If you could work from anywhere, where would you work? As the global pandemic recedes, and more workers have experience with working remotely, that’s precisely the question many are asking themselves. For some, the answer is simply their home office: closer to family and without a daily commute. But for the more adventure seeking, the answers are as varied as the number of cities on the map.
Each city falls on a spectrum, with one end being completely similar to home, and the other end being completely different from home. For some people, a city like London is just different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to make life and work easy. Others will need something slightly more exotic, like a subtropical climate or Far Eastern architecture. And an intrepid few will be enticed by the cities furthest outside of the Western sphere of influence precisely for the fact that they are the most different from what they know.
Working remotely from abroad is an enlivening and mind-widening experience. It can often be a financially beneficial one, too. But it’s not easy. You will find your biases challenged, your patience tested, and your ego reduced.
The first move is the most difficult: how do you pick a foreign city to work from, and how do you prepare yourself?
Regardless of the city you eventually pick, there are some general best practices for planning your move.
Starting with a long but flexible stay offers several benefits, as a lot of cities look great on paper, and only reveal their inefficiencies in person. You may dislike a city’s rough exterior in those first challenging weeks, but after acclimating, fall in love. Conversely, you may find a certain city’s tourist infrastructure comforting and amenable in the beginning, but after the length of a general vacation, come to see it as tiresome for day-to-day living.
Research is the first step, and there are a plethora of resources out there to guide you on your journey before it even starts. But it’s also important not to research yourself out of (or into) too many options. How a city suits you is an incredibly subjective metric and following your gut can go a long way: a love for a specific type of food, a feeling of ancestral connection, or an unexplained curiosity for a certain location is much stronger than the opinions of a blogger you’ve never met.
Still, if you’re just starting out, you may not know what you need to make your life work abroad as a telecommuter, and every city will have trade-offs. When you’re researching cities to work from as a telecommuter, consider the following criteria:
People who visit the capital city of Georgia often come away as evangelists, if they leave at all. With first-class cuisine, gorgeous mountains, and a welcoming culture based around local wine, it’s not uncommon for Americans to come and stay for the full length of their one-year visa on arrival (and longer).
Once referred to as the California of the Soviet Union, Tbilisi is still far off the beaten path by a lot of metrics: traveling within the country can be overwhelming for newcomers, and direct flights to international destinations are few and far between. Still, the dollar goes a long way here, and cheap internet, modern coworking spaces, a thriving expat community, and a high level of English make it a surprisingly easy place to set up shop as a telecommuter.
The remote work community is catching on: Tbilisi is the location of the next Digital Nomad Summit.
For years, Chiang Mai has been the quintessential city for remote workers, and at times referred to as the capital of remote work. A place that some would still struggle to place on the map, this city in Northern Thailand has earned a reputation as a telecommuter hub for its low prices, fast internet, welcoming community, and outrageously delicious food.
Telecommuters come to Chiang Mai to work and to network, but the city itself can be sleepy outside of that: it’s still a small town in most aspects. Luckily, Chiang Mai has a decently connected airport for travel within Thailand and to nearby Southeast Asian countries. While an oppressively smokey fire season and visas with short timeframes make it a short-term destination, Chiang Mai is still many telecommuters’ first stop—and one they return to in order to connect with others of their ilk.
Sitting at the heart of Europe, Berlin is a hip and bustling location for the modern telecommuter. While the prices aren’t as low as they are in some more exotic destinations, they’re still cheap by European standards, and Americans will find the cultural transition relatively easy.
Berlin is navigable by foot and public transit, and a large immigrant population contributes to its cosmopolitan vibe. A modern European capital that’s retained some of its Eastern Bloc grit, telecommuters won’t have a problem finding a network of like-minded and English-speaking individuals in the city’s many coworking spaces. It’s also a possible long-term destination: a liberal immigration policy extends to freelancers who are willing to put in the time and effort of navigating the Germans’ notoriously rigid bureaucracy.
With a mix of European and South American flavors, Buenos Aires deserves to be on more best-of lists for remote workers. This is an international city that ticks many boxes for the remote worker: low prices, vibrant culture, modern amenities, and outstanding food and wine. The time zone is a bonus, as those who need to connect with colleagues in the US won’t have to keep unusual hours in order to do so.
Buenos Aires suffers from a poor and at times undeserved reputation around safety, but like all cities, it’s about knowing where to go and not go. And getting outside of the city itself opens up an enormous amount of options, with mountains, glaciers, beaches, and deserts to explore.
Benefiting from a population that’s split between Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnicities, Kuala Lumpur has a whole lot of flavor. Its fast internet, modern amenities, high level of English, and well-connected public transit make it a surprisingly easy transition for the American telecommuter.
Kuala Lumpur’s skyscrapers and traffic make it a somewhat divisive pick in the remote work community and it can seem tame by comparison to its Thai and Indonesian neighbors. But as far as infrastructure goes, Kuala Lumpur is well-suited to remote workers, and the tripartite population serves up a delicious variety.
Nearly a decade into its revolutionary pivot to the West, Kyiv is starting to show up on more remote workers’ maps. The city comes with lightning-fast internet speeds, a youthful party scene, a low cost of living, and a burgeoning tech sector. Good flight connections to the EU and quick train connections between other major cities within the country, like Odesa and Lviv, make Ukraine, which is almost the size of Texas, more navigable than one might initially think.
The transition to Kyiv can still be jarring for the new remote worker: a simmering war with Russia in the east, some Old World cultural mentalities, and a sometimes significant language barrier all require a bit of mental flexibility. But for those who like a city that’s a little rough around the edges, while still warm at the center, Kyiv makes for a unique and exciting option.
Whether you’re a remote worker or a tourist, Istanbul is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world. Straddling two continents and divided by the Bosporus Strait, it offers a bustling and cosmopolitan cityscape that seems to exist in several different centuries at once.
Unfortunately, the politics can sometimes feel firmly in the past: an authoritarian regime and non-Western attitudes towards women hold Istanbul back. For short-term stays, however, the city has a lot to offer: the cost of living is relatively low, the café culture is incomparable, the airport has more international connections than any other in the world, and the city’s historic architecture makes walking down the street feel like walking through a top-tier museum.