A Reality Check – Goa is not a good place to be a Digital Nomad
It’s no secret how much I love Goa, and the rest of India. I can’t think of a more exciting or vibrant place to travel or take a holiday; I love the beaches, the markets, the spirituality, the food, the parties, zipping through the countryside on my motorbike, the captivating blend of Portuguese and Indian culture and being part of a diverse, multi cultural community of free spirited people.
But living in a tropical paradise is not always as easy as it seems …
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As I get a lot of emails from digital nomads who are thinking of coming to Goa I thought it was time I wrote about the downsides to being a digital nomad in Goa and gave you a reality check – Goa isn’t really a typical place for digital nomads – it’s far from ideal, mainly because the internet is really bad!
This is usually the question that I get asked:
“I work online, I’m want to come to Goa for a few months and I want to stay in a cheap but nice place on the beach with a decent internet connection”
I find this question really difficult to answer because sadly the cheap places on the beach usually do not have a decent internet connection, plus they can be pretty noisy because of the beach parties, even the 3G on the beaches is patchy. Even if you go for a more expensive place you can’t guarantee that you will get a good enough internet connection to get your work done in Goa.
The Reality – The Internet SUCKS in Goa
While Goa is westernised in many ways and caters well for tourists, it does not cater well for digital nomads.
Many guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and beach shacks may advertise that they have Wifi but in reality I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to a place and tried to get online only to find that the Wifi doesn’t work or is so slow that it’s completely unusable.
Many budget guesthouses don’t have Wifi and are not even available to book online. If your coming to work from Goa for a couple of months you will probably be wanting to rent a house to feel at home instead of staying in a hotel all the time but the majority of houses, especially the cheaper ones, don’t have wifi either. Those that do might be running BSNL which is painfully slow and unreliable, you’re looking at a speed of only about 1 – 2MBPS, or if you’re really lucky 4MBPS (this is high speed in Goa!) And then there’s the frequent power cuts which mean that even a good connection can sometimes be off for hours each day.
Getting broadband connected can be a long and frustrating process so most people rely on 3G internet (which can be faster than wifi if you are in an area with a good signal) However, most houses also block the phone signal – so even if you have a decent signal outside when you’re inside the concrete walls of the house block the signal so to get connected you have to hang a dongle out of the window and go outside to make a phone call.
More often than not places that advertise Wifi are actually just using a 3G hotspot for a whole restaurant or guesthouse from a mobile phone that has slow/ dodgy coverage and is usually pretty much unusable. Even the places that do have a decent broadband connection have a limit to how many people can be online at one time so if you go during a busy time you may not be able to get online.
So how do I get online in Goa?
The way that I’ve managed to work online from Goa is by having several options for getting online. I rent a house with wifi (most of the cheap houses don’t have internet, but as mine is next to a guest house I am able to use their wifi) The wifi is slow and intermittent, plus it goes off regularly due to the daily power cuts so I actually do most of my work using 3G.
I looked at so many houses before I found one I could afford that had both wifi and a decent 3G signal. Vodafone and Idea have the best coverage in Goa but there are still loads of black spots for 3G. I’m right under a tower so my 3G connection through a dongle is usually quicker than the Wifi.
But still, there are days when nothing works, I go to a friends house, I go to 2 or 3 restaurants and still cannot get a decent enough connection which means I could miss a deadline or lose a client and it drives me insane!
Also, getting an Indian sim card is not as simple as just going to the shop and picking one up – it can be a paperwork intensive, bureaucratic process that can take a few days or even a week to get connected. Read here How to get an Indian Sim Card.
My first house in Goa had BSNL which only worked outside on the porch and on more than one occasion it went off for over a week plus there was no phone signal at all in my house. If you don’t believe me that the internet can be so bad check out this rant from another frustrated digital nomad in Goa who has an even harder time getting online than me!
And then you have the daily power cuts, sometimes just for 10 mins but sometimes for hours on end. Powercuts mean that even if you did have a decent internet connection it’s not going to work anyway when the power is off, but the 3G will still work so that’s why you need both to stay connected. However, when you can’t charge anything and the lights, and more importantly, the fans (or if your lucky A/C) are off its really hard to concentrate on work in a hot, dark room.
If your staying a long time then you could try to get the landlord to invest in getting a generator and internet in your house but good luck with that and foreigners cannot buy land in India so you’re stuck with renting. You could pay for it yourself but, as with most things in India, get the internet installed could be a long. expensive and frustrating process. See here for the different providers that may be available depending on your area. G-Wave and Ethernet Express are your best bet.
So perhaps it’s not surprising there aren’t that many digital nomads in Goa
Unlike popular digital nomad hotspots like Bali or Chiang Mai, there’s not much of a digital nomad scene in Goa – there aren’t any co working spaces near the beaches (although there is one called Coworking Goa in Panjim but I’ve yet to check it out because it’s too far for me to go and the police like to stop tourists on the bridge to extract bribes), there aren’t really any modern internet cafes or coffee shops you can work from and sometimes I feel a bit lonely as a digital nomad in Goa, most of my friends are teaching yoga, DJing, making clothes or selling jewellery on the market and sometimes it would be nice to have some more people to ‘talk shop’ with.
Here’s how Nomadlist.com rates digital nomad life in Goa: I don’t agree with all of these ratings but it gives you a easy, quick overview.
Another question I’ve had a few times…
“I’ve got a great idea for an online business, I’m going to quit my job and move to Goa to start it”
Sometimes I get emails from people who want to quit their job, fly to Goa and start an online business from here – I think this is an awesome, exciting idea and I hate to put a downer on it but I honestly don’t think its a good idea to come to a country like India where the culture is so different and the wifi, power and infrastructure is lacking and the bureaucracy is complicated and try to start a business – I think your trying to do too much at once and its going to get too stressful.
My advice is to get some savings behind you before you make the leap and quit your job, maybe come to Goa for a 2 week holiday first and see how you like it before quitting everything and moving half way around the world.
Plus, starting a business is hard! – Give it a few months to get established a bit before you start adding travel (especially traveling India) into the equation too!
Goa is easy for those on holiday but working and living here is a different matter. As is the case in the rest of India, things often don’t go to plan or work how they are supposed to. I love the country but it can be frustrating trying to get things done sometimes – everything always takes longer than you think, there’s always some kind of paperwork to fill out or somethings broken, or late, or not working, or closed today.
In India simple tasks can often end up taking all day (or sometimes all week!) to achieve, for example, it took a week just to get a sim card working and recently the government made 85% of the currency no longer legal tender overnight leading to huge queues at ATMS and banks and leaving most people with a shortage of cash to pay for daily expenses, meaning that finding a ATM with cash would easily take up half the day alone and then finding someone with the change who would accept your new 2000 rupee note could take a while longer! Luckily things are improving now and it’s not so hard to find an ATM with cash. You can read more about the demonetization here.
Also, some of the infrastructure is lacking, roads are full of pot holes, public transportation is limited and there is no trash collection. New comers may also find the traffic and scams challenging and get the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly.’ Not to mention the distractions of the beaches, parties and markets…. it’s hard to get work done here and you need to be super disciplined.
You can learn a lot from the challenges of traveling / living in India and don’t get me wrong I love it here otherwise I wouldn’t be here for so long! In some ways it’s all part of the unique charm of Goa but combining work and travel can difficult in the best of times and when you make a living online and the internet is dodgy it’s a real problem!
So if you still want to be a digital nomad in Goa – it is possible but it isn’t easy.
I know this sounds like a huge rant but I really do love this place and although it frustrates me and I know I would be better off somewhere like Bali or Chiang Mai – I wouldn’t change it for the world. Life in Goa is colourful, fun and affordable, it’s well connected to the rest of India but is a welcome escape from the chaos of the big cities. For me, Goa is really a special and unique part of the world, but it’s not for everyone and I just wanted to give you a reality check before you decide to quit your job and try and set up a business from a beach hut in Goa – it’s not as easy as it looks on Instagram!
But if you still want to give it a go then if you really need fast internet you might want to think about staying in Panjim, which is a nice city but might not the beach lifestyle you were dreaming of. Also, run a speed check and check that the wifi actually works and/or check that you have a good 3G signal before renting out a place, and check inside the house as well as sometimes the walls or roof will totally block the signal inside.
Hopefully the internet situation in Goa will improve but who knows, until then come with an open mind and a lot of patience! ‘Sab kuch milega’ as they say in India – ‘every thing is possible‘, but to be honest if good internet is your priority then Goa might not be the place for you…. 🙁
Update 2019: It’s now possible to install fiber optic broadband in most areas of Goa. I’m getting 50 mbps in my house in Anjuna. There are also a few co working hostels in Arambol opening but I still wouldn’t reply on cafe and hotel wifi but with an Indian sim card (JIO is the best) you can get quite good 4G coverage so things are getting better. Check the comments for latest updates and also join my Goa Digital Nomads Facebook Group to connect with like minded digital nomads in Goa.
Nomadlist.com – Great info for digital nomad destinations across the world