A few years ago, if you wanted to earn a living as a freelancer “off the grid,” you had to hook your 20-pound desktop computer to a solar panel and sacrifice your firstborn for a dial-up connection. Not any more. Thanks to lightning fast (free) wifi, an explosion of (affordable) co-working spaces, excellent portable office gear options, productivity platforms like Asana and Google Drive, and the grudging acceptance that people can work from a cafe as well as a cubicle, digital nomads are setting up shop in cities all over the world.
But once you sort out the nitty gritty of international data plans, finding wifi on the go, choosing the best backpack and duffle combination for digital nomads, and renting an apartment, what then? What’s the point of living abroad in exotic locales if you don’t actually like what goes on there? The digital nomad lifestyle is about a lot more than working from anywhere just to get away from the office. It’s about finding a location that suits the lifestyle you want–the culture, the food, the music, the beach–then building your work life around that.
When you can make a living anywhere in the world, where do today’s digital nomads choose to hang their hats? Here are a dozen or so of the best digital nomad destinations that you’ll actually want to call home while you do a little work.
Best Digital Nomad Cities for Newbies
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Consistently ranked in the top 10 destinations for digital nomads, (right now it’s sitting at #1 on the Nomad List leaderboard) Chiang Mai is an awesome place to whet your appetite for the digital nomad lifestyle. Affordable short-term rentals (by the week or the month), and 24/7 cafe culture mean that you’ll never botch a deadline in a time zone across the world.
I spent a few weeks in Chiang Mai when I was starting out as a traveling freelancer, and I loved the laid back vibes, super cheap eats, and, generally, easy living. Keep costs down while you get your feet under you, and if that doesn’t work, jump on a scooter and zip up to Pai. It’s amazing.
If you get serious about working in Chiang Mai for a few months, check out Nimman a few km west of town for super chill, modern coworking spaces like Punspace. There’s even a MakerSpace in town if you want to fab your latest Frankenstein creation.
Yeah, Ecuador. Built on the ruins of an Incan city, Quito is cheap, affordable, and budget friendly all rolled into one. Beers cost $1, housing is in the low triple digits, monthly, and it doesn’t hurt that you’re in a similar time zone to most of the US.
Oh yeah, and Ecuador uses US currency, so if you’re an American freelancer looking for a change of pace without a lot of hassle, Ecuador is for you. Plus, Atacames, with the longest left breaking wave in the world, is just a few hours away if you need a break from the “office” for the weekend.
Best Digital Nomad Cities for Culture Junkies
Steeped in history (obviously), Valencia is a lot more than a 15th century port town. Wifi is everywhere, craft beer is kind of a big deal, and paella. Oh… paella.
A little pricier than other digital nomad hubs on this list (top tier ocean view apartments in the heart of the city cost $1,350/month), it’s worth it. I mentioned the paella, right?
While London might seem like an… interesting choice for a digital nomad to relocate (it’s a tad pricier than Thailand), it’s all about the lifestyle available at your fingertips according to one of our own digital nomads, Angela Rollins:
“My favorite city in the world is London. One of my favorite things to do in London is to intentionally get lost. I discover something new and beautiful every time. The damage from fires & wars over the centuries has made way for Baroque & Victorian structures–not to mention the nearly 1000 year old Tower of London–to intermingle with futuristic skyscrapers. Art, dance, music, & theatre are well established in both classical & contemporary forms, and they have free museums for whatever strikes your fancy.”
Sometimes the best places to bask in centuries of stunning cultural and architectural achievement are the really obvious ones, and London tops that list.
Angela’s favorite coworking membership, Croissant, just expanded to London and she argues that the well connected public transit makes it easier to “find an affordable place to live within tube zones 1-3 that won’t make getting around feel like a hassle–especially if you’re used to paying rent in a big US city.”
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is a bustling city full of possibility. While it might not be a digital nomad hotspot yet, it’s got the internet speed and the culture boxes ticked. The country itself begs to be explored. There are so many fantastic opportunities for micro-trips and expeditions. Don’t miss a weekend trip to Jeju Island. Spencer Jentzsch, of Hacker Paraidse, has this to say about Seoul:
“I did my masters in Korean linguistics so I’m a bit partial to this one For someone like me, content to eat street food and sing karaoke all day, this is the place to go. The city is full of cool public spaces to take a stroll, go hiking, or learn about some history. Internet is incredibly fast and cute coffee shops are everywhere. You’ll know you’ve settled in when you eat some spicy Korean food and get a hankering for the Korean shaved ice afterwards.”
Best Digital Nomad Cities for “La Dulce Vita”
For many digital nomads (myself included), the whole point of working remotely is to savor the relaxed pace and sweet lifestyle of other cultures. One of the best places to do that is Portugal.
Our co-founder, Fred Perrotta loves Southern Europe for the ability to tip the “work/life balance back in favor of the latter.” He goes on to say, “Lisbon offers many of the same perks as Barcelona–relaxed pace, good food, and friendly people–but I’ve found it much easier to operate on a semi-normal schedule there.”
Spencer Jentzsch agrees, but he favors the smaller port soaked town of Porto:
“Porto is an unsung gem. It’s got all the things you need to be happy there (good wifi, nice people, incredible food) for half the cost of what it is other places in Europe. If you like meat, cheese, and wine—this is the place for you. You can go hiking in the mountains, explore the fish markets near the beach or cross the border into Spain for lunch. #spainforlunch”
Best Digital Nomad Cities for Nightlife
When everyone you know says the same thing, it’s time to start paying attention. And digital nomads have all caught wind of just how awesome it is to live in Berlin.
Ranked #4 on the Nomad List of best cities for digital nomads, Berlin is everything you could want in a major European city.
“Berlin is well-connected by public transportation, has thriving nightlife, and affordable apartments,” claims Angela Rollins. “And if experimental art is your thing, you’ll find it here–and it very well could be more than you bargained for.”
Alexandra Mandel agrees:
“Berlin is a top pick. It’s affordable, the music and club/bar scene is epic, it’s highly bikeable and walkable, and the public transportation is great.” She goes on to say that coworking spaces like BetaHaus, as well as a ton of great coffee shops to work out of round out the reasons why you should follow the bumbling advice of JFK and “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina
While Argentina might not be the least expensive country in South America for digital nomads, there’s more to the equation than price tag. Much more.
“Buenos Aires has a lot going for it,” Spence Jentzsch argues. “The enormous city has tons of different neighborhoods so you can post up where you like or bounce around to different places. The city doesn’t seem to sleep so there are always places to go hang out. Some of my best memories in Argentina were sitting on a rooftop with friends eating heaps of asado—some of the best BBQ meat you’ll find.”
Best Digital Nomad Cities for Beach Bums
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
Several years back I stopped off in Oaxaca for a few weeks on my 6-month slow journey down to Peru. I’d been working fairly regularly contributing stories and copywriting to a few places back in NYC from Mexico City, but I was floored by the affordability, atmosphere, and ease of living and working in Puerto Escondido, particularly the neighborhood, Zicatela. I actually worked from the third floor of a tree house with decent wifi. I could see the surf from my bed, and it was epic.
The ability to wake up, surf world-class waves, eat some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, and get an article in the can before noon is the epitome of my best digital nomad life. Puerto Escondido is served by a decent regional airport with connecting flights to NYC and LA on a regular and affordable basis, so even if you’re not looking to relocate for the long-term, you can spend a few (productive) weeks at the beach.
When you think about working from anywhere in the world, the white sand beaches and lush tropical vistas of Bali likely pop into your head. At least, that’s what Alexandra Mandel from digital nomad thinktank BeUnsettled thinks of when she pictures working remotely:
“Honestly, is there anywhere dreamier than Bali? It’s one of the most lush, beautiful places in the world with endless activities that range from all types of yoga, meditation & mindfulness practices to paragliding, white water rafting & surfing to silver smithing, and learning to make your own jewelry! There’s no shortage of ways to keep yourself entertained when you aren’t working.”
No, Ubud is not on the beach, but it’s an easy commute. And to make sure you get some work done, Mandel recommends the coworking space, Outpost. “They have a restaurant AND a pool!” She also recommends the smoothie bowl by the pool for “maximum #balilife.”
Most Affordable Cities for Digital Nomad Lifestyle
One of Europe’s most affordable capital cities, Budapest is an up and coming digital nomad sleeper city with a fresh way to live and work abroad that won’t break the bank.
Packed with hip cafes and fast free wifi, finding a place to work won’t be a problem, especially now that co-working spaces like Impact Hub have popped up around the city. Nomad List ranks Budapest #3 on their list (that’s insanely high), due in large part to the high quality of life, easy walkability in town, and the ability to live in the thick of it–you can rent a 1br studio smack in the center of town for $550 US.
If you’re tired of meeting the same old expats in every bar, Budapest is the change of pace you crave. Hang out in VII district, “Erzsébetváros” and meet locals in one of the kind of awesome underground bars that dot the city or catch some rays on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube–Budapest is sunny and warm from March to November (mostly).
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
While I love an easy landing pad in a well established digital nomad hub like Bangkok, it’s a lot more exciting to be part of the driving force in a new remote work Mecca. Ho Chi Minh is that up and coming super city.
City wide free wifi is already available (albeit a little slow), and the potential for this massive pulsing city to become somewhere digital nomads flock to in the near future is off the charts. Fred, our co-founder, craves that crackling potential:
“When I’m craving chaotic energy, I choose the big cities of Asia. Ho Chi Minh City is an awesome destination with good food, lots of coworking spaces, and plenty of fellow nomads.”
The best part–you can rent a flat in town for around $450/month and live on $1 pho every.single.day. Sign me up.
Van Life, Europe
Sometimes the most affordable place to live is on four wheels, at least according to digital nomad incubator BeUnsettled co-founder, Jonathan Kalan after he explored Eastern Europe in an old van with a mobile work setup:
“I’d also just throw down living in a van in Europe during the spring/summer/fall. Beats all. You can go wherever you want whenever you want.”
It doesn’t get better than that.
Life as a digital nomad is getting sweeter everyday. It’s never been easier to pack a bag, hit the road and keep your lifestyle humming along in some of the most exciting and affordable cities in Europe, Asia, South America, and beyond. Get out there and live your best digital nomad life. It’s easier than you think.
- Bali is awesome
- Berlin is so hot right now. So hot.
- Budapest is incredibly affordable, and the rest of Europe is just a train ride away…
- Just go, man
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