Being a Digital Nomad is a growing trend and hugely appealing to a large number of people. The ability to see the wonders of the world whilst earning a living is the idea of the perfect life for a growing number of the working population.
Asia is high up on the places to visit for the digital nomad, but before getting carried away with the idea of beautiful beaches and eye-catching skylines, it’s important to consider the practicalities of leading a location independent lifestyle in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
Cost of Living
Whilst amazing, Singapore is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world; however, there are ways to work there without breaking the bank.
Food & Travel
For food, head to the Maxwell Food Centre in Kadayanallur Street where you’ll be able to pick up noodles, rice and vegetables for a very reasonable price. For getting around the city’s shopping malls, a free bus shuttle is offered during lunch hours and at weekends, and if you ever need to get a taxi (such extravagance!) using them at non-peak times is the cheapest option.
Being a Digital Nomad without the Internet is like being a shepherd without sheep. Ideally, you will be looking for free, reliable and fast Wi-Fi. Head to any McDonalds and you’ll be able to log on for free and you’ll also find numerous retail chains with Internet access for tourists.
If you’re staying longer term, you’ll need to sign up to one of the three national internet providers, but be aware you will need your passport and a local cell phone number to do so. Singapore’s Internet speed is in the top ten of the world so you’re unlikely to have any issues with slow connection speeds.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Hong Kong can also be high. A top tip is to get an Octopus Card. This will not only allow you to travel without carrying cash, but it can also be used to buy goods from businesses where the ‘reward’ system allows you to receive cash rewards in return for using the card.
If you have problems sourcing/using the Internet in Hong Kong, you should reconsider your choice to be a Digital Nomad. Not only do they have the fastest connection speeds in the world (with an average peak speed of 54.1 megabits/second) but connectivity is easy and mostly free.
The government provides a free Wi-Fi service (GovWifi), which is available throughout most of the city, leaving you with the sole dilemma of where to work. Pretty much all major tourist attractions come with free Wi-Fi too.
Cost of Living
The larger cities are not too dissimilar to Hong Kong and Singapore in cost (expensive), although if you don’t mind living in suburbia you should be able to survive on around $1,000 a month. This cost can be further reduced by 50% or more if you decide to live outside the city limits.
Whilst free Wi-Fi is relatively easy to find in the big cities, it may be harder to find connection in more rural areas. When you do find connection, be aware that the speed provided is slower than the global average, which can be frustrating. Many digital nomads opt for Starbucks, which has the one of the more reliable connections.
China also heavily regulates its Internet access (Twitter, Facebook and even Gmail may be restricted). You will need to use a VPN network to circumvent this, so using the Internet here can be limited and not without its frustrations.
Regardless of which country you’re in, you may want to think about purchasing a separate USB dongle with global Internet connectivity.
So where do you rest your head? In all three locations there are various options available.
Airbnb has become the go-to choice for nomads and will allow you to find accommodation for as cheap as $10/night.
Be aware that during holiday times, you may need to book in advance so be organised to ensure you have somewhere to stay.
Tripping.com is a comparison site that compares the short-term rentals across a variety of sources, allowing you to compare prices from multiple providers.
The forum on Nomad List also has some great advice from experienced travellers who recommend safe and affordable places to stay.
Other Asia Locations for Digital Nomads
Becoming a digital nomad is a brave and exciting choice to make, and the communities in Ubud (Bali), Chang Mai (Thailand) and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) ensure that whether you’re after city life, beautiful beaches or mountain retreats, Asia can cater for all tastes. Plus, if you end up not liking your first choice, then your next adventure is just a short trip away.
A former journalist and scriptwriter, Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Enterprises. Helping businesses and with company formation and incorporation, while providing advice for location independent entrepreneurs on how to become a digital nomad.