Finding the best city to live in as a digital nomad can take a while. In our globalized world, countries can differ vastly from individual cities with regard to opportunities and level of development. In many countries the cities are entities by themselves contrasting with their host countries. The cities are internationally connected while rural areas are not. Good examples of this are Buenos Aires in contrast to Argentina; Bangkok in contrast to Thailand; or Shanghai in contrast to rural China. Come to think of it, in the western world the same thing occurs as well, for instance, with Paris and France.
For those interested in the location independent lifestyle these cities can be interesting to live in. They can provide best of both worlds. On one hand there is the immersive cultural experience which will enrich your life experiences and will inspire you. Not to mention the good food. On the other hand there is the accessibility to the internet, modern living standards, and the general ease of doing business from that country.
Below is a list of great cities to live as a digital nomad, according to my experience. As a measuring stick I used the same principles as for evaluating countries. These are: quality of living (relative to cost), internet speed and quality, infrastructure and freedom of movement, the visa regime, ease of adapting to the cultural norms, and general attitude of locals to foreigners.
Although personally this is not my favorite city, it is for many other digital nomads. And of course, you cannot deny it is full of life and can be great fun to live as a digital nomad. The amount of digital nomads living in Bangkok is said to be a huge staggering amount. The great advantage of Bangkok is that while the price levels are in general Thai, the comforts you can get are on an advanced level. And of course, Thai food. But the reasons that Bangkok is not my favorite are: the constant tropical weather (I prefer moderate climate with changing seasons), the traffic jams, the Thai language, and the lack of intellectual culture (according to my western presumptions). However, I like it as a holiday destination and I understand totally why a digital nomad wants to make it their home.
There is no doubt that Seoul is relatively expensive. Especially considering accommodation you will have to be diligent. But it is also a very vibrant city and can be great fun. In a way it is similar to Tokyo and approaching its size. But I found the locals to be much more open to foreigners – and the city to be more cosmopolitan. For instance, if you crave a good western sandwich this is in Seoul easy to come by. Now, for the other digital nomad standards, all things line up very well. The internet is great, South Korea has good visa policies for westerners, and the customer service is out of this world. Besides that I also happen to like Korean food a lot.
Singapore is a bit of a paradox. It can be boring and sometimes too neat. On the other hand, everything is really well organized and generally the atmosphere is very conducive for business. Internet quality is very high, you can get around the city very easily and the food culture is great. Besides that, it has great connections to the rest of Asia, which means that, when you get bored, you can hop on the plane easily and visit other Asian countries. Their visa regime is also really positive with regard to westerners. A big downside can be the cost of living – which can run very high if you do not watch out.
I include Buenos Aires in this list because it probably the most viable South American city to live in for the average digital nomad. You do not even need Spanish to get around (but speaking it is of course heartily recommended). Irrespective of the recent economic troubles and schizophrenic currency rate, you can get around in Buenos Aires on the cheap with a very good standard of living. The city is in some ways very European and has a good nightlife, especially Palermo (Viejo & Hollywood), Recoleta and Belgrano. A couple of tips: choose an accommodation with good internet, as quality in the city can differ vastly between spots.
You can go both ways in Lima. Either you live in the very neat, posh, westernized Miraflores distract, or you go for the more local experience in the center. The district Barranco can be a good in-between in this regard, although good places to live there are quite scarce. In any case, Peruvians are very welcoming to foreigners and you will find fun things to do about every day of the week. I am also fan of the diverse cuisine available in Lima. Living is generally cheap, especially outside Miraflores. Over time I can imagine that living in Lima can become a bit monotonous. But then you always have the other great places in Peru to visit, as Iquitos, Cuzco, Arequipa or one of the great beaches.
While many would argue for a Colombian city as Medellin or even Calí, for me Bogota is the city in Colombia with the best atmosphere and capacities for digital nomads. This is because it is the most cosmopolitan – exactly perhaps the thing that some others would find a negative. But because of this nature, you can find everything in Bogota. It has the most subcultures, and you would be able to go from underground bar to club, from road side eatery to Asian fusion and from modern entertainment to intellectual stimulation. It is diverse. Of course, being Colombia, the crime factor can be a nuisance but in general the locals are extremely friendly and very welcoming. The only real prerequisite is that you speak a bit of Spanish (do not have to be fluent however). Go to Bogota, and I am sure you will have a good time.
Lisbon is one of the cheapest cities in Western Europe to live in. While the weather generally is one of the best. It is not often extremely hot because of the Atlantic winds, while during the winters you will not freeze to death. Portuguese food is not the most subtle, but it is hearty and gives generally very good value for the price. And the hilly layout of the city will keep in you shape for sure. Overall, it is an interesting city for a digital nomad. It mixes old with the new, and you will find cosmopolitan coffee places next to old monuments. English is spoken all-around by the friendly locals. The mark of history is soothing. I like to sit on one of the small squares with my double espresso – and thinking about my next project.
A not-so-hidden gem. Budapest basically offers the same architectural splendor of Prague and Vienna – while being considerably cheaper to live. It has a great location in the middle of Europe which makes it easy to visit other locations. You will find blazing fast internet speed in Budapest. Its nightlife is very good with many great restaurants to be found. Basically, there are very little negative things to say about Budapest. If you want to learn the language that can be hard, but English is spoken widely, especially by people younger than 30. I always had a great time here and I would not mind to come back.
This list is strictly personal. For instance, I left out some general favorites as Manila, Berlin or Tokyo. For sure these are great cities to visit. But for me not so great to live as digital nomad. Either they are crime ridden and limited in scope for foreigners (Manila), too expensive and introverted with regard to foreigners (Tokyo) or just plainly too much close to home and with too many wannabe’s (Berlin). Also small cities like Chiang Mai or places like Bali can be very good to visit but for longer periods I find these a bit too limited in scope and diversity. Of course, opinions may differ on this. To each his own, and part of being location independent is to be on a journey to find your own perfect place to live.