For many, the idea of living and working abroad holds a lot of appeal. After all, who wouldn’t like to spend their workday overlooking crystal-clear Caribbean waters, or bucolic mountain views? And thanks to 21st century technology, the ability do so is available to more workers now than ever before. These workers are known as digital nomads.
What is a Digital Nomad?
Simply put, a digital nomad is a person who legally works outside their home country in a remote capacity. They’re still residents of their home country, but have a visa that allows them to conduct business and do their jobs in a different country, and stay in that country longer than a regular tourist visa would typically allow. Some treat digital nomad work like an extended working vacation, staying abroad for three or six months before returning home. Others treat it as an ongoing lifestyle, either establishing permanent residence in a new country, or moving to a new country every six months to two years; whatever their visa allows.
What Are the Advantages?
Personal and Professional Satisfaction
Besides the aforementioned possibilities of trading cubicle walls for beachfront views, and the ability to change those views every year or so, many find digital nomad work – even for a short period – to have a positive impact on their mental health and professional satisfaction.
Your Money can go Farther
But there can be financial advantages, as well. For instance, it you’re from a country with a relatively high cost of living and are allowed to work as a digital nomad in a much less expensive country, the savings can add up. In some of the cheapest countries, you may end up paying the equivalent of as little as $200 per month for an apartment, along with much lower food and transportation costs. If you’re able to swing this sort of situation while earning your typical salary or commission, living as a digital nomad can be a big financial boost.
Are There any Disadvantages?
Digital Nomad Difficulties
First and foremost, you have to be in a career or position that allows totally remote work in order to be a digital nomad. This may be no issue if you’re self-employed, but such freedom is not allowed by every employer. After all, you can’t exactly fly halfway across the world for a weekly department meeting.
Even if you are allowed to work remotely, you have to consider the practical realities of doing so from a different country. If that country is in a vastly different time zone, you may be required to work mainly at night, and spend your days sleeping, rather than enjoying your new city. You also have to consider the quality and reliability of internet connectivity and Wi-Fi, which may not be up to the standards you’re used to in your home country.
Then, there is the issue of visa lengths. These can vary significantly depending upon the country. Some countries may offer a path to permanent residency after your digital nomad visa expires, but many more do not. You may be forced to leave after three or six months, which can make it difficult to put down roots and develop long-lasting friendships and business connections. And if you’re a true nomad who wants to move from one international destination to the next, you will be subject to visa approval in every country where you wish to work. If the next visa is not approved, you could end up scrambling to find where you’ll live next, or forced to quickly make arrangements to move back to your home country.
You May Not Qualify
The final disadvantage can be the cost and income requirements, which once again vary significantly depending upon your intended destination. For instance, if you’d like to spend a year working in Croatia, you only need to prove that you earn at least the equivalent of $28,530 annually, and be willing to pay a fee of no more than $70. On the other hand, if you’d like to apply to work in the Cayman Islands for a year, you must provide proof of at least $100,000 in annual income, and pay a fee of around $1,500.
Please note that the above costs are only estimates as of the writing of this article. You will need to take time to research actual requirements and costs well ahead of time to get an accurate idea of how much it will cost to work as a digital nomad in a given country.
Steps to Take to Become a Digital Nomad
Assuming you work in a position that allows for it, start your process of exploring the digital nomad lifestyle by following these steps.
- Research what countries offer digital nomad visas: There are currently around 50 countries that offer some sort of a digital nomad visa, with more offering the option all the time. However, keep in mind that few of them – if any – will refer to them as “digital nomad visas.” Most countries have their own specific names for remote work visas. For instance, Anguilla offers the “Beyond Extraordinary Anguilla” program, and Norway offer its “Independent Contractor Visa.”
- See if you meet the requirements: As previously stated, each country will have its own minimum income requirements and associated fees for digital nomads. You will need to be able to provide proof that you meet these requirements in order to be considered for the visa or program.
- Ensure that your chosen destination meets your needs: For instance, if you require a robust telecommunications network in order to do your job, you will have to make sure that the destination can reliably offer it, lest you risk your career.
- Apply for the visa: This will typically have to be done through the country’s embassy, or online through an official government portal. The exact process, timetable, and associated fees will depend on the country.
- Arrange insurance coverage: Depending upon your destination, situation, and length of stay, you may need to independently purchase travel medical insurance or expatriate health insurance. Even countries that have socialized healthcare do not necessarily offer that coverage to digital nomads and nonresidents. If you get sick or hurt, you will need to make sure you have health insurance coverage that is accepted in the country you will be working in, and include those costs in your budget.
The decision to become a digital nomad is not something you should take lightly. You need to consider the personal and professional impact of being away from your friends, family and colleagues for months, or even years at a time. And if you plan on taking up the digital nomad lifestyle with your family in tow, you must also consider the impacts on your children’s education and your personal relationships. However, if you find that the positives outweigh the negatives, there has likely never been a better time to become a digital nomad.
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