How to Become a Digital Nomad
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Dreaming of working from the beach or in a bustling city abroad? Thanks to technology, more and more people are making this their reality. A 2018 study on the State of Independence in America found that approximately 4.8 million workers classify themselves as “digital nomads,” and that number is only expected to rise in the coming years. Whether crossing borders every few weeks or staying put in a new city for several months, digital nomads satisfy their desire for adventure and travel without sacrificing a paycheck. Find out what it takes to transition to this life and how you can find remote work.
What is a Digital Nomad?
Digital nomads enjoy the freedom to travel while earning an income thanks to technology. Because digital services shift so rapidly, this type of work would not have been possible even a decade ago. Today’s digital nomads, however, can select from many career paths that allow them to combine their personal and professional passions. Unlike freelancers who work remotely but tend to stay put, digital nomads are location independent, meaning they do not need to stay in a specific place to get work done. Because of this, they work and travel the world for various lengths of time.
10 Steps to Become a Digital Nomad
Because the concept of living a digital nomadic life is still an emerging one, many individuals may aspire to this type of career but do not know how to reach that goal. Fortunately, many location independent paths exist that cater to different interests, education levels, and skill sets. Individuals drawn to a more nomadic lifestyle can follow the 10 steps outlined below to get started.
Top Location Independent Jobs for Digital Nomads
While many jobs exist within the digital/remote space, those who hope to achieve full location independence must find a client or role that is fully-based online. In addition to the range of positions highlighted in this section, individuals interested in pursuing a digital nomadic life can use sites such as UpWork, Remote.co, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com to find currently available work, regardless of their location.
Individuals with a firm grasp on the nuances of the English language can work in many different industries with these skills. Some may feel compelled to work with an agency for a broad spectrum of clients while others may choose to focus their efforts with a single company. Others may be interested in legal or technical writing.
This broad-ranging position allows individuals to put their administrative, financial, creative, or technical skills to use by supporting the work of their clients. Virtual assistants, or VAs, can provide a range of services, depending on their skillset. Examples include editing services, budget management, digital marketing, data mining, or general clerical skills to CEOs or other individuals requiring support staff.
Given the online nature of their work, web designers can liaise with clients and create web pages that meet individual needs without ever visiting the company’s headquarters. Some may specialize solely in web design and creation while others may focus their effort on website management and upkeep.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, falls under the marketing umbrella and is used by companies to ensure they maintain visibility on Google and other search engines. These professionals work closely with companies or individual clients to ensure their business ranks on keywords that are relevant to their brand or industry.
These specialists use their knowledge of graphic design software and art to design a variety of digital images for clients. They may work with book publishers, branding agencies, website developers, or other creatives who use graphics to convey their company’s mission and message.
With the rise of online K-12 programs and colleges, the need is great for qualified teachers who can lead digital classrooms and engage students through the internet. These positions may require teachers to log in at specific times across the semester but generally provide flexible schedules.
While online translation services are readily available today, individuals seeking precise and accurate translations still turn to those who know the language best. Translators who are fluent in an in-demand language can provide their services with maximum flexibility, so long as they have a steady, high-speed internet connection and clients.
Many videographers do their own editing, but plenty of busy, high powered individuals actually hire professionals to take care of this part of the process. Editors with great attention to detail and an understanding for what their client wants can perform this job with relative ease and flexibility.
Top Destinations for Digital Nomads
Given that a nomadic life typically involves paying for services such as hotels, short-term accommodation, and continuous travel, it’s important that individuals consider cost of living when creating a plan. Areas such as Southeast Asia and Central America offer much lower costs of living than Western Europe or North America, for instance. With that in mind, however, it is also important to find a location with reliable and fast Wi-Fi so you can maintain contact with your clients, as well a local setting that provides favorable culture, lifestyle, weather, and safety.
Below are five top destinations for digital nomads, along with each location’s monthly cost of living. Prices below include everyday expenses such as groceries, transportation, rent, utilities, and a Wi-Fi connection. All prices are based on a single individual living within the city center in a one-bedroom apartment.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Monthly cost of living: $863.73 USD
As the capital of Argentina, the coastal city of Buenos Aires offers digital nomads a central location in South America. Ideal for travel to other cities in the region, individuals enjoy personality-filled neighborhoods, art, history, reliable Wi-Fi, public transportation, outdoor activities, plenty of day trip opportunities, and numerous co-working spaces. The city also provides exceptional value for money when compared to other large cities.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Monthly cost of living: $937.24 USD
In addition to offering an exceptionally low cost of living, Ho Chi Minh City offers digital nomads the opportunity enjoy fast internet, cheap and healthy eats, a burgeoning entrepreneur community, plenty of co-working spaces and cafes, and exceptional transportation. The city also offers good nightlife, and plenty of day-to-day services (e.g. apartment cleaning, laundry, cooking) for extremely cheap, making it possible for workers to focus more on their business.
Monthly cost of living: $840.33 USD
Digital nomads looking for a great summer and early fall destination can do no wrong in choosing Bali – specifically the city of Ubud. The town comes alive between June and September, yet prices remain low. In addition to being walking-friendly, motorbikes are available for rent and taxi drivers abound. Wi-Fi can still be a bit spotty, but fibre optic is popping up. Several co-working spaces exist, as do cheap laundry facilities, reasonably priced restaurants catering to many diets, and fitness options such as yoga are plentiful.
Monthly cost of living: $1,502.66 USD
Though Tallinn costs slightly more than other cities in this list, this location makes up for it in many ways. In addition to becoming the first country to provide digital nomad visas (starting in January 2019), Tallinn also has the second fastest public Wi-Fi in the world, a thriving tech industry, and easy access to the rest of Europe. The city maintains an old world charm and is easily walkable, while many cafes and co-working spaces make it possible to maximize productivity while meeting other digital nomads.
Mexico City, Mexico
Monthly cost of living: $1,055.35 USD
A perennially popular location, Mexico City offers a low cost of living, strong Wi-Fi, more than 150 museums, cuisines ranging from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants, and a burgeoning freelance and digital nomad scene. Uber is well-entrenched in Mexico City, as is public transportation. Mexico also offers visa-friendly policies: tourists and business visitors from 65 countries can stay in the country for 180 days without a visa.
Meet the Expert
Betsy Ball offers insight into how she became a digital nomad and details on what it is like to live and work a nomadic life.
Have a permanent address you can use in the States for your bank account and credit card address. We use a family member’s address. I’ve heard good things about Traveling Mailbox, which also seems to works well.
Understand the visa rules for the area where you are traveling. For example, we are traveling in Europe. Most of Europe is in the Schengen zone. As Americans, we are only allowed to stay in the Schengen for 90 out of 180 days. When we reach the limit of our days, we have to leave the Schengen. The UK, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, and some other European countries are not part of the Schengen, so when we get close to running out of days, we travel there for several months until we have accumulated more days so that we can go back to the Schengen. Every region has different rules. Make sure you know what they are and follow them.
Figure out the most economical phone plan. We changed from AT&T to Sprint before we left and it was a good decision because we pay no extra charges for our international service. When we were with AT&T, the international charges were much higher. Doing some good research on this before we traveled was very helpful.
Pack light. We travel with a backpack and a suitcase, each. Last year we traveled nine months from September to May before returning to the States. This year we started again in September and will go to May, but we came home for Christmas. We go to a family cottage in Canada in the summer. Packing light makes us nimble as we bounce from country to country.
Make sure to stay connected to your friends and family back home. This is easy with technology these days, but staying connected is important for your mental health. Your support system is still there — you simply have to make more of an effort to stay connected to it.
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