When I got my first remote job a couple of years ago, would’ve never imagined that this location-independent lifestyle would change my entire life. I had no idea how to become a digital nomad. But this temporary job suddenly opened a whole new world to me: I was able to travel the world, live wherever I wanted to and make money online. I was hooked and knew that this is the perfect way of living for me.
Since then I’ve met a lot of people on the way asking me what I’m doing. They are often fascinated by the idea and want to know how to become a digital nomad, too. This is not something you can explain in two sentences. So I created this extensive guide for everyone who is seriously interested in becoming a digital nomad.
The following article will cover the sections:
1. What is a Digital Nomad?
2. The Ups Of This Lifestyle
3. The Downs Of This Lifestyle
4. What To Do Before You Start
5. How To Generate Income Online
6. How To Choose The Right Job
7. Preparation Of Your New Lifestyle
8. Getting Connected With Like-Minded People
9. Final Important Tips
What Is a Digital Nomad?
Let’s have a look at the definition of a digital nomad first:
A digital nomad is a person who uses technologies, such as smartphones, laptops and wireless internet, to make money online while often traveling the world, or at least move in an undefined frequency from one place to another.
As you can see the digital nomad lifestyle consists of two parts:
- Making money online and
- Traveling or moving (“nomading”) from one place to another.
Means, not everyone who has a remote or location-independent job is automatically a digital nomad. They need the nomad part, too. On the other hand, long-term traveller, who do local jobs around the world, are no digital nomads either. They are surely nomads, but are obviously missing the digital part.
Myth debunked: Digital nomads usually don’t work from the beach. The sun, heat and sand make working with a laptop very hard. The Instagram pictures are only to show-off.
The Ups of This Lifestyle
I’ve already wrote in detail about all the great benefits a digital nomad lifestyle brings with it. And there are many! So at this stage I will only outline the three most important ones:
Work Wherever and Whenever You Want
Since you are location-independent you can live at any place in the world. Always wanted to see Columbia? Simply move there for a couple of weeks or months and explore the country while making money online. Want to escape the cold Scandinavian winter? Go to Southeast Asia for a while.
Most digital nomads are freelancer or entrepreneurs and can make their own schedule. Not a morning person? Start your day later. Rather want to do an island daytrip on a lazy Monday instead of working? Go for it and do your work later that week or on the weekend.
You decide when and where you work and no one really cares.
Be Happier and Enjoy More of Your Life
The flexibility you have in creating your work day results in an increased satisfaction and happiness. Many digital nomads only do the kind of work they thoroughly enjoy and are passionate about. Naturally, they are more motivated to work.
With this unconventional lifestyle often comes a shift to a more conscious life, as well. That’s why many nomads practise things like yoga, meditation, clean eating, and minimalism. That helps them to realize their blessings and thus, they are able to enjoy life more.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like all digital nomads are super rich. However, the increased happiness and motivation often result in a higher productivity and the strive to achieve more. Many can set their own hourly rates. The better qualified, the better the income.
In addition to this, many digital nomads stay in fairly cheap countries, like Thailand or Indonesia, where they can have a great quality of life for less money. A smart strategy in terms of residency and taxation also saves a lot of money.
The Downs of this Lifestyle
As with everything, this lifestyle is not perfect. If you want to learn how to become a digital nomad, you should also be aware of the downsides of it. I’ve wrote an extensive list of all the disadvantages before. So again, here are only the three most significant issues:
Most digital nomads don’t have permanent contract. Their income is never guaranteed and strongly depends on how successful they can acquire new clients and how much they work. Every month can be different and you always have to expect a sudden income drop.
The same goes for accommodation. You constantly have to find places to live. New places with good wifi. New places to eat and make new friends. This is not something everyone can deal with on the long run.
Hard Work Is Often Underestimated
Although, it might sometimes look like it, but being a digital nomad is not an extended vacation. Far from that. Especially in the beginning it is hard work. You have to work long hours to settle into your new life and be successful with it. There are no paid holidays or sick days. Weekends often don’t exist. You have to maintain a high level of productivity, even though you are working right next to a paradisiac beach. Sounds like no big deal, but your existence depends on it.
Your Social Life Will Suffer
Traveling around the world is fun and you meet so many interesting people on the way. But at the same time you have to say goodbye to them again soon. If you want to become a digital nomad, you have to make new friends all the time. Not an easy task for introverts.
You also can’t see your old friends and family as often as before, maybe only a few times a year or even less. You will miss important social events, because you are at the other end of the world.
What To Do Before You Start
Assuming you are at the very beginning of your research you’ll probably ask yourself where to start now. How to become a digital nomad? Before you jump right into your new life, you should be convinced that this is the right thing for you.
1. Think of Your Reasons Why You Want To Become A Digital Nomad
First and foremost, you should think of the reasons why you want to become a digital nomad. Do you “only” want to travel the world? Then maybe something like a sabbatical or gap year would be better for you. Or are you tired of the long commute to your workplace? Then a remote job without the traveling part would work better for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to talk you out of it. I only want to make sure you are choosing this lifestyle for the right reasons.
2. Get More Information About This Way Of Living
I also strongly suggest you to get as much information about this lifestyle as possible. You can, of course, get a lot of information about it on my blog. But you should also have a look at stories of other digital nomads. I’ve collected a list with 31 of the most popular blogs out there and highly recommend you to have a look at them.
Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Be honest to yourself and see if you can handle the downsides and if you are ready to overcome the obstacles you will face.
3. Give This Lifestyle a Test Run
Still on board? Awesome! Now before you sell all your belongings, tell your boss you’ve had enough and book a one-way ticket to Asia, you should test the digital nomad lifestyle for a bit. Do you have any chance to do your job remotely for a few weeks? If so, grab your laptop and try to work from somewhere else. Do you have enough self-discipline to stay productive? Do you feel comfortable?
If you can’t do your current job online, you can also try to get some freelancing gigs you can do after work or on the weekends. Yes, you won’t have much leisure time. But if you really want to become a digital nomad you should be prepared to work long hours.
These test runs help you to find out if you have to skills you need as a digital nomad and if this kind of work is something you could enjoy. Maybe you discover after two weeks that you hate working in front of the laptop all day.
How to Generate Income Online
This is probably one of the things that you are interested in the most: How do I make money online when I want to become a digital nomad? Much to a surprise, it is not as complicated as you might think. But it’s definitely hard work (just in case I haven’t mentioned it before 😉 )
There are three options how digital nomads can generate income as a:
- Corporate remote worker
- Business owner / entrepreneur
(1) Corporate Remote Worker
If you decide on the first way and want to do work in a permanent position with a company, your options are pretty straight forward:
The easiest way to make money online is to continue doing your current job but on a remote basis. Talk to your boss and see if there is any way you can stay at the company and do your work online.
If that’s not possible, you could check with other companies and similar positions. Maybe they are willing to hire someone on a remote basis. This way, you could do your regular work, which you are experienced in and have skills at.
Check this guide that helps you find a job as a corporate remote worker and lists 50+ companies that are super remote-friendly.
In case you want to work as a freelancer, you need to find clients. There are many freelancer platforms, like Upwork or Fiverr, where clients offer their jobs and freelancers can apply (or the other way around: Freelancers offer work and clients book them). These are popular starting points for freelancers. However, bear in mind that the competition is massive and thus, rates are often very low.
Check job boards specialized in remote positions, like Remote Ok, and see if there are any interesting gigs. Facebook does wonder, too. Join specific groups, such as Virtual Assistant Tribe Job Board, and see if you can find future clients. Even general groups about the digital nomad lifestyle have some job postings every once in a while.
Especially in the beginning, when you have no reputation, it can be hard to land a gig there. Read these tips on how to get your first job through these platforms, that helped me, too, generating thousands of dollars.
Alternatively, you could try your luck with networking. Check with former working colleagues or fellow students and see if they know someone in need of your skills. LinkedIn is a great way to get and stay connected.
Another option would be cold callings. Create a small but professional website with your profile and portfolio and approach potential clients, that could need your expertise.
(3) Business Owner / Entrepreneur
In case you want to start your own business, e.g. selling products on Amazon, I can’t provide any details now, simply because your next steps strongly depend on the kind of business. However, they should definitely include:
- Talk to people who have started similar businesses,
- Join communities, like Facebook groups, and
- Write a business plan.
Make sure you have a plan to cover your investments. Do you have all the skills and resources? What do you need to do to break even? What are the risks? Can you foresee any trends in the economy that might influence your business?
How To Choose The Right Job
Ok, now that you know your general options, you are probably asking yourself what kind of job you could do. Maybe you can’t do your current job remotely or you are tired of it and want something new. But deciding for one is not that easy, right? I mean your future life depends on it, so you better choose wisely.
Worry no more, help is near.
Take a piece of paper and a pen and draw three circles, each overlapping the others, just as shown in the image below.
In the first circle you write everything you are passionate about. In the second, you list all the skills and job experiences you have. And the third one is for everything that you can make money online with.
In the end you look for the one thing (or maybe several), that you can find in every single circle. This is the job that you will be successful and happy with.
This is a concept that Charles Du, a very successful fellow digital nomad uses and it’s called the “Expertise Circle Framework”.
If you want to know more about this job-finding-technique, check out the linked article.
Preparation Of Your New Lifestyle
By now you are convinced that you want to become a digital nomad. You also know how you can generate income with this new lifestyle. So what’s next? You need to prepare and start the transition.
I have already explained in detail what you need to do to say goodbye to your old life and gave you a checklist about the preparations you need to make. So here is only a summary of the most important steps to take:
1. Save enough money. Especially in the beginning it might take a while to find clients or to get your business running. Make sure you have enough savings to keep you alive for at least a few months.
2. End all contracts. If you can’t/won’t want to do your current job remotely, give your boss notice early enough. Also end any kinds of subscriptions you may have (gym membership, newspaper, internet plan etc.).
3. Figure out your housing situation. If you are renting, make sure to hand in your notice on time. If you own a property, do you want to sell it or rent it out? Get help of professional property managers.
4. Take care of your possessions. The start of a digital nomad life is a great opportunity to get rid of everything you don’t need anymore. Furniture, electronics, clothing… Anything you don’t want to bring with you and won’t miss in the future: sell it! If there are things you want to keep, find a storage room for it.
5. Organize passport/visa/health issues. Do you have a valid passport with enough empty pages? Do you need to organize a visa before you arrive in your first planned destinations? How about necessary vaccinations and a health care insurance that covers you abroad?
6. Ensure access to your money. Get a bank account and credit cards, with which you can access your money from all over the world. Choose a bank that doesn’t charge you crazy fees for foreign currency withdrawals. You can find great online banks for digital nomads here.
7. Book a flight/accommodation. Book the flight to your first destination. Check if that country requires you to have a return ticket. I recommend you to book only the first few nights ahead. It’s usually easier and cheaper to find nice places to stay once you are there. You could use Booking.com or Airbnb, which are my personal favorites.
And there you go. Ready to pack your stuff and start your new lifestyle. Now doesn’t that sound super easy 😉
Getting Connected With Like-Minded People
You might still feel a bit insecure and that’s completely normal. Fortunately, you are not alone. There are many communities for digital nomads out there where you can learn more about how to become a digital nomad, get help, read stories of other nomads or simply connect with like-minded people.
Digital Nomad Hubs
A great starting point are digital nomad hubs. Places, where you can find countless of other location-independent professionals. The costs of living are usually very low and the quality of living fairly high. The internet connection is strong and visas are easy to get. Popular places are, for instance, Chiang Mai, Bali, Prague, Berlin, or Medellin.
Coworking and Co-Living Spaces
Another way of meeting people in your region are coworking spaces. These shared offices can be found in almost every big city today and attract many digital nomads, too, who are looking for a well-equipped office space with good wifi. One step further would be co-living spaces for digital nomads, where you can’t only work together but also share the same house or apartment.
Digital Nomad Programs
In case you want to spend more time with like-minded people and travel the world at the same time, you could book a special program or retreat for digital nomads. Groups of freelancers, entrepreneurs or any other type of remote professionals travel in groups from one place to another, work during the day and explore the new place in the evening or weekends. Check out this list with 12 of the most popular digital nomad retreats, if you want to find out more.
There aren’t only local options to connect with other nomads. You also have a wide range of online alternatives to meet like-minded people. Again, Facebook groups bring together many (aspiring) digital nomads are a great way to get more information. Check out general groups like “Digital Nomads Around the World” or more specific ones like “Bali Digital Nomads”.
Another very popular online community is Nomad List, a very active forum of digital nomads around the world. The Digital Nomad Community is a social network where people share their experiences and potential job openings.
I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to all kinds of communities for digital nomads. Check it out and never feel alone.
Final Important tips
Some last thoughts and pieces of advice on how to become a digital nomad:
Yes, being location-independent and making money online also means that there are many ways to optimize your tax situation in a legal way. However, this topic is very complex. Don’t make the mistake and assume that only because you’ve left your home country, you automatically don’t have to pay taxes there anymore. In most countries, this is not the case.
Check your individual situation carefully. Get professional advice if needed. The Flag Theory is a great concept that tells you how to distributes parts of your life in different countries to optimize your financial situation.
There is no need to make your life harder than you have to. Luckily, there are plenty of apps out there that help you to become a digital nomad. There are apps that help you to organize all of your daily tasks and busy life, e.g. Trello or Wunderlist. Other apps help you to stay productive in any situation, like focus@will or Rescue Time.
Some apps support you handling your budget and finances, creating invoices and such, for example Trail Wallet or Xero. To stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, use apps like Farmstand, Seven or Headspace. And to organize all travel related issues, have a look at apps like Tripit and Every Time Zone.
I know you are at the beginning and want to save as much money as possible. But don’t save on a proper travel or international health care insurance, e.g. with World Nomads. In case of an accident when you need emergency help you wished you had someone to cover your expensive hospital stay.
If you are planning on bringing any super expensive electronics, like professional camera equipment or a high-quality laptop, it might also be worth getting an insurance that covers theft, loss or damage of it.
This Is How To Become A Digital Nomad
Congratulations, now you know the essential parts of how to become a digital nomad.You know the most important advantages and disadvantages and you are sure that this is really the right lifestyle for you.
- You know that you can choose between being a corporate remote worker, a freelancer and that you could start your own business.
- The three circles of expertise help you to find the perfect job, which makes you happy and generates enough income.
- You are aware of the things you need to prepare before you start your new lifestyle, anything from saving money, to booking your flight.
- There are plenty of ways to meet and connect with fellow digital nomads.
- You also know that you need to pay special attention to your tax situation, should get a good insurance and that there are apps to help you become a digital nomad.
So much information and now it’s up to you what you make out of it. Don’t sit around and wait for things to happen. Make them happen! Be active!
The digital nomad lifestyle is definitely not the right thing for everyone. But if you are aware of the downsides of this unconventional life, if you know how much work is involved and that you need to be realistic with your expectations. If you are still convinced that this is your dream, go for it! Become a digital nomad. And do it with all your heart.
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