Best Countries: The Cheapest, Safest, And Friendliest Places For Freelancers (Or Anyone) To Live And Work

By   |  June 7, 2014

The New Age of Freelancers is upon us, whether you like it or not. With over 40% of America’s workforce predicted to be “freelancers” by the year 2020, and the infamous Great Recession still far from over, companies continue cutting costs (risks) wherever possible, making salary an unpredictable variable for those seeking work.

See also: ‘New Age’ Of Freelancers: How Benefits And Company Loyalty Were Replaced By Flexibility, Insecurity

This conundrum is inherently true for those who make the majority of their money online: web designers, digital marketers, eCommerce gurus, bloggers, and the like. Almost inevitably, these types of interchangeable online services wind up being a client/freelancer relationship – or, for the bravest, a self-determined solo project. Without benefits, or even a predictable monthly income, many freelancers quickly lose hope and end up earning an hourly wage at the nearest Starbucks or Costco.

However, cheap plane tickets, international credit cards, PayPal, smartphones, and emerging web-based tools have made it relatively easy for the most dedicated freelancers to travel the globe and leave behind the traditional 9-to-5 work week – often supported by their online income (or not – the same goes for English teachers, scuba diving instructors, and dozens of other freelance-oriented skills).

Measuring Country Data: Where To Begin?

The funny thing about “lists” – especially regarding countries – is that 90% of the articles you come across online seem to have little justification for why they include certain countries on their list. Kimeshan Naidoo, an electric engineer from South Africa who now lives and works offshore in Abu Dhabi, had a better idea.

Naidoo, collecting data published by the World Economic Forum, an “international institution committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation” – and mixing it with free crowd-sourced data from – came up with a list of 15 recommended countries (below) after combining data from the three indexes of safety, friendliness, and cost of living:

Country Overall Rating (Max 1)
1. Macedonia 0.99
2. Georgia 0.98
3. UAE 0.82
4. Morocco 0.80
5. Hong Kong 0.75
6. Montenegro 0.71
7. Malta 0.68
8. Taiwan 0.67
9. Ethiopia 0.63
10. Thailand 0.62
11. Estonia 0.60
12. Sri Lanka 0.59
13. Nepal 0.55
14. Bosnia 0.55
15. Portugal 0.46

Inspired by Naidoo’s approach, I wanted to take it a bit farther. While countries like Macedonia or Georgia may indeed be quite friendly, safe, and cheap, their economies are not particularly strong right now (not a good thing for the entrepreneurial minded), and “commodities” like international ATM machines are in rather limited supply.

Personally, I also don’t believe that countries like the United Arab Emirates – who regularly jail tourists for things like kissing or making jokes – should ever appear on a list of recommended countries. Besides, when half the UAE’s current population is in fact made up of Filipinos, Indians, and other imported workers, it hardly seems right to credit government echelons with maintaining a hospitable environment.

Best Countries For The “Remote” Lifestyle

After exhaustive consideration of dozens of facts, figures, and testimonies, I decided to compile a list of countries based on the following criteria:

To represent my criteria above, I chose the following WEF indexes:

In this way, I broadened both “friendliness” and “safety” by integrating two indexes for them rather than just one, and I included a few key indexes that point to the beauty, health, and growth of IT/eCommerce in each country being compared. Rather than ranking them mathematically, I simply ranked them by how many times they appeared in the top 50 countries for each of the above indexes. Here are my initial results:

Country Appeared in top 50 (Max 8)
1. UAE* 8
2. Portugal 7
2. Hong Kong 7
2. Estonia 7
3. Taiwan 6
3. Malaysia** 6
3. Qatar* 6
3. Oman* 6
4. Puerto Rico 5
4. Spain 5
4. Saudi Arabia* 5
4. Slovenia 5
4. Costa Rica 5
4. Jordan* 5
5. Thailand 4
5. Lithuania 4
5. Bahrain* 4
5. Bosnia 4
5. Chile 4
5. Sri Lanka 4
5. Lebanon 4
5. Montenegro 4
5. Latvia 4
5. Brazil 4
5. Poland 4
5. Gambia** 4

Notice that countries that currently impose Islamic Sharia law are marked with an asterisk. Countries that are moving toward Sharia law are marked with 2 asterisks. Removing those countries, and then ranking the remaining nations by GPD per capita, should give us a better picture of economic opportunity (growth):

Country Where is it lacking? (according to the WEF)
1. Hong Kong environment
2. Taiwan friendliness, environment
3. Spain friendliness, customer service, environment
4. Slovenia friendliness, customer service, eCommerce
5. Portugal customer service
6. Lithuania friendliness, good police, ATMs, sanitation
7. Estonia sanitation
8. Poland friendliness, environment, good police, sanitation
9. Latvia friendliness, customer service, good police, sanitation
10. Chile friendliness, customer service, environment, low crime
11. Puerto Rico good police, low crime, sanitation
12. Lebanon good police, low crime, environment, ecommerce
13. Costa Rica low crime, sanitation, ATMs, eCommerce
14. Brazil low crime, good police, ATMs, sanitation
15. Montenegro customer service, sanitation, eCommerce
16. Thailand environment, good police, low crime, eCommerce
17. Bosnia customer service, sanitation, ATMs, eCommerce
18. Sri Lanka good police, sanitation, ATMs, eCommerce

Finally, I wanted to rearrange my results in a completely unscientific way, based on my own experiences and the hundreds of testimonies I have come across online and in real life. For example, I’m fairly certain most visitors to Thailand or Spain would be shocked to see they are so poorly rated in regard to environment. Likewise, while Hong Kong is surely an amazing place when crunching raw data, it is still a tiny city-state with limited options, which many people feel can become tiring rather quickly. There is also the issue of a high terrorism rate in Lebanon, high crime and disease rates in Brazil, and poor technology scores in Sri Lanka, among other issues. I also wanted countries that are conveniently located, and of decent size, to rank higher overall. Based on common notions like this, I made a final list of the top 15 recommended countries:

Country Reasoning for adjustment (up + down)
1. Portugal great location, ranks well in nearly every index
2. Thailand great location, many startups, crime overrated
3. Taiwan island, average hospitality, society not easy for some
4. Hong Kong good location but small, society not easy for some
5. Estonia okay location, ranks well, impresses most visitors
6. Spain great location, average hospitality, good environment
7. Costa Rica good location, moderate crime, technology is behind
8. Puerto Rico island, okay location, moderate crime, USA backing
9. Slovenia okay location, hospitality is lacking
10. Lithuania okay location, health/ATMs are behind
11. Latvia okay location, many startups, hospitality is underrated
12. Chile okay location, moderate crime, hospitality is lacking
13. Montenegro okay location, sanitation/technology are behind
14. Poland okay location, growing steady, problems overrated
15. Sri Lanka island, difficult location, technology/business are behind

Runners-up: South Africa, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia (3)

Next: Georgia, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Panama, Philippines, Ukraine, Morocco, Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Turkey (2)

Author’s Note: This list may also prove useful to those looking to retire abroad on a modest budget – your goals are usually quite similar to those of entrepreneurs!

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3 Comments on “Best Countries: The Cheapest, Safest, And Friendliest Places For Freelancers (Or Anyone) To Live And Work”  (RSS)

  1. So no mention of the ONE crucial thing that may be of importance?

    A visa or work permit?

    I don’t see Cambodia on the list either. Bullshit list.

    • Maybe I don’t fancy doing border Visa runs every 30 days as a freelancer? A work permit or long-stay visa would be useful. But no mention of that here.

  2. So what about Australia or New Zealend?

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