Technology is currently revolutionizing the way we people travel. For some, that revolution has only made small ripples in their travel habits: Using Uber to get to and from the airport, using an app like Happn to meet people in the hotel or neighborhood where you’re staying.
For others, technology has opened up a whole new lifestyle of permanent travel.
There are entire industries of people who need little more than a laptop to do their jobs — think writers, graphic designers, even accountants. A decade ago, the internet allowed many of these people to do their work from home. Then, someone got the idea that home is an unnecessary constraint — you can also get your work done by the pool in Bali.
Thus was born the digital nomad, the remote worker who is unburdened by geography and tends to travel the world slowly, often taking advantage of cost-of-living opportunities while earning dollars, euros or British pounds but spending baht or pesos.
Digital nomads need very little, but there are a few must-haves:
- reliable internet connections (often found in cafes and coworking spaces)
- a favorable cost of living
- affordable and available accommodations
- access to an enviable quality of life — after all, why go halfway around the world but for sun, breathtaking nature, rich culture or exciting nightlife?
Below is our list of the 10 best cities on the planet for digital nomads. We took the above requirements into account to come up with our cities, five of which are in Asia, three of which are in Europe and two of which are in South America.
Also, we are listing the estimated monthly cost of living for each city. Those figures come from the fantastic resource Nomad List, which crowdsources data about all the most digital nomad-friendly places in the world.
But first, a quick nod to Prague, Seoul and Oaxaca, three amazing cities that just missed the cut.
Chiang Mai, Thailand (estimated monthly expenses: $528)
Chiang Mai is right at the top of any such list of digital nomad destinations. This city in northern Thailand features some of the world’s tastiest cuisine, is surrounded by mountains and lush wildlife, and is at the moment home base for hundreds (if not thousands) of digital nomads.
“Every long term traveller makes it to Chiang Mai sooner or later, and for good reasons,” John Bardos writes at Jet Set Citizen of the city he calls “the digital nomad capital of the world.”
“Great food, great weather and great prices make it a hard city to top. At only 1.6 million people, Chiang Mai is a little tamer than the raucous streets of Bangkok and its 9.1 million inhabitants. The lack of any public transportation system keeps the traffic a little crazy, but it is also possible to escape to the mountains or to nearby towns.”
Ho Chi Minh City (estimated monthly expenses: $703)
Ho Chi Minh City feels alive. If you were to stand in the middle of the street (note: don’t ever do that here), you would feel as if you could see the city expanding in all directions toward the horizon.
Ho Chi Minh City makes our list for its entrepreneurial spirit, reliable infrastructure (20 MB internet connections aren’t hard to find), and affordable access to a high quality of life.
“Your accommodations in Southeast Asia … can be as little as $12 dollars a night, but the journey and adventure you will experience is worth a million dollars,” Marek Michalski writes at Life Nomading. “I am not here to tell you that you have to go to Southeast Asia for your next nomadic adventure, or that anywhere else is a waste of your time, but for me it’s the most logical place to be. That is why I am going back this summer for four months to live and work in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Who knows, I may never come back.”
Kota Kinabalu (estimated monthly expenses: $400)
Kota Kinabalu is one of the fastest-growing cities in Malaysia, but the cost of living in this idyllic port city that has long served as one of Borneo’s major ports remains a bargain, even relative to other cities in Southeast Asia.
That means most digital nomads can afford to splurge here.
“If you are going to have a luxury break then Malaysia has a variety of options for you to choose from,” Johnny Ward writes at One Step 4Ward. “The accommodation and service is second to none. You will find top resorts all over the country, you should take a look at the Taj Resort in Langkawi for an idea of the luxury that awaits you.”
Singapore (estimated monthly expenses: $2,615)
Singapore, on the other hand, remains one of the most expensive locations in Southeast Asia. If you can afford to be here, though, you will find a world-class infrastructure and a limitless supply of tasty street foods.
“Last week it occurred to me,” Tropical MBA’s Dan Andrews wrote back in 2012. “Singapore is happening. For getting financing and investments in Asia. For incorporation and wealth management services for entrepreneurs. For networking with like minds in Asia. For one of the best alternative passports in the world.”
Kuta, Bali, Indonesia (estimated monthly expenses: about $880)
Kuta will be a controversial choice among some digital nomads. Bali itself is one of the classic digital nomad destinations, but many people who come here for more than a month tend to get away from Kuta pretty quickly, preferring smaller towns such as Canggu or Ubud.
If the bustle of Kuta gets overwhelming, there is paradise all around. And it’s affordable.
“In my mind, Bali, Indonesia has always been the epitome of a world class tropical destination,” location-independent entrepreneur Sean Ogle wrote at his Location180 blog back in 2011. “Up until recently I actually knew very little about it aside from umbrella drinks and expensive resorts. I once heard that Bali has more rooms that cost over $1,000 a night than any other place in the world. I’m not sure I’ve come across one more than $50.”
Belgrade, Serbia (estimated monthly expenses: $528)
Belgrade has long been known among its neighbors as having some of the best nightlife in southern Europe, but years of war in the 1990s have kept this city on the Danube off many travelers’ radars.
Expect that to change in the very near future. Belgrade exudes a new-found confident identity that invites at least a month of curious exploration — and at the fraction of what you would pay to visit most European capitals.
“Even in the ‘lesser developed’ areas in the Balkans accessing the Internet was no harder than anywhere we visited in Western Europe,” the folks at NuNomad write. “In some cases it was easier to find free WIFI there than it was in France, Germany or the UK.”
Berlin, Germany (estimated monthly expenses: $1,334)
Even though Berlin has been one of the capitals of art, business and politics in Europe for more than 20 years, it still remains surprisingly affordable to anyone earning euros, dollars or pounds.
Travel writer Adventurous Kate says she loves Berlin for its entrepreneurial spirit.
“Berlin has become the center for entrepreneurship in Europe — from creative businesses to tech startups,” she writes. “With so many entrepreneurs in town, there are always events going on geared toward networking and sharing some of the excitement that grows from building a business from scratch.”
You will have no problem finding a room to rent out and a desk at a coworking space in Berlin.
Lisbon, Portugal (estimated monthly expenses: $984)
Portugal’s gorgeous capital city on the Atlantic coast boasts a cost of living comparable to Eastern European cities, and it has some of the best weather you’ll find in Europe. Go here to experience a rich cultural tradition.
Medellin, Colombia (estimated monthly expenses: $600)
Like Belgrade, Medellin has struggled in the recent past with violence, but modern Medellin has gone to great lengths to shed that stereotype. Today, it is one of your best bets on the South American continent for access to an excellent quality of life.
“Medellin is one of the few cities I’ve fallen in love with at first sight,” longtime travel writer Nomadic Matt wrote in 2013. “Beautiful mountains, warm weather, friendly locals, and a vibrant culture are just a few of the reasons I’ve spent more than two years living in Medellin. And I’m here to show everyone that there are more than enough things to do to keep any visitor busy.”
Sanitago, Chile (estimated monthly expenses: $627)
The Chilean capital fails to make it onto many digital nomads’ radars, and it’s not clear why. The city’s infrastructure is great, the country’s internet is reliable, the cost of living remains very low, and there are beautiful, frequently snow-capped mountains just behind the skyline.
But as longtime digital nomad Colin Wright discovered in 2013, the city has many layers that need to be peeled back before you can get to its essence.
“I caught whiffs of distinctly Santiagoian culture that I wanted to inhale more deeply, but because of my schedule (four hours of teaching per day), and because of the short duration of the visit (seven days), I could only wonder over the bouquets in passing,” he wrote at Hi.co.
Consider that an invitation to explore Santiago a little deeper.