How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2024

Becoming a digital nomad is more popular than ever, with remote work part of modern life. Why not travel as you earn a living?

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How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2024
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It’s little wonder that the digital nomad lifestyle has become so popular worldwide. With remote work having become extremely prevalent over recent years, more and more people are working from home. However, “home” doesn’t have to be fixed to one location; why not travel the world while you work? Increasingly, people are asking how to become a digital nomad.

There are a range of professions perfectly suited to working remotely. Web design, marketing, graphic design, writing, editing, even teaching English as a foreign language. Working as a digital nomad is great if you’ve been at a specific company long-term, or you can work freelance and set your own hours, rates and more, depending on the nature of your work. 

How do you become a digital nomad, though? What are the advantages, the pitfalls, and what do you need to know to become digitally nomadic, exploring the planet as you earn a living?

It’s an increasingly popular lifestyle, and it’s not hard to see why more and more people are joining the digital nomad community. Let’s explore becoming a digital nomad!

Digital nomad: an overview 

Digital nomad life is a major opportunity.

In creative industries especially, more and more companies and institutions are seeing that being in an office doesn’t always equal optimal productivity. Meanwhile, workers - especially since the pandemic - have increasingly explored alternative ways of working. Location is less crucial than ever.

Increasingly, industries like TEFL have moved online. While, yes, there are plenty of opportunities in-person, the pandemic and the advancement of technology has seen enormous changes. Simply put, much of the workforce in general isn’t grounded in the physical as it once was, with online tutoring becoming accessible through the internet.

It’s not a free-for-all as of yet, though. In terms of visas and immigration, there are only select nations that are completely digital nomad-friendly, with that number increasingly rapidly. Digital nomadism has become extremely popular in Europe, with a growing number of EU nations, including most recently, Spain, outlining specific visa and taxation laws that aim to welcome digital nomads from across the world.

It might not be entirely mainstream yet, but digital nomadism is very much on the rise. 

Download our guide to teaching English around the world

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is a location-independent worker. Their job allows them to work remotely, 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. However the new normal is said to be around 27% - but could be as much as half the workforce. The pandemic has without a doubt changed the attitudes of employers and created more opportunities for those who wish to fully work online and seek a digital nomad adventure.

But what sort of work do digital nomads do? Copywriting, social media management, web design, graphic design, programming, TEFL teaching and translation are common sources of income for nomads, but any kind of work that lends itself to freelancing or remote working is suitable for the nomadic lifestyle. 

The benefits of being a digital nomad 

The appeals of working and living on the move are obvious. For many, office life just isn’t it; checking into the same place every morning, sharing the same area of carpet with the same people, doing the same commute and even buying the same lunch every day. While the regularity and the comfort of office life suits many, it certainly isn’t for everyone.

Events over recent years have changed the way we look at work. Do we need to be in the same physical space as our colleagues? If we had to commute, was it worth it? The days of stereotypes about WFH (work from home) slackers have gone, in the most profound way, and now it’s all about finding solutions that guarantee a work/life balance. Productivity is possible anywhere.

Let’s explore the benefits of digital nomadism, and you can decide if it’s the path for you.

You can work from anywhere 

For any number of reasons, remote work is massively appealing.

First things first: no commuting, if you don’t want to. These alone are magic words for many who’ve experienced office life. Most digital nomads have considered this thoroughly. The amount of your day that’s used up by getting to and from work? Those are potential hours of extra free time, teaching time or time that can be used for other pursuits.

Secondly, consider this: the view from your “office” as a digital nomad. Imagine being able to work remotely with the Swiss Alps in the nearby scenery. A Mediterranean beach just two minutes from your work space? Sounds like perfect remote work to us. Nothing boosts work morale like being able to access unique beauty just a stone’s throw from your home office. 

When you work anywhere you like, on a flexible schedule (more on that later), you can break up your work day by using time to explore your new surroundings. If you’ve pitched up somewhere completely new to you, you can easily do a bit of work from your work space, before heading out for a hike, a suntan or a trip to a museum, for example. Most digital nomads will tell you that it's the flexibility that did it for them.

You can live a more flexible lifestyle

We touched on flexibility, and the digital nomad lifestyle really does offer it in spades. Take, for example, an online TEFL teacher: you can set your schedule, choose how many lessons you want to do, how much time you spend planning those lessons, and so on. The same principle is true for those who run online businesses or anyone who's turned their office jobs into remote work.

When you’re not locked into a rigid schedule you can, as discussed, work your way around your surroundings in digital nomad jobs. You can address specific care needs, make time for calls home, or anything else you want to do with free time. If you’re a morning person, you can make sure your work predominantly takes place before noon. 

On the other hand, if you’re something of a night owl, you can spend all day traversing new landscapes before settling into an evening of work. All you need is a stable internet connection and the willingness to be a successful digital nomad.

In short, flexibility is an obvious and profound bonus of working as a digital nomad. For work/life balance, there’s nothing quite like it.

You can be more productive and creative

“Working remotely is just slacking off!”, “how are people meant to be productive outside of the workplace?”. You’ve likely heard these sentiments.

Ultimately, though, the evidence suggests that working remotely has massive advantages in terms of productivity and creativity. A 2021 report concluded

“Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.”

That’s a whole day of more productivity. Myths around remote work will still persist - especially in the popular media - but studies continually show that having a remote job is a major boost to overall productivity. Simply put, people are happier working where they’re comfortable, and the work shows that. Similarly, it’s a boost for creativity. 

Sounds good to us!

The downsides

Naturally, though, there are some downsides to the digital nomad lifestyle. If it was problem-free and stressless, everyone would do it, right?

Between financial issues, time zones and visa requirements, there are a mixture of factors that mean not everyone can be a digital nomad. Some just prefer to have a fixed location, and there’s nothing wrong with that if it yields results.

So what are the draw-backs of this lifestyle?

Financial challenges  

Being a “nomad” implies moving around a lot. That’s expensive. To really get the most out of the travel-and-work lifestyle, you’ll need to be able to afford visa applications, travel, accommodation, an office space (yes, it sounds contradictory, but being a digital nomad can involve hiring working spaces in cities and towns), food, everyday expenses… it adds up. Even the most popular digital nomad destinations come with distinct financial challenges.

What’s more, the nature of your work can mean that you aren’t guaranteed a fixed income. If you work for a company and have a permanent contract, you should be able to secure yourself a solid monthly salary. However, if you’re working freelance, or work on temporary contracts, it can be a bit more precarious. If, depending on the nature of the work, clients decide to look elsewhere, you’ll need to find replacements. These are all important factors to consider for any freelance digital nomad.

So, combining the expenses with the sometimes brittle nature of your incomings and you’ve got a recipe that can be costly. To really thrive as a digital nomad, start-up capital is a must, and that’s just not possible for everyone.

Time zones 

Keeping regular clients can mean adjusting to different time zones, whether you run a freelance business or you work for a company. While theoretically, you could adjust to each client, company or student’s location and timezone while travelling around the world yourself, it’s a considerable challenge.

If, for example, you have some kind of work secured in the Philippines, and you’re working in Spain, that’s a six-hour time difference. If you’re in Iceland, teaching students or designing a web page for a client in Indonesia, for example, it’s seven hours. We could go on; the point is, it’s a big adjustment, and if you’re moving around a lot, you’ll need to account for that time difference.

Beyond anything else, you need your sleep! Successful digital nomads are the ones who find a good work life balance, and so much of that has to do with preparation and dealing with time zones.

Visa requirements 

Another sticking point for many aspiring digital nomads is the headache of visa requirements. Though loads of countries welcome digital nomads, there are different requirements for each country. Different nations will ask you to provide evidence of varying levels of income, there are different wait times for digital nomad visas, different application processes - it can be confusing and difficult to navigate.

All it takes is research, yes, but while you’re spending your time trying to get the most out of each new location, you probably don’t want to spend too many hours bogged down with paperwork for special digital nomad visas.

Tips for becoming a digital nomad 

By now, you’re probably excited about what being a digital nomad can bring to your life. Flexibility, adventure, becoming part of a new local community: it’s an incredible opportunity. How to make the best of it, though? What advice should every digital nomad (or aspiring digital nomad) have in their backpocket before launching into this wonderful world of travel?

Here are some important things to consider before moving abroad!

Have a solid plan for making money 

This might be the most important thing. Adventure and forging an exciting career path are all well and good, but if you can’t fund it, it’s not good news.

Before you leave your home country, it’s probably advisable to have a reliable bed of freelance work, or a permanent contract with a company. All of the administration and paperwork required to move country is one thing; finding work is another job in and of itself. Digital nomads travel with employment already sorted.

Do you have good contacts? Are you already working and are you earning a solid monthly salary? Do you have savings to rely on for all of the costs associated with moving country? Do you know where you’d find work online?

As they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Make sure you’re on a solid financial footing before becoming a digital nomad. Moving is expensive - here’s a very handy blog on starter costs for teaching abroad.

Be comfortable living with less stuff 

We’re not suggesting you get rid of all of your possessions, but travelling light is definitely the best way to go if you’re a digital nomad. The Marie Kondo method is a good way to assess how much you need all of your stuff: do you really need this item? Does it bring you joy? If not, discard and move on.

The last thing you want is to be constantly in touch with couriers and delivery services to discuss moving your bookshelves. Try to do more with less.

Get travel health insurance 

Travel health insurance is an absolute no-brainer. Everyone gets ill sometimes, and you’re not invincible. Finding health insurance - relevant to each country you go to - should be top of your priorities. It’s easy to do, it can all be done online, and it will save you stress and money down the line.

Some nations will require you to do health checks once you’ve arrived. As always, it’s a good idea to research the health insurance requirements of each place you visit.

Get travel-friendly debit and credit cards 

Travelling around can be expensive. So, there’s no point adding to that by having debit and credit cards that charge exponential rates for purchases made abroad. Nowadays, there are online-based banks that won’t charge exchange rates. Our advice: use them. 

Also, it’s a good idea to tell your local bank about your career and travel plans. Otherwise, you might get some interesting phone calls from your bank that can be easily avoided. It’s common for banks to flag up purchases made in your name in other countries because they’ll think it’s fraud. That could lead to your bank accounts being suspended while they investigate; something of a headache when you’re teaching students and trying to acclimatise to a new place.

The best jobs for digital nomads 

So, obviously teaching English online is the best job for digital nomads - but we would say that. If you want to try your hand at different jobs or have a “side hustle” as it’s called, there are some great options for working online and on the road.

Online English teacher

Teaching English online is a brilliant option for any aspiring digital nomads. With a TEFL certificate, you can travel the world, meet all kinds of amazing people and impart valuable lessons. What’s more, with the flexibility afforded by online teaching platforms and companies, you can work to your own schedule, set your own rates and enjoy an incomparable work/life balance.

The first step is getting TEFL qualified with an accredited provider. This way, employers and students will know you’ve put in the hours (120 hours of TEFL training is the industry standard), and you’re qualified to give fantastic English lessons.

All you need is that certificate, a reliable laptop, headphones, a microphone (these are often automatically included with earphones/headphones) and a good internet connection.

Tips for living as a digital nomad 

Now you know how to become a digital nomad, what happens next? Whether you want to do it for 3 months or a lifetime, everyone will encounter the same sorts of issues and challenges as they travel and work.

So, here are some of our best tips for sustaining that digital nomad lifestyle!

Design a life that works for you 

The sheer amount of choice afforded to you as a digital nomad can be a little overwhelming. Before you decide that digital nomadism is the life for you, really think about where you want to go. How realistic is it that you can adapt to a particular culture and way of living? Is the job you have steady enough and flexible enough to allow you the option of travel?

Planning is absolutely vital. You might face roadblocks along your path, but as long as you’ve a path in mind in the first place, you can’t go too far wrong. Just ask yourself where you want to be and what you want to be doing three months from now, and go from there.

Get to know the local culture 

Obviously, if you’re travelling somewhere, it’s because you want to experience it. Having that life/work balance is crucial; the last thing you want is to have travelled somewhere incredible, only to be holed up in a rented office space or in your accommodation the whole time.

Get out and meet people. Try the food, go to a local concert, watch some sport - whatever it is you want to do, make sure you’re doing with the aim of absorbing the local flavour. Travel really is what you make it.

Check for WiFi 

Wherever you are, you can check the internet speed. It’s more of a practical bit of advice, this, but if you plan to work remotely, you need to be within reach of good, reliable internet. Tip: if the broadband speed connection page isn’t loading at all, the WiFi you’re on isn’t working.

Get involved in local coworking spaces 

Not every culture will be fine with you taking up a cafe table for 8 hours a day, speaking over Zoom to English students. Coworking spaces are pretty much everywhere - every city, at least - and they can be your best friend.

Local coworking spaces are often extremely affordable, are a great way of meeting people, and getting some of the good aspects of office culture into your nomadic existence. They’re also priceless resources for finding out the inside scoop on where you’ve landed - local people are always going to know the best bars, restaurants and points of interest.

Resources for digital nomads 

Here are some of the best resources for digital nomads:

Sky Scanner: looking for cheap flights? Sky Scanner is your best friend. 

MeetUp: if you want to find people with similar interests across the world, MeetUp does exactly as the name suggests!

The Remote Collective: a massive Facebook group for digital nomads. If you need more specific groups in particular areas, Facebook in general is an amazing tool for finding groups of people who are also digital nomads.

UpWork: finding casual work is as easy as a few clicks. See also: Fiverr. If you’re not on LinkedIn, also, then you’re missing out on major networking opportunities across the planet.

Indie Traveller: struggling to pack light for international travel? Indie Traveller has you covered there, but also with a range of other topics pertaining to moving around.

Wifi Tribe: A fantastic community of digital nomads, sharing advice and resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. What do digital nomads actually do?

    Digital nomads do all types of things. Any career path where a fixed location isn’t essential is a viable one. Typically, digital nomads work as TEFL teachers, writers, graphic designers or online marketers, but there are plenty of great choices.

  • Q. Is being a digital nomad legal?

    Yes: it’s absolutely legal to be a digital nomad, as long as you conform to all taxation and legal statutes. Each country has its own requirements for digital nomads.

  • Q. How do digital nomads make money?

    Digital nomads make money like any remote worker, through jobs that can be performed outside of a fixed office.

  • Q. How do I become a digital nomad?

    There’s no one way to become a digital nomad. If your career is flexible enough to not require a fixed abode, and you meet the digital nomad visa requirements of a given country, you can get to work!

  • Q. Is 30 too old to be a digital nomad?

    No. Anyone of working age can become a digital nomad. Digital nomads tend to start in their mid-to-late twenties.

  • Q. How long does it take to become a digital nomad?

    There’s no particular fixed moment when you’ve “become” a digital nomad - if you have a career that pays enough, and you’ve moved country, then you’ve already started.