How to Choose a Digital Nomad-Friendly City to Stay for a Month (Or Longer)
If you do your work mostly on your laptop, don't need to go to the office and like to travel, this article is for you.
There's so much out there waiting for you to explore that you feel restless. What if you moved to a new city for a month, or even three months?
What’s the first step to starting your digital nomad journey?
No, it’s not buying a fancy backpack, a pair of comfortable tennis shoes, or adding “digital nomad” in your social media bios. While those are all fine things to do, they are not the most important ones and what you start with.
Choosing the right destination for an extended stay is crucial. You need to know that you are going to a place suitable for you.
Here are the ingredients of a digital nomad-friendly city that I consider fundamental.
- Fast and Accessible Internet
- Digital Nomad Community
Budget (Lower Than Where You Are Now)
Cost of living is high on the list because one of the key reasons to leave your current city is that elsewhere is less expensive.
Part of the geo-arbitrage equation is lowered expenses. You earn good money from your “home base” and make your cash go a long way in a cheaper country.
It doesn’t make much sense to stay somewhere for months if it’s significantly more expensive than where you came from. Unless you're obsessed with visiting a certain city and want to splurge on it (Zurich, Tel Aviv, New York City). In the meantime, my focus is on where you can save money.
Choose a city with a wide variety of apartments, rooms, hotels, and co-living spaces.
Check AirBnb and booking.com in advance to make sure that there are loads of options in the city center. You’d be surprised but some cities don’t have very many budget-friendly and high-quality options (Bratislava, Moscow), even though the country itself might not be that pricey.
Send a message to the owner to ask if the internet speed is good at their rental. When you work remotely, stable connectivity is critical. This brings me to the next point.
Internet Speed and Wifi Availability
You can’t do your work without the internet.
It’s great to have a fast and steady wifi connection at the rental place. Many cities have cafes where you can connect to their wifi. I like to find five or more of those and rotate my visits.
If you don’t mind spending a little money, coworking spaces are a good place to get your work done, and they usually guarantee great wifi. WeWork is a fantastic worldwide chain of high-end coworking spaces that I used in the US, Brazil, Argentina, England, Czechia, and more (one access keycard unlocks all of them).
Get a local SIM card, maybe even two. If the wifi is down, you can use a cellular data connection as backup. If you can get unlimited, go for it.
Safety And Security
Not all digital nomad-friendly places have an equal safety situation.
There are some cities that are excellent in everything except crime rates (Rio De Janeiro, Medellin).
It varies for men and women, and LGBT folks. Men can generally endure a higher-risk environment, while more vulnerable travelers will be more comfortable in well-known safer places (Bangkok, Budapest, Berlin, Lisbon).
For beginner nomads of all backgrounds, it’s recommended to settle into the new lifestyle in a widely recognized safe city. It could be even in your own country if it makes you feel more secure.
Part of the excitement of traveling to a new city or country is trying the local cuisine.
Make sure you are into the type of food common at your destination. Research if the place has international cuisines as well.
For the especially budget-conscious travelers, I recommend knowing the local version of “fast food.” Sometimes it’s vibrant, fresh, and inexpensive (Thai, Brazilian, Mexican). The place might not be a good choice if you don't like local foods.
Are the locals friendly?
Both, to foreigners and to each other. In some places, people are just amazingly nice. In others, they are cold and keep to themselves.
The local people truly make or break a destination.
Knowing their language OR having the ability to converse in English (or another middle language) will help you integrate quickly.
Are there digital nomads already?
It makes the stay much more social and less lonely when there is an instant community of people similar to you. Make new friends, go out for group dinners, or go hiking together to fill your time with fun social activities.
Infrastructure: Public Transportation, Taxis, Rentals
The more developed the infrastructure is, the better, obviously.
Smoothly paved sidewalks and motorways, bike lanes, and functioning traffic lights are desirable. It can take some time to adjust to local transportation traditions in some places, such as motorbiking in South East Asia.
If you can count on Uber or similar e-hail apps, it’s a huge plus, not all cities permit official city taxi replacements, and it can cause a major inconvenience.
Under- and overground trains are excellent and cheap in many cities, and I highly recommend figuring them out quickly after you settle down. The people-watching opportunities are priceless!
These days many cities have bicycles, e-scooters, and e-bikes for rent by the minute. Those can be a great alternative to public transportation and taxis.
Exploring a city on foot is a fantastic way to be fit and never be bored.
Not all cities are created equally walkable (I’m looking at you, US and Canada).
Reasons for that may be in the way the cities are planned, giving preference to car drivers over pedestrians, or due to the safety situation. However, be aware of whether or not it is safe and comfortable to walk in the city.
Climate and weather conditions can also be factors. Even the most walkable cities might not be enjoyable in the rainy or cold seasons.
I consider walkability one of the biggest motivations to spend an extended time in a city. Notable examples are most European cities, followed by Tokyo, New York, and Buenos Aires.
One of the ways to gauge how walkable the place is is to use Nomad List’s filters. It’s not super accurate, but it covers all of the known digital nomad locations in the world.
You may need to sign up for it to see the filters, but if you are serious about being a remote worker who escapes icy winters and wants to connect to the community, I’m telling you NomadList is worth it (this is an unpaid endorsement).
Another great website to research walkability is WalkScore.com. Type in a city and get a score of 1 to 100. The site is generally geared towards USA and Canada, but you can get scores on international cities as well. Be sure to check out their Travel Time Map feature.
Alternatively, you can simply google “how walkable is city name” and see what other people said.
Choose A Place and Get Moving!
With these general criteria in mind, you can make an excellent choice for your subsequent journeys as a digital nomad.
This list is by no means exhaustive; there are plenty of other factors to consider:
- dating scene
- visa rules
- quality of coffee
- coworking spaces
Going on your initial remote worker stint should be fun and easy, and, thankfully, there are dozens of excellent locations you cannot go wrong with. Once you get your feet wet, you can apply your personal experience-based system for selecting a destination.
Enjoy your travels to the fullest!