More and more people are working remotely, which allows them to be unbound to a location and lead a digital nomadic lifestyle. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about living the lifestyle, from the best to the most difficult.
What Is a Digital Nomad?
The term “digital nomad” is not anything new. We can trace the word back to at least 1997 when Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners wrote a book of the same name, where they outlined a new wave of people using technology to live a nomadic lifestyle. Fast forward over 20 years, and more than 11 million Americans alone consider themselves part of the community.
Digital nomads are people that can work remotely and choose new destinations to visit without permanently settling down in one area. These people use technology to conduct business worldwide and live a nomadic lifestyle, directly contradicting many of the notions we perceive when thinking of the workforce.
There is a significant distinction between a digital nomad and a person who is simply not tied to a location. Nomads were around thousands of years ago and moved from location to location depending on available resources. Rather than setting down roots in a place, they were constantly moving. This continued for many years but declined with the rise of modern life, where systematic agriculture and governmental regulations supported communities.
A History of the Evolution of the Digital Nomad’s Lifestyle
Although nomadism has been around for centuries, digital nomadism is a relatively new concept. Technology has not been around for a very long time, and the ability to work remotely would be a foreign concept a hundred years ago.
The idea of digital nomads was a concept in the early 2000s as home computers became more popular but took off in the 2010s when online communities like Nomad List started popping up. Building a network of other people that enjoyed this kind of life became a significant driver toward more people adopting it.
You can see the idea in books, movies, and online blogs for the past few decades. From Eat, Pray, Love to travel podcasts like Zero to Travel, the world became enthralled with the idea of living an unconventional life.
In 2020, when the entire world went remote, companies put systems in place that would allow the company to be productive and thrive while working remotely. Workers realized how free it was not to be tied to an office and to get to work from the comfort of their own homes. Then, they realized they no longer needed the expensive apartment close to the office but could move farther to somewhere more affordable. While some moved to the next town, many decided to forgo the apartment and travel.
Each year, as new technology emerges and the world becomes more “borderless,” it becomes easier to be a digital nomad. As the demand for digital nomad visas increases, governments see the benefit of offering them to travelers who want to experience their country.
Advantages of Being a Digital Nomad
The digital nomad lifestyle has become more popular than ever before, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. American digital nomads had nearly a 50% increase from 2019 to 2020. Only 30% of people worked remotely before the pandemic, and now 48% of workers choose that option. The pandemic made it clear that remote work is a viable and productive option that many businesses continue exploring.
As with anything in life, there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to the lifestyle so we will explore them all.
The most significant advantage of the digital nomad lifestyle is that you have an agency that was never before possible. You can design the type of life you want on your terms, and you can choose where and when you travel. If you want to rent a van and drive throughout the United States, you have that option. If you want to hostel-hop throughout Southeast Asia, you can also do that.
Few digital nomads describe their life as monotonous. You are constantly having new opportunities, meeting new people, and seeing things you never thought you would see. While traditional life sees routines and monotony, the digital nomad lifestyle sees adventure, excitement, and many unknowns.
The world is filled with inspiration if you are willing to look for it. For digital nomads, traveling provides the ultimate source of inspiration. By venturing to new cultures, witnessing picturesque scenery, and connecting with other nomads, motivation is at every turn of the journey.
Part of the inspiration comes from learning about other people and parts of the world that you might have an unconscious bias against. Becoming a world citizen allows you to break down barriers and learn about topics directly from the source. This can be a great source of inspiration, especially for creatives like writers or videographers.
Some flexibility comes with everyone’s nomadic adventure. Although some jobs will have restrictions like time zone requirements, and you cannot necessarily just hop on a plane and go wherever you want, plenty of flexibility allows you to go places you never considered.
For instance, say you are living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and meet a great group of friends. While your original plan was to take the ferry to Montevideo, Uruguay afterward, you might meet someone heading to Medellín, Colombia, and ask if you want to join them. Since you do not have roots, you can say yes and be open to new destinations you hadn’t previously considered.
For many nomads, the lifestyle is cheaper than a more “traditional” lifestyle. Nomads have been able to pay off credit card debt or student loans while traveling the world. There are so many different ways to be a nomad, so you get to choose the path that fits your budget and allows you to meet your financial goals.
Disadvantages and Challenges of Being a Digital Nomad
Although the lifestyle seems fantastic on paper, there are certainly disadvantages, especially for newcomers. Knowing these disadvantages ahead of time can allow you to navigate them when they come up.
It is possible to experience burnout while living as a digital nomad. Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent and manage this burnout so it does not affect you in the long term. Mental health is essential to discuss freely and openly for everyone, including nomads. The lack of stability and stresses that come with constantly moving can create fatigue and other mental health issues, so stay proactive in taking care of yourself. Plan out things in advance, move slowly, and use tools available to you to make life easier.
Missing Out On Events
Unfortunately, you will have to pick and choose which events you attend. You cannot fly across the world for every wedding, baby shower, birthday, or other celebration for your loved ones. It is not easy missing out on events with family and friends, especially when they are on momentous occasions. However, you must prioritize when and how you show up for the people in your life and be okay with missing out on some things.
You will need to consider visas when going somewhere longer than a vacation. Some countries even require visas for short-term stays, so you must be prepared to avoid any issues at customs. Luckily, Citizen Remote can help you navigate these visas, so you never have to worry.
When constantly moving from place to place, you can feel lonely. Arriving in a new city, country, or continent without knowing a single person for thousands of miles is isolating but also empowering. As long as you embrace the loneliness and allow yourself to feel that emotion, no matter how uncomfortable it is, you will be able to put yourself out there and meet new people.
When faced with loneliness, you can reach out to your network thanks to technology or find the digital nomad community in your city. Every nomad has felt it before, so most people are more than willing to grab dinner or drinks with a stranger that needs a friend.
There is a perception that the digital nomad lifestyle is like by people who are not living the lifestyle. Many nomads have to face the reality that their previous perceptions are not the reality of the situation. Digital nomadism is not all fabulous experiences all the time. Plenty of struggles, scams, and bureaucracy come with the territory. It can feel overwhelming when you realize that you are living the life you always dreamed of but are not completely happy 100 percent of the time.
Careers for Digital Nomads
Some areas of work are more popular than others in digital nomadism. The best type of work is the kind that lets you work on your schedule, but as long as you can work remotely, you can make just about any job work.
Many nomads choose careers in creative fields, like writing, photography, or graphic design. However, there is no right or wrong answer, as nomads come from all walks of life. Some people freelance, while others work for a company that allows them to work remotely.
The Best Cities for Digital Nomads
We will now look at the top five cities for the digital nomad based on the most critical factors, including:
- Cost of living
- Presence of a community
- Safety and accessibility
- Ability to work remotely (infrastructure, wifi speeds, coworking spaces)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Digital nomads worldwide flock to Chiang Mai, Thailand, because of its widely available internet and highly cheap cost of living. For higher-earning nomads, you can qualify for the new Thailand digital nomad visa, which allows you to live and work in the country for four years. If you want to test the waters first, you can stay on a tourist visa for 60 days with the option to extend for another 30 days.
Lisbon is home to one of Europe’s most prominent digital nomad communities. The country has long been a favorite among nomads due to its welcoming locals, fantastic weather, beautiful scenery, and low cost of living. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is the largest and busiest city in the country, but it feels very different from other capitals of Europe. Public transportation is easy and reliable, and you are close to the beach, where you can learn to surf some of the biggest waves in the world. If you are interested in spending more than 90 days in Portugal, look at their Portuguese digital nomad visa.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires has one of South America’s most extensive and active digital nomad networks. For those that want to chase summer and avoid cold weather, you can leave Europe or the United States in November and head to Argentina, where everyone is gearing up for summer. Buenos Aires has an excellent public transportation network, even though the city is quite walkable. There are digital nomad meetups every Thursday throughout the year, providing you with a perfect opportunity to meet new people. There are also Whatsapp group messages where you can ask questions and get acquainted with the area.
Buenos Aires is also remarkably cheap, as long as you are using cash. Palermo, the digital nomad hotspot of the city, has a European feel and is very safe, even for solo travelers. You can find coworking spaces on just about every corner and plenty of cafes with fast wifi. Argentina is working on a digital nomad visa, making it easier for nomads to spend a few months or more enjoying all the steak and malbec they can handle.
For digital nomads aged 18 to 30, the Australian Working Holiday Visa is an excellent opportunity to explore the down under. Although Sydney is more expensive than other places on this list, it is worth exploring. Australia is a beautiful place to visit, with plenty of diversity, different animals, and various opportunities while still having many of the comforts of the United States. Make sure to take advantage of the visa while you can.
Oaxaca is considered one of the significant digital nomad hubs of Mexico. Many nomads from the United States choose Mexico to start their journey, as it is in the same or a similar time zone as home, it is easy to get to, and it allows Americans to stay for up to six months without the need for a visa.
Oaxaca is one of the safest areas in Mexico as well as one of the most affordable. You can have a high quality of life throughout the state on a pretty low budget. Oaxaca City is an excellent option for city lovers, while beaches like Puerto Escondido are favorites for beach-loving nomads. Oaxaca City has a significant ex-pat community and plenty of coworking spaces for you to choose from.
Taxes for Digital Nomads
Taxes are tricky for digital nomads and will vary depending on the type of employment, home country, and destination country. Nomads need to pay taxes, but determining where they pay taxes can be challenging. For US citizen nomads, you can qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on up to $112,000 earned, as long as you spend 330 days or more outside of the United States.
If you have obtained a digital nomad visa for a country, that will determine whether you need to pay taxes in your destination. Typically, you do not have to pay taxes if you are on a short-term tourist visa, but you might have to pay taxes if you are on a long-term nomad visa. To ensure you comply with all tax laws, discussing your situation with a qualified tax professional is best.
Facts About the Digital Nomad’s Lifestyle
Here are some interesting facts about digital nomads and their lifestyles.
Almost Half of Digital Nomads Are in Their 30’s
According to Statista, 47% of digital nomads worldwide are in their 30s. This is surprising, as many think of traveling as something you do in your 20s before settling down in your 30s. However, it is clear that a large portion of nomads might have tried out a more traditional lifestyle and did not enjoy it.
Around 45% of nomads around the world stay in any given location for between one week and three months. This reflects a more sustainable approach, both for the nomads themselves and for the communities they visit. When you immerse yourself in a community, you get to know it much better than short-term travelers typically do. This provides an entirely different experience than what you are used to.
Main Focus is Cost of Living and Wi-Fi
Most nomads pick their next destination due to the cost of living and access to reliable, fast internet. This need comes as no surprise, as nomads need to be able to get work done and afford to do so. These two things are not always significant for regular travelers, as most people do not work while traveling. However, for nomads, access to the internet is one of the most important things to consider
Work Less, Live More
70% of digital nomads work 40 hours a week or less, showing how important developing a healthy work-life balance has become. Compare this to a 2019 survey that showed over half of Americans worked more than 40 hours a week, and it is clear that nomads have figured out how to have the best of both worlds.
1 in 3 Digital Nomads Own Their Own Business
Digital nomads are generally intelligent and driven, so it should be no surprise that 1 in 3 nomads own their businesses. Owning your own business makes the digital nomad lifestyle so much easier, as you can decide when, where, and how you work. You are not under the same regulations and conditions that come with being employed by a company. However, it also comes with a lot of pressure, so be prepared for the ups and downs.
Digital Nomads Fuel the Global Economy
Digital nomads contribute over $787 billion in global economic value per year. For some context, the annual GDP of Portugal is just $249 billion, which shows just how powerful digital nomads have become. In terms of population, if digital nomads formed their own country, it would rank 41st in the world. These numbers prove that the nomad lifestyle has grown substantially in the last few years, hopefully increasing the odds that more countries will adapt to the lifestyle and provide visas.
Important Equipment for Digital Nomads
Now that you know all the information about the lifestyle, we will dive into some of the most crucial equipment that comes in handy for digital nomads. Remember that this is a highly individualized lifestyle, so what works for one nomad might not work for another. If you are new on this journey, many things you think you need will be thrown out while you make a list of things you actually need.
If you are a digital nomad, you are working remotely. This is very different from just traveling for fun, so you need to have a laptop that works for your needs. Apple has some of the best laptops on the market for nomads, as they are lightweight, have excellent battery life, and are user-friendly.
Mobile hotspots allow you to have internet access for your phone, laptop, or tablet anywhere you go. Although they can get pretty pricey, they are worth the investment for remote workers, as they ensure you will always have internet access since that is your source of income. Most hotspots require monthly plans that you can activate as you need them, so choose the plan that would work best for your needs.
A universal travel adapter that is also a voltage converter will come in extremely handy as you traverse the globe. If you have apple products, it is also worth investing in a Global Adapter Kit (LINK), so you can switch out the plug on your Macbook in whichever country you go to. This frees up space in your travel adapter for things like white noise machines and other chargers.
This is an obvious option, but a portable charger has saved every digital nomad out there from one time or another. You cannot depend on trains or even cafes to have outlets nearby, so having a portable charger is crucial. You do not want to be caught in a situation where your phone is dead, and you cannot get back to your apartment or contact someone if you are in trouble.
Wireless headphones are a lifesaver on trains, buses, planes, in coworking spaces, or at loud hostels. You can use them to play white noise to help you sleep at night, listen to your favorite podcast to kill time on a trans-Atlantic flight or have a conference call on a train while heading from Italy to France. Since there are no cords to deal with, they are easy to stow away when you are not using them but essential to have when you need them.
Organization is one of the most important things regarding the digital nomad lifestyle. You will be traveling worldwide for months, so you need to be prepared for just about anything. If you are switching hemispheres, you will also be switching seasons, so it is helpful to have both summer and winter clothing available.
To keep yourself organized, invest in high-quality packing cubes, tech organizers, tote organizers, and any other toiletry bags or pouches you might need. Not only will this help ensure you have everything you need, but it will also streamline your packing process so you can leave an Airbnb in a hurry if you have overslept, speaking from experience.
Digital Nomad Insurance
Although not necessarily “equipment,” having digital nomad insurance is essential to long-term success living this kind of lifestyle. This insurance will typically be some combination of health insurance and travel insurance that will cover you in medical emergencies or if your bag gets lost at the airport. Each nomad has a different lifestyle and travel habits, so make sure you read the fine print when looking to see if insurance is right for you.
FAQs About Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the digital nomad lifestyle.
How Much Money Do You Need to Be a Digital Nomad?
This is a loaded question, as it varies on many different factors like a person’s lifestyle, the destination they are visiting, and what their financial goals are. The average digital nomad makes $119,423 annually, but do not take this as a hard and fast rule. If traveling in places like Southeast Asia and living on a budget, you can get by with $500 per month and have a fantastic time.
What Is Digital Nomad Lifestyle?
The digital nomad lifestyle is a way of working while traveling full-time. Nomads are location-independent, meaning they can up and leave at any moment. These people work while on the road in various industries and professions. At their core, digital nomads are explorers that define work on their schedule.
How Do I Become a Digital Nomad with No Experience?
Many digital nomads embark on the lifestyle after never leaving their home country. This is certainly doable, but it would be great to make some shorter trips to practice traveling before you start doing it full-time. The biggest thing is that you have a source of income that lets you work from wherever you want.
Is It Easy to Be a Digital Nomad?
It is not easy being a digital nomad, but it is worth the effort that goes into it. As you gain experience, you will get more comfortable with the ins and outs of the lifestyle and gain more confidence. There are tons of resources out there that will help you along your journey.
What Jobs Do Most Digital Nomads Do?
Any job that allows you to work remotely will allow you to live the digital nomad lifestyle. However, the most popular jobs among nomads are those where you are not tied to certain hours, like content creation, writing, video editing, photography, and graphic design. Other great industries for digital nomads are programming and IT, consulting, admin work, and customer service.
Do You Pay Taxes as a Digital Nomad?
Taxes for digital nomads can be tricky, as it depends on many factors. Each country has its tax laws, so it is best to consult with a professional. If you are from the United States, you will likely still have to pay taxes there, even if you travel elsewhere. A tax professional can help answer these questions.