best digital nomad cities for remote work

The 5 Best Digital Nomad Cities for Remote Work, Fun, and Exploration

The glorified position of “digital nomad” has taken the world by storm. As more people search for financial independence, work-life balance, and flexibility, the digital nomad life becomes more and more appealing. According to a Forbes report, 4.8 million Americans identify as digital nomads with that number likely to increase exponentially in the near future. But there’s always the question: what are the best digital nomad cities for remote work?

Armed with only a laptop, a workspace, and reliable internet, you can turn anywhere into an office. But only the best digital nomad cities are capable of fueling your zest for travel while boosting your career aspirations. If you’re ready to take the plunge and turn the world into your personal office space, the next step is to find the perfect location. From here, you have the tools to succeed while also enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds that only global travel can offer. Here are some of the best digital nomad cities and what makes them stand out from the rest.

What Makes the Ideal Digital Nomad City?

Not all cities — even heavily-trafficked tourist destinations — make the ideal digital nomad hub. These are a few of the factors that veteran digital nomads search for in their temporary homes:

  • Internet Reliability, Quality, and Availability: The advent of high-speed internet has fueled the digital nomad exodus from Westernized countries to developing countries. Top-notch internet makes work and communication far easier.
  • Cost of Living: Digital nomads are a thrifty bunch. By moving to Asia, South America, or Europe, many nomads can dramatically slash their housing, food, and other costs.
  • Transportation: Although many countries allow you to own or rent a car, public transit is integral to exploration in your newfound home. The better the public transportation, the more likely you are to enjoy and explore your new surroundings.
  • Air Quality: Living in the U.S. or the West, you don’t often think about air quality. But when you go to foreign countries, poor air quality can make you think twice about your destination.
  • English Speakers: Google Translate has transformed the way people travel, offering instant translations in over 100 languages. The more people who speak English in your location, the easier it is to get around.
  • Networking Opportunities: Just like a normal 9-to-5 job, networking in the digital nomad realm is crucial to expanding your clientele and keeping up with recent trends.
  • Safety: No one likes to look over their shoulder while walking home or fear civil unrest during their travels. Therefore, safety is always a crucial aspect of choosing a location.
  • Ease of International Travel: Locations near an international airport can make travel to your next destination or a visa run far easier.

1. Da Nang, Vietnam

Perhaps best known for being a partial setting of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” Da Nang, Vietnam, has transformed from a Vietnam War setting to one of the top emerging digital nomad markets in the world. After living here for nine months, I was inundated with opportunities to network with other nomads. In addition, I had nonstop opportunities to enjoy the culture that makes Vietnam unique.

High-speed internet (almost always free) is readily available at every coffee shop, bar, and restaurant in the city. From these low-cost options, you gain instant access to everything you need for work. The legendary Vietnamese coffee and Da Nang’s specialty — coconut coffee — can be had for about US$1. Food won’t set you back more than a few bucks for a meal, and the abundance of cheap beer (US$0.50) allows you to unwind after a hard day at the office. Da Nang also has an abundance of rooftop pools that allow you to soak in the scenery of the city such as the Dragon Bridge and My Khe Beach.

Housing is remarkably inexpensive, often costing about US$350 per month for a one-bedroom apartment with almost all utilities (sans power) included. Month-to-month rentals are common as well, so you don’t have to feel obligated to sign a long-term lease. The proverbial icing on the cake is that Da Nang is near some of the country’s most famous tourist destinations, including the UNESCO-listed Hoi An Ancient Town and the viral sensation known as the “Hand Bridge” or Golden Bridge.

2. Chiang Mai, Thailand

As one of the most well-established digital nomad hubs in the world, Chiang Mai, Thailand, is somewhat of an anomaly. Located in the northern highlands of the country, Chiang Mai is a 700-year-old city that’s far away from the picturesque beaches and sky-blue waters that Thailand is known for.

With condo rentals starting at around US$400 that often include a pool and high-speed internet, digital nomads can rejoice. The population is only around 130,000 with most of the city in tight quarters, giving you the opportunity to explore the ancient temples and scenery on foot or via a tuk-tuk ride that’s around a dollar each way.

Some restaurants that cater to Westerners can be on the expensive side for Thailand (about US$10). But if you shop at the supermarket or eat street food, you can save hundreds of dollars a month. Throw in the seemingly endless amounts of coworking spaces, and Chiang Mai is a top choice for your next digital nomad destination.

3. Canggu/Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Once a popular area for Australian retirees and yogis, Bali has become a modern digital nomad hub that caters exceptionally well to its newfound residents. Canggu is a popular beachside haven for digital nomads, while the inland city of Ubud is a tranquil getaway for the low-key traveler. Perhaps the most alluring aspect of Bali is that it has a scene for every type of worker and lifestyle.

One of the downsides of Bali is housing costs, with most digital nomads relying on Airbnb for their accommodation needs. You might pay around US$800 to US$1,000 per month for housing, but the good news is that your place will undoubtedly be on the nicer end of the accommodation spectrum. High-speed internet is available just about anywhere, giving you ample power to upload content, conduct Zoom calls, and stream Netflix.

Getting around is easy via rideshares or motorbike/bicycle rentals, which are ubiquitous throughout the city. Food and drinks are relatively cheap outside of touristy areas. The vibe anywhere you go is undeniable though. Bali is an experience in itself — an indescribable feeling you can’t quite understand until you’re there.

4. Melbourne, Australia

Every city has its unique features and feel, but no other place on the planet can claim seven consecutive titles of the most liveable city in the world. That is, except for Melbourne, Australia. Although this southern Victorian city has fallen on tough times in the rankings the last two year (the world’s second most liveable city), it has a mix of entertainment, buzz, food, and a melting pot of cultures that make it unlike any other city, even its archrival Sydney.

While the cost of housing is brutally expensive, often hitting US$1,000 a month for an apartment with one to three roommates, the other aspects of the city outshine this hindrance. Food and beverages at restaurants are similar to what you’d expect in New York City. But the affordability of groceries can circumnavigate this cost. Internet is readily available in most hotels, cafes, and other areas, although surprisingly, speeds aren’t up to U.S. standards.

The true beauty of being a digital nomad in Melbourne is the ample opportunity to network via the city’s endless amount of events. Without a doubt, you need to attend:

  • Australian Open
  • Melbourne Cup, a Kentucky Derby-esque horse race
  • Australian Rules Football game at the world’s 10th-largest stadium, Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Melbourne Grand Prix

Coupled with amazing live entertainment, these sporting events provide an excellent stomping ground for digital nomads.

5. Lisbon, Portugal

If the allure and intrigue of Europe are too much to pass over, pack your bags and head to Lisbon. Quickly emerging as one of the best digital nomad cities, this Portuguese destination offers the history, architecture, and culture of the continent without the price tag.

What was once an overlooked European destination is now a hot spot for prospective and current digital nomads. This is due in part to the overwhelming number of coworking spaces, co-living spaces, and cheap accommodation. Even the swankiest Airbnb pads will only set you back about US$1,000 a month. Hostels offer double rooms with ensuite bathrooms for about US$20 a night. Depending on what vibe you want, you can also choose to live in areas with tourists or locals.

Broadband and mobile internet connections are reliable and speedy in most places. Plus, you can’t explore the city without seeing other digital nomads diligently typing away at a cafe or alfresco restaurant. Make sure to grab a cheap, delicious coffee (US$0.75) or a famous Portuguese tart (pasteis de nata) for a truly authentic Lisbon experience. Eating out in the city will only cost you about US$8 to US$12 for a three-course meal with wine.

As with any relevant digital nomad city, Lisbon is rife with coworking spaces that provide a workspace and networking opportunities. To top it off, the city has over 300 days of sunshine a year coupled with a mild winter. Remember that you can only stay in Lisbon for 180 days a year as part of the Schengen Agreement. So, make sure to use your time wisely.

Before You Find Your Digital Nomad Destination

One of the most enticing things about being a digital nomad is the chance to experience a new part of the world that few others do. But before you quit your job and book your ticket, check out Virtual Vocations database of telecommute jobs. These vetted listings will enable you to find the optimal remote job that caters to your wanderlust. After that, the only thing left to do is enjoy everything your temporary home has to offer. Good luck with your job search and safe travels!

Do you have favorite digital nomad cities for remote work and adventure? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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