The Internet has freed millions of workers from the daily commute. At health insurer Aetna Inc., education services company Kaplan Inc., and several other major US corporations, more than half of all employees regularly clock in from home. The prevalence of high-speed Internet has also led to the emergence of another, though much smaller, cohort of modern professionals known as “digital nomads.” Few of these individuals work full time for a single company. Many provide knowledge-based services, such as app or website development, to several clients. Others are entrepreneurs who have set up online stores.
While the typical telecommuter lives in the same region as his or
her employer, digital nomads—as the term implies—can and do roam. Most
require nothing more than a laptop and a reliable Internet connection to
work and so take advantage of their mobility by staying in places where
the cost of living is lower, or the weather better, than at home.
Clusters of digital nomads can be found in Indonesia, Mexico and
Thailand, with the Thai city of Chiang Mai often being described as the
digital nomad capital of the world.
Taiwan, renowned for its cutting-edge information and
communications technology industry, has thousands of public locations
that offer free wireless Internet, including convenience stores, coffee
shops and transportation hubs. According to the website Numbeo, which
claims to be the largest database of user-contributed data about cities
and countries worldwide, consumer prices including rent are around 35
percent lower in Taiwan than in the United States. And last year,
US-based website Lifestyle9 ranked Taiwan as the world’s second-safest
country for expatriates.
“Taiwan ought to be a digital nomad’s paradise,” waxes a May 2015 article ("10 great co-working spaces in Taiwan") on Tech in Asia, a site describing itself as “the online
community for Asia’s technology and startup ecosystem.” The article
praises Taiwan’s “ultra-efficient urban infrastructure, affordable
prices ... and jaw-dropping Internet speeds.”
But according to digital nomad Greg Hung, Taiwan is often
overlooked by roaming professionals. “I was fortunate in that I have
Taiwanese friends in Vancouver. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come here,”
says the Canadian national, who decided to relocate to Taipei after
visiting to attend a friend’s wedding. “The country is safe and
affordable, and I wanted to learn Chinese while figuring out my
(Click here for a videotaped discussion about Taipei between Hung and another digital nomad.)
Hung arrived in August 2013 and stayed for almost two years. He
now lives in Chiang Mai, running various online businesses related to
video. He films and licenses stock footage in addition to teaching video
courses through platforms such as Udemy, an online learning
marketplace. “Taiwan is well located, just a cheap flight from Japan,
Korea, Singapore and Thailand,” he notes.
Not all facets of Taiwanese society are accommodating to this
modern nomadic lifestyle, however. Hung says he was discouraged by
certain aspects of Taiwan’s work culture. “It’s still very traditional
in that people are expected to work for companies,” he states. “I was
asked so many times what I do, and when I explained I’m an Internet
entrepreneur, even younger Taiwanese didn’t really get it.”
He says one of the main problems faced by digital nomads coming
to Taiwan is that renting apartments, particular on a short-term basis,
can be quite inconvenient. “In Chiang Mai, it’s easy to get a one-month
rental contract,” he notes. “Also, Taiwan is generally more expensive
than Thailand, and the digital nomad community is very small.”
According to the website Nomad List, typical living expenses for a
digital nomad in Chiang Mai are US$510 per month. The same website
gives a figure of US$1,282 per month for Taipei, US$760 for the central
city of Taichung, and US$455 for Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. On his
website Chicvoyage Travel, Hung says a digital nomad in Taipei who is
single can live quite comfortably on US$1,070 per month...
The photo was supplied by and shows Ian Serlin, an American digital nomad who recently spent time in Taipei with his girlfriend. Serlin's comments can be found in the second half of this longish article, which can be read in its entirety here.
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