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The Best Cities To Be a Freelancer in 2020

Thinking of going freelance?

More and more businesses hire freelancers, so an increasing number of professionals can find contract employment nowadays to either launch a side career or change their career paths. What attracts them? The flexibility of working hours and working environment; the fact that they can work from anywhere and at any time — remotely. It’s no secret that some cities are more freelancer-friendly than others.

AppJobs took a list of the top 50 cities to live in and analyzed a series of metrics from sources, including TripAdvisor, Numbeo, Indeed and Wiman. The factors taken into consideration were the number of cafés with free Wi-Fi, the number of free Wi-Fi spots, the number of freelance jobs available, the average cost of living, the percentage of the city’s population currently freelancing, and the average self-employed salary per year. We scored the cities based on these factors, and then we combined the scores to create an overall index score for each city. Finally, we ranked them to reveal the best cities for freelancers.

So what’s the best city for a self-employed professional? Find out in our graphic below.

the best cities to be a freelancer
the best cities to be a freelancer paris

1. Paris

Paris with its irresistible charm and style landed in the first place on our list of best cities for freelancers. Since it’s considered a fashion capital, people from all over the world try to launch their careers in the French capital, where ca. 80 million tourists visit the Eiffel Tower, walk along the Champs-Élysées, or explore the hidden gems in Montmartre annually.

It’s highly recommended to learn (some) French before one’s arrival. If you’re from another European Union member state, you enjoy the freedom of movement and can settle down in Paris without any problem. People from outside the EU have to apply for a visa in their countries of origin. Since 2009, the French government has been issuing a special visa for freelancers. It’s called profession libérale. You may also register your business through the URSSAF under the unique micro-enterprise taxation system. You won’t pay so much taxes and it comes with some other benefits. But you can’t make more than €33,200 (≈$36,573.29) annually. Expats also have access to the national health care system under the new Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) system.

A Parisian freelancer might earn less ($36,656.18) than the world average for freelancers, but nearly 4,000 (3,938) freelance jobs are available within 25 miles of the city. When it comes to the cost of living, freelancers can conclude that Paris is an expensive city. A person needs ca. $1,356.77 per month to be able to live in the city center. This may encourage freelancers to rent a room in a flatshare. And even if the roommates can’t turn off the volume, freelancers can choose among 367,704 free Wi-Fi spots and 265 cafés with free Wi-Fi in Paris.

As soon as you settle in, you’ll realize that hanging out in cafés (and bars) with friends or just alone is an essential part of the Parisian lifestyle. During the short but warm summer, even a bench near a café could become your office for the day. You can also rent a table in one of the coworking offices and network with fellow designers, translators, writers, photographers, etc. If you’re used to a fast-paced life, get prepared for a more calmer, slower lifestyle. Parisians cherish every single moment…


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the best cities to be a freelancer london

2. London

London follows closely behind Paris with an overall score of 53.8 out of 100. London has a whopping 730,532 free Wi-Fi spots around the city and 703 cafés with free Wi-Fi—the most out of all the cities analyzed. There are 1,393 freelance jobs available within 25 miles of the city with an average annual salary sitting at $31,187.51. However, the London lifestyle comes at a price with the average monthly rent amounting to $2,196.68 per month, making it the fourth most expensive city to live in.

London with its over eight million inhabitants is one of the most diverse cities on Earth. It’s such a huge city, even locals would need months to explore it beyond the main attractions such as the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the Buckingham Palace, Camden Town, etc. People into the arts, cinema, music and many more will always find something to do in this *rainy city where underground subcultures meet highbrow culture.

One word that Londoners may never want to hear again is Brexit. In the past few yours, Britain’s exit from the EU has been covered by media outlets immensely. Following the results of the 2016 referendum, many foreigners, who may have lived in the UK for 10-30 years, have decided to leave the country. It’s advised to invest enough time in studying the application process for visas.

Freelancers comprise six percent of the UK workforce, and the number of women freelancers has increased significantly since 2008. Foreign freelancers working in the field of arts, culture, and creativity may try to get an exceptional talent visa. Make sure you know what you need to be able to freelance in London. You might have to register as self-employed. You can become a partner in a business partnership, set up your own limited company or work as a sole trader, and pay taxes accordingly. You can maybe rent a desk in one of the many coworking spaces around town and ask other freelancers for some advice.


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the best cities to be a freelancer madrid

3. Madrid

If you’ve read our blog post on the best countries for expats, you know that Spain is one of them. The third place of the best cities for freelancers goes to Madrid, the location of many Almodóvar films. It achieved an overall score of 47.1. Madrid has over 200 Wi-Fi accessible cafés and a reasonable cost of living ($1,028.85).

Freelancers in Madrid have an average annual salary of $19,324.4, significantly less than their peers in Paris or London. But entrepreneurs in Spain don’t have to pay corporate tax, for example. Without your own business, you should become a registered freelancer (autónomo) and select a specific category (epígrafe) that determines whether or not you have to pay VAT (IVA). (It costs quite a lot of money.) First-time registered freelancers receive some incentives from the state, and freelancers can deduct several items of their taxes. Those who can’t register as autónomo may join a cooperative that provides a variety of services. You may work through them if you’re not allowed to register as self-employed. If someone invoices a single client for 75% or more of their income, their status is autónomo económicamente dependiente.

Despite its distance to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, Madrid never ceases to satisfy those who love sunshine. Foreigners may get by just speaking a few words of Spanish but they will probably never experience Madrid and Spain in its entirety: its music, films, theaters, museums, etc. Whether you work from home, a café or a popular coworking space, a walk in the city sounds like an excellent idea if you want to recharge your batteries.


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the best cities to be a freelancer barcelona

4. Barcelona

The second-largest city of Spain just missed the podium with its score of 47. Barcelona is not only a great city for freelancers but also a popular destination for tourists. People are flocking to the capital of Catalonia to visit museums, see Gaudí’s work (La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, etc.), and relax at the beaches. In recent years, their number has increased so much that some plans have been introduced to address the issue of overtourism.

While the climate is mild, freelancers residing in Barcelona have to get used to the idea that not all homes have a heater. So you may need to wear something warm inside during winter. There are nearly 300 (298) cafés with free Wi-Fi around the city offering a friendly atmosphere to work in. Those who dislike spending so much time alone can sometimes book a table in one of the coworking offices filled with energy and ideas. They say Barcelona hosts a large number of freelancers, which means you can easily grow your network.

While freelancers earn as much as in Madrid, which is $19,324.4 per annum, they have to allocate more money to pay their expenses in Barcelona. If you want to save up money, you may think of moving in with your friends or other artists, designers, writers. To live and work in Barcelona, you may need a visa. Once there, you can become a registered freelancer (autónomo). When applying, you have to select a specific category (epígrafe) that determines whether or not you have to pay VAT (IVA). (It costs quite a lot of money.) If you struggle with the language, you can contact some cooperatives that will help you figure out how to proceed. What’s more, if you’re legally not eligible to register as an autónomo, you may even work through them. You may register your own business; entrepreneurs in Spain don’t have to pay corporate tax. If 75% (or more) of your income comes from one client, your status could be autónomo económicamente dependiente. It’s worth investing time in finding out what the tax-deductible items are and whether or not you’re qualified for receiving incentives (for example as a first-time registered freelancer).


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the best cities to be a freelancer lisbon

5. Lisbon

Staying on the Iberian Peninsula, our next stop regarding the best cities for freelancers is Lisbon. This should not come as a surprise since Portugal ranks third on the list of the best countries for expats in 2019—according to InterNations’ Expat Insider survey. Although respondents would not necessarily recommend the country for those who endeavor to advance their career, you may find a booming entrepreneur and start-up scene in the Portuguese capital. And if you work remotely for companies overseas, you don’t have to worry about career prospects but enjoy the vibe and the nice weather in the city.

You can either type your texts or draw your sketches in one of the 124 cafés with free Wi-Fi or look for one of the 84,183 free Wi-Fi spots in town. Not everyone can afford to have a study/studio at home or is suitable for working from home. You can also pack your bag and look for a cozy spot outside of the city, in a rural area or at a less known beach. Whereas Lisbon is more affordable than Barcelona or Madrid, freelancers make significantly less money here. The average annual salary is $12,459.35. To make your stay cost-efficient, team up with friends or share an apartment with other (expat) freelancers, whom you met in one of the hip coworking offices in Lisbon.

If you’re from outside the EU, you probably need to apply for a visa. In Portugal, you can register as standard sole trader or freelancer, and you have to pay either Portuguese personal income tax (Imposto Sobre das Pessoas Singulares) or Portuguese corporate income tax (Imposto Sobre das Pessoas Colectivas). Portugal has a progressive taxation system, which starts at 14.5% for earnings up to €7,091 (≈$7,810). You can also register a business (and pay corporate tax) or a partnership (and pay personal tax).


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the best cities to be a freelancer brussels

6. Brussels

Spend ten minutes at the Place du Luxembourg and listen to the various languages amalgamated into unrecognizable sounds… Brussels, which places sixth on our list of best cities for freelancers, has been becoming more diverse and international as time goes by. Not only officials of the European Union but also people from outside the EU are moving to Brussels. Several cultural institutes and NGOs have their headquarters in the city where many locals speak French and Flemish fluently.

Foreigners may associate Brussels with European Union institutions but locals would tell you otherwise. Besides the Atomium, Mini-Europe and the Royal Palace of Brussels, numerous other indoor and outdoor places welcome visitors seeking fun, adventure, knowledge, or serenity. Despite the small number of cafés with free Wi-Fi (68), you can chat with your friends over a cup of coffee in plenty of atmospheric venues (coworking offices included) within a short distance. Brussels is not Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but you can walk or ride your bike daily. The number of cyclists has reportedly doubled in the past five years. Fortunately, extreme weather conditions don’t hinder locals from commuting by bike.

Freelancers from non-EU countries may need a visa to enter Belgium and a residence permit to be able to stay there. Interestingly, Brussels is more affordable (the monthly rent is $932.01) than Lisbon and freelancers earn more than twice as much ($31,307.64 per annum) as their peers in Portugal. Not to mention that there are more freelance jobs available in Belgium. Nonetheless, you should expect more bureaucracy in Brussels. As a freelancer (travailleur indépendant/vervangende ondernemer), you have to apply for a professional card, which is called carte professionnelle/beroepskaart. It costs €140 (≈$154) and is valid between one and five years. Then you need to choose a trading name, and register for trade and tax and social security payments. The amount of money you need to pay on taxes in Belgium depends on whom you work for or with.


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the best cities to be a freelancer new york city

7. New York City

Does New York City need any introduction? Despite being one of the most expensive cities, the Big Apple attracts aspiring and emerging creatives from all over the world to pursue their dreams and passions. While in the last century, Greenwich Village and East Village were the epicenters of counterculture and the neighborhoods where artists and creatives lived and mingled, today freelancers spread out in the city. Not so recently, New Yorkers have seen a snowstorm, so get ready for the winters.

According to some estimates, over 146,477 freelancers work in NYC. The number of cafés with free Wi-Fi might be pretty low (142) considering the size of the city, but they can choose from over one million (1,107,579) free Wi-Fi spots and at least 50 coworking hubs in each borough to work on their projects related to digital media, TV or cinema productions, technology, publishing, and many more. While freelancing may seem like a desirable option for many, it has its cons. And not every freelancer will earn $45,672.94 annually on average. It takes time, patience and hard work to stand out from the crowd. Even though you may face lots of competition when trying to build your reputation in The City That Never Sleeps, you can also establish valuable, long-lasting, supportive friendships.

If you are not a U.S. citizen but want to have your base in New York City, you probably need a visa. You may be eligible for the O-1B, which is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry. We recommend you to read up on the various types of visas one can apply for and the taxation system as well.


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the best cities to be a freelancer montreal

8. Montréal

Another non-European city that has managed to land among the top 15 best cities for freelancers is Montréal, Canada. Although locals may have witnessed a steep increase in prices (including rent), the cost of living in Montréal is still lower than in Lisbon, for example, and they earn twice as much per year. Freelancers based in the largest city in Québec province receive an annual salary of $25,588.46 (USD) on average.

Montréal is considered the artistic and cultural capital of Canada with ample green areas. It offers a nurturing environment for artists, freelance creatives, and entrepreneurs who may extend their social and professional network while renting a desk in one of the many coworking offices. There are not so many cafés (81) where freelancers can get connected to the Internet free of charge, though. Also, foreigners must acquire sufficient knowledge of Canadian French to avoid stress and hassle when settling in. Freelancers who used to live in Copenhagen are surely enthusiastic about the excellent bike-lane network in Montréal. Some research shows that cycling reduces stress, so you may want to get a bike and explore the avenues, alleys and parks—every inch of the city—on a saddle. Perhaps during the cold and snowy winters too!

Montréal has become fairly popular among French citizens in recent years. Considering the laid-back attitude of locals, they may feel they live in Paris or France, and they might not struggle too much with the language. (Although we heard some French people saying that they had a tough time understanding French-speaking Canadians.) To enter Canada, the land of high taxes, you may need to apply for a visa. When that’s in your hand, you should register as self-employed. Since you’re staying in Québec, you should look into the Self-Employed Worker Program that accepts applications from freelancers (le travailleur indépendant). Don’t let the bunch of requirements scare you, you might be eligible to apply. Your status as a self-employed will determine the type of taxes you have to pay, and the amount of it, of course.


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the best cities to be a freelancer milan

9. Milan

Milan, another European fashion capital, demands place among the best countries for freelancers—especially for translators, photographers, tax advisors and personal trainers. While tourists and expats passionate about history pick Rome over Milan, this northern Italian city has established itself as the country’s financial and economic hub. Compared with the other cities located nearer the Mediterranean Sea (Madrid and Barcelona), Milan has a higher cost of living ($1,228.50 per month). Freelancers can also expect to make slightly more than their colleagues in Spain with an average annual salary of $25,082.92. To learn about your industry, ask around in the coworking office you usually work from or in your favorite café with free Wi-Fi. (There are 161 of them in the city!)

When in Milan, expat freelancers should not miss the aperitivo time (6-9 p.m.) and enjoy a feast in one of the restaurants, bars or cafés. The perfect occasion to meet some locals and other expats from various corners of the planet. However, you may need some Italian to engage in long and deep conversations with locals who may not speak such a high level of English. In case you dream of working for Italian clients, knowing the local language is an absolute must. That could also strengthen your résumé and get ahead of the competition. If you are ambitious and love competition, you’ll love Milan. It’s advised to check the weather forecast daily to know what (stylish) outfit you should wear the next day when meeting a potential client.

If you decide to make Milan your home and stay more than 90 days, you have to apply for a residence permit and a visa if you’re not from an EU member state. EU citizens don’t need these documents to be able to settle down in Milan. Freelancers are also required to obtain official authorization (nulla osta) to work as self-employed. (This document is valid for only three months.) Then they need to register their business with the Business Registrar (Registro delle Imprese), the Companies House (Registro delle Ditte), and Tax Registrar (Registrar delle Imposte). You may set up a limited company but that is more costly. Permanent residents pay income taxes on everything they earn in Italy and abroad. We advise you to read carefully about visas and taxation before applying/moving.


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the best cities to be a freelancer glasgow

10. Glasgow

Once an industrial city, Glasgow has embarked on a new journey to make its mark as a creative city. The digital tech industry has also risen to prominence. Nearly half of Scotland’s population (2.8 million) lives in Glasgow, and slightly more than 15% of them work freelance. Many of them have probably secured some projects with some of the 124 TV production companies operating in the city where a person pays less ($807.09) to live in the center than in Lisbon and earns more than twice as much money ($31,187.51). Compared with Milan, Barcelona or London, freelancers in Glasgow can be less concerned about their expenses.

Speaking of TV, Outlander has gained a huge fan base, tours are organized to visit the castles and other places shown in the series. Once the compulsory sightseeing is done, you may recalibrate your focus and settle in Glasgow for real. Because of Brexit, it’s still not clear what will change, so it’s advised to monitor the situation. Whether or not you need a visa and/or residence permit, it depends on where you’re from. As in London, you can register as self-employed (decide from which status you would benefit the most) and learn about taxation. Wandering on the streets of Glasgow, you’ll discover several coworking offices where you may network and hold business meetings. Our analysis shows that 91 cafés offer free Wi-Fi and you may look for one of 44,108 free Wi-Fi spots in Glasgow. You’ll be surrounded by lots of friendly people who will amaze you with their hospitality. Due to the size of the country, a weekend trip to the Scottish Highlands or an island could surely satisfy the needs of an adventurer. And we haven’t even mentioned Loch Ness!


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the best cities to be a freelancer birmingham

11. Birmingham

With an overall score of 41.2, England’s second-largest city ranks 11th on the list of best cities for freelancers. Just like in Glasgow, over 15 percent of the population work freelance in various industries. Although Birmingham has a vibrant tech scene, it doesn’t resemble Glasgow in terms of opportunities in the entertainment industry (TV, music, film, media, etc.), but it still attracts expatriates and international students. To start working as a freelancer, you need to obtain the right documentation. You may need a visa and/or a residence permit. You should register as self-employed (learn about the various types) and pay taxes accordingly.

While the average annual freelance salary ($31,187.51) is the same as in Glasgow, freelancers need to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for accommodation ($958.74 per month) in the city center in Birmingham. Not only the city’s population but also its architecture shows great diversity. Aside from the 62,148 free Wi-Fi spots, freelancers of all kinds can operate their business from one of the modern coworking spaces situated in Birmingham. Getting there may become a challenge as the city was planned around cars. However, you can try and ride your bike, just be cautious, and always wear weather-appropriate clothes.


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the best cities to be a freelancer lyon

12. Lyon

About two hours from Paris, Lyon is considered to be a refuge for freelancers with children and those who wish to live in a spacious apartment instead of a small studio in the heart of Paris. People pay nearly $600 less for accommodation in Lyon ($729.25) than in the French capital ($1,352.49), which can make a huge difference in the life of a freelancer. Over 11% of the inhabitants in Lyon are engaged in a form of freelance activity they can practice in numerous coworking spaces, 40 cafés with free Wi-Fi, and at 36,673 free Wi-Fi spots across town.

Speaking French is as important as in the rest of the country even if more and more foreigners choose Lyon, listed as UNESCO World Heritage, as their home. Some say every neighborhood has its unique vibe, and everything (including the rivers, some huge parks, futuristic buildings) in the center is biking or walking distance. Always carry a bottle of water with you and take care of yourself when heat waves occur.

Settling in goes more smoothly for freelancers from EU member states, others might have to go through the sometimes highly bureaucratic visa application process. The French government started issuing a special visa for freelancers in 2009, and it’s called profession libérale. In addition to applying for that, you can register your business through the URSSAF under the unique micro-enterprise taxation system. It has a lower tax rate and you may become eligible for other benefits. You may also have access to the national health care system under the new Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) system.


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the best cities to be a freelancer calgary

13. Calgary

The last city with an overall score greater than 40 to rank among the best cities for freelancers is Calgary, Alberta, where you can’t hear so many people speak French. This growing urban area with a relatively young and diverse population has also been listed among the most livable cities. Yet the cost of living is somewhat higher (957.74 USD) than in Montréal (944.41 USD), for example. And just like in Montréal, you can expect snow and even minus degrees in the winter. However, this doesn’t stop locals from enjoying nature. Considering the events in the past, locals and tourists must follow the news to make sure they’re well prepared when another flood hits the city.

While we can count only 17 cafés with Wi-Fi, the neighborhoods stretching over between the Bow and Elbow River flows have become a go-to area for freelancers because of the coworking offices opened there. And you may connect to the Internet at 123,916 spots for free and work toward your goal to earn at least the average annual freelancer salary (25,588.46 USD). As of the end of 2019, 8.3 percent of Calgary’s population was considered freelancers.

The self-employed registration system differs from the one in Montréal, Québec. First and foremost, freelancers have to find out whether or not they’re required a visa to enter Canada. After that, they may benefit from the Self-employed Persons Program designed for people who have relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics and are willing and able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of the country. Your status as a self-employed will determine the type of taxes you have to pay, and the amount of it.


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the best cities to be a freelancer edinburgh

14. Edinburgh

The Scottish capital may have earned a lower score (39.7) than Glasgow, but Edinburgh caters to freelancers in a variety of ways. Although you may barely see the sun, locals will welcome you warm-heartedly. Scottish hospitality is world-class. The most prominent sectors are hospitality and tourism, health and social work, tech, finance, education, and administration, but creatives can find their way in the city as well. Besides the Edinburgh International Film Festival, plenty of small- or large-scale takes place throughout the year.

While Edinburgh is a great city to freelance in, it comes at high prices. Living in the city center costs $1,024.54 per month, which makes it more expensive than Glasgow. Freelancers, comprising 15.1% of Edinburgh’s population, earn an average annual salary of $31,187.51 for their hard work while sipping a cup of tea in one of the 166 cafés or one of over 42,600 locations with free Internet. Most of the coworking spaces are situated within a 30-minute walking distance, through the Old Town, from Holyrood Park and the dormant volcano.

Before moving to this historically rich city loved by many Outlander fans, find out what kind of visa and/or residence permit you need, if any. As in London and Glasgow, freelancers can register as self-employed and learn about taxation. It’s worth taking the time to read about the different self-employed statuses to find the most beneficial to you.


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the best cities to be a freelancer vienna

15. Vienna

The Austrian capital in the heart of Europe was crowned as the livable city in 2019 once again, but it places only 15th on our list of best cities for freelancers with the overall score of 38.6. (We’ve looked at different factors.) For some, Vienna may seem like a baroque pearl telling stories about the past — about artistic styles, composers, filmmakers, philosophers, psychologists, etc. And while it may have lost its cultural dominance due to the world wars, many people still value (and want to enjoy) the opportunities in Vienna, where a downtown apartment can cost $952.50. To save on accommodation, you may look for an apartment in the outer districts and ride your bike to meet up with friends or clients in one of the 138 cafés with free Internet. Vienna is flat, which makes it perfect for avid cyclists.

If you’re headed to Vienna, you have to learn how to navigate in a country where everything goes a bit faster if you speak (Austrian) German. Once you’ve got your papers (visa and/or residence permit if applicable), you can ponder what type of status you should aim to get as a freelancer. In Austria, one can register as a free contractor (Freie Dienstnehmer), a new self-employed (Neue Selbstständige), or seek a work contract with a business license (Werkvertrag mit Gewerbeberechtigung) among others. Taxation varies from status to status. It’s probably best to contact someone with a broad knowledge of the system. You can maybe meet someone knowledgeable in one of the many coworking offices in or close to downtown. There you can also ask other freelancers about the salaries possible in Austria. According to our analysis, freelancers earn $34,844.31 a year on average.


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Check out the dataset here.

Best cities for freelancers in Europe

What is clear from our findings is that European cities dominate the top end of the list, with 12 out of the top 15 being located in Europe. Paris, London, and Madrid take the top three slots as the best cities for freelancers. Barcelona and Lisbon have also landed among the top five. We can also point out that capital cities prevail among European cities.

Best cities for freelancers in the USA and Canada

Regarding countries outside of Europe, the data reveals that New York, Montréal and Calgary rank as the top non-European cities in the world for freelancers. Interestingly, none of the major cities in Texas (Austin, Houston, Dallas) have made the list even though freelancers don’t pay income taxes there.

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Paulina Bajorowicz joined Appjobs in November 2018 and she is now the Content Marketing Specialist. She manages Appjobs blog and social media channels, coordinates outreach activities and cooperates with journalists and content creators around the gig economy.