The digital nomad lifestyle can certainly be alluring. Imagine the freedom to work from almost anywhere in the world, travelling to new destinations whenever you fancy a change of scenery, and along the way meeting like-minded people in search of adventures.
Since teaching English online is something that can be done from anywhere, it’s no wonder it’s a popular source of income for digital nomads!
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is a location-independent worker. Their job allows them to work from anywhere in the world, travelling from country to country when they so choose. All the typical digital nomad needs is a laptop and access to WiFi.
Before COVID-19, about 5% of people in the USA worked remotely, but the new normal is predicted to be around 25-30%. The pandemic has without a doubt changed the attitudes of employers and created more opportunities for those who wish to fully work online. Whether that’s remotely from home, or as a digital nomad travelling the world.
But what sort of work do digital nomads do? Copywriting, social media management, web design, graphic design, programming, and translation are common sources of income for nomads, but any kind of work that lends itself to freelancing or remote working is suitable. And TEFL happens to be one of them!
What do you need to become a TEFL digital nomad?
You don’t need much to become a TEFL digital nomad, the basic requirements are:
- At least a 120-hour TEFL certificate
- A laptop
- Access to reliable WiFi
- An online teaching job and/or your own freelance online teaching business
Check out our Guide to Teaching English Online to find out more about getting started as an online teacher.
Best locations for TEFL digital nomads
TEFL digital nomads can work from anywhere in the world, but the visa situation isn’t always straightforward. Many nomads will work on tourist visas in countries where they are unable to obtain any kind of work visa, especially if their stay is short-term. The legality of this can be sketchy, and while it can be generally accepted in some countries, it could get you into trouble in others. Always do your own research!
However, visas specifically for digital nomads are becoming more common – and we expect that the pandemic will fast-track this, with more countries offering them. As it stands, there are a number of countries out there where you can apply for a digital nomad visa or visas suitable for this type of work.
Croatia offers digital nomads the opportunity to stay in the country for up to a year. This temporary stay cannot be extended immediately after, applicants must wait 6 months after expiry to reapply.
The Czech Republic doesn’t have a specific digital nomad visa, but the Zivno visa (Zivnostenske opravneni, to give it its full name) enables nomads to work within the country. This is a freelancer visa, which is what EFL teachers working in schools within the Czech Republic must also have since schools typically employ teachers as contractors, not employees.
Estonia launched their digital nomad visa in August 2020, which allows location-independent workers to live and work within the country for up to a year. You must already have an employment contract and meet an income threshold of €3,504 (£3,000 / $4,000) per month (before tax), making it suitable only for more established online English teachers who are earning more.
High-earning nomads from outside the EU can live and work in Iceland for up to a year with long-term remote work visa. You need to be earning 1,000,000 ISK (£5,600 / $7,700), well above the average earnings of most online English teachers, but the option is there if you start bringing in that sort of sum!
If the financial requirements of the last two made you wince, you’ll be relieved to hear that Portugal only asks that you provide evidence of earning €635 (£530 / $730) a month. The temporary stay visa allows digital nomads to stay for up to a year, but can be renewed after for two year periods.
Georgia really wants you to visit. Having suffered huge losses with the collapse of tourism during the pandemic, the country is trying to entice people to come and boost its economy with its new digital nomad visa. Remotely from Georgia was launched in August 2021 to allow nomads to travel to the country and work remotely.
Germany’s freelance visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit or Freiberufler visa) allows nomads to stay, initially, for 3 months but can be extended for up to 3 years. You have to apply at the local tax office, which will determine whether or not you qualify. Be prepared for navigating German bureaucracy!
The rest of the world
Like Georgia, Indonesia hopes to revive its tourism sector following the pandemic by welcoming digital nomads. Bali looks set to offer nomads a 5-year visa under a proposed scheme, although when this is due to be rolled out is unclear. As long as your income comes from outside the country you’ll pay zero tax in Indonesia. Keep an eye out for news about this scheme!
Most digital nomads teaching English online from Thailand work there on a tourist visa, which while technically not legal is usually not considered an area of concern for authorities. However, the country looks set to launch a ‘Smart Visa’, which would allow nomads to stay for up to 4 years without a work permit.
Dubai offers digital nomads a 1-year visa under its virtual working programme. Unsurprisingly, given its high living costs, the salary requirements for nomads are set high. You need to be earning at least $5,000 (£3,600) a month to be eligible for the programme.
Costa Rica has recently announced their digital nomad visa, which will allow remote workers to stay in the country for up to a year, with the option of renewal for an additional year. You’ll need to provide proof of earnings of at least $3,000 (£2,100) a month and have medical insurance to cover the length of your stay. Keep an eye out for applications opening.
Nomads can work in Barbados under the 12 Month Barbados Welcome Stamp programme. The application fee alone is pricey, though, at $2,000 and you’ll need to provide proof of annual income of $50,000 (£36,000).
Mexico doesn’t offer a specific digital nomad visa, but nomads wishing to stay more than 180 days can take advantage of the temporary resident visa. You’ll need to prove you earn at least $2,000 (£1,450) a month and that your work is entirely outside of Mexico.
A realistic insight into life as a TEFL digital nomad
TEFL Org graduate, David, has been travelling the world as a digital nomad and teaching English online since 2016. So, he knows a thing or two about the digital nomad lifestyle! While it opens up incredible opportunities and a flexible means of exploring the world, it’s not necessarily the Instagrammable way of life those working-from-the-beach shots you see might suggest.
I travelled FAST in the year prior to teaching. However, life is a balancing act. The inaccurate posts from Instababes and couples spamming my Facebook newsfeed, advertising courses on ‘becoming a Digital Nomad’ painted a picture of working on a beach (hello, wifi?) without a care in the world. Subsequent to gaining my TEFL and being accepted as a teacher on italki, I understood that I needed to slow down, perhaps creating homes away from home, integrating myself into communities and building relationships with locals, rather than jumping from place to place, cramming in a few lessons in between capturing the latest popular Insta-shot or visiting the most up and coming tourist trap.
Over the last 4 years I have spent a significant amount of time in countries such as Japan, Mexico and Serbia (writing this in Belgrade as we speak!). While doing so, I could take advantage of the flexibility The TEFL Org and italki had afforded me, setting my own schedule, creating my own lesson material, in addition to, most crucially, determining my own pricing, rather than being restricted by rigid working hours on Beijing time or being limited by a set salary.
5 top tips for TEFL digital nomads
Get TEFL qualified
First things first, you’ll need to get TEFL qualified. Most online teaching companies require teachers to have at least a 120-hour TEFL qualification. We’ve also developed an advanced TEFL course specifically for teaching English online, which guides you through the technologies and mediums used for online teaching as well as showing you how to set yourself up online and start finding work!
Start building up a client base at home
If you’ve never taught English before then it’s a good idea to get some experience first. Building up an income stream from home can be a lot less stressful than trying to do it abroad.
Online teachers find work via companies and/or through their own websites – don’t worry if you don’t know where to start with that since our Teaching English Online course teaches you how to set up your very own site! Online teaching companies will take a commission or share of what a student pays while you’ll keep everything you earn if the work comes in through your own website.
This way you’ll get an understanding of what sort of money you can earn before you set off, which brings us onto the next tip…
Depending on the destinations, the cost of living can be significantly lower than at home so you can find your money goes a lot further. Remember that you’ll need money for flights and accommodation, so always carefully budget with travelling costs in mind. Work out how much you need to be working to fund your travels and keep in mind any additional costs such as transfer fees and how long it might take money you’ve been paid to arrive in your account.
Scout out services to help you manage your money
You want to minimise the amount of money you lose through transfer and withdrawal fees so research your options. Services such as Wise significantly reduce the cost of transferring money and pre-paid cards such as Revolut allow you to exchange currency at great rates and the card can be used all over the world.
Prioritise internet access
You can’t successfully make money teaching English online without a reliable internet connection, so when you’re planning your travels you have to make this a priority!
There’s also the option of sourcing tutoring work wherever you are and picking up short-term teaching contracts with schools, companies, and language camps (although be mindful of visa regulations when it comes to in-country work!).
Download our FREE Guide to Teaching English Online below!