According to Wikipedia: “Digital nomads are individuals that leverage technology to perform their work. It’s generally done in a nomadic manner wherein they work remotely — from home, away from home, while on the road — to accomplish tasks and goals that used to have traditionally taken place in a single stationary workplace. These digital nomads are often online business owners, web designers, graphic designers, software developers, and other types of knowledge workers who can perform work duties irrespective of physical location.”
Simply put: a digital nomad makes full use of the technology (ta-dah: the Internet!) in order to work and earn income, and they can do their work whenever and wherever they are.
Or for the most common representation: have you seen those photos of people sitting by the beach with a laptop on their laps…? Probably even sipping a piña colada while they’re at it? Well, those are us, the digital nomads — or to be precise, that’s how our lifestyle is portrayed to the public. I say this because it’s true in some aspects but for the most part: it’s sometimes over-romanticized.
Benefits to being a digital nomad:
- The freedom to be your own boss. You can control how much work you will take on and when to do it; therefore, you have great control over your own time and your own rhythm toward doing things (e.g. setting your ‘play’ and ‘work’ times, etc.)
- You can travel the world! This is the biggest selling point of this lifestyle. As mentioned previously, this type of career is ‘remote’ given how you can do your work online — a realm that is not bound to one stationary place — so it’s really no news to know or see digital nomads who hop from one exotic destination to the next while they work. (Apart from the enriching travel experience, it can be helpful to your budget as well since you can travel to countries that have lower costs of living; thereby lessening your monthly expenses).
- You get to meet a lot of people: locals in foreign countries, travelers, and fellow digital nomads. It’s even a typical occurrence to be thrown into situations where you can get the chance to connect with like-minded individuals. This is a really great thing because in such way, you could have the opportunity to bounce off ideas with people that would not only help improve you as a person, but could also help give you ideas in ascending your career and in building a remote/online business (which is customarily the grand goal of any digital nomad.)
Disadvantages to being a digital nomad:
- It’s not all about pleasure. Most people think that what all digital nomads do is spend time away lounging on the beach since they only work less than 4 hours a day. Well o-kaaaay, that can happen (because I do work less than 4 hours a day now) BUT what I’m trying to say is that NOT everyone can do that immediately especially when a person is still starting out. At the beginning, you’ll most likely be working 80% of the time in a coworking space, internet cafe, coffee shop, or hotel room as you try to stabilize your clients and cashflow. Trust me on this because this is how I was before (but sure enough, once you get past that gruelling entry stage, it can get smooth sailing from then on).
- A decent internet connection tends to be hard to come by. This struggle is real. Since most of us digital nomads rely on the internet, an unreliable internet is a great inconvenience (and can easily transform us into vengeful monsters). Regrettably, this is a problem that we almost always face as we travel around the world.
- It can still get lonely. This is most likely to happen if you’re setting out in this lifestyle alone or if you don’t take the initiative to connect with people whilst you’re on the road. But then again, it’s also possible that no matter what you do, that feeling of homesickness can still creep in from time to time and it can be quite tough to beat.
How to Become a Digital Nomad?
First, let’s start with 5 “quick ways” (starting from typical situations to extreme ones):
- Going solo. This means that you quit your job and transfer your current work online. This scenario works best for consultants (any type), teachers/tutors, lawyers, accountants, etc.
- Arranging remote work. If you don’t want to leave your office job, strike a deal with your current employer to let you work online instead. This works best if the majority of your tasks involve working on a computer. In other words: your physical presence isn’t that needed in the office. (If you want tips on how to approach your boss about this, you can read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Work Week).
- Transferring online. If you already own a brick-and-mortar business, consider of ways to move it online or of ways to manage it remotely. There are a LOT of tools already available, online and offline, that can help you make this arrangement possible (online accounting applicatons, webcam surveillance, manager hire, etc.)
- Taking the entrepreneurial path right off the bat. It’s one of the fastest ways (provided that you’re ‘loaded’) BUT the most difficult as well. It gets riskier too if you don’t have any prior experience or connections to help you succeed.
- Buying an existing online business that you can run or that you can get passive income from. But remember: this is very risky (much like #4) especially if you’re not an experienced business owner. Some of the ways to buy businesses: franchises, online websites on Flippa or online businesses on FE International.
That being said, CLEARLY not everyone has an easily-convertible job, a flexible boss to permit you to work online, or a pot full of money to buy or start a business. However, the fact remains that YOU can still become a digital nomad.
You just need to start from the ground up.
NEVER underestimate what you can do and what you already know.
You might think that you have no skills right now to become a digital nomad; however, the fact alone that you can type and use a computer is a skill in itself that can already land you simple online jobs like data entry, translation, and more. Secondly, other than taking advantage of your current skills, look into your hobbies as well since there’s a chance that some of it can be turned into a ‘money-generating’ work online.
For example, ever since I was 13, I was fond of doing graphic and web designs for my personal use. I continued to do it only as a hobby and as a way to help friends who were in need (while I also continued to polish my skills and learn new ones); yet after meeting digital nomads back when I was 21, I realized that it was a capability that can be turned into a remote profession. I discovered that it could help me gain more income than what I was earning as a fresh graduate in an investment bank, and that it could also make me lead a traveling lifestyle!
TIP: As you decide on the type of remote job that you can do, remember the notion of ‘diversifying your portfolio’. What do I mean by this? Well, for instance, other than eyeing the kind of work where you do data entry or administrative assistance, try to learn other set of skills too that can make you gain more job opportunities. More work = more income.
And of course, the…
GOLDEN RULE: Pick the kind of work that you LOVE to do so that it won’t feel like ‘work’ at all. It’s really imperative to choose something that you’re passionate about because in that way, it’s easier to be productive, and also definitely easier to be a master of it in the long run!
Along with this is another equally important advice that I typically impart: “To work hard does not always equal to success… you have to work smart too.” So always keep your wits with you, be resourceful — be opportunistic!
TAXES: As a self-employed/freelancer individual or as a business owner. Now, I can’t provide one universal answer for this since every situation is different as dependent on your nationality or country of origin; so what I highly suggest is that if you’re ever in doubt, hire a consultant to help you sort out your tax documents. It also helps to organize this waaaaay beforehand since it can help with visa processes later on or even at the immigration itself to show your solvency or work.
(Customarily however, you pay taxes in your home country but once you stay in a foreign country for a longer period of time, make it a point to recheck your tax situation since it might be required for you to pay additional taxes to where you’re planning to stay in for long.)
VISAS: This is self-explanatory. As already mentioned above, always check first if you need a tourist visa to the country that you’re heading to.
“Do digital nomads need work visas instead?” As a norm, entering a country with only a visitor visa is fine if you’re a digital nomad because you’re not really working for a ‘physical business’ in that country’s territory (so you’re not illegally taking away the jobs of the locals etc.). Besides, most countries also don’t have clear regulations yet about digital nomads but it’s generally tolerated and allowed (irregardless, it is your responsibility to research the laws of the foreign country that you’re heading to since they might have different or new laws that goes against this concept.)
TIP: When it comes to immigration, just say that you’re entering their country for tourism purposes. No need to say something like “It will be my new base as a digital nomad” since not a lot of people are that familiar yet with this line of work, and if you say something weird to their ears, they might minsinterpret your words and then forbid you to enter their country. But surely, if they ever ask about your work, it’s best to just mention that you are a self-employed freelancer or business owner (as dependent on the work that you do) and that you are paying tax and working for a company somewhere else. This will be an assurance to them that you’re not heading to their country to search for work (even though “technically” you’ll be working there, but only ‘online’ thereby not affecting the local employment).