The Balkans is a diverse, breathtaking and often confusing geographical area with a number of different ethnic groups. One of the main advantages that the Balkans has, besides its culture and beautiful landscapes, is an incredibly low cost of living. Average Balkan salaries are quite low, and expats in this region on Western salaries can live like kings and queens. They’ll also encounter some of the friendliest and welcoming people ever.
The top cheapest cities to live in the Balkans are:
- Belgrade, Serbia
- Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Kotor, Montenegro
- Tirana, Albania
- Skopje, North Macedonia
- Bucharest, Romania
While the Balkan countries share a lot of similarities, they are also diverse enough so that you can travel between them and not get bored while living there. And with the average cost of living being much less than in other parts of Europe, you can travel and experience more on a budget.
What countries are part of the Balkans?
The Balkan Peninsula in south eastern Europe contains some of the cheapest places to live in or visit on the continent. However, the Balkan region is a mystery in itself to many people due to its perpetual ethnic, geopolitical and linguistic disputes. Hence, before moving there, you should get to know all the countries there and their locations.
Here is a brief overview of this fascinating region to get you started.
Officially, the Balkans comprises areas of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.
Furthermore, countries whose entire territory is within the borders of the Balkans are:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- Kosovo (not recognized by Serbia and half of the world as an independent state)
Croatia, Slovenia and Greece also belong to the Balkans, but they aren’t among the cheapest options to live in.
With that said, the cheapest countries to live in the Balkans are:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
With a fascinating range of Balkan countries with varied attractions, there is just so much to see and do. Even more, you can enjoy it for a fraction of the price. Without breaking the bank, you could rent a well-located and fully equipped accommodation, regularly go out for dinner and drinks, and explore the surrounding mountains, rivers and seas.
The Balkans also has a plethora of storied architecture, monuments, medieval fortresses, undisturbed beaches, clear lakes, Dinaric Alpine mountains, and of course, the amazing food! With that, let’s look at the most affordable cities in this magical part of the world.
1. Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is one of the cheapest, big cities to live in Europe. It’s also a favorite of our staff members here at Support Adventure, a remote staffing company. It has a truly fascinating history and is one of the oldest settlements in the world.
Although Serbia isn’t as visited as its neighbor Croatia, it has much to offer for travelers, as well as expats looking to settle in the country. In Belgrade, one can enjoy fantastic cuisine, coffee culture and some of the best clubs in Europe–which the city is famous for. Moreover, there are plenty of housing options, from luxury flats and houses to bargain furnished apartments.
Belgrade is often called the party capital of the Balkans with its many bars and clubs that close at the wee hours of the morning. It’s also an hour’s drive from Novi Sad–home of the Exit Festival which was named ‘best of its kind’ in the whole of Europe. So if you like to be social at night, Belgrade is definitely the place to be.
Obtaining a residence permit for Serbia is fairly easy, especially via opening a business.
Despite the city being large (approx. 2 million people), Belgrade still has a pretty low cost of living. Generally, 1,000 EUR will be more than enough to live comfortably in Belgrade. Other Serbian cities will provide a similar lifestyle for half the price. So check out other cities like Novi Sad or Niš if you’re looking for something even more affordable.
The Cost of living in Belgrade, Serbia
The rent of a decent one-bedroom apartment is about 400 euros per month. Add 100 euros for utilities.
A meal out at a nice restaurant is about 8 to 15 euros per person. It’s definitely possible to experience many things in Belgrade on a budget.
2. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is another beautiful and incredibly affordable country in the Balkans. In addition to its rich culture and history, the country has stunningly beautiful landscapes in the form of mountains and emerald rivers. Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, is in and of itself, a picturesque town surrounded by mountains.
One can find plenty of traditional South Slavic and Turkish cuisine restaurants and architecture there. Sarajevo is a pretty small city, with only about 300,000 people living there. Hence, big city lovers might get bored quickly.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can see incredible ethical diversity, as there are Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics living together.
The cost of living in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
A one-bedroom apartment in Sarajevo can cost about 250 to 300 euros. For groceries, expect to spend around 8 to 10 euros per day when cooking at home. A meal out in a restaurant costs about 8 to 15 euros per person.
Overall, a monthly budget of around 800 euros as a single person will provide you with a good standard of life.
3. Sofia, Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a super underrated country for everything it has to offer. It’s truly a perfect combination of overlooked coastline, mountains and charming historical cities. Expats moving to Bulgaria can enjoy the Black sea in summer and head to the mountains for skiing in winter.
Beautiful Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital, and it’s filled with friendly locals and great architecture. Even better, for a European Union capital city, it has inexpensive rent and food. And with around 1.2 million residents, it’s just about the perfect size to experience local and big city life.
Sofia remains considerably untouched by expats; hence, living costs are still very low despite the relatively high quality of life. Before moving there, make sure you brush up on some Bulgarian. Locals aren’t as fluent in English as they are in neighboring countries like Serbia or Macedonia.
The cost of living in Sofia, Bulgaria
A one-bedroom apartment in the capital will cost you around 300 to 400 euros per month, with internet totaling just 7 euros per month. A meal out runs for about 8 euros, and a cocktail for an incredible 4 to 5 euro.
Like rent, food prices and utility bills in Bulgaria are the lowest in the entire European Union. Transport in most Bulgarian cities is very easy and cheap for getting from one place to another.
With a monthly budget of less than 900 euros, the cost of living in Sofia is pretty affordable.
4. Kotor, Montenegro
Montenegro is truly a pearl of the Balkans. It’s a small, but incredibly diverse country. Montenegro is primarily popular among tourists during the summer season, but living there permanently is also a great choice, especially for nature lovers!
Most people love it for its Adriatic coast with stunning beaches and picturesque views of little towns engulfed by enormous mountains. Kotor is the most famous of those towns.
It looks and feels like a small Dubrovnik, with its medieval walled old town of red roof tops. However, living in Kotor might feel like living in a village as it has only about 14,000 in population.
Almost all Montenegrin cities are that small, except for the landlocked capital Podgorica with about 156,000 residents.
Due to the ease of receiving a residence permit, Montenegro is becoming a popular place to live among many expats and digital nomads from around the world. Counting money is also easy there due to it being the only country on our list with the euro as a local currency. But don’t be fooled. Montenegro isn’t part of the EU, and the cost of living is very low.
The cost of living in Kotor, Montenegro
You can live a comfortable lifestyle on as little as 800 euros per month. That includes renting an apartment for 300 to 350 euros, buying food and eating out, and leisure activities. Keep in mind though that prices are higher during the travel season (from March to mid-September) due to the influx of tourists.
5. Tirana, Albania
Albania’s capital city of Tirana is rapidly developing, making it another super affordable destination in the Balkans. It has about 500,000 people; hence, it’s a relatively comfortable city to live in.
Tirana is, however, a bit of a chaotic city whose infrastructure for getting around the country isn’t as seamless as its neighbors to the north. Nonetheless, a lot of developments and improvements have been made in recent years to increase the quality of life there.
Despite Tirana being a landlocked city, the Albanian riviera has got you covered. One can enjoy miles of sandy Ionian beaches within a few hours of driving from Tirana. However, prices might be slightly higher on the coast, especially during the season.
Albania is the single predominantly Muslim country in the Balkans, so public call to prayers are beautifully bellowed from the mosques in the mornings and evenings.
The cost of living in Tirana, Albania
An expat can have a comfortable life on as little as 770 euros per month. You can get a one-bedroom apartment in the city center for 300 euros. A meal in a restaurant costs about 6 to 10 euros, while a cappuccino is only 1.5 euros. Do note that prices rise during the summer for tourist season.
6. Skopje, North Macedonia
North Macedonia is a small landlocked country in the Balkans. It was previously known as simply Macedonia, but neighboring Greece successfully petitioned for it to change its name. But should you go there, just keep in mind that locals still prefer to call it Macedonia. We told you the Balkans is confusing!
Anyway, Skopje is Macedonia’s capital, and it is similar to Tirana when it comes to size. Around 500,000 people live there. But it’s more like Bosnia and Herzegovina with a diverse cultural mix of Macedonians, Albanians and even some Turks.
The whole underrated country is surrounded by stunning mountainous landscapes, as well as lakes, canyons and river gorges. It’s perfect for hiking, biking and swimming. Another benefit of living in Skopje is its proximity to cities like Sofia in Bulgaria and Thessaloniki in Greece.
The Cost of living in Skopje, North Macedonia
Skopje wins in this ranking as the cheapest capital city to live in the Balkans. The average cost of living is only 700 euros for an expat.
In Macedonia, a McDonald’s combo costs only 4 euros, while a meal at a restaurant is only 6 to 15 euros. The monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in an expensive area like the city center is less than 300 euros.
7. Bucharest, Romania
Romania is another underrated Balkan country in the European Union. The capital city of Bucharest is called the “Paris of the East” and is a cosmopolitan city with a Soviet past that you can feel immediately.
Ultimately, Bucharest is one of the most affordable cities to live in Europe and in the Balkans. Moreover, Bucharest is a great place to splurge and try some of the more high-end restaurants or some luxury clubs.
The cost of living in Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest is one of the most expensive cities to live in the Balkans on this list.
The suggested average monthly budget to live in Romania is around 1,000 euros. That’s more than enough in Bucharest, as locals live on much less.
You can find a one-bedroom rental for about 450 euros and spend the rest on your daily food and leisure activities.
Moreover, Romanian food is delicious, filling, and super cheap. An average meal price is about 8 to 10 euros, and 5 euros for a cocktail.
What is the cheapest country in the Balkans?
According to the cost of living statistics, Macedonia is the cheapest country in the Balkans, followed by Serbia. In fact, Serbia is 12.87% more expensive.
However, the number of expats is significantly lower than in Serbia. Hence, the lowest cost of living isn’t always a decisive factor when choosing a country to live in. We would recommend choosing Belgrade in Serbia as an affordable place for relocation.
Generally, the whole Balkan region offers an inexpensive cost of living, and has some of the cheapest countries in Europe, with Greece and Croatia as exceptions. Therefore, you have a wide range of countries with different landscapes, nature and cultures to choose from.
How cheap are the Balkans?
The Balkans are indeed a very affordable spot on the map to live in. Apartments and houses have great value for money, and the high quality, farm-grown food costs pennies compared to the western world.
If you are ready to pay a bit above average for housing (around 400 to 500 euros), you can have a luxurious and furnished apartment for a not too high price. Even if the rental is unfurnished, all housing options have a built-in kitchen and bathroom.
Public transport is usually very inexpensive as well, with monthly passes costing between 20 to 30 euros and one-time fares ranging from 0.45 euros in Macedonia to 0.9 euros in Belgrade.
Transport between cities and countries is cheap too. Tickets for a long bus ride can range from 3 to 20 euros. For example, a scenic train journey from Zagreb to Belgrade costs 13.5 euros.
Food prices in the Balkans
Food is the best part of living in the Balkans. However, restaurant prices can vary widely. In general, a decent meal pretty much anywhere can start at 5 euros. In Serbia, you can get plenty of home-style grilled meats and vegetables for that amount.
Pizza will typically cost you about 6 to 10 euros in most countries. Macedonia also seems to be slightly cheaper for restaurant meals.
In all Balkans countries, you can get incredibly cheap baked goods. For example, the famous burek – a flaky pastry filled with meat, cheese, or spinach costs less than one euro. In Belgrade, you can find pizza slices sold everywhere. They are also less than a euro.
Crepes are another famous inexpensive fast food in some Balkan countries. You can enjoy a giant crepe filled with sweet or savory ingredients for about the euro in price.
Cheap fast food options, including hamburgers, kebabs, and similar greasy meals, are available in all Balkan states.
For drinks, a beer or a glass of wine is typically less than 3 euros. Great cocktails are about 3-5 euros, and cappuccinos cost on average about 1.5 to 2 euros.