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Why Become a Digital Nomad? 13 Pros & Cons You Should Know

So, you want to become a digital nomad, right? Living overseas, rocking up to a Parisian cafe or a beachfront co-working space to check your emails before hitting up a yoga class, or checking out the local hotspots?

Okay, while some of that is realistic, a lot of it really isn’t reflectively of a modern digital nomad lifestyle.

With that in mind, why should you become a digital nomad and is it all that it’s cracked up to be? I’ve got you covered with this complete guide including all the pros and cons you should know about and how to get started on your digital nomad journey.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in. 

What is a Digital Nomad?

First things first, what actually is a digital nomad? Well, it’s pretty simple. A digital nomad is essentially a remote worker who works from different places in the world. They might do a year in Spain then move onto six months in Bali or head to the UK for a few weeks.

They’re characterized by a huge amount of flexibility. Whether they work for themselves or have bosses who are fine with remote working and various different timezones, there are a lot of different ways to become a digital nomad. 

Who Can Be a Digital Nomad?

If you can work entirely remotely and your company is okay with you basing yourself overseas, then you can be a digital nomad. Some companies are fine with the remote aspect but get funny around the overseas aspect for tax purposes, so be aware of that.

As long as you’re still getting paid into your original bank account in the country where you used to live, then there shouldn’t be an issue.

Of course, if you work for yourself as an online-based business owner or as a freelancer, you can pretty much work wherever as long as you have a steady internet connection. Just make sure that you can still contact all your clients with a reasonable turnaround in your new timezone.

For instance, if you have daily standup meetings at 9 am PST, you’re not going to want to be in Melbourne, Australia, when it’s 2 am. Work out where is doable and narrow down locations from there.

Where Can You Be a Digital Nomad?

We’ve seen that the digital nomad space has grown massively post-pandemic when we’ve seen just how easy it is to work remotely. Pre-COVID, a few countries had digital nomad or freelancer visas like Portugal or Germany, but nowadays, there are hundreds of different countries with digital nomad visas.

a lady in red suit with a bag looking at buildings

You’d be hard-pressed to find a country in Europe that either doesn’t currently have a digital nomad visa or doesn’t have one in the works (check out this post to learn more about that!). Most of these visas have a minimum amount that you need to earn each month which is in line with that country’s cost of living.

So, if you’re not earning a ton yet, you might need to live in a cheaper country, but if you’re rolling in it, you can look at places like Scandinavia. 

Outside of Europe, there are plenty of Latin American and South East Asian countries that are bringing out digital nomads. It kind of seems like anywhere where you’d normally go on a big backpacking adventure is moving into the digital nomad space, and it makes sense.

If you’re earning money along the way, you can stay longer and you can spend more in the local economy – it’s a win-win!

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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Digital Nomad

Okay, so now you know the basics of being a digital nomad, let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages. Some are definitely going to surprise you!

8 Pros of Being a Digital Nomad

With that in mind, let’s start with the positives about becoming a digital nomad – and there are a ton!

1. Flexibility to Work Anywhere

If you want to work from a cafe in Milan in the morning and on the shores of Lake Como in the afternoon, as a digital nomad you can absolutely do this – obviously depending on the internet access. Look, working by a beach is amazing, but if it relies on hot-spotting off your phone and you have limited data, you end up playing a dangerous game. 

The true magic of being able to work anywhere is being able to maximize your downtime. For example, I could be writing this at the cafe of my gym, so that when I finish my project and log off I can roll straight into a workout.

I could even be working on the train heading away for the weekend to beat all the traffic on a Friday night. It’s all about that sweet, sweet work-life balance folks. 

2. Choose Your Own Hours

Okay, so this one largely depends on whether you’re employed by a remote-friendly company or you’re self-employed. That being said, most remote-friendly businesses tend to be flexible around hours, especially if you’re living and working abroad.

Want to work from 6 am to 2 pm so you have your afternoons and evenings free to explore your new homeland? Maybe you want to work a split shift to take advantage of those super-long European lunchtimes?

One week could be completely different from the next. Maybe there are festivals going on in the city, maybe there’s a yoga class you want to check out, or maybe you’ve seen there’s a heatwave coming and want to adjust your hours to fit.

As a digital nomad, especially a self-employed one, this is a huge benefit. 

3. Lower Cost of Living

So, this is probably one of the biggest plus points to becoming a digital nomad – moving to a cheaper country! It’s hardly news to say that the US is an expensive place to live.

It’s kind of ridiculous between rising housing costs, the price of healthcare, education, and just about everything else, it’s super expensive just to survive over there let alone have any fun. 

Although not every country has a lower cost of living (I’m looking at you Scandinavia…), there are plenty of countries where rent, bills, and eating out are a lot lower. If you’ve got a US wage or are being paid at the going rate for a more expensive country, you’re going to be able to live like a Queen in some places. 

This also allows you to save a lot more money while you work so that one day you might even be able to buy your own home if you want. You’d struggle to do that in the vast majority of the US, that’s for sure. 

4. Experience New Cultures

Let’s be honest, a huge reason why a lot of us travel is to experience new cultures, broaden our horizons, and learn more about the world. This goes to a whole new level when you live in another country.

You’re living and working like a local now, so you can absorb way more of the lifestyle and the culture of your new home.

With your ability to move around to different countries, you’re going to experience tons of new cultures and gain a much deeper understanding of how different people live, work, and thrive. Honestly, moving abroad for work was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’ve just kept moving around ever since!

5. Make New Friends

When you’re in a new town, city, or country, it can feel pretty isolating, so it’s really important to make friends. These might be other digital nomads or expats, they might be regulars in the coffee shop where you work the majority of the time, or you might join a running club or soccer team where you can meet like-minded people.

One of the best ways to meet new people who are in a similar scenario is to find a co-working space near you. The vast majority of people there will either be self-employed, remote workers, or other digital nomads like you!

As an added bonus, a lot of co-working spaces run social events like bar crawls, city tours, and days out to help people connect and get to know each other. 

If you’re moving to a country where you don’t know the language, another great place to meet people is at a local language class. Everyone is just trying to get to grips with the language and being in a country where they don’t fully understand the locals, so it’s often reassuring to feel like you’re not the only one!

6. Opportunity to Live Abroad

It’s no secret that I absolutely love living abroad, and I’d personally recommend that everyone does it at least once in their lives. When you’re a digital nomad, you can live in a whole host of different countries. As long as there’s a relevant visa that you’re eligible for, you can move there for normally at least a year.

woman standing in front of a building

If you still want to explore, you can jump between different digital nomad visa schemes. For instance, you can spend a year living in Spain before applying and jumping onto Portugal’s digital nomad scheme for the next year, and then maybe head over to Bali for up to five years.

Digital nomadism is a great way to be able to live and work abroad without having to find a sponsored job or save a ton of money before committing to the move.

7. Minimalist Lifestyle

Moving around from country to country means that you really learn to Marie Kondo your whole situation. If you’re having to pay for oversized baggage on a flight across the Atlantic or on budget airlines across Europe, it quickly adds up. 

You learn super quickly about what you really need, what you can buy or find in your new country, and which items you really can’t live without. You need to be packing in a sweet spot that lies somewhere between a long-term backpacking trip and moving out for college.

So, you need more than just clothes and toiletries, but you can’t pack super heavy stuff like furniture if you’re not staying in one place for too long. 

While you can put stuff in storage or pay for expensive shipping, it only really makes sense if the items are sentimental, one-of-a-kinds, or if you’re planning on staying in your new home for a couple of years on one of the longer digital nomad visa schemes. So, check out expat forums, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and more to grab yourself a bargain. 

8. No Annoying Commute!

This is personally my favorite part about being a digital nomad. Realistically, who even likes a commute? When you’re remote, you can work from your bed if you really want to.

I wouldn’t advise it if you like not having back pain, but you could if you wanted to. 

All you need to do is log on and get settled. Most digital nomads I know either have a home office setup or have a preferred co-working space or coffee shop where they like to work. Of course, this is a small commute, but it’s not essential.

Instead, you’re going somewhere that you actually want to spend time rather than rolling up to a stuffy office where you’re going to be monitored all day!

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5 Cons of Being a Digital Nomad

Okay, so we’ve talked about all the positives, now let’s get into the not-so-good stuff…

1. Visa Paperwork

Okay, undoubtedly the worst part of being a digital nomad or moving abroad in any way, shape, or form is all the red tape and paperwork. Visas are the absolute worst, but if you want to legally work in another country, they’re a necessary evil.

Luckily, the digital nomad visas seem to be one of the more straightforward visas. Many of the digital nomad visas have a set amount that you need to earn each month so that you don’t become a burden on the state.

This is usually calculated based on the country’s costs of living so it massively varies. 

Although the digital nomad lifestyle is all about flexibility, there is nothing flexible about the visa process. You need to allow plenty of time for you to get all your documentation together and for the visa to be processed.

Even though most digital nomad visas last a year, you want to be thinking about your next destination and next visas around six months in to make sure you have somewhere to go next. 

2. Homesickness and FOMO

When you live abroad you’re going to miss out on things. Weddings, christenings, graduations, birthdays – there’s going to be a lot of things that you’re just not going to be able to go to. Airfare is expensive and you can’t be in twenty places at once!

With everything being on Instagram and TikTok, you’re probably going to have to deal with a whole lot of FOMO and homesickness, especially in the first couple of months. This is completely normal, but that doesn’t stop it sucking any less.

Even if you don’t think you’re the kind of person to miss home, it tends to catch you off guard. Be warned! 

3. A Ton of Admin and Motivation

If you’re living and working in a dream location like near the world-class beaches of Portugal, near fjords in Norway, or in the heart of stunning Florence, it can be hard to focus and motivate yourself to work.

After all, it does kind of feel like you’re on vacation! 

As a digital nomad, you need to keep clear records of your employers and income so that you remain eligible for your visa.

This also means you need to have a pretty large amount of discipline and motivation to keep on working when you just want to run off and do touristy things or run into the crystal clear ocean. Honestly, I get it. 

I’d really recommend building a schedule that works for you and being strict about sticking with it.

You can still have the flexibility and set your own hours, but having core times and days where you’re going to sit at your laptop and hammer out some work allows you to plan your free time better without worrying about all the work you haven’t even started yet. 

4. Building New Friendships and Networks

So, I’ve put making new friends in both the pro and con sections, because honestly have you ever experienced how hard it is to try and make a friend as an adult?

It’s so weird! To build new friendships and networks, you really need to make a concerted effort to put yourself out there and that can be super scary.

I’d recommend joining a few clubs or sports that you either like the looks of or used to do back home. Whether that’s a running club, language class, knitting circle, or climbing group, having a common activity to complete often takes a lot of the awkwardness and anxiety out of meeting new people. 

5. Language Barriers

This might seem like an obvious one, but if you’re moving to a country and you don’t speak the language, then you’re probably going to struggle.

Being able to say hello, please, and thank you might be enough when you’re on vacation, but when you’re living abroad for any length of time, you need to be able to communicate with locals – especially bureaucrats when you’re trying to sort out official documentation!

Now, you don’t need to be fluent by any means, but it can feel quite isolating and paranoia-inducing if you’re surrounded by people speaking another language and you have no idea what they’re saying.

It can also make you feel ignorant or silly for not knowing the right words or phrases. Honestly, as long as you’re trying and making an effort, most people will appreciate it until you immerse yourself more in the language!

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Things That You Should Know Before Becoming a Digital Nomad

Okay, so there are a few pros and cons to becoming a digital nomad that you need to consider. Before I move on to how you can become a digital nomad, here are a few things you should know before diving into your digital nomad lifestyle. 

It’s Not Like It Seems on Instagram

I mean, what part of life is really like what it looks like on Instagram? Look, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see a photo of a laptop on a beach or someone “girl bossing” it around Europe (we don’t support that vibe in this house!). 

The truth is digital nomadism is difficult and takes a lot of effort. There’s not a whole lot of security, you’re missing out on a lot of stuff back home, and you have to rely on your own motivation to hit that visa criteria number each and every week.

It’s not a vacation with some part-time work thrown in every now and again, it’s building a life in a new country and then having to do it all over again the next year!

WiFi Stability is King

Okay, I’m only human, I want to live my Mamma Mia fantasy over on a Greek Island as much as the next girl. The thing is, the internet on the Greek Islands notoriously sucks. As a digital nomad, you need to check out the WiFi situation wherever you’re going. 

Also, make sure to check out the different mobile data packages and the signal availability in different towns and cities. There’s no point splashing out on a huge data plan to work off if the signal is terrible where you are. Do your research, because realistically you can’t be a digital nomad without internet access!

You Need to be Able to Plan in Advance

I touched on this when I spoke about dealing with the visa process, but the ability to plan in advance is an absolute must. If you’re freelance or self-employed, you have to be able to plan where your next paycheck is coming from so that you can hit those monthly criteria.

If a client drops off, you need to be able to still hit that number, so planning in advance is huge.

Find a Reliable Expat or Digital Nomad Community Quickly

Even if you’re not a “community” person, finding either a forum or an in-person co-working community is really helpful when you’re first arriving in a new area. They’ll know all the tips and tricks about getting your paperwork sorted, they’ll know which bars to go to and which to avoid, and they might have some great recommendations for where to work. 

You don’t have to become best friends, but it’s an amazing resource to tap into until you find your feet. Moving abroad is a daunting prospect and can easily be super overwhelming.

Having someone who’s been through it before like some kind of digital nomad Gandalf can be really helpful and reassuring. 

You Actually Might Not Be Traveling That Much

The misconception about being a digital nomad is that you’re just on one massive holiday and occasionally check in with the office or do a tiny bit of work. That’s definitely not true. You have to earn money the same as everyone else to survive.

On the weekends and in the evenings, you can explore to your heart’s content, much like if you do day trips or weekends away at home. It’s just you’re in a different area, so you can do weekends away to a whole range of different places!

How to Get Started as a Digital Nomad

So, we’ve covered the pros and cons, and things that you need to consider before committing to the digital nomad way of life, now let’s get into the practicalities! How can you actually get started as a digital nomad?

Let’s dive in and find out.

Find a Job that You can do Remotely

First of all, you need a job that you can do remotely. You need to be able to work from wherever so if you’re not in an office job or don’t tend to work online, it’s going to be difficult to become a digital nomad.

If you’re in hospitality or are a contractor, for example, you can live and work abroad, but you might need to apply for a different kind of visa that comes with work sponsorship. 

If you’re looking to strike out on your own as a freelancer, you need to think about skills you have that other people are reasonably going to pay for. Are you a good writer, can you design things, do you have experiences that people want to learn about?

All of these are super common options, but I would recommend trying to build your business for at least a year before trying to become a digital nomad so that you have enough of a paper trail for your visa. 

Check Out Visa Allowances

Pretty much every digital nomad visa is different. The admin fee varies, the lead time varies, the length of the visa varies, and the minimum monthly income definitely varies. Have a look at the different requirements and see where you’re actually eligible.

Some places may surprise you with how low their requirements are, whereas some are pretty outrageous. This step will whittle down the options for you pretty quickly.

Research Where You Want to Live

Okay, so in a similar way, it’s not enough just to hit the required criteria for a digital nomad visa, you also have to want to live there too. Now, most countries are super varied places, so you can choose from cities, towns, villages, near the sea, near the mountains, all kinds of things. 

What you need to do is look at where you want to live and check out the internet speeds, the cost of living, the number of transport links, and the availability of rental properties – all those kinds of things. 

Save, save, save!

Even though you’re working while you’re abroad, you’ll still need to save up a big chunk of change for initial flights, visa fees, deposits, the first month’s rent, and other setup costs. You can work out roughly how much it’s going to be based on the location you choose, and then you have a ballpark figure to aim for. 

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Make a Step-by-Step Plan and Put it Into Action

Now you’ve done all the maths, it’s time to plan. Work out how much you need to save and how long that’s going to take. Can you sell some of your stuff before you leave?

Can you rent out your place while you’re living abroad? All of these are things that you can think about and add to your list. 

Turn this list into a workable timeline, and figure out when you need to apply for visas, when you need to book your flights, and when you need to pack up your entire life and take the plunge!

Apply for Your Visa

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for this step. After all, bureaucracy can’t be rushed – ever.

You’ll need all your documentation ready, so go to town with all the photocopies and be prepared to have duplicates for when something inevitably gets lost!

Book Your Flight

Once your visa is approved, go ahead and book your flight! Start packing things up and selling bits and pieces, and get ready to start this new and exciting part of your life.

Start Your Adventure!

Board that plane and jump into the digital nomad lifestyle with both feet. You won’t regret it!

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