Published on August 18th, 2013 | by Daniel1
Great Countries for the Location Independent Lifestyle
In this article I want to cover some of the best countries for digital nomads to live in. Of course, this subject is debatable as it depends on your personal preferences. However, I believe that one can rank countries objectively to some degree; from the ease of living location independently to the general attitude to foreigners. The factors I take into consideration are:
> The relative cost and quality of living
> The internet quality and speed
> The state of infrastructure and freedom of movement
> The visa regime
> The general attitude to foreigners
> The ease of adapting to the country
Of course, depending on your characteristics, other factors are important too. For example, in case you would like to engage in local joint ventures or partnerships, you will need a strong local business environment suited to your niche.
Cost and Quality of Living
In my opinion you cannot view the cost of living and quality of living separately. You could attain a high quality lifestyle almost everywhere in most high income countries but you will need to pay big bucks for it. And some countries can be really cheap but there the quality of living cannot be raised to an acceptable level. I mean, certain African countries can be extremely cheap to live in, but good luck in finding a good safe and high quality accommodation at those places. And if you are able to get that kind of home, the bubble in which you will be living is extremely small. Hence cost and quality should be combined when looking at live-worthy countries.
Internet Quality and Speed
Internet is the lifeblood of every digital nomad. Thus, good internet quality and internet speed are extremely important. I might even say that this is really the only factor that can rule out some areas for the a digital nomad to live in. Personally I always check before I visit a place what kind of internet there is, if WIFI is abundant, and what measures could I take when internet at my accommodation is blacking out. I personally find internet quality and speed more important than any government firewalls and controls, as you can bypass the latter with a good VPN. So in this regard China is for instance much better than Peru.
Infrastructure and Freedom of Movement
A good infrastructure is vital for being able to move around the country (and to other countries) and being an effective travelling entrepreneur. While some will revel in bad country infrastructure, as this keeps most tourists out of the country (thus not “spoiling” the country), for me this has more downsides than upsides. I like to move around easily and swiftly, and not lose too much time with being stuck in traffic jams and having to take a long detour because a road from A to B does not exist.
The Visa Regime
Every country has a different visa regime, which makes it a factor to look into before you travel. Most countries that are attractive for digital nomads have a limited visa regime – ranging between a month and 3 months on a tourist visa. What makes it sometimes more complicated is that you can get some visas on arrival while for some countries you will have to arrange your visa beforehand. Clearly, a stringent visa regime will make a country less attractive to visit for digital nomads, at least for those who like to travel on a whim. It can make sense to check out some countries on a tourist visa first and then check for a business or similar visa in case you would like to stay for a longer period.
General Attitude to Foreigners
If the quality of life is good, the country is cheap and there is freedom abound, it can still be nuisance when the local populace is very xenophobic or anti-foreigner. Of course, you can decide to ignore and live on – which some expats do – but in the end it is bound to decrease the pleasure of living in that country. For instance, a country as Russia would not be the first choice for some, as it is not so keen on foreign tourists/expats in the first place (the only exception would be the ultra-rich). Also, when a country has a stringent political climate this can become a problem in the long run. The political climate will always have some effect on the local atmosphere through the behavior of locals.
Ease of Adapting
If you plan to stay for the long term, the ease with which you can adapt to your new host country can become an important factor. For instance, learning Thai is much more difficult for the average westerner than learning Spanish. Of course when the other perks of the country are very good, this factor should be surmountable. The ease of adapting can also be influenced by the amount for which you might want to have some western comfort from time to time.
In my opinion, these factors mix in how attractive the country is on the whole for the average digital nomad.
Great Country Possibilities
When looking at the factors above some countries spring into mind:
An obvious choice, but at the moment perhaps the location independent capital of the world. There are many digital nomads currently living in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and in the countryside – from the islands to the mountains in the northeast. Its main attraction is the possibility to live for cheap while still having the possibility of western perks (i.e. food and accommodation) and the local population being friendly and hospitable on average – especially if they know you are an expat and not just a common tourist to shake down for extra money. The only big downside of Thailand is that internet (outside Bangkok) can be of low quality. And some might find the climate too hot and too sunny at times. In case you live in Thailand for long-term learning the language can be a problem.
If you would like to experience Chinese culture but with all the possible freedom, Hong Kong is a great choice. It is a great bustling city with a very good infrastructure and lots of connections (via the airport) to various countries in Asia and the rest of the world. Also, in case you are a westerner the visa regime is quite good with stretches of 90 days. Furthermore, the internet is one of the fastest in the world, which makes it a great place to engage in location independent work. For longer term resident Hong Kong has a really good tax climate as well. The only real downside of Hong Kong is that accommodation can be really expensive (but food is cheap) and that it can get crowded sometimes.
If you want nice warm weather and beautiful nature, Colombia can be the perfect place for you. The locals are very friendly (and even more so when you speak Spanish well). It is one of the most bio diverse countries in the world, which means you can enjoy, mountains, beach, flatlands, rivers and jungles in one country. This also means there is also a lots of great fruit and food in general. Colombia still has perhaps a reputation of being an unsafe country, but this does not correspond that much with the reality on the ground these days. Just take the normal precautions and you will be fine. For good internet you will most likely have to stay in the cities though. I like Bogota more than Medellin, but many digital nomads will argue otherwise. Just check out both (and the city of Cali) to see what you like best.
If you like a Latin atmosphere with luxury comforts, Argentina can be a great country to live in. Granted, the political situation is not always that stable, as well as the exchange rate of the peso to the dollar/euro. But when you choose the right moment to go (check the news), living as a digital nomad in Buenos Aires or one of the smaller cities (i.e. Cordoba is great as well), you will experience a vibrant day to day life. People are very friendly, and like Colombia, it is an asset if you speak Spanish. The food is great in case you are a carnivore, while some hikes in Patagonia for instance, are a non-miss for every adventurer out there.
In case you speak Spanish well, living in Spain can be a really good choice for a digital nomad. The current economic situation has lowered the spirits of the locals somewhat, but that does not mean there cannot still be a good life to be lived. The infrastructure is very good, especially between municipalities by train. Cities as Madrid, Barcelona and Seville have a lot of culture, great food and a great nightlife. Prices in Spain are on average much lower than in most other European countries, especially concerning food & beverage.
A new kid around the block in terms of digital nomadism, life in Greece has become much cheaper since the advent of the big crisis over the last years. For instance, you can base yourself on an Aegean island for cheap, while enjoying the sunny climate, good food and friendly locals. You won’t feel the need to go anywhere (except with the boat), so infrastructural problems are not a big deal. With regard to the current economic situation; stay away from the cities and you can have a great life as a digital nomad there.
Over the last decade or so Romania has made a lot of improvements in their infrastructure and living conditions. Especially with a western source of income you can live there very well. Common expenses as food & beverage are very low (while providing surprising good quality), as well as accommodations, apart from the center of Bucharest. If you like great nature and hiking you should check out the Transylvania region. For instance, base yourself in Cluj-Napoca which is a student town and has a great dynamic atmosphere. Most younger Romanians speak very good English. Also, Romania is currently in the top 3 countries with the fastest internet in the world.
Of course this list is not exhaustive and it might be that you have other favorite countries. If so, let us know in the comments!