The so-called ‘digital nomad’ is someone who relies only on their laptop, their skills, and an internet connection in order to make a living while spending time wherever they want. This new trend seems to be getting very popular lately as more people have exited full-time jobs and are discovering that freelancing can be an excellent option as long as you can keep your costs down while building up your business.
As someone who’s been doing exactly this for about 16 months now, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and recently I discussed why moving your internet startup to Asia might drastically increase its chances of success. Part of the situation, of course, is to find the right place or places from which to work. I also recently discussed tips for finding good Wi-Fi on the road, but here we’ll look at some specific countries that are cheap and easy to live or travel in, plus provide acceptable qualities of internet connectivity.
For each country I’ll provide a price of a decent and cheap hotel room as well as the price of a basic apartment by the month. There are cheaper places than these, but you probably wouldn’t want to stay or live in them for long.
For a variety of reasons, Thailand continues to be by far the most popular hub for backpackers in Southeast Asia, as well as for long-term travelers and expats looking for modern amenities. Bangkok is the obvious first choice, and it’s where most people are settling, but it’s enormous, extremely crowded, and relatively expensive, so many people move on to Chiang Mai up north, which is also modern though far cheaper.
Phuket Island also has its share of longer-term travelers and expats, and even though it’s also relatively expensive, the modern amenities and support system can make it worthwhile. Pretty much every apartment and most hotels offer Wi-Fi, usually at speeds that are capable of streaming YouTube videos live, although not always.
- Bangkok: Hotels = US$15+ per night, apartments = US$300+ per month
- Chiang Mai: Hotels = US$8+ per night, apartments = US$200+ per month
- Phuket (beach areas): Hotels = US$20+ per night, apartments = US$400+ per month
Vietnam is a bit of an unusual case on this list because internet speeds are not really what you’d call terribly fast anywhere in the country. On the other hand, nearly every hotel (including all the cheap ones) seems to offer in-room Wi-Fi, so the country is very wired. This is another country where cities are filled with internet cafes crammed with locals, many of whom are playing online games for hours each day, so you are never far from a connection.
The other reason Vietnam is on this list is that it’s incredibly cheap to visit compared to just about anywhere else in the world. Hanoi up north actually tops my cheapest cities in Asia list, where a backpacker could actually get by on around US$13 per day including a bed, meals, transportation, attractions, and even a few beers. Saigon in the south is a bit more expensive, but it’s still very reasonable, and smaller tourist towns like Hoi An, Hue, and Nha Trang are even cheaper.
- Anywhere in Vietnam: Hotels = US$8+ per night, apartments = US$200+ per month
In many ways, India is the cheapest country in the world for travelers, although that requires spending little or no time in its enormous cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, or Chennai. With so many “tech jobs” in India you’d expect internet speeds to be lightning fast, and in certain places they are, but in smaller towns often they are not. So unfortunately, the best service is only available in the crowded cities that are also relatively expensive.
However, finding good Wi-Fi is possible in many smaller tourist towns if you look around a bit. I had excellent speeds in smaller beach towns like Puri, Pondicherry, and Fort Cochin. I also had good, if a bit erratic, speeds in Goa, which is so wonderful in winter that it’s easily worth the slower speeds anyway.
- Mumbai/Delhi: Hotels = US$30+ per night, apartments = US$400+ per month
- Puri/Pondicherry/Fort Cochin: Hotels = US$12+ per night, apartments = US$300+ per month
- Goa (beach areas): Hotels = US$8+ per night, apartments = US$300+ per month
When I refer to Indonesia I’m actually talking about Bali, which is one small island in a huge archipelago that also happens to receive most of the country’s Western tourists. Bali is still one of the world’s most fabulous tropical destinations, even though in recent years it’s become far more crowded with traffic problems that make it hard to move around much.
The internet in Bali can be quite good in some places and quite poor in others. Before I went this recent time I’d heard reports that “in Bali the internet is too slow to work from there” but that’s not true. A friend of mine runs a successful Southeast Asia travel guide site (travelfish.org) from there, and has for years. In my cheap hotel in Kuta Beach I had great speeds, and the same was true for my hotel in Ubud, but evidently you can check in at the wrong place and struggle to load email, much less download podcasts and such. The point is, good speeds are available, but don’t lock into anything until you’ve tested it yourself.
- Bali: Hotels = US$10+ per night, apartments = US$300+ per month
Those looking for something closer to Europe, or even partly in Europe, would do well to look at Turkey. Istanbul itself is actually a bit expensive compared to the other places on this list, but everywhere else in the country (mostly in the Asian side) is much cheaper, and internet speeds are blazing fast pretty much everywhere. Not all hotels offer free Wi-Fi in rooms, so finding one that does might be a bit of a challenge, but once you do you’ll know that it’ll be a really solid connection.
Even in the dream-like touristy city of Goreme in the Cappadocia region, hotels are very cheap and Wi-Fi speeds are fast. But longer-term visitors will probably want to look to the Mediterranean coast, to cities like Antalya, Kas, or Bodrum (on the Aegean coast, actually), for a pleasant climate, cheap accommodation, and good internet access.
- Istanbul: Hotels = US$40+ per night, apartments = US$500+ per month
- Antalya/Kas/Bodrum: Hotels = US$12+ per night, apartments = US$400+ per month
Finally outside of Asia, we come to Argentina, which continues with its unusual situation of being fairly cheap for foreigners ever since its currency crash about 8 years ago. Buenos Aires is the obvious choice for most travelers and expats, and it’s not so much that it’s incredibly cheap, it’s more that it’s incredibly nice and cheap enough to feel like a fantastic bargain.
If you’ve not visited yet it’s probably not much like what you are expecting. The locals are about 95% immigrated from Italy, Spain, and Germany, only a few generations ago or less, so the whole place feels like a mixed-up European city with a nicer climate and excellent and abundant beef supplies. Internet speeds are as good as you’d expect in a modern city, and Wi-Fi is quite easy to find for the most part.
- Buenos Aires: Hotels = US$30+ per night, apartments = US$300+ per month
(In Buenos Aires hotels aren’t too cheap, but monthly apartments still are though you have to be careful)