The Freelance’s Guide to Finding Internet Abroad

Working remotely only works if you have an internet connection. Unfortunately not everywhere in the world is obsessed with the quality and speed of the internet connection like North America is, which can lead to a lot of frustration when you try to get online as you travel.

It’s fair to say that I’ve learnt from my mistakes. In the past I simply turned up to a place and presumed I would be able to find somewhere to get online; a cafe, an internet cafe, an open network – something. Nowadays I look out for the following options:

McDonalds

Love or hate the food, McDonalds tends to have free internet in most of its restaurants around the world. The connection speed is usually quite good and if you don’t want to have a burger you can always just have a coffee instead.

Check out where the nearest McDonalds is using the store locator on their website. Of course other chains like Starbucks and Burger King tend to have wifi access as well, it’s just that McDonalds tends to be the most prevalent of all these chains.

Hotels/Accommodation with Wifi

If I’m staying in a hotel, it has to have free wifi. Some hotel booking sites like Expedia or hostels.com (for cheaper accommodation) allow you to narrow down your search to hotels that only have free wifi, otherwise I tend to search for the “place name + free wifi”, both in English and the native language e.g. Paris hotel + wifi gratuit.

As a sidenote: working in hotels while comfortable can take its toll on you, as you tend to live, relax and work in the same room. These days I tend to either look for self-catering accommodation or house/petsits with free wifi, or I stay somewhere and then go to the nearest hotel with wifi and order a coffee and work from the lobby.

Wifi Apps

There are an increasing number of wifi hotspot apps and websites out there. One of the largest of these is from Skype which shows you hotspots where you can use your Skype credit against internet time.

3G/4G Dongles

If you’re planning on sticking around, then it might be wise to invest in a 3G dongle, especially if you’re going to rely on the internet for your work. Some dongles require a contract, some are available on PAYG; it all depends on what your working situation is like and how long you’re planning on staying around for.

If you have an iPhone it’s also possible to tether your internet connection. Essentially this means using your iPhone as a dongle or personal Wifi hotspot. Some internet providers don’t allow this so be sure to check what the network’s terms and conditions are before signing up to anything. Prepaid with Data is a great Wiki with a lot of valuable information on Dongles and PAYG data-ready sim cards.

Cafes

Some cafes abroad have wifi, but not all choose to advertise that fact. The easiest thing to do is to go around with a smartphone and check which networks are available. While in the US and Canada it’s easy enough to find an open cafe network, in the rest of the world most networks tend to be locked. You either have to ask for the Wifi key or try and guess it. Tip: most tend to use the cafe phone number.

Government Buildings

In some countries, the town hall and the library will have free wifi. Unfortunately not every country does so don’t rely on this, but it’s worth wandering past these places with a smartphone to see what networks are about.

Open Networks

Finding these isn't always easy and these days most companies tend to install routers with passwords anyway. That said, it is often possible to find hidden networks that are unlockled using tools like Inssider. 

James is currently living and working in France doing the whole working remotely thing. Next stop: Spain.