6 Things All Digital Nomads Need to Know
Ready to pull up your roots and be a digital nomad? Here's everything you need to know!
If you’re unfamiliar with the digital nomad lifestyle but are interested to give it a go, you’ll need to understand that while the transition is great in many ways, it also spells an end to your old habits and thinking patterns. How so?
For starters, there are numerous bureaucracy issues to consider, which, depending on the state you’re planning to travel to, may require voluminous paperwork that is impossible to obtain once you’ve left the nest.
Further out, health insurance and taxes are also puzzling to even experienced digital nomads, and much depends on the target country’s regulations. U.S. taxes shouldn’t be forgotten, either.
Finally, there is a slew of financial nuances to keep an eye on, including credit and debit cards with no fees, bank paperwork, insurance policies, and driver’s licenses. And that’s only the beginning.
1. Paperwork to Keep in Mind
First, make a habit of making copies of all important documents and also keep copies with a friend or family member back home as well. Should you require any paperwork once you’re abroad, as mentioned above, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain it in a timely manner while outside the U.S.
Next on, make certain to check your passport validity and visa requirements. We strongly suggest renewing your passport if its validity is less than one year, as it’s much easier than to do it while halfway on your travels.
If you’re planning to visit a UE country, make certain to familiarize yourself with EU travel laws beforehand.
Whenever applicable, obtain an International Driving License to spare yourself additional troubles, should you decide to rent a car while traveling.
Next, if you plan to settle abroad for a while (or permanently, for that matter), make sure to check whether a birth certificate is required. This is one of those papers that you can obtain before beginning your trip. The same applies to marriage certificates if you’re traveling with a spouse. Note that some countries require these documents to be translated by a licensed translator, so again, check the requirements in a timely manner.
Finally, stay on top of your expat taxes. Just because you’ve moved to another country, that doesn’t mean that you still don’t owe taxes to your country of residence. However, you may find that you can still save money on your taxes by learning about tax exclusions and credits.
2. Don’t Make the Mistake of Thinking Digital Nomads Are on a Constant Vacation
This is probably the first misconception about digital nomads because people who have never experienced this lifestyle seem to think it is one extended vacation. The thing is, the truth cannot be any further away!
First of all, if you aren’t familiar with freelancing, you’ll need to redefine the concept of work and overall productivity. Travelers who support themselves on the go need to constantly keep working and have an open mind that can adjust to overnight changes.
Using the example of COVID-19, imagine what happened to people who were traveling abroad when lockdowns were introduced and borders closed - when restrictions and social distancing was introduced. As a matter of fact, we know many examples of foreigners starting a business on the spot, as to be able to support themselves until things are back to normal.
The digital nomad lifestyle is rather similar, if not so extreme. Shortly put, if you happen to find yourself out of jobs and money, you will have a difficult time getting back home, let alone surviving long enough to think up something.
That’s why it is important to adapt to this new mindset, by never forgetting to balance work and travel.
3. Adapt Your Standards of Living
At first, forget about visiting three countries in two weeks. Most digital nomads actually establish a base in a country that is affordable, and they stay there for a couple of months or more. Unless you have a huge stash of cash on hand, you’ll need to adjust your budget and lifestyle to this new way of living.
If you’re planning to build your own business, you will need substantial sums of money to do it properly, especially if you plan to live a vacation-style life in the future. To stay on budget and save some extra cash, novice digital nomads usually lodge in hostels or Airbnbs instead of renting luxurious hotels or apartments upon arrival.
4. Find Your Way Around
Once you’ve settled in your starting destination, you’ll soon discover that, rather than beginning a new adventure straightaway, you need to settle the basics first. Where will you do your grocery shopping? Which store in the vicinity is the cheapest? Where and how do you pay your bills? How will you commute? Which is more convenient: renting a car or using public transportation?
Normally, there are tourist organizations that can help you out, but you’ll soon discover that to get the best deals around, you’ll need to mingle with the locals… and that can be quite challenging if you don’t know the language.
Our advice is: learn at least the common phrases before your arrival! Certainly, you can always attend a language course once there, but you’ll need to get by in the meanwhile. Also, not many digital nomads are in favor of this because they imagine they’ll be traveling quite a bit, and learning a new language in three months or so is – let’s face it – simply impossible!
For taxes and similar bureaucratic issues, we’d suggest finding a cost-efficient local professional or agency.
5. Get Used to Figuring Things Out on the Go
The digital nomad lifestyle has many faces and facets and is actually quite individual. Because there is no universal solution for everyone, you should get ready to make compromises and change your plans whenever necessary.
It is definitely recommended to tap into the local expat community (start with social media and join their meetings), because these people can help you get useful insights into the country, culture and bureaucratic shortcuts.
To do so, be sure that you invest in solid email management tools, so that you can keep track of your contacts - both new and old - and remain productive. And as both your social and professional calendars begin to fill up, rely on an efficient meeting scheduler to keep things on track.
6. Keep Learning New Skills
Markets change all the time and even if you are an expert in your field, you will soon discover that remote work is rather competitive. Because the online marketplace is expanding literally by the minute, the requirements will get stricter, and rates can also easily go down rapidly, especially when competitors originate from countries where the standard of living is considerably lower than in the U.S.
Our suggestion is: keep your skillset sharp! Learn new skills all the time. With the rising popularity of mobile learning, you can expect to find just anything you set your mind to learn. Many online courses are free or offered at reasonable rates. Do your research and keep an eye on the developments in your field of expertise.
We’ve intentionally bypassed the matter of internet connectivity and technical requirements simply because they are common sense. If you don’t have a good laptop and an external HD or are planning to travel to a country with poor internet connectivity, think again. Your job depends on these factors and so do your travels, by extension.
There are also many other tips worth mentioning, but these are usually country-specific. The most important things to remember are to connect with the local expat community, lower your living standards in the beginning and set goals. Adjust the rest of your plans on the go and in accordance with the situation.
Angela Ash is a writer at heart, focusing on numerous topics related to business, productivity, mental health, travel and more. But, she also loves to edit, is addicted to HARO, and somehow finds time to write poetry and play the piano.