In the tumultuous early months of 2020, whispers of an impending work revolution began to sound: digital nomad visas were coming to lure new remote workers to Barbados and Estonia, of all places. With most of the world locked down, international travel seemed like a distant dream for most people. More than two years later, and with international travel back to pre-pandemic levels, those digital nomad visas – and countless others – are now more popular than ever.
An MBO Partners study found that in 2021, the number of digital nomads in the United States alone reached a staggering 15.5 million, having increased 112% since 2019. As remote workers negotiate increased flexibility in their jobs, experts expect the number of digital nomads to continue its exponential growth in the coming years.
Interested in taking your remote work job on the road? These ten easy steps will take you from remote worker to digital nomad faster than you can buy a plane ticket.
1. Ask The Big Questions
There is a certain romanticism to digital nomad life, the idea of constantly remaking yourself, and the chance to start over frequently in foreign destinations. In reality, there is a lot more to it than that. Long travel days, complicated digital nomad visa applications, and finding an affordable apartment in a country where you don't speak the language are all daily realities you might not be able to foresee before getting started.
It's important to ask yourself – can you handle the ups and downs? Are you ready for the challenges of leaving friends and family behind? Do you consider yourself adaptable and flexible, resilient when things don't go your way? No one is perfect, but these are the essential questions you'll need to ask yourself before diving into digital nomad life. Here we'll cover some time-tested best practices that countless nomads have used to make their journey a little easier.
2. Narrow Your Focus
Not all digital nomads are indeed “nomadic,” constantly wandering the globe without any semblance of a home base. In fact, the majority aren't. Many digital nomads prefer to have a home base and take frequent “workations,” working remotely and traveling in one country or region for weeks or even months on end, only to return home later.
Before you sell everything and head out on the road permanently, narrow your sites on the type of digital nomad lifestyle you think will be the best fit. There is no one right way to be a digital nomad, no matter what someone on the internet tells you.
Perhaps you try this workation model and find it's not for you – ditch it and make a change! The upside of such a lifestyle change is that it's as simple as that. Remember, you're not locked into the choice you make now.
3. Secure A Job
So you already work remotely – great! Unfortunately, this doesn't always mean you can sail off into digital nomad life without a hitch. Many companies face legal restrictions about where remote workers can base themselves, especially regarding workers residing in different countries. Before buying your plane ticket, you'll likely need to discuss your plans with your boss.
For many remote workers or those looking to get started working remotely for the first time, this lifestyle change means securing digital nomad jobs that are more friendly to the lifestyle than a typical remote position. Look for flexibility of hours that will allow you to change timezones, all-remote staffing, and other features that will make it easier for you to work and travel at once.
Many digital nomads find it easier to launch their businesses as freelancers, consultants or bloggers and become their own bosses, despite the challenges associated with this career choice.
4. Set Your Budget
Once you've secured a remote work position amenable to the digital nomad lifestyle and know what you'll earn while working remotely, setting a realistic budget for your expenses and travel is essential. You'll need to consider costs you're used to budgeting for, like rent and food, plus added travel expenses you might not expect.
Consider costs like travel insurance, visa fees, coworking spaces, laundry service, plane tickets, and more when making your budget. You'll want to leave some padding for the unexpected expenses that can arise.
Your choice of digital nomad destinations will be dependent on your budget; you might only be able to travel to less expensive destinations as you get started as a digital nomad. Setting your budget is an essential step before you're able to decide where you'd like to travel.
5. Prepare Your Finances
Long-term travel can mean significant changes in your finances. If you plan on traveling regularly, you'll want to make sure your bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial products work to support this unique lifestyle.
Look into bank accounts with no foreign ATM fees, credit cards with travel protection, and the like. Even if you've never considered these things, they can add significant savings for digital nomads constantly on the move.
Speaking with an accountant about your tax status as a digital nomad may also be a good idea. They'll be able to advise you on business expenses for remote workers. Depending on the amount of time you spend outside of the country every year, you may also be entitled to additional tax benefits.
6. Identify Your First Destination
With a budget prepared, you'll be able to narrow down your first destination as a digital nomad. There are plenty of aspects to consider before you make your choice, but the best places to work remotely often include these characteristics:
- Fast internet speeds
- Local networks of digital nomads and expats
- Coworking spaces
- Conveniences like public transportation, shopping, and entertainment
- Proximity to other travel destinations
- Digital nomad visas or other digital nomad-friendly visa policies
Deciding on your first destination may also be an exercise in identifying what is most important to you and what you'll need to thrive in a new environment. The needs and interests of digital nomads are uniquely personal, and there is no one best place for remote workers and travelers.
Some digital nomads seek big city living, while others flock to tiny beach towns with no other foreigners in sight. Before making this decision, you'll need to consider what will be best for you.
7. Research Local Realities
Once you've narrowed down destinations, you can dive into researching aspects of daily life as a digital nomad in your target destination. Remember, being a digital nomad is not like taking a vacation. You'll need to find an apartment and a coworking space, ensure you have fast internet to work remotely, and buy groceries to cook your meals.
A convenient way to dive into understanding local realities is by reaching out to other digital nomads or expats who have already adjusted to life in this new city or country. They'll likely have tips on how to get settled, where to stay, things to do, and money-saving hacks you'll need to stay on budget.
8. Buy Your Ticket
Sometimes, buying your ticket is the hardest part of the process. It represents a concrete step towards your new future. This might be the time you're feeling the most hesitant. Don't spend too much time rethinking and reanalyzing now – buy that ticket and get excited for what is to come!
9. Pack Your Bags
Packing for long-term travel – especially when your plans include traveling to multiple destinations with different climates – is challenging. Overpacking is the norm, but you should avoid it at all costs.
Again, this isn't a vacation; you'll be doing laundry while you're there, so you don't need to pack everything. Many long-term travelers also keep a small budget for purchasing any required clothing or comfort items they may have forgotten to pack.
For many soon-to-be digital nomads, packing your bags may look like packing up your house or apartment. You'll find digital nomads selling all their belongings before taking off and others renting storage units or storing things with friends or family. Many digital nomads either sell their homes or rent them while away, offering another income stream for you while you travel.
Congratulations, you made it happen! You're living the digital nomad dream, working remotely from a new place. Whether your immediate reaction to this lifestyle change is positive or negative, try to avoid acting too quickly or making any changes without giving yourself time to settle in.
Give yourself time and space to adjust, then consider how to make this lifestyle even better suited to your needs in the following weeks and months. Consider how your location, travel speed, and work setup might impact your productivity and enjoyment of digital nomad life. Sometimes there are easy changes you can make to improve your experience radically.
A lot goes into making the lifestyle change from remote worker to digital nomad, but it's not impossible. By taking these steps and considering your options, you'll be able to find a way to fit this lifestyle into your budget, interests, and needs, whether you've been a remote worker for years or are just getting started.
This article originally appeared on My Work From Home Money.
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler and the creator behind Home to Havana. Having visited twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides and travel tips to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path to Havana or beyond.