Fast Internet, Cashless Payments & Social Media Spying: The World’s Digital Havens Uncovered

This week at The Money Cloud we are taking stock of the latest Internations Annual expat survey. Yesterday we explored the global networking and event company’s overall country ratings, which saw Bahrain emerge for the second year running, as the top rated destination for expats, with Taiwan a close second, Ecuador third, and reality checks for the likes of the UK, India and Saudi Arabia.

But how do the world’s countries rank for all things digital? From always-on South Korea, to the cashless Nordics, to Estonia, the digital nomads paradise, let’s examine Internations findings more closely.

Estonia has impressively reinvented itself as a digital state that is breaking down all kinds of barriers when it comes to digital, and the survey confirms it. Estonia ranks first of 68 countries when it comes to dealing with admin and bureaucracy online. 94% of Estonian expat residents declared themselves content with the services available (70% awarded the very highest rating) compared to a global approval rating of just 55%.

Estonia offers more than just admin online – individuals can become e-citizens there, set up businesses remotely, and benefit from tax breaks, whilst Tallinn, the capital, is home to some serious techies. They may reside in London now, but the two co-founders of TransferWise, Kristo Kaarmann and Taavet Hinrickius, hail from Tallinn, and the international money transfer provider is typical of the kind of digital “disruption”; tech speak for better services; that you will find in this Eastern European country.

The next best country for digital services is Singapore, a state that grew rich in part thanks to the strength of its telecommunications industries in the 1970’s and 80’s, and it will surprise few that Singapore provides a high level of service, as it does across most lifestyle categories you can think of.

New Zealand, and the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland and Norway also scored highly.

Speaking of telecommunications, despite scoring poorly for administration, it is easier to get set up with a local mobile number than anywhere else in Myanmar, a country not noted for its digital infrastructure, but nevertheless, part of Asia, which, generally speaking, is ahead of the game technologically speaking.

Complex though they may be to get to grips with at first (Indonesia is another country that is panned for its onerous “settling in” admin), Asian countries tend to deliver once you get used to the way things work. The West could learn a good deal from Asia in that respect; but even so; Japan and South Korea rank almost at the bottom of the list when it comes to obtaining a local number – but India places flat last.

If Asians are renowned for being tech savvy, the Nordic people enjoy a reputation for creating amongst the most cashless societies in the world, and once again, Internations survey respondents confirm it.

96% of expats in Finland find cashless payments simple to do – in fact, 9 out 10 residents say it is “very easy”. It is the same story in Denmark, and in Sweden, a country that is arguably more advanced than any other in this regard and the likeliest place in the world to go completely cashless.

Estonia and Norway are up there, whilst poor Myanmar places last – not a great place to be a digital nomad, unless you want fast access to a mobile – to call the first taxi out of the country, most techies probably conclude.

Argentina’s financial dire straits are well documented, and digital payments are therefore not its thing either. It is the second worst rated, just behind Morocco and Egypt. Surprisingly, Germany also “makes” the bottom 10. Research quoted by Internations reveals that cashless payment terminals outnumber cash machines in the country by thirteen to one; in Sweden, its ninety-one to one.

For high speed internet, online addicts will find South Korea a home from home – its connectivity speeds are the best in the world, just ahead of, again, a Nordic country – this time its Norway. Finland is third. In last place? You guessed it. Myanmar.

Finally when it comes to the freedom to browse whichever site you so choose, and by now you will be familiar with these names, its Estonia, followed by Norway. Israel takes third place – less than 1% of expats endured negative experiences when accessing online services, notably social media, across all three countries.

In fact, access to social media or online sites is relatively unrestricted across the globe, with one notable exception. China. The so-called “Great Firewall of China” led to 52% of Internations survey respondents labelling access “very bad” – compared to a global average of just 3%. In China, private VPN’s are also a no-no, with government crackdowns almost entirely eliminating anonymous surfing.

Gulf states also score poorly for internet freedom. The UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar join Saudi Arabia in the bottom – Bahrain, on the other hand, ranks 49th.

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