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Best Cities for Remote Workers 2021

By: Justin Chaplin, Kimi Kaneshina, and Chris Salviati
June 15, 2021

The remote work revolution is here to stay. Although accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic, remote work positions have been growing for some time. Today, 4 in 10 workers expect remote work flexibility post-pandemic, with the potential to spur a boom in migration.

There are already signs that remote workers are packing up their pricey San Francisco studio apartments and moving to cities with a lower cost of living. In a recent survey, we found that these remote workers are seeking more space at a lower cost in their next move, without sacrificing urban and natural amenities.

With these factors in mind, we developed an index to find the best cities for remote workers that score highly in the following metrics:

  1. Overall satisfaction and prevalence of remote-friendly jobs
  2. Housing Affordability
  3. Access to Urban Amenities
  4. Access to Natural Amenities

Methodology

To better understand which markets are likely to heat up due to remote work, we’ve constructed a new index that ranks 230 cities across the country on the above factors.

For each of these four factors, we construct a sub-index that pulls from a variety of data sources, the details of which are described in the Best Cities for Remote Work methodology appendix. Our final index is constructed from these sub-indexes using the following weights:

  • Remote-Friendliness: 40%
  • Housing Affordability: 20%
  • Natural Amenities: 20%
  • Urban Amenities: 20%

To see a full breakdown of the data, download the spreadsheet here.

Check out the full analysis to learn more about the methodology and research behind this study.

Note: In the top 10 list presented in the infographic above, we’ve restricted the data to include no more than a single city from a given metro. Among the complete set of 230 cities that we analyzed, Orem, UT (Provo metro) ranks #4 and Cary, NC (Raleigh metro) ranks #6; although these cities are included in this correspondence, they have been excluded from the report itself in order to avoid repetitiveness.

Key Findings

1. College towns make excellent homes for remote workers

Popular college towns make up the bulk of our top 10 - #1 Provo (BYU); #2 Fort Collins (CO State U); #5 Tempe (AZ State); #10 Ann Arbor (UMich). Although the other cities in our top 10 are not all known for being college towns, each city outside of Beaverton is home to at least one major university.

College towns are typically rich in urban amenities, offering nightlife, entertainment, and a great food scene. They also tend to be more affordable, making them a great place to kick off a professional career. Therefore, as college students graduate and land exciting new remote-jobs, why would they leave the area?

2. Cities with growing tech markets are leading the charge in remote work opportunities

We’ve covered the rise of growing tech hubs like Austin, Raleigh, and Denver over the past couple of years. These were some of the fastest-growing markets before the pandemic, and the explosion of remote work hasn’t slowed things down.

Although these tech hubs’ have grown less affordable in recent years, they’re still less expensive than the country’s priciest markets. These cities are now drawing in recent remote workers coming from pricier cities looking for more space at a lower price.

3. Rents are on the rise in these cities, signaling that these moves are already underway

Thinking these cities are under the radar? Think again.

7 of the top 10 cities on our list all currently have YoY rent growth that exceeds the national average. In fact, Boise is one of the hottest markets in the country and has seen some of the fastest-growing rent we’ve analyzed. Rent prices in Boise are up 31% over the past year, and will likely continue to rise as more remote workers pack up and move to the City of Trees.

Even Denver, which saw rent prices dip in 2020, is recovering quickly. Rents in Denver are up 7.1% in 2021.

#1. Provo, UT

Coming in first on our list for the best cities for remote workers is Provo, Utah. Home to affordable housing and a plethora of both natural and urban amenities, Provo is a great place to set up your next home office and comes with a free scenic view!

Statistics show that remote workers on the move are prioritizing extra space and lower housing costs, both of which you’ll find in Provo. With a low median rent price of $913/mo and easy access to incredible outdoor recreation like Utah Lake and Provo Canyon, Provo ranks high on our affordability and outdoor amenity scores. Provo is also home to BYU, which boosts the economy and generates remote-friendly work.

Within the past few years, the tech scene has been growing in Utah. Companies such as Adobe, Ancestry, and HireVue have established offices in Salt Lake City, opening up plenty of opportunities for remote workers.

However, it’s worth noting that Provo is tied for the lowest Urban Amenities in our top 10. If you’re looking for booming nightlife and plenty of things to do, Provo might not be ideal for you.

#2. Fort Collins, CO

Landing second on our list for digital nomads is Fort Collins, Colorado. Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is teeming with beauty and has a strong outdoorsy culture. Although Fort Collins is the most expensive city in our top 5, with rent at $1,406 for a 2-bedroom apartment, the city records strong scores in every other ranking factor.

With tech companies leading the remote work charge, you’ll find plenty of residents moving to the city from their Boulder and Denver offices. More and more tech companies are setting up shop in Fort Collins as well. For example, Hewlett Packard (HP), Intel, and Microsoft all have offices in Fort Collins. Home to Colorado State University, the city’s student population helps create a lively sense of community.

If your ideal post-work activity is mountain biking and visiting local craft breweries, Fort Collins is perfect for you. You’ll quickly learn why Fort Collins is dubbed the Napa Valley of Beer.

#3. Boise, ID

Remote workers from California, Colorado, and Oregon are moving out of state in search of a lower cost of living, but where are they all going? The answer is Boise, Idaho. Go Broncos!

Coming in third on our list of best cities for remote workers is Boise, Idaho… a city that’s continually on the rise. Boise topped Forbes’ list of fastest-growing cities in 2018. The city, home to VMWare and HP offices, has continued to grow with an influx of remote workers.

What makes Boise so appealing? The city has the 2nd highest affordability score in our top 10 cities, with 2-bedroom apartments running $1,229, but the natural amenity scores stand out even more. Of the 230 cities in our sample, Boise scored the highest in our natural amenities index, by far. Whether it's the perfectly bikeable 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, nearby hikes at Table Rock Trail or the slopes just 18 miles away at Bogus Basin Ski Resort, Boise has something for every outdoor enthusiast.

Of course, affordability and a low cost of living pulls the city up in our rankings and attracts new residents. However, Boise’s prices are rising quickly due to the city gaining popularity. Boise rent prices are up a whopping 30.8% over the past 12 months.

Once you arrive, spend some time exploring Downtown Boise’s coffee scene and take in a football game on The Blue and you’ll be hooked on the Boise culture.

#4. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh lands 4th on our list, largely driven by its score in our remote-friendliness index. In our sample of 230 cities, Raleigh ranks highest in this metric. The Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill hosts a number of renowned universities: Duke, North Carolina State University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. This makes the area a hotbed for career growth. In fact, Raleigh ranks #8 on our list for best cities for college grads. 300 companies can be found in the Research Triangle, including notable tech and bio firms such as Cisco, IBM, and NVIDIA

So we know the job economy is top-tier in Raleigh, but what else does the city have to offer? In Raleigh, you can take in the Carolina trees. Raleigh experiences all four seasons mildly, so the weather is pretty nice throughout the year. Summers can get hot, but luckily you’ll have Lake Raleigh for boating and kayaking. When the weather is perfect in the Spring and Fall, you’ll be short drives from both the mountains and the beach.

Downtown Raleigh is small but has a lot to offer. The local arts and music scene is thriving Downtown, with plenty of live music venues, museums, and local shops. Whether it’s a swanky new rooftop cocktail bar or a small restaurant serving Southern favorites, you’ll love eating and drinking your way through Raleigh.

Overall, Raleigh has a small-town suburban feel that’s perfect for young families. With a low cost of living and rent coming in at $1,325 for a 2-bedroom apartment, you can’t go wrong with Raleigh.

#5. Tempe, AZ

Ranking 5th in our list is Tempe, the Arizona city situated just 10 miles east of Phoenix. Tempe ranks high on our list for its strong showing in our affordability, natural amenities, and urban amenities indexes. If you’ve been living in a high cost of living California city like San Francisco or Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard of a few coworkers or friends making moves to Arizona over the past year as more jobs go remote. A 2-bedroom apartment in Tempe costs $1,460 per month, which is a lot more affordable than its coastal counterparts. What’s not to love about that?

Tempe gives you a lot of bang for your buck and it’s only a 22-minute drive away from Phoenix, which is home to Freshly, Lyft, and RetailMeNot. The city is a massive college town, with ASU being situated right next to Downtown Tempe. This creates a lively nightlife scene in Tempe and a big college sports culture. The Tempe/Scottsdale area skews younger compared to Phoenix. If you are living near the campus, you’ll likely be neighbors with college students and rents can be on the higher end.

Living in Tempe is incredibly convenient. You’ll have access to public transportation allowing you to explore the valley. Plus, there’s tons of bike trails, so getting around the city is easy, and you’ll always be close to a grocery store or freeway. When the weather isn’t too hot, spend your days exploring the many beautiful parks situated in Tempe like Kiwanis Park and Tempe Beach Park.

#6. Austin, TX

Austin ranks 6th on our list for best places for remote workers Nicknamed “Silicon Hills” for its growing tech scene, Austin is home to multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Whole Foods Market. The robust job market leads Austin to rank highest on our list for remote friendliness.

Although the city has been growing rapidly, Austin is still relatively affordable. The average rent in Austin is $1,713 for a 2-bedroom apartment. Compared to larger tech hubs like San Francisco, Austin’s cost of living is reasonable, but remote workers who are currently based in more affordable markets may find Austin to be on the pricier end.

Home to South by Southwest and food truck-lined streets, the Live Music Capital of the World provides tons of urban amenities to its residents. If you’re more of an outdoor enthusiast than a city dweller, you can take advantage of the natural amenities in Austin. Visit Lady Bird Lake and take in the 416 acres of land to picnic and hike on. Hike up Mount Bonnell, also known as Covert Park, the highest peak in Austin at 775 feet.

Ready to take your remote work to Austin? The best Austin neighborhoods are walkable and filled with hip coffee shops, making the area perfect for digital nomads.

#7. Beaverton, OR

Home to the world headquarters of Nike and bordering the footwear hub, Portland, Beaverton is one of the best cities for remote workers. Outside of Nike employees, Beaverton is filled with residents that work at IBM, Intel, and Adidas.

Beaverton offers relatively affordable housing at $1,672 for a 2-bedroom apartment. This is more expensive than average when compared with all 230 cities we examined. However, Beaverton is still more cost-effective than its tech-counterpart Seattle, which has housing at $1,895.

Beaverton is one of the best places to live in Oregon and an ideal city for nature lovers. Situated close to world-class ski resorts, the Oregon Coast, and the Columbia Gorge, Beaverton has a ton of outdoor recreation to offer and ranks 9th in our natural amenities index. Beaverton residents can enjoy the urban amenities its neighboring city offers by taking the Portland Max train system into Downtown Portland, which ranks #7 on the list for urban amenities. Explore Powell’s Bookstore, thrift shop at vintage stores, and visit Portland’s International Rose Garden in the summer. You’ll never get bored here!

#8. Denver, CO

With a growing job market and convenient access to the outdoors, Denver places 7th on our list for best cities for remote workers and #6 on our remote friendliness index. Denver has been growing rapidly, with tech companies such as VIZIO, RingCentral, and Gusto making the Mile High City home.

Denver’s mix of natural and urban amenities makes it a perfect place to work and play. The untethered class is swarming to Denver to experience the perks of living near the Rocky Mountains and having tons of outdoor activities at their fingertips.

If you move to Denver, you can spend time visiting the Denver Zoo or ride paddle boats at Washington Park. After some fresh air, enjoy a beer at one of Denver’s 150+ breweries while soaking in 300 days of sunshine. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Beyond its close proximity to nature, Denver is an affordable place to call home for what the city offers. While its rent prices are lower than its counterpart, Boulder, its cost of living, like groceries, is slightly higher than its counterpart Boulder. The average rent in Denver is $1,724 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment, putting it somewhat on the pricier end of the 230 other cities on our list.

This average varies depending on which Denver neighborhood you live in. Fortunately, you have tons of options to consider, with neighborhoods each offering their own charm and character.

#9. Asheville, NC

Asheville ranks 8th on our list of best cities for remote workers. It’s an affordable place to live with $1,473 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment that offers a ton of value to renters.

Asheville residents can enjoy the urban amenities of craft microbreweries, street art, and history. With an average age of 39 years old, Asheville residents are young and “granola”. Residents can partake in the Asheville Yoga Festival and the Jump Off Rock Music Festival.

If you aren’t much of an urbanite, you can peruse through the North Carolina Arboretum or hike through the Pisgah National Forest. Asheville locals also like to spend their summers whitewater kayaking or playing disc golf.

Living in North Carolina comes with an affordable cost of living. This is perfect for remote workers who are looking to save money on discretionary spendings since they’re spending more money on home utilities.

#10. Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor is the 10th best city for remote workers. Home to JSTOR and Arbor Networks, Ann Arbor residents tend to work in tech, health services, and biotech companies.

Rent in Ann Arbor is $1,782 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment. This makes Ann Arbor the most expensive place to live among our top 10 best cities for remote working but makes up for it with its extensive amenities.

Residents can reap the urban and natural benefits of Ann Arbor’s beautiful city. In fact, Ann Arbor ranks #10 for best urban amenities. Spend a day visiting the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Then go golfing at one of the many nearby golf courses.

Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is a college town through and through. You’ll find residents of this city spending their Saturdays tailgating at Michigan Stadium, ready to cheer on the Wolverines. Go Blue! Living near the university creates an exciting culture, and remote workers can take advantage of the college's Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History.

Best Cities for Remote Workers Data

CityOverall RankRemote Friendliness RankAffordability RankNatural Amenities RankUrban Amenities RankOverall Score
Provo, UT195431100.603
Fort Collins, CO2315915360.599
Boise, ID327841970.595
Raleigh, NC45121641070.572
Tempe, AZ51412621690.559
Austin, TX61164901000.558
Beaverton, OR72117412140.553
Denver, CO81017950260.547
Asheville, NC9388636230.546
Ann Arbor, MI102914357110.545

Download the full dataset to see a breakdown of the metrics for all 230 cities in our index.

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AUTHOR
Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
AUTHOR
Kimi is a Content Associate and contributing author at Apartment List, helping renters find a new place to call home. Kimi earned her BA in Organizational Studies, Economics from Scripps College. Read More
SENIOR HOUSING ECONOMIST
Chris is a senior housing economist at Apartment List, where he conducts research on economic trends in the housing market. Chris previously worked as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve and an economic consultant, and he has BA and MA degrees in economics from Boston University. Read More
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