You want to work from where you want and when you want. You want to see the world and make money online. You want more freedom. You want to become a digital nomad.
But are you aware of the consequences? Do you know how you can become a digital nomad and what you have to do?
It’s impossible to describe an entire lifestyle in one article. But with the following guide, I try my best to give you an idea of what being location-independent means and how you can travel the world and work remotely, too.
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 travelers, 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. So don’t be fooled by the beautiful Instagram pics.
The Ups of Being a Digital Nomad
I’ve already written in detail about the great benefits the 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 Colombia? 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.
Many digital nomads are freelancers or entrepreneurs and can make their own schedule. Not a morning person? Start your day later. Rather want to do an island day trip 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 workday results in increased satisfaction and happiness. Many digital nomads 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 practice 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 level of happiness and motivation often result in higher productivity and the strive to achieve more. Many can set their own hourly rates. The more 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 Being a Digital Nomad
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 written an extensive list of the disadvantages before. So again, here are only the three most significant issues:
Most digital nomads don’t have a 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 in the long run.
Hard Work Is Often Underestimated
Although, it might sometimes look like it, being a digital nomad is not an extended vacation. Far from that. Especially in the beginning, it is a lot of 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 it sometimes is harder than you might think.
Your Social Life Might Suffer
Traveling around the world is fun and you meet so many interesting people along 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 will 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.
Before You Become a Digital Nomad
Now that we got the basics straight and you know the main benefits and downsides to this lifestyle, let’s move on. Assuming you are at the very beginning of your research you’ll probably ask yourself where to start. How do I 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 The 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 commutes to your workplace? Then a work-from-home-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 get as much information about this lifestyle as possible. You can find plenty of information about it on Digital Nomad Soul. I also wrote two ebooks:
“How to Become a Digital Nomad” is a super extensive guide on pretty much anything you need to know about this lifestyle. All the things you need to prepare and tons of tips and tricks that make your travel life easier. Anything from finances, making friends, finding good accommodation, safety tips and so much more!
Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Be honest with yourself and see if you can handle the downsides.
3. Give This Lifestyle a Test Run
Still onboard? Awesome! 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 time off. 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 thoroughly enjoy. Maybe after two weeks, you discover that you hate working in front of the laptop all day, you never know.
4. Sort Out Your Finances
Although possible, I do not recommend you to quit your job and leave without any savings or even debts. The first few weeks and months of your new lifestyle are going to be very exciting and you will have hundreds of things to take care of. The last thing you want is to worry about any financial issues. So do yourself a favor and get your finances straight before you leave.
- If somehow possible, try to clear all debts or at least reduce them to a manageable amount.
- Put enough money aside that will keep you alive and going for about 6 months traveling.
Wondering how much money that would be? Check out this blog post where I give an example list on the costs you will have to face in the first 6 months of your digital nomad life.
How to Make Money Online
In my opinion, it’s the best and safest choice to get a location-independent job while you are still in your “old life”. Before you quit your job, make sure you know how you are going to generate money online in the next months or even years.
Of course, you could simply book a flight and try to figure it out along the way. However, you will be able to enjoy your life more without the hassle of looking for jobs and being scared of running out of money.
So do yourself a favor and start making money online before you leave.
Since this is a very complex issue, I won’t be able to give you all of the details here. But hopefully enough so you get a rough idea about it.
If you want to learn more about working remotely, how to get an online job and plenty of tips on how to make the best of it, check out my ebook “Work Remotely”.
There are basically three options to generate income online:
- As a remote employee
- As a freelancer
- As a business owner
(1) Remote Employee
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 a way you can stay at the company and do your work online.
If that’s not possible, you could check with other companies that offer 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.
Of course, you could also change your entire career and still work for a company. This is all up to you.
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 freelance 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.
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, generate thousands of dollars as a freelancer.
Facebook does wonders, 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.
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 portfolio and approach potential clients, that could need your expertise.
(3) Business Owner
If you want to start your own business, e.g. dropshipping, I can’t provide any details, simply because your next steps strongly depend on the kind of business you want to start. 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?
Digital Nomad Job Ideas
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 on one is not that easy, isn’t it? I mean your future life depends on it, so you better choose wisely.
To give you some inspirations, have a look at some of the most popular remote jobs. Maybe you find something similar you would enjoy, too.
- Graphic/Web Design & Development
- UX/UI Designer
- App Developer
- Usability / QA Testing
- Online Tech Support
Admin / Support Jobs
- Online Customer Support
- Virtual Assistance
- Research Assistant
- Data Entry
- Virtual Recruiter
Content Processing Jobs
- Content Writing (Blog / Technical / Resume / Book writing)
- Editing & Proofreading
- Voiceover Artist
- Moderation & Community Manager
Digital Marketing Jobs
- SEO Manager
- Pinterest Assistant
- Social Media Manager
- Affiliate Marketer
- Travel Agent
- Medical Coding
- Video Editing
- Sales & Telemarketing
Again, these are only some ideas. You could literally make money with anything that can be done online, as long as you have the skills and experience (or are willing to acquire them).
Prepare Your Digital Nomad Life
Now that you know that the digital nomad lifestyle is the right thing for you and you have found a way to make money online, it’s time to prepare a few other things before you leave.
Digital Nomad Insurance
I know you are at the beginning and want to save as much money as possible. But don’t save on reliable travel or international health care insurance! In case of an accident you wished you had someone to cover your expensive hospital treatment. In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to get one.
There are two companies on the market that I recommend:
1.World Nomads: World Nomads is very popular among digital nomads and long-term travelers and has an excellent reputation. If you want to bring any super expensive electronics, like professional camera equipment or a high-quality laptop, you can also get that covered with them.
2. SafetyWing: SafetyWing is a bit of the new kid on the insurance market. However, they offer great travel medical insurance for digital nomads – very flexible and unbeatable prices.
Digital Nomad Banking
One common issue when traveling: How to access your money without paying hundreds of dollars of fees that most local banks will charge you.
I have been using the online bank N26 for years now and couldn’t be happier with them. For a personal account, there are absolutely no monthly fees. You also don’t have to pay for:
- Standing orders,
- Debit payments,
- Contactless payments, and
- most ATM withdrawals.
The account also comes with a powerful app and many other goodies. Check out my N26 review to learn more about their service.
If you want to transfer money from one currency to another (because your clients or customers pay you in a different one than what your bank account is), I recommend TransferWise. It’s so much cheaper to transfer money with their service than with a normal bank or send it via PayPal. The perfect service for digital nomads!
Digital Nomad Gear
Except for a few things, you don’t need to worry too much about what kind of gear you’ll need. Make sure you pack as light as possible though and only bring the bare necessities. I’ve written many articles that discuss all of those items in detail. So here I only give you the basics:
- Backpack: Make sure it’s lightweight and fits your body type, otherwise you’ll have to face back pain very soon. Here are my digital nomad backpack recommendations.
- Laptop: You don’t need to have a super expensive one if you only need a few basic programs! Buy one that works for your needs and not one that comes from a certain brand. Check out these laptop suggestions for travelers.
- Internet: Although you will find WIFI in most places today, it’s always a good idea to have a backup solution, like a mobile hotspot. This comes also handy when you want to work from a train or bus or park. My recommendation here goes to Skyroam because it is a global hotspot, means you don’t have to buy a new SIM card everywhere you go.
There are plenty of other things that you could bring to make your life easier. Have a look at this packing list and get some inspirations.
Digital Nomad VPN
As said before, you will find free WIFI in most places today. However, please be careful with that! There might be people with bad intentions using the connection as well. This could put your data and your clients, employers, and customers data at risk! Make sure you always use a VPN when in public networks to be on the safe side.
The cheapest one I have tested and recommend is PureVPN.
Bonus: A VPN will also allow you to access websites that you normally couldn’t access from certain countries, e.g. Netflix or social media.
Digital Nomad Apps
There is no need to make your life harder than you have to. Luckily, there are plenty of apps out there that help you become a digital nomad.
- There are apps that help you organize all of your daily tasks, e.g. Trello or Wunderlist.
- Other apps help you 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.
Digital Nomad Accommodation
Many aspiring nomads are worried about finding places to live in each country they go to. Luckily, it is not as hard as you might think. And also not as expensive. The general rule is the longer you stay, the cheaper the accommodation. Whenever I relocate and move to a new country, these are my steps:
- Book the first few nights in a hotel or hostel. This will give you a chance to get to know the area and you can simply go and inspect potential places live.
- Check out HouseCarers if there are houses to sit in the region. This is FREE accommodation. In exchange, you usually only have to water the plants and take care of pets. A great way to get to know locals and live like the do.
- If there are no housesitting places available, I check Airbnb and see if I can find something nice or simply have a look at local rental websites or walk around and look for rental signs (this works great in places like Thailand or Bali!).
As said before, I try to find something where I can stay at least a few weeks, better even months. It can be exhausting to move around a lot. Your productivity will also suffer because you are busy finding new places and settling in. It’s easier to find a home base somewhere and explore the region around it step by step.
Visas & Taxes
This is something that is super complex so I won’t be able to explain to you all about it at this point. Just some general things to keep in mind:
- Leaving your home country does not mean that you automatically don’t have to pay income taxes there anymore. Every country has different rules so find out if you still have to pay taxes even if you don’t live there or not.
- Depending on the country you are moving to and how long you are going to stay, you might become a resident for tax purposes there and hence, have to pay income taxes. Check the countries tax regulations.
- If you are moving to a country on a tourist visa, you are most likely not allowed to work there. Not even online work. However, many digital nomads do so anyway. Some countries are aware of it but turn a blind eye, others are more eager to enforce the visa and taxation laws.
- Many digital nomads, who get a 30- or 60-day visa in countries like Thailand or Indonesia, do visa runs. That means they leave the country when their time is up for a few days (sometimes just a few hours) and enter the country again. This renews their visa and they get another 30 or 60 days to stay. Be aware that lately border patrol seems to get stricter with that and sometimes denies a reentry.
If you want to know more about taxes and residency as a digital nomad, check out the linked post that talks about how to make the best of your situation.
Get Connected With Like-Minded People
Maybe you 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
Great places to start your journey are digital nomad hubs. Places, where you can find countless 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 (Ubud or Canggu), Prague, Berlin, or Lisbon.
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, who are looking for a well-equipped office space with good wifi. The next level 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 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 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.
This Is How To Become A Digital Nomad
As you can see, there are quite a few things involved if you want to become a digital nomad. Let’s quickly sum up the most important steps:
- You know what it means to be a digital nomad and are sure that you want to live this lifestyle.
- You have sorted out your finances and put enough money aside to survive comfortably for the first few months.
- You know how you want to work remotely while traveling. Ideally, you are already making money online while you are still at home.
- You have prepared the bare essentials, like the right gear, medical travel insurance, banking, and accommodation for the first few nights.
- You know how to get in touch with like-minded people and maybe already have made some connection.
The digital nomad lifestyle might not the right thing for everyone. But if you can live with the downsides and if you are willing to put in the work to make it happen, this could be the most fulfilling part of your life. In any case, it’s going to be the adventure of your life.