A digital nomad is someone who works remotely, often as a freelancer or entrepreneur, visiting new places for weeks or months at a time.

The digital nomad lifestyle is highly flexible, and the exact experience depends on one’s job, income and travel goals. Digital nomads may live out of short-term rental properties, stay at someone’s house for free as a house sitter or travel in a recreational vehicle. Some have a home base they return to between trips, but many choose to go all-in and travel the world full-time.

Digital Nomad Definition

A digital nomad is a type of professional who has enough flexibility to work remotely while traveling the world, often visiting different places for short periods of time.

The term digital nomad was popularized by author Tsugio Makimoto in the 1997 book Digital Nomad, which anticipated that the acceleration of technology would eventually untether one’s occupation from one’s location, eliminating the need for people to live near their jobs.

Lately, it seems as if the book’s prediction is within reach, thanks to the ubiquity of wireless high-speed internet, the proliferation of remote collaboration tools and the emergence of platforms that help freelancers cobble together gigs. Not to mention the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused many employers to adopt flexible remote work policies and dozens of countries — from Estonia to Barbados — to adopt digital nomad visa programs that let remote workers stay for up to a year.

Since then, the number of digital nomads has continued to grow. According to a 2022 report by MBO Partners, which provides support services for independent workers, 16.9 million American workers consider themselves digital nomads. That’s a 51 percent increase from the 10.9 million digital nomad workers in 2020.

 

How to Become a Digital Nomad

If you’re thinking about becoming a digital nomad, there are a few steps you should take.
 

1. Decide If It’s Right For You

The digital nomad lifestyle can be exciting and empowering, but it can also be difficult.

Alise Saunders, a digital nomad travel blogger and consultant at Tales From an Untamed Soul,  said she and her husband struggled with getting rid of the possessions they had acquired during their lifetime, but they ultimately chose to prioritize experiences over possessions. Not every nomad has to commit to being a full-time nomad, of course, but those who find comfort in familiarity or possessions may have a hard time adjusting to life on the road.

If you are flirting with the idea of becoming a digital nomad, you may want to try traveling in a RV for a year to see if it’s right for you, Saunders said. You probably won’t like the nomadic lifestyle if you don’t like change or if you have trouble adapting to unexpected circumstances. If proximity to friends and family members is important to you, that’s another sign that the full-time digital nomad lifestyle probably isn’t a good fit.

 

2. Find a Remote Job

One of the biggest factors impacting someone’s decision to become a digital nomad is their job. If your job doesn’t allow you to work remotely, you might have to find a new one, start your own business or switch to freelance work. But first, you should try to make the case for remote work at your current job.

That approach was successful for Gabby Beckford, who, at the age of 23, asked her boss for the opportunity to travel abroad. When that failed, she pitched them on the idea of traveling around the country to help other teams. After a year of traveling domestically, she quit her engineering job to grow her travel blog Packs Light and travel internationally.

While holding down a full-time job is possible as a global nomad, many choose to start their own business or work as a freelancer or consultant.

 

3. Plan Your Finances

Creating a budget is an important part of being a digital nomad. Once you have an idea of your income, you will want to compare that against anticipated expenses, such as housing, insurance, food and entertainment. You will probably want to cancel any unnecessary subscriptions for gyms, streaming services and anything else that may bog down your financial life.

If you’re going abroad, you should look into whether your bank charges foreign exchange fees. If it does, consider opening an account with a bank that caters to the needs of digital nomads with no exchange fees and optimal currency exchange rates.

Digital nomads sometimes face unexpected expenses, so you will want to have some savings on hand for anything that pops up. Also, since many digital nomads are self-employed or freelancers, it’s helpful to have a financial cushion to fall back on when there’s a lull in business. Andrew Williams, founder and CEO of digital nomad blog Remote Tribe, suggests digital nomads save somewhere between six months to a year of living expenses before hitting the road.

 

4. Establish a Domicile

Digital nomads might identify as a global citizen, but the U.S. government still requires its citizens to claim a legal address, known as a domicile, for tax purposes.

Digital nomads sometimes use a friend or relative’s address as their domicile. Mail-forwarding services like Escapees allow nomads to establish a domicile address, most commonly in states with no income tax like South Dakota, Texas and Florida. Digital nomads use this address to vote, obtain health insurance and register their vehicle.

 

5. Sign Up For Insurance

Your health insurance might not cover medical care in another state, let alone overseas, so you will want to obtain traveler’s health insurance for extended trips. Travel insurance typically covers medical care, lost luggage and other hiccups that may arise during your travels. Some travel insurance options only cover trips for a predetermined amount of time, but there are a number of insurance options on the market that cater to the unique needs of digital nomads. 

 

6. Pick Your Destination

When deciding where to travel, digital nomads have a lot of factors to consider: affordability, safety, time zone compatibility, visa availability and internet speeds.

If you want to travel internationally, you will need a passport. Some of the more popular areas for international travelers include Thailand, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina and The Balkans, according to Williams.

Beckford estimates the average digital nomad stays in a city for two to four weeks before moving onto the next place. She said she likes to stay a month, which is enough time to get comfortable and experience the culture. It’s also the length of a travel visa in many countries.
 

Can You Afford It?

Staying in Airbnbs can be expensive — especially if you’re single — but workers with a U.S. salary can make their dollar stretch a lot further in more affordable countries. This strategy, which is quite popular among digital nomads, is referred to as geographic arbitrage.
 

Does the Time Zone Sync With Your Job Demands?

One major consideration is your time zone. If you need to be available during U.S. business hours, a country on the other side of the globe may not be a good choice for you — unless you don’t mind working throughout the night. A consultant, however, could schedule 11 p.m. meetings, catching California clients at 9 a.m. and New York clients at noon.

Beckford, for example, lives in Thailand, and she is happy to take meetings at night in exchange for seeing the sights and visiting local markets during the afternoon. She also schedules her emails to send during U.S. working hours.

“If you’re really trying to keep your core work hours from 9 to 5, it’s just not going to happen,” Beckford said. “It’s extremely variable in that way.”

Asynchronous jobs, like some software development and content creator roles, are most conducive to digital nomads who want to travel with no regard for time zones.
 

Can You Get a Visa?

More than 50 countries have visa programs specially designed for digital nomads. These programs typically have a minimum income requirement and let travelers live there for up to a year. Some programs require visitors to pay local taxes, while others just require the visa fee. Digital nomads are still expected to pay taxes in their home country.

Travelers and digital nomads are also allowed to visit foreign countries on a tourist visa, of course. For example, if you want to visit a country within the Schengen Area, which spans 27 European countries, you can stay three months at a time, waiting an additional three months before applying for reentry.
 

How Fast Is the Internet?

One of the major concerns for digital nomads is internet speeds. Most short-term home rentals will have decent internet speeds, but nomads typically test the internet speed upon arrival. Some countries do not have fast internet, which can make video conferencing impossible. Vanlifers who spend their days in rural areas of the U.S. have even more difficulty, relying on Wi-Fi hotspots, antennas or Starlink satellite internet.

Beckford said she will sometimes have to use Wi-Fi at local cafes, but some businesses have put up signs to prevent extended internet use. Rural areas are less likely to have fast internet speeds, so Beckford said she typically sticks to major cities. If you’re in a busy area, though, you’ll also have to be mindful of street noise, which could also be difficult for concentration and video calls.

Related ReadingWorking From Home: A Guide

 

Pros and Cons of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Pro: You Can Travel the World

Imagine hiking mountains in Patagonia one month, relaxing on the beach in Bali the next month and then spending the next couple weeks hopping between Greek islands. This dream is a reality for many digital nomads, who often visit more countries in a year than most people do in their entire lifetime.

Most people push off traveling until they retire, when they may not have the energy or mobility to experience everything each country has to offer. Saunders said she would rather “live full throttle,” recognizing that those delayed travel goals may never come to fruition.

The culture, people and landscapes Saunders has encountered as a digital nomad have shifted her perspective on life, she said. She was moved to tears, for example, when a Saudi Arabian woman she met on a ferry in Greece told her about learning to drive after a 2018 law lifted a ban on women drivers.

“I really feel like experiences and learning elevate who you are and create such a deeper level of gratitude and empowerment,” she said.

 

Pro: You Can Live Life on Your Own Terms

The digital nomad lifestyle is the ultimate antithesis to the shackles of a mortgage, a 9-to-5 job and a rush-hour commute.

Researchers behind a 2019 ethnographic study of digital nomads noted that the biggest theme that emerged from their data was “the individuals’ quest for flexibility and autonomy at work,” adding, “participants referred not only to professional, but also technological, geographical, and temporal independence.”

For Saunders, digital nomadism is ultimately about living life on your own terms. It forces you to make more intentional decisions about where you want to go, what you want to do and how you want to live.

“You’re creating the life that you really want,” she added, “not the life you were told you ‘should’ have.”

 

Con: Paying Taxes Can Be Complicated

One issue for aspiring digital nomads is the complexity of the U.S. tax code. Even domestic travelers can run into difficulties traveling to different states with different tax requirements.

“There are some states where as soon as you start working there, you’ll owe money,” Eileen Sherr, the senior manager for tax policy and advocacy at the American Institute of CPAs, told CNBC. “Those states will make you file a non-resident return and have withholding.”

For Americans who want to travel internationally, the situation gets even more complicated. U.S. tax policy requires citizens to pay income taxes, even when they’re traveling abroad. Foreign bank accounts are also considered offshore and reportable, according to Marylouise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad.

While the U.S. does have some treaties in place with other countries to limit double taxation, it still does happen. Some digital nomad visas require visitors to pay local taxes, while others simply require the visa fee.

To make sure their bases are covered, digital nomads might want to hire a tax specialist who is aware of special tax rules like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which as of 2023, allowed U.S. nomads who live less than 30 days in the U.S. to exclude the first $120,000 in foreign-earned income on their U.S. taxes.

U.S.-based employers aren’t typically keen on wading through a tangle of international tax codes, either. The New York Times reported on the story of a tech company employee who traveled to Canada to work after her office closed. Several months later, the tech company gave her an ultimatum: Return in two weeks, or resign. (The employer didn’t want to be on the hook for foreign taxes.)

 

Con: Travel Planning Can Be Time-Consuming

Digital nomads sometimes feel like they have two jobs: their day job as an employee, freelancer or entrepreneur and their second job of researching countries, Airbnb listings, internet speeds and visa requirements.

These two competing worlds can become increasingly blurred as a digital nomad, so it is important that they are mindful of their work-life balance.

Having a routine is crucial to stay productive, said Katie Johnson, a digital nomad and founder of Roaming Roots Collective, which supports digital nomads in their travels.

“Otherwise you end up spending most of your time figuring out what the heck you’re going to do instead of actually doing anything. This goes for work and travel,” she said. “Finding techniques that help you with your work-travel balance will help maintain this lifestyle long term.”

It’s easy for digital nomads to burn out, Johnson said. While it can be tempting to schedule your itinerary to the brim, Johnson said it’s important to not get overwhelmed by the “shoulds.”

 

Con: Traveling Can Be Lonely

One of the biggest issues digital nomads grapple with is loneliness. Nomads might meet interesting people in each country they visit, but those relationships may be limited by language barriers or a reluctance to expend emotional energy on a temporary visitor.

Digital nomads typically find the most luck socializing with each other, as they share a common interest and lifestyle. This also allows them to trade travel advice, share travel stories and accompany each other on outings.

Digital nomads can connect with each other at coworking locations, through websites like Meetup and Nomad List or through social media communities on Facebook and Reddit.

There are also a number of programs like Wifi Tribe, Remote Year and Noma Collective that organize trips for digital nomads who want to live, work and travel together for longer periods of time.

Related ReadingIt’s Not You: Working From Home Can Be Incredibly Lonely

 

Pro/Con: Change Is Hard But Rewarding

The digital nomad lifestyle is one of constant change. They have to learn their way around new cities, adapt to shifts in time zones and adjust to a new living space every month or two.

While it may be hard, it may also be rewarding. Some studies suggest that new experiences are correlated with happiness and that change can be good for your brain, forcing it to form new neural pathways instead of settling into routine ways of thinking.

Saunders said living in a state of constant change has built her self-confidence.

“It has made me realize that I am so resourceful and capable,” she said. “It’s truly been an immeasurable growth experience.”

 

Common Jobs for Digital Nomads

The nature of the digital nomad lifestyle limits what jobs people can hold down while pursuing it.

According to the report by MBO Partners, the most common fields of work for digital nomads are:

  • Information technology (21 percent)
  • Creative services (12 percent)
  • Education and training (11 percent)
  • Sales, marketing and PR (9 percent)
  • Finance and accounting (9 percent)
  • Consulting, coaching and research (8 percent)

This could include web developers, freelance writers, graphic designers, social media influencers, digital marketing specialists and travel bloggers who provide advice to digital nomads. Basically, any job that can be done remotely with a laptop and a decent Wi-Fi connection.

Earning a passive income is another common way digital nomads make their living. That’s often done through activities such as affiliate marketing, investing and renting out property.

“Online jobs are not always as reliable,” said Dany Caissy, a freelance software developer, “so it’s important to have multiple sources of income, to have a little bit more security.”

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who has the flexibility to work remotely and travel the world, stopping at various places for short periods of time.

How to become a digital nomad

Aspiring digital nomads should research countries and their respective digital nomad visa policies, find a job that allows them to work remotely and travel, make a budget, establish a legal domicile for tax purposes, get travel health insurance and travel only to destinations that are safe, affordable and align with their preferred time zone.

Do digital nomads pay income tax?

Yes. Digital nomads are required to pay income tax in the state they have established as their legal domicile. Nomads often find themselves in a legal gray area during tax season, so it’s best to consult a tax specialist who can determine whether they have to pay taxes to another state or country.

Great Companies Need Great People. That's Where We Come In.

Recruit With Us