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illustration of a blog post: What’s a Digital Nomad and What Does it Take to Be One in 2021?
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Remote Culture 13 min read

What’s a Digital Nomad and What Does it Take to Be One in 2021?

Ayesha Renyard photo

Written by Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Dallin Porter photo

Expert reviewed by Dallin Porter

Marketing Director @ Galactic Fed

Published 27 Oct 2021

Digital nomad: a remote worker who travels to different locations regularly—including to sunny beach destinations. (Yes, seriously).

It sounds too good to be true, right? No more clocking in and clocking out. No more commutes. You can work wherever you want, whenever you want. The digital nomad lifestyle is pretty sweet.

And it’s totally achievable. Here’s proof: 

A muscle man using laptop on the beach.

Yep—that’s one of our growth marketing consultants, Sam, working from the beach. 

As more and more companies transition to remote work, the idea of becoming a digital nomad becomes more and more enticing, doesn’t it? 

So why not be one yourself? As a remote company full of experienced digital nomads, we’re here to provide the lowdown on:

  • What a digital nomad lifestyle looks like 
  • The pros and cons of this lifestyle 
  • Tips and tricks for becoming a digital nomad 

As part of our Remote Culture Series, here’s everything you need to know about becoming a digital nomad in 2021. 

The Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The definition of a digital nomad sounds pretty appealing, but let’s dig into it a bit deeper. 

Digital nomads aren’t on vacation—they still work, but they do so remotely. Thanks to modern technology, it’s pretty easy to do so! All you need is a laptop and access to a strong WiFi connection. Coffee shops, co-working spaces, hotels, and libraries are all dependable spots to plug in and get some work done. 

There are many types of digital nomads out there. You might find folks traveling around in a campervan or RV. Others may stay in backpacking hostels or rent Airbnb hotels. Some might even travel around by boat! 

Typically, digital nomads try to embed themselves in the local community because they’re spending weeks or months in one place. Let’s just say you won’t see many staying at the Ritz Carlton. 

Pros and Cons of Being a Digital Nomad

While I have to admit we’re biased towards the nomadic lifestyle, it’s important that you hear both the benefits and the challenges. 

The benefits

  • There’s flexibility to live wherever you want
  • You can set your schedule, and there’s flexible time off
  • You can live in an area with a low cost of living (and save money)
  • You can ditch the toxic environment of office politics
  • You can experience new cultures and make new friends
  • There’s an opportunity to learn new skills and languages

The challenges 

  • Constantly moving can be exhausting 
  • It can be lonely, and there can be moments of homesickness
  • There’s a general lack of private space
  • Your productivity can suffer

Got ten minutes? Hear from millionaire digital nomad, Sorelle Amore, on her experience as a digital nomad in this video.

5 pros and cons of being a digital nomad.

Tips and Tricks for Becoming a Digital Nomad 

If you kept reading, you’re still interested in trying out the digital nomadic lifestyle. Woop, woop—welcome to the club! 

Instead of spending hours Googling and taking notes, we’ve pulled together our top tips for you right here. 

1. Find a remote job 

If you’re not working a remote job yet, let’s first find you a gig. Digital nomads can work for remote companies, or they can create their own online-based businesses. 

Some common digital nomad jobs are: 

  • Blogger 
  • Youtuber/vlogger
  • Influencer
  • Consultant
  • Growth marketer
  • Freelance writer
  • Website designer
  • Software developer
  • E-commerce business owner
  • Online educator 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of jobs that are remote—especially since COVID-19. If you’re on the job hunt, we recommend looking at remote job boards. Here are some popular ones: 

List of remote job boards 2021.

Source: HipCV

While there are tons of websites you could leverage, here are some of the most popular remote job sites: 

  • FlexJobs: This site has more than 50 job categories featuring telecommute and remote work roles at every career stage—including freelance projects, part-time jobs, and full-time remote work.
  • We Work Remotely: Claiming to be the largest remote work community with 2.5 million visitors, We Work Remotely has been used by both startups and big-name companies such as Google and Amazon.
  • Remote Co.: This site focuses purely on remote work opportunities (as opposed to telecommuting or location-based WFH jobs). The listings span entry-level, freelance, high-paying, part-time, and full-time positions.
  • Remote OK: This site also offers a long list of WFH gigs. While popular categories include programming, user experience, and design, you can also post listings for non-tech positions. 

2. Choose the right location 

While you technically have the flexibility to work wherever you want, there are a few things you need to consider when choosing your next destination.

First, there may be some constraints depending on your job, the company you work for, or your clients. 

Some companies are remote but still require you to be available during the company’s primary work hours. So if the majority of the company is operating in Vancouver, Canada, then it’ll be tricky to attend meetings from Bali, which is 12 hours ahead. So we recommend choosing a location that jives well with your company’s hours. 

Or, if you’re self-employed, you should aim to be available during your clients’ work hours. They won’t want to attend meetings at 8 PM! 

Secondly, you’ll want to explore destinations that are digital-nomad-friendly. Many digital nomads congregate in certain countries due to a combination of low-cost living, decent internet access, and the ability to renew tourist visas. 

Top 15 countries for digital nomads.

Not only do these countries make it easy to be a digital nomad, but they’ll also introduce you to other digital nomads! Sure, we may all be independent. But friends are nice, right? 

3. Deal with the logistics of living abroad

Ah, now for the fun part: paperwork and logistics. (Boooring!) While this is undoubtedly the dreaded part of becoming a digital nomad—it has to be done! Luckily, with our tips, it’ll be a whole lot easier for you. 

4. Pick the right bank and credit cards 

Some banks are a traveler’s best friend, and some banks aren’t. It’s best to do your research and identify banks that don’t charge ATM withdrawal fees and credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. 

Here are four banks that are top picks for travelers: 

  • Charles Schwab Bank: Best for using ATMs.
  • Capital One 360: Best on foreign transaction fees.
  • HSBC Bank: Best for expats.

For credit cards, Chase and American Express both cater to travelers. (Depending on the card, there are a ton of perks too!)

To be safe, we recommend getting more than one credit card and debit card. If one gets lost or stolen, you can cancel it and continue on with your life (instead of spending hours on the phone trying to get another one set up.)

5. Set up wire payments

If you’re a freelancer or contractor, you’ll also need to create a way for your clients to pay you! While many banks support wire transfers, many also charge fees. Here are two that we’ve used for the Galactic Fed team: 

6. Get health insurance 

Depending on where you travel to, local healthcare may be relatively inexpensive compared to coverage in the U.S. That said, you should still consider purchasing travel health insurance in case you experience an emergency. Most U.S.-based insurance plans don’t cover you internationally. 

Here are three insurance companies that are top picks in the digital nomad community: 

7. Apply for a visa 

For many years, digital nomads would apply for tourist visas, which sits in a legal grey area because, technically, you shouldn’t be working on a tourist visa. Unfortunately, digital nomads aren’t well understood in many parts of the world, and laws aren’t set up to accommodate them. Sure, they’re working in these countries, but they’re not taking jobs away from locals—which is what work visas try to prevent. 

But we’ve got good news. In recent years, many countries have created “digital nomad visas,” which give you the right to work remotely while residing in a different country. (Please note that the term “digital nomad visa” isn’t often used by the governments that issue them.) Their names, requirements, and costs are different in each country, so be sure to scope out the details beforehand.

As of July 2021, there were 24 regions offering programs for temporary remote workers, which you can see outlined in this map. 

World map with purple highlights.

Source: Investopedia

You can find the whole list of countries here. The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for remote work—and we’re sure that more and more countries will soon introduce similar visas.

8. Prep your technology needs

Digital nomads depend on technology to get work done! While you don’t have to scour the streets for hours to find an internet cafe anymore, you should prepare your technology, so it’s smooth sailing once you arrive. 

9. Get a SIM card

If you keep your phone plan as is, you’ll run into a ton of roaming fees. A standard travel hack is to buy a prepaid SIM card with a data plan at your new destination. Store your existing SIM card in a safe place and replace it with your new SIM card. Trust us—this will save you a lot of money! 

Plus, it’s super annoying to have to find a WiFi network to use your phone. Sure, you can deal with it for a week trip. But it’s not a sustainable solution when you’re living abroad as a digital nomad. Think of all those times you’re calling an Uber on the streets or looking for directions. Each time you turn on your data, it’ll cost you around $15 a day! 

10. Download a VPN

The internet is censored in many parts of the world. To ensure you can access the websites you want (plus an extra level of privacy), it’s essential you download a good VPN (virtual private network) before you leave. Here are a few notable options for you to scope out: 

List of the best VPN based on 3 factors.

Source: PC Mag

11. Consider COVID-19 restrictions 

Right now, we’re living in a wildly unpredictable world, especially when it comes to travel. We’ve pulled together some considerations for becoming a digital nomad right now—amid a global pandemic. 

  • Read the fine print on your health insurance: Some healthcare packages may not cover COVID-19—it may be an add-on. Because some countries still have high case numbers, it’s important to cover your bases in case you get sick. 
  • Research travel restrictions: Some countries have opened up for foreigners, and some haven’t. Some have requirements to enter, like proof of vaccination and/or a negative PCR test. Some may have all their restaurants, cafes, and co-working spaces closed to the public. Every country is responding to the pandemic differently. Be sure to research current travel requirements and restrictions before you book a plane ticket! 
  • Stay in each place a little longer: Travel will likely be pricier than usual. Because there are fewer flights, booking a ticket may be more expensive. If you need a PCR test to enter a new country, that’ll set you back a few hundred dollars as well. To save money, slow down your travel schedule.  *

Ready to Check Things Off Your Bucket List? 

Ready to become a digital nomad? We’re excited about this new adventure of yours. You’re going to feel on top of the world! (That’s what our co-founder, Zach, must’ve felt when working on a literal mountaintop. 

A man using his laptop at the top of a mountain

Here are a few blog articles that might come in handy for you: 

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Ayesha Renyard photo

Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed