The buzzing South East Asian hub of Bangkok is currently ranked the top city for digital nomads to live and work in by Nomadlist.com, ahead of Barcelona and Berlin.
Faster internet, cheaper flights and the changing nature of work are driving thousands of people to leave their jobs and move to exotic locations to work independently - as digital nomads. Many are coming to Thailand.
In recent years authorities there have attempted to address the growing problem of digital freelancers and entrepreneurs that work illegally, by tightening requirements for education visas or by introducing stricter measures to prevent border runs.
In a new move in August the Thai cabinet endorsed a smart visa for skilled professionals and investors (including start-ups) valid for up to four years in fields deemed helpful to advancing Thailand’s high-tech development.
The measure follows the introduction in 2014 by Estonia of its e-Residents Visa, which allows those based in other countries to register a company in Estonia and continue operating outside of the Baltic state, while taking advantage of the country’s EU status to enter the European market.
A once-off fee of €100 ($118) is levied for the visa. By early this month over 27,000 such visas had been issued to people from 143 countries. About 40% of applicants apply for the visa to set up and run a location-independent business. The remainder are base in Estonia (Tallinn, the capital is ranked 119 by Nomadlist).
Affordable stay, fast internet
In measuring a city's attractiveness for digital nomads, Nomadlist.com's ranking considers a range of indicators. These include everything from a city's quality of life to whether the city is female friendly. Crucial is affordability and internet speed.
For example Bangkok has at an average cost of $1,232 a month for foreigners who stay in affordable accommodation and with an internet speeds of 40 mbps.
To lure foreign entrepreneurs to freelancers it also helps for a city to have a good nightlife and to offer plenty of fun attractions. Bangkok, Berlin and Barcelona all do that.
Bangkok is also an easy place to start a business. It takes just five days in Thailand to do so, according to the World Bank's latest Doing Business rankings. This is faster than Germany's average of 11 days or Spain's 13 days.
While most cities in Africa and South America are ranked lower down, Taghazout in Morocco is at ninth place and Cape Town at 46. Panama City (33) is the top Latin American one, while Buenos Aires is at 64 and São Paulo at 118.
Make them stay, set up
It's not clear what the benefits are for a city to attract more digital nomads. On the one hand because most stay only a short while, few pay tax directly to their host countries (but contribute via tax levied on the goods and services they buy).
Yet there's always the chance that a good number of digital nomads will stay on. Allowing them easier access to visas may entice more to stay on and even set up a business.
If these firms are then able to bring new knowledge and ideas while creating jobs and contributing tax revenue, then authorities should be doing more to attract such people to their cities and ensuring that a good number stay.
For instance Chile in April launched a tech visa (see this post). Its capital Santiago may host one of the world's top government accelerators (Start-Up Chile) and is only little bit more expensive than Bangkok (at $1,326) - yet it is at 405 spot in Nomad List's rankings.
It remains to be seen whether the new visa will make the city more attractive for what are often effectively travellers looking to combine work with a good time. Making one the continent's blandest capital's more fun might help more than just introducing special visas.
Best overall digital nomad cities according to Nomad List (with nomad cost)
1. Bangkok, Thailand ($1,232)
2. Barcelona, Spain ($2,154)
3. Berlin, Germany ($1,989)
4. Chiang Mai, Thailand ($907)
5. Canggu, Indonesia ($1,109)
6. Dallas, US ($2,190)
7.Budapest, Hungary ($1,343)
8. Miami, US ($2,902)
9. Taghazout, Morocco ($973)
10.Kuala Lumpur ($1,041)
Timm is a South African who writes on small business in emerging economies. Follow Small Business Insight on Twitter at @Smallbinsight and on Facebook.
Stephen Timm is a