Becoming a Digital Nomad? Read These 14 Tips For Success
Preparing to Become a digital nomad
As I’ve been preparing to become a digital nomad, I’ve been witnessing first hand how much is involved in the planning and packing process, and have decided to document the process for you.
If you’re ready to become a digital nomad, the following checklist details out all the things you need to do to prepare to travel the world on one way tickets and work online at the same time, written from the perspective of a single male based out of the United States.
This guide is meant for people who are pursuing digital nomadism but have not left home yet. I’ll break down all the different things you need to do to before setting off for your trip.
The list below will cover the most important steps and the things you need to do when prepping for this lifestyle.
Table of contents:
What’s Stopping You
Health & Health Insurance
Self Employment Taxes
Phone & Communication
More Insurance Info
Join The Digital Nomad Community
7 Miscellaneous Tips
1.) What’s Stopping You
First things first, determine what obligations and commitments you have that could hold you back traveling long-term. Loans and debts, criminal records, kids, pets. I’m not sure what your situation is but I do know that everyone has obligations and some are more important than others.
The most common obligations are a partner/spouse, apartment/house, car(s), belongings, or medical reasons. Start thinking about your obligations, write them all down on a list, and think about how they can be worked around, minimized, or eliminated. Then start chipping away at them, one by one.
For example, you gotta figure out what you’re gonna do with all your stuff while you’re gone. And are you going to keep your house/apt?
Personally, I terminated my lease, used craigslist to sell all my furniture and possessions that I didn’t need, and moved the rest of my stuff to a friend’s home temporarily.
This is not financial advice. This is for informational purposes only.
Taking care of your finances is the second most important step. I believe everyone’s finances should be in order before heading out.
First, try to reduce or eliminate debt. You can of course travel with debt but it’s more fun and worry free if it’s not nagging you in the back of your head.
Then, save up an emergency fund, at least 6 months worth of living expenses.
In addition, save up a travel fund, which in my opinion should be at least 6 months of traveling expenses.
These two funds will be important if something goes awry.
Once that’s all settled, your next step is to make sure your credit cards and bank accounts are travel friendly. Cards that rack up a bunch of foreign transaction fees are no bueno. I got the Chase Sapphire reserve card which doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, and it also has a small amount of travel insurance included.
For checking (international ATM withdrawals), you can get the Chase Sapphire Checking account which has a fee, or the Charles Schwab High Yield Checking, which does not have a fee (as of this year). Both Chase and Charles Schwab allow fee-free ATM withdrawals all over the world. They even refund you the ATM fees that the ATM machine charges. I did a lot of research and both of these are a couple of the top recommended cards and accounts by US-citizen digital nomads.
Then, tell your banks and credit cards that you will be traveling. Some companies allow you to notify them online (in account settings) and others you will have to call them to let them know. They will ask what countries you’re going to and what dates. If you don’t alert your cards that you will be traveling, there’s a high chance your account will be put on fraud alert and frozen until you call to confirm it was in fact you making the transaction. If your account is frozen, and you don’t have any cash, it could lead to a bad situation. Also have back up credit and debit cards and keep them in separate places. Try not to pull out money from ATMs that are in busy areas and that are not inside a room with doors and cameras.
For non-americans looking for international banking options, I’ve heard good things about TransferWise and N26. Just search “best credit card for digital nomads” or “best bank for digital nomads” and you’ll find a wealth of information.
Lastly, cancel unnecessary monthly and annual subscription services that you won’t need while you’re traveling. This can include anything from your gym membership to moviepass. The reason is simple, you’ll save money that you can use as spending money while you travel!
3.) Health & Health Insurance
This is not medical advice. This is for informational purposes only.
Are you healthy enough to travel? If you haven’t had a regular check up at the doctor or dentist anytime recently, now is the time to go! Especially if you’re still at a corporate job with health insurance. Get all your routine check ups and labs done before you quit your job.
Get your physicals, lab tests, dentist cleanings, cavities filled, vaccines/immunizations, procedures and surgeries you’ve been putting off, stock up on medicine you need, etc.
After you quit your job you should get a domestic or international health insurance plan and/or travel insurance that includes some level of medical insurance.
If you’re American and your income is on the lower end of the spectrum, see if you’re eligible for tax credit to cover your health insurance (aka Obama Care). I’m not sure what they call it in other states but in California it’s called Covered California.
If you plan on doing extreme sports like kitesurfing, make sure your health insurance covers emergencies resulting from extreme sports. Not all health/travel insurances cover extreme sports.
Make sure your health/travel insurance covers medical evacuation because the average cost of medical evacuation can run more than $100,000. This is when you need to be flown back to your country in a medical jet.
It’s up to you if you want to get a health insurance plan AND travel insurance or just one or the other. Every plan is different so you have to figure out what you want covered (health, electronics, posessions) and pick plans from there.
If you’re looking for health insurance, search “health insurance for [digital nomads/expats/long term travelers]” and start your research from there. I’ve seen the Cigna Global Health plan mentioned a lot. I personally decided to use Blue Shield of California.
For long-term travel (1+ years) compare expat medical insurance plans from companies like Cigna and BUPA.
If you need certain specific medications, get a paper version of your prescription to have with you while traveling in case you need to pick some up. It’s helpful if the prescription lists other/generic names of the medication as well.
Do research on the medication you need for the countries you’re traveling to. Just search the medication name and the country and start your search from there. Determine if you can buy it easily and if it’s over the counter or not. Also, determine if your medication is legal in that country or not. You wouldn’t want your vital medication to get confiscated at customs.
Make sure you’re up to date for the basic vaccines and immunizations, and check into the immunization requirements for countries you might visit. Go see a travel clinic and tell them which countries you would like to travel to. Travel clinics and immunizations are not usually covered by insurance (ask your insurance). The cheapest option for visiting a travel clinic is the city health department as opposed to a private clinic. Here in the SF bay area, I went to the San Francisco health department (their non-profit travel clinic) and paid $300 for the visit fee, yellow fever vaccine, and typhoid vaccine. It would have been $100 more at Passport Health in Oakland (a privately-run travel clinic).
Make sure you have a copy of all the vaccines you’ve gotten since you were a child and keep an offline copy on paper and/or a copy on your phone. If a vaccine is required for the country you’re entering, the border officer might ask for proof of your vaccines at the airport.
VISA information websites usually list out what’s required vs. recommended. In some countries, immunizations are advised but not required for entry, and sometimes it’s cheaper to get vaccines once you’re in that country.
4.) Self-Employment Taxes
This is not tax advice. This is for informational purposes only.
These are the most important things I’ve learned so far about paying taxes when you’re self employed (as an American citizen):
Filing self employment taxes yourself is pretty easy using software like Turbotax Self Employed + Quickbooks Self Employed or you can hire a CPA to do them for you
You have to make estimated tax payments every quarter
You can deduct most if not all of your expenses that you use for work; you can even deduct coworking spaces and coliving/coworking retreats, etc. (double-check with a tax expert)
You can consider changing your state and/or country of residence to one or multiple states/countries to circumvent paying taxes
Check to see if you qualify for Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). It’s for people who spend a majority of their time outside of the U.S., and it means you pay less taxes.
Should you incorporate? It’s worth it to set up your freelance business as a corporation if the tax savings are higher than the costs of setting up and managing the corporation and paying your CPA, etc. Consult with a CPA for more info.
Keep track of all of your expenses and keep all your business receipts (You can use an app like Quickbooks or Expensify to keep track of receipts)
Try to use one credit card/checking account for business expenses and a different one for personal expenses
5.) Phone & Communication
How will you keep in touch with clients, colleagues, friends, and family while you’re traveling internationally?
If you’re still going to be traveling back home a lot then you’ll probably keep your current phone plan but if you’re leaving for extended periods of time then there’s different options you can consider.
Some domestic phone plans have an international plan included, like T-mobile. I’ve been using T-mobile through Mexico and Brazil so far and it’s been working fine.
A lot of people ditch their phone plans and get an unlocked phone, then buy a new SIM card every time they land in a new country.
Another option is porting (transferring) your cell phone number over to Google Voice or another online phone service, then cancelling your domestic phone plan. You’ll be able to keep your phone number. Then just get a SIM card with a data plan whenever you land in a new country, or connect to wifi to use it.
I’ve also heard a lot of digital nomads use Google Fi, the phone plan from google.
Here’s the main apps that my friends, family, colleagues and I use to stay in contact:
Google Voice/Google Hangouts
2 Factor Authentication Important Notice
If you have two factor authentication by text enabled on your accounts, just keep in mind that you might not get the code if your phone doesn’t get texts internationally.
If you get your 2FA code to your phone as a text, and you don’t get service in that country, then you can’t get the code and you won’t be able to log in. It’s up to you how you want to get around this, but it will most likely be by enabling extra 2FA options like by getting code by email or in the Google Authenticator app instead of as a text message.
Make sure you have the ability to reset your most important accounts like your email, in case you lose your phone or something. Try going through the “forgot password” scenario and see what it asks for, and if you can provide that information. If not, go back to your settings and enable additional account reset options.
I also recommend using a password management software to manage all of your passwords in one place.
It’s always good to be covered. You never know what’s going to happen and you wouldn’t want to rely on friends and family to bail you out because you didn’t want to spend the money for insurance.
This can include one or more of the following:
Travel insurance (this can include health insurance)
Gadget insurance (for laptop/phone/camera/valuables)
Renter insurance (make sure it covers airbnb/international accommodations)
Life Insurance and disability insurance (if you have a family to take care of)
Make a list of all the current insurance policies you have.
What do you need to be covered by insurance?
What does your current insurance(s) cover?
Are your electronics covered? Do you want them to be covered?
What does your credit cards cover in terms of insurance? Many credit cards have for example traveler’s insurance, basic travel medical insurance, lost luggage insurance, and even trip cancellation insurance. These insurances are usually extremely basic and not sufficient enough for larger emergencies. See your credit card terms for more details.
7.) Join the Digital Nomad Community
There’s so many ways to be involved in the digital nomad community, either online or in-person.
Online I recommend joining Facebook groups. There’s broad digital nomad groups on facebook like Digital Nomads Around The World and there’s more specific ones by location or interests like Kitesurf Digital Nomads and Playa Del Carmen, Mexico Digital Nomads.
People are posting in facebook groups so much everyday that it’s impossible to keep up with it all. I never used facebook before until I joined the digital nomad and expat groups. You can ask questions about being a digital nomad and get dozens of answers in the larger groups.
There’s also a great digital nomad subreddit and also a digital nomad chat over at Nomadlist.
To meet digital nomads offline, find events using meetup.com, facebook groups, and by joining coworking spaces or coliving camps/workations. You can also meet other travelers using the Couchsurfing website/app, but they won’t necessarily be digital nomads.
Here’s some of the most popular digital nomad co-living/co-working camps:
I can only vouch for Wifi Tribe, Active Workation, and Nomad Cruise, as I haven’t tried any of the other groups yet.
There is not currently a single website/app that digital nomads are using to determine each other’s location and coordinate meetups, but I know several people are working on a solution.
8.) Miscellaneous Tips
Check when your passport expires and set reminder, same for credit cards and licenses
Keep an online (cloud) version and an offline version of important travel documents like your passport, cards, and licenses
Take photos of your valuables like your laptop and phone, and record their serial numbers
Look into Priority Pass and Global Entry for getting through airport security faster
If you plan to drive a lot, get an international drivers license
Learn about proof of onward travel
If you have allergies or dietary restrictions, prepare in advance by printing allergy cards and learning how to communicate your allergy in other languages
Are you ready to become a digital nomad?
In this day and age, it’s becoming increasingly easier to become a digital nomad. It’s still a relatively new lifestyle and industry and I’m sure it will be completely different in 50 years. But for now take solace in the fact that we are living through one of the most amazing transformational phases in technological history.
We are pioneers paving the way for future generations!
Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet!
If this post makes one thing clear, it’s that it takes some essential planning to learn how to live the one way ticket lifestyle successfully.
So before you say goodbye to the 9-5 desk life, make sure you have the most important elements in place. Have your finances in order, think about your obligations, get an job online, and mentally prepare yourself to be location independent and constantly on the go.
This lifestyle is not for everyone, but if you’ve read this far, then I’m sure you’re ready to do this.
If you’ve read this whole post and feel like you’ve checked off most of the items I’ve mentioned, then you’re probably more than ready to head off into the nomadic sunset. The world is now your oyster - go and roam it to your heart’s content.
About the author: Meelad Mashaw
I’m a freelance content marketing consultant and editor in chief of the EXSPLORE adventure travel blog. I recently became a digital nomad and am excited to share my experiences with everyone as I learn more about what it’s like to live this lifestyle.
If you have any questions about preparing to become a digital nomad, please let me know in the comments below.