If you’re looking at moving abroad or becoming a digital nomad down the line, you’re going to become very concerned about which cheap countries have the fastest internet so you can get work done and do video calls. You may need to run an online business via Wi-Fi and do bandwidth-heavy activities like uploading videos. If you’re a digital nomad, you may base yourself in six cheap countries over the course of a year and will need to have fast internet service in all of them.
When people ask me what I’ve miss from the USA while living in Mexico, it’s a pretty short list. The first two times I lived in Mexico, at the top of that list was fast internet. When I lived in Tampa I would get lightning-fast fiber to the home. The mobile wireless speed was great too. Mexico was just coming out of the dark ages by comparison the first two times I lived here. One of the world’s richest men was still doling out 5 Mbps from his monopoly Telcel Infinitum service in most areas, on copper connections that take a nosedive when all your neighbors go online.
When I came back the third time I saw Telcel Infinitum flyers everywhere and went in their office to try to upgrade. “We ran out of fiber cable,” they told me and didn’t know when they could upgrade my service. In a country where most people use satellite dishes for their TV, cable services are just starting to make real inroads.
Fortunately, a lot of the World’s Cheapest Destinations do have fast internet speeds that are routine, not special, especially in urban areas.
Fastest Download Speeds Overall
The good news is, internet speeds worldwide are increasing rapidly each year. In 2017, the average global internet connectivity speed for downloads was 7.2 megabits per second (Mbps). Now in 2020 it’s up to 75 Mbps, a ten-fold increase. Mobile data speeds are up to 30, which begs the question: do we really need 5G, with all its rumored health problems and increased number of towers, just to eke out a bit more speed?
Upload speeds have increased as well worldwide, including in my Mexican home. I used to have to tell everyone in my family to get off their streaming services if I wanted to upload a video to YouTube and would still need to go out for a walk and come back while the process was happening. Now I have upload speeds that are six times faster on average and if I wanted to spend more than $25 a month (including TV and a landline), I could upgrade to faster service. Here’s what I used to get, my 2015 speed courtesy of Carlos Slim Helu of Telmex:
Here’s my current speed, thanks to Megacable.
That’s good enough for my needs, but I could get 100 Mbps if I were willing to spend a lot more.
If you’re in a well-wired hotel or home, you’re best off in expensive and densely populated city-states like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Andorra. That’s according to Ookla, the company that provides the Speedtest app you should have on your phone when shopping for an apartment or long-term hotel stay. A few cheap countries to live in rate highly though, including the champ for many years running: Romania. That European bargain has climbed up to #3 in the world for fixed broadband at an average of 151 Mbps. Wow! They’re only #41 on the mobile speed list, but at an above-average 36 Mbps. You’ll be able to download and upload at will in Transylvania, no problem.
Next up is Thailand, winning the “most improved” category. It climbed five spots in one year and is now #4 in the world according to Ookla, with download speeds of 150. I’m guessing these results are influenced by who is using the app, so rural Thailand is probably nowhere near that number, but you’ll get it in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Ko Samui, and Hua Hin, which probably covers 95% of the expats living in Thailand.
The next cheap country with the fastest internet is Hungary at #15, up three spots since I first started reporting on internet speeds around the world in 2015. That used to be ahead of the USA, but Uncle Sam has upped his game in many cities thanks to Google Fiber and some other initiatives that are upping the average. (It’s still a wasteland in many rural areas of the USA though.) Hungary still ranks above richer Canada, Norway, and sliding South Korea. The cost of living in Hungary is a bargain and you’ll definitely be able to get some work done.
Others ranking fairly well for land broadband speeds were Portugal (#24), Panama (#38), Malaysia (#39), Slovakia (#41), and the Czech Republic (#51). Where’s Mexico? It’s at #70 just behind Argentina, but their average is higher than my normal, so I’m guessing even that middling showing is influenced by more people using Speedtest in the big urban core areas with lots of fast fiber connections. Mexico City and Monterrey, not the Pueblos Magicos.
The Middle Eastern countries fare well overall, but you have to get down to #80 and #81 for the first Africa ones (Ghana and Egypt). Most of the countries pulling up the rear are in Africa, along with a few lands ruled by dictators or warlords. Predictably, Cuba, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan are not places where you’ll get much online work done. In North Korea your speed would be zero, as in not available.
The worst cheap countries to live in that I’ve featured in my books are, in order of badness, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and Morocco. These may not be great spots to be based if you’re a YouTuber.
Keep in mind for all these results though that this is an average across the whole country. So capital cities may be okay, but rural areas without much infrastructure are probably terrible—below the numbers you see on the chart.
Fastest Mobile Data Speeds Around the World
If you’re looking for the best mobile wireless, Ookla also publishes that, but you can drill down further on data that’s not app-dependent on OpenSignal.com. According to the latter, which was measuring during the virus pandemic’s higher demand, the best countries overall (45 Mbps or more) tend to be some of the richest and most developed: Japan, Korea, Singapore, Netherlands, and Canada.
The cheap countries with the highest mobile internet speeds, the ones scoring above 2o Mbps, were Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal, Mexico, and Vietnam.
They don’t measure every country though, so if we go to the other source to fill in the blanks, the other ones ranking higher than average for mobile speed around the world are Albania, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Some countries have beefed up their mobile offerings faster than their landline ones, so in some cases you can get faster internet by using a mobile USB stick or tethering your phone than by tapping into the hotel WiFi. Places where you should launch the speed test to check and compare for this include Morocco, Laos, Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina, and Georgia.
Alas, there are some countries where both landline internet speed and mobile internet speed are way below world averages. The most notable ones in this category are right next to each other: India and Nepal. Don’t plan on getting a lot of work down outside the polluted major cities.
Best Hotel WiFi Speeds
When I first put this post up in 2015, there were lots of public reports and studies on the fastest public WiFi (Lithuania was tops) and the fastest internet for free at hotels (independent properties walloped the major chain hotels).
Unfortunately, the most recent study I could find for either category now was done in 2016, which is ancient history. So I’ll go by personal anecdotal history as a frequent writer of hotel reviews.
First of all, the best WiFi is free WiFi unless you have some really intensive uploading to do or you insist on trying to use a streaming service in a hotel with 200 other people doing the same. (You might want to try the download function now and then on Netflix or Amazon to have some backups.) Most chain hotels have a two-tiered system: a slow free offering that’s okay for e-mail and basic surfing, then a paid level if you want to do more.
The independent hotels and small chains are normally faster since they don’t have a paid offering. Nearly every hotel offers free WiFi finally, though you may have to give up your personal info to the loyalty program if it’s a chain hotel. Sometimes it’s better and faster to just use your cell service if you have unlimited data and close to it. T-Mobile even gives you free Netflix streaming that doesn’t count against your data amount.
Otherwise, if you’re going to be staying at a hotel for more than a night or two, dig into the reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com and see if there are any complaints. Don’t be afraid to send an e-mail asking what their download and upload average speeds are from the rooms. This is one advantage of looking around for a hotel in person after arrival if you’ll be staying a while. You can do the speed test on your phone before making a commitment.
If you’re renting an apartment through Airbnb or Vrbo, also look at the reviews and don’t be afraid to send a message saying you need good broadband speed to work. Ask for the actual speed they are getting and compare it to the averages. Don’t be swayed by pretty living room pictures and then get frustrated every day because you can’t get your work done (or relax afterward with a streamed movie).
Fastest Airport WiFi
Who has the fastest internet in airports?
If you often need to do work from the airport on your way out, you might want to get to the airport early after your vacation in Hawaii. Or be based in Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, or Nashville. Those are the U.S. airports to rank highly in this airport Wi-Fi study from 2019.
With a mean download speed of 145.12 Mbps, Honolulu’s Wi-Fi was 37.5% faster than second-place Chicago Midway (which was also new to the list). These two airports unseated Sea-Tac, last year’s winner for fastest airport Wi-Fi. Ranking third, Sea-Tac’s mean download speed over Wi-Fi actually fell 4.4% since our last analysis. Nashville International and Phoenix Sky Harbor rounded out the top five.
New Orleans was the slowest, with Houston Hobby coming next. Interestingly though, the United Club lounges in some airports had much faster speeds than the public WiFi. Keep that in mind if you want to power through some bandwidth-heavy work or make some Skype video calls with a drink and snack in hand. If you have the right United credit card, you get two free lounge visits per year.
Internationally, the airports with the fastest public WiFi speeds tend to be the highest-ranked airports overall, like those in Singapore, Seoul, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar. A few cheap countries’ airports frequently show up with speeds higher than 30 Mbps though. Your best bets are the international airports in Bangkok, Jakarta, and Bali. India’s two main airports have decent speeds, in most Latin American airports it’s terrible.
So there you have it, a rundown on which cheap countries have the fastest internet speeds. Where have you found an especially fast connection when living abroad or spending time in a country? Leave it in the comments!