How to become a digital nomad

Digital nomads can enjoy an ideal work/leisure balance by working remotely in lucrative careers while traveling the world.
Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer

If you have ever wanted to travel full-time without quitting your job, you may have felt curious about the digital nomad life. But what is a digital nomad, and what benefits does this life offer?

The digital nomad lifestyle appeals to many because it offers an ideal work/leisure balance. This lifestyle has become a possibility in recent years, partly because the COVID-19 pandemic has increased remote job opportunities. 

2020 study by MBO Partners found that from 2019-20, the number of traditional job holders working as digital nomads increased from 3.1 million to 6.3 million.

If you can self-motivate for remote work and feel excited about balancing work and travel, the digital nomad lifestyle might fit you. Read on to learn more about the steps to become a digital nomad, including:

  • Career research
  • Proper education/training
  • Finding living accommodations
  • Preparing for your journey

Consider this before becoming a digital nomad

Committing to the digital nomad lifestyle requires thought and planning. The following list of financial and personal considerations can confirm whether this lifestyle is for you:

  • Digital nomads do not necessarily need to go abroad — you can live in this way in the U.S. and work remotely while traveling across state lines.
  • Digital nomads need to pay social security taxes as U.S. citizens while working abroad. Delaying paying your taxes can incur serious fines. You could even lose your passport!
  • Working as a digital nomad can save you money if you live in a low cost-of-living (COL) country or part of the U.S. You can even find living accommodations for free if you choose to house-sit!
  • You need to carefully log your time working as a digital nomad to qualify for Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) and Foreign Income Earned Exemption (FIEE) and pay less on your taxes.
  • COVID restrictions can complicate your journey as a digital nomad. Research the restrictions in place at your destination in advance.

How do I become a digital nomad?

Becoming a digital nomad means taking the right steps in research, education/training, and self-management steps. 

Read the steps below for a detailed roadmap on how to become a digital nomad and what issues you need to consider at each point in your journey.

1. Research remote careers.

Start by researching digital nomad careers and see which appeal to you. Many digital nomads work as web developers or in similar computer science-related jobs. Digital nomads commonly pursue majors including: 

  • Computer science
  • Graphic design
  • Information technology 
  • Creative writing

The digital nomad lifestyle can accommodate a variety of work styles, including full-time employment, freelancing, and owning a small business.

Not all remote jobs allow you to work as a digital nomad. You need a set work location if you work in management, financial services, or any industry involving in-person meetings with clients or coworkers.

2. Get the appropriate training.

You need the right training to secure a digital nomad career. Most digital nomads hold at least a bachelor's. Computer science degrees and related majors are popular picks. 

Many schools offer online programs that allow you to earn your degree at your convenience. You can even travel while earning your online degree, so long as you set appropriate boundaries for maintaining work/leisure balance.

Additionally, many coding bootcamps can now be completed remotely in an online format in three to six months.

3. Apply for remote jobs.

You can make applying for a remote job easier by knowing where to look. Popular remote job boards include: 

If you look elsewhere, focus your efforts on fully remote or remote-first companies such as Shopify, Bandcamp, or Hopin. Certain job titles, such as software engineer, often cater to remote workers. 

When applying for a job, create a bulleted list of relevant questions to ask during your interview.

  • In what time zone is the employer based?
  • Will you ever be expected to work in person during the year or attend events?
  • What software platforms, if any, does the workplace use?

4. Choose a work location. 

Your destination choice also matters. It is illegal to work remotely on a tourist visa. Recently, some countries have developed "digital nomad" visas for remote workers, including:

  • Spain
  • Costa Rica
  • Barbados
  • Germany

Or, you can work remotely while traveling the U.S. You get to experience a different culture or move to a lower COL area without changing jobs. 

Employers may limit the states and countries where their employees may work for tax or other reasons. Check with your employer before you buy a ticket.

Also, be aware of technical concerns such as time zone differences and availability of Wi-Fi. Consider purchasing equipment such as a Wi-Fi booster to avoid emergencies. You may also need a local cell phone and data plan.

Language barriers can create problems when traveling abroad, but translation guides and free language learning apps help.

5. Prepare for your departure.

Before you embark on your new life as a digital nomad, you need to prepare. You can deal with belongings you can't bring by:

  • Renting a storage unit
  • Donating belongings you don't need
  • Leaving your belongings or car with family or friends

Next, you need to find a place to live. Homestays, hostels, and renting with roommates work well on a tight budget. You can always change your living situation later.

After you arrive, don't just hole up with your work laptop. Look out for digital nomad events and local tours. Try socializing in local clubs and cafes to meet new people and make friends.

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