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You Can and Should Be a Digital Nomad

Woman working on a laptop on a train.

Remote work has been a thing for a long time, but it took off during the coronavirus pandemic when offices closed worldwide, and the working environment had to adapt to the conditions. While some say the pandemic may be officially over, remote work remains an option you can take advantage of.

Not being chained to a desk at “the office” doesn’t mean you have to bind yourself to one in your home instead. If your job is remote, the possibilities are almost endless. While various conditions and restrictions exist, like hybrid schedules or set office hours, there is still much more flexibility than a traditional 9-5 can offer.

We’re at a Weird Point in History

A woman taking a video conference call on a laptop.

In professions like writing, remote work has been an option since the dawn of time. Freelancers work for more than one outlet, and while some will sell a few days of their time and turn up somewhere like a newspaper, most are assignment-based and submit copy they’ve had commissioned. However, the pandemic acted as a proof of concept for several jobs. It proved that many modern roles can be performed remotely. Work can be submitted, and business networks can be accessed via the internet. Video calling software like Zoom allows a face-to-face meeting experience when meeting in person isn’t an option. While some employers want their workers back in the building, and half of employees are happy with that, many businesses are tempted by the benefits of remote work, and around 50% of the workforce wants to stay out of the office.

This probably means the toothpaste isn’t going back into the tube. Remote work is going to be a viable option for the foreseeable future. And there are many ways employees can make the most of that.

Even if you don’t want to travel, you could use the current working climate and the opportunities it offers to get out of a big city and move to a small town. Yes, you’d be giving up a variety of live entertainment, cultural centers, and 24-hour access to a wide variety of restaurant food — but your money will also go further, and you’ll now be able to live in a house instead of a roach-infested shoebox. You can also get a car instead of freezing on an open subway platform.

It’s the Perfect Opportunity to Travel

Woman in a hammock on the beach working on a laptop.
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever wanted to see the world, but two weeks’ vacation wasn’t enough to cut it, now’s your chance. The beauty of remote work is you can do your job anywhere with an internet connection, and sometimes you don’t even need that. If your work is deadline based, you may be able to complete a lot of it offline and then visit somewhere with WiFi once a week to submit it all. Even if reliable internet is a non-negotiable must in your line of work, don’t despair. All but the most remote areas of the globe are online these days.

In most traditional roles, you’ll have a couple of weeks of vacation a year but may not be able to take all of it simultaneously. Then, depending on the destination, you’ll spend a day or two on each side of it getting there and back. Finally, you may need a day to rest once your vacation is over as travel can take it out of you. This means you might only get a couple of good days each trip. If you combine travel and remote work, you can fly somewhere on one of your days off and then stay for as long as that country’s laws allow you to. Or until you get bored, at least. You can work your regular hours and enjoy your new surroundings on evenings and weekends. Your vacation days may not have gone away, so you could take even more time off to make the most of the local culture.

You Have a Lot of Options

Woman filling out a paper visa application.
Olena Hromova/Shutterstock.com

Many countries around the world have realized the potential digital nomads bring and have eased up on the amount of paperwork you will need to complete if you want to move there for an extended period. From the national point of view, you aren’t taking a citizen of that country’s job, and you’re not able to access any of the social services or benefits the country’s taxpayers contribute towards. What you are doing is bringing a relatively high-salaried job with you and spending money in that country. A chunk of that will make its way into the national coffers via things like sales tax. Your spending habits will also benefit local businesses.

As a result, there are usually a couple of catches with digital nomad visas. Many countries opening their doors to remote workers will want you to have your job or jobs secured before you move there, and you may have to back this up with bank statements. There are also income requirements, though if you earn an average salary in the United States, you should be well above the limit in several countries. Visa lengths vary between a few months and up to two years. There may also be the option of extending that visa in the future, or you could just keep traveling on.  Income requirements and application prices vary greatly, with some based on the local average income and others requiring tens of thousands of dollars. While the Caribbean may be your idea of a tropical paradise, it is also one of the more expensive options.

There Could be a Tax Incentive

Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

While many places offering visas to nomads expect to benefit from your spending, you could save a bit of money yourself. Some countries on the list have no income tax, to begin with, while others make exceptions for digital nomads staying there short-term. You may also be able to save some money on your taxes, though it gets a little complicated.

The US Government has a citizenship-based tax system, so wherever in the world they reside, citizens and permanent residents are on the hook for federal tax. Not all countries have this, so if you’re from the UK, doing remote work for a non-UK-based company, and live in Panama, congratulations. You can live tax-free. If you’re American and living abroad, you may get away with not paying state income tax, but the federal government will still want its slice. If you’re self employed, you’ll still be responsible for things like self employment tax and income tax. However, there is a pretty high tax-free allowance (it changes from year to year but usually hovers at around $100,000) for those who are both living abroad and working for a company based outside the US.

Certain countries also have agreements with the US designed to prevent people from having their income taxed twice. So there’s a chance your local social security payments could replace your US ones or anything you pay out to the country hosting you can be taken as a deduction.

It’s Not All Fine and Dandy

A street full of taxis in Colombia.

While I may have made this sound like a no-brainer, some downsides to being a digital nomad, and some are safety related. If you’re from the US or the UK, not every country is as safe as the one you grew up in, and you should keep your wits about you to some extent.

Following basic safety advice, like being aware of your surroundings, researching common scams in the area you’re visiting, and not drawing attention to yourself or making yourself look like a tourist can help protect you from a lot of common crimes.

Colombia is an excellent example to use. Cities like Bogota and Medellin have become a haven for digital nomads in recent years with their low cost of living, beautiful scenery, interesting culture, and wonderful weather. And things have moved a lot on since the 80s, so don’t base your perception of the country on Narcos.

But kidnapping is a bit of a problem. The long, drawn out, kidnappings where you’re tied up in a hut somewhere in the rainforest while your family receives body parts via the mail don’t happen any more. But there is a chance you could get into an unlicensed taxi and abducted short-term. You’ll be taken to an ATM and basically mugged from there. There are also things like petty theft to consider. None of these problems are exclusive to Colombia, and the length of time you spend in an area likely gives you an advantage over a tourist. You’ll get to know the places, the people, and any potential dangers. But wherever you end up, take your personal safety seriously. You’re there to make great memories, not bad ones.

Dave McQuilling Dave McQuilling
Dave McQuilling has spent over 10 years writing about almost everything, but technology has always been one of his main interests. He has previously worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites, and television stations in both the US and Europe. Read Full Bio »