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Would it mostly be in Southeast Asia? Or somewhere else?

In response to this Q being "put on hold" for being too broad, let me add the following:

Include only cost of equipment rental and lessons. Exclude cost of getting there, cost of food, cost of lodging.

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Is there a particular qualification that you're hoping to get? –  Gagravarr Oct 24 '13 at 21:19
    
And does cheap include getting there from a specific location? –  Stuart Oct 24 '13 at 22:35
    
It'd be useful to specify which certification - PADI, Dive Master etc that you're after... –  Mark Mayo Oct 24 '13 at 23:42
    
As he's a self-proclaimed beginner, the answer is almost certainly PADI Open Water. –  jpatokal Oct 25 '13 at 0:48
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including the expense of food and lodging makes this question even more broad! –  Dirty-flow Oct 25 '13 at 7:02
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3 Answers

The answer is almost certainly Thailand, in particular Ko Tao, the PADI factory of the world. An end-to-end course that gets you the standard PADI Open Water license will set you back roughly 9800 baht (~$310 at time of writing); if you're happy with the far more limited PADI Scuba Diver course, you can complete that for 7000 baht (~$225) at this randomly chosen dive shop. Chuck in food and accommodation for around 1000 baht/day all-in for 3-4 days (you can squeeze by for less if you're a cheapskate frugal), and you can complete your course for under $500.

A close second is Malaysia, where diving is about the same price due to furious competition, but food and accommodation are generally pricier. I'd imagine the Philippines are in roughly the same price bracket as well. Diving in Indonesia is generally not as affordable simply because the diving off Bali is not that great and the places with great diving (Bunaken etc) are in harder-to-reach locations.

All that said, diving is one of those things where you definitely don't want to look for price alone, this is life support equipment we're talking about here and you want to make sure it's properly maintained. (When I lived in Singapore, I ended up buying my own gear, just so I could maintain it myself.) So do your homework and pay a little extra to find a dive shop with a clue, here's a handy article with some tips. (TL;DR: Check online reviews, go visit, chat with the instructors and look for certifications, general cleanliness, gear appearance and maintenance schedule.)

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Quality of instruction can vary a lot too! Someone who's done a rigorous course in a colder location tends to be a much better diver early on than someone who's done their Open Water somewhere warm + relaxed... –  Gagravarr Oct 24 '13 at 23:09
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It's a bit rough calling everybody willing to embark upon adventures with less wealth than yourself a "cheapskate". By this measure most of the nice local people in these places are also cheapskates. Remember there's plenty of rich people who might consider you a cheapskate too. Now the advice about how well maintained the gear is is an extremely important point however so +1 but offering some advice on how to know tell whether a place has good gear might also help. –  hippietrail Oct 25 '13 at 4:03
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If you're about to burn $500 on a PADI Open Water license, plus rather a lot more to get to Ko Tao in the first place, you're by definition wealthy enough to have disposable income! But all I meant is that 1000 baht/day is a workable minimum budget for most travellers in Thailand, you need to make some conscious sacrifices to manage below that. Obviously actually living in the country is different, the Thai minimum wage is still under 10k/mo. –  jpatokal Oct 25 '13 at 4:28
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Getting a qualification might be money to burn for some people and might be an investment for other people. I've certainly met my share of people that got PADI certification in cheap places and went on to become diving teachers, etc. I'm personally pretty far down the budget scale but constantly meet travellers on much lower budgets having a great time, especially young people from developing countries that still find a way to fund their travels. I find these people inspirational. –  hippietrail Oct 25 '13 at 4:42
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@Gagravarr: Well that's a good warning to include in an answer or warn the OP that they might want to clarify in the question, but as it stands they're only asking about cheapest and that is objectively answerable. Just more reasons these low-effort 1.5 sentence questions are not the best ones to ask. –  hippietrail Oct 25 '13 at 12:17
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Alicante, Spain. You can get some offers from €130 for a two-day course. Normal prices are a bit higher (€200), but if you just want to get the PADI certificate, this is the cheapest way I've found. In Alicante most people speak fluent english and sleeping and eating each day is about €25 if you go to a hostel or similar and cook your own food. Also, if you live in Europe or even in America, the flight is much cheaper to Alicante than to any south Asian country. The sea is the Mediterranean, not so impressive as the Thailand seas, but not too bad.

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That offer appears to be for the PADI Scuba Diver course, which doesn't permit you to dive except one-on-one with a divemaster, and is thus not usually considered a "real" diving certification like Open Water. padi.com/scuba/padi-courses/diver-level-courses/… –  jpatokal Oct 25 '13 at 10:50
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May be it's true @jpatokal, but the op is not asking for a "Open Water", he's asking for a place "to learn diving" which is a more open question than a place to get this specific certification. –  Ivan Oct 25 '13 at 14:25
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Lake Malawi, Malawi it's $350 for the open water padi cert at aquanuts. In terms of accommodation next to the dive shop is Kande Beach, if you have your own tent $5 a night otherwise it's a cabin for $15 per person per night. The food is cheap and so is the beer.

So unless you bring a tent you are looking at $500.

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