Digital Nomad Cities: How to Choose Your First Destination
Have you been daydreaming about infinite beach days in Thailand? Soaking up the history and flavors of Italy? Becoming a salsa expert in Colombia?
These dreams might seem far away right now, but they’re attainable.
When you’re a digital nomad, cities you’ve only ever dreamed of visiting can become your new temporary home. Of course, it’s hard to sift through lists of the cheapest places to live and the best places to work remotely to find your dream digital nomad destination.
The first step is to just start.
And doing research on your most ideal destinations is a perfect way to stoke your internal fire and get yourself pumped.
Let’s call this phenomenon ‘dreamivation,’ where you dream so deeply that it motivates you to take action, and to overcome the fear and intimidation that often creep up when we think about radical change.
To get yourself excited – and to take the first step toward your new nomad life – we’re going to examine the art and science of choosing your first destination.
In addition to rolling down your bucket list, you should also pay close attention to digital nomad city rankings and what other travelers are saying about them. You might find that a city you thought was your fantasy will actually require some inconvenient sacrifices.
On the same token, you might discover an incredible city that aligns with a lot of your interests and lifestyle preferences, despite never thinking it was anything special… or never even knowing it existed!
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How to research potential digital nomad destinations, including:
- Lifestyle and overall quality of life
- Estimated cost of living
- Things to do in and around the region
- Visa requirements and considerations
- Some of the best digital nomad cities around the world
Away we go.
- How to Research the Cheapest Places to Live in The World
- 8 Top Digital Nomad Cities Around the World
- Table of Contents
How to Research the Cheapest Places to Live in The World
Let’s go over some of the most important considerations for your research, and how you can put it all together to figure out which digital nomad cities are the best fit for your preferences and personality.
Lifestyle and Overall Quality of Life
This is an important ‘bigger picture’ question that you should be prepared for when you leave the comfort of your home.
For example, say you’re from London or New York City. You’re probably used to simple and comprehensive public transit, loads of shops and restaurants at your doorstep, and general convenience and reliability in your daily life.
But then you decide to travel somewhere with less infrastructure and a totally different way of life, like Chiang Mai, Thailand. While it’s one of the top digital nomad cities in the world, there are a lot of differences you should be aware of.
Like how you’ll be riding in tuk-tuks instead of trains. Or seeing fried bugs as you scour street food delicacies. Or the significantly higher level of air pollution in the region.
That’s why research is your best friend.
Pro tip: You can check the air quality index (AQI) of different cities on websites like this one.
The best way to go about this is by doing a few Google searches and digging into blogs and articles you find. Many of them are written by travel bloggers and fellow digital nomads, so you can get a first-hand look into what it’s really like in these digital nomad cities.
Try searches like:
- Lifestyle and quality of life in [city name]
- Digital nomad lifestyle in [city name]
- Expat life in [city name]
- What it’s like to live in [city name]
- Pros and cons of living in [city name]
Nomad List is a great resource for checking out the overall quality of life you might have in top digital nomad cities.
It shows a general ‘Nomad Score’ based on factors like cost, internet quality, fun, and safety of each city.
Other scoring criteria include, but aren’t limited to:
- Traffic safety
- A/C and heating
- Free city wifi
- Friendliness to foreigners
- LGBT friendliness
- Female friendliness
- Freedom of speech
You can browse through reviews from other nomads, see which Nomad Members are currently in that city or plan to visit, and get a feel for different neighborhoods to help choose where you might want to stay.
There’s even a ‘Remote Jobs’ section if you’re looking for work.
You might even find it valuable enough to become a member.
Cost of Living
Use different resources when looking for more granular information, like the estimated costs of living. If you’re looking for the cheapest places to live in the world, you’ll get quite cozy with this search topic.
Look for average costs of things like:
- Rent and utilities for a studio or one-bedroom apartment (in the city center as well as cheaper options outside the center, if available)
- Hostels, hotel rooms, Airbnb rentals, and other more temporary housing options
- Meals and drinks at a cheap local restaurant, as well as a fancy big-kid restaurant
- Staple grocery items, like produce and meat
- Local transportation, like trains, buses, taxis or Ubers, as well as renting your own vehicles like a bicycle, motorbike, or car, depending on the infrastructure
- Sightseeing, excursions, and other recreational activities
- Visas, residency permits, and other bureaucratic stuff that can be a big, crappy surprise if you don’t pay attention
You can look up living costs for items down to a pound of potatoes or a pair of jeans.
Here are some costs for Medellín, Colombia, shown in Colombian pesos.
Another handy function of Numbeo is the ability to compare living costs of two different cities, like Medellín and London. As you can see, you only need to spend about 1,200 GBP in Medellín to maintain a similar quality of life that would cost you about 4,700 GBP in London.
Not too shabby.
It will also provide the same breakdowns in comparison form. Good news if you love beer… it’s around 65–85% cheaper!
Nomad List also provides a great breakdown of costs.
Remember that it’s impossible to know exactly how much things will cost, even in the cheapest places to live in the world. To be safe and well-rounded, you should browse several different sources and take an average of all the numbers you see.
You’ll find that lots of travelers, digital nomads, and expats will weigh in on this discussion on their own blogs, giving you a more personal look – like this blogger, who made a handy chart of all of his personal expenses over the course of living in Medellín for a month.
Things to Do in and Around the Region
Look up local venues and events, tourist attractions, major historical and geographical landmarks, and day or weekend trips you can easily take to surrounding regions.
Try Google searches like:
- Things to do in [city name]
- Nightlife in [city name]
- Landmarks to see in [city name]
- Tours in [city name]
- Day trips from [city name]
- Weekend trips from [city name]
Also, look at details like the closest airport or bus station to the city’s center and what those trips typically entail.
For example, you might find that a certain city is in the middle of nowhere, taking you a long time to get to the airport as you shell out steep costs to fly to surrounding areas.
Places like these aren’t particularly nomad-friendly, but could certainly be worth it if your heart is set on having the experience. It’s just something to keep in mind.
Try a Google search like ‘cheap flights from [city name]’ to see if your city of choice is easily accessible to and from other cities.
I tried this approach from Barcelona. The search brought me to Fare Compare, which shows a few popular options I might want to add to the digital nomad destinations on my list.
One of my personal favorites for travel planning is Google Flights, which lets you view a map with real-time flight prices for a selected date range.
Here, I chose one-way flights from Cancún, Mexico, on September 6. Then, all I need to do is poke around on the map, and it shows the cost to fly to any city I choose.
Zoom in to see more options in a particular area. Click on a city to get more flight options and details.
It’s nothing short of a magical tool when you’re not quite sure where you want to fly next.
You know the old saying: “Hell hath no fury like a traveler scorned.”
Okay, that’s not the actual line, but trust me… you don’t want to get turned down at the border of a country because you didn’t know the visa requirements in advance.
For example, U.S. citizens can stay in the Schengen Area for up to 90 consecutive days without a special visa, then they have to leave the area for 90 days before they can come back. The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries.
In other places, like Vietnam for example, U.S. residents are required to get a visa through an agency before they arrive.
And in some countries, you’re even required to show a return ticket before you’re allowed in, to prove that you have plans to leave the country.
If you want to stay longer than the allotted visa period in any given country, you’ll need to look at things like residency permits, which can get a whole lot more complicated and demanding.
This is why many digital nomads tend to hop around without applying for special permits.
To figure out your needs, Google things like:
- Visa requirements for a [your country] citizen in [destination country]
- Does a [your country] citizen need a visa for [destination country]
When I say ‘nomad-friendliness,’ the main thing I’m talking about is the quality and availability of wifi in the city.
Since wifi is the fuel for your engine, you’re going to be in a tough spot if you spend too much time in a place with unexpectedly poor connectivity.
Another thing to look for in your potential digital nomad destinations is coworking spaces. These are establishments made for remote workers or people who just need a steady and reliable wifi connection.
You can stroll in and pay for a few hours or a day, or get a membership that usually goes in monthly increments. Many co-working spaces are even open 24 hours to accommodate different schedules.
Apart from a reliable connection, coworking spaces can also be a great way to meet fellow nomads and young entrepreneurs.
Nomad List has a cool function where you can see a map of coworking spaces in the city.
Now that you know some of the key things to look for, let’s take a look at some of the best digital nomad cities that have been tried and tested by other digital nomads.
8 Top Digital Nomad Cities Around the World
In general, certain regions of the world have similar costs of living.
As you work down this list, you’ll understand why there are so many digital nomads in Southeast Asia. On top of the amazing adventures, experiences, and like-minded travelers, it’s home to some of the cheapest places to live in the world.
This is also true for many Eastern European and Central or South American countries.
In many of these regions, you can live luxuriously on a budget that might be rather modest in your hometown.
1. Canggu, Bali
Canggu is something of a legend in the global digital nomad community. It’s got thousands of digital nomads at all times, tons of coworking spaces littered around the city, incredible lush green landscapes, and an easy-going and laid-back summer beach town vibe. This makes it one of the best places to work remotely, and it’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world.
Cost of living: $1,000 per month
Internet speed: 20 mbps
Pros: Super friendly to foreigners; a lot of places to work from
Cons: Poor healthcare; it gets quite hot and humid
2. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is another one of the best digital nomad cities in Asia. The largest city in northern Thailand, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can expect to find gorgeous ancient temples, jungle landscapes, bustling city life, and loads of other digital nomads to keep you company.
Cost of living: $1,005 per month
Internet speed: 20 mbps
Pros: Walkable; many places to work from
Cons: Poor traffic safety; low racial tolerance; heavy air pollution
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is a bustling cultural hub in Latin America. If you’re into nature, hiking, and outdoor sports, you’ll find plenty to do outside of your office hours. The city also has welcoming regulations when it comes to business owners, and an overall friendly vibe toward foreigners.
Cost of living: $1,260 per month
Internet speed: 8 mbps
Pros: Very walkable; great day and night activities; LGBT friendly
Cons: Not the safest or female-friendliest on the list
4. Prague, Czech Republic
One of the best digital nomad cities in Europe, Prague is a beautiful and romantic old town with breathtaking architecture and charming cobbled streets. While it’s nearly double the cost of the cheapest destinations on our list, it makes up for it in coziness and convenience.
Cost of living: $2,040 per month
Internet speed: 26 mbps
Pros: Very female friendly, walkable, and safe
Cons: Poor racial tolerance; sub-par hospitals
5. Medellín, Colombia
Nestled into the mountains, this gorgeous place offers plenty of hikes and treks to bring you into nature when you’re tired of the city life. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world, and with recent investments in infrastructure and tech, many digital nomads are making their way here as it climbs the list of best digital nomad cities. As a result, there’s an influx in coworking spaces and nomad-friendly working spots.
Cost of living: $1,200 per month
Internet speed: 7 mbps
Pros: Very walkable; many places to work
Cons: Poor safety and racial tolerance
6. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon has wide open arms for digital nomads, with a broad range of workspaces from bohemian cafes to upscale offices. The city also features several ‘Creative Artistic Hubs’ located in places like art galleries, pubs, and museums. You can expand your creativity to balance out all the wine and beer you’ll enjoy.
Cost of living: $2,075 per month
Internet speed: 21 mbps
Pros: Very walkable and safe; many fun things to do
Cons: Poor hospitals; sub-par air quality
7. Budapest, Hungary
This captivating city is split into two parts: Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Buda is more hilly and historical, while Pest is flatter and more modern. You can get lost in the history and culture while you gawk at the city’s beauty after the sun sets.
Cost of living: $1,600 per month
Internet speed: 34 mbps
Pros: Very safe and walkable; plenty to do
Cons: Poor racial tolerance and LGBT friendliness
8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Another one of the best digital nomad cities in Asia, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as the locals still call it) is known for being a great destination for travelers on a budget, as it’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world. You’ll find lots of things to do during the day and through the night. Traffic can get intense, but it’s much more convenient if you’re up for renting your own motorbike to zip through the crowded streets.
Cost of living: $1,010 per month
Internet speed: 9 mbps
Pros: Great food (if you’re into Vietnamese); walkable
Cons: Poor hospitals; noisy and chaotic; heavy air pollution
Planning is important, but things won’t always go according to plan. Even so, the more knowledge and awareness you have of your environment, the easier things will be as you navigate the twists and turns of nomad life. Now, you have a good idea of some of the best digital nomad cities around the world, as well as how to research cities that are a good fit for your style.
Keep Reading: Travel Budget Tips for the Aspiring Digital Nomad →
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Is a Digital Nomad Lifestyle Right for You?
Chapter 2: Work Anywhere With These Digital Nomad Jobs
Chapter 3: How to Become a Digital Nomad: 4 Tips To Prepare
Chapter 4: How to Choose Your First Destination
Chapter 5: Travel Budget Tips for the Aspiring Digital Nomad
Chapter 6: Tapping Into the Digital Nomad Community