Simply put, a digital nomad is someone who earns their living online without a fixed address. As a result, they’re normally self-employed - but some nomads may have a flexible arrangement with a traditional employer.
Armed with a laptop, an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of adventure, digital nomads fulfil their roles all over the world. You’ll find them from Taipei to Tbilisi - anywhere with low rents and good vibes.
An entire subculture has developed around the best places to live the life. Blogs like Hobo with a Laptop and Nomad Flag help remote workers the world over learn the tricks of the nomad trade - from getting set up in the hottest new cities to finding the best visa arrangements.
Advances in Wi-Fi, computer hardware and communications platforms mean it’s easier than ever to get jobs as a digital nomad. In 2019, 27% of the UK workforce already did at least some form of remote work1.
But the onset of Covid-19 brought the possibilities of remote work into even sharper focus. In 2020 September15,000 flats stood empty in New York City2
after white-collar workers realised they simply didn’t need to live there any more. Here in the UK, one in five workers is considering moving away from their workplace3 - whether to suburbia or further afield, where the cost of living is cheaper.
The result? A world of adventurous remote working possibilities. And here’s the best bit: if you can work using only a laptop or other portable equipment, you can be a digital nomad too.
Did you know? 4.8 million US citizens identify as digital nomads and the number of remote workers in the UK grew by 250,000 between 2005 and 20154.
✓ Lower cost of living. Digital nomads normally seek out locations with far lower rent, food and other living costs than their home nations. Choose your destination wisely and you might be able to get a lot of mileage from your earnings.
✓ Opportunity to travel. Digital nomads travel and work wherever their visa and budget permits. Traditional employment is far more limited. The UK’s average annual leave allowance is 33.5 days5 - only enough to allow sporadic travel throughout the year.
✓ Business development. Moving to a popular digital nomad destination can be great for networking. And with little or no overheads, you’ll be in a great position to start a business.
Loneliness. Wanderlust can only take you so far. You’ll be spending long periods away from friends, family and rootedness of home. And if you’re travelling from place to place regularly, you might struggle to make meaningful connections and maintain a support network.
Uncertainty. Freelance work can be unreliable. You might have a mountain of work to do one week and the nothing for the rest of the month. You can smooth out these peaks and troughs by staying on top of your cashflow and client relationships.
Impracticality. Working from a beach hammock is idyllic, but impractical. When it comes to the grind of deadlines and client calls, you’ll need to find a distraction-free workspace with reliable Wi-Fi and power points. When you’ve just arrived in a new city and are juggling time zones, stress and jetlag, this can be tricky.
Did you know? The nomad lifestyle isn’t just for younger people. 54% of digital nomads in the USA are over the age of 386.
First things first - start getting your finances in order. Striking out as a nomad carries risk. You can mitigate this by having savings to cushion any fallen-through work, slow-paying clients or quiet periods. It’s a good idea to start early and cover yourself for as many months as possible. Make sure to shed extra expenses like subscriptions and memberships - and pay off your debts. These extra costs will only put a dampener on your digital nomad experience.
The next step is to think up some digital nomad income ideas. Work out your skills and what clients are looking for. Consider what you like doing and if you’d be able to make money from it - online and independently. Research the market, get experience, take courses and learn to be a reliable expert in your field. You’ll need regular work to keep your travels on track.
Now you’ve figured out what you want to do, it’s time to create an infrastructure to help you do it. Start building up a client list you can rely on. Send out proposals and make connections online. Start picking up jobs in your spare time on freelance websites like Fiverr or Upwork. Register your business with HMRC. Get to grips with payments software and invoicing templates.
According to the Club Med digital nomad index, the top countries for digital nomads in 2021 were Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore7. But maybe you want to skip South East Asia and head to Japan, South Africa or Greece? Wherever you choose, think about the cost of living and how easy it will be to work there - considering everything from visas to language barriers. It always helps to connect with other nomads in the country too - so keep in touch online and get a feel for the place.
Your tax status is another important consideration. There’s lots to think about that might affect where you travel to, and how long for. For example, you may be able to declare yourself a non-resident of the UK for tax purposes - but that would mean you wouldn’t be able to return until after a certain period.
Use the Worldwide Personal Tax and Immigration Guide 2020-21 for up to date, country-by-country tax information.
After you’ve got your business up and running and are confident you can make it work anywhere in the world, it’s time to make perhaps the most decisive step towards your digital nomad dreams - quitting your job. Hand in your notice and maintain a great relationship with your employers. After all, you might be able to pick up freelance work if you play your cards right.
You’re almost there. It’s time to book flights and think about those last-minute logistics.
Here are a few final considerations:
Did you know? According to research from MBO Partners, as many as 17 million people in the USA aspire to become a digital nomad.
With remote work now commonplace across a range of industries, there are several ways you can work as a digital nomad.
These could include:
Want to know more about digital nomad income opportunities? Check out our guide to 21 realistic ways to make money from home.
Did you know? According to research from Buffer.com, almost 98% of people would like to work remotely for the rest of their career, at least some of the time9.
Choosing the right location is an important step to becoming a digital nomad. Here are some of our top locations for digital nomad living.
According to a number of nomad bloggers, you’ll need to earn between 50019 and 2,000 USD a month and will need around 8,000 USD before you start20. This depends on where you travel - the cost of living in some countries is far lower than others.
It is technically illegal to work under a tourist visa. To circumvent this issue, many countries have introduced specific digital nomad visas.
To be a successful digital nomad, you’ll need skills in IT, entrepreneurship, time-management and networking. The rest will depend on the job you choose - but abilities and experience in content creation, digital marketing and design are commonly needed for remote work.