What is a digital nomad and how do I become one?

Many of us dream of ditching the nine-to-five to explore the world - but a sizeable hurdle commonly known as ‘work’ has always stood in the way. But for digital nomads, the commute and the office have become a thing of the past. From a Vietnam beach to a Budapest café, nomads work and travel wherever they please.  

 

So how do you become one? From finding digital nomad jobs to registering as self-employed, it’s important to get clued-up before you make the jump. In this digital nomad survival guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What is a digital nomad?

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.

What’s it like to be a digital nomad?

 

Advantages. 

 

✓ 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. 

 

 

Disdvantages. 

 

 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.

 

How can I become a digital nomad?

 

Strategy and organisation are key to making a success of your new lifestyle. Check out our digital nomad checklist of everything you need to do before you get going. 

 

Step one: Start saving. 

 

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.  

 

Step two: Find your niche.   

 

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.  

 

Step three: Build your business.

 

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.

 

Step four: Plan your trip.

 

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. 

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Step five: Hand in your notice. 

 

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.  

 

Step six: Get ready.

 

You’re almost there. It’s time to book flights and think about those last-minute logistics. 

 

Here are a few final considerations: 

 

  • Find the right visas. Some countries offer what are informally called ‘digital nomad visas’. These allow remote workers to work in a country for an extended period without a permit. For example, Indonesia planned a five-year digital nomad visa in 2021 to rejuvenate its struggling tourism industry8. Make sure that you research your options carefully. 
  • Take out insurance. A good insurance policy covers you if something goes wrong - from accidents and lost luggage, to illness. Health cover is particularly important. It’s bad enough getting ill when you’re travelling, but if you factor in a hefty doctor’s fee it can be far worse.  
  • Get jabs and immunisations. You’ll need jabs for diseases like tetanus, hepatitis An and typhoid to travel to many countries across the world. Make sure to research carefully.
  • Check Covid-19 travel restrictions. If you haven’t looked into this already, check the current travel restrictions for your first destination. You’ll also want to double check about local lockdowns and day-to-day restrictions when you arrive.
  • Unlock your phone. Make sure you’re able to use your mobile freely wherever you travel. You may need to buy separate SIM cards for each location. 
  • Get an international credit card. You don’t want to pay high charges on your card purchases abroad. Do some research on the best credit cards for your new digital nomad lifestyle.  
  • Pack your bags. Make sure you have everything you need when you get there. You’ll need a good rucksack with a solid waterproof layer, a reliable laptop (don’t forget the charger), a passport, proof of home address (like a driving licence and bank statements) foreign currency and clothes. Digital nomad travel is all about packing light, so don’t overdo it. You can buy items like basic medicines and cosmetics when you arrive.  

 

Did you know? According to research from MBO Partners, as many as 17 million people in the USA aspire to become a digital nomad. 

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What could be my digital nomad career? 

 

With remote work now commonplace across a range of industries, there are several ways you can work as a digital nomad.  

 

These could include: 

 

  • Accountancy. Work in accountancy is often based on bookkeeping software, so it lends itself well to remote work. 
  • Affiliate marketing. If you run a blog, you can make money with affiliate links from brands.  
  • Dropshipping. Want to get involved in the eCommerce game? With dropshipping, you can run the website and marketing while a partner handles the stock and deliveries. It’s a great way to run a low-overhead, agile business.  
  • Writing, editing, transcription and proofreading. All you need is a laptop and space to concentrate to complete this kind of work. You’ll need to bear in mind time zone differences when it comes to deadlines. 
  • Project management. Spinning the plates of suppliers and clients can be hard work - but if you stay organised, you can do it all over the world. 
  • Recruitment and HR. Many recruitment and HR meetings can take place remotely. You’ll just need to balance the time differences. 
  • Software development and IT. Remote work is common in the tech sector. If your laptop is up to the job, then you may be able to travel as you fulfil your role. 
  • Social media. Social media relies on great content - not face-to-face meetings.   What better place to get inspired and build influence than on a beach in Thailand?  
  • Tutoring. Whether you record your courses or hold them by video link, tutoring is another viable way to work as a digital nomad.  

 

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

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Where could I go as a digital nomad? 

 

Choosing the right location is an important step to becoming a digital nomad. Here are some of our top locations for digital nomad living. 

 

  • Georgia has a convenient one-year visa available for digital nomads. Its capital Tbilisi is fast becoming a hotspot due to its winning combination of beautiful architecture, great food and low prices10
  • Indonesia is soon to launch five-year permits for remote workers, with no tax on foreign earnings11. With white sand beaches, amazing nightlife and a low cost of living, Bali is a common choice for nomads the world over.    
  • Thailand offers long stay visas for a 90-day minimum up to a year12. You’ll need to prove your income and pay a fee13 to obtain the visa. Once you’re there, you can make the most of buzzing nomad hotspots like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. 
  • Taiwan allows UK, EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, Chile and US citizens to stay for 90-180 days on a very straightforward visa14. Taipei is friendly, vibrant and tolerant - one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly cities in Asia. Head to a night market for incredible street food. 
  • Colombia is also pretty forthcoming with its three-month visas - available on arrival for UK, US, EU, Canadian and Australian visitors. Medellin is the Colombian nomad hotspot - known for its views, weather and nature15.  
  • Hungary allows EU citizens to stay for up to 90 days and has special arrangements with USA, New Zealand, Australia and Israel - among other countries16. UK citizens will need to apply separately17. Free, reliable Wi-Fi, low living costs and historic architecture keeps nomads coming back.
  • Sri Lanka is another major hotspot for digital nomads, who visit for its beautiful beaches and relaxed pace of life. Digital nomad visas allow visits for up to one year18.  
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Frequently asked questions. 

 

How much money do I need to be a digital nomad? 

 

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. 

 

Is it legal to use a tourist visa as a digital nomad?

 

It is technically illegal to work under a tourist visa. To circumvent this issue, many countries have introduced specific digital nomad visas. 

 

What skills do I need as a digital nomad?

 

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.  

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Being a digital nomad isn’t just about seeing the world - it’s about exploring your career, ambition and abilities, too. Check out Make Your Move to hear from three amazing entrepreneurs who have taken their careers to the next level by going it alone.  

 

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