How the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Redefines Work as We Know It

Imagine waking up each morning on the beach of a tropical island, choosing both your leisure and work time, and considering if you should island-hop to your next home. You don't ask anybody for permission to switch homes, and only notify your Twitter feed when you do so. You're making a six-figure income but without the stress of the typical rat race.

Welcome to the world of the digital nomad, a breed of workers that is becoming more and more popular both for the workers themselves and for employers around the world.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who is living a nomadic life, staying where they want for as long as they want, with no permanent home, and whose work enables that lifestyle by working online.

Digital nomads may make very comfortable six-figure salaries due to their in-demand technical skill sets. Since they travel between countries with a low cost of living and are frugal, they can save a large percentage of their income.

They do not come into the office, but likely have regular check-ins with their team or employer via video chat, making their employers jealous by having a real tropical island in their background, as opposed to a Zoom background!

Which jobs and industries are best for digital nomads?

The best jobs for digital nomads are those which involve independent digital creation. The most common of these are:

  • Software developer
  • Web designer
  • Web marketer
  • Content writer

Although every industry has these roles, not every company is comfortable with remote work. Companies that are younger, both in terms of company age and employee age, are more likely to accept a remote working arrangement and employ a digital nomad. Yet, as time goes on and with the societal changes forced by COVID-10, more and more companies find that they are using remote workers whether they want to or not.

Some industries that are most likely to employ digital nomads are:

  • Software
  • Ecommerce
  • News and content publications

How do I find digital nomad jobs?

Several sites (including this one) offer job postings for digital nomads, that can give you better insight into the sort of opportunities available:

Besides permanent jobs listed on the sites above, there is also the option of working as a freelancer on shorter-term engagements, giving you even more flexibility. You can either try to organize this yourself or go through an aggregator, who will take a hefty chunk of your pay for the convenience:

  • TopTal: Freelancer service that works like a white-glove concierge, with extremely tough vetting of workers
  • UpWork: Middle-tier freelancer service
  • Fiverr: Lowest-tier freelancer service, but maybe a good place to start if you are inexperienced

What are the contract arrangements for freelancer aggregators?

In my experience, these companies will take between 20 and 35% of the fee paid by the client, so it will make more sense for someone who is just getting started and does not have a professional network to rely on for sourcing work.

Once you can market yourself, you can get a better return from working independently, and it is quite common for clients of these aggregators to directly sign their freelancers to permanent positions. To do so requires paying a heft buy-out fee, and then the client and the freelancer will split the amount that had been charged by the aggregator.

Here is an example:

Before Buy-Out

  • The aggregator charges the client $65 per hour
  • The aggregator pays freelancer $40 per hour
  • The aggregator keeps $25 per hour

After Buy-Out

  • The client pays the aggregator a one-time buyout fee of $30k
  • The client pays the freelancer $48 per hour, saving $17, recouping the cost of the buyout in just under a year
  • The freelancer makes $48 per hour, increasing income by $8

As long as the freelancer stays with the client long enough to recoup the cost of the buyout, both the client and the freelancer win!

Is being a digital nomad a legitimate career?

Being a digital nomad is a legitimate career. You can make far more than the average salary in a developed nation, and you can even get into management if you find the right organization and developer yourself. So being a digital nomad can be long term and last as long as you like.

Developing your career usually means developing your brand and your online presence. It means spending time on marketing yourself and building up a network, in addition to the time you spend working for pay and lounging on the beach. In the end, it's up to you how you divide up your time and that's an additional aspect of the independent lifestyle you've chosen.

The fact that being a digital nomad is a lifestyle choice cannot be ignored, and most digital nomads choose to switch back to a more traditional lifestyle after some time. It isn't easy to raise children without a home or put them in school if you don't have a permanent visa in the country in which you are living. And though the world has changed a great deal in recent history, most people still want a family at some point in their lives.

Though many digital nomads will switch back to a more traditional lifestyle, it may not be 100% traditional. It is also a popular choice to become a standard ex-pat, meaning that you live in a particular country and go to an office, but it isn't a permanent arrangement.

How can I become a digital nomad?

If you've got the skills, then the hardest part is letting go. So assuming you are already an amazing coder or designer, you only need to find some work as explained above, and then pack your bags.

Book a plane ticket to a country you want to visit in which you have a visa on arrival, and then head out! I hope you can carry the equipment you need with you!

What are the best online resources for a digital nomad?

  • Nomad List: A global community of remote workers living around the world
  • AirBnB: Temporary housing options as you travel
  • ExpressVPN: My VPN of choice for when you are in countries with restricted internet access