How to Become a Digital Nomad: A Step-by-Step Guide

by | Last updated May 28, 2020 | Digital Nomad | 4 comments

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Traveling to epic destinations around the world, meeting new people, immersing yourself into colorful, richly diverse cultures — does that sound enticing to you? What about having an unstable income for a while? Or having your life plans under constant construction? Or being away from family for long periods of time?

Becoming a digital nomad isn’t about taking Insta-worthy travel photos (although there’s time for that too). It’s more about creating your own freedom to live, work, and play at your OWN pace. If you want to have a taste of what it takes to become a digital nomad, look no further!

Here’s my ultimate guide on becoming a digital nomad, written by an actual digital nomad. (Hint – it’s me.) 🙂

Step 1: Set Your Intention as a Digital Nomad

Setting your intention is crucial when deciding whether or not to become a digital nomad. Intention setting – i.e. identifying and your ultimate aim/goal/wish – will help you figure out the best path forward. If you skip this reflective stage then it’s likely you’ll revisit this question later. I must warn you though, setting your intention after-the-fact can entirely flip-flop your plans down the road!

Identify your “why”

Intention setting is kinda synonymous with finding your “why.” So, what’s your why for becoming a digital nomad? Is it primarily to travel the world? Escape the 9-5? Search for a soulmate across the ocean? Do market research? Live with your international partner? Get inspiration for a new idea you have? Start a new project?

Whatever your why is for becoming a digital nomad, make sure you break it down, internalize it, and really digest it. Finding your core intention essentially lays down the path you’re going to follow in the next steps.

Is the digital nomad life right for you?

Unsure whether or not the digital nomad lifestyle is right for you? While there are no set criteria for being a digital nomad, there are a few characteristics that can highlight whether or not your personality traits align with the nomadic lifestyle.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself in advance of becoming a full-time digital nomad:

  • Are you generally open-minded to ever-changing situations?
  • Do you consider yourself resourceful, self-reliant, self-independent, and self-motivated?
  • Would you say you are flexible and able to adapt to unfamiliar settings and/or hectic environments?
  • Are you interested in learning and immersing yourself into rich, diverse cultures with widely different beliefs on tradition, culture, religion, etc.?
  • Can you visualize yourself moving every few months (every 3 or 6 months on average)?
  • Would you be able to handle an unstable income, routine, or schedule?

These questions are in no way definitive. But hopefully, they help you decide whether the nomadic lifestyle is something you can really resonate with or not.

Next, let’s discuss the more concrete steps you need to take in order to prepare for being a digital nomad.

laptop | coffee | cafe | digital nomad | digital nomad lifestyleAs digital nomads, our office views change with every new cafe we discover!

Step 2: Choose What to Leave/Rent/Sell

Before I plan my future digital nomad endeavors, I like to scout out what I currently have, what I can let go of, and what I can sell to make extra income.

Figure out what to let go of

In general, digital nomads rid themselves of most material possessions other than the essentials. Personally, when I turned to the digital nomad lifestyle in 2015, I sold my car and let behind most of my belongings. The matter of fact is this: When you choose to be a digital nomad, you don’t quite have enough space in your backpack/luggage to take everything with you.

Choose what stays/goes

Being a digital nomad has led me to be a minimalist. I can now fit all my essentials in a tiny backpack and easily travel with 1-2 outfits for several weeks. I didn’t start out this way, though! When you first start your digital nomad journey, you’ll need to downsize as much as possible. But don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Over time you can increasingly let more things go if you need to.

Also Read: Ultimate Packing Guide for Moving Abroad (+ Checklist)

What most digital nomads consider to be the essentials:

GEAR – All the main tech like a laptop (I use a light Chromebook), phone, camera (my Sony a6000), and chargers, all the way down to power banks and memory cards.

IMPORTANT STUFF – Passport, visa, driver’s license, debit + credit cards, social security card, SIM cards, ID photos, health insurance card, emergency contact info, and copies of records.

BASIC WARDROBE – Clothes adapted to your destination city/country. I usually take 1-2 basic tees, skirts/dresses, shorts/pants, undies/bras, and sportswear.

ENTERTAINMENT/HOBBY – Paul and I also always include items like books or kindle, guitar, tripod, journal, and small decorations/memorabilia like family photos, Nepali flags, etc., to be a part of our travel essentials for when we move to a new destination.

Selling the non-essentials

It can be extremely hard to let go of things you’ve hoarded for many, many years in exchange for becoming a digital nomad. It almost feels like giving away a part of how you identify yourself, right? That was me when I sold my car and left behind my video game consoles.

But selling or giving away the non-essentials is incredibly freeing! You won’t believe how much “lighter” you feel after downsizing. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle is imperative when becoming a digital nomad.

Renting out your goods/home to earn extra income

A brilliant way to earn extra, stable income as a digital nomad is to rent out your current home/apartment until you get back.

Renting is a great idea for those who want to try out the digital nomad life, but who aren’t yet ready to go full-time nomadic and want to keep a safe home base.

On the flip side, selling your home or car in advance is great for saving and setting aside a chunk of income for your full-time nomadic adventure. Neither option is better than the other! It all depends on your preference and lifestyle.

Paul’s ‘scruffy’ digital nomad look during our van life travels in Canada

Step 3: Write Up a Rough Draft of Your Plans

When you decide to become a digital nomad, it’s wise to create a rough draft sketch of your plan. I specify this next step as a ‘rough-draft’ because, as most of us know, life plans often fall through. As I like to see it, planning ahead is simply preparing for the unforeseen!

Where to live?

Just going anywhere as a digital nomad isn’t really feasible. Why? For one, digital nomads live and breathe a stable internet connection. So no, you can’t just go anywhere your heart desires! The good news is, however, there are dozens of awesome cities and countries ideal for digital nomad communities!

While this list isn’t comprehensive, here are some of the top digital nomad destinations for 2020:

  1. Bali, Indonesia
  2. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  3. Lisbon, Portugal
  4. Barcelona, Spain
  5. Budapest, Hungary
  6. Medellin, Colombia
  7. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  9. Prague, Czech Republic
  10. Hoi An, Vietnam

There are tons of places not mentioned here, but this list serves to show just all the epic places you CAN visit as a digital nomad!

Financing: How you will earn a reliable income?

Let me clear the air right now. Being a digital nomad DOES NOT mean you travel 24/7 and lounge on beaches every day (unless you choose a beachside town like me, hehe). The nomadic lifestyle actually requires a ton of behind-the-scenes work (but more on that later).

Planning how much you can earn as a digital nomad is important for two reasons: One, you don’t want to uproot your life just to find out you can’t pay your way 2 months later. And two, being a digital nomad does involve a little risk assessment.

If you already have a stable job that can easily transition to remote work, then that’s great. But most often, those transitioning to the digital nomad world start out with no skills and might juggle several temporary jobs until they can land something more stable. (More on this below.)

Accommodation: How to find a place to live?

Once you choose a city or country to move to for your digital nomad endeavors, it’s time to zoom in on accommodation options.

Finding accommodation is relatively easy in digital nomad hotspots – otherwise, these places wouldn’t be so popular among digital nomads, would they?!

Finding local accommodation as a digital nomad:

Whenever we move to a new destination, we try to look for local accommodation first. We do this by…

  • Joining local Facebook groups (Real examples: Bali Cheap House Rent or Bali Digital Nomads)
  • Reaching out to locals or present digital nomads in the area
  • Searching on TrustedHousesitters or Airbnb for good deals

Other options are looking at digital nomad community housing for shared apartments and co-living spaces. NomadX is a leading option for digital nomads (it’s like Airbnb for digital nomads). In fact, Paul’s brother is actually living in a NomadX complex right now in Lisbon, Portugal!

When to go? Keep in mind high/low seasons, flight deals, etc.

Though it might seem obvious, planning your trip around the country’s high/low and dry and wet seasons will save you lots of frustration and hassle. For example, you don’t want to move to Mexico in the humid, wet season when temperatures are hot and miserable!

Looking at seasons and dates ahead of time also gives you access to early deals on flights, accommodation, rentals, and more. Going just before or after the peak of high-season is wise to beat the crowds and to snag a good deal on housing, too.

Summary: Researching your destination country from top to bottom before heading there is the best way to mitigate any preventable problems from arising.

Step 4: Start Learning or Strengthening Your Skills

Do you need to have skills in the online world to be a digital nomad? No. Can you learn quickly? Yes! Can you find high-paying work for your already existing skills and experience? Yes!

How to be a digital nomad with no skills or experience

In today’s ultra-connected world, anyone can learn anything from almost anywhere. It’s true! For example, do you want to start making Youtube videos? Then you can start learning with the 100000+ free tutorials on how to be a successful Youtube influencer.

The truth is, you can be a digital nomad with little to no skills or experience. We all have to start somewhere and there are always jobs you can quickly become good at with no previous experience.

Jobs for digital nomads with no skills

To show you what’s possible as a digital nomad with little to no skills, here is a quick list of real jobs posted on popular freelancing platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Flexjobs.

  • Transcribing or Transcription
  • Copywriting/Article writing
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Proofreading/Editing
  • Resumes/Cover letters
  • Social Media

If you can read/write English well, can listen to audio and type down the words, can help someone with their online workload, can edit articles, can organize resumes or type up cover letters, or can help manage social accounts, then you’re already on your way to earning income online and being one step closer to becoming a full-time digital nomad.

Please remember that getting started is the hardest part! When I first started my digital nomad work online as a freelance writer with Upwork, it took me undertaking several low-end jobs to rack up 5-star reviews. Once I had those reviews on my profile, I could then apply to higher-skilled jobs suitable to my experience. You CAN work your way up with freelancing to where it can provide for you sustainably. You just have to start! 🙂

Turning your current job into location-independent work

For those of you with concrete skills, there are tons of companies looking to outsource their work online. And it’s likely you can find the same job you have now, but online with a company that offers remote work opportunities and flexibility.

What’s amazing about this is you don’t have to start from scratch if you already have skills that can be transferred to independent-location work!

Digital nomad job ideas for those with skills + experience

One of the most common jobs with skills I see in digital nomads is an Illustration/Graphic Designer. That, and freelance writing (which is what I do when I need extra income on top of my blogs).

Here are some of the top jobs for outsourcing your skills and experience in the digital world:

  • Writing (Article writing, ghostwriting, ebooks, creative writing, product copywriting, etc.)
  • Graphic/Logo Design
  • Translation (great for native bilinguals!)
  • Education/Training
  • Customer Service
  • Computer + IT
  • WordPress Development
  • Data Entry
  • Administrative
  • Project Management
  • Art + Creative
  • Consulting
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • and more!

An example of what a having a profile on Upwork looks like

Step 5: Following Through & Settling in Your New Destination

Once you have thoroughly planned and prepared yourself on how to become a digital nomad, now is the time to actually be a digital nomad and unleash yourself out into the world.

Logistics: Taking action in becoming a digital nomad

You’ll really start to feel like you’re making your dreams a reality when you start taking action to get you where you want to go. And trust me, that’s one of the most exciting feelings in the world!

With that said, know there are a few mundane logistics you need to run through first. Here are things you need to think about and consider. Don’t let this list discourage you. It’s just a list after all! You got this!

VISAS + VACCINATIONS

Travel visas vary per country. So you need to research the visa requirements for the country you are going to based on your nationality (more on this later). You also need to see whether you can easily get a tourist visa upon entry (like in Mexico), or, if you have to apply for a visa in advance (like for Vietnam for US citizens).

The United States has lots of good agreements with countries around the world, making it fairly easy to obtain a tourist visa. It’s crucial to plan your stay around the visa because it details how many days you have to be in the country. This is why we are currently living in Mexico because both Paul and I (as a French and a US citizen) are given 6-month tourist visas.

Vaccinations are important, too, especially if it’s your first time traveling to places like Southeast Asia and South America. Make sure to get your vaccinations well in advance of your travel dates.

INSURANCE FOR DIGITAL NOMADS

Having a travel and medical insurance for your digital nomad lifestyle is so important in case of accidents and emergencies. There are several insurances out there, but none are as cost-effective as Safety Wing – the insurance made for digital nomads by a team of digital nomads.

I just bought around ~90 days of coverage for only $108! The only sleight of hand, however, is that you can only buy it once you’re already outside your home country (the US for me). So buy it the day you land in your destination country and coverage will start immediately!

WIFI + MOBILE SIMS

Having a reliable internet connection is a top priority for digital nomads. When there’s no wifi, how do you work otherwise? Having wifi, plus an inspiring environment to work in, are two very important items on every digital nomad’s checklist.

Nowadays you have portable wifi devices like Skyroam Solix S but these tend to run extremely high on the $ scale. Instead of dishing out this much cash on a device, buy a local SIM card in the country your visiting. Most countries will have cheap data plans available and will have better coverage of the area anyway. Plus, local SIM cards are cheap and you can finally ditch your expensive plan from home.

DIGITAL NOMAD COWORKING SPACES

If you’re stationed in a digital nomad hub, like Bali, you’ll be able to find digital nomad co-working spaces that have fast wifi for a monthly fee. The idea is that you rent out a “space/desk” in a cafe/co-working space so you have a guaranteed spot to come work every day like at an office. (I’ve seen people joining ones in Bali for around $90 per month.)

Otherwise, if you can’t afford a monthly fee, just work from your new home! We try to go to a cafe at least once a week just to break up our at-home routine. But honestly, this varies. For us, it really depends on our mode of travel (van life or long-term travel in one country), our budget, and our level of inspiration!

TAXES

Even though you move, your taxes most likely do not! Unless you are managing a company, you will file your taxes as an individual or a self-proprietor. I won’t go into detail here, but just remember to not forget about your taxes in your home country if you earn enough to file.

BANKING + CREDIT CARDS

Before you go abroad and live as a digital nomad, you should organize how you will continue banking and have access to funds. Note: ATMs around the world will usually charge a fee for withdrawals, on top of your bank fee. Also, it’s wise to notify your bank in advance of your trip in order not to get blocked for spammy behavior. (It’s happened to me several times!)

Getting a travel credit card is a great way to make transactions with no foreign fees while also earning a few extra flight miles. 😉 There are a variety of different travel credit cards available. I currently have the Aviator Mastercard by American Airlines and so far, so good!

Helpful banking resources for digital nomads:

  • TransferWise – Send money to accounts/people across currencies with a super low rate
  • Revolut – A digital banking app and debit/credit card. Its platform is an awesome way to manage your money while abroad, send payments and make transfers.
  • Paypal – Make online payments and send/receive money from friends/family or businesses

RESIDENTIAL / MAILING ADDRESS

To apply for any basic service anywhere, even abroad, (like mobile plans, monthly rentals, etc.), you’ll need a permanent address.

Even though I have lived abroad for overall 7 years now, my residency is still in the United States.  Use your home address (such as your sibling’s or parent’s) in case you don’t have a home base yourself (for example if you sold your house/apartment). You want somewhere reliable, too, in case you depend on news/mail from home (I have student loan notices sent to my residence address).

Otherwise, receiving mail at your new address abroad is easy. Use your local address for receiving/shipping goods like from Amazon, etc. I have had countless mailing addresses over the years, from Nepal to Colombia to France and beyond!

Becoming a digital nomad = Having the freedom to work, live, and play at your own pace!

Things to Consider When Becoming a Digital Nomad

Beyond the logistics aspect of things, what is there to consider when becoming a digital nomad?

Visa requirements & time in each country

I just want to reiterate the visa portion of the digital nomad life. You will need a tourist visa for each place you visit. Most countries require at least two blank pages in your passport. Visas upon arrival aren’t guaranteed. Some require applications in advance before arrival into the country. And, the process might change if you wish to extend your visa.

Here are examples of visas and the number of days you can stay in popular places for digital nomads (for US citizens / USA passport holders).

Visa-free countries:

  • 30 days* – Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Belize
    • *Most countries offer visa extensions should you wish to hang out longer. Beware though, some extensions can only be applied before the actual trip (pre-approval) which is why trip planning is useful!
  • 90 days: Colombia, Malaysia, Argentina, Costa Rica, and countries within the European Union (party to Schengen Agreement*)
  • 180 days (6 months): Mexico, Canada, Panama, Peru

*U.S. citizens can enter countries party to the Schengen Agreement (26 countries within the European Union) for up to 90 days without a visa. (For those looking to take up the digital nomad life in Barcelona, Budapest, Prague, Belgrade, etc.)

Countries requiring visas (or pre-approved) before arrival: Vietnam, Australia, Cuba

As you can see, there are lots to think about when it comes to your visa. Knowing how long you have in the country also will influence how long you rent out an apartment, etc, etc!

Local + cultural traditions and beliefs

If it’s your first time abroad, prepare for slight-moderate-severe culture shock (depending on where you go!) I remember being in culture shock when I first moved to Kathmandu, Nepal. It was my first introduction to South Asia and I’ll never forget just being both wowed and overwhelmed in all ways possible.

That said, keep an open mind and don’t forget to research your destination country for faux-pas to avoid. You don’t want to be insensitive to others’ traditions and beliefs by accident (and hopefully never on purpose).

Lifestyle, safety, and flexibility

The digital nomad rule of thumb is to stay flexible. In other words, go with the flow. The new lifestyle you just jumped into might not look like anything you’re used to – and that’s okay!

Remember to practice safety protocols as you would at home. Stay positive, keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to ask the locals for guidance or advice!

digital nomad | van life | how to become a digital nomad

Pros and Cons of the Nomadic Lifestyle

Finally, if you’re still reading this (thanks so much!!) I want to discuss just one more thing about becoming a digital nomad — the overall pros and cons of this nomadic lifestyle. While Instagram might portray a very glossy overview on the #laptoplifestyle it’s good to know that behind the scenes, most digital nomads work regular hours, if not longer hours (and spoiler – sometimes weekends too).

Most of us out here living the digital nomad lifestyle don’t have long-term plans beyond several months. We take things as they come. Oftentimes, we don’t know where we will be the next month, week, or even the next day! Things can happen quickly and plans can change even quicker. Is this a pro or con? I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

Below are some definitive pros and cons I PERSONALLY identify with being a digital nomad. (I will stop at 10 for each because otherwise, I could list 100).

Pros | Becoming a digital nomad

  • Being my own #BossBabe
  • Tapping into financial freedom!
  • Having opportunities to pursue new hobbies/goals
  • Being able to live and travel in epic places while earning an income
  • Learning about new cultures and meeting new people from all over the world
  • Coliving or working alongside inspirational, like-minded nomads
  • Choosing your own holidays/vacations (or at least having extra flexibility)
  • Ridding yourself of material possessions and embracing a more mindful world view
  • Stretching your mind and breaking biases and stereotypes
  • Living with less, for less (as digital nomad hotspots tend to have cheaper living expenses)

Cons | Becoming a digital nomad

  • Life plans are always in limbo
  • Being far from family back home (wherever that might be)
  • Expenses can vary greatly from one month to the next, making it hard to budget or save
  • Sometimes you don’t know where your next bed will be (if moving around a lot)
  • Getting the ‘travel tummy’ when exploring new places and trying new foods
  • Working at home alone can become a form of isolation unless you pay to work at coworking spaces or cafes
  • Friends come and go, relationships are cut off and it sucks saying bye to many people (but also great to make new friends often)
  • Rarely saving up for future plans (home, investments, projects, etc) as savings are often spent on travel itself
  • Getting portrayed/viewed as lazy, not hard-working, and criticized for always being “on vacation”
  • Routinely being thrown into new, unknown environments only to settle and feel comfortable before having to leave again

How to Become a Digital Nomad – The Ultimate Guide

Becoming a digital nomad and creating your own freedom is incredibly rewarding. Like with everything, there’s ups and downs to both sides of things.

Try not to idealize what you see on Instagram or social media. The digital nomad lifestyle is epic in tons of ways, yes, but it also presents extra challenges.

But if you’re willing to take risks and accept whatever comes your way, then the digital nomad lifestyle just might be for you!

What do you think of the digital nomad lifestyle?

If you’re serious about becoming a digital nomad, don’t hesitate to drop me your questions or thoughts in the comments below!

Pin this article for inspiration!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Should you make a purchase via my links Bucketlist Bri may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Thanks for supporting Bucketlist Bri!

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4 Comments

  1. Dom and Jo

    Hey Bri!

    Love how detailed the post is! It’s awesome to see how many countries offer at least 90 days! An awesome way to be able to move around and bounce from place to place! We are planning on going back to Prague in the near future!

    Reply
    • Bri

      Ah so exciting, I miss Prague! And yes, I hope the visa restrictions get easier over time as well. Thanks for coming by guys 🙂

      Reply
  2. Jen

    This is a really mindful guide to being a digital nomad, some excellent tips and lessons!

    Reply
    • Bri

      Thanks so much, Jen! xx

      Reply

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