Digital Remote Work in South America. Is It Possible?

If you are thinking of becoming a digital nomad in South America but aren’t sure if the infrastructure will suffice, this article is for you. South America is not known for its state-of-the-art infrastructure. However, we found that internet and WiFi have improved dramatically in the last half-decade.

As recently as 2018, I would have painted the prospect of working digitally in South America as challenging. I might have advised you to stick to the cities.

In 2018, we traveled to Colombia’s rural Eje Cafetera region. It was a lovely two week vacation, filled with strolls through coffee plantations and hanging off the back of a jeep. The downside? Something as simple as sending and receiving emails took minutes. I remember impatiently waiting to for a few lines of text to leave my outbox so I could close my browser and enjoy the rest of my day.

In 2022-2023 we traveled for an entire year through seven countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and once again, Colombia). We crossed our fingers as we attempted to earn a living online. And, lo and behold, it worked out!

The WiFi was adequate, mostly. In the worst cases we could either make do or find a work around. (More on that in a moment).

I worked one day a week as a contractor for the company I left after fifteen years. Liuan conducted online interviews for her journalism gigs and attended web conferences as a board member of an environmental non-profit. Missing a meeting due to lack of connectivity was rare. Even in Salento, Colombia, the place where I could barely send an email five years ago, we were now able to stream music and play with the new AI image generators that were just coming out.

In this post I will give you an overview of what to expect should you decide to live as a digital nomad in South America.

My first day of work as a digital nomad. I was quite pleased with my new open air “office.” — Paraty, Brazil.

What to Expect

More often than not, you’ll find sufficient, if not excellent, WiFi or cell service. We were able to video conference and work on a remote desktop.

In the cities you can count on a fast and stable connection pretty much all the time. In some cities—Buenos Aires and Santiago in particular—I was made envious by the brisk connection speeds that far surpassed my home Wi-Fi.

But maybe you’re not a city person. That’s fine. We’re not city people either. Some of the best adventures and stunning views are way out in the boondocks. To my shock and delight, more times than not, those places also had decent Wi-Fi. In fact, a large portion of my work days were performed while either volunteering on a farm or kicking back in a rural cabin. We could earn a living while surrounded by paradise.

Of course, there were exceptions. Sometimes the situation was less than ideal. So what did it look like when it went wrong?

The Worst It Ever Got

Paraty, Brazil

We stayed in a little mountain cabin next to a river. It had no heat (unfortunate given the 50 degree Fahrenheit nights), the gas stove could barely brown a loaf of bread, and the water heater worked in fits and starts. We were located about twenty minutes outside the coastal town of Paraty.

Despite being practically one with nature, the internet was usually fine. We streamed the whole entire Obi Wan Kenobi series over the duration of our month stay.

But when the internet went down, it could be hours or even days before it came back. The power also went out for a couple long stretches, taking down the WiFi router with it. Our Airbnb host claimed this wasn’t typical. He said it was temporary and had to do with the road construction nearby. Regardless, this was our first month working as digital nomads. It was crucial that we prove to our coworkers back home that we wouldn’t let them down.

Our solution was to rent a cheap room at a family-run inn for $19. It was in town and wasn’t affected by the construction. They understood we just needed the room for the day in order to work and gave us a deal. The internet there could also be a little unstable, it would cycle off every so often and come back after a minute or two. It was annoying, but we managed. Most importantly, we succeeded in keeping our jobs.

Everything you could possibly want in a remote work setting… except for reliable internet. — Near Paraty, Brazil.

Las Compuertas (near Mendoza), Argentina

I remember that little rustic brick cabin, out in the countryside west of Mendoza with the glorious sunsets. It had painfully slow Wi-Fi. I was able to get my work done, but not without a significant increase in blood pressure. Fortunately, we were only there for a few days.

Throughout the entirety of our trip, it rarely got that bad.

Getting up to make a coffee and allow the internet-lag-induced hypertension to settle down. — Las Compuertas, Argentina.

Cheap And Easy Cell Service (Except for Brazil)

We spent two weeks on a permaculture farm in Bolivia, far from any labeled point on the map. The nearest city was three hours away. Not surprisingly, they didn’t have Wi-Fi.

However, our host informed us of a monthly plan through Entel Mobile for $25. Just ask around at the town’s central market. Sure enough, Liuan’s unlocked Google Pixel received the magical chip, and voila. Internet.

With Liuan’s hotspot, I connected my laptop, video conference,d and worked on a remote desktop. There I was, living out of a stable, looking out on a field of grass and a white horse, pooping in a dry toilet (i.e. a large paint bucket). And amidst all that, programing data analytics software for my colleagues in Chicago and Dallas. It was a surreal blend of ancient and modern.

In most cases, getting local cell service was as simple as entering a convenience store and buying a cheap SIM card from the local provider.

Except for Brazil…

In Brazil, it was a bit more difficult. But we still managed to get cell service at one point.

Some of the difficulty has to do with official paperwork requiring a CPF, Brazil’s equivalent of a social security number. I once tried to utilize a local parking app, and got stymied by the CPF field. When you try to check out at the grocery store, and you can’t give them a CPF, they look at you confused. This is the rule, not the exception.

We tried to get a CPF, but it required documents we didn’t think to bring along, like birth certificates. The CPF hurdle isn’t universal, so give it a try. It’s hard to generalize the experience of getting local phone service because every time we did it, the red tape and work arounds were different. One time it required a passport (a physical one, not a picture on our phone). Another time we were able to “borrow” a resident’s identification.

Brazil’s bureaucratic merry-go-round has been written about extensively. We posted about extending our visa, as well as the time I had to keep signing a form over and over until it looked EXACTLY like the signature on my passport while renting a car. You can also read self-help author Mark Manson’s humorous account of attempting to purchase Brazilian cell service.

It was an utter shock to find that internet was adequate many hours away from any major city. — Mizque, Bolivia.

Don’t Rely on Google Fi

Originally, we thought we would be covered by a Google Fi plan. They have international service in over 200 countries. You just get off the plane in a foreign country, turn on cell service, and within a minute or so you’re up and running. At no additional cost.

Sounds amazing, right? Well, it is. But somewhere in the fine print we didn’t read, it says they can shut you down for staying abroad too long. I guess the international coverage is just for short-term vacations.

In any case, within about six weeks of being away, we were told our plan would be terminated.

It turned out not to be that big a deal (except that we were in Brazil at the time, see above). As long as you have an unlocked phone, you can get a local SIM. Every country has a couple providers. The service is usually up to par, they have short term plans, and it costs a fraction of US prices.

Where to Work

I’ve talked a lot about internet, but what about a productive work environment?

In my case, I don’t mind working from home. We usually booked apartments or entire homes with multiple bedrooms. Sometimes they came with a desk and chair. At the very least, I could work at the dining table.

In the bigger cities and even smaller towns that get a lot of tourism, co-working is a thing. We even saw co-working spaces in Puerto Natales, a small isolated town in southern Patagonia near Torres del Paine.

If working from home isn’t an option and no co-working spaces are available, you can do what we did in Paraty and book a cheap short-term rental. You can book overlapping stays on Airbnb. And in South America, the cost is trivial.

Not one of my more luxurious setups. — Puerto Natales, Chile


Getting Enough Screen Space While Living Out of a Backpack

Space is tight when everything must fit in a backpack. But working on a single laptop screen stinks. Especially for a programmer or a data analyst.

To solve this, I bought a portable foldup screen from Amazon. (Just go to Amazon and search “portable screen for laptop“). It was plug and play, and it fit comfortably in my backpack. It won’t be as good as your large desktop screen back home, but it makes a bad situation much better.

Plugging In

Make sure to bring a universal power adapter (or several). Most countries we visited had outlets that differed from the U.S.

Fortunately, we didn’t cause an electrical fire. — La Paloma, Uruguay.
Being productive in a rustic A-Frame in La Paloma, Uruguay.


No matter how good your connection, you’ll still experience some lag when trying to communicate from one end of the Earth to the other. My remote desktop connection to the office was never instantaneous like it is back home. You get used to it.

These minor inconveniences are a small price to pay to earn a living while seeing the world!

  • Matt

    Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.

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Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.

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