October 7, 2021

Turns out a freezing island in Norway is pretty great for digital nomads

Svalbard named sixth best place to live as a digital nomad; London ranks 78th.

Éanna Kelly

3 min read

By Sprok - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

London is famed for its history, culture and financial clout. But it’s not a good place to live if you’re a digital nomad.

The city scored a middling 78th out of 100 in a ranking of remote work destinations published by Remote, an HR solutions startup for distributed teams.

But other European destinations picked up the slack, taking six out of the top 10 slots. The most surprising is perhaps Norway’s Svalbard. The remote archipelago’s 3,000 people and 1,000 polar bears (no joke) took sixth place, alongside Madrid [2nd], Madeira [4th], Helsinki [5th], Berlin [8th] and Dublin [9th].

The alcohol is very expensive but the cost of rent is relatively low.

Home to the world’s northernmost church, university and brewery, Svalbard is a place where “the alcohol is very expensive but the cost of rent is relatively low,” says Job van der Voort, Remote CEO and cofounder. It is also one of the few places in the world where anyone can live — citizens of any country are welcome to settle in Svalbard without a visa as long as they have a job and a place to live.

👉 Read: Where are Europe's top digital nomad villages?

At the other end of the scale is London. Despite scoring high for openness to diverse lifestyles, safety and quality of life, the city’s “overall score [was] brought down due to the increased cost of living in the UK city versus other global destinations,” Remote said. Other European cities that fared poorly in the ranking include Budapest [79th], Bratislava [87th] and Warsaw [93rd].

The top 10 cities in full are: Toronto, Madrid, Auckland, Madeira, Helsinki, Svalbard, Berlin, Valparaiso, Dublin and Sydney. Salt Lake City claims 11th spot but US cities don’t feature higher because of tight immigration rules, van der Voort says.

The ‘most open-minded places’ are Stockholm, Toronto and Amsterdam.

Tech workers reassess life

The index comes at a time when tech workers are seeking to move out of big cities as they reassess work and life during the pandemic.

The survey grades cities in every country in the world for quality of internet connection, attractiveness, safety, quality of life, openness, cost of living and incentives for remote workers.

👉 Read: The world's first digital nomad village, one year on

Auckland, Honolulu, Sydney and Reykjavík score among the top destinations with the ‘best quality of life’ for remote workers. The ‘most open-minded places’ are Stockholm, Toronto and Amsterdam.

Italy’s Emilia-Romagna has the largest cash incentive for nomads.

A tool launched alongside the index allows users to dial up and down the importance of these factors and generate a tailored list. If a user prioritises quality of internet connection, for example, the top destination becomes Madrid, while Bucharest and Copenhagen also climb into the top 10.

👉 Read: Europe's most popular digital nomad destinations

In all, the ranking counts 44 countries and 24 US states as having some form of special remote work incentives, in the form of digital nomad visas, tax breaks, relocation payments or housing incentives.

Money or livestock

Nomad schemes are notably different depending on where you go. Aruba, an island in the Caribbean Sea, is adjudged by the Remote ranking to offer the best incentives for digital nomads through its ‘One Happy Workation’ programme.

Remote workers in Cabo Verde, meanwhile, are exempt from income tax, while the lowest monthly income requirement of any country, roughly £300, is offered by Ecuador.


👉 Read: Which European countries offer digital nomad visas?

Some cities want digital nomads to stay long term as part of a rejuvenation push. Italy’s Emilia-Romagna, for example, has the largest cash incentive for nomads, paying parents under 40 almost £25k to relocate. Other cities, that are particularly reliant on tourism, are now also offering visas for digital nomads who want to extend their stay longer than six months.

But it’s Mishima, in central Japan, that has the strangest offering to entice nomads — the choice of a lump sum of roughly $2.7k or a calf.

Éanna Kelly

Éanna Kelly is a contributing editor at Sifted. Follow him on X and LinkedIn