How To Become a Digital Nomad and Make Money From Anywhere

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You may have heard the term “digital nomad” mentioned among world travelers and certain Instagram influencers. What is a digital nomad? It’s someone who chooses to work away from a desk while traveling the world. Thanks to widespread internet availability and technology, the digital nomad lifestyle is possible.

A 2020 study found that 10.9 million Americans call themselves digital nomads. That’s up 49% from the previous year, partly due to remote-work policies many employers adopted as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of nomadic employees and freelancers is likely to increase as a portion of remote workers skip returning to the office and decide to go nomad instead.

Digital nomad jobs make it possible to earn money from nearly anywhere. In most cases, employers may not even know what destination you’re working from. The desk may be a cafe in Paris, poolside in Bali or a hotel in San Francisco. For many, digital nomading is the ultimate freedom — and it may be just what you’ve been looking for.

Types of Digital Nomad Jobs

Make Your Money Work Better for You

For the digital nomad lifestyle to work, the job you do must be able to get completed online using tech. It may take some creativity to pivot from your current job to a digital one. For example, if you work at a retail sales clothing store, you won’t be able to ring customers up from a beach in Vietnam, but you may be able to start your own online clothing boutique, or transition into a role of online customer support at your current employer.

Unless an employer is generous with paid time off and flexible hours, being a digital nomad can be challenging. Many digital nomads end up working as freelancers so they can set their own schedules. Digital nomads typically work as:

  • Bloggers
  • Writers
  • Digital marketing
  • Social media influencers
  • IT or computer programmers
  • Graphic designers
  • Virtual assistants
  • Language teachers

Digital Nomads Pros and Cons

While most people can agree that working from a sailboat in the Mediterranean beats sitting in an office cubicle on a cold, grey day, the lifestyle isn’t always easy. Consider some of the main benefits and challenges digital nomads face.

Make Your Money Work Better for You
Pros Cons
Fund your travels as you go Loneliness
Set your own schedule Discipline required
Potentially lower cost of living Challenges with scheduling
Allows you to build skills and recharge Red tape

What Are the Pros of Being a Digital Nomad?

Here’s a breakdown of some of the pros.

Fund Your Travels As You Go

Most people work all year to save money for a two-week vacation. Being a digital nomad is the ultimate permanent vacation — you may be able to travel indefinitely while you work. All the extra time provides you with a great opportunity for cultural immersion. You can get a great feel for a place and live as the locals do by settling for a few weeks or longer. The best part is, if you don’t like the destination or you’re ready for a change, you can find a new one.

Set Your Own Schedule

In most cases, you can set your own work schedule. Some digital nomads thrive by having a routine. They may choose to work traditional business hours at a coworking space to recreate their work life back home.

Other digital nomads condense their schedule into a version of the “four-hour workweek” by working long and hard for a few days so they have more time off to travel. As a digital nomad, you choose your schedule based on how you work best.

Potentially Lower Cost of Living

Traveling can be expensive when you factor in the cost of airplane tickets, hotels and more. However, most digital nomads are financially savvy. They tend to set up shop at a location for a while by renting an apartment or Airbnb and living as a local.

The approach could save you lots of money in the long run, especially if you choose low-cost destinations in Asia, parts of Europe, South or Central America and Africa. You’d be surprised at how inexpensive lodging, food and internet are outside of the U.S. You may be able to invest or continue contributing towards retirement.

Great Way To Build New Skills and Recharge

Taking a break from the daily grind may be great for your career in the long run. You may strengthen your tech skills as you embrace Zoom, Asana and the variety of tech tools that make remote work possible.

You may decide that working as a digital nomad is temporary and that you’d like to eventually return home to start a family, retire or build roots. The time spent traveling can help you network, learn a new language (or two) and reignite your passion for what you do.

What Are Some of the Downsides To Being a Digital Nomad?

There may be some cons to be aware of. Take a look at some of these below.

Loneliness

Digital nomads often move around. Most travel between two and twelve countries per year. It’s hard to build relationships as a nomad, especially when others you meet may be coming and going, too. And without an office to go to or friends and family around, the digital nomad life can be lonely.

Discipline Required

Working remotely is not always a vacation. Work still needs to be a priority to fund the experience. One of the biggest challenges a digital nomad faces right away is making sure enough time is invested into work or the marketing of a freelance business for it to thrive. Discipline to get assignments completed can be a challenge when you don’t have someone who is there to make you accountable.

Schedule Challenges

Depending on where in the world you choose to set up, the time difference can be tough. Nomads in Mexico or the Caribbean have it easier. But if you’re expected to check in for a Friday video conference at 10 a.m. EST, that’s 12 a.m. on Saturday in Australia.

Red Tape

Digital nomads face complex immigration and tax questions. In most cases, they’re traveling as tourists and don’t have permission to work in the country of choice unless they apply for a work visa, which could be difficult and lengthy to get. They may only remain as travelers in a country for a certain period of time. Depending on the length of their stay, they may need to file taxes in the U.S. and the location they’re currently in.

Banks don’t make it easy for world travelers. Getting paid in the U.S. and accessing the funds overseas requires extra work and expense. Navigating all the international red tape isn’t for the faint of heart.

How To Get Started as a Digital Nomad

To get started as a digital nomad, it’s important to line up work before you travel because most countries don’t allow foreigners to enter and job search.

Tips To Get Started

  • Start saving money: It’s good to have a cash cushion to cover expenses and emergencies while you travel.
  • Find digital nomad jobs: Search Indeed and other job boards for remote work opportunities or gigs that aren’t location-dependent. Or ask your employer if you can work remotely and what the conditions would be.
  • Watch for scams: Do your research about the type of remote job offered. Avoid any that require you to make purchases upfront or work for a free trial before you’re hired.
  • Consider extended stays: Moving from a city or country every couple of weeks can really affect your work productivity and get expensive. Consider staying at locations for a couple of months or longer.
  • Research the locations you’re interested in: Look at the cost of living to determine if you can afford the area. Join some ex-pat groups for the destinations to find out more about what life is like.
  • Invest in a quality laptop: Your laptop will be your traveling office, so make sure you choose a reliable one. Pick up some plug adaptors for the countries you plan on working from.
  • Switch to online banking: Online banks make it much easier to manage your money while you’re away.
  • Understand bank and credit card fees: Make sure you know what type of fees your bank will charge you for international withdrawals and if your credit cards charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Set up a billing system: Make sure you have a system for getting paid before you leave. Having a PayPal account linked to a bank account could make it easy to move money around and access it when you need it.
  • Meet other nomads: Having a support system, even if it’s only digital, can be a lifesaver. Join digital nomad groups through social media to connect with other like-minded people.

Final Take

Now that you can answer “what is a digital nomad” and understand it’s a lifestyle with benefits and drawbacks, you can decide if it’s worth it. Getting started may be the hardest part. After all, walking away from your comfort zone to embark on a world adventure takes courage. Most digital nomads are risk-takers. The reward is great — they have the freedom, flexibility and funding to decide where their next remote work location will be.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

About the Author

Cynthia Paez Bowman is a personal finance writer with degrees from American University in international business and journalism. Besides writing about personal finance, she writes about real estate, interior design and architecture. Her work has been featured in MSN, Brex, Freshome, MyMove, Emirates’ Open Skies magazine and more.

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