How to Get Scuba Certified on a Budget

Updated: Mar 21


Ever wanted to take the plunge and learn to scuba dive, but you have been told it costs an arm and a leg?


While scuba diving can be an expensive sport, there are also ways to make it affordable, and some dive centres will even train you for free!



 

How to Get Scuba Certified for FREE


As an instructor myself, I know how expensive it can be to climb the scuba diver ladder. However, training organisations SSI (Scuba Schools International) and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), both offer free online e-learning for students wanting to learn to scuba dive.


While e-learning is free, most of the time you will have to go on and pay for an instructor to teach you, and you will also need to pay for the processing fees to get that well-earned scuba certificate.



“But you said free”.


Yes, I did, and although free opportunities are rare, there are a couple of ways you can become scuba certified for free.



  1. You know someone that is an instructor, and they are willing to teach you for free and pay to process your certification fees - a big thanks to all those nice instructors!

  2. You have an agreement to work for the dive centre after. Some dive shops will teach you for free if you sign a contract to commit to working for them after they have certified you. This usually requires a lot of work, as in most places you will need to be at least a Divemaster to start working, but this is a free opportunity, and you get a job at the end of it, so it is a win-win situation!


 

Where Are the Cheapest Destinations to Become Scuba Certified?


When selecting where to become scuba certified, you also need to consider the cost of getting there, what's included in the price (training materials and rental gear), and how long the course will take.


Generally speaking, land-based dive courses are cheaper than liveaboards, especially if you will dive from the shore instead of a boat. The following diving destinations are some of the most affordable to get your Open Water qualification, plus they are also known for good-quality diving!


 

1. Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt


The Red Sea in Egypt is one of the most iconic dive destinations in the world, plus it is perfect for people travelling on a budget - averaging around 270 GBP (360 USD) to complete the PADI Open Water course.


Despite raised concerns from political instability and increased terrorist activity in recent years, Sharm El-Sheikh is considered one of the safest areas in Egypt to visit - I always felt safe when I was staying there, and the people were very friendly! These concerns have driven diving prices down, and it has also meant that popular dive sites like the famous SS Thistlegorm have become much less crowded.


Other epic dive sites include:


  • Ras Mohammed National Park

  • Straits of Tiran


 

2. Dauin, Philippines


The Philippines without a doubt is a diver’s paradise! The cheapest place in The Philippines to learn to scuba dive is a small coastal town called Dauin.


Open Water courses vary between dive shops, but on average, an entry-level diving course will set you back approximately 250 GBP (330 USD). A good tip is to ask if they can do your Open Water course from the shore. This is a much cheaper way to become scuba certified, as it cuts costs on fuel and crew.


If you are a lover of small marine life, definitely decide to go shore diving in Dauin, you can expect to see crabs, seahorses, cuttlefish, and even smaller critters lurking in the warm island waters.


For those wanting to see larger marine life, dive sites like Apo Island are well worth paying a little extra for a boat dive - you will also be rewarded with much better visibility.


The Philippines is also one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks, so, if you want to see these impressive slow-moving, filter-feeding marine giants, the best places to see them are:


  • Leyte

  • Tubbataha

  • Donsol

  • Oslob


 

3. Amed, Indonesia


A personal favourite is wonderful Indonesia! Diving in Indonesia can be expensive if you opt for a liveaboard or luxury diving resort in Komodo National Park or Raja Ampat. However, Indonesia being part of the Coral Triangle is spoiled when it comes to marine life!


Located on the east coast of Bali is a much cheaper diving destination, called Amed. Courses here are much cheaper, costing around 240 GBP (330 USD). There are many dive shops in Amed that also offer very generous diving packages and discounted accommodation if you decide to also stay with them during your dive trip.


Another benefit to Amed is the low cost of living, yet you will still be able to enjoy amazing food and beautiful beaches at a fraction of the price of staying in busier areas in Bali like Canggu and Seminyak.


If Amed is your next diving destination, get ready for some good visibility, beautiful volcanic sand, and breathtaking marine life and coral reefs. Just don’t forget to ask for a trip to the impressive WWII shipwreck (USAT Liberty), only located a short drive from Amed in Tulamben.


 

4. Cozumel, Mexico


Cozumel, a diver’s dream paradise, is becoming more and more popular thanks to fairly cheap flights and low living costs. While it is a little more expensive than the other diving destinations on the list (285 GBP/375 USD), many dive operators offer incredible dive packages that often also include your accommodation.


Cozumel is not only great for its cheap diving, but it is also known for warm waters (a big plus for those that are used to diving in a drysuit!), relaxed currents, and unbelievable visibility, making it a great choice for both beginner and more experienced divers.


With over 45 dive sites, colourful coral reefs and over 500 species of fish, you can expect Cozumel to be on every diver’s bucket list!


 

5. Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras


Honduras is surrounded by the stunning Caribbean Sea. Utila, the smallest of Honduras' Bay Islands, has become the place to go when selecting budget-friendly accommodation, making it a hot spot for backpackers seeking a tropical escape, and of course to take the plunge diving!


You will never be short of dive shops in Utila, as there are so many to choose from, and if you are a newbie diver, it will cost you only an average of (220 GBP/290 USD) to get your Open Water certification.


Although most dive shops have a consistent price for scuba diving courses, many dive centres in Utila also offer amazing package deals that include both your accommodation and diving.


I can't stop there, though. Utila has some of the best dive sites - crystal clear water, teeming with marine life, and healthy reefs. Regularly you can see manta rays, turtles, and even whale sharks during the right season, which is why it is so popular to visit for scuba diving.


 

6. Koh Tao, Thailand


The island of Koh Tao has been well known among travellers as a “scuba diving Mecca”, and when you visit, you will see why. Koh Tao boasts some of the cheapest prices in the world, earning itself a reputation for travellers visiting South East Asia on a very tight budget.


With over 60 dive centres, prices are competitive, therefore on average the Open Water course will cost you around 265 GBP/350 USD. With so many dive instructors working on the island, scuba diving courses in Koh Tao are taught in a multitude of different languages, accommodating every diver that visits.


Conditions are generally good in Koh Tao, with warm waters, however, visibility varies throughout the year and between dive sites. Over recent years, overfishing has become an issue in the Gulf of Thailand, reducing the biodiversity of fish and other marine life in Koh Tao, and while it is nothing compared to diving in the Coral Triangle, it is still impressive for first-time divers.



Not only are these the cheapest destinations to learn to scuba dive, but they are also some of the best places to go diving in the world. Spoilt by a diverse range of fish and corals, whether you are into coral topography, reef fish, or cruising pelagics, these affordable destinations have something to offer for everyone!


*Prices subject to travel in 2021*


 

How to Plan a Scuba Diving Trip on a Budget


When I became scuba certified, I remember looking online at all the top diving destinations in the world and thinking I would never be able to afford a trip with my average-based salary. With some planning and saving, I have been able to experience diving all around the world.


Knowing where to start planning a trip can be a bit tricky, which is why I have some amazing tips to help you plan a cheap scuba diving trip.


  1. Select an inexpensive diving destination.

  2. Book your scuba diving trip early.

  3. Ask dive shops about scuba diving packages, including accommodation and/or food.

  4. Plan all your dives with just one dive shop.

  5. If you haven’t bought scuba equipment, do not buy it yet, simply rent scuba equipment from the dive shop (most places include this in the dive price). However, if you want to buy some diving equipment, I recommend starting with buying a well-fitting diving mask.

  6. Join a scuba dive trip specifically for solo scuba divers.

  7. Buy scuba diving insurance - DAN (Divers Alert Network), Dive Master Insurance, and DiveAssure are perfect to cover any accidents should they happen.



 

Scuba Diving Trip Planner


Scuba diving planners are great when planning a scuba diving trip on a budget! Here is a good example:



 



Written by Darby Bonner


Marine Biologist & PADI OWSI (Open Water Scuba Instructor)



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