You’ve seen the images on social media: carefree, sun-baked travelers working from a laptop, a sloping palm tree in the background and a tropical beverage at their side. Becoming a digital nomad has its perks, like the ability to work from anywhere, on your own schedule. It also has its fair share of challenges, like the perils of spotty WiFi and the loneliness of being a solo operation.
For many, the upsides of digital nomad life far outweigh the confines of a location-dependent, 9-to-5 job. Think you’d like to try it out? Here’s how to become a digital nomad and earn a living on your terms.
What Is A Digital Nomad?
A digital nomad is a term for someone who earns a living working online while traveling all or part of the time. People have always worked while moving from place to place, but the lifestyle has exploded in recent years with the rise of freelancing and the prevalence of remote work.
Some digital nomads travel consistently, foregoing a permanent address in favor of the ability to move with complete freedom. Others maintain a semi-permanent residence, traveling for part of the year while renting out their place or doing a month-to-month rental in a city that’s their ‘home base.’
The defining characteristic of digital nomads is how they earn money: by working online in some capacity. This facilitates a professional life that’s not confined to a single location.
What Does It Take To Be A Digital Nomad?
Not all digital nomads are sun-loving surfers who travel from one beach town to another. Not all of them work in tech or creative professions. And, though the digital nomad lifestyle may be more conducive to people who haven’t yet felt the urge to “settle down,” not all digital nomads are young people.
You’ll find digital nomads from all walks of life, at all phases in their career. However, all of them do have a few things in common. To find success learning how to be a digital nomad, you’ll need these qualities.
The right skills
First and foremost, you need skills you can use to earn a living online. Of course, there are obvious options, like digital marketing or graphic design, which take place mostly on a computer no matter where you work.
But there are also less obvious options you may not have thought of. If you’re someone who works with clients, like a nutritionist or speech therapist, you can easily transition those client sessions to a virtual format. Or, if you work in a professional services role, like accounting or law, you might hire out your services as a remote consultant.
You don’t necessarily need to have the skills to be a digital nomad already. There are a wealth of online courses in areas like data transcription, web development, and video editing that you can learn on your own time and parlay into freelance work. With a little dedication and creativity, the options for what you can do for work as a digital nomad are unlimited.
Few physical ties
Digital nomads, by definition, are location-independent. For this to be practical, you can’t be tied down by too many physical possessions. You’ll find most digital nomads live a minimalist lifestyle in terms of the number of things they own.
Being a digital nomad is much easier if you’re not permanently tied to a specific place. If you’re not a homeowner, you’re all set in this department. If you do own a home, maybe you rent it out to a tenant or list it on Airbnb using a property manager.
Some digital nomads prefer to have a city they use as their home base, borrowing a friend or family member’s address as their “permanent” one. This can make it easier to receive mail and take care of logistics like having a driver’s license. But there are ways around this, too; Earth Class Mail, for example, allows you to receive and read your mail virtually while using a domicile for nomads can help you do things like pay taxes and obtain other services that require a physical address.
A go-with-the-flow mindset
The digital nomad lifestyle comes with inherent inconveniences, from the mildly annoying (staying in no-frills accommodations) to the concerning (finding yourself in a dangerous neighborhood where you don’t speak the language). To be a digital nomad, you must be able to go with the flow in different situations, adjusting your plans on the fly as needed.
Being your own boss or working for one who’s not physically nearby means being able to manage deadlines independently and stay on task. If you travel internationally, you may need to adjust for colleagues and clients in different time zones.
On top of your online job, you’ll also need to manage the logistics of your life and your travel plans, which can be like having another full-time job in and of itself. All of this requires a solid level of organization.
How Much Does A Digital Nomad Make?
According to one study, one in five digital nomads make between $50,000 and $99,000 a year. If you’re thinking ‘that doesn’t narrow it down very much,’ you’d be correct.
Salaries for digital nomads are as varied as the jobs they hold. How much you make will depend on your industry, experience level, the country where your company or clients are based, and how you charge for your work.
Cost of living factors into the equation much more when you’re location independent, too. If you primarily have clients in a higher income country like the United States but live in a lower cost of living country like Vietnam or Costa Rica, your salary will stretch further and you can feel like you’re earning a higher wage.
The digital nomad index is a cool resource that ranks different countries based on their overall suitability for a nomadic lifestyle, factoring in things like cost of living, broadband speeds, and work visa availability.
5 Tips For Becoming A Digital Nomad
Start by freelancing
With a huge proportion of companies moving to a remote work model and using outsourced workers to fill labor gaps, it’s never been easier to become a freelancer. Check out sites like Upwork.com to browse thousands of open freelance positions and start applying for them with a few clicks.
…Or leverage your current position
If you’re a great employee, you might be able to convince your boss at your current job to let you take your role fully online and work remotely. Many managers and companies are warming up to the idea, especially since the pandemic has proven that work can and does continue even when people aren’t physically in the office.
Choose the right locations
Where you plan to travel will make a big difference in your success as a digital nomad. If you’re wanting to travel to more expensive cities like Paris or London, you’re going to need a job that pays much more or be open to a more economical lifestyle, like living with roommates and cooking most of your meals at home. If you plan your travel in more affordable countries like Nicaragua or Kenya, you can live a more upscale lifestyle on a relatively modest salary.
Related: How to Travel and Work Remotely
Find a community
Traveling full time means you’ll spend a lot of time alone. Finding a community of like-minded people is important for trading advice and building a sense of camaraderie that can be lacking when you don’t have a consistent group of coworkers and neighbors. Most larger international cities have expat groups that are a helpful resource for digital nomads and a great place to start building a network of friends when you arrive somewhere new.
Do your homework
Making travel plans to exotic locales is the fun part. The logistics are a not-so-fun but necessary part of being a digital nomad that’s crucial to your success and longevity.
Here are a few of the big “homework” items to consider when transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle:
- Is your passport up to date?
- How long can you legally stay in the country where you’re planning to go without being a permanent resident?
- Do they require work visas? Are you eligible for one? How long will it take to get one?
- Will you be required to pay taxes there? What about in the United States (or your home country)?
- What will you do for health insurance?
- Do you need travel insurance?
- Does your line of work require liability insurance?
Diving into life as a digital nomad is exciting, and there’s arguably never been a better time to do it. With a little planning and a lot of conviction, you can leave your location-dependent job behind and join the community of people all over the world who make a living from anywhere with their computer and an internet connection.
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