Port-Dickson-Malaysia
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Somewhere between whipping up batches of fresh (and medicinal) mint mojitos in your cramped city apartment after work and getting sunburned on exotic beaches during your two measly weeks of vacation a year, a lightbulb switches on. Why not live the tropical life all year round? It’s a not-uncommon fantasy in these waning days of a long winter: Ditch the high heating bills, smothering winter coats, and oppressive tweetstorms of your homeland, decamp to an inexpensive beach town abroad—and live like royalty.

We’re here to tell you: It can be done.

But buying a home on U.S. soil is stressful enough. Finding an abode abroad can be even more so—you want somewhere both safe and affordable, with a community of expatriates for company. And once you whittle down your list of potential new homelands, you’ll have to contend with a host of laws governing foreigners buying property.

This is where the peripatetic data team at realtor.com® comes in. We found some of the most affordable international beach towns where expats-wannabes will want to live—and where the regulations make it entirely possible.

“If looking out at the ocean every day and surfing and walking on the beach are your No. 1 [priorities], then you should be looking overseas—doing that in the United States today is seriously expensive,” says Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of internationalliving.com, a website geared toward Americans searching for a home in a tropical paradise.

So what kinds of folks are relocating to exotic sand- and sun-filled locales? Let’s check off the boxes: Retirees with fixed incomes searching for more bang for their buck. Recent college graduates looking for adventure and new opportunities. Tech employees who can work remotely. Or just everyday Americans who have had enough of the corporate lifestyle.

The U.S. State Department estimates there are nearly 9 million Americans living overseas.

But this isn’t a decision that should be rushed.

“My No. 1 caution is that [home-buying] laws in other countries do not look like the laws in the United States,” Stevens says. “You need to get a good attorney, who isn’t representing the seller, to lead you through the process.”

To create our list, the realtor.com data team first ruled out countries that have extremely restrictive policies on foreigners buying property. We also eliminated landlocked countries, and limited the final ranking to no more than five countries per continent. Then the following data points* were pulled in:

  • Citizenship ranking from U.S. News & World Report, which measures human rights, gender equality, and religious freedom
  • Top expat destinations ranking of 65 countries from InterNations, a global network
  • Average internet connection speed (so you can work remotely)
  • Coastline size
  • Low homicide rates
  • Home affordability index from numbeo.com, a global consumer prices website
  • Cost of living index from numbeo.com
  • Average yearly temperature, to ensure plenty of beach days

Once we got our list of countries, we aggregated several international beach rankings from publications such as Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, and TripAdvisor to help us come up with our list of beaches. And we eliminated beach communities without nearby homes under $250,000.

Ready to find your dream home abroad? Grab the passport and let’s travel.

The best budget beach towns
The best budget beach towns Claire Widman

1. Zlatni Rat (Croatia)

Croatia population: 4,189,353
Coastline length: 5,835 kilometers

Zlatni Rat beach
Zlatni Rat beach Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images

The Eastern European country of Croatia probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think beaches. But maybe it should be. The clear blue waters of coastal town Zlatni Rat make for world-class scuba diving, and some epic sailing too.

That’s probably why Condé Nast Traveler named Zlatni Rat the 10th best beach in Europe last year.

“Zlatni Rat stands out for its striking and unusual shape (which actually changes depending on the current). Though it looks like a golden sand beach, its shoreline is made up of smooth, tiny pebbles and stretches out for half a mile on either side of the tip,” Condé Nast wrote.

Zlatni Rat is located on an island in the Adriatic Sea called Brač, with a population around 14,000. It is a popular spot for windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and other watersports.

But unlike many of the other topped-ranked beaches in this part of the world, Croatia comes at a reasonable price. Look no further than this two-story Mediterranean stone house for $165,000 just a pebble’s throw from the beach.

Americans can buy homes in Croatia, but they require approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Securing that approval can take two to six months, as it requires a nonconsummated purchase agreement between the buyer and seller and proof of your U.S. citizenship.

2. Myrtos Beach (Greece)

Greece population: 11,159,773
Coastline length: 13,676 kilometers

Myrtos Beach
Myrtos Beach Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

On Kefalonia Island at the feet of Kalon Oros and Agia Dynati mountains, you can find the beautiful sand and waters of Myrtos Beach. It’s as prized for its idyllic and dramatic beauty as it is for its serenity. If you’re leaving the U.S. to get away from the hustle and bustle, this is your place. No watersports allowed! Frolicking in the surf, basking in the sun, reading Socrates, and contemplating life, however, are all heavily encouraged.

There isn’t a lot of real estate right on the beach, but there are a number of affordable nearby villages. The road from the small town of Divarta, with some terrific Mediterranean and seafood restaurants, takes sun worshippers directly to the ocean. Most of the homes are detached bungalows or villas. Greek real estate prices are still pretty low after the country’s economic woes (remember the Euro crisis?), so you’d be advised to buy soon.

Americans can buy real estate in Greece, but it is a difficult process and requires an application. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Greece recommends Americans contact a lawyer before starting the application process. If you buy a home, you’ll need to obtain a tax ID number through Greece’s Ministry of Finances. And some areas, such as those near military bases, are restricted to foreign buyers.

3. Tulum (Mexico)

Mexico population: 129,163,276
Coastline length: 9,330 kilometers

Ruins of Tulum a Pre-Columbian Mayan walled city in Tulum.
Ruins of Tulum a Pre-Columbian Mayan walled city in Tulum.

Tulum, about two hours south of spring break magnet Cancún, is a top destination for visitors from around the world who want to take in the Mayan ruins that overlook the blue waters of the Caribbean, or go snorkeling in the azure waters of the Gran Cenote, a limestone cenote and cavern.

Its growing popularity as a vacation spot has spurred more and more Westerners to choose it as a place to put down roots. This ancient town of 18,000 is extremely cheap, housingwise. You can find…