How to Choose Your City to Live as a Digital Nomad


Updated on Nov 26 • 5 minute read

The world that we live in is rapidly changing, which means that the way that young professionals choose to work is also evolving. We are seeing less and less of time clocks and 9-to-5 work days, and anxiously scrambling to build up time off so that you can look forward to a few days on holiday. In fact, many people are opting not to go into the office at all, or even work for one singular company. Instead, people are moving abroad and working overseas.

But let’s start at the beginning when the structure of the workplace began to change. As companies began to grow their online networks and transfer their data digitally, it became possible for employees to work a day or two from home, until eventually many just came into the office for meetings or to work on team projects.

And then came the rise of the freelancer. Freelancing has actually been around for a while, but it became a real way of life when people began freelancing abroad. This basically meant that they could choose who they worked for, when they worked for them and, perhaps most importantly, WHERE they worked for them. As a freelancer, you can work for one large corporation on a singular project, or you can have multiple clients that you collaborate with, often on a daily basis.

As freelancing really began to catch on, yet another innovative way to work began to take shape, which led to the birth of the term “digital nomad.” This type of freelancer will not only work where they desire, but they will literally pick up and move every few months, looking for any destination that offers affordable housing, whether it be an apartment just outside of Berlin or a shared house in Helsinki. They can work from home, a local coffee house or the popular coworking spaces that are popping up all over the globe.

Many digital nomads work in creative niches, as writers, graphic designers, website hosts and other technological pursuits. Having a change of scenery can really help keep the creative juices flowing, so seeing a different city out of your window every few months can be just the cure for writer’s block or when you’re hitting a brick wall on a design scheme for your latest project.

But what are some of the best cities for freelancers? Do you want a modern city like Amsterdam, or do you enjoy the idea of surrounding yourself with history in a flat in Florence? Let’s explore a few ways to best choose your city to live as a digital nomad!

Consider safety

When you’re deciding on which city to live in as a digital nomad, safety should probably be somewhere close to the top of your list of important things to look for. But the good news is that you’ll easily find a long list of safe cities abroad. When looking for a safe city, there is a lot that goes into consideration, including:

  • Crime in the city
  • Safety of the public transportation system
  • Lack of scammers
  • Attitude toward expats
  • Evaluations from international students

In the most recent study, Vienna tops the list, which also includes other busy cosmopolitan destinations like Madrid.

When you’re looking for a neighborhood in your new city, be sure to check online reviews that include ratings for safety, or work with a trusted housing platform that will provide detailed information on listings.

Research the requirements for a work visa

Be sure to completely understand what will be required of you to gain a work visa. This may require a bit of research, as that each country’s requirements are different, and some may not be as strict as others. Due to globalization, things are also a little easier than they once were, but you’re still going to need to make sure that you have all of the proper documentation that is required.

For example, if you’ll be staying in Rotterdam for more than four months, you’ll need to apply to register with the Municipal Personal Records Database. You’ll need to make an appointment to apply at the town hall, but you’ll only need a work permit if you aren’t an EU/EEA national, so the process is very hassle-free, as it is in many countries. Just be sure to research each country’s requirements.

Learn about the city’s culture

Since this is going to be your new home for at least a few months, you’re going to want to explore the city’s culture and be sure that the environment is going to be something that you can acclimate to fairly quickly. Of course, this may depend somewhat on the particular type of work that you do, but your personality and lifestyle will also be a key component. If you’re part of the LGBT community, be sure to learn more about some of the LGBT communities in cities that are of interest.

You may decide that you want to experience a culture that is completely different from back home, or you may want to work in an environment that is somewhat familiar, yet still distinctly unique.

Decide on a climate

The weather can play a big role in making your decision, and it can also determine how physically comfortable you will be in your new city. Maybe you’re looking for a warm climate close to the Mediterranean Sea, like Barcelona, or perhaps you want a change and are thinking about a cooler climate.

Look up typical weather patterns, and research the average temperatures and precipitation. If you like to ride a bicycle to get around, keep this in mind when looking at a city’s climate.

Think about language barriers

The great news is that if you speak some English, you can typically get by in cities that are popular for their thriving expat communities. Areas with large universities are also a good spot to pick when you’re not sure about overcoming the language barrier.

However, if you are interested in a locale where you aren’t completely fluent in the language, don’t let that stop you! If you’re thinking about a city in the Netherlands, pick up a few language tips to help get you by. If you love the idea of Germany or Austria in the winter, a few basic German phrases will definitely come in handy.

Of course, you can always find areas where the language barrier won’t be a problem, but with helpful language apps like Babbel or Duolingo, you should be good to go!

Go over your budget

When you begin looking for your next city to work in as a digital nomad or a freelancer, it’s a good time to look over your finances and set up a budget. You’ll need to know what funds you have available for your moving expenses, as well as day-to-day living once you arrive. A few important things to keep in mind include:

  • Housing Be sure to understand your rental agreement, especially if utilities will be included in the price. If you want to save a little on rent, think about staying a little outside of the city center.
  • Transportation - Look into public transportation options to avoid having to pay high parking rates or to budget for automobile upkeep. Also, consider buying a secondhand bicycle to get you around.
  • Food - When eating out, try out some of the local happy hours. If you’re preparing meals at home, check out the markets or discount grocery stores.

Keep your work opportunities in mind

Even though you may be working remotely, some cities may have more to offer for your individual needs. For example, Rotterdam is really popular with tech companies, so if this is your freelancing niche, it may be a great place to network and pick up a few extra clients.

And speaking of networking, research which cities offer coworking spaces, as that this is a fantastic way to meet other like-minded freelancers and maybe even learn a few new things that you can use in your own work. For example, if you’re a content writer, sharing workspace with someone who specializes in SEO could be extremely beneficial.

Now that you are armed with a few tips on what to look for if you’ve decided to live as a digital nomad or for freelancing abroad, making the leap toward working overseas should be an easy one. The good news is that as long as you have a strong internet connection and can attain a few clients who will allow you to work remotely, freelancing abroad can be a viable employment option.

Plus, you can see the world, have plenty of memorable experiences and even live abroad for as long as you like. Whether you decide to eat your way through the chocolates of Brussels or dress in the latest fashions in Milan, there’s an entire world out there to explore. So, how cool is it that you can get paid while doing it?

Safe travels!