Digital nomad lifestyle: pros and cons of this growing trend
Working remotely has become the proverbial new black. Many people are opting to take their work on the road, beckoned by the allure of the digital nomad lifestyle. The idea of working anywhere in the world is definitely appealing. And who can blame them? The idea of working in different locations is definitely appealing. After all, when your office can be anywhere in the world, why not take advantage of it? While a tropical beach or a snowy mountaintop can seem very glamorous, there is much more to working remotely than social media lets you believe.
For many, the prospect of living and working abroad might be great in theory. However, not everything about the digital nomad life works in practice. Knowing all the pros and cons will help you decide if this will work for you.
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What is a digital nomad anyway?
Digital nomads can work remotely from anywhere in the world. They often travel and are not tied to a traditional office or home. Their work relies on having a laptop, smartphone and a reliable Internet connection. They usually rely on coworking spaces, hotels, Airbnb and coffee shops. This type of lifestyle means that they travel light and don’t have a lot of possessions with them.
Remote workers, on the other hand, work outside a traditional office, typically from their homes. Their employers might require them to be available during specific hours and have a set schedule. So, while remote work and digital nomad lifestyles involve working away from a traditional office setting, a digital nomad lifestyle typically involves a more flexible and travel-centric approach to work.
What is a digital nomad visa?
A digital nomad visa is a long-term visa that allows the holder to live and work in a foreign country for an extended period of time. These visas have been created by countries hoping to lure digital nomads to their destinations.
One of the main stipulations of these visas is that the holder can’t work in the local marketplace and take jobs away from the locals. So, if you want to apply for a digital nomad visa, you’ll have to show proof of income and sufficient funds along with country-specific criteria.
Do you need a digital nomad visa?
Whether you’d need a digital nomad visa depends on how long you plan on staying in a given destination. Typically, tourist visas allow you to stay in a given country for up to 90 days. As long as you don’t overstay, you technically don’t need a digital nomad visa. A tourist visa is not always a practical solution as it might require leaving the country every few months and reapplying. This is especially common in Asian countries.
In Europe, things are different. You’re permitted to stay in the Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. Unlike Asia, you can’t travel on a non-Schengen visa and reapply right away. You must wait another 90 days before you can return.
The process of applying can be lengthy and costly, especially if you need to hire someone to help you. Depending on where you are currently living, the minimum income thresholds might be unattainable to you. The new destination might also have a higher cost of living. It’s important to research how much you’re going to need for accommodations, food and transportation.
It’s also important to check the laws and regulations before you decide to apply for a visa. Not all countries, for example, have a favourable attitude towards people of the LGBTQ+ community, often making same-sex relationships illegal. While living in a foreign country, especially for an extended time, you must comply with the local laws. Make sure those laws don’t put you in danger.
Pros of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Judging by its popularity, lots of people are jumping on the location-independent trend. So, what’s the big deal?
Increased flexibility and freedom
There is something incredibly freeing about being able to work anywhere in the world. Pick up and go as you please and choose destinations that suit your mood. You can choose your own hours and set your own schedule. Your office can be in a tropical destination, a historic town or a place in nature. As long as there is an Internet connection and a place to plug in, you’re good to go. Who wouldn’t enjoy that kind of freedom?
Opportunity to travel and see the world
When you don’t have to plan your vacation based on how much time off you have, travel becomes more accessible. You can visit different places in the world whenever you like, and there is no hurry to see everything all at once when you’re there. You can take as long as you need or leave if the place doesn’t suit you.
Lower cost of living in some destinations
The great advantage of being location-independent is that you can choose to live where the cost of living is more affordable. While you’re still making the same money, it can carry you further when your living expenses are much lower. This is also a considerable benefit if the currency of the place you’re staying in is lower than the one you get paid in. You can then use the money you save on necessities and spend on your well-being, education or entertainment.
Opportunities for personal and professional growth
Another big pro of this type of lifestyle is that you can use your time for personal and professional growth. Managing your workload can give you more time to pursue hobbies, learn new skills and find new opportunities. Working in different countries allows you to make valuable connections and develop an international business network. You can also learn a new language or pick up a new hobby.
Improved work-life balance
One of the biggest time savers of remote work is the lack of commute. This has been a huge benefit for many working remotely. Instead of spending an hour or more in traffic, you can go for a hike or do some surfing before your conference call. You can adjust your hours outside the standardized nine to five, especially if your clients or employer is in a different time zone, and use them for your own enjoyment.
Cons of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Just like with everything else, there are also drawbacks to a remote lifestyle. While the idea of working remotely might seem like a dream, the reality isn’t always the same for everyone.
Lack of stability and security
While roaming the world can be a great option, it doesn’t always provide much structure. For some, not having a set schedule can create challenges with getting things done and the motivation to do them. If your income declines, you might also find yourself without resources in a foreign country which can be very stressful. You have to navigate new cities, countries and logistics in every new place you visit, and you’re constantly living out of your suitcase.
Struggles with work-life balance
While being your own boss and controlling how much you work can be great for many, it can also have adverse effects. It’s easy to get distracted by the local offerings, and you might spend more time exploring than working, forgetting that you’re not on vacation. Or you might find yourself working all the time, which can lead to burnout. Finding a proper workspace can also be a challenge which can impact your productivity and the quality of your work.
Isolation and loneliness
This kind of lifestyle can also get very lonely. Even if you love your “me time,” not having social connections with the people around you can impact your mental health. Being on the road and in different time zones can make keeping in touch with family and friends back home difficult. While the digital nomad community is pretty large, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll find anyone to form a connection with at your destination. As people often move on, it’s hard to maintain those relationships and form bonds.
Unreliable Internet and technical issues
One of the most familiar images on social media of digital nomads is them sitting with their laptops in the most ridiculous locations. While floating in a pool is great, you’d not bring your laptop near water, especially if you need that laptop to do your work. The same goes for the beach or a remote cabin in the woods. Getting your computer damaged while you’re on the road can be very detrimental, as you might have difficulties getting it fixed and won’t be able to do your work. Also, not all locations have the same Internet infrastructure, meaning your wifi connectivity might be spotty or nonexistent, and you won’t be able to do your job.
Challenges with taxes and legal requirements
To qualify for a digital nomad visa, you need to meet a certain income threshold, which varies from county to country. These can be much higher than what you make, especially if you’re getting paid in lower currency, making you ineligible to apply. While some of these visas are tax-exempt, others are not, and you’ll have to navigate the tax rules and regulations of your home country and the one you decide to settle in. You might have to seek out assistance from a professional, which can be costly and stressful.
Things to Consider Before Becoming a Digital Nomad
Embracing the digital nomad lifestyle can be a great experience and an opportunity for a change of scenery. You can escape the dreariness of winter in a warmer climate, relax in the countryside or explore old cities whenever you want. The experience is guaranteed to change you for the better. However, as mentioned above, this lifestyle is not all unicorns and rainbows.
Before you embark on the road, there are a few things to consider. Understanding your needs will help you plan your journey and make more informed choices.
- Career prospects and job opportunities: Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle, not a job. To work remotely, you need to have an employer or a client(s) as a source of income. While you can definitely hit the road first and look for work later, this approach might be harder and more challenging to accomplish, especially if you lack the proper contacts or skills.
- Financial stability and planning: Having the means to support yourself is definitely a key to a more enjoyable life on the road. This also means having plans for what happens if your source of income dries out or you run out of money without another gig in the works. Budgeting for accommodations, transportation and other everyday expenses should always be a part of your plan before you head out on the road.
- Health insurance and medical needs: Accidents happen. People get sick. Medical care can get very expensive if you’re in a foreign country and are unfamiliar with how things work there. Having medical insurance that covers you while on the road is a good idea, and it can save you a lot of time and money should you need it while you’re on the road.
- Digital nomad visas and legal requirements: As I already mentioned, a relevant visa can make your experience in a country much more positive. While the process can sometimes be onerous, it’s worth it if you want to stay longer at a particular destination. Not having the proper paperwork can result in fines or deportation.
What are the best remote jobs for digital nomads?
To work remotely, you often only need a phone and a laptop. There are many jobs that you can do anywhere in the world using those tools. What will work best for you depends on your skills, experience and interests. Having a wide set of skills is a bonus, but you don’t want to spread yourself too thin with clients who all want different things.
- Information Technology (IT): Tech skills are always in demand, and you can do most of these jobs from anywhere. Web design, software engineering, cyber security and cloud engineering are examples of in-demand jobs you can do in It.
- Freelance work: If you have writing, graphic design, photography or videography skills, you can easily do freelance gigs for different clients from all over the world. Many businesses need these services, making this a good business opportunity.
- Marketing: You can also get a job in content creation, social media management, search engine optimization or take on clients who need these services.
- Consulting: Take your experience and build a consulting company that helps others. Business, management, financial advice and life coaching are some of the most common consulting gigs you can do from anywhere in the world.
- Online education: Become a tutor or teacher and run online training courses in many fields. This is also an excellent opportunity to supplement any other types of jobs on this list and create additional revenue streams.
- Virtual assistant: There are many people in need of personal and administrative support looking for help. You can define what tasks you want to take on based on your experience. Being a virtual assistant is also an opportunity to learn different business skills from your clients to expand your offerings.
These are just a few examples of jobs you can do remotely. Many industries offer remote work opportunities. Assess your own skills and interests to determine which roles are a good fit for you and that you can perform while on the road.
As you can see, there are a lot of pros and cons to living this type of nomad lifestyle. Immersing yourself in a foreign culture and language can be a gratifying experience. It’s a great opportunity to experience places like a local and get to know the destination in a way that most tourists never get a chance to do. Plus, you’ll make new friends and discover another part of yourself.
There are many digital nomad communities across the world, and you can attend social events and participate in online forums and social media groups, where you can connect with like-minded individuals. Many digital nomads choose to settle in destinations that offer a vibrant social scene and/or have an existing community of ex-pats.
I’ve also touched upon the not-so-great parts of this lifestyle, and it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’re embarking on the road for the first time. There is no rule about how long you have to be on the road or when you can return. You can easily get a taste of the digital nomad lifestyle by trying it out for a short time. Go for a month or three and see if this is for you. Alternatively, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you. There is nothing wrong with having a home to return to and your one bed to sleep in.