(PxHere, Public domain)
With internet being an indispensable technology for the life in the 21st century, the access to and quality of it could be counted as one of the factors determining the quality of human life and opportunities. This trend has been particularly exasperated since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic. With an ever increasing amount of employees working from home, the quality of digital services worldwide is more important than ever.
A study published in early August 2020 by Surfshark, a VPN provider based in the British Virgin Islands, compared the quality of a digital wellbeing in 85 countries, covering 6.3 billion people or 81 per cent of global population.
The researchers based their final evaluation on five pillars that, according to them, determine the digital quality of life: internet affordability, internet quality, electronic infrastructure, electronic government and electronic security.
Europe at the forefront
Overall, the rating is dominating by European countries, with 7 out of 10 countries on the top ten list being located in the northwestern part of the old continent. The top highest ranked countries are the following: Denmark, Sweden, Canada, France, Norway, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and Poland, as the only Central and Southeast European country in the top 10.
The highest-ranked countries are often those with the highest internet penetration. For example, 95 per cent of people in Scandinavia use the internet, which makes them the most active internet users globally. Conversely, only 35 per cent of people in Southern Asia use the internet, which also reflects positively on the overall quality of their digital live.
The internet affordability category measures time of work required to afford the cheapest mobile or broadband internet. The global average of working time needed to afford the cheapest broadband internet is 3 hours and 48 minutes (10 minutes for the cheapest mobile internet).
The research shows that the level of inequality in internet affordability across the globe is quite high, with people in 75 per cent of the researched countries having to work more than the global average to afford the internet.
The top 5 countries with the most affordable internet are Israel, Canada, Azerbaijan, Poland and Iran. Albania, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Philippines and Peru are on the other end of the spectrum. Greece has the lowest internet affordability out of all EU member states.
Countries with the top quality of internet connectivity, with crucial factors being the speed and stability of the internet connection, are Singapore, Sweden, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
Measuring internet speed only (for fixed broadband), Speedtest.net, another platform compiling statistics on internet quality across the world, came up with a slightly different result, with the following top 5 countries: Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea and Romania. The slowest and least stable internet connection the Surfshark study identified in the following 5 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Countries in eastern Asia, Europe and North America have the most developed electronic infrastructure, with the following top 5 countries: United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Denmark, Qatar and Norway. Unsurprisingly, the study found a direct correlation between GDP per capita and the quality of electronic infrastructure. Five countries with the least developed electronic infrastructure are Indonesia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, India and Honduras.
European countries also dominate in the last two categories: electronic security and eGovernment.
Digital “nomading” on the rise
The quality of digital services offered to people by their countries has become more important over the last couple of years as an ever growing number of people, especially in the service dominated western world, is becoming less dependent on their physical location for their work.
As the COVID-19 pandemic affects business around the world, forcing companies to come up with new home office models for their employees, it is likely that this trend will get only stronger in the future. A growing number of countries is now offering special visa programs for remote working, specifically targeting digital nomads whose work is location independent. Those people often look for countries with good quality of digital services along with an overall good quality of life, where the life expenses are either the same or even lower than in the home country.
For example, Barbados is now offering a remote work visa through its Barbados Welcome Stamp program. The program is open to applicants worldwide, for a fee of either EUR1700 per person, or EUR2500 per family. Barbados is a part of the British Commonwealth so the program is especially popular in the US, UK and Canada.
In Europe, the go to country for many digital nomads from across the globe has been Estonia. The tiny Baltic country has been leading the way in Europe in digitalization and e-residency services for some years now. As of August 2020, Estonia started offering their new Digital Nomad Visa granting up to 12 month residence to those who already have existing non-Estonian work. The program is open to anyone the monthly income of EUR3504 (before tax).
While Estonia has already build up its reputation as a world class provider of digital services, this another up and coming digital nomad mecca has been an allure to location for independent workers only of recent. The post-soviet republic of Georgia has recently experienced a tourist boom, mostly from Europe. But since COVID-19 put a break on all travel, the small Caucasian country is now looking for alternative source of revenue.
In July 2020, the country’s economy minister Natia Turnava announced the start of a new project aimed at encouraging international citizens to work remotely from Georgia. The application for the digital nomad visa will be available for anyone who wants to stay for longer than 6 months in the country and has an existing non-Georgian work contract.
For now, Barbados, Estonia and Georgia have been just among the first to react to the current situation. But it can be expected that more, especially smaller, tourism-oriented countries will be offering similar programs in the future. And for many digital nomads, the digital qualify of life in those places will be one of the deciding factors when choosing a place to relocate to.