I am wanting to set up a discourse forum on my website. I am paying for discourse now, but it seems in the installation “how-to” that digitalocean is the first step for setup
DigitalOcean is recommended but not mandatory. You can use any server that supports docker
It is almost the case that if you are asking the question, the answer is “yes”, but there are dozens of providers that will work. This list of easy-to-use providers was written with people like you in mind.
Again, there are other email services, but I have found Mailgun to be easy to sign up and get started with.
I am using linode (for server) and sparkpost (for mail). There is also vultr, aws ec2, google cloud (for cloud server) . There are numerous providers of VPS and dedicated server.