You have probably seen all of those super awesome people posting photos on social media of themselves simultaneously working and tanning from exotic islands. At least that is how the travel and remote work life appears from a stereotypical stance as you browse through your large monitor in your work cubicle.
Although becoming a digital nomad sounds glamorous, it can also be filled with challenges like finding WiFi, financial stability, and balancing your days between work and play. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it is an adventurous feat for some.
If you’re craving this wandering life, we’ll show you how to get started in this guide to become a digital nomad. We start from scratch, but even if you already have your own direction or client base, you’ll surely benefit from this complete checklist.
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who works remotely while spending a large portion of the year living abroad and frequently changing destinations.
Some people are employed by businesses, while others are freelancers acquiring different clients and projects through their websites or other networking initiatives.
This sort of lifestyle is usually short term, but in some cases it can last over a decade. The reason for its temporary duration is that most digital nomads don’t earn a comfortable salary, only the minimal amount necessary to support their traveling life.
How to become a digital nomad:
Find a job that’s location independent
Set yourself up with the necessary skills
Market your services with a website
Connect with other digital nomads
Create a realistic budget
Take care of the administrative tasks
Choose your first destination
Establish a plan for your home and work conditions
01. Find a job that’s location independent
As a digital nomad, you’ll be fulfilling your passions by traveling the world. Therefore, your job should also bring you joy during this time of pleasure and wild exploration. Finding the right work is possible with proper and extensive research. It begins by asking yourself what you’re good at and what you’re interested in. It could be what you’ve already studied in school, or applicable skills you learned from your past and/or current jobs that you think you can apply to others.
Then, you can start searching based on these skills and having a general sense of your career’s direction. In the digital nomad world, you can find jobs across a large spectrum of tech-based roles, from marketing and graphic design to becoming a virtual assistant, researcher, and many other options. Take a look at these home-based business ideas for further inspiration.
Once you’ve decided what field you want to work in, there are several directions you can take to start your digital nomad journey:
Go freelance: This will allow you to take on as many different projects as your time allows, providing you with lots of flexibility but little stability. You can apply for freelance work either through networking and reaching out to businesses directly, or setting yourself up on a freelance website like Upwork and Freelancer.com.
Find a full-time remote job: A more stable option is to be hired full-time, with the capability of working from any location. However, this comes with flexibility restrictions. It’s important that you stick to your deadlines and recognize that you might work longer hours than you wished for as a digital nomad. You can either find a job that allows you to do this or, if you’re currently working, ask your company if it’s possible to continue remotely.
Start your own business: This is the ultimate autonomous decision if you’re a true go-getter. It will allow you to have complete control over your schedule, income, and every decision you make. It won’t be easy and it may require you to get things going from home before you purchase your first flight ticket, but for many it’s worth it. If this interests you, check out this guide to start your own business.
02. Set yourself up with the necessary skills
Taking a step back, you might find that the job market will be more open to you if you obtain more skills. For example, you may decide that journalism or content writing are really interesting jobs which are easy to manage from abroad, yet you have never gone through the process of creating long-form content.
To build your credibility you’ll need to take action. This could mean that you first need to get an office job that ties you down to one place for a few months to a year while you gain the skills to be qualified to do it on your own. Another option is to take courses that teach you these skills. There are many different directions for this, from online ones like Lynda, Udemy, Codecademy and more, to going through specific universities and colleges.
03. Market your services with a website
When it comes to making yourself marketable and standing out amongst competitors, a professional online presence is an absolute must. This is where building your website comes in, as it’s the center point of your online image. A good website can rank high in specific keyword search results too, helping you get your name ‘out there’ and even generate business leads.
Overall, a website enables you to promote your services, share testimonials and past projects, and become more reachable for potential clients. And put your worries aside, you don’t need to be a developer to create your own. Chivi Digital provides professional web design solutions and plenty of fully customizable templates for you to choose from. Plus, if you’re self employed, this intuitive guide will help you create a freelance website.
04. Connect with other digital nomads
Working and traveling can be glamorous, but also often lonely. Connecting with others in the same situation as you can not only provide companionship, but also assist you with your job from collaboration to sharing skills and advice.
There are many networks available to find other digital nomads. You can discover local groups through Meetup events based on a plethora of categories (tech, career & business, etc.) that you either attend or host yourself. Another option is to stay where others are based, from hostels to Couchsurfing and local cafes. You can see the options are endless, as long as you are somewhat social and creative when it comes to your search.
05. Create a realistic budget
Your digital nomad life may or may not earn you the highest of salaries - but that’s not why you’re doing it. You are mostly nomadic for the essential purpose of exploring the world, while making an income to support that lifestyle simultaneously. To make sure that you’re right on track, you should create a budget for your income and expenses.
For expenses, make sure that you include a set dollar amount for shelter, food, to support your explorations, and a comfortable cushion amount for a ‘rainy day.’ Also, decide which expenses you can cut out by putting yourself in a very minimalist mindset, where you can survive with fewer material possessions. Then, see if your income is sufficient to cover these expenses. If not, you will need to reevaluate your decision to become a digital nomad or find alternative ways to earn a higher salary, such as taking on additional freelance gigs.
You’ll want to stick to this budget plan, no matter what. To be realistic, most travelers and digital nomads find themselves in Southeast Asia, as it can be very inexpensive to live there while earning a low western salary. For example, a $10,000 yearly salary will go much further in Thailand than it will France.
06. Take care of the administrative tasks
While traveling can be fun and play, you also have a necessary checklist to tend to in order to make it happen. This usually includes visas for each destination, traveler’s insurance, and necessary shots and physicals before you jump on a flight. Depending on your locations of interest, you’ll need to check the requirements with your embassy and doctors.
On top of the basic traveler’s checklist, working abroad includes some other items. For example, make sure you have a plan for taking care of your accounting and taxes, as they differ from country to country. If you plan on running your own business from abroad, here’s a guide to get you started on small business accounting. You should also have a physical address for any mail that might be sent to you. A friend’s or family member’s that don’t plan on moving during your travels will work just fine.
Lastly, you’ll want to take care of selling any large assets or putting your items in storage before you set sail.
07. Choose your first destination
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to book your first flight abroad. Taking into account your mandatory requirements (money, access to internet, etc.), pick a location that you’re most interested in exploring. You have everything you need at this point, so the possibilities are up to you. Bon Voyage!