How To Become A Digital Nomad In 2021 (But Not As You Know It)

Becoming a digital nomad has never been easier!

True and false. Year 2020 brought both, new opportunities and new challenges. A lot of countries introduced nomad visas, telecommunication develops rapidly and a lot of industries went remote. But COVID-19 makes nomadity a complicated and pricy lifestyle with restrictions, coronavirus tests and canceled flights. 

In this article I’ll skip the usual intro of “sell your belongings and head to the nomadity”. I believe you’ve read enough of them. I’ll put some links for reference in the end anyway.

Here I will go a bit more into detail and closer to the reality of digital nomadity. 

Let’s start!

how to become a digital nomad in 2020, cloud workers

Research

  • Is nomadic style of life the thing you are craving for? Read some true stories, ask true people for advice. Shiny ads will not tell you it all.
  • What skills do you have that you can sell online?
  • Laws, regulations and recommendations. Some countries have very attractive nomad visas and easy to settle procedures (like Estonia, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda, Georgia, Costa Rica or Portugal). Some are not that hostable. 

Make a decision

  • It’s all up to you, if you are alone. And up to us, if you are not. That is the hardest part of the plan. 
  • What would be your destination country/countries?
  • Research connections availability either in the destination county or your national operators’ offers. In some countries it is pretty hard to get a local internet connection if you don’t possess local ID. One of them is Portugal: your prepaid Internet will not get you anywhere, and to get any reliable one you need an official local address and TAX number (NIF). Both can appear a problem.
  • There are countries where you can’t live cheap. Norway, Switzerland, Monaco, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore – just to name a few. 
  • Then there are the ones, where getting long term accommodation could be a problem. Ireland, Riviera coast in Europe, Finland, Great Britain, China. 
how to become a digital nomad in 2020, planning

Make a plan

  • Transferring period could demand some savings and good planning. Even if you intend to live in a tent in the jungle, there can appear some obstacles in the face of a hungry tiger or authority. 
  • Getting rid of all your belongings could turn out to be a problem. In our case it took a whole year that we sold the house and moved our possessions to the safe storage place. Some of my friends still keep their real estate rented out and their belongings at their friends/parents places, but this option is not available for everybody.
  • If you have school age children, figure out what obligations you have regarding their schooling and accommodation. There are already schools which offer remote education for children of digital nomads but the schooling language can be quite marginal (like Finnish e.g.). 
  • Citizens of most countries need a solid ground address to keep their rights to vote, own a bank account (read: a card) and some kind of social security. Nobody can take your citizenship away, but most of the other rights – easily, so secure your right beforehand. For Europeans it is worth figuring out, which EU country offers the best back-up for digital nomadity. We have chosen Estonia.
  • Before rushing to chase the nomadic star, try to separate some deposit into a bank account, which will secure your back if something goes wrong. Things rarely go along with your finest plan, and it is good to have even something to rely on.
how to become a digital nomad in 2020, work from home

Make your dream come true 

  • I would not recommend going straight from 9am-5pm employee to a nomad. Try it safely as working from home. Feels great? Go ahead then.
  • Start up. Your potential clients will love the idea you have a VAT registered company. It could be a sole proprietor, limited company – whatever that gives them an official invoice. In many countries a company is unable to order a work from a private person, as it will make the company your employer and you – a taxable person in a bespoken country. Believe me, they do not anticipate it.
  • In some cases joining the appropriate invoicing network or community will help (check on PeoplePerHour.com)
  • Collect your portfolio. It will be a piece of gold in your digital nomadity. 
  • Learn new skills.
  • Refresh your English. It is 99% sure your working language will be English. And all the materials will be in English. And the local diginomad community will use English. Other useful languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese and Russian. Niche languages are better paid, but it is harder to find jobs in them.
  • Train your mental flexibility and imperfection tolerance. You will need a lot of mental stamina to keep it up when chaos is blooming around you.
how to become a digital nomad in 2020, underwater reefs

Underwater reefs

  • Turning from 9am-5pm employee to a digital nomad will cut most of your social life. A diginomad can easily spend weeks in isolation in foreign environment. Will you cope with it?
  • All experienced diginomads advise in unison to learn to reduce your expenses first. It’s wise advice: digital nomad’s income plummets at least in the beginning. Also there are a lot of expenses you do not anticipate. While you’ve done your homework well, I consider, there can be still some expenses you just don’t acknowledge existing. 
  • The competition is tough. Digital nomadity puts you in a row with a million other young and hungry digital nomad, freelancers and remoters, who are ready to make the same work half cheaper. The reasons are obvious: they live in a way more affordable countries. Be ready to persuade your potential client in your outstanding abilities.   
  • That’s why most digital nomads earn about 1000€ per month (it’s about $1200 and £850). That is a very modest salary in most parts of the world. Before you gain hefty portfolio, your earning can be much smaller than this. Some digital nomads earn times more, but it definitely takes time to achieve that luxury level. 
  • Your productivity will decrease. Continuous adjusting mode influences human creativity negatively. Previous training can be significant help on tolerating external disturbance. 
  • Humans still have features that are inherited from our cave predecessors. We react with adrenaline hype for unfamiliar environments and unclear circumstances that our brain interprets as dangerous. But not only. Positive stress affects our adrenaline levels as well. That can result in insomnia, panic disorders and mental instability. Be ready to give up, if not feeling well on your nomadic way. We are all different, some people stand nomadic lifestyle easily, and some – got sick of it. There is no shame to confess, that it is not for you. It is only necessary to recognize the symptoms in time. 
  • Getting help and advice is not that straightforward operation that one can believe. Keep your insurance valid. Shit happens, except nobody is eager to admit it. Legs and laptops got broken from time to time.  
  • There is no legal pack, which allows you to be a digital nomad. So, it is your headache to gain all necessary papers to have a nice stay in the country of destination. This practice varies considerably from country to country. In some places you can stay unnoticed and unbothered for years (Baltics, Portugal), in other countries the visa should be renewed every couple of months (Thailand). In Finland you have to register within three months or to leave the country. No illegal accommodation available (except airbnb, which is all illegal in Finland, by the way).
  • You won’t be as mobile and always en route as you think. No doubt, this lifestyle allows you to schedule your own time, but still the main part of it is working, not leisure. You will need to adhere to the deadlines and present a result that will please the client. Otherwise it could be your last client. Focusing on the task demands time and effort, and still, not everything goes as desired.  There are many small things that can go wrong. 
  • Research from reliable sources the visa/residence permit requirements. Many countries have the level of demands for digital nomads that a novice in the industry can barely perform. It goes to income level, costs of visas and insurance, and other life expenses. 

Some life hacks

  • A bank account and a bank card. Together with the fact there are a lot of banks, which operate virtually only, they are still financial institutions, which have strict rules to follow. It some cases you can’t open an account if you are not located physically close to the place of your permanent address (Bunq), you have an ID, which is not accepted by the bank (N26), your account can get blocked for technical reasons (Revolut), your card can’t be posted to the country of your location… Whatever. Opt for some old and familiar for receiving payments (like PayPal), inquire the terms in your old bank and try to find 2-3 banks, which issue physical cards (Revolut, Transferwise, Bunq, N26 – read more at Nomad Gate; while not everything is true for every country, in most cases you will find a solution that suits both, you and the bank ). It’s also worth finding a bank that allows QR-code and mobile phone payments (e.g. LHV and SWEDBANK in Estonia and many banks in China and Hong Kong). The thing is that if one card is lost/doesn’t work, you have some other means of payment. That doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, it would be a catastrophe. 
  • Insurance. There are not many insurance companies that issue nomad insurance. They are never cheap, and you need to read all the text carefully. But they still exist. SafetyWing is one of those. Some credit cards also have comprehensive travel insurance, in case you qualify for one.
  • Internet. That’s the blood of digital nomadity, and it still has a lot of issues. In some countries, like Thailand, the 5G network is ruling pretty much everywhere. And in some destinations Internet connection is from the 20th century. Portugal is one of the counties, where getting connected is kind of a stumbling block, where I gave up. We are using Estonian unlimited Internet connection provided by Tele2, which offers a “do whatever you want” for quite a reasonable price (also available also in Sweden). Many other European operators offer unlimited services nowadays actually. The surprise factor was that in Portugal it was times faster than the local one, while obviously using the same network. The connection we use is EU only, so there is still a question mark, if we go out of our preserve. 
  • Company. There are particular countries and territories, which offer residence and corporate service for digital nomads. For Estonia read: Xolo, LHV. You and your company do not necessarily reside in the same country. Same kind of services are offered in Ireland and Malta. I personally do not have entrepreneur experience in other countries than Finland, Estonia, Portugal, Poland and Ukraine.
  • Driving license. Find out beforehand if your driving license is legal in the destination country, in case you are going to drive. E.g. in Finland every single motor vehicle class requires a driving license (A-E), including scooters. 
  • Accommodation. Try to get to the bottom of the long term lettings in the country. The laws vary a lot, and in the worst case you can find yourself fined or obtaining the obligations, you could never believe to occur. Also the expense level is worth checking beforehand as detailed as possible. Sometimes it is really hard to get this type of information. 
  • Taxation. This is a nightmare of digital nomadity. Regulations vary so much, you could need a taxation adviser to get out of trouble. Double taxation occurs also. There is a precedent inside the EU as well. Portugal introduced 10% tax for its NHR residents while Finland cancelled unilaterally the anti-double taxation agreement with Portugal. So, now Finns living in Portugal pay taxes North and South. Well, I’m a Finn, but reside in Estonia. That saves me about 35% on my earnings. Estonia is kind of a diginomad paradise, and its government has made it on purpose. Read e-Residence article for more information. 
  • Legal. As a digital nomad, you are obliged to take care about all legal issues yourself. Anyway, you will need a permanent residence address in a random country. There is no any virtual bank which will allow you to skip this stage also. Personally, I recommend you to take into consideration one of the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. They are efficient and offer reasonable priced fully remote services but they are still EU and act accordingly.
  • Connect to other digital nomads. Every single place in the world has its own diginomad community. If not yet, create one! Sharing experience could be crucial for your nomadic life and safety.
  • Engage to other digital nomads. Believe me, engaging with other human on a personal level is not that scary, especially if they are a diginomad as well. My husband and I have been married for 20 years, we have children also. Anyway, it didn’t make us root anywhere. Yet. Uniting with another nomad/other nomads makes life twice easier, in case the person is the right one, of course. 
how to become a digital nomad in 2020, connect

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