Best Place to Live and Travel – South America or South East Asia? Part 1

Whether to visit South America or South East Asia to pursue a relatively inexpensive lifestyle is a scenario that is difficult to get any level of accuracy about for obvious reasons – what’s important for one person may be entirely unimportant for another. So with that said, my intentions here are merely to shed light on certain pros and cons pertaining to spending time in these places as a tourist/traveller or as an expatriate living abroad such as I am myself.

In all honesty, I’ve never travelled around South America. My only experience of South America is either talking with friends and acquaintances who have lived there or watching travel programs on television (including those excellent cooking/ travel programs with people such as Anton Bourdain J ). So in order to achieve a reasonable amount of accuracy here with respect to South America, I’ve “borrowed from” and utilized the experiences of some of my friends and online acquaintances.

That said however, in order to achieve a level of in-depth knowledge about every place would probably take more than one lifetime. Obviously my own knowledge is sparse in places, so I have to try to make up for it by doing some research. Even then, it’s not going to be possible to fill in all the blanks I’m afraid.

There’s a couple of points I’d like to note here, rather than in the main body of points down below. First, the crime rates in South America are far higher than in South East Asia (particularly Singapore which is almost entirely crime-free). However, apparently crime is very much localized in South America and it’s more a case of staying away from the bad areas.

Second, languages. For Westerners it can be very tricky to learn the languages of South East Asia – more so because there are just so many of them and because they are totally different to our own native language (presumably English). I lived in Malaysia for three years and only ever learned a smattering of Malay and various words from Chinese dialects. Whereas, in South America, it can be easier to learn the language because many of us Westerners (referring to Westerners from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.) are somewhat familiar with Spanish or dialects of Spanish, and possibly with the Portuguese language too. Do correct me if I’m wrong.

Nevertheless, in most South East Asian countries, the English language (quite often it’s pigeon English) is fairly broadly spoken, so communication need not be tremendously difficult.

The points listed below are in no order of importance. Again, what will be important for one person may not be so important for another. What’s more however, in general I’m not targeting any specific country but rather am focusing on the area as a whole. Nevertheless, I do mention countries throughout in order to justify some of the reasoning with actual examples.

Feel free to chip in by leaving a comment and/or to correct me on anything you sense is something of a misrepresentation on my part.

This is part one of a two-part account.


Apparently on the whole, South America is far more expensive than South East Asia – some people claim by as much as 20 – 30%. This depends so much on what you wish to purchase. I was always told before arriving in South East Asia that it’s incredibly cheap to live there, but for me, because of what I wanted, it was not so cheap at all. In Malaysia for example the price of alcohol is very high. In the Philippines it’s very affordable. In Thailand I found alcohol to be reasonably priced – cheaper than Malaysia but not as cheap as the Philippines. South America also has the issue of inflation to deal with, and the same cannot be said of South East Asia.

One point to note however, at the time of writing, western currencies are rock bottom against eastern currencies. About 4 years ago (2008) the US dollar was worth around 72 Filipino pesos, whereas now it’s only valued at around 41 pesos! I did locate a price indexing chart online just for your information… Don’t get too hung up on the figures though, but I guess they are fine for a rough guide.

Price Indexing Differences Between Beunos Aires (Argentina) and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)

BA = Beunos Aires/ HCM = Ho Chi Minh

General consumer prices in BA are 69.87% higher than in HCM

Rent prices in BA are 16.31% higher than in HCM

Restaurant prices in BA are 149.66% higher than in HCM

Groceries in BA are 28.7% higher than in HCM


Okay, this is where it comes down more to what you want in life. I mean, at my age (45) I’m hardly looking to go clubbing. Whereas, a student of 20 years old who’s spending a bit of time travelling around may very well want to do a fair bit of clubbing and pubbing. South America is much friendlier on the whole. Folks who live there know how to party, big time! As someone put it rather quaintly:

“You won’t go to a club in Buenos Aires and find folks standing around a table with a bottle in their hand safety dancing”.

Haha! That’s the sort of thing I would do. I really am not into clubbing these days! ;) It’s worth pointing out that the ladies in the Philippines are stunningly beautiful, sexy, and they love Westerners a hell of a lot no matter how old (or young – within reason of course) you are!!


This varies a whole lot from country to country so it’s difficult to afford accuracy. Malaysia has a very advanced internet structure, even to the point whereby you can get a good wi-fi connection in some of the little fishing villages that dot the coastline. The same cannot be said for the Philippines. Connectivity in the Philippines is generally poor. In Vietnam and Thailand (in the main cities) it tends to be pretty good, although when I was in Phuket the internet was terrible. I found the internet also to be dreadfully poor when I was in Bali (Indonesia), but I was not there long enough to say for sure if it’s as bad over the whole island.

In South America, the internet is not so good on the whole or so I’ve heard, but you may have learned something different or have first-hand experience. If so, please leave a comment, thanks.


I’m not much one for drinking coffee at the local Starbucks (and yes, there are Starbucks all over South East Asia) but in this instance I’ll equate the word café to “eatery and coffee (and possibly beer) drinking place”. That’s what they call eating places in Malaysia anyhow.

Malaysia has a mass of great eating places. I’ll not mention the food here – I’ll get to that later, but the places themselves are excellent! Most of them even though they are basic cafes with plastic tables and chairs, most of them have really good wi-fi connection to boot! If it were not so hot and humid in Malaysia, I could spend most of my time in an outdoor café! Great atmosphere to be had in these places if you are to visit them after around 7pm any day of the week.

Philippines – Not seeing the likes of Malaysia. Not much wi-fi going on in the cafés here either.

Thailand – I get the impression that café culture is very evolved in Thailand although I’ve not much experience in that to be honest.

South America’s café culture – I don’t really know about this, in part because I’m not much one for it as such. You’ve got to think that it’s pretty developed though, and because the South American people are very friendly on the whole, it must be a really super experience to boot! I have heard however that some Westerners have been the target for criminals whilst they are out and about enjoying the café culture experience. Do be sure to protect your valuables as much as you can do.


I am NOT at all impressed by the Philippines where tourist visas are concerned. The only thing they get right in my opinion is that they allow you to stay within the Philippines for up to 16 months. That’s good for me/ you and it’s good for the Philippines too. Why? Because it means that we can travel within the Philippines and not have to constantly go out and in to get the darn tourist visa in order. But it’s expensive! You have to renew at the office of immigration every 6 – 8 weeks or so, and at an average of around 100 US dollars a go, that soon adds up to being quite an expense, particularly if you are trying to live on a tight budget.

The last time I had to attend the immigration office here in the Philippines I wore my old trainers and a pair of pajama bottoms, believe it or not! Why, you are probably asking? Because the rules and regulations of the office insist that visitors wear long pants and shoes (feet have to be covered up). You cannot enter the office (even though it’s a fairly messy sort of place and it’s in real need of a paint job) with shorts or sandals on. So, as a form of protest, I decided to wear my pajamas J

Malaysia falls down on the visa measurement only in that you have to get out the country every 4 months (or 5 months if you are British, Australian or from New Zealand and I think Canada too actually – due to British Colonial rule). Malaysia’s tourist visa is quite a bit cheaper than that of the Philippines and there’s much less fuss and hassle at the immigration offices too! The Philippines immigration office in Cebu is a mini-nightmare to have to deal with! The first time I was there I waited for almost 5 hours to get a simple tourist visa. The longest time I ever waited in a Malaysian immigration office was around 20 minutes.

Costs for Malaysian tourist visas now we are on the subject of Malaysia – no need for a visa to enter the country for the first 90 days (there are countries which are exceptions to this rule, so if you have any doubt about this do check online). To extend, it costs 100 ringget Malaysian, which is around 33 USD as it currently stands.

Again, if you are from Canada (I think), the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia, you can get a 2 month extension for that price. For many other countries (such as the U.S. or other European countries for example), they only offer the single month extension before you have to flee the country. But hey – you don’t have to stay out for 3 days or more as the laws of the country declare. Just pop over to Singapore or to Thailand for a few hours and pop on back again and you’ll be just fine!

In Thailand you can stay for up to 30 days for free (if you arrive by air) without a visa (you only get 15 days stay if you arrive by land – erm, go figure!) or 60 days with a visa (costs 1,900 Thai baht, which is currently about (62 USD) , and then you can grab a 30 day extension on top of that which costs 1,800 Thai baht (currently around 59 USD), then you have to haul your backside out the country.

Vietnam – generally a tourist visa lasts for only 15 – 30 days. It’s complicated though, so here’s a link to a website to check that out if you are interested:

Cambodia – you can get an e-visa online which is valid for 90 days, but you can only stay for up to 30 days which seems to me to be somewhat confusing. I think what this means though is that you have to extend your stay every 30 day period (for $25 US each time), and you can stay for a maximum of 90 days before you have to haul ass out of the country. The e-visa costs $30 US.

Laos – apparently you can only get a visa on arrival which lasts for a whopping 30 days. Prices for the visa are as follows: U.S. citizens – $35 USD; U.K. citizens – $35 USD; Canadian citizens – $42 USD (who knows why it costs more…).

Singapore – no need for a visa if you come from U.S., Canada, or U.K. and you can stay for up to 90 days. Easy to get an extension which can last up to a further 3 months. I believe this costs about 40 USD.

Tourist Visa Requirements For South America

Cuba – pretty much everyone requires a tourist visa to get into Cuba. Visas can be obtained either by post or from a travel agent or indeed, once you arrive in Cuba. They last for 30 days only and cost 30 USD.

Argentina – if you are a U.S., Canadian, or U.K. citizen you don’t need a visa for tourism or business for up to 90 days.

Panama – 180 days without a visa then it’s simple to get an extension for up to 90 days.

Guatemala – tourists/ travelers from most countries (Canada and U.S. inclusive) do not need a visa for a 90 day stay. U.K. travelers do need a visa, oddly enough.

Brazil – tourists/ travelers from most countries (Canada and U.S. and U.K. inclusive) do not need a visa for a 90 day stay.

Venezuela – Guatemala – tourists/ travelers from most countries (Canada and U.S. inclusive) do not need a visa for a 90 day stay. U.K. travelers do need a visa, oddly enough.

Colombia – tourists/ travelers from most countries (Canada and U.S. and U.K. inclusive, but not Republic of Ireland) do not need a visa for a 90 day stay. U.K. travelers do need a visa, oddly enough.

Peru –  same as Colombia

Ecuador – same as Colombia

In the next article, I’d like to cover such topics as food, business opportunities, drinking and partying, transportation issues, and a few other topics of interest besides.

ALL comments are welcome, thank you!

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10 years ago

We can’t judge this because every one has their own interest based up on their ideas and flexibility!! Each place has it'[s own importance and it’s own cultures!!So choose the best and live nad travel there!!

10 years ago

Great article! Will use as a reference in the near future for sure. I’d like to know which place people prefer to visit and why? Hopefully some others will add their comments on this!

10 years ago

I have never traveled to any of these places, but would like to one day. Thanks for all the great information.

10 years ago
Reply to  Christine

Thanks Christine, the second part is coming up too! I’d like to see what other people think as well.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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