I’m based in the UK, but I travel regularly to Uruguay and Spain. My office is wherever my laptop is – on a beach, in a café or in my Airbnb. This post is for anyone considering a switch to digital nomad life, too…
In partnership with SafetyWing, here are 8 tips for getting started as a digital nomad.
8 tips for getting started as a digital nomad
1. Check visas and other entry requirements
Every country holds different visa regulations, and entry requirements are constantly shifting in line with COVID-19 travel recommendations. So, keep an eye on the government immigration website of your destination country, as well as your own country’s government travel website.
Some countries require specific vaccinations in order to enter (for example yellow fever), some require a legalised police check form in order to process a visa, for example. If you’re travelling with kids, you may need to show original birth certificates, with a legalised apostille stamp and translation, with both parents’ names clearly displayed (and legalised authorisation to travel if one parent is not present).
Visa and entry rules can be complex. Getting a visa sorted can require a lot of paperwork, so it’s important to start the process as soon as possible.
In the case of complicated visa process where one incorrect tick in the box could lead to serious headaches, you might prefer to hire a visa immigration specialist.
2. Plan your finances
Some counties will want to see proof of your financial independence, and they may run credit checks. For some visas, you’ll need to show you have enough in the bank to sustain your stay.
It’s useful to plan for the short, medium and long term. Make a budget for your trip, including rent, living expenses and visa admin. Pay off debts before you leave your home country. Make sure you have a solid financial plan to budget for your lifestyle including extra for any unforeseen hiccups.
Prepare for initial set up costs, for example one off rental deposits, internet, mobile phone and so on. If you’re a parent factor in the cost of your kid’s school entry fees, books, uniforms etc.
Bear in mind tax and pension rules differ according to where you’re travelling to, how long you plan to spend and your job role. Some countries offer special incentives to attract foreign remote workers, so it’s important to do your research and find what works best for you. If you’re a long term digital nomad or considering staying overseas for a while, you might like to speak with an expat financial advisor.
Set up a bank account that will work for your needs. Some banks charge a fee for ATM withdrawals, some won’t even work at ATMs in your new country. Some credit cards charge high fees for foreign transactions, too. The account and card you choose will depend on your nationality / residence status, your destination of choice and personal lifestyle. Read the small print so you’re fully aware how much every transaction overseas will cost you.
3. Look into appropriate medical insurance
Health insurance should be your top priority if you’re considering life as a digital nomad. Without the right medical insurance in place, illness or injury can ruin a life of dreams. Unlike many other insurance firms, SafetyWing offers plans especially designed for digital nomads and expats. What’s more, all plans cover against COVID-19.
- Nomad Insurance. This travel insurance can be purchased while already abroad. It covers if you are suddenly in an accident or fall sick while you are outside your home country and need medical assistance. It also includes coverage for travel delay, lost checked luggage, emergency response, natural disasters, and personal liability. Visits to your home country are covered, and young children can be included on the plan, too.
- Remote Health for remote workers or teams. This is a fully equipped health insurance plan for remote workers, expats and nomads, allowing them spend as much time abroad as they please. It offers full coverage abroad, and in your home country. Claims are fast and easy, with the reassurance of a 24/7 helpline, too. It’s a comprehensive, global health insurance plan.
4. Learn the local language
If you’re travelling to a country where English isn’t the main language, it’s important to learn the language.
Even if you only master a few greetings or phrases, it shows courtesy and respect. Find the solution which works for you. Some prefer the motivation behind group classes, others work better with a one-to-one tutor, and some prefer the flexibility of online classes. Experiment and find the blend for you.
Integrating language learning in your daily life is key. Exercising to the tune of a language podcast, meeting up for after work for a language exchange, or switching your TV into the new language are some simple ways of building language learning into your routine.
A foreign accent is a sign of strength – don’t be shy to get out and practise.
5. Plan your packing
While it might be too early to start packing, you might like start planning now.
Especially if you’re planning a multi destination trip, it’s tempting to overpack. But it’s generally more convenient, practical and cheaper to travel light. For most people this means restricting your supplies to one case or backpack only. And this may mean giving away, selling or storing most of your goods in your home country.
Research via locals online, for example on Facebook expat groups, in The Pool and through other online communities, to get an idea of what essentials you might need, and what to leave behind.
Keep packing to the essentials and give away personal items you no longer need which could serve someone else. You might like to pack some small gifts from your home country to show your appreciation along the way. Small gifts can go a long way.
Try to pack with multi-functionality in mind. Aim for a capsule wardrobe (or suitcase!). For example, a scarf can be used as a hair covering, laptop cover, decoration, belt…
Check if you will need vaccinations to travel to your destination as soon as possible. Some vaccinations require a schedule of shots spaced out over a few months.
Equally, if you take regular prescribed medication you may need to speak to your doctor in advance to pre-order enough supplies for your trip.
6. Nurture your network
Life as a digital nomad can be fun. However, without careful planning life abroad can quickly feel lonely and isolating. It’s important to build and maintain your personal and professional networks.
To avoid the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ risk, make networking and friendship building purposeful. Have a really good reason to say no to invitations. Be the one to invite, don’t just rely on accepting invitations.
Make a list of about 20 key contacts you want to stay in touch with and foster those relationships. You never know when you might need someone’s help, or when they might need you. If you drop off the radar, it might feel awkward getting back in touch, and it’s far easier when those links are already in place.
A postcard to a former boss, a phone call to a friend from school, a random gift to someone you know… little things can make a big difference. Make your connections as personal as you feel comfortable, for example opting for a call over a text of social media comment. Time flies by, so you might like to write reminders in your diary to do this.
Working abroad can be complicated and frustrating, but it can also be liberating, fun, cheap and purposeful. Connecting with fellow digital nomads is a great way to feel part of a community, learn and grow. There are thousands of online groups with online or in person events. Join industry or interest related groups, for example female freelance writing communities, or local running clubs.
7. Choose your new home wisely
The charm of a remote beach hut on a paradise island quickly rubs off when you realise Wi-Fi is limited. While properties may list Wi-Fi on their brochures, it might not be the band width to cope with your needs. For example, if you’re going to be taking part in face-to-face Zoom calls or downloading heavy data, you’ll need top notch business grade internet. Check the internet speed of the general location and specific properly before you sign on the dotted line.
It’s generally not recommended to book long term accommodation before visiting it in person. For short term stays, go with trusted providers which offer refunds / switches in the event things go wrong, like Airbnb, Vrbo or Homes & Villas by Marriott International.
Choose a location that aligns with your working hours. For example, if you don’t like early mornings and your clients are mostly based in the Far East, you probably won’t enjoy being based in South America.
8. Work with a digital nomad lifestyle mindset
Now you’re location independent, your job search opportunities just widened immensely. After the pandemic many companies made working from anywhere possible.
The tech industry is well known for embracing remote work. While every job position is unique, companies including Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Uber, American Express, Zillow, Airbnb and SafetyWing are open to employing on a remote work basis.
If you’re looking for a job, tailor your application to the company and context. You might need to fill out specific application forms online, and adjust your CV to suit their needs. This might mean removing or adding a profile photo. It may mean reducing your CV to one page only, or extending it with data to back up your achievements. It can be a good idea to connect with current employers there, for example through LinkedIn, to get a better idea.
You might need to adjust your job role or embark on further qualifications to get a job fitting with your new digital nomad lifestyle. Virtual assistant, data entry and transcribing are popular routes for newcomers to the digital nomad lifestyle, as you can start with just basic online skills. Other popular choices for digital nomads include copy writing, translation, programming, coding, consulting, social media management and ecommerce. However the digital nomad world is huge and expanding; don’t limit yourself beyond your talents.
What’s more, other employers may be open to a shift to a digital nomad lifestyle. You will need to clearly demonstrate the advantages to them. Show them specifically why it makes sense on a practical and financial level to employ you on a remote basis.
This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, legal, medical or other professional advice. You should speak directly with a qualified professional before making any financial, legal or medical based decisions.