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How to Become a Digital Nomad:
9 Tips for Freelancing in a Foreign Country
Would you like to travel the world as a digital nomad?
How brilliant would it be to effectively freelance in a foreign country and be able to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise or sleep overnight in the Saharan Desert?
Or maybe set up your office near a safari in Kenya?
When I decided to leave my hometown in rural Wisconsin in 2017, I had nothing but $400 in my bank account and a one-way ticket to Split, Croatia.
I found a way to see all those fantastic places listed above. So can you.
Working overseas can be extremely rewarding, whether you travel for just a year long working holiday or decide to make it permanent.
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay
Here’s what you need to do to make it happen:
Tip 1: Master Your Craft
Everyone reading this article is unique in some way. It’s how you leverage your mindset, capabilities, and skills that will allow you to become a successful freelancer.
One of the hardest parts of becoming a digital nomad is finding a job that pays you consistent money.
What are you good at? I’m good at SEO and content writing. I found a job as a freelance copywriter, and it has sustained me for three years. I write up my articles at the beginning of the week, polish them when I want to, and get to spend the rest of my time doing whatever I want.
Do you spend all your time on social media? Try social media management.
Amazing photographer? Offer to take photos of individuals or couples on AirBNB or Couchsurfing.
Good driver? Get an International Driver’s License, pass a few tests, and become a taxi driver in your new car. If you have a native English level, you already qualify to teach English as a foreign language.
The goal is to find something you enjoy, that you’re good at, and that will continue to make you money for the long haul.
Some other options include:
- Yoga instructor
- Data entry
- Become a tour guide
- Volunteer on a yacht
- Affiliate marketing
- Start your own business
- Take online surveys
- Video editing
- Graphic design
- Building websites
Tip 2: Find a Country That Checks Your Boxes
Just as each country has its unique charm, eccentricity, beauty, food, and culture, it also has a different price tag. Going to New Zealand for six months will cost much more than going to, say, Albania.
Based on your nationality, you’ll have options for where you can go and where you cannot.
In terms of restrictions, that’s about all you have. If you can legally be there and have enough money to support yourself, put it on the list.
Deciding where to go is one of the most exciting parts of the digital nomad journey. Here are some other things to consider:
- Language: Do you need the English language to survive?
- Food: Is trying different and delicious cuisines vital to you?
- Weather: What is the weather like during the season in which you plan to travel?
- Architecture: Do you give bonus points for unique and impressive architecture?
- Culture: Are you comfortable going to places where everyday norms are entirely different than where you are from?
- Religion: Are there restrictions on how you can dress or act in the country you plan to go to?
- Landscape: Big city, forest, jungle, ocean, mountain, small town, or village? Take your pick.
- Safety: Will your life be in jeopardy if you go to this country?
- Transportation: How vital is western infrastructure and transportation to you? Not all countries have nice, paved roads.
- Vaccinations: What immunizations or vaccinations will you need to enter the country?
- Friendliness: Some countries boast amicable people. Others do not. Are you looking for friendship on your trip?
- Air pollution: Smog is common in big cities. Is that OK with you?
Tip 3: Get a Local Sim Card
You’ve got your freelance contract, you’ve decided where you’re going to start your adventure, and you’ve just landed in a foreign country. What the heck are you going to do now?
Get a local sim card for your mobile phone.
Usually, you can score one of these at the airport. If you can’t, ask the nearest airport security guard what cell carrier is the best for your area, and he/she can point you in the right direction.
You might be wondering: Why not just use your sim card from back home?
One word: cost. Home country sim cards often give you the same kind of service for double, and sometimes triple, the price.
If you want to avoid getting a local sim, apps like WhatsApp and Viber, along with Facebook Messenger, give you access to texting, phone calls, and video calling, usually mitigating the need for SMS and regular phone calling.
It’s good to have a local sim card for the data, however. In an emergency, you can tether your laptop to your cell phone’s data plan to make sure you don’t miss a meeting, project, or deadline.
Tip 4: Find a Comfortable Place to Stay
At the beginning of my digital nomad journey, I stayed at hostels. They were often crowded and smelly with uncomfortable beds.
At the time, I sought camaraderie and friendship. There are few easier ways to make friends than sleeping right next to them in the same 12-bed shared room for a few days.
I quickly found myself restless, tired, cranky, and anxious. I worked by night, and hostels are ordinarily full of activity. I missed my deadlines. I drank too much coffee and forgot to take my vitamins.
I hugged my backpack instead of my favorite blanket at night to make sure it didn’t get stolen. I never had a place to call my own.
That changed about six months into my journey, and I cannot stress this enough: if you are a digital nomad working from the road, invest in your own place. Airbnb or Booking.com is a great place to start. Toggle to “entire place” on Airbnb and find a place to call your own for a week, a month, or longer.
It’s much quieter and allows you to buy some things to personalize your space. It means you can live a healthier lifestyle rather than staying in hostels, and you don’t have to rely on others 24/7 for your wellbeing.
You can separate work from life.
Which brings me to my next point:
Tip 5: Take Advantage of Co-working Spaces
Whether you decide to stay at a hostel, a short-term rental like an Airbnb, or find a yearly lease once you touch down in your new home country, you’ll need to find a way to separate work and life.
One of my favorite aspects of traveling is finding and becoming part of the digital nomad community in my new city.
Jam-packed with other creatives, business owners, freelancers, digital nomads, and travelers of different viewpoints, ethnicities, and experiences, hanging out at a coworking space is a great way to get tuned into local life and scratch your socialization itch.
It works like this. You sign up and pay a monthly fee. In return, you usually get a specific desk and working area, unlimited wifi, some storage, discounts on food and beer, and as many new relationships as you are brave enough to initiate. Some excellent co-working spaces in Europe even give you the option of an adjustable standing desk at your ergonomic workstation.
Chill at your workstation while you sip on a fruit smoothie and chat with your new friends. Throw on your noise-canceling headphones if you need to hop on a video call. Retire to your place once you need some alone time.
Weekends bring co-working parties, and during the week, there’s a good chance the co-working space will have a few events aimed at digital nomadism or ways to continue making money on the road.
Some of my best friends I’ve met on my travels have come from these communities.
Which leads us to...
Tip 6: Talk to Everyone. I Mean Everyone!
I am a bonafide introvert. It’s hard for me to go up to someone to say hello and introduce myself.
But by talking to everyone you meet, you get a different perspective on your current situation. You can learn the history of where you are. When you talk to locals, you know about the traditions and culture of the place you now call home. You’re able to see your surroundings in a new light and appreciate your journey more.
When you talk to other digital nomads, you learn about life all around the globe. You learn about new business opportunities and business models. You learn how other nomads are making money on the road.
When you talk to other people living the same lifestyle as you, there is often an immediate connection. There’s a good chance they are in a similar age group as you, hold the same values dear, make money from the road, and are adventurers.
I met my best friend, my current business partner, and my fiancé on my travels. Start conversations with everyone because you never know who you might encounter.
Tip 7: Learn a New Language
Learning a new language is different for everybody. Some people pick up individual languages quickly and efficiently but fail to do so in other languages. Some people never pick up a second or third language.
Learning a new language takes patience, practice, and dedication. Talking with others in a relaxed and conversational tone helps, but there is nothing quite like getting a professional tutor.
What better way to dive into your new country’s culture than learning its language? You can connect with locals easier. You exercise a part of your brain, not often tickled with stimulation.
Learning a new language almost always has excellent career benefits and enhances your professional marketability. If you decide to make your digital nomadism more permanent, having local language skills will better transition you into becoming a temporary or permanent resident.
Tip 8: Join Expat Groups on Social Media
Imagine this: you’ve just landed in Barcelona. You have a new freelance contract, and you check into your modern Airbnb in the city center. You unpack your stuff, look out the window and breathe in deep. You’ve made it.
You look at your watch, and you see it’s about 4 p.m. You got out into the street and to the nearest piazza. You overhear conversations in Spanish and realize you don’t know Spanish. You head to the closest restaurant and discover the menu is in Spanish as well. You order what you believe to be pizza and are delivered a chocolate crepe.
Getting settled into a foreign country is difficult even for the most seasoned travelers.
By joining expat groups on social media, you are plugged into the expat community right away.
Groups on Facebook, especially, give information on expat meetups, best co-working spaces and hostels, parties, language learning opportunities, ride-sharing services, food delivery, taxis, public transport, English bookstores, and restaurants, and much more.
Joining online expat groups is also a great way to meet people, as you find like-minded individuals embarking on a journey similar to your own.
Tip 9: Feel the Heartbeat of Your New Home
When you are freelancing, whether it’s taking on clients of your own, reporting to your boss, or working across timezones with various people, I’ve found it easy to get caught up in work. Most of the time, more work equals more money.
There is a constant internal struggle between making money to be able to see and experience the things I want to and seeing and experiencing those things while sacrificing the opportunity to make money.
Don’t lose sight of why you decided to become a digital nomad. It probably wasn’t to stare at your computer screen all day. It was to see all the beauty of the world, to meet its people, to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that bring you feelings that will last a lifetime.
So, when you finally get there, enjoy it. Turn off your phone for an afternoon or a whole weekend and walk around. Open your senses. Eat food. Watch and listen to the people. Have a conversation or learn about the history that teems all around you. Soak in your city, town, or village because your time here likely won’t last forever. Enjoy it. You’ve earned it.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Digital Nomad
Becoming a digital nomad can seem like a never-ending dream. But once you’ve taken the first few steps, you’ll be living a brilliant life visiting new places and meeting new people in no time.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
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About the Author
Nina Stankova is a writer for UpDown Desk, a website passionate about helping people be more productive, comfortable, and healthy at work with the power of standing desks.