those who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner

A digital nomad is someone who earns their living by working from various locations of their choosing, rather than a fixed location, keeping in contact with their employer or customers by the internet. With the prospect of living and working in whichever part of the world takes your fancy, it is little wonder why interest in this type of work has increased drastically since the 2010s. However, this lifestyle is not appropriate for everybody.

Understand edit

More pleasant than most offices – but less ergonomic
See also: Working abroad, Business travel

Much of the work involved is creative, such as writing articles or computer programs, or designing various things; see travel writing for one obvious possibility.

There are other possibilities. Some people run Internet businesses as nomads, and others do things like administering web sites remotely. Some people living abroad run a YouTube channel or a web site about the region they are in, and make money from advertising there. Some people teach via the net; Teaching English is one possibility. If you are an expert in some field, remote consulting may be possible.

A few people working for large companies have gone from works-on-site to works-at-home and on to works-on-the-road; going through this progression appears to be the only way to get a full-benefits employee position with a major firm as a nomad. These companies may also have work for contractors or consultants who are not employees, and some also have desirable but non-nomadic posts abroad for employees.

Prepare edit

Consider what internet access, phone service, travel insurance, and perhaps health insurance, you will need. Should you join a frequent flyer program or a hotel chain loyalty program? Or get a credit card that offers benefits for travel?

Taxes may depend on how you arrange your business. Do you work for a company of your own or do you get paid as private person? If the former, where is the company registered? What form of company? Do you have your salary paid in the country of the company? Or are you volunteering for your company and getting dividend instead? There may be detailed country-specific rules. What about paying towards your pension and social security? Some of these issues are discussed in Working abroad, but it is hard to give any general advice.

Our articles on retiring aboard and working abroad discuss banking arrangements, and that on money covers funds transfer issues. However, the problems are more complex for a nomad who may work in several countries and may have clients in several others, and in some countries may not be allowed to have a bank account because he or she is not a long-term resident. You may need to set up an additional bank account, or an account on an online service such as PayPal, to make payment convenient for clients.

Computers edit

Main article: Computers

Most nomads will need a good laptop computer, though advising on what to use is beyond the scope of a travel guide. Some people can work on a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and some use remote desktop applications such as Parsec or VNC. It is a good idea to review your computer and network security together with an expert before setting out. Do you need a VPN for secure communication? Should you encrypt some or all of your disks (including USB sticks) so that private data is not revealed if the device is stolen? Still make sure that your work doesn't get lost if you lose your password. If you are going to work in restaurants and cafés, what do you do to your laptop when visiting the toilet? Locking it to the table helps against theft, but not against somebody exchanging your mouse for one with a backdoor, or rebooting it from their USB stick (many computers have well-known secondary BIOS passwords).

Some sort of backup device is also more-or-less essential, and many IT professionals prefer to have at least two backups for important data. The commonest choice for local backups is a USB drive. Keep it somewhere other than the laptop bag so one disaster is not likely to destroy both data and backup.

For many nomads it will be worthwhile to set up a (virtual) server in your home country or a third country before hitting the road. An important benefit is off-site backup for your portable machine; it is much easier and much safer to have a maintained server take and store regular backups than to try to handle the backups locally. There can be other benefits as well; see Internet access for a discussion.

There will be a trade-off between working on a server through a remote desktop or web interface or working locally. In the former case, the work will at all times be in a secure environment, in the latter, the work will be available also during internet failures. Unless you work from somewhere with dependable internet connections, you will probably want to regularly synchronise between your local device and the server (which in turn takes regular backups). Make sure you do this systematically according to a thought-through schedule, or you'll find that some critical file is missing when you need it, or that your last sync was from days ago when a storm closes down the internet for a week. You could set up an automatic background job that syncs all essential folders on a daily basis (perhaps all changes except caches etc.). Some cloud services by default configure your computer to do this if you run their installation scripts on it.

Visas edit

Check visa policies carefully. If you are on a tourist visa, what are you allowed to do? How long can you stay? Where do you get your next visa? In some countries you need a work visa, even to work online. If you are eligible for a working holiday visa or a retirement visa, those may be preferable to a tourist visa.

Many countries now offer visas specifically for remote workers, a category that includes nomads; Wikipedia has a list. Most digital nomads tend to come from richer countries, as passports of these countries allow visa-free travel to a wider variety of places than the passports of developing nations do.

For some countries, you need to apply for your visa from your home country (or a neighboring country if there is no mission in your own). If there are such countries on your itinerary, plan it so that you can apply when at home. Visa applications may also take time to handle, often weeks.

Destinations edit

In principle, a nomad might travel almost anywhere, though budget constraints will rule out some destinations for some nomads and poor internet service is a deal breaker for most. In practice, nomads tend to seek out low costs and pleasant climates, so their choices overlap heavily with those of other groups. Almost every destination mentioned at Retiring abroad or Urban backpacking also has some nomads. In particular there are many nomads along major backpacker routes such as the Banana Pancake Trail and Gringo Trail.

Many digital nomads choose destinations that are reasonably close, in distance, culturally and regarding legal issues. For an EU citizen, another EU country is an easy destination: no visa troubles, you are entitled to the local public healthcare, and you can get money from your bank account with no issues. You can still get a Mediterranean climate if you like that, or flee the heat waves to the north. Moving across the U.S.A. or India may also work out smoothly. Of course, your insurances, local legislation and taxation probably have quirks that you should be aware of.

Housing and office space edit

See also: Second homes

It is possible to travel with your housing, living in a mobile home, on your own boat, or on a cruise ship, but getting adequate Internet access may be a problem. Also, on some ferries that take cars, getting on with a mobile home may be a hassle (such as needing to book weeks in advance), and shipping longer distances may be very expensive.

Our articles on working abroad and retiring abroad discuss housing, but they focus on long-term stays. Most nomads will either stay in hotels or some kind of short-term rentals, possibly via some rental network. In bigger cities there may be rental businesses targeting professional short term visitors, such as an expert staying days, weeks or a few months to fix a problem or to train locals to handle new equipment. These may fulfill most needs of a digital nomad.

In many cities, there are businesses that offer office space to businesses that don't want to commit to their own and to small businesses that want to take advantage of the community, or facilities they couldn't afford on their own. Some of these businesses specifically target digital nomads, which may have benefits such as better taking care of social needs. Regardless, working together with other people also working – although probably with their unrelated own projects – may be preferable over working alone at a café or in a hotel room.

Housing is one reason nomads often prefer lower-cost countries; living in hotels and eating in restaurants can be painfully expensive elsewhere. See Retiring abroad/Table for some cost comparisons. Note, however, that costs may be high in big cities and for facilities targeted at foreigners also in generally cheap countries.

There are some businesses particularly targeting digital nomads:

  • WeWork offer shared office space, anything from a desk (with or without computer) to an office for a small company. As of November 2021, they have over 800 locations. By no means all users are nomads; many companies now put employees in these places rather than running their own facilities, but the services are also available for nomads.
  • Outsite are more like a chain of resorts for digital nomads; they provide living space as well as office space and have facilities in interesting locations such as Bali.
  • There is a 25-meter (82-foot) sailing catamaran called Coboat, a sort of cruise ship for digital nomads. She set out from Southeast Asia in late 2015, and the announced plans called for her to circumnavigate the world, travelling east-to-west and passing through both the Suez and Panama canals. However, after a few years in the Caribbean she returned to the Mediterranean and is still there as of early 2024.
  • Life at Sea[dead link] has a vessel, which was due to set off from Istanbul in November 2023 and spend three years circumnavigating the globe. Cost is $30,000 a year.

Stay healthy edit

See Medical tourism for discussion of drug costs and availability.

As for nearly all long-term travel, it is a good idea to have a health checkup before setting out. See your doctor, preferably at least eight weeks before you leave so there is time to get any vaccinations you need. Also check whether you need other precautions such as anti-malaria pills.

If you are on a long-term medication, it is usually a good idea to bring a supply with you. Carry a copy of your prescription, and for some destinations (e.g., China) try to get one with an official-looking stamp on it (perhaps from a hospital?) since customs officials will expect that. Beware that drug laws vary between countries and some medicines that are legal in one place – especially opiate pain killers or cannabis – might be seized at the border or even get you arrested somewhere else.

With long hours in an exciting but unfamiliar environment, it is easy to forget about important routines. Healthy food and exercise are as important as at home. If you don't rent office space, creating an ergonomic work environment may be a challenge. Pay attention to any signs of beginning strain injury. Also know your social needs and issues. Regularly take some time to check on your situation.

Cope edit

While digital nomads are travelling, or spending time in places they want to visit, they still work. And to do the same work, you are probably doing as long hours as you would in the headquarters office – or longer, because you have to make up for lacking infrastructure and support, and take different time zones into account. And you have to sleep, make your food, handle the laundry etc. in a less familiar place than at home, often with more primitive facilities. You can of course eat out and use laundry services, especially in a low income country, but also that can become daunting – and if you intended to spend less to be able to work less (or with not so well paid work), your budget may be tight.

Another aspect is that while you can keep contact with people back home, and meet a lot of interesting people, really making friends, and keeping your acquaintances, can be hard when you are on the move.

If you have children, you have all the hassle described in Working abroad#Children, without the backing of an employer. Most digital nomads don't have children yet, or have grown-up children living their own lives – but especially if you aren't alone with your children, you may be able to cope.

Depending on where you go, Internet connections may be slow or unreliable. Often such problems can be solved by using a different cafe, or moving to a different hotel or even another town. If not, a satellite Internet service may be an alternative, but they are often expensive.

In some places, electricity may also be unreliable. Often this will not interrupt work since a laptop, tablet or smartphone can run for some time on its batteries and the better hotels and cafes have generators. However in such places it is a good idea to use a surge protector to reduce risk of damage to your devices.

Resources edit

There are a number of resources for digital nomads:

This travel topic about Digital nomad is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.