From pristine beaches in Indonesia to picturesque mountains in Armenia, more freelancers and entrepreneurs are escaping fluorescent-lit cubicle life for less traditional "offices" overseas. I've met them—and I am one myself.
You don't need to be 22 and living off a trust fund to make this happen, either. Actually, it's the opposite: Money considerations are a key reason for ditching North America. For me, living and working abroad was the right financial decision to build and grow my marketing agency.
That choice actually began when I took a hard look at my finances. There I was, staring bleakly at a pitiful savings account and a bottomless pit of student loans. Living the big-city dream hadn't just sapped my energy and stressed me out, it had also undercut my financial stability. I remember blubbering to a friend on Skype as we looked through my Mint account to figure out where my salary had dissipated.
"Wow." She looked a bit stunned. "Living in New York City is outrageous."
"I remember when I lived in Spain," I sighed, recalling a temporary stint in the country. "My rent was only $150. Not to mention a glass of sangria was less than $2."
With that, I started crunching numbers. I quickly realized I could live in Spain for eight months at the price of one month’s rent in my tiny New York City shoebox.
During the next six months while I worked and played around Europe, I paid off all my student loan debt, and my business started generating a positive cash flow. You can do the same thing. Here are 10 international cities that NomadList recommends as affordable home bases for digital nomads, each with a cost of living falling below $1,250 a month.
Brush up on your Thai and head to Bangkok for a culture and experience you’ll never forget. As you grab a Coke for 17.77 Thai baht (51¢) and lunch for 60 Baht ($1.73) you’ll get a feel for why Bangkok is stealing the hearts of the tight-budgeting expats who work remotely.
Bart Claeys, a UX designer and entrepreneur, chose Bangkok as his main hub because of its low-cost direct flights to Singapore and Hong Kong:
Bangkok is great for a digital nomad because it has everything from fancy rooftop bars to inexpensive places to crash. Here you’ll find affordable Michelin-star restaurants and excellent $1 street food. Wi-Fi is widely available, and trendy coffee shops and coworking spaces are abundant.
Arriving in northern Thailand’s largest city, you’ll immediately find yourself surrounded by vibrant architecture and history as well as droves of rickshaws and tuk tuks, Chiang Mai’s main form of transportation. A ride in the city ranges between 20 and 50 baht, or roughly the equivalent of 58¢–$1.44.
"Chiang Mai is a great option for digital nomads because it has a laid-back atmosphere, a great built-in community, it’s inexpensive, and of course [there's] amazing Thai food," says Alyne Tamir, a digital media manager. "You won't be the only nomad around and will find like-minded people to exchange ideas [with]."
Taipei is a cosmopolitan city known for generating technological advances and for its unique night markets. Wander the streets and you’ll find a $3 lunchbox that’s significantly better than its $15 Manhattan equivalent.
"Taipei is an excellent place to expand your business without having to worry about breaking the bank," says Jason Wuerch, a digital nomad and founder of Frugal for Less. "The food is excellent, the people are friendly, and the public transportation makes it incredibly easy to travel within the city."
It's a bustling city with plenty of coworking options, where you're sure to encounter a number of expats from around the world. LinkedIn suggests that there's been a recent upsurge in American expats heading to Taiwan for technology and professional-services jobs.
"Ubud is an amazing city to live in. I rented an entire house in the rice fields for less than $400 a month," says Lee Constantine of the crowdfunding platform Publishizer. "It allowed me to explore beautiful new places and meet tons of people, all while working 10-hour days at a coworking space called Outpost Asia, conveniently centered in this tropical hub." (Here are seven others.)
In fact, Bali has been a popular hub for digital nomads for years. With its affordable apartment prices, scenic beaches, and stable Wi-Fi connections, it’s no wonder the city is drawing a crowd of global independent workers. Here's how one of them, Katelyn Smith, who runs a two-week retreat program in Bali geared toward solopreneurial expats, explains her choice to set up shop there:
I heard great things about Bali and thought I would check it out. That's when a weekend trip turned into a month. If I could create a perfect world in my mind, Bali checks all of the boxes. There's this inexplicable vibe to Bali—it's instantaneously calming, and you feel centered and connected. It's affordable, warm, [and] full of interesting people. It's easy to eat healthy, many people speak English, and it's fun scootering around everywhere.
Run a quick Google image search for "Phuket" and you'll scroll past beautiful clear blue water and sandy beaches.
With great Wi-Fi and affordable rent, I’ll be heading to Phuket next year for a month of client projects—and also for its mountains, beaches, and temperate climate. Referring to Numbeo for cost-of-living calculations, I quickly found that my monthly expenses could come out to 51.5% lower than if I were still living in New York City. With that extra pocket change, I could visit locales from films like The Man With the Golden Gun and The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Johor Bahru, Malaysia’s financial hub, tops the list of best spots for digital workers. After you’ve taken a walk through the Johor Zoo and strolled Danga Bay, you’ll find that the price of a dozen eggs is $1.
Many digital nomads choose Johor Bahru because of the , an easy access point for entrepreneurs doing business in Singapore. With 58¢ cappuccinos and 87¢ pints of beer, you’ll come for the prices but stay for the friendly locals and great weather.
Located in western Asia, Armenia is one of the world's oldest inhabited places. Due to a recent economic upturn in Yerevan, the streets are now filled with restaurants and cafes that are perfect for working remotely.
Pour yourself a bottle of $4 Armenian pomegranate wine and snack on Ararat Valley apricots as you discover a stunning city brimming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
"Armenia is on the map for our work-abroad plans," says Derek Merdinyan of Video Igniter. "The low cost of travel and living expenses helps our bottom line, and I get an excuse to visit the place my great-grandparents came from."
Serbia’s capital city boasts 1.23 million inhabitants, stunning architecture, and an unrivaled nightlife. Located at the meeting of the Sava and Danube rivers, Belgrade has become an affordable and picturesque center for digital nomads and independent workers in Eastern Europe.
Michael Young, a designer and animator currently on a world tour, explains what the city has to offer:
Belgrade exceeded my expectations as a digital-nomad destination. As well as the inexpensive cost of living, the people were incredibly friendly, and the city itself had an interesting creative vibe. [It's] clean and full of fascinating architecture, the people are incredibly friendly, and there are plenty of amazing little cafes.
If you’re looking for someplace that shares similar time zones as the U.S., Quito could be the place to go.
Brush up on your Spanish and head to this South American city that offers a friendly community, affordable rent, and $1 cerveza. While there are many reasons to check out Quito, many expats like that Ecuador operates on the American dollar—adopted by the country in 2014 after years of monetary instability—so you won't lose your hard-earned funds on fluctuating exchange rates.
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), the largest city in Vietnam, has long held a special place in the hearts of globetrotting solopreneurs. Loud, busy, and chaotic, Ho Chi Minh City is filled with motorbikes and the smells of fresh street food. A popular stop on Southeast Asia's backpacker routes, the metropolis is attracting more full-time remote workers as well.
"The standout for me in Ho Chi Minh has to be two things: the awesome Internet speed and the delicious cheap street food," says Beck Power, who runs a flight hacking website nomadfly.me. "Those are a perfect combination for digital nomads. Once you learn to ride a motorcycle here, you'll be hooked. There's such a buzz in this town paired with laid-back charm. To me, this city's atmosphere lies somewhere between underdeveloped Cambodia and Westernized Bangkok."
Whether you're looking to save money or just need a change of scenery, these international cities guarantee fascinating cultures and vibrant entrepreneurial communities. Best of all, they may even put a bit of cash back into your pocket after pinching pennies in San Francisco.
Arianna O'Dell is the founder of Airlink Marketing, a digital agency that helps hotels, restaurants, and travel destinations attract and retain clientele.
Slideshow Credits: 02 / Flickr user Allie_Caulfield; 03 / Flickr user Jan Beck; 04 / Flickr user Jirka Matousek; 05 / Flickr user el_ave; 06 / Flickr user Jeff Gunn; 07 / Wikimedia Commons; 08 / Wikimedia Commons; 09 / Flickr user Jovan Marković; 10 / Flickr user Dr.T.; 11 / Flickr user donchili;