Tips for working as a digital nomad in Thailand
So you have a dream: sitting on a beach in Thailand watching the sun set as you multitask managing your latest project, talking on Skype with clients back home and updating your Facebook status every hour with another amazing view of your ‘office’, all the while drinking a cold beer that cost you all of $1.
Thailand is beautiful, hospitable and there’s not too many places in the country where a digital nomad can’t access Internet. There are a couple of challenges though. Thailand isn’t the most ‘free WIFI’ friendly country. They’re yet to adopt 3G and the more remote you go the less chance that you’ll get decent coverage, not to mention electricity can be a challenge!
Don’t cancel those cheap flights to Thailand just yet. These are all minor challenges that you can easily overcome, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy those cocktails on the beach.
Book accommodation that includes Internet
This one really goes without saying, but it’s always better to be able to work from where you are staying rather than going out in search of Internet. Depending on where you are staying, free WIFI can be tricky to find.
Who wants to waste half their day trying to find Internet when you can work from your hostel or hotel and put that time to better use on the beach!
Bring a smartphone or USB modem and get a local SIM card
As we’ve mentioned, finding free WIFI in many areas of Thailand can involve a lot of searching. Even on Koh Samui, Thailand’s second most popular beach destination, we struggled to find WIFI outside of our hostel. Not even the usually WIFI-friendly McDonalds and KFC were forthcoming. Perhaps we just struck a bad week!
What Thailand lacks in free WIFI it makes up for with an excellent cellphone network. Thailand is yet to implement 3G but their 2G network is fast and has excellent coverage . Even driving between tiny towns on the southeast coast we had almost continuous cellphone coverage. Between towns it often became too weak to surf the internet but as soon as we neared the next town the signal came back.
Pre-paid SIM cards cost between 50-100 baht while a 3 Gig data plan costs around 650 baht per month. That’s approximately $20 per month. Not bad for 3Gig of data! Of course you can get a smaller data plan but for those of us working online we need a little more than 150 meg for a month don’t we!
Ensuring that you have Internet in Thailand is as simple as bringing an unlocked phone you can tether your laptop too or having a USB dongle modem. Put in a local SIM card and you can work anywhere.
Well almost everywhere …
Location, location, location
It probably goes without saying but the bigger the town or the more touristy a location, the better Internet and network coverage you are going to find.
Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are excellent choices if you need to be connected to reliable Internet.
Chiang Mai in particular is a great choice, with probably more digital nomads currently working from there than the rest of South East Asia put together (OK that’s a complete exaggeration but when you look at the list of people currently there working location independently it sometimes seems like that!)
If those destinations aren’t your idea of a dream work location, look for the best flights to one of smaller cities or a relatively popular destinations. Surat Thani, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi, Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phan Nang.
Just remember – the smaller the town or the more remote a location you choose the more difficulties you are probably going to run into.
Take Koh Lanta for instance. It’s a beautiful island with some lovely remote locations. The problem is the more remote you get the less cellphone signal you have, the less reliable the electricity and more than likely, the slower the Internet. Krabi and Ao Nang are another great example. In the center of town you will have great services. Five kilometers outside of town and you are likely to be on generator electricity. Ten kilometers further and you might not have enough cellphone coverage to surf the Internet.
Almost everyone has a dream of sitting in a bungalow on the beach a million miles from anywhere living a simple life. If you are a digital nomad you might not be able to do that on every secluded beach, but I’m sure they are out there. I have a feeling though that if you did find one then you’ll probably not be forthcoming in sharing the location with everyone!