Remote workers have found a haven in Spain’s capital—here are the top 10 places for digital nomads to tote their laptops

After lockdown, the world opened up for the lucky laptop workers. During the early pandemic, travel dipped as those who could stayed in and played increasingly tense board games with family members. And years after COVID-19 first hit, we’re still seeing the lasting effects of the short period when white-collar employees stayed at home and re-imagined work. 

Known as digital nomads, these employees have leveraged the pandemic-associated rise in flexibility and taken their jobs on the road. They’ve found certain havens in countries that have rolled out specific visa programs built to encourage such travel in attempts to bolster local economies. And new analysis from finds that Americans who want to keep their newfound flexibility might find a better slice of paradise if they leave the country. 

Looking at a number of factors including internet broadband, cost of living, and quality of life, the HR platform placed Madrid, Spain at number one among 100 countries for remote workers. The capital was also listed as the top spot for remote work visas and incentives, which doesn’t come as a surprise given Spain’s recent introduction of a digital nomad program and a new Start-up Law that aims to court entrepreneurs. And Spain was also given the title of number one country for digital nomads in 2024 by VisaGuide.World.

Perhaps what’s also in play is Spain’s reputation for having a less strict approach towards working. Countries in Europe are known for offering more vacation time and sacrificing perhaps some pay for working less. “People in Madrid, and Spain in general, really understand that you don’t live to work; you work to live,” April Jereza, a 31-year-old who moved from Canada to Madrid in 2017 and took a pay cut to live there, told CNBC Make It’s reporter Jennifer Liu. Adding that the hours follow a more 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule with an hour or longer break mid-day, Jereza explained that she works at a Madrid-based company with some flexibility for remote work. 

She adds that while she earns less than she once did, the cost of living in Madrid is also lower. While her money might go further in Spain, Jereza explains that people can find themselves in a pinch when not depending on an international salary. “Working remotely in Spain with a U.S. or Canadian salary will get you very far, whereas working in Spain on a Spanish salary, you can feel the pains of inflation a bit more,” she told Liu.

Here are the top 10 places for remote work:

  1. Madrid, Spain
  2. Madeira, Portugal
  3. Toronto, Canada
  4. Auckland, New Zealand
  5. Tokyo, Japan
  6. Paris, France
  7. Portland, Maine, USA
  8. Taipei, Taiwan
  9. Stockholm, Sweden
  10. Reykjavik, Iceland

America only has one city on the top-10 list of metros for remote workers.   A number of CEOs remain fixated on measuring productivity and calling workers back to the office despite great interest in hybrid or fully-remote options. “The traditional view was, of course, idleness is the devil’s workshop or—you know, there are various versions of that. But you don’t have to believe in the devil to feel that when you’re idle, you are somehow or another wasting precious time,” historian Gary Cross told NPR of the nation’s puritanical ethos.

Of course, the digital nomad program isn’t all sangria and sunshine. There’s a fair amount of legwork, paperwork, and bureaucracy to muddle through to get said visa. And some have pointed out that digital nomadism acts much like a new form of colonization, as locals are forced to take on additional jobs as they feel the effects of an influx of rich expats. As a result, some countries like Portugal have eased up on its program as the economic growth isn’t evenly dispersed to the local community. Spain itself recently ended its Golden Visa program, an initiative made for wealthy applicants. 

While these countries might have a more compatible attitude toward work with remote policies, the rollout of programs that incentivizes moving hasn’t gone so smoothly. It all led to the end of the shortly-lived Golden Visa era, which means that, yes, digital nomads might find Madrid to be their place of calling for flexible work but that doesn’t mean Madrid wants them around.

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