Is the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Right for You?

Considering ditching the cubicle in favor of work on the go? Here's what you need to know about being a digital nomad.

Xe Consumer

September 1, 2020 7 min read

Woman riding the train in Paris

Digital nomads are exactly what the name indicates. They perform their work and earn an income online, and they aren’t tied down to one particular location—they combine work with tourism as they travel around the world. Digital nomads are the next step up from location independence; because their work isn’t rooted in one location, they

In recent years, as freelance and remote work have seen a spike in popularity, so has the “digital nomad” lifestyle. As more and more people eschew the typical 9-5, Monday-Friday work schedule, they’ve opted to take advantage of their location independence to explore the world alongside their working opportunities.

In the wake of economic slumps from the COVID-19 pandemic, some nations have recently introduced initiatives and incentives to attract foreigners. Some of these countries are:

  • Barbados: This Caribbean country announced an initiative in July that would allow foreigners to work there tax-free for a year.

  • Bermuda: In July, Bermuda announced a new residency certificate policy that would allow remote workers and students to spend a year on the island.

  • Estonia: In August, Estonia launched a residency program for remote workers

  • Mexico: A resort in Punta Mita, is preparing to offer WFP (Work From Paradise) and LFP (Learn From Paradise) initiatives.

  • Georgia: This country has announced plans to set up a new visa program that will allow international visitors to work there remotely for an indefinite period of time.

  • Anguilla: As this country begins reopening to visitors, it has stated that it would prioritize “longer-stay visitors” who can apply to live there for up to 12 months through their online form.

However, though the digital nomad lifestyle may sound like a dream come true to many, like any other career path it will have its ups and downs, and the lifestyle may not be for everyone. Are you considering what it would be like to ditch the cubicle and start crossing destinations off your bucket list? Take a moment to ponder these important considerations and think about whether you could see yourself living this life.

Finances can get very tricky

The first question you should ask yourself as you consider becoming a digital nomad is, “Am I financially stable enough to take this on?” While the digital nomad lifestyle comes with a lot of perks surrounding flexibility and independence, unfortunately that also goes hand in hand with a lack of stability, particularly as far as your paycheck is concerned. If you’re coming into it with debts or other financial obligations, or you don’t have an emergency fund or other savings, you could easily find yourself in a tough spot, money-wise.

There’s also quite a bit that you’ll need to pay extra mind to. Between 1099s, foreign tax laws, plane tickets, baggage, lodgings, food, import fees, and foreign medical bills, the costs can add up, and grow quite complicated in the process. It’s imperative that you understand the costs before you start your travels.

That being said, depending on where you travel, your money could go a long way. If you’re coming from a country or area with a high cost of living and moving to an area with a low cost of living, you could find yourself in a great spot. You will also need to frequently reassess your budget as you move from location to location.

Some jobs are better for digital nomads than others

Certain career paths are better-suited to digital nomads than others. The main qualification for a digital nomad’s choice of work is that it can be portable. Some of the most popular fields for digital nomads are:

  • Writing

  • Design

  • Photography

  • Solopreneurship

  • Life and career coaching

  • Programming

  • Digital marketing

  • Tech support

Whatever your field is, it’s important that you have a solid plan for how you plan to find consistent, manageable work. Freelancing sites can be a great resource to find work, but some of these assignments can take much longer than their pay warrants, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll always be able to find good projects. Whether you already have loyal clients or you’re a pro networker, you need to have more of a plan than just letting the work find you.

Work-life balance can go out the window

Anyone who’s spent time working from home (particularly during the pandemic) will tell you—when you don’t have a dedicated office, it can be tough to maintain the same separation between your work life and your home life.

Some people thrive on the lack of structure in their days. Others find it difficult to concentrate and stay motivated when they don’t have a set physical workspace and numerous coworkers and managers holding them accountable. Another common pitfall is to take on too much—opportunities are always presenting themselves, and since digital nomads don’t have set work hours, it can be tempting to grab onto every work opportunity that comes along. More work means more money, and it can look great on your resume, but it’s also a quick way to burn yourself out.

No matter where you are and what you’re doing, it’s always important to dedicate some time to unplugging and leaving the work behind.

You might not be able to travel as much as you thought

We know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t traveling the whole point of being a digital nomad?” In a way, yes. But at the end of the day, in order to do your work and earn an income, you will need to have a reliable internet connection. So if you were planning on pulling a Walden or disappearing into the wilderness, you might need to save that for the weekends. 

Some countries have “hotspots” popping up for digital nomads, while other countries don’t have the infrastructure to support internet-based work. Research your destinations carefully, and always have a backup plan for if you happen to find yourself without a connection.

It could get lonely

One of the greatest setbacks that people mention when discussing the digital nomad lifestyle is that it can feel incredibly isolating. It’s difficult to see your family on a regular basis, it’s hard to make friends (unless your friends are also digital nomads who plan on traveling with you), and you can’t hold on to too many personal possessions when you’re constantly on the move. Some people thrive on independence, but other people struggle with loneliness and homesickness.

However, you’re not alone in this. Some popular destinations do have their own communities for expats and digital nomads, and you may even be able to find meetups and other social groups for people like yourself. Even small things like regular calls home and albums of family photos can help you to put yourself at ease.

Though we’ve just spent this entire article discussing the pitfalls of life as a digital nomad, it can be (and is) an incredibly enriching, rewarding lifestyle. We just want to make sure that you understand the ins and outs of being a digital nomad and are adequately prepared before you set out.

Don’t forget about exchanging your currency!

As one final note, as you travel from country to country, you'll likely find yourself collecting payments in numerous currencies. Rather than taking your money to the bank or a storefront to get it exchanged to the local currency, we encourage you to make use of online money transfer services from Xe. You'll be able to exchange your currency at favorable exchange rates and get it back quickly, so you won't miss a beat on the road.

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