About Author: Hi, I’m Jessica Suess, an Aussie who moved to the UK for studies and ended up on a global journey as a freelancing digital nomad. I’m recently settled in Brazil, navigating finances and sharing what I have learned. See My Full Bio.
So, you want to travel the world while working to support yourself, but you aren’t sure how to trade in your “normal (location dependent) life” for a digital nomad existence?
Every digital nomad has a different story and there is no right way to do it. But there are a few essential steps involved in making the transition. Below is my step-by-step guide based on my personal experience and years of writing about digital nomadism. Hopefully, it will be useful as you embark on your journey.
But Should You Become a Digital Nomad?
Before making the leap, honestly consider whether the digital nomad lifestyle is right for you. It requires living minimally, sacrificing security, constantly adapting to new environments, and having the self-control to work when you should be working and switching off the notifications when you should be playing.
But the biggest challenge for digital nomads is loneliness. Most digital nomads report that missing loved ones and the important moments in their lives is a struggle. Simultaneously, it can be hard to form new connections when constantly on the move and often confronted with cultural barriers (plus it’s just harder to make new friends as an adult). It can be isolating.
This is a question that only you can answer. Don’t let fear hold you back. We are all more capable and adaptable than we imagine. But honestly consider whether the digital nomad lifestyle is a recipe for happiness for you.
That said, let’s jump in.
Step 1: Figure Out What You Will Do For Work
This could be the simplest or the most challenging step depending on what you do and where you are in your career.
Freelancers and Entrepreneurs
Are you already location-independent as the owner of a digital design business or a freelance programmer? You may just need to consider any impact the transition may have on your business model, such as your engagement with clients and contractors.
Do you have a job with a company that can be performed remotely? You need to talk to your manager about moving to a fully remote contract. But even if you already have a fully remote contract, you need to speak to your employer.
Most companies have rules and guidelines for remote workers with which you will have to comply. This often includes a limit on how long you can spend in any one country. This is because, after 183 days in a country you automatically become a resident for tax purposes. This doesn’t just impact you, but also your company, as they may become liable for things such as social security payments on your behalf. Read our full guide to taxes for digital nomads here.
There are exemptions. Some digital nomad visas let you stay for a year or longer without becoming a tax resident. But these are all details that need to be discussed with your employer.
Looking for Remote Work
If you don’t already have a remote job, you need to find opportunities that will allow you to work from anywhere. This may mean developing new skills. While there are lots of remote jobs that require a range of different skills, the most common remote jobs often involve some of the following hard skills:
- Web Development
- Digital Design
- SEO Expertise
- Digital Marketing
- Social Media Management
- Graphic Design
- Data Analysis
But don’t overlook the soft skills required to work productively while traveling. These skills are also highly valued by employers hiring remote talent.
- Communication: clear online communications and the ability to collaborate remotely
- Self-Motivation: manage your priorities without becoming distracted by your environment
- Organization: organize your own work to produce key deliverables
- Time Management: manage your time independently to meet deadlines
- Self-Management: make decisions and evaluate your work independently
- Flexibility and Adaptability: adapt to new environments and work flexibly
How to Find Remote Jobs
There are many resources out there designed to match remote workers with work-from-anywhere opportunities. Among the best marketplaces are:
- ARC (for developers)
- Remotive (bi-monthly newsletter)
- Working Nomads (daily/weekly curated job lists via email)
- PowerToFly (for women in tech)
- Authentic Jobs (for web designers and developers)
If you prefer to pursue freelance opportunities, there are several marketplaces out there with hundreds of one-off and long-term projects listed daily. Among the most popular are Upwork, Designhill, TopTotal, and Behance. These are great platforms to find clients but beware of site fees on your earnings. This is how I built my portfolio of clients as a freelance writer.
Step 2: Decide Where You Are Going To Travel
One of the wonderful things about being a digital nomad is having open-ended travel plans with no fixed agenda. But you still need to be planning about six months in advance.
This is because you often need at least three months to obtain a visa, and it is also the optimal period for booking flights and accommodation. Plus, planning ahead lets you plan the quickest, cheapest, and most carbon-friendly routes between your destinations.
Furthermore, not every destination is digital nomad-friendly. When I made my dream trip to Tibet, working just wasn’t possible. The Wi-Fi was terrible and I spent long days on mini-buses reaching places like Everest and Lake Namtso. Plus I didn’t want to work, I was too busy soaking it all up. Remember that digital nomads need holidays from the keyboard too, so schedule these kinds of destinations for when you decide to take time off.
There are a lot of things to consider when constructing your perfect travel itinerary, such as avoiding tourist and typhoon seasons, but it can become an enjoyable art. However, I think that two of the biggest considerations should be visa requirements and the cost of living.
Do you need a visa to visit a destination and how long can you stay? Most tourist visas let you stay for up to 90 days but don’t get caught out. For example, remember that the Schengen visa limits you to 90 days in the entire Schengen area, not per country. Similarly, an East African Tourist Visa lets you travel around Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda for three months, so you should plan to visit them together.
If you want to stay for longer, more than 50 countries now offer digital nomad visas for a year or longer. These can also be strategic. For example, if you get a digital nomad visa for Schengen countries such as Spain or Portugal, you can travel to other Schengen countries on that visa.
Cost of Living
Unless you are making the big bucks, you will want to spend most of your time in countries with a lower cost of living than your home country so that your salary covers your expenses. While you can get an idea of the cost of living from sites like Numbeo, remember that you will also be paying for expensive flights and visas, and a premium for short-term accommodation. Check out long-term Airbnb’s and local expat and digital nomad forums for affordable accommodation options.
Step 3: Prepare Your Life
Before you set off on your digital nomad journey, there are a lot of “life admin” factors to consider. I think that the following are probably the most important.
Build Up Savings
Life is unexpected. Work can dry up or you may need to return home unexpectedly. Ideally, you should have enough in savings to cover you for three months of living expenses and a return flight home if necessary.
Traveling without health insurance or travel insurance is risky, and the more you travel the greater the risk, which is why there are special travel insurance plans for digital nomads. Don’t forget you will also need comprehensive international health insurance to cover you for both emergencies and day-to-day health needs.
Remember that when traveling, you need to carry everything you need with you. Figure out what you will need and how you are going to carry it. You will probably need to learn to live with less. Unless you have access to free storage you should also get rid of things you no longer need.
Establish a Permanent Address
It is pretty important to have a permanent address, usually in the country where you are a tax resident (probably your home country). You need it to open a bank account, vote, and pay taxes. If you don’t have family or friends who can let you use their address, there are other services available.
Figure Out Your Finances
When you break out of “normal” living models, there are a lot of financial factors to figure out. Where will you pay taxes, social security, and retirement? Even a few years of missed payments can have a big impact down the line. How will you access your money in different countries? It is worth sitting down with a financial advisor before you travel to cover your bases.
Step 4: Start Your Adventure
You are now ready to start your digital nomad adventure! Of course, there are a lot of things you will need to learn on the road! How do you quickly create a productive routine in a new environment? How do you stay fit and eat healthy when on the move? How do you establish proper balance and division between working and living? How do you stay connected to people at home and make new friends on the road?
We hope to cover some of these topics over the coming months, and there is lots of advice out there from other people who have done it. Digital nomads tend to be very active online, so dive in and see what they have to say. But one of the best ways to learn is through doing.