10 Best Countries to Live in Asia

10 Best Countries to Live in Asia

Asia is the main driver of economic growth in 21st century. With bustling megacities, pristine beaches, and mouthwatering cuisine, it’s no wonder why many people want to work and live in Asia.

Yet deciding on the single best place to live in Asia depends a lot on your own priorities and preferences.

For some, low costs of living and tropical weather are most important. For others, high salaries and efficient infrastructure may take priority.

With that said, below are the 10 best places to live in Asia for expats and digital nomads. They aren’t ranked in any particular order, but we’ll cover each country’s quality of life, cost of living, safety, and ease of getting a visa to help you make an informed choice.



Thailand has been a favorite Southeast Asian destination for decades. The Land of Smiles entices expats with its low cost of living, laidback lifestyle and abundance of gorgeous beaches to explore.

The two most popular cities for expats in Thailand are Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok is Thailand’s huge, pulsing capital city.

As a major transport hub, it’s easy to access beaches in the south or trekking in the north. English is widely spoken and there is no shortage of shopping malls, restaurants, bars and other amenities.

Bangkok’s traffic and pollution takes some getting used to. Yet underneath it is a world class city.



Real estate prices in Phuket have increased over the past few years due to an influx of foreign buyers.

For a slower pace of life, many expats head north to Chiang Mai. Nestled amongst lush mountains, Chiang Mai still has conveniences like malls and healthcare, but with cleaner air, cheaper rents and charming cafes.

It’s popular with digital nomads thanks to the many co-working spaces and cafes with fast, reliable WiFi. The large expat community also makes it easy to make new friends.

Some of the best things about living in Thailand include:

  • Low cost of living, especially housing, food and transport
  • Laidback pace of life
  • Year-round warm weather
  • Gorgeous beaches and islands
  • Friendly locals
  • Great street food and cuisine
  • Convenient transport like trains, buses and domestic flights
  • High quality healthcare that’s still very affordable

Thailand offers expats an affordable and comfortable lifestyle in a beautiful, tropical country. The food, weather and fascinating culture make it one of the best places to live in Asia.

Getting a long-term visa to live in Thailand permanently is easy – for the right amount of cash. The easiest option for anyone older than age 50 is to deposit about $25,000 (800,000 Thai baht) in a bank account.

For anyone else, the Thai Elite visa and LTR visa are ideal routes to staying here long-term. 


For those who prioritize safety, cleanliness, efficiency and technology, Japan may top their list of best countries to live in Asia.

Though the high cost of living prevents Japan from ranking #1, foreign expats are drawn to Japan’s modern conveniences and abundance of amenities.

Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolitan area and the capital of cool when it comes to fashion, food and pop culture.

Outside of Tokyo, Osaka is another popular expat destination. Known as the nation’s kitchen, it’s a food lover’s paradise. Costs are lower than in Tokyo and the laidback Osakan people are famously friendly and outgoing.

Japan has mastered the art of balancing ancient traditions and cutting-edge trends. You can start the day visiting a tranquil temple before spending the afternoon immersed in virtual reality and neon lights.

Expats in Japan can enjoy:

  • Cutting edge technology and infrastructure
  • Excellent public transport including high speed trains
  • Low crime rates and a very safe society
  • Clean cities with great amenities
  • Four distinct seasons
  • Amazing food scene with endless dining options
  • World-class healthcare

However, a main issue with living in Japan as a foreigner is that it’s difficult to stay here. There’s no such thing as an investment visa in Japan. That means you’ll either need to start a company, keep a job, or marry a Japanese citizen.

For those who can manage to figure out a way, Japan is truly among the best places to live in the world.


South Korea

Korea has rapidly emerged as a leading Asian powerhouse. While business is booming, costs remain affordable compared to other developed Asian nations. South Korea entices expats with modern amenities, exciting cities and a fascinating culture.

Seoul is the dynamic capital and center of Korean pop culture. Over half the country’s population lives in the Seoul Capital Area. Seoul offers seemingly endless shopping, nightlife, cafes and restaurants with every global cuisine imaginable.

Busan, the second largest city, is a major port town with beautiful beaches and a more laidback vibe. It hosts major festivals throughout the year including the Busan International Film Festival.

Some of the best parts of living in South Korea include:

  • Fast, reliable internet – great for remote work
  • Excellent infrastructure and public transport
  • High salaries especially for English teachers
  • Amazing food scene with inexpensive local eateries
  • Fascinating mix of tradition and modernity
  • Cosmetic surgery and healthcare at affordable prices

If you aren’t working in South Korea or married to a citizen, the easiest way to stay here permanently is the immigrant investor scheme. This South Korean investment visa gives F-2 residency status, which can lead to permanent residence after five years.

The minimum investment amount for South Korean’s investment visa doubled as of 2024. You’ll need to invest 1 billion won (about $800,000) into real estate in Jeju Island, Incheon, or another qualifying location.

Singapore Marina Bay

With a GDP per capita above $130,00 in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), Singapore is one of the best countries to live in the world.


Singapore attracts wealthy expats from across the globe with its financial opportunities and high quality of life.

Located off the southern tip of Malaysia, the tiny island nation punches above its weight when it comes to business, infrastructure and amenities.

As Southeast Asia’s main financial hub, Singapore offers high paying jobs for expats with the right qualifications.

While housing and taxes make Singapore an expensive place to live, it remains attractive for its modern conveniences, cleanliness and green spaces. The tropical climate also means lots of time at the beach, garden eateries and rooftop bars.

Expats in Singapore enjoy:

  • Efficient, reliable services and infrastructure
  • Low crime rate and overall safety
  • Tropical weather and beautiful parks and gardens
  • High salaries especially in banking and tech
  • Delicious and diverse cuisine – especially hawker stalls
  • High quality education options including international schools
  • Easy access to beaches in Malaysia and Indonesia

For those seeking an ultra-modern lifestyle and who value order and efficiency, Singapore is hard to beat. Just be ready for the high costs that come with this high quality of life.

Similar to Japan, the main problem with living in Singapore is that it’s difficult to get a long-term visa here unless you’re working or married to a citizen.

It’s possible to get a long-term visa in Singapore by making an investment in the country. However, it’s one of the world’s most expensive investor visas.

We aren’t talking about a few hundred thousand dollars (or less) like some of the other places on our list. Expect to put $5 million worth of capital, at the very minimum, in order to qualify for an investment or business visa in Singapore.

If you can afford the steep cost though, Singapore is certainly one of the best countries to live in Asia.



China offers expats the chance to live in one of the world’s oldest civilizations that is also one of the most forward looking.

As the world’s second largest economy, China has abundant job opportunities with often generous expat packages.

Large, modern cities offer every amenity imaginable while ancient sites transport you back in time. Shanghai and Beijing are the most popular expat hotspots.

Blending east and west with its massive skyline and excellent food scene, Shanghai is the largest city in China.

Meanwhile, Beijing gives a glimpse at imperial China with historic hutongs, palaces and temples including the majestic Forbidden City.

Shenzhen is also growing in popularity especially among tech expats thanks to its position as China’s Silicon Valley. Chengdu is also beloved for its panda research center and spicy Sichuan cuisine.

Some great things about living in China include:

  • Exciting opportunities to live and work in a growing superpower
  • High salaries with nice expat packages at many companies
  • Delicious and diverse regional cuisines
  • Incredible historical sites like the Great Wall and Terracotta Army
  • High speed trains make domestic travel easy and comfortable
  • Endless shopping with both mega malls and quirky markets
  • Improving healthcare especially in big cities
  • Chance to learn Mandarin, the world’s most spoken language

China offers expats a chance to play a part in the world’s next superpower and immerse themselves in one of humanity’s richest cultures. In order to actually get a visa and live in China, you’ll need to either start a business or get a work permit though.



Malaysia is one of the most popular places to live in Southeast Asia thanks to its affordability, multicultural society, and modern amenities. The nation’s diversity is reflected in a cuisine that draws from Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions.

Kuala Lumpur, frequently referred to as KL, offers an affordable cosmopolitan lifestyle with air conditioned shopping malls and an impressive skyline.


Penang Skyline

Living in Penang is popular a popular choice among expats for its mix of Chinese, Malay and colonial British influences – best sampled through its street food.

Expats who decide to live in Malaysia will enjoy:

  • Low cost of living – especially housing and healthcare
  • Multicultural society with cultural festivals and cuisine
  • Tropical weather and beautiful beaches and islands
  • World class infrastructure including airports and public transport
  • English widely spoken especially in major cities
  • Delicious fusion cuisine reflecting Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions
  • Easy access to Singapore and Thailand

Malaysia offers a comfortable lifestyle and welcoming society at a lower cost than many of its neighbors. Expats can easily blend work, play and family life here.

The MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) and PVIP programs are two of Asia’s most popular residence programs, and both make it easy to live in Malaysia permanently. 



For digital nomads and expats looking to stretch their budget, Vietnam is one of the most affordable and up-and-coming countries in Southeast Asia. After a turbulent 20th century, Vietnam has risen to become one of the region’s fastest growing economies.

Most expats living in Vietnam head to one of two places. Either Hanoi in the north or Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

Hanoi offers French colonial architecture, countless scooters buzzing by and delicious street food starting at $1.


HCMC Skyline

Ho Chi Minh City is the main financial center of Vietnam, and its largest city, with plenty of jobs and a lively food scene.

Some major highlights of living in Vietnam as an expat include:

  • Very low cost of living especially for housing and food
  • Stunning landscapes like Halong Bay and rice terraces
  • Vibrant cities with an energetic youth population
  • Mouthwatering cuisine with influences from China, France and Thailand
  • Great opportunities for teaching English
  • Excellent visa options including one year work permits
  • Fast, reliable internet – great for digital nomads
  • Improving infrastructure including new metro lines

Vietnam oozes charm from its indie cafes to ancient temples. For those who prioritize saving money without sacrificing modern conveniences, Vietnam is a great choice.

Unfortunately, one major problem with living in Vietnam that prevents it from ranking higher on this list is the visa situation.

There’s no such thing as a retirement or investment visa in Vietnam. For the most part, you must either start a business or actively work in order to live here peramently.


The Philippines

Known for its stunning beaches, lush mountains and warm hospitality, the Philippines has been attracting more digital nomads and expats in recent years. It’s an affordable alternative to pricey Singapore or Bangkok.

The Philippines offers a balanced lifestyle with urban conveniences and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

The sprawling capital Manila has international dining, shopping and nightlife in districts like Makati. For a more laidback vibe, Cebu, Davao and Puerto Galera are popular expat havens.

Philippines Island

The Philippines is home to countless idyllic islands where you can dive, surf or simply relax on the beach.

Several things expats love about living in the Philippines include:

  • Low cost of living and affordable housing
  • Tropical weather and beautiful beaches
  • Friendly, welcoming locals
  • English widely spoken especially in major cities
  • Abundant malls with international brands
  • Delicious cuisine integrating Spanish, Chinese, American and Malay influences
  • Easy access to beaches and nature

One positive aspect of living in the Philippines is its SRRV visa which allows you to stay here cost-effectively and with ease. By simply depositing about $10,000 in a Philippines bank account, you can reside in the Philippines on a permanent basis.

Technically, the SRRV is a retirement visa. Yet its minimum age is only 35 years old, which makes it widely available to the non-elderly.

Indeed, it’s possible to retire at any age if you have enough savings!

Yet crime rates in the Philippines are among the highest in Southeast Asia. Besides that, frequent natural disasters and poor infrastructure hinder the nation’s progress.



Best known for Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple, Cambodia is quickly emerging as expat hotspots. 

Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and getting a visa to live here long-term is easy – it just costs a few hundred dollars per year.

In the capital city of Phnom Penh, the riverfront and colonial architecture give the city charm. Just ten minutes from downtown, you can trade skyscrapers for water buffalo grazing in rice paddies.


Phnom Penh Skyline

Cambodia is at a similar stage of economic development to Thailand in the 1990s and Vietnam during the 2000s. It’s not the easiest place to live in Asia but there’s plenty of profit to make here.

Meanwhile, Siem Reap serves as the gateway to the ancient Khmer kingdom of Angkor, a must-see.

The new airport Siem Reap is drawing in a greater number of foreign tourists than ever to Angkor Wat. Cambodia’s time is now.

The best reasons to live in Cambodia are:

  • Very low cost of living – especially for housing and domestic help
  • Rich history and archeological sites like Angkor Wat
  • Beautiful beaches in Kep and Sihanoukville
  • Warm, welcoming people with traditions like greeting with a smile
  • Delicious cuisine integrating Thai and French influences
  • Great opportunities for teaching English
  • Easy access to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos

Cambodia still feels untouched in many ways, giving expats a chance to enjoy a slice of authentic local life. It’s a place where your dollar stretches very far, indeed.

Keep in mind though: Cambodia is a frontier market, even if it’s a very eclectic one. You’ll encounter poor infrastructure and general poverty because of this.


As the world’s largest archipelago nation, Indonesia offers incredible diversity across its 17,000 islands. The main expat hotspots are Bali and Jakarta.

Known as the Island of Gods, Bali entices expats with its stunning beaches, lush interior, and laidback vibe. Ubud is the cultural heart while Seminyak and Canggu offer upscale beach resorts.

Jakarta is Indonesia’s massive, traffic-clogged capital with a lively food scene and plenty of shopping.

The main appeals of living in Indonesia as a foreigner include:

  • Low cost of living – especially housing, food and domestic help
  • Tropical weather and endless beautiful beaches and islands
  • Vibrant expat communities in Bali and Jakarta
  • Delicious, flavorful cuisine like nasi goreng and sate
  • Great opportunities for teaching English
  • Fascinating local culture and Hindu temples
  • Easy access to exotic destinations across the Indonesian archipelago


Ranking the Best Places to Live in Asia

Asia is a huge and diverse continent with many exciting options for expats. Thailand, Japan and South Korea take the top spots for blending modern comforts with great lifestyle perks.

Singapore and Hong Kong offer cosmopolitan living and financial opportunities.

Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia appeal to those looking for affordability and tropical landscapes.

There are pros and cons to every location. The best place comes down to aligning your priorities and preferences with what each country has to offer.

Do you want bustling cities or laidback beach towns? High salaries or low costs? Hot weather or four seasons?

Wherever you choose, living in Asia as an expat or retiree promises to be a fascinating adventure.


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