It sounds like the perfect life: Making money online and traveling the world at the same time. Many people dream about this kind of lifestyle. But they also assume that only super rich people can afford this kind of location-independent lifestyle. Wrong! You don’t need as much money to start a digital nomad life as you might think.
Since many aspiring nomads hesitate due to financial reasons to start a digital nomad lifestyle, I thought I put together a rough guideline to give you some ideas and estimations.
In this post you will learn:
1. Factors That Influence Your Potential Budget
2. Money You Need Before Your Start
3. Monthly Costs Of Living
4. Extra Expenses You Should Cover
5. Total Amount Of Savings You Need
6. What You Save As a Digital Nomad
7. Helpful Websites With Exact Prices
8. Leaving Without Any Savings
Factors That Influence Your Potential Budget
Of course, it’s hard to give you an exact number how much money you have to put aside before you start a digital nomad life. That depends on many different factors. Have a look at the following list with the 7 most important ones to find out, what categories will impact your required amount of money the most.
How much you will spend depends strongly on the countries you are going to travel to and live in. Whereas you can live fairly cheap in most Asian countries, it will be way more expensive in North America or Australia. When you start a digital nomad life you might want to go to a place where you can find many other remote professionals. These places are not only awesome to make new friends and to network, but they are also very reasonably priced. Perfect examples would be Bangkok, Saigon, Budapest or Medellin.
Simply put: If you go somewhere during high season, you will have to pay much more on accommodation and food than during low season. Of course, you don’t want to go to e.g. Malaysia in the middle of monsoon season only because it’s cheaper. But maybe shoulder season will do just fine.
That depends on your personal preferences. Are you ok with staying in simple apartments or fairly cheap Airbnbs or do you prefer comfortable apartments or even hotels? Even though, they are the cheapest options, I can’t recommend dormitories or couchsurfing, as it is super hard for a digital nomads to work in there (people get in and out all the time, it’s noisy, lots of temptations to go out partying etc.).
If you eat out every day, you will, of course, spend way more money than when you prepare you own meals. Grocery shopping and cooking saves you a lot of money. Or simply buy local street food, which is often super cheap and delicious, too.
Your personal interests and activities impact your required savings as well. Do you have expensive hobbies, like scuba diving? Do you want a gym membership in the place you are staying? Fancy going out for drinks every night? An organized tour or rather exploring the area by public transport?
6. Duration of Stay
The general rule is: The longer you stay somewhere, the cheaper it gets. You often get a discount if you rent a place long-term instead of on a weekly basis. You have more time to explore or book transport, so you can wait for cheaper options. If you move a lot, you have to re-buy a lot daily necessities, for example washing liquid, toilet rolls, or kitchen basics like spices or oil. That adds up.
7. Single, Couple or Family
To start a digital nomad life as a couple can sometimes be even cheaper. Just think of accommodation. Many places have a double room anyway, so you can simply share the rent. Traveling or nomading with kids is, of course, more expensive than being alone. However, it might still be cheaper than living at home. But I’ll come back to this later.
Note: When you start a digital nomad life you will most likely be on a tight budget. You don’t know how long it will take you to generate income and you don’t want to waste your money. As soon as you make a more or less steady income again, your lifestyle will adjust, too. So don’t worry, being a digital nomad doesn’t mean watching your budget for the rest of your life ;)
Money You Need Before Your Start
There are several things you have to buy or get before your start a digital nomad life. These expenses might be annoying, but you can’t avoid them.
Note: In this calculation we look at a period of 6 months. After 6 months into your new lifestyle you should be able to generate some sort of income, so you don’t have to live of your savings anymore.
As soon as you know where and when you want to begin your adventure, you can start to look into flight tickets. Let’s assume you want to fly from London to Chiang Mai with a one-way ticket during shoulder season with a decent airline, you will have to pay roughly 500 USD.
I know many simply don’t get one, but in my opinion, it’s absolutely necessary. In case of an accident you wouldn’t want to pay thousands of dollar for your hospital stay and medical treatments. A popular international travel insurance is SafetyWing. They are by far the cheapest travel medical insurance you can get (and still have a great service!). Their plans start at 37 USD a month.
Read more about SafetyWing and how digital nomads profit from them.
You might want to get malaria prevention and vaccinations, like rabies, typhoid, hepatitis A, or yellow fever. Prices vary greatly for each shot. Your costs also depend on where you get them and how many you need. The last time I got a bunch of re-boosts it cost me about 250 USD.
Depending on your nationality and how long you want to stay the costs can vary. It often is somewhere between 30 and 50 USD. Bear in mind that tourist visas often allow you to stay between 30 and 90 days. So in case you stay 3 months in one country, without having to do visa runs, you need 2 visas in your first 6 months.
If you want to start a digital nomad life, you also need decent electronics. A laptop, smartphone and camera gear are the tools that many nomads need to make money. At this stage, let’s assume you already have that equipment at home. In case you need to upgrade, add your expenses.
Flight: 500 USD
International Insurance: 222 USD (for 6 months)
Vaccinations: 250 USD
Visas: 100 USD
Equipment: depends on what you need
The money you need to spend before you start a digital nomad life adds up to about 1.072 USD.
Monthly Costs Of Living
As already mentioned, your costs of living strongly depend on the country you are traveling to. Simply because it is the most popular digital nomad city and because many aspiring nomads start their new lifestyle there, let’s take Chiang Mai as an example.
You can rent an apartment in Chiang Mai for very little money. Don’t bother to look online while you are still at home. You can often find the best and cheapest places once you are there. You can rent a nice and clean 1-bedroom studio apartment in the center for about 350 USD a month. There are similar price options in countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Cambodia or Bulgaria, too.
Extra Tip: While couchsurfing and hostels might be cheap, they are not ideal for digital nomads to work. If you still want to save as much money as possible, you could look into housesitting options, where you could stay for weeks and sometimes even months for free.
Food is very cheap in Asia om general. You can easily get a decent meal for as little as 2-3 USD. Let’s assume you eat out once a day and prepare your own food for not even half the money twice a day. That makes about 6 USD a day and a maximum of 200 USD a month.
If you don’t want to work from home (the apartment you are staying in) and don’t want to work from a café or any other public space either, you could use a coworking space. Punspace, for example, charges about 90 USD a month if you book for 3 months in advance.
The easiest way to get around in Asia is via motorbike. You can often rent them for about 5 USD or less a day. Let’s assume you only need one every other day that would come to 75 USD a month. Public transport is often equally cheap.
Even though you are probably going to have internet access in your accommodation and in places like restaurants, you’d still want to have at least a little bit of mobile data, so you are covered all the time. Many prepaid phone and internet plans come with included talk and text times and a data volume of about 7 GB and cost you 30 USD a month.
When you go out for drinks you can easily get a pint of beer for 2 USD, cocktails often for 3 USD. Renting a surfboard for a few hours is only a couple of dollar, too. The same goes for entertainment, like movie theater. Then you also have activities, such a hiking or swimming, which are, of course, are for free. In my experience a 50 USD budget a month gets you a lot of casual entertainment.
Don’t forget things like buying toiletries or doing laundry. There are small expenses that you always have, but you don’t really take into consideration, simply because they are, well, small. But they can add up, too. So let’s plan about 40 USD a month for things like that.
So we have:
Accommodation: 350 USD
Food: 200 USD
Coworking: 90 USD
Transportation: 75 USD
Mobile Data: 30 USD
Entertainment: 50 USD
Small Expenses: 40 USD
The monthly costs of living for our Chiang Mai example would be 835 USD.
Please bear in mind that these numbers are only a rough guide. You can easily spend way more on accommodation, food and entertainment. You might be able to live a bit cheaper than that, but, of course, it will be much harder and less comfortable.
If you want more details and exact prices, check out this video by Brett Dev, who lists everything you need to know.
Extra Expenses You Should Cover
Ok, so far we have looked at the money you need to spend before you can start a digital nomad life and at the monthly expenses in a digital nomad hub, such as Chiang Mai.
But you should save more money than that. What for?
- If you don’t want to spend your first 6 months in one place, but like to move to another region or country, you will need to pay for transportation. Even if you go for cheap long-distances buses instead of flights, it will still cost you money.
- You should also put money aside for little emergencies. Let’s say your laptop breaks (an absolute nightmare for every digital nomad). You will either find someone to fix it for you or have to buy a new one. Or maybe your smartphone gets stolen, happens all the time.
- One of your family members gets sick and you need to fly home on a short notice. Or your best friend decides to get married spontaneously in 4 weeks and you have to be there. You should have savings to cover those unexpected flights.
- Another factor are investments. When you are planning to start your own business, even if it’s just online, you will naturally have to make investments every once in a while. Freelancers are not safe from investments either. Maybe you have a website to showcase your portfolio to potential clients and need a web developer or designer to fix something. Or you need a certain tool or app to be able to deliver better work to your clients. Or advertising budget. There is always something you can improve and need investment money for.
It’s hard to estimate how much money you will need exactly for that. But I strongly recommend you to have at least 2.000 USD for the extra expenses. The more, the better.
Total Amount You Need Before You Start A Digital Nomad Life
Ok, here are our total numbers:
Costs Before You Leave: 1.072 USD
Monthly Costs: 5.010 USD (835 USD x 6 months)
Extra Budget: 2.000 USD
Total: 8.082 USD
You need to save about 8.082 USD before you can start a digital nomad life.
That budget will cover the expenses you have before you leave, such as flight ticket and insurance, your daily expenses for 6 months, such as accommodation, food and coworking, and also leaves you with some extra savings for costs like a new laptop.
Again, this is all assuming that you won’t make any money within the first 6 months of your new lifestyle. In case you manage to generate an income after 3 months (which is not even that unlikely), congrats! That’s awesome. That means you can save the rest of your planned budget for something else.
Extra Tip: Find out how you can score your first remote job on freelance platforms, such as Upwork.
What You Save As A Digital Nomad
In case you are shocked how much money you will have to save, I can assure you: It is not that much! After all, this budget will keep you alive for half a year. How much money do you spend in your current situation, including accommodation, food, taxes, insurance, and so on, for 6 months? I bet you it’s way more than 8.082 USD.
When you are a digital nomad you will benefit from the following financial advantages:
- You can reduce your income taxes (or eliminate them altogether) if you use smart strategies such as the Flag Theory.
- You don’t have to pay money on daily commutes to work.
- Rent and food can be much cheaper in other countries in comparison to the USA or Western Europe
- You are likely not going to have (and need) a car and save on gas and insurance.
- You don’t go shopping all the time, because you can’t carry all the new clothing anyway.
As you can see you not only live cheaper as a digital nomad but also save money in comparison to your current lifestyle.
Need More Numbers?
In case you are interested in moving anywhere else besides Chiang Mai and want some actual numbers of how much it costs to live there, check out the following websites. They are a great help when you want to start a digital nomad life and are not sure how much money you are going to spend in which place.
Nomad List: A very popular tool that lists the best cities to live and work remotely for digital nomads. It gives prices for accommodation, food or drinks, and additional info, such as weather or internet speed.
Expatistan: A very handy tool that compares the costs of living in thousands of cities all over the world. It even has a salary calculator to find out how much you will need to earn.
Numbeo: Another great database of user contributed data that gives you cost of living comparisons, a world map with the lowest and highest costs, a cost of living calculator and much more.
Plan B: Screw Savings and Just Leave
If you are much of a risk type of person, have no dependencies, but a backup plan, you could also start a digital nomad life without any savings. Crazy? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
If you are very experienced and skilled and maybe even have some clients lined up, you could make money online straight away. Or maybe you have already started your business as a side project a while ago and it is just about to generate enough income to live from, then you won’t need that much savings.
But do yourself a favor and have some sort of backup plan. For instance: If you ran out of money entirely, you can move in with friends or your parents. In case the digital nomad life won’t work, you can go back to your old company and get your job back.
The risky version can definitely work. But please bear in mind that only very few people succeed with it and often they have a big portion luck as well.
As you can see, you can live cheaper as a digital nomad, then you probably do in your current situation. However, you need to have enough savings to keep you alive for at least a few months, just in case you won’t be able to generate income in the beginning. You should not only consider the monthly costs but also what you have to spend before you start a digital nomad life. Having some extra savings for emergency expenses is equally important.
Again, these numbers are only a guide of what you can expect approximately. Of course, you can spend way more than that or get along with a little less. It all depends on your personal preferences and where you go.
But I hope this guide helped you anyway and gave you an idea how much money to put aside before you start a digital nomad life.