Do you want to become a digital nomad? Such a drastic lifestyle change is anything but easy and requires careful preparation. To give you the most important steps on your way to a location-independent life, I’ve created this digital nomad checklist. Make sure to tick off as many topics as possible before you start your new lifestyle.
Table of Contents
Digital Nomad Checklist: How To Become A Nomad
Here we go, don’t miss these steps on your way to becoming a digital nomad:
Pre-step: Mental Preparation
Let’s start with step 0. The mental preparation before you even think about doing something else.
Are You Sure?
Are you sure that this is the right lifestyle for you? Don’t be fooled by the fancy Instagram pictures or the self-claimed gurus who tell you that this is the best way to live your life.
Make sure you want to become a digital nomad for the right reasons. If you “only” want to travel more, maybe do a sabbatical. If you want to work from home, see if you can work out a few remote days a week with your current employer.
Also, have you given this lifestyle a test run to see if you could really enjoy it? You could go on a workation for a few weeks, which is an organized tour or retreat for remote professionals.
Before you sell everything you own and give up your “old” life entirely, be sure that this is not just a quick idea.
Downsides of Being a Digital Nomad
To be able to know if the digital nomad life is the right choice, you should also be aware of the downsides of this lifestyle.
- Just think of the fact that you won’t be able to see your family and friends as frequently as before.
- Or that you will have to downsize your material possessions and get along with the content of a suitcase or backpack only.
- Or that you constantly have to make new friends and then say goodbye to them again a few weeks or months later.
I surely don’t want to talk you out of this idea. After all, I absolutely love this kind of living and the freedom that comes with it. But I’m also not a big fan of sugarcoating. I want you to have a realistic picture and be prepared for the pitfalls, too.
Digital Nomad Skills
Since this life is so different from a “normal” life, there are certain digital nomad skills and abilities you should have to be successful and happy in the long run. Just to mention a few:
- Discipline to be productive when working remotely
- Self-marketing to be able to constantly find clients, customers, or accommodation
- Being okay with being lonely because there will be times when it takes longer or it’s harder to make new friends.
1. Prepare Your Finances
Another important factor, if not the most important one, is financial preparation.
Having a remote job or a way to generate income online is basically the center of the digital nomad life.
No job, no money, hard life.
Make sure you start looking into your options well before you want to leave. You could either:
- Work as a remote employee
- Work as a freelancer
- Start your own business
I’ve written countless blog posts on this topic alone, so make sure you check out things like:
- How to make money without IT skills
- How to get your first client as a freelancer or
- How to find a remote job at a company
Extra tip: Do not quit your current job before you don’t have at least a very precise plan on how to make money online!
In the best case, you have your regular income figured out and set before you leave. However, it is always a great idea to have some money you can rely on.
How much money will you need exactly? Good question! But as so often, it depends. I’ve created an extensive list with all of the potential expenses you are going to have within the first few months to give you a rough idea of what you should put aside, check it out here: How much money do I need to become a Digital Nomad.
Extra tip: Get rid of or at least reduce your debts. Starting an unstable lifestyle like this with debts can be very stressful.
If you want to learn more about how you can handle your finances as a digital nomad, check out the linked post!
2. Get rid of Commitments
Your current life is full of commitments and contracts that you need to get rid of before starting a digital nomad life.
Quit your Job
As said before, don’t quit your job before you have found a new and reliable way to generate regular income in the long run.
Also, make sure you say goodbye in a nice manner. You never know. Maybe you will return soon and would like to have your old job back. It could be nice to keep that door open.
Keep in mind that most employment contracts have a certain period of notice. So you might be required to continue working for two or three months or even longer. Plan accordingly.
End your Housing Situation
If you live in a rental home, all you need to do is to terminate the contract. Again, make sure you plan for the period of notice. Alternatively, you could sublease it, if your landlord is ok with that. This would be a good option if you only want to live abroad for a few months and return afterward.
If you own a house or apartment, you could also rent it out while you are away. Of course, you could also sell it and use the money to travel. Only make sure that you are convinced you would enjoy this lifestyle on the long run. Otherwise, you might regret such a huge step very soon.
Quit other Commitments
Memberships: Terminate all memberships you currently have in due time, e.g. gym membership, club memberships, etc.
Subscriptions: Any newsletters, magazines, or other regular deliveries you won’t need when you travel around the world – cancel them.
Give away and Sell
When you are a digital nomad, you can only bring with you what you can carry. A very minimalistic lifestyle. So a great chance to declutter your house. Of course, you can store important items at a friend’s place or rent a storage unit but this won’t work with everything you currently own.
Sell or give away clothing, furniture, decoration, books, electronics, toys, sports equipment, your car or bike, kitchenware, etc. Literally anything you won’t need anymore and don’t want to store somewhere.
You might not be able to cancel everything and will still receive a few letters every once in a while. Make sure you forward your physical mail to a good friend or family member so they can open it in urgent cases.
Alternatively, you could use a scanning service, if your country’s postal provider has one, e.g. Post Scan Mail. They will open your mail, scan it in and send it to your email address.
3. Choose your Location
Yes, you’re right. This is definitely the most fun part when it comes to preparing for your digital nomad life.
So many great places to choose from. Where to go first? I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to how to pick the right country as a digital nomad. So here are only a few factors you need to take into consideration:
- Season and climate
- Visa options
- Existing expat or digital nomad community
- Personal preferences and places of interest
- Internet quality
I usually book the first few nights in a hotel or Airbnb. It’s less stressful when you arrive at the airport in the middle of the night with your luggage and know where you have to go instead of figuring it out at that very moment.
As soon as I’ve arrived I’ll look around what area I like most and see if I can find a nice apartment. This is often much cheaper than booking something online, especially in Southeast Asia or Latin America.
If you still want to be on the safe side or can’t find anything locally, check out Airbnb.
Extra Tip: I always check if there is a housesitting option available. This is a great way to get in contact with locals and actually live as they do. Plus, you usually get to take care of cats or dogs and it’s for FREE! Have a look at housesitting websites such as Housecarers.
If you can’t or don’t want to work from home, coworking spaces are a great alternative. Check out what options you have in your new city and how much they are.
Digital Nomad Community
It’s always nice to arrive somewhere new and know that there are many like-minded people around. See if you can find Meetup groups or local Facebook groups which organize get-togethers. This will help you find friends and exchange experiences and learn new things about the regions.
4. Plan Your Arrival
Now let’s have a look at what you have to organize for your arrival.
Book a Flight
Book your first flight well in advance to get the best deal and to be able to prepare a visa if needed. You should also check if your destination country requires you to have a return or onward flight upon entering and organize one if necessary.
If you are looking for cheap flights, I highly recommend Skyscanner. They simply have the best deals, let you also search for countries instead of airports, and show you the cheapest days of the month. If you are a bit flexible you can save hundreds of dollars with that.
Get a Passport
If you have a passport, make sure it has enough blank pages, as some countries require it to have up to six spare ones.
Another common requirement is that your passport must be valid for at least six months after entry. If it looks too old and is in terrible shape, you could also get problems at certain immigration counters.
Check your passport and organize a new one if needed. This will soon be one of your most valuable possessions.
Get a Visa
You might not know where you will end up ten months from now but you surely know where you fly to first. Do you need a visa in that country? If so, can you get it on arrival or do you need to organize it in advance?
Keep in mind that some embassies take weeks (or even longer) to process certain visa applications. So start early!
Residency & Taxation
Many digital nomads decide to not keep a home base in their home country. In case your country requires you to register a residence, you will probably need to unregister upon leaving.
If health care insurance is obligatory in your country, you will need to terminate that, too, e. g. in Germany.
In any case, check with your taxation office if you still have to pay income taxes if you live abroad. Also, make sure you know the regulations in your new country. In some, you are automatically considered a resident for taxation purposes if you stay for a certain period of time.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you exact information on this as the regulations vary greatly from one country and one citizenship to another. If you need more info, check out the Facebook group Tax and Residency Solutions for Digital Nomads.
Did you know that some digital nomads don’t pay income tax at all and it’s even legal? Read more about the Flag Theory and how you can apply it, too.
5. Physical Preparation
The day you want to start your digital nomad life comes closer and closer. Time to look at a few other things you need to prepare.
Health Care & Vaccinations
Do you have medical issues that require you to take certain medicine regularly? Check if you can buy that in the country you are traveling to. Alternatively, organize enough of it and bring it with you.
If that means bringing a large amount of medication with you, you might also want to get a doctor’s certificate that proves that you are dependent on it. You don’t want to get into trouble at the airport because security thinks you want to smuggle drugs.
Also, get a rough idea of where you want to travel to in the first few months and check with your doctor about what vaccinations are recommended in these regions. Start doing so well in advance of your flight date as some require several shots for immunization over a period of a few weeks.
I know many of you want to save money and consider not getting travel insurance. Although I like traveling on a budget, too, I highly recommend you get one! If you have an accident or end up in a hospital because of terrible food poisoning, you wished you had one. Make sure it covers the countries you are going to travel to. If you plan to do extreme sports, chose a company that covers that.
If you want to go for one of the most affordable options that still offers great coverage, check out SafetyWing. Their plans start a $40 per month, you can purchase it if you are already abroad, and in addition to the usual medical coverage, it also covers things like:
- Home trip visits,
- Travel delays,
- Lost checked luggage,
- Natural disasters, and
- Personal liability.
Make sure you will be able to access your funds from the other side of the world. Is your credit card still valid? Do you have to pay fees for withdrawals in other countries? Don’t underestimate that! This can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars that you throw out of the window.
I have been using the bank N26 for years now and can’t recommend them enough.
- Zero fees for most services,
- The powerful app, and
- Great customer service.
In case you need to transfer money from one currency to another, use Wise, formerly TransferWise. The lowest fees on the market, very quick, and super secure.
International Driving License
In case you want to drive a car or motorbike when traveling, make sure you get an international driving license before you leave. Some countries might not accept it but you never know.
Also be aware that you need to have a driving license when driving a scooter in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia. If you get caught without one, be prepared to pay a fine.
Decide if you want to bring a suitcase or a backpack. What clothes should you pack? What electronic devices do you need? Anything else you can’t live with? I know it’s hard but less is usually more.
Especially when you want to become a nomad which means moving around quite a lot. You don’t want to drag 30 kg of luggage with you, trust me. I usually shoot for 10 kg max, since I prefer traveling with carry-on luggage only.
Have a look at this comprehensive packing list for digital nomads, so you won’t forget anything.
Don’t be fooled! Most of you won’t need a super expensive MacBook or the newest iPhone to work remotely. So don’t assume that you will need to buy these expensive brands. Consider what kind of work you will be doing and buy something that fits your needs.
If you work as a content writer and mainly need an office program and the internet for doing research, you can easily go for a cheaper option. The same goes for a smartphone. If you mainly need it for social media and the obligatory selfie every once in a while, don’t waste your entire budget on it.
I strongly advise you to use a VPN when using public WIFI. This will secure the data on your laptop or phone from malicious attacks.
It also allows you to enter websites that are normally censored or simply not available in certain countries, for instant social media or Netflix.
I’ve been using and recommending NordVPN. It’s only a few dollars a month but it can save you lots of trouble.
Yes, digital nomads depend on the internet. That’s why you need to make sure you can access it anytime you need to get your work done. There are a few options you have:
- Get a local SIM card with data for your phone.
- Use WIFI in your accommodation, coworking space, or cafe.
- Get a global hotspot that gives you WIFI anywhere in the world.
I personally use public WIFI (with a VPN!) whenever I can get it. In case I’m traveling on a train or bus or if the local WIFI doesn’t work for any reason, I use the global hotspot Skyroam. This is a great little gadget that’s perfect for those “emergency cases” and it’s absolutely hassle-free.
The great thing about a location-independent lifestyle is that you don’t have to make a detailed travel plan. You stay at places you like and move on from places that don’t feel right for you.
It definitely helps to have a rough idea, of where you want to spend the next couple of months. It’s easier to organize things like visas or vaccinations.
But do yourself a favor and don’t plan out everything. Try to stay as flexible as possible. Your travel plans are going to change anyway and that’s a good thing.
Get Ready for Your New Digital Nomad Life!
Alright, this digital nomad checklist should cover the most important steps on your way to a location-independent lifestyle. I hoped it helps you organize your upcoming journey a bit better. Try to tick off as many things as possible before you start your new life.
If you need more information, check out the linked articles or head over to my page “Preparation”. Here you will find plenty of more interesting tips and resources.