The pandemic changed the world in many ways but one thing’s for sure: it has changed the way we work. The meteoric rise of remote work opportunities has never been greater and the number of digital nomads has exploded in recent years. So how exactly do these nomads, like me, now travel? Enter the “workcation”.
Working in an office is so 2019, and doing so on the road has never been more prevalent. Go into any hostel or popular cafe and you’re likely to see at least one traveller in the common area on a laptop. I’ve been working remotely for almost 6 years now and am constantly sharing common spaces in guesthouses, cafes, and hostels with fellow nomads.
And that’s not even counting the remote workers who stay longer in a city and rent apartments monthly, working during the day and partying at night.
If you’re lucky enough to have a remote job, where are you headed? Personally, I pick my destinations based on 4 primary factors: cost of living, safety, climate, and recreational activities. I’m an avid outdoor person and need good weather and to be in nature.
I’m currently in Macedonia by Lake Ohrid, where I get to enjoy the mountains of Galicica National Park as well as the crystal clear waters and beaches of the massive lake. I’ve also lived and worked previously in the little island of Gili Air off Lombok, Albania, Greece, the US, and Canada. However, I am extremely introverted and don’t need a nomad community or much of a social life.
In this article, I’m thinking of the wider nomad community who, in addition to the aforementioned factors, would typically value things like broadband speed, a fellow nomad community, food, and culture. If you’re looking for your next destination, we hope that this list gives you some inspiration!
Close to home and an easy flight away, Bali has a thriving digital nomad scene and many accommodation options. Whether you want to surf in Kuta or hike Mount Agung in your spare time, Bali has something for everyone and the weather is good year-round.
With a multitude of cafes and good restaurants, foodies will be happy, and the internet speed in most places is decent. Bali is relatively safe but you’ll need to keep your wits about you as it is a major tourist destination and some scams may happen.
You can get a villa with your own pool for about S$1,000 per month and a meal in a decent restaurant will cost about S$10. The best way to find a good deal on a villa would be to look at Facebook groups like this one. There are multiple groups for long-term villa rental and you might be able to find something suitable if you take your time.
Singaporeans don’t need a visa and can stay up to 90 days, after which, you can extend your stay for about S$50 a month.
I haven’t worked in Bali but spent a few years working on Lombok, the island just next to Bali. Both islands are about the same size, but Bali costs almost double and is way more crowded than its sleepy neighbour.
My villa in Lombok costs about S$600 for a two-bedroom, and meals at local warungs cost under S$2. If I’m frugal about going out at night and drinking in bars, I can keep my monthly costs to under S$1,500.
However, Bali is way more popular with the digital nomad community which is thriving, so if you need a large social circle, Bali would be the way to go. It has long been a digital nomad destination but in the past, you had to leave the country after 90 days, which made many fly to Singapore to do what is called a “border bounce”.
However, after the pandemic, the Indonesian government made it even easier by allowing you to extend your stay while you’re still in the country, leading to a huge explosion of remote workers throughout the island.
If you are working for a Singapore company, Bali is ideal as we both share the same time zone. However, if you are working in the US time zone, it is a pain to accommodate their schedules. I’ve stayed up many nights taking Zoom calls with my US clients!
|The Verdict: Bali Indonesia|
|Cost of Living||★★★★☆|
With its stunning architecture and rich history, Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is known for its vibrant nightlife and burgeoning startup scene. It is centrally located in Europe, making it easy for you to explore the surrounding countries in your spare time.
Steeped in a rich heritage, the city has loads of museums, cultural events, festivals, spas, and cafes for you to work in. Apartments are relatively affordable at about S$600 to S$1,000 a month depending on the season.
As with most places in Europe, summer will be the most expensive while winter is the least. Spring and fall are the best times to be in Budapest. Summers are mild and the maximum day temperature tends to be about 28 to 30 degree celsius. However, winters can get cold as night-time temperatures drop below 0 and daytime temperatures hover at about 5 degree celsius.
The broadband speed is excellent throughout the city which has a few coworking spaces like Loffice and Impact Hub and to cater to the growing number of remote workers. Hungarians are welcoming and warm and Budapest is relatively safe for a major city. According to Numbeo, the level of crime rating is 30.92, which is considered “low”.
You can stay visa-free for up to 90 days, after which, you’ll have to leave the country as well as stay out of the Schengen area for 90 days before going back in. Don’t know what Schengen is? Read more about Schengen rules here.
Being in Central Europe, Budapest is ideal if you are working in the European time zone, and only slightly inconvenient if you’re working in the US or Pacific time zones.
|The Verdict: Budapest, Hungary|
|Cost of Living||★★★☆☆|
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Also close to home is the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai. It has a vibrant digital nomad scene with many travellers frequenting cafes to work or simply working at home and socialising at night in the numerous bars and pubs around.
The broadband speed is excellent and there are multiple coworking spaces dotted throughout the city. There’s a wide variety of food from all kinds of cultures and their signature Khao Soi, a northern Thailand dish, closely resembles Singaporean laksa!
You can get an apartment for about S$500 to S$700, and street food is incredibly affordable. Singaporeans can visit visa-free for 30 days but you can extend your stay for another 30 days, after which you have to leave the country. There’s also a newly introduced Long-Term Resident (LTR) visa which will allow you to stay for up to 10 years if you fulfil the requirements.
The weather is good year-round, but you might want to get out during the burning season when they clear the fields of brush. This happens in February and will end in April. Like Bali, Thailand is in the Asian time zone, which means working on the US schedule might be inconvenient.
|The Verdict: Chiang Mai, Thailand|
|Cost of Living||★★★☆☆|
With mild weather most of the year, Lisbon, the exciting capital of Portugal, is fast becoming one of the hottest spots for digital nomads. The city has many outdoor spaces, beautiful beaches, and verdant parks for you to relax in your downtime.
The relatively low cost of living, great infrastructure, huge digital nomad community, and leisure activities make Lisbon particularly attractive to remote workers. There are many coworking spaces where you can meet fellow nomads.
Rental for a small apartment in the city centre will set you back about S$800 to S$1,50o per month, and a meal at a decent restaurant will cost about S$10 to S$25.
Lisbon winters are mild with temperatures averaging about 15 degrees celsius in the day and about 8 degrees celsius at night. However, their summers can be over 30 degree celsius and it can get crowded as tourists flock to the popular city.
With a burgeoning nomad scene, friendly locals, and rich history, Lisbon can be an ideal base where you can work and immerse yourself in the city’s cultural experiences in your spare time. Portugal is also in the European time zone, so if you are working for a company in the Asian or US time zone, it might be more feasible.
Like Budapest, you can stay up to 90 days in Portugal, after which you’ll have to leave the Schengen area for 90 days before entering back in. Portugal also offers a digital nomad visa if you can prove a monthly income of at least €3,040 (~S$4406)
|The Verdict: Lisbon, Portugal|
|Cost of Living||★★☆☆☆|
If you want to venture further away from home, Medellín, Colombia, is fast becoming a digital nomad favourite. Gone are the chaotic days of Pablo Escobar, and the Medellín today is an enticing blend of modern infrastructure, stunning natural environments, and affordability that make it one of the top choices for many nomads worldwide.
The city has a pleasant climate year-round and the cost of living is still relatively low. You can get a small apartment for S$1,000 to S$1500, or you can choose to share a house and get a bedroom at about S$400 to S$600. There are plenty of co-working spaces where you can work alongside fellow nomads like Tinkko Milla De Oro in El Poblado or Selina Cowork in Las Lomas.
While Medellin has made huge progress in terms of safety, crime still occurs and you’ll have to keep your wits about you. Certain areas of the city are known for robberies and drug use, and you’ll have to avoid these areas at night. Check with the locals and expats on this as they’ll be the best source of information.
The digital nomad community is supportive and welcoming and you can get all the information you need from them. A good way to expand your social circle and keep abreast of events for expats and nomads is on Facebook groups like Digital Nomads Medellin and Medellín Expats | Digital Nomads.
You can stay in Colombia for 90 days visa-free on a Singaporean passport. However, one drawback is that Colombia is in the GMT-5 time zone, so if you are working for a company in the Asian or European time zones, that might prove problematic.
|The Verdict: Medellín, Colombia|
|Cost of Living||★★★☆☆|
Factors to Consider for Remote Work Destinations
So what exactly should you look for when picking your next “workcation” destination? I’ve been a digital nomad for about 6 years now, and I choose my destinations based on the following factors.
1) Reliable and Fast Internet Connectivity
You’ll want reliable wifi, preferably at lightning speeds, especially if you often do Zoom calls or video conferences. Nothing is more annoying than an unreliable connection that cuts your client or colleague off midway.
When I was in Indonesia during the pandemic, the island I was on, Gili Air, had very unreliable internet connectivity. Thankfully, the 4G speed was adequate, and the data was cheap. It cost about S$15 for 60 GB, which I could never use up no matter how much Netflixing I did.
2) Visas and Stay Requirements
Singaporeans are lucky to have one of the best passports in the world and citizens can probably enter visa-free in most countries. However, you’ll still have to pay attention to when you enter a country and how long you can stay before you have to leave.
Many countries have realised how much income the online workforce can bring to the community and have launched digital nomad visas for those who want to stay longer.
3) Cost of Living
Affordability is key when picking your destination. You don’t want to spend all the money you make and still need to enjoy the same quality of life that you’re used to.
I have worked online and lived in Canada, the US, some Eastern European countries, and some Southeast Asian countries, and can safely say that Eastern Europe is a digital nomad’s dream.
4) Time Zone Compatibility
If you’re working in the Singaporean time zone, you might want to consider something closer to home. Staying up till midnight for a video conference or Zoom call isn’t very appealing!
If you are working in the US time zone, South America and Europe might be fine. My US-based clients wake up at about 3 pm or 4 pm my time, so I can get a fair bit done with them before I call it a day.
5) Safety and Health Considerations
We are privileged to enjoy quality healthcare in Singapore, and working abroad shouldn’t sacrifice that. Make sure you have good nomad insurance as well to cover any health expenses abroad. SafetyWing is a pretty good company that has a plan specifically for nomads.
We also live in one of the safest countries in the world, and this might make us complacent. Wherever you go, it is always nice to walk about in a safe city without having to be on alert all the time.
6) Availability of Co-working Spaces
Working in your room or apartment can get lonely, and co-working spaces can help you meet other fellow nomads for you to hang out with after work. They also offer ergonomic chairs, tables, and facilities that you might find more enjoyable than a cafe or hotel seat.
I am extremely introverted and enjoy working alone at home but at some point, I’ll head to a cafe and work there instead just to have contact with fellow human beings!
7) Cultural and Recreational Opportunities
What will you do in your spare time? How will you interact with locals and learn about their culture? Friendly locals and boundless recreational opportunities are key to a balanced, happy remote working life.
Work-life balance is even more important if you’re working all alone at home during the day. If you can, establish a routine that includes plenty of recreational activities and try sticking to it.
My typical day consists of working till the mid or late afternoon, then going on a long walk, doing yoga, or a small hike. During the weekends, I try to take an overnight trip and explore some of the surrounding towns and cities.
Do you like hot or cold weather? Bali and Chiang Mai are hot almost all year round, while countries in Europe have seasons so you might have to move around a little if you don’t like summer or winter.
I like the cold, and my favourite season is fall, which is now! During the summers, I’ll head to higher elevations where the heat tends to be milder.
How has remote work affected traditional office setups?
During and after the pandemic, remote work has skyrocketed and there are more digital nomads than ever. Companies now have employees all over the world remotely working full-time, while the number of freelancers has also shot up.
Many offices have downsized their spaces as more employees work from home or remotely. Companies can now tap into the global talent pool and have a workforce based in other countries.
Is there still a stigma against digital nomads?
While most locals are welcoming towards digital nomads and the expat community, there might be some who complain that the prices are increasing, especially in cities with a lower standard of living. Our demand for accommodation and dining can drive prices up, forcing locals who are earning less to move away from city centres.
In some cultures, there might still be a stigma and scepticism associated with digital nomads. However, most of the local population will agree that nomads bring increased revenue to the community and remote working is now seen as a legitimate way of living and a win-win for both sides.
Becoming a digital nomad has become the dream of many people worldwide. In today’s interconnected world, working remotely has never been easier. I certainly enjoy my nomadic lifestyle and will probably never be office-bound again.
We hope that you’re inspired to start your nomad journey and see the world. Happy travels!
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