how to become a digital nomad

It’s official, remote work is here to stay.

25% of all jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, according to research by The Ladders career site.

Have you been thinking about how to become a digital nomad, but don’t know where to start?

The good news is, you’re in the right place. I’ll walk you through the practical steps for how to become a digital nomad and work remotely from anywhere in the world.

Why should you listen to me?

Well, I know a few things about being a digital nomad.

I’ve been working fully remote since 2014. I’ve lived in eight countries and travelled to over 40 more. Now, I’m based in Portugal, where I help remote workers relocate to Europe for second citizenship.

What is a digital nomad and why become one?

The term ‘digital nomad’ gets thrown around a lot. So first let’s look at exactly what it means, along with some similar definitions that might fit you better.

Digital nomad – somebody who moves from place to place while working remotely. Normally, they stay only a couple of months in each country before moving to the next.

Remote worker – somebody who earns their income online but may or may not travel internationally while doing so. Many remote workers do their jobs from home but never leave their home country.

Digital émigré – somebody who uses remote work to relocate abroad for the long term, mainly for political reasons and often to seek a new national identity and/or second citizenship.

For example, to escape political decisions at home that affect or restrict their life (such as civil unrest, loss of freedoms because of Brexit, or abortion laws and gun crime in the US).

Although the term ‘digital nomad’ is used as a catch-all, you don’t have to move countries every month to enjoy a similar lifestyle.

You can also work remotely and live overseas in one country for the long term. Personally, that’s the lifestyle I like best.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Digital Nomad

Generally not a very good idea…👆

Being a digital nomad isn’t all about relaxing on beaches with your laptop. In fact, it’s difficult to work properly while sitting on a beach.

The lifestyle brings its own challenges, which aren’t always covered in the mainstream media.

To make sure you’re fully prepared for the digital nomad lifestyle, I want to briefly run through its pros and cons.

Already convinced this lifestyle is for you? Then skip straight to the steps on how to become a digital nomad.

Pros of becoming a digital nomad

  • You can live and work from anywhere in the world
  • Work on your own terms, without a boss, office hours, or commuting
  • The potential to make good money online and escape the growing cost of living crisis
  • The chance to see the world and seek out adventure
  • Meeting new and interesting people in different countries
  • Achieving better work-life balance
  • You can take advantage of geo-arbitrage, i.e., earning in a strong currency like the USD, while living in a low cost of living country.

Cons of becoming a digital nomad

  • Loneliness – The reality is, you’ll probably be working on your own all day, typically from an apartment in a foreign country. Some people miss the camaraderie of a physical office. Joining a local co-working space is one way to solve this.
  • Culture shock – In an age of global travel, people underestimate the impact of culture shock. But it’s still there, especially if you haven’t lived abroad before.
  • Working too much – This is especially common if you’re running your own business online. It’s harder to set boundaries for when work ends. You might find yourself working during the evenings or weekends, which can lead to burnout if you’re not careful.
  • Harder to enjoy travels – When you feel like you’re always working, it can be tough to enjoy all the opportunities a new country has to offer.
  • Feeling scattered and unfocused – Especially common for online entrepreneurs, it’s easy to have too many competing priorities, especially in the early stages of an online business. You may struggle to focus your energy in the right direction
  • Too many distractions – The laptop lifestyle brings countless opportunities for distraction, whether that’s constantly refreshing social media or stopping work every few minutes to check your emails.
  • Time zone issues – Depending on which country you live in and whether you work with a remote team or clients, you might find that your time zone can cause problems for communication.
  • Mental energy drains – Adjusting to a new country can be challenging. That’s why moving every couple of months (in typical digital nomad style) isn’t my cup of tea. I prefer being a ‘slomad’, or simply living long-term in an enjoyable foreign country).

More cons than pros? Maybe, but the significance of the pros typically outweighs the cons.

With those caveats in mind, let me show you how to become a digital nomad this year.

How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2022

#1. Get your mindset right

Some of you might be raring to go, while others might still be a little nervous.

Just remember – whatever you decide to do, you can always undo it. If you move abroad and hate it, you can always move back home again.

#2. Find your money-making strategy

Before taking the leap into a digital nomad lifestyle, you’ll need to create a solid source of online income.

Having this in place before leaving home will give you a lot more confidence and security.

The good news is – it doesn’t have to be difficult. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to start working remotely.

Take your existing job remote

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it’s legitimized the idea of working remotely for one employer.

If the last two years have shown that you can do your job from home, then you could try asking your company if they’ll allow you to work fully remote from another country.

If you’ve already worked remotely during the pandemic, your employer should already be convinced that you can perform well in this set up.

For example, a British friend of mine here in Madeira managed to convince her London law firm to switch her full-time job to a freelance contract so she could continue living abroad full time.

Bear in mind, there may be tax and HR concerns involved, but it’s always worth asking.

One way to solve these issues is for your company to re-hire you as a freelance contractor. We’ll look into the potential tax implications of this switch later on in the article.

Taking your existing job remote is the easiest way to get a head start on becoming a digital nomad.

Get a new job that’s 100% remote

Tried the first option but your boss or HR department said, ‘No way’?

Then your next option is to look for a new job that’s 100% remote and location independent.

Job boards are the best place to start, preferably those dedicated to remote work.

Here’s a list of sites where you can find digital nomad jobs:

  • Flexjobs
  • We Work Remotely
  • Remote OK
  • Just Remote
  • Remote.co
  • Working Nomads
  • Pangian
  • Remotive
  • Jobspresso
  • Skip the Drive
  • AngelList

Most of the sites listed here only advertise for positions open to anyone in the world.

But some companies have an annoying habit of advertising their positions as ‘remote’, then restricting hiring to people located in a certain country (e.g., ‘remote, US only’).

You can filter these out by looking for roles labelled ‘location independent’, ‘work from anywhere’, or ‘fully distributed team’.

What sort of digital nomad jobs are out there?

Well, the most common digital nomad job is probably software developer or similar.

But don’t worry if (like me) you hate coding or have no idea how to do it, there are plenty of remote jobs totally unrelated to it.

For example:

  • Digital marketing strategist
  • Virtual assistant
  • Customer support representative
  • Content writer
  • Copywriter
  • Translator
  • Academic editor
  • Online language teacher
  • Online therapist
  • Consultant in your existing field of work

Start an online business

Don’t want to work full time for a single employer? Then starting your own online business could be the right digital nomad job for you.

The most obvious option here is to become a freelancer in your current profession, targeting clients from your existing professional network.

If you’re still in a full-time job back home, you can get a head start by building up a freelance online business as a side hustle. Just make sure you don’t violate any no-compete clauses in your contract.

You can start a lightweight online business quickly, with minimal expense. Typically, the first step is to set up a simple website or landing page outlining your expertise, then draw on your existing networks to get your first client.

Once you’ve successfully completed a job for that first client, ask them for a testimonial and display it on your website. This provides social proof to help you land the next ones more easily.

Need a way to get started faster? Here are a few other ways to make money while travelling.

Rent out your home 

Another way to create income to fund your digital nomad lifestyle is by renting out your existing home.

This approach is best suited to those who already own property and who wish to live abroad for the longer term.

For example, if you know you want to travel for two years, then you could find a tenant willing to rent your property for the duration of that period.

If you own a home in high cost of living countries such as the US or the UK, then the rental income may be enough to support your digital nomad lifestyle (depending on which countries you move to).

Use savings or investments

If you have substantial savings or passive income from investments, you could use these to help fund your digital nomad lifestyle, or to supplement your income from an online business while you ramp it up.

#3. What kind of ‘digital nomad’ are you?

The answer to this question is important because it will influence all kinds of things about your move – from the country you choose and the type of visa you apply for, to the tax implications for you while living abroad.

The choice is between:

  1. Becoming a proper ‘nomad’, moving countries every few months
  2. Becoming an expat/immigrant/digital émigré, working remotely while living in another country for the long-term (perhaps with the objective of getting second citizenship).

Think about your long-term goals.

Do you just want to travel and experience many countries while earning money online? Would you be happy with not settling down for a few years, if ever?

Or would you rather settle down in another country and build a stable life while working remotely?

Do you want to acquire a second citizenship, or are you happy with just your existing passport?

Once you’ve narrowed these down, it’s time to choose your first destination.

#4. Choose your first destination

Now we’re getting into the exciting stuff. Choosing the right destination is a crucial step in how to become a digital nomad.

Get it right and you’ll fall in love with this lifestyle. But get it wrong, and you might be put off for life.

Ease of access

The first thing to look at is a country’s ease of access. By that I mean, how easy it is to move to the country and work remotely.

Do you need a visa to get into the country? Or can you enter visa free, for a certain number of days?

Do you need a longer-term visa, created specifically for digital nomads, or a long-term residency visa? And, if so, what are the requirements for getting one of these?

Much of this decision depends on your existing country of citizenship.

Those fortunate enough to have a powerful passport from countries such as the US, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere in the EU, will have an easier time accessing countries.

For example, if you want to start your digital nomad journey in one of the EU countries, getting in will be much easier if you already hold a passport from one of the EU/EEA countries, or Switzerland.

Citizens from other countries can typically only stay for 90 days in the Schengen area before they have to leave (and stay out for another 90 days).

If you want to stay for longer, you can start with one of the digital nomad visas. Many countries have introduced these in the wake of the pandemic, and new ones are popping up all the time.

Digital nomad visas are typically valid for six months to two years. Some are renewable beyond that, while others are not.

To get a digital nomad visa you normally need to show proof of sufficient income from outside the country.

Those who want to stay long-term in one country, perhaps with an eye on eventual dual citizenship, will need a different sort of visa.

Many countries offer long-term residency pathways that are also well-suited to remote workers, such as the Portugal D7 visa, or the remote work visa in Malta.

Before choosing a visa option, plan ahead and make sure you’re clear on your long-term goals in your destination country.

Facilities & infrastructure

WI-FI QUALITY AND COVERAGE

Wi-Fi is probably THE most important facility a digital nomad can have.

You’ll be fine in most developed countries, where Wi-Fi speeds are typically fast and the Internet is unrestricted.

Here’s a map of internet speeds around the world.

Watch out for countries like China where the government blocks many popular websites – such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia.

To access online services with different geographical IP addresses, it’s a good idea to get a VPN subscription. I like Private Internet Access.

CO-WORKING SPACES

Working remotely can be a lonely lifestyle. One way to counter this is by working out of co-working spaces.

Here, you’ll pay a daily or monthly fee to access a shared office with other remote workers all working on different projects.

It’s a good way to meet people and replicate that sense of office camaraderie, on the days when you want to get away from your apartment.

You can normally work there either full time, or just go there whenever you want. Personally, I like to do a couple of days a week at a co-working space and spend the rest of the time working from home.

Also, having lots of co-working spaces is a good sign that your new city will be well set up generally for digital nomads and remote workers.

Some countries and regions have introduced special digital nomad initiatives, such as the Digital Nomad Village in Madeira.

Designed to attract remote workers to spend time and money in the country, these ‘villages’ usually involve a co-working set up, plus a calendar of activities for socializing and networking.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

The quality of a destination’s public transport plays a key role in the quality of your lifestyle.

Unless you immediately get a car (or don’t mind being isolated), having access to a good network of buses, trains, and metros will be essential.

For extra convenience, pick a destination where ridesharing services (e.g., Uber, Bolt, Lyft) are common and frequent.

ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS

You may end up renting long-term or buying property in your new destination.

But at the beginning (or if you’re living the standard digital nomad lifestyle), you’ll probably want a temporary option so you can get to know your new environment before committing long-term.

That’s why it’s a good idea to choose destinations where you can easily find short-term, flexible accommodation with sites like Airbnb or Flatio.

Local expat Facebook groups can be another good place to find short-term accommodation (but be wary of potential scams).

Never hand over money without seeing the apartment first, and preferably do so at the same time you receive the key.

STRONG COMMUNITY

Working remotely can be a lonely endeavor.

It helps if you’re moving abroad with a partner, and/or family. But even then, you can’t underestimate the power of forging new human connections.

That’s why you should make sure your new country has a healthy community of like-minded people.

WIDE RANGE OF ACTIVITIES

Becoming a digital nomad should be a way to reach better work/life balance. To do so, you’ll need to find time for enjoyable activities when you’re not working.

Moving to a city with plenty of interesting activities on offer helps maximize the chances that you’ll actually get away from your laptop from time to time.

Check out Facebook and Meetup.com groups for your target country or city, to see what sort of things are going on.

Are there particular hobbies that you’ve done for a while, or would like to start doing? Make sure your new destination offers potential for these.

#5. Get tax advice from a cross border specialist

It’s crucial to understand your tax obligations when planning a move abroad.

As a basic rule of thumb (and please note, I’m not a tax advisor), if you stay in another country for less than six months, you can continue paying taxes in your home country as usual.

Once you exceed a six month stay, your new country will likely consider you a tax resident. That typically means you’ll be liable to pay tax in the new country.

Short-term digital nomads will probably be okay paying taxes in their home country as usual.

But for long-term remote working expats and digital émigrés, getting good cross-border tax advice is an important factor in the planning stage.

#6. Apply for a visa (if required)

Visas are an important part of learning how to become a digital nomad.

If you need a visa for your first destination, you should apply for it well in advance.

This also depends on the typical visa processing timeline. You’ll probably need a lead time of at least a few weeks to collect the documents necessary for your application.

If you’re heading to a destination where you don’t need a visa, then just skip straight to the next step.

#7. Downsize your life

Your digital nomad transition will be much easier if you’re not weighed down by too many personal belongings.

Of course, this decision is very much a personal one. I know not everyone wants to be a minimalist.

There are several ways to approach downsizing. Firstly, you could go the drastic route and radically downsize by selling/giving away any possessions that you won’t take with you.

This approach is a good fit for true digital nomads, who want to move freely and change country every few months.

Secondly, assuming you own your own home, you could just leave everything intact, put your valuables into storage, then rent the property out long-term.

If you don’t own your own home, but want to keep your possessions, then putting them into long-term storage could be an easy interim solution. That gives you the freedom to decide at a later date if you want to ship them over to your new country.

Finally, if you’re going to be a long-term digital expat and relocate your life to a new country, then you may want to bring all your possessions with you.

If that’s your case, then you’ll need to explore overseas shipping options (including customs regulations for your new country) and decide what to do with your stuff once it arrives.

Other things to look at may include selling your car or motorbike, and cancelling ongoing memberships tied to your old location, such as gym memberships or TV packages. 

#8. Arrange mail forwarding

Even though you’re moving abroad, you’ll probably still receive physical mail from time to time, from organizations and services in your home country.

For example, student loan letters, letters from the tax office, and other kinds of bills.

To make sure you don’t miss any important letters, you’ll need a way of receiving physical mail while you’re living abroad.

One way to do this is by setting up a virtual mailbox service. These give you an address in your home country to use for receiving mail. They then scan and upload each letter so you can read it online.

Alternatively, you could ask a helpful relative or friend to receive your physical mail while you’re away.

#9. Open a cross-border account

Becoming a digital nomad usually involves handling money in more than one currency.

Perhaps you get paid in US dollars but pay your living expenses in euros. Or perhaps you get paid in euros but still have to pay tax in British pounds.

Whatever your situation, you’ll probably need a cross-border bank account.

Most of these are app-based, free to open, and offer local accounts in a range of different currencies.

This is great if you’re working with clients around the world because they can pay you “like a local” in their home currency.

Best bank accounts for digital nomads:

  • Wise
  • Revolut
  • Monese
  • N26 (EUR only)

#10. Get insured  

It’s a smart idea to get travel insurance before starting your trip.

Travel insurance covering emergency medical expenses is a requirement for some residence visas, including many in Europe.

You’ll usually need an insurance policy of between 6 to 12 months to apply for long-term residency in an EU country.

Once you receive your residence permit later on, you can apply to join the country’s state health care system.

For digital nomads moving from one country to another, you’ll need sufficient travel insurance to cover all the countries.

You normally have to start the policy before leaving your country of origin, but the below digital nomad friendly options may be more flexible.

Check out one of these options specially designed for the digital nomad lifestyle:

  • InsuredNomads
  • SafetyWing
  • WorldNomads

Travel insurance will only cover you for short-term stays. If you decide to live long-term in another country, you may want to take out expat medical insurance.

In Europe, lots of countries have state healthcare, which is normally of good quality. But having your own private insurance allows you to get faster service and have access to English-speaking medical professionals.

Top expat medical insurance options include:

  • Cigna Global
  • Allianz
  • William Russell
  • BUPA
  • IMG

#11. Book accommodation

You’ve probably already narrowed down your accommodation options based on your research in the previous phase.

Now it’s time to choose one, make the booking, and get ready to depart.

#12. Board your flight – and go!! ✈️

This one’s self-explanatory.

Congratulations, you’ve started your digital nomad journey!

Final Thoughts

Working remotely while living abroad is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable lifestyles of the 21st century.

It’s a great lifestyle for everyone, no matter whether you’d rather country-hop, or settle down and integrate into another culture while earning a good living remotely.

In this post, we take a deep dive into how to become a digital nomad in 2022, with step-by-step guidance from me – a veteran remote worker of over a decade.

I share my top tips on building an online income, choosing the right destination, plus practical tips on visas, tax, and downsizing, along with red flags (like scams!) to watch out for.