Independent contractors face hurdles. No benefits, no health coverage, little job security and often unequal protections when it comes to rights like negotiating wages. But let’s be honest, there are also major perks: For those with wandering feet, freelance work offers the opportunity to live almost anywhere, as long as that nation’s visa office lets you. It’s the dream: working from cafés, divorced from the 9 to 5. It also means you have an abundance of cities to choose from when deciding where to make your home and your office, which can be a nightmare for the indecisive.
Before letting the paradox of choice overwhelm you, restless heart, fear not! The world’s your oyster, but research could make the search for a fulfilling work destination a bit easier. According to a survey of 117 cities:
Prague ranked as the top city to live in as a freelancer in 2018.
The Amsterdam-based freelancer website Hoofdkraan.nl surveyed cities across the world to rank a top and bottom 10. The crowning city in 2017 was Lisbon, Portugal, which slipped to No. 3 this year. Seville, Spain, occupied the second spot. The least desirable place to be a working nomad in 2018? Lagos, Nigeria, according to Hoofdkraan. Among the 23 factors considered, Prague dominated when it came to the cost of living, beer, speedy internet and nightlife. Seven of the cities that made the top 10 list were in Europe, while Asia was notably absent. Historically well-trodden destinations for digital nomads such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand and Bali didn’t fare as well when it came to cleanliness, safety, freedom of speech — and quality coffee.
To those who call Prague home, the city’s desirability is no surprise. The Czech capital offers a comfortable pace of life and creative freedom, says Thor Garcia, an American writer who first began working there in 1992 after his college friends started a newspaper called The Prognosis. The University of California, Santa Barbara, graduate stayed for two months before heading back to California for a newspaper job, but he later returned to the Czech Republic to continue a relationship with a woman he had met during his first stint there (they have since married). Garcia has lived in Prague full time since 1994, working as a journalist while writing two novels and a book of short stories on the side. He describes his life as a never-ending vacation, full of mystery and wonder. “It was truly hard to believe that a place like this existed,” Garcia says.
Prague never lets you go … this dear little mother has sharp claws.
That slow pace allows people to spend time on what they want to pursue, Garcia notes, beyond what they must do to survive. The relative quiet and low stress levels could be a pull for freelancers trying to focus, stay inspired and produce quality work. Aspiring writers in particular will have good company: More than a century ago, Franz Kafka and other European intellectuals frequented the cobblestone streets and now-famous coffee shops like Café Louvre.
“Prague never lets you go … this dear little mother has sharp claws,” Kafka famously wrote.
It doesn’t hurt that Prague is fairly compact and walkable, with excellent public transportation (a car isn’t necessary to get around). More than 40 percent of Prague’s citizens use mass transit — the third highest of the cities ranked — according to Politico’s 2018 European urban mobility index.
Last but not least: money. Prague has benefited from a relatively low cost of living, an important consideration for freelancers who may lack a steady paycheck. That may not last, though. Real estate prices in the Czech Republic have been on an upward tick. Property prices increased by an average of 16 percent through most of 2017 — the highest rate in the EU — and were identified as a risk to domestic financial stability. Ironically, growing recognition for the Czech Republic’s high quality of life could expedite this problem. Garcia thinks outsiders used to look down on Prague as “some kind of ex-communist backwater” that still suffered from the legacy of communism. But as the perception continues to shift and buyers continue to enter the property market, the resulting surge could hurt locals — a factor that may be connected to the government’s announcement that it plans to regulate Airbnb. “The Czechs seem well aware of what they have here,” Garcia says. “And they want to protect it.”