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What Is a Digital Nomad?

Key Takeaways

1. A digital nomad is someone who can work from anywhere; they are not dependent on being in a particular location. Digital nomads can be freelancers, independent contractors, or employees. 

2. A digital nomad is not the same as a remote worker. There are several variations of remote working, but essentially a remote worker is someone who is typically restricted to a particular location such as their home and is often not able to travel to different locations as they must have a secure and reliable internet connection. On the other hand, a digital nomad can be anywhere providing they have the facilities they need to work remotely.

3. It is understandable why many people are thinking about how to become a digital nomad due to the number of benefits it brings such as flexibility and an ability to have adventures and explore new places whilst working.

4. Becoming a digital nomad also has disadvantages such as relying on countries to provide access to wifi and adequate workspaces so that work can be completed.

5. There may also be legal issues with living and working in a place according to the local laws. Many countries are offering remote working visas for this exact reason to make it more accessible for people to travel for a longer period of time.

It certainly sounds like a dream lifestyle to be able to work from anywhere in the world without being restricted to a specific location. But for many, this is reality.

According to statistics published by Harvard Business Review, the number of digital nomads in the USA increased to 10.9 million in 2020 (a 49% spike from 2019). This figure continued to rise to 15.5 million in 2021. It is estimated that 44% of digital nomads are between the ages of 26 – 41, and 21% of them are around 32 years old. 

With the rapid development of technology centered around remote work, a workforce experienced in working from home, and rising awareness of work-life balance which leads many to travel, the “digital nomad lifestyle” has gained extreme popularity among remote workers. It is no surprise that since the pandemic, many people who were already working from home would naturally want to take the next step and work from anywhere. [To learn more, read our employer’s guide to adopting a remote-first culture].

People seem to value their well-being, their lifestyle, and time doing what they love more now than ever before. The idea that people have to wait until they retire to enjoy traveling seems to be a thing of the past.

What is the definition of ‘digital nomad’?

Digital nomads, also known as remote or independent workers are people who are location-free, meaning they can work from anywhere in the world and are not tied to a single place.

Typically, digital nomads will work from anywhere that has an internet connection such as coffee shops, restaurants, co-working spaces, apartments, or internet cafes.

A digital nomad should not be confused with a remote employee. A remote worker/employee is usually someone who is tied to a specific location that has a secure and protected internet connection such as a home or co-working space. Contrastingly, a digital nomad can be based literally anywhere in the world as long as they can access what they need to work.

What are the pros of being a digital nomad?

When we think of digital nomads, we think of young millennials sipping cocktails on a beach with their laptops in hand. It is true that for many, there are benefits to becoming a digital nomad. Read on to see a list of benefits for a digital nomad lifestyle:

  • Co-working opportunities

  • Compared with working in an office, digital nomads are able to work in co-working spaces around the globe. Co-working spaces are starting to become more and more popular which means that digital nomads have the chance to work with people of different cultures and mindsets and meet friends from all over. 

  • Location independence

  • Being able to work from anywhere gives people the opportunity to discover new places that they would not usually find through short holiday trips. The digital nomad lifestyle is usually linked to long-term travel which often means exploring corners of the world that may not necessarily be on their bucket lists. It also allows workers to move on to another location if they do not like it.

  • Many countries are offering digital nomad or remote working visas which allow people to legally work for long periods of time in different countries [For information on the insurance implications for digital nomads, read our guide to health insurance for remote workers].

  • Note that being a digital nomad is different from taking a “workation” or working temporarily from a holiday destination.
  • Boost local economies

  • Longer-term tourism helps build local economies because naturally, people will spend money on daily living expenses as well as travel. This is particularly beneficial for developing countries that are attracting digital nomads from more developed countries.

  • Lower cost of living

  • The digital nomad lifestyle allows people to seek out places to live that have a lower cost of living. Having the flexibility to pick and choose where to live can help people save money and allow them to enjoy more of a lavish lifestyle than they are able to afford in their home country as their money goes further.

  • Boosts wellbeing

  • For those who detest the 9-5 lifestyle and want to be unrestricted by location, becoming a digital nomad can boost well-being and make people much happier. The nomadic way of life can be more fulfilling, and rewarding and can make people feel as though they are constantly learning and growing as they have new experiences and are pushed outside of their comfort zones.

What are the cons of being a digital nomad?

When people consider how to become a digital nomad they may focus on the potential highlights, but in reality, being a digital nomad has its flaws and may not be for everyone.

  • Lack of productivity

  • For those who already struggle to stay focused when working from home, becoming a digital nomad is even harder when you have the distractions of beaches, exotic excursions, or the opportunity to discover a new city. Many people will find it hard to stay productive when working and traveling at the same time.

  • As a digital nomad, you are often reliant on yourself to generate work and earn an income, therefore having a lack of productivity is not really an option. If the digital nomad is employed by a company, a lack of motivation can impact business performance.

  • Hard to budget

  • As digital nomads are always on the move, they will likely be dealing with different currencies and different standards of living which makes it hard to plan and budget. 

  • Legal compliance issues

  • As a digital nomad, it is easy to accidentally misunderstand or not know about certain local laws. You may think you are harmlessly working from your laptop, but could be breaching immigration and tax laws. It may be that you are restricted by places that can grant you a digital nomad or remote working visa, which means making visa applications and meeting specific requirements. In other cases, you may be at risk of misclassification, depending on the relationship you have with the business(es) you are working with.

  • No guarantee of facilities

  • When digital nomads are working from anywhere in the world, it leaves them more vulnerable to unreliable wifi networks which can be an obstacle when working.

  • Feeling alone

  • Common feelings that digital nomads may experience are loneliness and isolation. Being located far away from family and friends can take its toll after a lot of traveling. As digital nomads tend to travel around a lot, it is unlikely that they make deep and long-lasting connections with people. It is also not guaranteed that digital nomads will make friends as they travel around although they can try and meet new people in co-working spaces for instance.

For more on the pros and cons of being a digital nomad, check out this comprehensive investigation from German international news specialsts, Deutsche Welle.

Horizons supports businesses recruiting digital nomads

At Horizons we can help you access a global talent pool including digital nomads who stay in a country for an extended period of time.

If you would like assistance with recruiting digital nomad workers or hiring one full-time in their destination country, please do not hesitate to contact us today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do I start living as a digital nomad? If you want to know how to become a digital nomad, the first thing to do is consider whether your line of work gives you the capability to work from anywhere. If not, it is worth looking at how you can adapt your work and skills to become a freelance worker, set up a business, or find a role with a company that welcomes digital nomad workers. Once you have a steady flow of work in place and you are earning money, you can set off on your adventures finding places you can work from. Depending on where you go, you may need to apply for a remote working visa.

Becoming a digital nomad is worth it if you are the type of person who likes location freedom, flexibility, and unpredictability. This is a lifestyle that allows you to live wherever you want, work, and travel. This life is not for everyone, however, if you prefer a stable income and want to be based in one location due to family or community commitments, then becoming a digital nomad may not be right for you.

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