Cafés vs. Coworking: A Cost Comparison

Digital nomads know that both coworking spaces and Wi-Fi cafés have their pros and cons. Coworking spaces offer a more traditional workspace, but cafes have flexibility, variety and ambiance (and better coffee). The choice usually comes down to personal preference.

But many nomads believe that coworking spaces are just too expensive—and that it’s much cheaper to frequent cafes. Others think the productivity of a coworking space is worth the expense.

Cappucino and Laptop

But what is the true cost of coworking?

To answer that question, we’ve decided to compare the cost of coworking with the cost of setting up shop in a local café. For this comparison, we chose four popular digital nomad cities around the world: San Francisco, Medellin, Berlin, and Cape Town.

Day passes at coworking spaces are almost always more expensive than a day at Starbucks—consider, for example, the global coworking giant WeWork, which charges $45 US for a day pass. So instead of reviewing the cost of a day, we’ve considered the cost of a month-long membership at a coworking space.

We’ve also assumed that if you work a full day in a café, you must make a purchase every few hours (that’s just good etiquette), and that one of your purchases will be food. So, we’ve calculated a minimum purchase of a fancy coffee in the morning and a sandwich and beverage in the afternoon.

And while some coworking memberships allow for 24-hour, 7-days-a-week access, we like to encourage a healthy worklife balance! So, we’ve considered a regular work week with weekends off; that gives us about 20 work days per month.

We’ve used the crowd-sourced data on Numbeo.com to estimate our café costs (unfortunately, field research isn’t in our budget!). For the coffee beverage, we’ve used the average price for a regular cappuccino. And for our afternoon food and drink, we’ll use Numbeo’s listing for a McMeal at McDonalds.

There are always more and less expensive options. The price of a city’s average cappuccino seems to be less than price-leading Starbucks. And a full meal at McDonalds is often the same price, or perhaps a little less, than a sandwich and beverage at your typical Starbucks-style café. In some parts of the world, McDonalds is a luxury purchase, and in others it’s one of the cheapest food options. But, it gives us a baseline.

Of course, you still need to eat when working at a coworking space. But our purpose here is to look at the obligatory costs. You can always brown-bag your lunch to a coworking space or step out for street food. And you could split your café time into morning and afternoon with an inexpensive lunch break. But we have to establish our parameters.

(All prices are in USD).

San Francisco, United States

Cappuccino     $4.39

McMeal           $8.00

Day Total       $12.39

Month Total   $247.8

Impact Hub

Hot desk, monthly           $225, plus tax

Café Working = $250 Coworking = $245
And the winner is… Coworking

At first glance, the options in the City by the Bay seem even, but San Francisco is notoriously expensive. Chances are, finding a café with Numbeo’s average prices would be a challenge. And when costs are even, the amenities of a coworking space easily tip the scales. While Impact Hub’s 24/7 access membership is much more expensive at $375, there is no shortage of coworking spaces in the capital city of Silicon Valley. You may be able to find a more affordable option.

Medellin, Colombia 

Cappuccino     $1.22

McMeal           $5.15

Day Total       $6.37

Month Total   $127.4

The Office Coworking

Hot desk, monthly      $125, plus tax

Café Working = $128 Coworking = $145
And the winner is… Café Working

Medellin is the new must-go destination for digital nomads, and there is a growing number of options in different neighbourhoods. Café working just squeaks by for the win, but in reality, the costs are likely similar, especially if the “average” café doesn’t fit your needs.

 Berlin, Germany

Cappuccino     $2.97

McMeal           $8.18

Day Total       $11.15

Month Total   $127.4

Betahaus, Berlin

Hot desk, monthly         $239, plus tax

Café Working = $223 Coworking = $285
And the winner is… Café Working

Café working may win by the numbers. But chances are, various Berlin cafés will range in prices and, like San Francisco, are probably higher than Numbeo’s averages. This makes the $285 price point seem fairly affordable, if coworking suits your needs better than the unpredictable coffee shop option.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cappuccino     $1.72

McMeal           $4.94

Day Total       $6.66

Month Total   $120

Punspace

Hot desk, 24/7 monthly          $105

 

Café Working = $120 Coworking = $105
And the winner is… Coworking

The thing about Chiang Mai is that Punspace is basically the only traditional, monthly option for coworking spaces. But the coworking scene is peppered with hybrid cafes designed expressly for digital nomads. And, of course, there is no shortage of cheap food in Chiang Mai—but that doesn’t change the fact that if you’re going to spend the day in a café, you need to spend money there. Fancy iced coffee drinks in coworking cafes generally cost a minimum of $2.

Conclusion

We’ll be the first to admit that this analysis is not scientific nor comprehensive. However, it does paint a picture: just dismissing coworking as the “too expensive” option isn’t a very sound argument. Sure, cafés allow for more flexible, economic choices. But coworking is not significantly more expensive than frequenting cafés on a daily basis, even in expensive cities like San Francisco and Berlin. The most important thing to keep in mind is that in every city, your mileage may vary.

 

If you have a coworking space to recommend in these cities or other digital nomad hubs, let us know!

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