How To Become a Digital Nomad

Learn how to take your career on the road

Woman using laptop in a camper van
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Remote work is more popular than ever before, with 42% of U.S. workers telecommuting full time in the last year. While many of these remote workers stay close to home, others choose to combine work and travel. In 2020, 10.9 million workers described themselves as digital nomads, according to a study by MBO Partners. That’s a 49% increase from the previous year.

Digital nomads are workers who do their jobs from anywhere. Using mobile devices and (hopefully) a fast Wi-Fi connection, these professionals can log on to their jobs from almost any country in the world. They might work from a series of exotic destinations or while being constantly on the move.

Thinking about becoming a digital nomad? Here’s what you need to get started.

What Is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who does their job remotely while traveling or living abroad. They could be full-time employees, freelancers, or small business owners. There are digital nomads of all ages. They might be married or single, parents, or child-free.

These freewheeling remote workers hold a wide variety of job titles and work in many industries.

In fact, the most surprising thing about digital nomads is how diverse they are. FlexJobs, a subscription job board for remote and flexible jobs, ran a digital nomad survey to get a sense of who these workers are and what helps them thrive. It found that a typical digital nomad was a married female Gen-Xer who worked full time as an employee.

Per that survey, these professionals most often worked in writing, education, administration, customer service, or the arts. Most had health insurance, and over half were saving for retirement. Financially, many of these workers were doing well: 18% reported making at least six figures per year.

MBO Partners’ survey showed similar figures. About 38% of digital nomads report earning $75,000 per year or more, according to their data.

How To Find Jobs That Let You Work From Anywhere

Perhaps the most surprising fact about digital nomads is that so many of them are full-time employees, not freelancers. In 2020, 6.3 million employees worked from the road or from far-flung destinations, according to MBO Partners. The same year, 4.6 million freelancers worked from a location that was not their permanent home base.

The trick to working from anywhere as an employee is finding a job that will let you travel. Not every remote job will qualify—for all kinds of reasons, many employers that would be fine with you working from home will draw the line at letting you work while traveling around. There may be legal, tax, network security, or training reasons why they’d prefer to have you close to the office. Or your employer may just feel more comfortable with workers who are in the same time zone.

But some companies embrace digital nomads. Here are a few ways to find remote jobs that will allow you to work from anywhere:

Target Supportive Employers  

Some employers routinely consider digital nomads as well as workers who have a home office far away from company headquarters. Identify a list of flexible employers in your industry and look for openings at these companies.

FlexJobs offers a list of employers that frequently advertise for work-from-anywhere jobs. You also can get in the habit of noting location-agnostic job openings when you are job searching online. Employers that offer one work-from-anywhere job are likely to offer others.

Look at Travel-Friendly Jobs

Ready for a career change (or at least not being locked into the career you have now)? Consider targeting roles that tend to be more friendly to the digital nomad lifestyle. Writing, tutoring, customer service, tech, and virtual assistant jobs are just a few of the categories to watch.

Use Job Search Sites

Some niche job search sites will let you search specifically for international and remote positions. (Remote.co is one example—search their international remote jobs.)

You can also use general job search sites like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor to find remote jobs. Use keywords and filters to drill down into the types of jobs you want and be sure to read the fine print. Many remote jobs are restricted to specific U.S. states.

If you’re currently employed, don’t assume your company will insist that you stay close to home. Employers are more open to remote work now than in years past. Some may be willing to consider letting you take your job on the road.

Tips for Becoming a Digital Nomad 

Becoming a digital nomad means staying on top of a lot of details—ideally, before you hit the road. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

Organize Your Finances

Make a budget for your life on the road. Take into account differing costs of living and expenses that are likely to come up when you’re away from home. For example, if you’re used to cooking at home and you’ll be staying in a hostel with limited kitchen facilities, budget for eating out.

Make sure your bank account, debit card, credit card, etc. will be accessible while you’re traveling or living abroad. 

Ask about foreign transaction fees—these can be as much as 3% of the cost of each purchase.

Some financial institutions offer transaction fee-free credit cards and fee-free ATM withdrawals in other countries. It’s worth looking into this before you start moving around and possibly changing banks if needed.

Make a Backup Plan for Technology

Working remotely means coping with tech issues on an ongoing basis. This is true whether you’re telecommuting from Baltimore or Bali. To make life easier, consider investing in mobile technology that will be more reliable than the free Wi-Fi at your destination. 

Look into mobile hotspots and VPNs. If your budget allows, invest in a second laptop or laptop replacement. That way, you won’t be stuck scrambling for repair services in a place that’s new to you.

Get Health Insurance

Don’t assume that your company health insurance or marketplace plan will cover you when you’re out of the country—and don’t rely on being able to access universal health care at your destination. 

Research health insurance coverage and fill any gaps before you set out.

Be Proactive About Communication

If you’re new to working on a distributed team, keep in mind that communication requires a bit more effort when you’re not in the same room—or possibly the same time zone. Keep your manager apprised of your whereabouts, progress, and successes. Don’t wait to be asked.

Watch Your Work-Life Balance

Especially when you’re working in a different time zone from your teammates, it’s easy to let the workday stretch much longer than you intended. Pick a stopping point and stick to it. 

Working at all hours will tank your productivity as well as prevent you from enjoying your travels and free time. There’s no point in becoming a digital nomad if you only spend your time staring into a screen just like you did at home.