Self-Employment

How to become a digital nomad

While many employers embrace remote work, there are special considerations to make the lifestyle work. Here’s what you need to know.

Man working on laptop in a cafe, he's wearing headphones and looking on his phone.
writer

Updated 15-5-2024

For many people, it seems like a dream world: never having to go to an office while traveling the world. That’s certainly one way to be a digital nomad, but everyone has different desires for transitioning to a location-independent lifestyle. Digital nomads work hard just like anybody else, but they’ve forgone a permanent location.

There are plenty of advantages to becoming a digital nomad, but a good amount of preparation is key before you can work remotely. Here’s what you need to know:

World Nomads

Want to travel and work abroad? Before you jet off, it’s important to take out the right travel insurance to cover you along the way. World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance that you can buy at home or on the road. They also offer great advice to help you travel more confidently.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad integrates work into a travel-oriented lifestyle. Articles that praise the virtues of remote work usually write about people who stay in the same place. They’re thinking of distributed teams, where team members are not located in the same place but, in general, don’t move around a whole lot.

Teams with remote workers have plenty of benefits already: parents can work from home to look after the kids, or maybe someone with a lengthy commute can replace those two hours on the train with two hours of focus at home.

Digital nomads, though, take this one step further by traveling to different places year-round. Plenty of digital nomads don’t even have what they would consider a ‘home’ (except in the legal sense for their taxes), all while earning a living.

Being a digital nomad doesn't mean just lounging by the beach with your laptop in reach.

When most people think of a digital nomad, they picture the stock photo version of remote work. This is usually someone smiling while looking at their pristine laptop, sipping their cappuccino next to an idyllic beach. The reality, obviously, differs.

It’s certainly possible to be a digital nomad in a remote location. Personal Wi-Fi hotspots are now fairly affordable and offer connectivity over 3G/4G in any area within reach of a cell tower.

On the other hand, many digital nomads choose to work in cities, where an abundance of cafés and co-working spaces house remote workers every day.

Preparing for the location-independent life

Many prospective digital nomads underestimate the most important step: reducing their dependence on material things. Being a digital nomad means packing up your belongings, moving to the next city, and easily starting work again. Working remotely means true independence from a specific place.

This seems a little difficult at first when you start brainstorming all of the things you use daily. What do you do about your computer, monitor, filing system, or chair? Becoming a digital nomad is the perfect time to channel your inner Marie Kondo; thank your bulkier possessions for their service, find them a new home, and downsize everything.

There are also administrative factors that you need to organize. These include a robust expat health insurance plan or an international banking workflow that facilitates your lifestyle. Aim for plans that maximize flexibility and portability.

When it comes to health insurance, get a plan that you can change depending on where your travels take you. As for banking, find an option that allows multiple currency accounts and low international transfer fees. These ensure you aren’t bleeding cash with each transaction.

How to work remotely as a digital nomad

If you’re currently employed and think you could work remotely, run it by your employer. If your boss still thinks of remote work as a foreign concept, suggest easing into it. Encourage management to look into allowing team members to work from home a couple of days per week. That way, you wouldn’t be seen as on the receiving end of preferential treatment, and the entire team can benefit from the added flexibility.

Companies and organizations are becoming more open to having their staff work remotely.

If your employer is receptive to the idea of remote work, stress the tangible benefits that it provides. If being in the same office every day drags you down, emphasize how the quality of your work will improve if you can do it from abroad.

Becoming a digital nomad as an employee is primarily about trust that you’ll get the job done; old-school management types want assurance that they’ll see net benefits in incorporating remote work.

Tips for working as a digital nomad

Make sure you’re not carting too much around with you. Thankfully, most items either have more compact versions (e.g., a laptop and portable external monitor) or aren’t actually necessary (most countries have chairs, after all).

Trade out items whenever you acquire something new. If you buy a new shirt, get rid of an old one. Choose compact, multi-use items. Limit the amount of gadgets you bring with you; streaming services and voice-call apps turn your devices into movie theaters and conference rooms. Avoid buying anything you don’t truly need.

For many digital nomads, working at a startup is their first chance to get their work done without having to be chained to their desks all the time. Younger companies tend to have fresher ideas when it comes to how they manage their workflow. As a result, these companies probably already use the kinds of tools and applications (like Slack and Trello) that facilitate communication and project management without the need for in-person interaction.

Jobs for remote workers are a dime a dozen. Although this trend was initially common in software development, firms are increasingly capitalizing on the advantages offered by a distributed team.

Becoming an entrepreneurial digital nomad

Those of a bolder disposition might want to consider becoming an entrepreneur abroad. Countries all over the world are making it easier than ever to apply for an entrepreneur visa. Historically, entrepreneurial visas required high levels of capital investment that were difficult for younger entrepreneurs to attain. Now, countries are nearly tripping over themselves to win over attractive business opportunities from abroad.

Countries all over the world are encouraging digital nomads to incorporate their businesses in their country.

Some countries are taking even more initiative to facilitate the world’s entrepreneurs. Estonia, in particular, has an e-residency program that helps foreigners give their digital businesses a home in the legal sense.

Setting up an e-residency (or another country’s equivalent) offers yet more flexibility, as the business owner’s physical presence isn’t necessary. If the only reason you need to travel to your business’s home country is to meet with your tax advisor. That leaves the vast majority of the year to pitch your tent wherever you prefer.

Picking a destination

How often you travel depends entirely on your work needs and your travel style. There might be some practical concerns at play. Maybe you’ll need to return to your office occasionally or go to the country where you pay taxes. As a digital nomad, you’ll stay in any given city for a few weeks or months. It all depends on the visa regulations of the country you want to enter.

Everyone’s preferences differ. Some want the tropical climates of Jeju or Bali, while others want an affordable urban experience in Tbilisi or Kyiv. As long as there’s a decent Internet connection and you can legally enter the country for a reasonable amount of time, you can go anywhere that piques your interest. Keep in mind that entering on a tourist visa usually limits you to a three-month stay.

Websites such as Nomad List have an extensive database of cities and countries, complete with data on Internet speed, visa regulations, and rental housing prices.

Finding a place to stay as a digital nomad is easier than ever before. If you’re looking at countries with a lower cost of living, you’ll probably find better value in the homes available on Airbnb. Finding a flat the old-fashioned way might be costly or just a huge headache.

In the more well-established digital nomad hotspots, you’ll find plenty of co-living spaces. While the cost of entry for co-living is high, you’ll get a chance to live in a shared, serviced accommodation with areas to work all under the same roof.