Although the digital nomad movement is still relatively new, we are starting to see shifts in the popularity of various cities. The characteristics that make a city attractive to nomads can change within a matter of just a few years. Once-affordable destinations gentrify and become expensive. Previously unknown towns become exciting as revitalization projects are completed. Places that had terrible internet for years focus on installing high-speed gigabit fiber connections.
Digital nomad hotspots tend to share the following three characteristics:
- Exciting / Lots going on
- Good internet
In this article, we’ll explore five digital nomad destinations on the rise in 2020. Move over Chiang Mai – there are a whole host of new contenders entering the arena!
Da Nang, Vietnam – Could it be the new Chiang Mai?
Southeast Asia has long been a top spot on both the nomad and backpacker circuits. For decades, Thailand has been far and away the top choice for travelers to the region. The country’s unique culture, delicious food, gorgeous beaches, and affordable prices are major attractions. Chiang Mai, in the north of the country, even developed a reputation as the top nomad destination in the world.
But all that might be changing soon. In recent years, Thailand has been making it more and more difficult for foreigners to extend their visas. It’s also becoming more expensive and a cliché hub for digital nomad “posers.” For these reasons (and a few others), long-term travelers are looking for a new home-base in SEA.
Enter Da Nang, Vietnam. Vietnam – and Da Nang, in particular, is emerging as a strong competitor to Thailand for several reasons. Vietnam has many of the same benefits of Thailand without some of the major drawbacks.
Vietnamese law allows many foreigners to stay for months or even up to a year with little hassle. While it’s true you have to apply for and pay for a tourist visa ahead of time, Vietnam’s maximum length of stay is longer than Thailand’s standard 30 days. A 90-day multiple-entry visa is available for most passport holders for about $85 USD total. US citizens even have the option of a full year multiple entry visa for $190 USD.
Unlike Chiang Mai, Da Nang is located on the coast, with fantastic beaches within easy reach. In terms of affordability, Da Nang once again beats Chiang Mai: the overall cost of living is 15% lower according to Numbeo.
There are some downsides to living in Da Nang, however. The meteoric rise of this city of 1.1 million comes hand in hand with massive (and loud) construction projects. Besides the noise pollution, air quality is low and there are issues with mold, water cleanliness, and food hygiene.
Porto, Portugal – Can it compete with Lisbon?
Portugal has been a regular stop on the nomad trail for quite some time now. The capital Lisbon has so much to offer that travelers often end up arriving there and never wanting to leave. As Lisbon continues to grow in popularity, some nomads are looking for a less hectic and more affordable option with many of the same great qualities.
Consider Porto as an up-and-coming alternative. It’s the second-largest city in Portugal with 230,000 residents (great news for all you second city travelers like us) and is located along the coast in the north of the country.
Porto has all the things nomads are looking for. Besides the trifecta of affordability, excitement, and internet quality, Porto is easy to access and get around with lots of cafés and co-working spaces to choose from. A scenic city built up around the Douro River, Porto is famous for its bridges and its old town center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also known for its wine and is the home of the Port variety. For you socialities out there, the city’s recent growth in popularity is fantastic. Meetup groups are exploding, so it’s easy to connect with fellow travelers in this beautiful city.
One significant drawback of Porto is its climate. The winter months and even parts of spring and summer are cold and rainy, leaving July and August as the nicest months by far to visit. This is a very competitive time for tourism in Europe and could end up making your trip to Porto relatively pricey.
Tbilisi, Georgia – Already popular and still growing
For a small, relatively unknown country, Georgia has been making a lot of noise on the nomad scene over recent years. Georgia is located across the Black Sea from Bulgaria and Romania, with Russia to the north and Turkey to the south. Along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is situated in a region referred to as the Caucasus. This enigmatic area exists on the edge of cultures and draws from diverse influences across Europe, the Middle-East, and Asia. Georgia itself is generally considered part of Europe due to its cultural and religious traditions.
Nomads are choosing to head to Georgia and its capital Tbilisi in particular for many reasons. For starters, prices in Tbilisi are extremely cheap whether you compare it to its European or Asian counterparts. For example, the overall cost of living in Tbilisi is a whopping 40% lower than Athens and 28% lower than Chiang Mai according to Numbeo.
In Tbilisi, you can enjoy a mix of eastern and western influences. Georgian food is uniquely delicious. As a city of 1.5 million people, there are always social opportunities in Tbilisi as evidenced by the highly active Facebook and Couchsurfing groups. If you’re into trekking, you’ll enjoy Georgia’s rugged and beautiful countryside.
Georgia is very business-friendly and open to foreigners. Many, including Americans, can arrive in Georgia and stay for up to a year at a time. Opening a bank account as a foreigner is also quite easy. And Georgians, on the whole, are very welcoming to foreigners who take the initiative to come to their little country in the Caucasus.
The main thing making us hesitate to visit Tbilisi, honestly, is the tenacious lead problem. Exposure to environmental lead is over six times higher in Georgia compared to other major European nations such as the U.K. and Germany. Just something to be aware of and research before committing to live there for an extended period of time.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – An affordable, world-class city
The most popular destination for nomads in South America is arguably Medellín, Colombia. But Buenos Aires, Argentina has a romantic allure for many (including us). Famous for its mate drinking and tango dancing, Argentina is a curious blend of European and indigenous influences. As the country’s capital and largest city with a population of 2.9 million, it’s a buzzing hub of life and culture. There’s a neverending array of restaurants, nightlife, and festivities to keep visitors occupied during their stay.
There are many reasons why nomads love living in Buenos Aires. Recently it has skyrocketed in the nomad rankings because of the collapse of the Argentinian peso beginning in the spring of 2018. When we lived there in 2016, one US dollar was equivalent to about 14 pesos. As of February 2020, one dollar is now worth a staggering 62 pesos! This massive shift turned what was a fairly expensive city for us into one of the best nomad deals on the planet.
From personal experience, it was super easy to meet people and make friends with both locals and fellow travelers in Buenos Aires. Social groups on Meetup, Couchsurfing, and Facebook are very active. Argentinians love to party and stay out late, so you’ll never be at a loss if you crave nightlife. It truly is a city that never sleeps.
One great benefit of Argentina is the reverse seasons, so many nomads head south for the winter to avoid the cold. It can get sweltering in January, though, so be careful! As with many places, the shoulder months are the best time to visit.
The main downside to living in Buenos Aires is the heightened risk of petty theft compared to some safer parts of the world. We’re not saying B.A. is unsafe – just use a little more common sense than normal. The economic volatility has put some people in desperate situations.
Bansko, Bulgaria – Nomads’ little (not so secret) secret
Most nomads who find themselves in Europe will at some point make their way over to the Balkan region. Many of the countries in this part of Europe are still not part of the open-borders Schengen region. Due to length of stay restrictions for the majority of Europe, finding non-Schengen countries is key for non-European Union nomads to extend their stay on the continent.
Bulgaria is part of the EU but has yet to be approved to join the Schengen zone. This, among other qualities, makes it a very popular destination for nomads. It’s also one of the most affordable EU countries to live in and has very fast internet connectivity. There are many locations within Bulgaria that are popular with nomads including the capital Sofia and historic Plovdiv.
What is it then about the little mountain town of Bansko that makes it so popular?
By far the smallest town on this list with a permanent population of only 13,000, Bansko is a tourist haven. Its primary attraction is skiing. It boasts excellent ski slopes that rival those of France and Switzerland at only a fraction of the price.
Whether or not you love skiing, the abundance of winter tourism means a glut of hotels and resorts that are left nearly vacant in the summer. Good news for nomads who love great off-season deals and fresh mountain air! The Bansko tourist infrastructure is convenient even in the summer. There are more restaurant choices and conveniences than would normally be available in a town of this size.
Every year more and more digital nomads make an annual trip to this quaint and walkable town to enjoy the great weather and low cost of living. In fact, so many people flock to Bansko that in 2020 organizers planned a massive Nomad Fest! We certainly cannot wait to make the pilgrimage to Bansko as soon as possible.
One drawback to living in Bansko is – you guessed it – its size. Big city people might find themselves bored with the small number of people. And if you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience, well, Bansko probably isn’t your best bet.