Picture the scene …
Dawn is breaking over a Caribbean beach turning the sand the colour of a bullion. There’s barely any noise, just the gentle drum roll of the breaking waves and the hiss they make when they recede back into the sea.
There’s no one else around, because the holiday makers are still asleep.
You, however, have been up for two hours already, ploughing through your daily workload so you can finish up early and spend the afternoon snorkelling.
This is the sort of life people imagine when they think about digital nomadism.
But how accurate is this picture? And how do you become a digital nomad in the first place?
We explore the answers to these questions and more below.
- What is a digital nomad?
- Is ‘digital nomad’ a career?
- Common digital nomad jobs
- The average digital nomad
- Which countries are best for digital nomads?
- How do I become a modern nomad?
- How much money do I need to earn to make this work?
- What does a day in the life of a digital nomad look like?
- What does a digital nomad’s workspace look like?
- The 3 soft skills every nomad needs
- What are the benefits of being a digital nomad?
- Is there a downside to being a digital nomad?
- What is a digital snowmad?
- 2 arguments for persuading the boss
- Where to find out more
First things first – what is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is a person who earns a living by doing their job remotely, from regularly changing locations around the world.
The primary incentive for digital nomadism is the opportunity to explore the world whilst holding down a permanent job.
Research from Nomad List suggests that the average digital nomad moves from:
- City to city every two months
- Country to country every eight months
“Your identity is derived from your environment,” notes Nomad List. “If your environment is constantly in flux, you’ll be constantly in flux. That’s exciting for a while, but then gets tiring and many travellers burn out.
Most nomads stay in places for many months and will have a few favourite hubs they rotate around.
“That also means they can build up a somewhat stable group of friends in those spots.”
Is ‘digital nomad’ a career?
Digital nomadism isn’t a career as such; it’s a lifestyle choice. You can be a digital nomad in a wide range of professions, which you can read a little more about in the next segment.
The Digital Nomad Report 2023 reveals that:
- 24% of digital nomads expect to live the life for three to five years
- 19.9% expect to be a digital nomad for six to eight years
- 9.1% anticipate being a nomad for nine to 11 years
- 12.9% want to live the nomadic life forever
Common digital nomad jobs
As mentioned above, you can make the digital nomad lifestyle work in a long list of professions.
You’re more likely to be able to commit to the lifestyle if you:
- Spend most of your day working at a computer or laptop.
- Carry out a large proportion of your daily tasks independently.
- Conduct your job online, using online apps and collaboration tools when needed.
- Don’t need to carry out face-to-face meetings or site visits in your job.
- Are self-employed or work for a business that encourages home working and even digital nomadism.
According to the website Go Overseas, the top jobs for digital nomads include:
- Marketing expert
- SEO specialist
- Social media manager
- Web developer
- Graphic designer
- Freelance writer
- Virtual assistant
- Startup founder
The average digital nomad
As long as you have an understanding of how to use apps and online work tools, you can be a digital nomad at any age and in any life phase.
However, Nomad List’s research indicates that the typical digital nomad tends to be:
- 34 years old
- Not religious
In addition, the average nomad identifies as male and has a Bachelor’s degree.
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Which countries are the best for digital nomads?
While you could technically be a digital nomad anywhere in the world, some countries are better suited to the lifestyle than others.
In a recent poll, the following countries were rated the best for digital nomads:
When choosing a place to start your journey, you’ll want to check the following:
1. Internet availability
It goes without saying that you’ll need a good internet connection in order to be a digital nomad.
2. Value for money
Your expenses as a digital nomad will include housing, transport, food, sightseeing/exploring costs and bills such as insurance, phone and the cost of any storage units you rent in your home country.
Of course, what you spend on all of the above will depend on how you wish to live.
But being a digital nomad is different to being a backpacker.
In order to carry out your job as you travel, you’ll need a place where you can get an undisturbed night’s sleep (and shared hostel dorms don’t always guarantee that).
To dig deeper into the costs of a certain country, take a look at Nomad List, where digital nomads review how costly various destinations are.
Depending on your housing, you might not need a coworking space. However, many digital nomads like to feel like they’re part of a community.
To find out more about the availability of coworking spaces in a certain place, you can read the city guides for digital nomads on the Digital Nomad World site.
4. A welcoming environment
While many countries are nomad friendly, some actively encourage digital nomads to visit.
These are known in some places as:
- Freelance visas
- Self-employment visas
- Remote working visas
These visas give holders the right to live and work in the country for an extended amount of time — usually around a year.
Most visas are specific in the fact that they only permit you to work if you’re employed remotely and by a company outside of the country.
For example, at the very top end of the scale, Barbados’ Welcome Stamp visa permits you to work as a digital nomad in the country for 12 months at a cost of $2,000US.
Ultimately, though, every digital nomad visa is different, and you have to meet different criteria in order to be granted one.
Here are a few examples of digital nomad visa requirements from a cross-section of countries around the world:
- Canada: Canada is one of the newest countries to launch a digital nomad visa. Launched in summer 2023, the scheme has been designed as part of the country’s efforts to make it stand out as a leader in global tech talent recruitment. The visa allows digital nomads to stay in Canada for six months without a work permit and also opens the door for permanent moves. Find out more here.
- Argentina: This country’s digital nomad visa allows you to stay in the country and work remotely for 180 days as opposed to the 90 days tourists are permitted to stay. It can also be extended by a further 180 days once the initial 180 days are up.
- The Bahamas: The Bahamas Extended Access Travel Stay scheme allows you to stay and work remotely in The Bahamas for a year. It costs $25 Bahamian dollars to apply; the permit itself costs $1,000 Bahamian dollars.
For a full list of countries that offer digital nomad visas stop by the Immigration Advice Services website.
Interestingly, the Digital Nomad Report found that the presence of sunshine was the second-biggest factor that influenced a digital nomad’s decision about where to go next.
Sunshine came just below cost and was followed closely by:
- Wi-Fi quality
- Good healthcare
How do I become a modern nomad?
If your job allows you to work remotely, you can embark on your digital nomad journey by following these five steps:
1. Choose a spot
This could be as easy as sticking a pin in a map. However, if you want to put some more thought into where you want to start working, ask yourself the following question:
What is the real scope for travel?
For example, if you base yourself on Barbados, you’ll have the whole island to explore, but getting to other destinations outside of the island will be a little trickier. You can take a boat over to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but for many other getaways, you’ll have to fly.
Alternatively, if you base yourself in Zagreb in Croatia, you’ll be able to explore the likes of Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Hungary during your time as a digital nomad.
2. Prepare your tax affairs
Tax is complicated at the best of times, but it can become even trickier when you’re a digital nomad. If you work for a company that encourages the practice, your HR or accounts teams might be able to help you get your tax affairs in order.
If you’re going it alone, however, you’ll need to thoroughly research the tax rules of the country you’re planning on visiting.
In many countries around the world, you become eligible to pay tax to the host country when you’ve been living there for 183 days.
With Barbados’s Welcome Stamp, for example, you’re not liable to pay any income tax to your host country in the year of your visa.
For more information about paying UK tax when you’re working as a digital nomad in other countries, visit HMRC’s resource here.
If you’re still confused about where you stand, it’s advisable to make an appointment with an accountant.
3. Set up your insurance
If you’re living in another country there’s a good chance you won’t be covered for things like medical bills, dental appointments and emergency flights home.
Fortunately, a number of companies now offer policies that are specifically tailored to the needs of digital nomads. These include:
- World Nomads
- Insured Nomads
- True Traveller
4. Sort out a bank account
If you’re going to be spending your money abroad, you’ll need a bank account that doesn’t charge you too much for doing so.
Digital nomads favour banks like Revolut, Monzo, Starling Bank and HSBC.
5. Find a place to stay
There’s a long list of options here. Some nomads go for temporary house or flat lets, while others choose to stay in Airbnbs and similar lets. The occasional digital nomad will opt to stay in a hotel.
The right one for you will depend on:
- How much money you have to spend on housing
- How much you intend to move around
- Where you’ll be working during the day
How much money do I need to earn to make this work?
A survey of 1,200 digital nomads by short-term housing rental company Flatio found:
- 20% of those surveyed said you need to earn between $2,000US (£1,550) and $2,900US (£2250) a month to be a digital nomad
- 25% said you needed to earn between €3,000 (£2320) and €3,900 (£3020) a month
A quarter of those surveyed said they spent €501 (£388) to €700 (£542) a month on rent while just under 20% said they spent €301 (£233) to €500 (£387).
What does a day in the life of a digital nomad look like?
The life of a digital nomad often involves early mornings. Open your laptop at 5am and you can have your eight-hour working day done by 1pm, freeing up your afternoon and evening for exploring.
Some digital nomads split shift their working days — finishing early but coming back to their computers later in the evening or at night.
Then there are those who are quite happy to live the local life in the destination of their choosing:
- Working 9 to 5
- Taking a lunch break
- Enjoying the nightlife and their weekends the way everyone else does
The approach you choose will depend on what you want to get out of your digital nomad experience — and also how flexible your job is. If you need to be in meetings, for example, that will impact how easy it will be work flexi time.
When it comes to free time activities, the Digital Nomad Report found that hiking is a favourite pastime of nomads. What’s more, of those surveyed:
- 16.8% said partying was a favourite activity
- 13.8% said they liked dining out
- 10.3% said they enjoyed surfing
- 5.8% said they liked yoga
What does a digital nomad’s workspace look like?
For many digital nomads the workspace is a kitchen table in an Airbnb rental.
For others it’s a coffee shop table.
Then there are those who seek out coworking spaces in which to do their work.
Things to look for in a good coworking space include:
- Private, sound-proof meeting rooms
- In-house IT support
- Ample amenities like printers, charging ports and a community kitchen
Some of the world’s best coworking spaces come with luxuries like gyms, rooftop terraces — even free drinks.
A handy resource is the World Nomads website, where the city guides include lists of the best coworking spaces in each destination.
The 3 soft skills every nomad needs
Some people are more likely than others to thrive as a nomad. Here are three skills you’ll need to have (or learn) in order to make this lifestyle a success.
1. Time management
You want to make every minute count when you’re working as a digital nomad, so you’ll need to have good time management skills.
The nomads’ top tips for improving your time management include:
- Starting your day by writing a priority list rather than a to-do list
- ‘Eating your frogs in the morning’ (aka tackling your least favourable tasks at the start of the day, when you’re more motivated)
- Breaking down larger tasks into smaller achievable chunks
- Banishing distractions – for example using an app to stop you from sneaking peeks at social media and other time-sucking sites
Many digital nomads find themselves working slightly different hours to their teammates, bosses and clients.
After all, many are in completely different time zones — even hemispheres — from their work mates.
If you choose to work this way, you’ll need to be an excellent communicator.
At the end of every day, you’ll want to communicate to anyone you work with (or for):
- Where you are up to on certain tasks
- What you intend to achieve the following day
- Any hurdles you have come up against and how you intend to jump those hurdles
Investing in the right collaboration and project tracking software can often be helpful here.
Related: How to supercharge your productivity
Getting up early so you can finish work early or working late isn’t easy for most people. So you’ll need to be driven to get the most out of the digital nomad lifestyle.
One of those is simply striking a power pose.
That’s right, holding a high-power pose — standing with your hands on your hips, your legs apart, and your chest puffed up — for two minutes can increase your testosterone levels and make you more motivated.
Fifteen minutes of yoga can also do the trick.
Watch this Ted talk to find out more.
What are the benefits of being a digital nomad?
The most obvious benefit of this lifestyle is the chance to explore the world.
With 195 countries on earth, there’s too much to see to fit it into the standard 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year.
Countless studies have linked a good work-life balance to improved health — both mental and physical.
Working as a digital nomad, you can often set your own hours and fit work around activities and experiences that bring happiness into your heart.
The chance to live a minimalistic lifestyle
When you’re only staying somewhere temporarily and/or moving around regularly, you need to keep your possessions to a minimum.
But living minimally can also have environmental benefits. For example, when you can only keep enough clothes to fit in a suitcase, you avoid investing in things like fast fashion.
Is there a downside to being a digital nomad?
Here are a few negatives that nomads have reported:
The absence of a stable community: While it’s possible to be part of a community as a digital nomad, it can often be fleeting as members move on to pastures new. Some nomads report missing having long-term friendships.
An unhealthy lifestyle: When you’re moving from place to place and living between temporary rentals, it can be hard to maintain a fitness regime and find the space to cook your own nutritious dinners. Not to mention that when you get to a new place, there are so many new restaurants, street food stalls and cafes to try out!
Burnout: Part of the attraction of the digital nomad lifestyle on paper is that those who live it seem to have it all. However, cramming everything in can take its toll, and burnout ensues, as this BBC report from 2023 reveals.
Envy of others: If you’re living your best life, you’ll probably be tempted to post photos of your travels and lifestyle on social media — but not everyone will appreciate them. Be prepared for a few people to become envious or jealous of your experiences.
Missing family: While fernweh (aka a longing to see places you’ve never seen) can lead to this lifestyle, homesickness might call you home. FaceTime and an annual visit from your mum, dad or sibling isn’t always enough to sustain you. There might come a point when you want to go back to your roots.
What is a digital snowmad?
A digital snowmad is a digital nomad who bases themselves in areas convenient for skiing and winter sports.
A recent report listed Bansko, near the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, as a growing hotspot for digital snowmads.
The town is also home to an annual Nomad Fest, which celebrates independent lifestyles and nomad mindsets.
2 arguments for persuading the boss
Ready to ask your employer if they’d allow you to work really, really remotely? Here are a couple of points to make:
- Talent retention: Forbes gives it a thumbs up, noting ‘Being open to digital nomads is a great way to attract top talent, avoid the skills shortage and benefit from a global talent pool.”
- Productivity: Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA suggests that remote workers are often more productive than office-based workers.
Thanks to the necessity of allowing remote work during the pandemic, more companies are likely to be open to these pitches.
Where to go to find out more
In August 2023, the first Digital Nomad Conference took place in Tralee, on the west coast of Ireland.
NomadÉire celebrates the digital nomad lifestyle and highlights Ireland as a thriving hub for remote work.
Mentioned several times above, Nomad List is a popular resource for digital nomads. There’s a one-off fee to join this global community of nomads online. But once you have a profile, you can access everything from a ‘friend finder’ to a financial independence calculator tool and a climate finder tool.
Also mentioned above, Digital Nomad World is another online global community of digital nomads. Members get access to:
- Remote job postings
- City guides specifically written for nomads
- Discounts on everything from gym sessions to guided tours
For lodging, there’s Flatio, which helps you rent apartments around the world on monthly and bimonthly terms.
According to their website, “We are building a safe neighbourhood of mid-term rentals by linking together landlords’ and tenants’ communities in a way you can trust.”
Just don’t mention the term ‘digital nomad’
Hopefully this guide has answered most of your questions about becoming a digital nomad and pointed you in the right direction for finding out more.
If you’re ready to make the leap into the lifestyle, there’s just one last thing you’ll need to work out: what to call yourself.
According to the Digital Nomad Report, a quarter of digital nomads don’t actually refer to themselves as such.
Don’t stress too much about this choice though — you’ll have plenty of time to think about it on the plane!
The information contained in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an endorsement or advice from GoDaddy.