Ever since I started this blog in 2014, this has been the #1 question that I have been receiving daily from readers and social media followers alike. True enough, even if I had already discussed extensively the steps on how to start a life of travel, I haven’t really wrote a detailed guide yet on how to become a digital nomad — a profession that I have initially done in order to jumpstart my traveling lifestyle.
After months of putting this off, I finally got the time to write about it and I hope that it will immensely help those who want to lead a similar lifestyle!
I will definitely try to be very thorough about this, so to start off…
[box_title class=”” subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=”15″ font_size=”23″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=”0″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]What is a Digital Nomad?[/box_title]
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.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you would know by now how I always like to show the reality behind any situation so that any misconceptions can be cleared early on. Therefore, let me break down this digital nomad lifestyle for you…
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 shedding blood, sweat and tears, working 80% of the time (or even more) in a coworking space, internet cafe, coffee shop, restaurant 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.
Overall, to better manage your expectations about this lifestyle, you can also read my post below:
Once you get to read through that blog post and your mind is still set on pursuing a digital nomad’s lifestyle then that’s GREAT! Let’s proceed to the good part…
[box_title class=”” subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=”15″ font_size=”23″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=”0″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]How to Become a Digital Nomad?[/box_title]
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 applications, 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’ or prepared to take a big fat loan) 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. To do so…
Identify your skills and decide on the kind of work you want to do.
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.
A perfect example of this: my story. You see, ever since I was 13, I was fond of learning and doing graphic and web designs. I enjoyed it a lot and 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). But when I started to meet digital nomads when I was 21, I realized that it was something that can be turned into a profitable and 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! Right then and there, the door to a varied list of possibilities opened up for me — and it could be the same for you too!
To gain ideas on what kinds of digital nomad jobs that you can do or which you may love to do, check my article below:
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 proactive, be artful — be opportunistic (but without disregarding your ethics and principles).
Learn or polish the skills that you’ll be needing.
There are 3 ways to learn digital nomad skills:
- University Degree or Job Experience. If you’re still young, why not enroll into a university course or degree that’s related to the kind of digital nomad work that you’d like to do in the future? Or if you’re a fresh graduate that wants to experience the office life for a bit, go and aim for work in a company that can teach you the skills you’ll be needing in your future nomadic lifestyle. Through this way, you can also gain contacts that can be useful for your upcoming online work (example: working for an agency that does online marketing and advertising, etc.)
- Paid Courses. This is a no-brainer, but you can definitely enroll into courses that can teach you ALL of what you must know. The downside to this is that it can be costly; but for sure, it’s a good investment to your future.
- Self-study. Another no-brainer, and THIS is actually what I’ve done. (Yes, my knowledge about design, HTML, SEO, online marketing, etc. were things that I did NOT learn in school, work, or formal classes because I actually got a business degree and my first official job was in an investment bank.) In short: I just learned it all by myself! Even if the knowledge about graphic and web design were cultivated early on in my life, I still have managed to grasp the concepts about web development, SEO, and online marketing in just a span of 2 months.) You see… the great thing about digital nomad jobs is that most employers are not requiring their freelancers to be degree-holders on the jobs that they’re offering. Why so? Well typically, they are just mainly concerned about RESULTS. So your knowledge alone can work for them and this is often proved best by showing samples of your past work (via portfolios, testimonials, etc.)
So… how did I self-study? I read books, but I primarily read stuff online.
Speaking of which — I’ve come to notice that a lot of people don’t seem to realize that there are TONS of FREE and cheap resources on the internet that can already make you learn a certain subject extensively! You just need to look hard enough. But anyway, since I’m setting this up as some sort of ultimate guide, I’ll help you get over the trouble of researching.
Therefore, as based on a list of digital nomad professions in this article, I will be providing below several links to resources where you can gain the related knowledge and skills.
*Terminology: PBC is short for ‘Paid but cheap’ (my own terminilogy) and I have also placed a ★ mark to resources that I highly recommend.
» Photography & Videography
- FREE + PBC: SkillShare
» Technical Services (Graphic Design, HTML, Programming, Web Design, Web Development, Video/Audio Editing, etc.)
- ★ FREE: Envato Tuts
- ★ FREE: Tech Nanodegrees at Udacity
- ★ FREE: SEO at Moz
- FREE: SEO at QuickSprout
- FREE + PBC: Udemy
- PBC: Shaw Academy
- PBC BOOKS: Graphic Design, Web Design, Programming, App Development, Web Development, HTML & CSS
TIP: If you want to do graphic and web design like I did, apart from reading through the websites I mentioned above, it helps to simply “stay curious” at all times! So scour the internet continuously for whatever tutorials/guides you can find and then soak it all in. I can’t exactly list ALL the websites I’ve read through, since I can’t remember anymore what they were. However, my experience alone can tell you that the internet could already teach you a LOT of things without the need to go through a formal course. So whenever you’re clueless about something, just Google and read up about it! Now… I can’t say that I was a true-blue professional at what I did before, but I had enough knowledge that met the needs of my clients.
» Content Writing / Copywriting / Editing / Proofreading
» Online Trading
» Online Poker
(I have never tried online poker, but my best friend has done this before as his ‘nomadic profession’ which enabled him to travel the world sustainably. Below are some resources that he personally recommends:)
- ★ FREE: www.PokerStrategy.com
- FREE: www.PokerListings.com/online-poker-guide/
- PBC BOOKS: Poker Books
» Online Sports Betting
(I don’t have personal experience with online betting either, but I know a handful of nomads who have succeeded with this and below are websites that they recommend:)
- ★ FREE: www.Beginners-Betting-Guide.com
- FREE: www.GamblingSites.org/sports-betting/
- PBC BOOKS: Betting Books
» “General Knowledge”
There are platforms like the ones below which can make you learn various interesting skills that you can offer on numerous sites online (see #4 for the kinds of sites)
- FREE: edX
- FREE: Coursera
- FREE + PBC: SkillShare
- PBC : Creative Live
- ★ FREE + PBC: A list of MOOC sites (Massive Open Online Course)
Market and advertise your services.
Go and spread the word to your family and friends (for word of mouth or referrals) — but don’t stop there! Go and set up your profile on the freelance websites below too:
- Technical Services
- Online Tutor/Teacher
» General (just about anything!)
- Creating your own brand and building your own website/portfolio.
- Get ‘back-up’: If you’re a total beginner in the field, you would need to show samples or previous experience on your portfolio or work profile. The best way to go about this is to offer your services for free at first in order to get some feedback/testimonials that would beef up your CV. (If offering it for free is too much, you can of course offer your work towards a client at a discount.)
- Actively seek out clients or work: Signing up on freelance websites and setting up your profile is not enough. Always be proactive: bid jobs, seek out clients, pitch your work wherever you can!
- Analyze the other freelancers in your field: Check out their profile and their portfolio. Take note of any thing that might have made them stand out more (best practices, etc.) and then try to adapt it as your own.
- NETWORK: This is VERY important. Networking with fellow digital nomads will help you gain more insight about the job market; additionally, they can also help you find jobs (or even hire you!). I suggest that you keep this in mind at all times because this kind of attitude helped me a lot when I was starting out. How so? By developing relationships with fellow nomads and even online entrepreneurs, it helped me land a stable and well-paid freelance online work that enabled me to confidently quit my office job. Later on, my connections helped inspire me as well to set up the current business that I have today! Anyhow, other than networking with the nomads in the place you’re in, try networking online too via:
Be versatile and always continue to strive for great client testimonials.
‘Following through’, consistency, and versatility can help you advance further (if not faster) as a digital nomad.
I’ve touched upon this topic previously but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it! Basically, it helps to be a ‘jack of all trades’. For example, you can master programming, but it will also benefit you if you offer other kinds of services since it will help multiply your chances of earning more.
Furthermore, always put great importance on testimonials! This is for the reason that as you continually aim for great feedback from your clients, it will help instill trust from other potential employers, it can help increase your chances of being hired again by the same client, and it might also help you gain future additional work via referrals.
(As you go on, remember to update and improve your profile or portfolio too.)
Plan your nomadic lifestyle.
Once you ensure that you will be having a steady cashflow every month from your online work (or simply after you get a decent travel fund saved up) it is then absolutely fine to start planning your exploration around the world!
I’ve already discussed this process thoroughly on my 5 steps article of starting a life of travel; so it helps to read that first. But to reiterate, the main points that I mentioned there which you need to take heed of are:
» Where to go?
It’s normally tough to go to 1st world countries if you are a 3rd world passport holder like me (since I tend to be treated like a terrorist or criminal — yep, no joke about that). Rest assured, it’s still possible with the right kind of preparation.
So for starting nomads who have a ‘limited’ passport like I do, it helps to set aside those 1st world countries for a bit since the cost of living can be high. If you’re looking for the best places that can fit a digital nomad’s lifestyle, Asia and South America are two great continents to start looking into. To know more about the best countries see my article below:
It also helps to travel to visa-free countries at first. To check where you can go without the need of a visa see Travelscope or inquire at your local embassy.
» How long?
It depends on where you’re planning on going since some visa-free countries applicable to your passport can enable you to stay indefinitely (by just applying for an extension); but for visa-required countries, the most that you can stay in is 3 months unless you apply for specialized visas like Germany’s self-employment visa or long-term residence visas.
» Where to stay?
AirBnB is a favorite amongst travelers when it comes to long-term stays, whereas Booking.com is the best platform when you’re looking to book hotel stays (its system of ‘paying only after you check-out is very helpful since you can easily use your ‘bookings’ as proof of accommodation without the need of paying for it first. You can make a last minute cancellation too!).
TIP: Research the details of local rental websites in the city/town that you’re heading to since it’s possible that you could find better deals there.
For other ways of scoring cheap and free accommodation around the world, see this ultimate list:
Now of course, as digital nomads, it’s vital that you inquire about a place’s internet connection. If attaining great internet in a certain accommodation proves to be futile (e.g. hotels, etc.), take note of the coworking spaces available in the city (you can use CoWorking list or WorkFrom for that, or simply ask around the digital nomad communities I previously mentioned.)
» What to prepare?
FINANCIALS: Securing a travel fund is a given but other than that, it’s important to figure out how your clients can pay you while you’re out traveling the world. If PayPal is needed, go set it up, connect it to your bank account or card, and so on. Personally though, I prefer using TransferWise because it has lower conversion and transfer fees compared to PayPal.
TIP: It helps to have copies of your work portfolio on hand as well as bank statements and any other work-related documents if in case the immigration asks for it.
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).
» What do I need?
VACCINATIONS: To check if you need to acquire certain vaccinations for your destination, check CDC.
INSURANCE: I highly suggest World Nomads since they have great coverage for travelers like us! The biggest perk about them unlike all other travel insurance providers is that you can easily buy or even extend a coverage even while on the road — there’s no need to come back home to avail one!
GADGETS: The things that I find essential for my tech lifestyle are a laptop (duh), unlocked smartphone that you can take anywhere, hard drive for storage/backups (or DropBox can already work), and theft protection software.
[box_title class=”” subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=”15″ font_size=”23″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=”0″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]Ultimate Goal[/box_title]
Now that we’re done discussing how you can become a digital nomad, I’d like to take this moment to talk about the ‘ultimate goal’ of those who are in this profession. It’s vital to talk about this because I always say this in my posts and I will never get tired of saying this: it REALLY helps to “Always think long term.”
The thing about basic digital nomad jobs like those listed above are that they still require hours of work and effort. There are even chances that you could get fired by your employer or that jobs are suddenly hard to find (it’s always possible). That’s why ideally, what you should aim for in years to come is to achieve a kind of digital nomad work that is highly sustainable — a kind of ‘enterprise’ that you personally own or run while only requiring a few hours of your time.
Examples of such ‘ultimate goals’ are:
- Setting up an optimal online business that fits your remote lifestyle
Ex: I have my own online business now that I run together with my best friend. It is set up with Amazon.com wherein even if we sell physical products, we don’t have to deal with the meticulous details and huge expenses of shipping, logistics, and inventory (since Amazon handles it for us on our behalf at a monthly membership cost. As a result, I only work 3-4 hours a day or maybe even less). You can do something similar by signing up with Amazon or with eBay but I am warning you now that without proper mentorship and knowledge, this can be a tough business model to break in (we both managed to set up this business successfully because of the connections and mentorship that we had gained during our digital nomad lifestyle).
Ex: Digital products, prepared courses, eBooks
• • •
Becoming a successful digital nomad won’t happen overnight BUT the fact remains that it’s a career or profession that can be started by anyone. Besides, with the right mix of discipline and perseverance, you can reach your goals sooner than you think! (…Add the help of this guide as well and hopefully, I can help hasten the process even further for you).
All in all, let me know what you think about this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts.