What Is A Digital Nomad (And How To Become One)

By Sky Ariella
Oct. 23, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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The average person will spend 3,750 days of their lives at work. While the idea of nearly four thousand long and back-breaking days paid to the debt of employment feels heavy, the consistency of that time is up to you.

You can pay your dues whether those 90,000 hours are spent working within the confines of an office cubicle or on a beach in Bali embraced in the toasty glow of a tropical sunset.

That’s the idea behind the lifestyle of a digital nomad.

Key Takeaways:

  • A digital nomad is a professional who uses technology and the digital economy to be able to frequently live in new locations.

  • There are three types of digital nomads: the freelancer, the remote worker, and the business owner.

  • Being a digital nomad provides you the opportunity to experience new cultures, meet new people, and provides a flexible work environment.

  • Being a digital nomad has its drawbacks, including a lack of stability, income challenges, and travel exhaustion.

  • To become a digital nomad, you must first organize your life, plan, minimize your belongings, and prepare for your new environment.

What Is A Digital Nomad (And How To Become One)

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is a location-independent professional who frequently travels around the world while using technology to fulfill their work responsibilities remotely.

These long-term explorers hop between countries and usually have a new destination every few weeks to every couple of years. Digital nomads are often found with a focused gaze on their computer screen in the cafè, accommodations, or nature of an affordable and gorgeous city.

The concept of a digital nomad is enticing to many people. It’s still a fairly new professional classification. It wasn’t until 1997 when the term was first used by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners in their book ‘Digital Nomad’ following the emergence of WiFi [1].

In the 25 years since the digital nomad lifestyle was introduced globally, it’s grown enormously in popularity. As of 2020, an estimated 10.9 million Americans consider themselves digital nomads, a statistic that’s risen from 7.3 million in the previous year [2].

The idea of earning money remotely from a different continent where you can embrace unique experiences and keep the cost of living low is an attractive offer. With 195 countries to explore, it can feel stifling to wait, and many people choose not to.

The Different Types of Digital Nomads

The phrase digital nomad is a blanket term that’s thrown over people in general who are traveling and working as a part of their full-time lifestyle. There are a few different ways that a digital nomad can take form. Below are the three most common types of digital nomad professionals.

  1. The Freelancer

    The freelancer is probably the most common type of digital nomad professional. This describes a person who isn’t employed by a single company but rather works independently on projects that they’re contracted to for an array of organizations.

    The flexible and easy-going schedule of a freelancer makes their work very suitable for a digital nomad.

  2. The Remote Worker

    The remote worker is similar to a freelancer in that they do most of their duties from a computer. However, they differ because a remote worker is legally employed by a company. Remote workers almost always only work for one corporation and handle all their tasks virtually.

  3. The Business Owner

    The final type of digital nomad is business owners or entrepreneurs. These individuals have built up a business to the point of sustainability and are traveling with passive income from this endeavor.

Benefits of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The world of a digital nomad sounds interesting right out of the gate, but there are even more benefits to the lifestyle that you may not immediately consider. Below are some of the biggest advantages of the digital nomad work environment.

  1. The freedom to work from anywhere in the world.

    The quality about working that seems to get under people’s skin the most is how absolutely confining it is. You must be at a certain place by a particular time and arrive wearing appropriate clothing and a professional attitude.

    In turn, the incredible freedom from these typical work shackles that come along with being a digital nomad is one of the most valuable advantages to the lifestyle.

    Digital nomads are free to explore an abundance of possibilities, and they have a great deal of control over their lives. One day they may work from a quaint cafè and the next at a treehouse in the jungle.

    While many digital nomads and remote workers may be required to attend meetings, they can do so virtually. This reality has become more apparent in the age of COVID-19 when most employees have worked remotely in some capacity.

  2. The chance to constantly have new experiences.

    When you’re free to wander the world while still making a living, it opens the door to a litany of possibilities for new experiences. It’s difficult to break out of a mundane routine when you’re required to be at work all day from Monday to Friday without ever getting a change of scenery.

    Being a digital nomad eliminates monotony from your schedule because it comes with embracing a constant flow of new experiences that you can’t get from a traditional work schedule.

  3. The opportunity to meet people from around the globe.

    There’s a comfort to staying near the area that you were raised in, but it can also be fairly limiting because you’re always around the same group of people from the same place.

    Traveling full-time allows digital nomads to meet new people from around the world as a part of their daily routine. This also gives them the chance to expand their professional network globally.

  4. The lower cost of living outside of the United States.

    It’s no secret that the United States is one of the most expensive countries to reside in the whole world. While it sounds like a paradox, one of the ways to avoid these costs is by traveling.

    There are many places with a significantly lower cost of living than the United States, and frequently these places welcome digital nomad travelers for some time.

  5. The flexible work environment.

    Being a digital nomad and a remote worker, in general, comes with a certain level of flexibility. A job has to have an open-minded or modern approach to the workplace for digital nomad employability to be possible.

    When you’re sustaining a nomadic life with a remote source of income, you’re likely experiencing this type of flexible work environment that many people desire.

The Potential Drawbacks of Being a Digital Nomad

While there are many great things about being a digital nomad, there are several drawbacks to embracing this type of work. The following are some of the cons that come with being a digital nomad:

  1. It doesn’t fit the mold of a traditionally stable lifestyle.

    There is a level of stability and security that isn’t as straightforward to achieve in a digital position as it is with a traditional job. Digital nomads commonly work freelance positions that vary from month to month, and it can be difficult to build a sustainable income that only requires your virtual presence.

    Many of the basic tenets of traditional life, such as owning a house or building long-term connections in a single community, directly conflict with the qualities of digital nomadism. Therefore, people who adopt a nomadic lifestyle are also giving up on living a traditional one.

  2. It can be more difficult to make money.

    While the life of a digital nomad sounds glamorous off the bat, the natural next thought is wondering how you can possibly make money on the road while traveling. And the truth is, it’s difficult. There are more liabilities and taxation issues to consider, and getting a reliable income for the ground remotely takes time.

  3. It isn’t compatible with all jobs.

    It’s always a little tougher to make money as a digital nomad, but it can be downright impossible in some cases. There are only a handful of jobs that are completely compatible with a nomadic lifestyle and working remotely.

    While some types of roles can plausibly be uprooted to accommodate a life of travel, such as teaching or nursing, most careers aren’t as flexible. A New York lawyer cannot practice in California, let alone an entirely different continent. A retail store manager can’t supervise a team of salespeople in Nebraska from Dubai.

    There are some specialties and jobs that simply are not compatible with how a digital nomad functions.

  4. It requires a great deal of self-motivation.

    Everyone wants to work bossless until it’s completely up to them to provide the inspiration to succeed that a manager demands. Working from an assortment of beautiful and worldly places sounds fun, but the key here is that you still need to accomplish work despite all these interesting things.

    When most people travel, all they need to focus on is taking in their surroundings. Digital nomads need to have the self-motivation to tear themselves away from these alluring attractions long enough to accomplish their professional tasks. That’s easier said than done.

    Without the proper skills, a lackluster performance can have dire impacts on your career.

  5. It can make the allure of travel and exploration dwindle.

    There is magic to stepping on a plane knowing that you’ll be in a completely different place when walking off of it.

    Even more so to the thrill that accompanies strolling through lively streets filled with cultures, food, and ambiance that you’ve never experienced. Though, it begs the question of whether this enchantment comes from the rarity that travel often is.

    When the average person thinks about traveling, they imagine the two weeks off per year that they’ll use to travel to Greece, or Thailand, or Peru in the summer months. It’s quick and intense, and then it’s over, leaving them daydreaming about those magical days for the next year when they can do it all over again.

    This is not how a digital nomad travels. Digital nomads don’t have an end in sight when they’ll return to the coziness of their bed, reliable job, and life. The time for exploration is an endless expanse of years. For some people, this drains the excitement out of traveling.

5 Common Jobs for Digital Nomads

While it’s possible to become a digital nomad with a wide variety of jobs, a few careers are the most common for people who embrace life and workstyle. Some of the top five jobs for digital nomads have included the following.

  1. Website Development

    Average Salary: $72,000
    Job Growth Rate: +13%

    The defining commonality between jobs that suit digital nomads is that their work can take place online. Hence, a perfect situation for people who work on website development.

    Website developers are responsible for creating, monitoring, and editing websites to ensure that they’re performing flawlessly. It’s a popular position for remote workers because the vast majority of the job can be accomplished with a powerful laptop.

  2. Virtual Assistant

    Average Salary: $24,000
    Job openings: 17,250

    Being a virtual assistant is a great option for people interested in being a digital nomad but don’t have a lengthy background of formal experience in a particular specialty.

    A virtual assistant acts as a helping hand for all the remote tasks that a person or business needs to be handled. It’s an increasingly popular alternative to having an in-person assistant.

    The main skills that a virtual assistant position requires are:

    • Data entry

    • Customer service

    • Research

    • Emails

    • Website maintenance

  3. Content Writing

    Average Salary: $52,000
    Job Openings: 16,426

    Content writing is another profession that’s often taken out to explore the world with digital nomads. The types of media that content writers can create are a range of blog posts, informative articles, books, product reviews, podcasts, and more.

    Like website development or being a virtual assistant, content writing fits well with a digital nomad lifestyle because all of the tasks associated with the role can be done remotely. Accomplishing the duties of written projects doesn’t demand that a person is in an office or even the same city.

  4. Consultation/Coaching

    Average Salary: $74,000
    Job Growth Rate: +14%

    The job of a consultant can differ between each person, but the general concept of the career is a specialty that can be easily done remotely to support a digital nomad lifestyle.

    Consultants advise businesses on topics like:

    • Company culture

    • Finances

    • Long-term industry predictions

    • Business strategy

    • IT systems

    • Social media

    While many consultants work in an office, the role can also be feasible while exploring as a digital nomad, thanks to laptops. Much of the work that consultants do for businesses, like social media or strategy, can be done through remote channels and many digital nomads take advantage of that fact.

  5. Photography

    Average Salary: $49,000
    Job Openings: 6,906

    It’s no surprise that many people who spend the majority of their lives traveling also work as photographers.

    People who develop a career as a photographer have a vast knowledge of the equipment used and settings needed to capture picturesque moments forever. Photographers do things like selling their images to publications, renting out their expertise for events, and performing editing services to make money.

    While it’s an industry with a great deal of competition, individuals who break into the photography market can use it to support a life of digital nomadism.

Six Things to Consider Before Becoming a Digital Nomad

  1. Do you have a reliable enough revenue stream?

    The key to being a successful digital nomad professional is having a consistent and reliable stream of income.

    It’s possible to travel off of passive income or an alternative revenue source, but the majority of nomads fit a full-time work schedule into their exploration. Without bringing in money while traveling, you simply can’t be considered a digital nomad.

    When first thinking about embarking on a life as a digital nomad, it’s extremely important to go over the logistics of making money. Be sure that you’ll be able to sustain yourself digitally without struggling before buying that first plane ticket.

  2. Are you a person who likes frequent change?

    The continual change of a digital nomad’s lifestyle is an aspect that many people find draining.

    While most folks enjoy a taste of change in their days, it’s usually to the tune of ordering a different dish at their favorite restaurant or spontaneously spending the weekend out of town. Big changes are scary and undesirable. Digital nomads build their entire existence around embracing change, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Before committing to becoming a digital nomad, consider whether you would even like the reality of changing locations regularly.

  3. Are you okay with spending a lot of time away from your family and friends at home?

    Another facet of the digital nomad lifestyle that people often struggle with is spending long periods away from their friends, family, and homeland.

    It can feel abundantly lonely to spend all your time wandering around places far from home to some people, and that’s what being a digital nomad is all about.

    Think about whether you’d be happy long-term with spending months to years of your life without seeing your loved ones.

  4. Do you enjoy a minimalist lifestyle?

    The get-up-and-go lifestyle that digital nomads carry with them requires a certain level of minimalism.

    You cannot carry an entire house and all of its contents as a full-time traveler. Most digital nomads cut their assortment of possessions down to a single backpack.

    If you’re interested in adopting the practices of a full-time digital nomad, take time to consider whether you can or want to trim down your materialism significantly.

  5. Do you have enough discipline to work productively as a digital nomad?

    It cannot be stressed enough that digital nomads work diligently while they’re on their adventures. The definition of the lifestyle requires it. Working from a laptop in a breathtaking location with all the temptations that travel has to offer isn’t nearly as easy as it seems.

    You need to deeply evaluate your capacity for discipline and self-motivation before transitioning into a fully remote career abroad.

Four Steps For Becoming a Digital Nomad

  1. Get your ducks in a row.

    It’s super exciting to decide that you want to become a digital nomad, but there are a few things to take care of before beginning that new chapter of your life. There is an abundance of logistical work that comes with deciding to take on a digitally nomadic life.

    Some examples of the first things to handle logistically when stepping into digital nomadism include:

    • Organizing your accounts, documents and information neatly

    • Starting the process of eliminating expenses and attachments to a single location

    • Defining your stable revenue source

    • Hiring a tax professional

    • Building up a hefty savings account in case of emergencies

    • Outline a realistic budget

    • Getting travel insurance

    • Deciding what types of places you want to experience

  2. Get rid of all unnecessary belongings.

    To constantly be on the move, digital nomads must pack light. When coming from a culture that highly values material items, it can feel a little uncomfortable to ditch all these things to live out of a single bag.

    Once you’re sure about becoming a digital nomad, you should begin discarding unnecessary belongings through donation, giving things away, or selling.

    Keep only the things that are essential to your career, life, and travels. All the extra things will only weigh you down when you’re trying to break out of a traditional professional schedule.

  3. Gather the proper equipment for your travels.

    When you’ve reached the point when you’re ready to start considering what cities you’d like to visit and sites you’re curious to see, it’s time to start gathering the proper equipment for your adventure.

    Successful travel hinges on packing properly for extended excursions as a digital nomad who relies on making income from their technology.

    Some examples of equipment to consider when beginning life as a digital nomad includes:

    • A functional and high-quality backpack

    • Electronics you’ll use for work, their chargers and waterproof cases

    • All necessary medications and toiletries

  4. Buy a ticket to a suitable destination and start the journey.

    The quest of becoming a digital nomad beyond these first three steps is little more than following through with the decision. Buckle your seatbelt, hop on that flight, start walking to a destination of your choice, and kick off your journey of experiencing the world while developing your career.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being a Digital Nomad

  1. How many digital nomads are there in the world?

    As of 2020, there are 10.9 million Americans who deem themselves as digital nomads around the world. This percentage has risen significantly from 7.3 million the previous year. It’s estimated that this number will continue to rise in the coming years, especially with the influences of COVID-19.

  2. How do digital nomads receive mail or packages?

    The small details of being a digital nomad can often become the most confusing aspects of the lifestyle later on. For instance, a digital nomad who isn’t tied to a specific location handles daily tasks like receiving mail.

    For this particular situation, most digital nomads utilize a virtual mailbox. This system is slightly different from a traditional P.O. Box because you’re given the ability to make decisions about your mail remotely.

    Travelers with a virtual mailbox can take actions like forwarding, setting pick-up locations, and shredding mail from a simple online interface.

  3. How does insurance work for digital nomads?

    Another concern that arises for people who work while engaging in long-term international travel is the matter of insurance. When spending all your time on the road, it’s still crucial to be protected from unexpected situations.

    To accommodate this, digital nomads attain a bulky travel insurance plan with an accredited agency to accommodate the unpredictabilities of life and travel.

    Some examples of popular travel insurance for year-round digital nomads includes:

    • World Nomads

    • Allianz

    • Safety Wing

    • IMG Global Expat Insurance

  4. Is it really possible to have a thriving career as a digital nomad?

    In short, yes. There are millions of people around the globe proving that it is more than possible to have a successful and sustainable career as a digital nomad while enjoying everything the world has to offer.

    However, this dream isn’t as straightforward as going on a lifetime vacation. Being a digital nomad is rewarding, but it’s also hard. It requires diligence, grit, and an enormous amount of effort. Though it may seem unimaginable, it’s possible.

5 Countries That Have Digital Nomad Visas for Americans

While many digital nomads embrace a habit of hopping to various countries on eligible tourist visas, others prefer to stick around the places they visit for a little longer.

Quite a few countries have started handing out digital nomad visas since the lifestyle has gained popularity. These visas are put out to attract digital nomads to their country for a period of six months to a year or more.

Some countries that are currently offering visas specifically for digital nomads in 2021 include:

  1. Bermuda

    Bermuda is a British territory island that’s located in the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most well-known features of the island is its peachy-pink sands that get their color from microscopic single-celled organisms that grow underneath the coral reefs there.

    Bermuda offers the easy-going island vibe that many people are hoping to get from a life of digital nomadism.

    To accommodate these types of explorers, Bermuda recently began offering a digital nomad visa called ‘Work From Bermuda’ that expands upon a former residency visa.

    American applicants are required to pay a fee of $263 and have no criminal record in order to be considered. You must also have health insurance, proof of employment, and enough money to sustain yourself (however, no definitive amount is given currently).

    Difficulty Level: Easy application process with few defined requirements and an approval turnaround of less than a week
    Visa Term Length: One year visa
    Income Requirement: No income requirement

  2. Estonia

    If you’re the type of person who’s more intrigued by intricate castle architecture, mature forests, and lakeside views, you might be more suited for a digital nomad visa with Estonia. Located in Northern Europe, Estonia provides a very relaxed, clean, and comfortable environment for working remotely.

    The digital nomad visa for Estonia was just introduced to the world in August of 2020, and it allows travelers to reside in the country for up to a year. This visa does not provide the applicant with any rights as an EU citizen.

    The application process is a little more lengthy and in-depth than that of Bermuda. Particularly, your income from the last six months and status as a digital nomad will be checked thoroughly while applying, and the processing time takes up to a month.

    Difficulty Level: In-depth application process with extensive conditions for acceptance
    Visa Term Length: One year
    Income Requirement: $4,000 per month

  3. Iceland

    Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland presents an entirely different climate and experience than Bermuda and Estonia. Iceland is ripe with glaciers, active volcanoes, and breathtaking natural phenomena like the famous aurora borealis.

    The country’s wide range of attractions in nature makes it a popular location for all types of travelers, including digital nomads.

    Though desirable, the Icelandic digital nomad visa is significantly more difficult to attain than others. The visa requires a minimum income of $8,085 per month, which is much higher than the conditions outlined by other countries.

    Additionally, the visa term length is quite short in comparison to alternative digital nomad visas, and applicants are required to submit their materials in person or via snail-mail instead of online.

    The digital nomad visa application process is a bit more tedious for Iceland, but it’s still considered worth it by many people for the country’s impressive attractions.

    Difficulty Level: Difficult to attain and short-term visa
    Visa Term Length: Six-month visa
    Income Requirement: $88,000 per year

  4. Costa Rica

    Costa Rica is home to a myriad of gorgeous national parks and thrilling outdoor adventure activities like rafting, zip-lining, and cave tubing. It’s also a mecca for divers because there is an enormous amount of ocean terrain to explore.

    The digital nomad visa from Costa Rica is the newest on the scene after being freshly approved in the summer of 2021 to increase tourism within the country. Holders of this new visa will be allowed to open a bank account and drive freely in Costa Rica, but they’ll also be expected to pay local income tax.

    Costa Rica’s digital nomad visa is unique because it warmly extends its welcome to the families of the remote worker, too, with a little additional paperwork.

    Difficulty Level: Simple application process with typical requirements
    Visa Term Length: One year visa with the option to extend
    Income Requirement: $3,000 per month income requirement for individuals/$5,000 per month for families

  5. Malta

    The allure of Malta is usually attributed to its stunning scenery and ancient architecture. The area has a comfortably warm climate and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it an ideal spot for history buffs.

    The difficulty of the Malta digital nomad visa application falls somewhere in the middle of easy and difficult. The visa term length is akin to most other countries, the application process is equally complex, and it has standard requirements.

    Applicants will be required to pass a background check, have a leased or purchased accommodation, hold valid health insurance in Malta, and must be able to work remotely using telecommunication tools.

    This digital nomad visa also allows applicants to sponsor their spouse, partner, or dependents to come along on the adventure as well.

    Difficulty Level: Standard application process with an average month-long wait for approval
    Visa Term Length: One year
    Income Requirement: €2,700/$3,209 per month


  1. Nomadic Notes. “Digital Nomad History”. Accessed on September 5, 2021

  2. Harvard Business Review. “Your Company Needs a Digital Nomad Policy”. Accessed on September 5, 2021

  3. MBO Partners. “COVID-19 and the Rise of the Digital Nomad”. Accessed on September 5, 2021

  4. Investopedia. “Countries Offering Digital Nomad Visas”. Accessed on September 7, 2021

Digital Nomad FAQ

  1. Do digital nomads make money?

  2. Yes, digital nomads make money. To become a digital nomad, you must have a source of income. There are many opportunities to live a digital nomad life and still make money.

    To make money, a digital nomad has to make smart financial decision. This includes setting a budget, tracking expenses, and living within their means. Planning and organization are the best ways to ensure you will make money as a digital nomad.

  3. How much money doe digital nomads make?

  4. The amount of money digital nomads make varies based on profession and location. Freelancers with highly sought skills, such as web development or business consulting, can charge clients high prices if they have the proper network. Remote workers with stable salaries can also make money if they are making competitive wages.

    Locations where the cost of living is low can also increase the amount of money a digital nomad makes because it allows for a smaller budget.

  5. Is digital nomad legal?

  6. Yes it is legal to be a digital nomad. However, digital nomads still need to take into account important legal considerations, such as taxes and visas. Digital nomads have to make sure they report their taxes to the proper authorities, which varies based on location.

    Living in different countries while working remotely can also lead to specific visa requirements. As a digital nomad, it is always important to plan ahead for these by doing the proper research.

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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