is writing about the Republic of Macedonia (or as you put it and as the UN puts it the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) which is commonly referred to in English as just “Macedonia.” You will find it as such in guidebooks like Lonely Planet.

    • Ross Martin

      I think you need to undertake anger management counselling. Your aggressiveness and arrogance do you no credit.

      Incidentally the plural ‘country’ is spelt ‘countries’.

  • http://lynnbraz.blogspot.com lynn braz

    Great article. I’ve been on the road in Southeast Asia for many moons and craving some European comforts. This article is helping me see I have affordable options beyond developing countries. Thanks!

  • Liakos

    There is no country Μacedonia The only Μacedonia I know is a north region of Greece…. Their name is Skopia not Macedonia.. I m Macedonian and i am Greek … They are Slavs and steal other nation history … Fix this please

    • Boysrus

      I guess you are Macedonian during the week and Greek on the weekend…….
      more power to you…

    • Guest

      You are so stupid, you’re or macedonian or greek, you can’t be everybody. Think a little with brain don’t listen fascist policies.

    • Greekfags

      Macedonia is a country, faggot.. now shut the fuck up.

  • chris

    very interesting article!good work guys….but people must know that vergina(the city which king fillipos and great alexander borned and lived)is in greece.learn some geography and history.skopje is a nation without historical identity.so the name macedonia is a cheap way to steal from greeks a big piece of their history.they borned in greece,they lived in greece..they were writing and speaking greek.there are so many evidences that prove that great alexander and his family were greek.for gods shake!!!this is a comment for the article which i found it very interesting as i said before.

  • GEORGE

    Macedonia is one. And it is greek!

    • Mike

      Ok lets get this straight. People from Greece will never recognise macedonia as country. But the fact of the matter is it is a country. It’s modern language it closer to Bulgarian or Serbian than Greek (they use the cyrilic alphabet with one latin letter). The people themselves are closer to Bulgarians or Serbians than they are Greeks (they drink rakia not ouzo and eat shopska salad, cucumber tomatoes and sirene). Ok so many many years ago it may have been part of Greece (get over it), but for the sake of argument let me remind you at one point it was also part of Bulgaria from 1877-88 and part of Serbia from 1912.
      This region of the world has a very deep history with the same bits of land being owned by many different countries over time. So stop all the bickering and lets concentrate on the fact that Macedonia is a beautiful country with very friendly people, I myself love the country and its people and I always welcome the oppertunity to visit Macedonia with open arms.

    • Rania

      Macedonia is Macedonia. Greetings from someone who is neither Greek nor Macedonian. You take care of Greece and leave the Macedonians alone :)

  • Buthhole

    Shut up Greeks, haven’t you got more pressing issues n your country at the moment. Get off your lazy asses, get a job, and pay your taxes.

    • Diavgia

      Buthhole, very nice comment. I live in Athens, I have 2 jobs ( I am SOOOO lazy), I pay all taxes, and although I have no family to support or any other serious obligations, I passed the whole last week having 5 euros in my wallet. But you are right, and I’ll pass your positive comment to my about 20 friends who got fired during the last few months. Thank you so much. I return all your good wishes for us back to you :)

    • mishmash

      u truly r a buthole

      • Faggotsex

        ur the biggest faggot on here

  • Mariapopa

    Buthhole, you are rude. Your comment is not welcome here, and your ignorance makes your own words fit you perfectly.

  • Cf Jerry

    “Tirana is an ideal place to learn Albanian, as very little English is spoken”. What a foolish remark! That’s like saying, go to France to learn French, Spain to learn Spanish etc. I have visited Tirana 3 times in the past 7 years. I am always amazed at how many people speak English; even older people. On my first visit I had to take a taxi from the airport to Tirana. The driver’s English was so fantastic, he could have taught English in the U.S. one thing that bothers me is the number of late model luxury cars with U.S. license plates.  they had to be stolen and shipped to Tirana. a brand new Mercedes 500 with Alaska plates!

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  • Shoane

    Don’t know where you got your facts, but chisinau, moldova will certainly not change it’s currency to euro not in the near future because it even ain’t a EU Member.

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  • Jeff_gray

    how is belgrade not on here?

    • Stefan

      Belgrade is not cheap at all!

  • Boyko Blagoev

    Greetings from the best-value city in Europe! Looking forward to seeing you in our city!

    Sofia is not only quite cheap but there are also a lot of free things to do:
    http://freesofiatour.com/blog/free-things-to-do-in-sofia 

    By the way, there are free walking tours like the Free Sofia Tour all over the world:
    http://freesofiatour.com/blog/free-walking-tours 

    Cheers,
    Boyko
    Free Sofia Tour Association

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NGEK4RCS2SQOV2KP2LHYE6O4MQ Schwartz

    not saying these places may not be worth visiting but from there to imply that you can make a living there there is a difference. Just think for a second what makes these places being cheap.

  • jasper therasper

    This is not Europe’s cheapest cities, it’s Europe’s cheapest CAPITAL cities.

  • William

    useless list.   been there and better and cheeper places exist.   besides the bad historic references, all the information is just insufficient to make any kind of substantive decision.   It would be safer and smarter to look for other articles or sources.

    • Al Tam

      Lighten up, dude.  It’s just a quick little guide to a handful of cities, not a comprehensive analysis.  If it gets a country or a city on someone’s radar, it’s done what it set out to do.  Sheesh.

  • Drife9

    Since Romania entered the EU, cheap cigarettes are a thing of the past. Moldova has the cheap tobacco, a pack of cigarettes for $.15 US or 3 euros across the border in Romania. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MO4UUQQXC4NA63FCDVGL7EHRGM Emilia

    my buddy’s step-mother brought home $21096 the previous month. she is making cash on the laptop and bought a $472400 house. All she did was get lucky and set to work the information laid out on this site   (Click on menu Home more information)  http://goo.gl/ft6Ho  

  • Freesoul

    Macedonia=Greek word,ancient history and heritage, Greek language.Vardarska=language bulgarian or albanian,history minimal and new in comparison to Greece.as a song says:Macedonia they try 2 steal ur future,people with no past!
    As 4 work i got off my fired ass in Athens and found a cool job in north europe,i d suggest my Greeks compatriots do the same soon.Alexander didnt become great by sitting in Pella.

  • Gsingh952

    i wanna know more about this concept…
    write me on gsingh952@gmail.com

  • English Home Tuition

    4 pounds for a beer n London, you obviously haven’t heard of Weatherspoons? Maybe up West. The trick to London, like any other city is knowing where to go. Rent and tax and transport is always going to be expensive but if you know London well enough, many things are so cheap, including clothes, restaurants and food.

  • Zenit Sukurica

    no way I was born in sarajevo.

  • Zenit Sukurica

    lol

  • Mahahind Charan

    Nice article. Would be great if someone can tell me which is the cheapest city to live in Bulgaria. a) Sofia b) Varna c) Plovdiv. Thanks

    • Pavel Levski

      if you’re still interested.. as far as housing and cost of living go varna and plovdiv are on par and are a bit cheaper than sofia. BUT if you want to work then there’s only one choice and thats sofia. if you have good income you can rent a house in boyana, lozenets or bankya which are very close to the city. still if you prefer sea over mountain pick varna.. or bourgas (if there wasnt an oil refinery there i would pick bourgas over varna anytime but if we consider you dont know the language then varna or sofia should be your choices if you’re keen on coming here)

      P.S. now if you want relatively cheap prices and a nice city then i suggest to seriously consider budapest (apart from their cuisine and the hot summer its all great, though there’s no sea anywhere near and not an easy language) or prague.

    • Pavel Levski

      if you’re still interested.. as far as housing and cost of living go varna and plovdiv are on par and are a bit cheaper than sofia. BUT if you want to work then there’s only one choice and thats sofia. if you have good income you can rent a house in boyana, lozenets or bankya which are very close to the city. still if you prefer sea over mountain pick varna.. or bourgas (if there wasnt an oil refinery there i would pick bourgas over varna anytime but if we consider you dont know the language then varna or sofia should be your choices if you’re keen on coming here)

      P.S. now if you want relatively cheap prices and a nice city then i suggest to seriously consider budapest (apart from their cuisine and the hot summer its all great, though there’s no sea anywhere near and not an easy language) or prague.

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Ryan E. Phillips

    I was lucky enough to spend about half a year in Prague. Like most European big cities, once you are out of the busiest parts of town the prices plumet! This reagion is great for that reason, as well as the fact you are so close to western europe so you can spoil yourself with trips to Germany, Italy, etc. at a nominal travel cost. Big cities like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest provide affordable living in amazing places, right in the heart of Europe!

  • Luke Borom

    The problem with these cities is the corruption. In Russian the word for fine as in a speeding ticket fine is штраф. The slang term for bribe is also штраф. So when a cop tells you to pay a штраф with a smirk you know. Oddly enough though the bribes are cheaper than paying it legally and has the same effect. I didn’t register my visa in Russia and would have cost 60 USD the bribe to the cop at the station costs 35 USD and had the same stamp.