All around the world people are living digital lives, making it easier to live, work and retire almost anywhere. For people living abroad, digital access is paramount, whether it's to stay in touch with friends and family back home, master administrative challenges in a new country, or to work remotely.
Some of the Scandinavian countries excel at offering a digital environment, while at the other end of the spectrum, expats in countries such as China and Egypt struggle with a lack of government services online, difficult access to high-speed internet at home, or even restrictions in their use of online services, according to a survey by InterNations, an online expat community.
In its "Digital Life Abroad Report," InterNations identifies the best and worst countries to live a connected life. InterNations surveyed 18,135 expats around the world, representing 178 nationalities in 187 countries and territories, asking about leisure options, health and well-being, safety and security, personal happiness, travel and transportation, and digital life.
The survey asks expats about cost of internet, access to high-speed internet at home, availability of government and other online services, and cashless payment options in the country where they live.
Based on the InterNations report, these are the best and worst countries to live a digital life.
The northern European country, which sits just across from Finland on the Gulf of Finland, is also near St. Petersburg, Russia and has one of the fastest-growing economies in the European Union. Out of 68 countries in the InterNations survey, Estonia offers up the best digital life. The country is rated best in the world for both unrestricted access to online services such as social media and the availability of administrative or government services online. In fact, 96% of expats surveyed judge the access to online services favorably, compared 80% globally.
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Cashless payments are no issue in Finland. Expats here are also happy with the ease of getting high-speed Internet at home (96% compared with 75% globally), the availability of administrative or government services online and the unrestricted access to online services such as social media.
Despite high marks for digital life, Norway ranked No. 50 for the ease of getting a local mobile number. Most expats surveyed (95%) gave high marks for high speed Internet access at home and paying without cash.
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Denmark gets high marks for digital access, but ranks in the bottom 10 of 68 countries surveyed by InterNations for leisure options and personal happiness. Getting a local mobile phone number was not that easy, expats reported.
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5. New Zealand
It's easy to get a local mobile phone in New Zealand, and the country ranks high (No. 11 out of 68 countries) for quality of life. Most expats said cashless payments are easy here, government services are readily available online, and 79% agreed that getting high speed Internet access at home is easy.
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High ratings for the unrestricted access to online services such as social media and the ease of getting a local mobile phone number make Israel a top 10 country in terms of quality of life, based on the survey. Expats in Israel are not as satisfied with the availability of administrative or government services online; however, the country still ranks No. 21 in that category, with 67% positive ratings for this factor.
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With regard to digital life, Canada receives its best ratings for the availability of administrative or government services online and the ease of cashless payments. Expats in Canada are happy with the unrestricted access to online services such as social media and the ease of getting high-speed Internet at home.
Respondents gave mixed reviews for digital life in Singapore, with high ratings for the ease of getting high-speed Internet at home and the availability of administration or government services online, but ranking No. 45 of all the countries for unrestricted access to online services.
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About 83% of respondents are happy with the availability of administrative or government services online in the Netherlands, compared to 55% globally.
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Coming in a low 47th place out of 68 countries regarding the general quality of life in the expat survey, the U.S. receives its best ratings within this index for digital life. Many expats living here agree that paying without cash could not be any easier. Expats are also very satisfied with the ease of getting high-speed Internet access at home (90% happy compared with 75% globally.) Pictured is a display at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas in 2017.
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The Nordic countries dominate the top 10 for ease of paying without cash; in Sweden, not a single expat found this difficult.
Of the Gulf states surveyed, Bahrain leads the way for the availability of administrative and government services online, and it is also one of the most digitally connected countries in the region, even though online freedom, such as social media, is somewhat restricted.
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Taiwan ranks No. 1 in the survey for overall quality of life, and 13 for digital life.
Over nine in 10 expats in Australia agree that there is generally unrestricted online access to services and the vast majority gave positive ratings for the availability of cashless payment options, online administrative and government services and easy access to local mobile phone numbers.
More than seven in 10 expats in the United Kingdom say that the availability of administrative or government services online is generally good, and fewer than 2% of expats say that it is hard to pay without cash.
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These countries rated worst of 68 countries for digital life:
Argentina was ranked No. 52 by expats for overall quality of life.
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While in the bottom 15 for digital life, expats noted Vietnam's extremely low cost of living.
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Kuwait ranks poorly for the availability of administrative/government services online, especially among the Gulf states.
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Italy lags when it comes to fast Internet access (57th place), cashless payment methods (No. 57), ease of getting a local mobile number (No. 55), and online government services (No. 54).
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Morocco ranked 66 out of 68 countries in the cashless payments category.
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Ranking among the worst countries in the world for digital life, Uganda receives its lowest ratings for getting access to high-speed Internet at home and paying without cash. However, Uganda ranks among the top 10 countries for ease of getting a local mobile phone number. Above, a woman sells phone cards from a shop in Kampala.
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Expats here are unsatisfied regarding unrestricted access to online services such as social media. One in five expats struggled to get a local mobile number. Turkey gets its best ratings for the ease of paying without cash.
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Nearly half of expats are unsatisfied with the online government services provided. Paying without cash got 26% negative ratings and getting access to high-speed Internet at home got 29% negative ratings.
Indonesia is another country among the bottom 10 which apparently lacks in online administrative or government services, and it comes in a low 61st place for both the access to high-speed Internet at home and the unrestricted access to online services such as social media.
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63. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia comes in second-to-last place worldwide in terms of unrestricted access to online services such as social media, only ahead of China. "There is no freedom and too much restriction," an Indian expat said in the survey. Pictured are telecom booths in Medina.
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Slow Internet speed, lack of government services online, and few cashless payment options are big complaints in the Philippines. Only getting a local mobile phone number does not seem to be an issue.
Above, students line up to submit application forms for a college entrance exam at University of the Philippines in Quezon City in 2017.
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No place is tougher to get a mobile phone than in India: an expat from Sweden said, "You have to fill in hundreds of forms for getting a local prepaid cellphone number," according to InterNations. Expats in India also struggle with a lack of high-speed Internet at home. Pictured are students taking a final exam at a technical school in Kolkata.
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Almost seven in 10 expats in Egypt are unsatisfied with the availability of administrative or government services online, and digital life in Egypt is made even harder due to the slow Internet speed.
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Coming in 57th place in the survey of expats for quality of life overall, China is by far the worst country for unrestricted access to social media, with 83% being unsatisfied: one American respondent said "government control of media and Internet" is one of the worst things about life in China, according to InterNations. Expats are also extremely unsatisfied with the access to high-speed Internet at home, the difficulty of getting a local mobile phone number, and the availability of administrative or government services online.
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Myanmar is the world's worst-rated destination for cashless payments and access to high-speed Internet at home, according to the InterNations survey. In fact, 74% of expats find making cashless payments in Myanmar difficult, and 58% are unhappy with their access to high-speed Internet at home. Conversely, the country ranks first worldwide for the ease of getting a local mobile phone number.
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