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The Most Affordable Cities in Southeast Asia for Digital Nomads

Updated 19 May 2023

In this digital age, where location independence is not just a possibility but increasingly a norm, Southeast Asia emerges as a promising destination for digital nomads. Offering a unique blend of affordability, cultural richness and technological readiness, cities across this region are attracting global citizens who marry their wanderlust with their professional commitments.

This article presents a comprehensive look at five of the most affordable cities in Southeast Asia for digital nomads – Johor Bahru, Malaysia; Yangon, Myanmar; Hanoi, Vietnam; Davao City, Philippines; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We'll explore their cost of living indices, internet connectivity and the unique lifestyle opportunities they provide.

For costs of living, we've used data from the crowdsourced Numbeo, and we use data from the Speedtest Global Index by Ookla for connectivity.

1. Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Numbeo Speedtest
Cost of Living Index Rent Index Groceries Index Restaurant Price Index Local Purchasing Power Index Mobile Rank Mobile (Mbps) Fixed Line Rank Fixed Line (Mbps)
7.5 39.2 20.6 62.3 46 67.12 54 95.58 34.7

As a gateway to Singapore, Johor Bahru (known as JB) is a hidden Malaysian gem for digital nomads seeking affordability without compromising on essential amenities. JB is the capital of the state of Johor and is one of the cheapest cities in Southeast Asia. With a Numbeo cost of living index of 34.7, JB falls somewhere between the cost of living in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Casablanca, Morocco. Notably, this city, while offering the significantly lower cost of living in Malaysia, is only a stone's throw away from the highly developed and bustling city-state of Singapore, thus offering access to numerous opportunities for networking and exploration.

Internet connectivity, a critical aspect for digital nomads, doesn't fall short in JB either. Its mobile internet speed ranks 46th worldwide, ensuring that on-the-go connectivity is well-catered for. As for fixed broadband, it sits comfortably within the top quarter of global rankings, providing a reliable and fast connection for those working hours at home or in co-working spaces. This makes the city a budget-friendly option and a practical one for the tech-savvy and remote working community.

JB also offers a rich cultural tapestry of experiences that make it a uniquely appealing destination. From delightful local food stalls and markets offering a wide range of products to various cultural landmarks such as the Old Chinese Temple and the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque, digital nomads have much to explore and appreciate in their free time. Coupled with the city's warm and welcoming residents, Johor Bahru provides a rich living experience that goes beyond the practical needs of work and cost-effectiveness.

2. Yangon, Myanmar

Numbeo Speedtest
Cost of Living Index Rent Index Groceries Index Restaurant Price Index Local Purchasing Power Index Mobile Rank Mobile (Mbps) Fixed Line Rank Fixed Line (Mbps)
35.5 21.9 38.7 19.7 26.4 103 29.43 155 19.27

Stepping into the vivid world of Yangon, digital nomads find a city that's a kaleidoscope of cultural wonders, colonial architecture, and modern dynamism. Yangon, Myanmar, stands out as the second most affordable city in Southeast Asia for digital nomads, making it an appealing destination for those seeking a cost-effective yet vibrant lifestyle. With a Numbeo cost of living index of 35.5, Yangon offers an affordable environment that falls somewhere between Gaborone in Botswana and Quito in Ecuador, an enticing mix of affordability and charm.

Although the country is grappling with development challenges, Yangon, as its largest city, showcases an impressive pace of modernisation without losing its cultural heritage. A digital nomad in Yangon can expect an authentic Burmese experience paired with the conveniences of a connected world. With a global ranking that places it roughly in the middle for mobile internet speed, nomads can stay connected on their smartphones while experiencing the city. While its fixed broadband speed might not break records, it's enough to meet the needs of typical online work, indicating that Yangon has worked hard to embrace the digital age, fostering an environment conducive to a location-independent lifestyle.

Beyond work, life in Yangon offers a myriad of enriching experiences. The Shwedagon Pagoda, a glistening golden landmark, is an iconic sight and a reflection of the deep spirituality woven into the city's fabric. Yangon's streets are lined with vibrant markets, food stalls serving delicious Burmese cuisine, and tea houses – a nod to the city's colonial past. From sampling delicious street food to discovering ancient temples and bustling markets, Yangon offers a wealth of experiences that blend seamlessly with a remote work lifestyle.

3. Hanoi, Vietnam

Numbeo Speedtest
Cost of Living Index Rent Index Groceries Index Restaurant Price Index Local Purchasing Power Index Mobile Rank Mobile (Mbps) Fixed Line Rank Fixed Line (Mbps)
36.8 11.8 37.3 18.5 36.5 70 44.14 62 93.06

Hanoi, the heart of Vietnam, stands as an epitome of an affordable and dynamic city, offering a marriage of history and modernity. With a Numbeo cost of living index of 36.8, Hanoi provides digital nomads with a budget-friendly environment somewhere between Johannesburg in South Africa and Curitiba, Brazil. Digital nomads can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without burning a hole in their pockets, while exploring the city's rich cultural heritage and modern attractions.

In addition to its cost-effectiveness, Hanoi boasts respectable mobile and fixed broadband speeds, catering to the connectivity needs of digital nomads. With a mobile rank of 70 and a median mobile broadband speed of 44 Mbps, individuals can rely on reliable and fast internet connections on their smartphones and other mobile devices. This ensures they can stay productive, connected and engaged, whether working remotely or exploring the city's hidden gems. Furthermore, Hanoi's high fixed broadband speed allows for seamless online experiences in the comfort of one's home or designated workspaces.

Beyond its cost-effectiveness and connectivity, Hanoi offers a captivating blend of tradition and modernity. The city's bustling markets, serene lakes and ancient temples create a unique ambience that digital nomads can immerse themselves in while enjoying the conveniences of contemporary amenities. From indulging in delectable street food to discovering historical landmarks and vibrant nightlife, Hanoi presents a multitude of enriching activities that make work-life balance an attainable reality.

4. Davao City, Philippines

Numbeo Speedtest
Cost of Living Index Rent Index Groceries Index Restaurant Price Index Local Purchasing Power Index Mobile Rank Mobile (Mbps) Fixed Line Rank Fixed Line (Mbps)
37.2 7.5 37.5 22.0 19.3 140 19.78 65 92.80

Davao City, a jewel of the Philippines, nestles comfortably as the fourth most budget-friendly city in Southeast Asia for digital nomads, offering an attractive combination of affordability and quality of life. It boasts a Numbeo cost of living index of 37.2, similar to Guangzhou in China, allowing digital wanderers to maximise their resources amidst the city's plentiful attractions.

While Davao City might not top the charts in mobile internet speeds, it offers acceptable performance for on-the-move digital connectivity. Coupled with a commendable fixed broadband speed nearly paralleling those of Hanoi and JB, it facilitates robust, swift connections, a cornerstone for remote workspaces. However, prospective digital nomads should note that the mobile internet speeds may not be top-tier, as indicated by its global ranking.

Davao City is not just cost effective and well connected; it showcases the Philippines' aesthetic appeal with its awe-inspiring landscapes, untouched beaches and lively local culture. Professionals choosing to wander can partake in the enticing local cuisine, lose themselves in the warm hospitality characteristic of the Filipino people, or bask in the diverse natural beauty surrounding them.

5. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Numbeo Speedtest
Cost of Living Index Rent Index Groceries Index Restaurant Price Index Local Purchasing Power Index Mobile Rank Mobile (Mbps) Fixed Line Rank Fixed Line (Mbps)
37.5 15.6 38.0 20.0 28.5 63 48.68 59 93.82

Ho Chi Minh City, located in Vietnam, proudly holds the position as the fifth most viable city in Southeast Asia for digital nomads, providing an enticing combination of affordability and urban vibrancy. With a Numbeo cost of living index of 37.5, Ho Chi Minh City offers a cost-effective environment that falls somewhere between Lima in Peru and Lagos in Nigeria, allowing digital nomads to enjoy a high standard of living without straining their budgets.

Not only is Ho Chi Minh City affordable, but it also offers impressive internet connectivity, catering to the needs of digital nomads. With mobile broadband speeds that rank 63rd globally, residents can rely on a fairly reliable and fast internet connection on their mobile devices. Furthermore, Ho Chi Minh City's high fixed broadband speeds place it within the top 60 globally, providing stable and high-speed internet access for residents in their homes or co-working spaces, such as Dreamplex or CirCO, popular among the city's thriving digital nomad community.

Beyond its affordability and connectivity, Ho Chi Minh City boasts a captivating melange of rich history, bustling markets and a vibrant culinary scene. Digital nomads can explore iconic landmarks such as the War Remnants Museum or Ben Thanh Market, indulge in delectable street food like the famous banh mi, and experience the city's energetic atmosphere. Residents often commend the friendly and welcoming nature of the locals, which adds to the city's appeal to foreigners.

Last word

Navigating through the digital nomad lifestyle is an exciting journey, and Southeast Asia, with its affordable living, engaging culture, and evolving technological landscape, presents an intriguing chapter of this journey. From the cultural tapestry of Johor Bahru to the bustling energy of Ho Chi Minh City, these cities offer a cost-effective lifestyle and enriching experiences that augment the work-life balance.

The blend of historic charm and modern amenities makes these cities an ideal backdrop for digital nomads to weave their stories. As the world continues to shrink through digital connectivity, Southeast Asia stands tall as a region that marries the old and the new, providing a nurturing ground for the digital nomad community.

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