Money

9 Lucrative Places To Base Yourself As A Digital Nomad

Cascais

We’ve seen the pics; laptops perched atop tanned thighs by the beach/jungle with #worklife written smugly underneath. As a digital nomad, you create how, when and where you work – it means freedom, without the finite, ever-dwindling savings account. And at a time when the cost of living in many major cities is exorbitant and continues to rise, it literally pays to be strategic about choosing where to base your personal empire.

Many of us prefer the security of never needing to spend everything we earn. Digital nomads can save a lot of money by being smart about where they choose to kick it. Moving somewhere cheap to live is a fun way to troubleshoot such woes: get paid in AUD (or strong foreign currencies) and take advantage of a weaker economy. You get to experience the world and save while you’re at it. It’s living the dream.

If you assume living on the cheap automatically means surrendering the comforts and luxuries of the first world, you’ve been living in it for too long. The planet is full of incredible hubs that bustle with expat activity, are hooked up to fast Internet, glisten with vibrant cultural life and pack a flavourful punch.

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Yee Peng festival, Chiang Mai. Image: John Shedrick, flickr

Here are nine such places (in no particular order) to inspire your next move. We use Sydney as a comparison guide because it is ridiculously expensive, so if you’re from anywhere else the savings are larger. And surprise! They’re not all in Southeast Asia.

#1 Taghazout, Morocco

Sunshine and surfing: music to the ears of an Australian. It turns out there is a Moroccan fishing village north of Agadir – once famous for calamari and hippies – calling in ocean-loving digital nomads, and they have found their way to co-working and living communities like SunDesk. Taghazout is Morocco’s premiere surfing destination, so there isn’t much distraction other than the amazing weather, surfing and fishing – but most of the time, they’re the only disruptions you want. When a total sensory immersion calls, you’re well placed to explore the rest of incredible Morocco.

Cost of Living: approx. 55% cheaper than Sydney 

#2 Ubud, Bali

Ah, the Island of the Gods. Australians are no strangers to Bali’s virtues – jungle, beaches, tropical climate and a laid-back lifestyle mean it’s one of our top holiday destinations. It’s also a world-class hub for entrepreneurs and creatives, who flock to the Island’s creative heart, Ubud.

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Try feeling angry looking at this.

In the lush mountains of central Bali, Ubud is a verdant zen escape; a reprieve from polluted, frenetic areas like Kuta. It’s bursting with culture – the home of traditional crafts and dance – and you’ll have access to abundant yoga, healthy food and an innovative, up-and-coming start-up scene where co-working spaces like Hubud are constantly evolving to meet demand. With a low cost of living to boot, it’s the perfect environment to live holistically while kicking career goals.

Cost of Living: approx. 56% cheaper than Sydney

#3 Chiang Mai , Thailand

In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the darling of the digital nomad scene. It manages to enchant its residents with the similar mix of calm and culture Ubud offers. It is described as an escape from the chaos of the southern cities, laid-back and surrounded by lush green countryside, with the balmy climate we expect from Southeast Asia minus the soul-sucking humidity.

The expat community gush about ample networking possibilities, a lively and large digital community, a plethora of co-working spaces, delicious and healthy food, fast Wi-Fi connection, and a low cost of living. You basically can’t swing a sai oua without hitting a blogger or entrepreneur. It’s a recipe for the ideal digital city.

Cost of Living: approx. 54% cheaper than Sydney

#4 Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is the quiet achiever. In the past, it’s been overlooked as a major European city, sitting at the extreme west of Western Europe. But you’ve been warned: Lisbon will charm the pants off you promptly after your arrival. It’s dubbed the new Berlin or Barcelona due to recent economic troubles that sparked two silver linings: prices remained lower than other comparable European capital cities, and the downturn sparked a complete cultural renaissance.

Lisbon sunset

Disgusting. Image: Sonia Taylor

Lisbon retains a village-like atmosphere despite its international status. Its streets are woven with history and covered in gorgeous blue tiles (azulejos). It’s flanked by a glittering waterfront (and mouth-watering seafood), and offers a pumping nightlife, killer food scene, thriving creative heart (check out the “creative island” LX Factory), glorious weather and, being in Europe, super fast Internet. There will be no complaints about lack of good surf or beaches close to the city, either.

Cost of Living: approx. 41% cheaper than Sydney

#5 Medellin, Colombia

Once the stomping ground of Pablo Escobar, Medellin was synonymous with drug-related crime and delightfully dubbed the “murder capital of the world.” But that was its former incarnation. Medellin shows the incredible progress and change that can be achieved in a short time: investing billions of dollars in the past two decades on social development projects and urban renewal, its comeback has won it a series of international awards and a place on the Rockefeller Foundation’s ‘100 Resilient Cities’ list. The city is now considered one of the best places to live in Colombia, and South America.

A city on the rise that still celebrates its cultural heritage is a heady concoction for a digital nomad. Gorgeous mountains are a mere 30-minute bus ride away, and there is a burgeoning start-up scene where you’ll easily rub shoulders with online entrepreneurs, bloggers and freelancers.

Cost of Living: approx. 63% cheaper than Sydney

#6 Bucharest, Romania

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Herastrau park, Bucharest.

Romania is making a name for itself as a great yet affordable place for a young entrepreneur, budget traveller or digital nomad. It might not be as developed as other European countries, but it has some of the fastest Internet speeds in the world. Add to that the fact Romania is still an emerging country in Europe (i.e. costs are cheap) and you can understand why this city is a drawcard for travelling freelancers. There are co-working spaces like Impact Hub, and you’re a low-cost flight away from a plethora of European travel destinations.

Cost of Living: approx. 58% cheaper than Sydney 

#7 Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is a popular place for a bootstrapping digital nomad. In fact, the city’s co-working spaces and abundant cafes are filled with expats, online entrepreneurs, freelancers, e-commerce gurus, bloggers and Internet marketers. With its hot climate, first-rate café scene and rich history, there’s plenty to do. Not to mention the endless, ridiculously cheap food options, and Wi-Fi speeds that have improved dramatically.

Cost of Living: approx. 44% cheaper than Sydney 

#8 Budapest, Hungary

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Image: Alex Proimos, flickr

Budapest (once two cites: Buda and Pest) is a European favourite among digital nomads, offering free Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere, a reasonable cost of living, great food at cheap prices, efficient public transport, a tonne of historical and cultural sites to visit (hello, thermal baths!), and plenty of places to work. It offers a high quality of life at the low cost you’re after – especially considering it’s in Europe. Budapest is a gorgeous city, however, you might want to save your move for the warmer months.

Cost of Living: approx. 57% cheaper than Sydney 

#9 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Sure, you could head straight to the bustling heart of Mexico and base yourself in Mexico City, or struggle to find a decent Wi-Fi connection from your cabana by the beach in Tulum, but just a few hours’ north of Mexico City in the Central Mexican Highlands sits an incandescent town which suffers neither chaos nor Internet troubles. In fact, you could live in a UNESCO world heritage site, rich in history and surrounded by rolling plains.

SMA roof

Charmed, I’m sure. Image: Sonia Taylor

Once plagued by a reputation as an American retiree magnet, SMA has finally shaken it off – there’s been a resurgence of local creativity as well as young foreigners looking to set up their creative endeavours. You’ll be walking along cobblestone streets full of colourful colonial casitas ensconced in hanging vines; eating at world-class restaurants or the local cantina; and hanging with a thriving expat community of artists, writers, musicians and silversmiths. And while it isn’t the cheapest place to live in Mexico (unrelenting charm and a year-round springtime mean a healthy tourism economy), it’s still on the Peso and you wouldn’t be wanting for much.

Cost of Living: approx. 60% cheaper than Sydney


Sonia Taylor is the editor of The Cusp and a former digital nomad. Mexico is her spiritual home. She’s on Instagram @sonnietothetee

Lead image: Sonia Taylor. (Cascais, 30 minutes from Lisbon centre).