How to Become a Digital Nomad

Passive income, endless travel, and financial freedom are some things that come to mind when you hear the words “digital nomad.” Who wouldn’t want to learn how to become a digital nomad, if it meant being able to live and work from anywhere in the world? After all, travel is something many people crave, but they’re often limited by their job’s two week vacation limit.

Keep in mind, the life of a digital nomad isn’t as rosy as the YouTube vloggers make it out to be. You actually need to put in lots of time into finding the right kind of work and putting your nomad life in motion. Plus, many that dive into it end up returning back home to stability when it’s not all it’s cracked out to be. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side!

But that’s not to say you can’t have a fabulous life as a digital nomad. You just need to get your finances in order and find a system that works for you. Pssst – tons of the financial advisors on Advisorsavvy’s roster have digital nomad clients that go to them for advice on budgeting, investing, and more.

Ready to learn how to become a digital nomad? We’ll give you the lowdown with this article. 

How to Become a Digital Nomad

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is a working professional that works online from their laptop. They’re often location-independent, able to work from anywhere in the world, as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection. Today’s digital nomads might have their own freelance businesses, completely online agencies, or employment with a company that permits remote, international work. 

Many professionals seek to become digital nomads for the flexibility in location, which allows them to travel while still bringing in income. For example, Mississauga-born Yvonne Ivanescu spent years in Portugal and Brazil while running her Portugal-centered travel blog, Now in Portugal. While blogging is a common trade for today’s digital nomad, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. As the COVID-19 pandemic showed us, there’s a lot of work that can be done online.

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What qualifications do you need to be a digital nomad?

The short answer? Nothing specific. You just need to be good at something that can be done online and remotely. This can be as simple as working a data entry job for a remote company, or providing virtual legal services for an online law firm like Canadian business law firm Wires Law. Some jobs may require certification depending on the industry, but there are tons of options out there. It’s not like you must obtain certain education or experience to become a digital nomad. Rather, you’re going to have to carve your own path!

Here are a few more niches digital nomads work in and qualifications you might consider for each one. 

  • Web development: Computer science degree; coding boot camps
  • Education and tutoring: Teaching master’s degree; TESL English teaching certification
  • Coaching: Personal development courses; fitness degree; nutritional science degree
  • Content creating: Social media courses; digital marketing degrees; subject-specific credentials
  • Graphic design: Illustration or design degree

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Even accountants like Caitlin Devon, the CPA behind accounting and consulting firm Creative Clan, provide virtual services that make a once-assumed in-office role a digital nomad position, too!

As long as you have a solid portfolio and demonstrated success in your field, your network and connections (aka, ability to find clients) matter more than your credentials if you’re a freelancer digital nomad. Otherwise, the qualifications required really depend on the line of work you’re in and what employers are looking for.

Similarly, your pay depends on your field and experience. The deeper you go into your digital nomad career, the more you can expect to charge and earn. But more on that in the next section!

How much do digital nomads make?

Digital nomad revenue and salaries vary greatly because the fields and niches, levels of experience, and types of work vary so much. Statista conducted a 2023 study of digital nomad annual income and found that the majority (70%) of digital nomads make between USD $50,000 to $250,000 — not too shabby! 

Here’s the full breakdown (in USD): 

  • Under $25,000: 6%
  • $25,000 to $50,000: 15%
  • $50,000 to $100,000: 34%
  • $100,000 to $250,000: 36%
  • $250,000 to $1 million: 8%
  • $1 million+: 2%

To put things into perspective, almost 50% of digital nomads make over $100K. That’s on par with some of the highest-paying jobs in Canada!

CIBC Investor’s Line Offer

Up to $6.95 per online stock or ETF trade. Plus, there’s no minimum account balance.

What are the benefits of being a digital nomad?

Last-minute trips to Cancun and flexible hours come to mind. And that’s not a total exaggeration — many digital nomads enjoy autonomous working hours and the flexibility to travel whenever they please. Here are some more in-depth benefits of being a digital nomad:

  • No office requirement: Gone are the days when you have to wake up early, wear stuffy clothes, and commute to an office each morning. Digital nomads can switch up their work environments anytime, whether it’s from their living room couch to a patio in town or a cute cafe in Sicily.
  • Flexible hours and schedule: One Statista survey cited flexible time and schedule as a top benefit for working remotely. If you work better at night, you don’t have to commit to the standard 9 to 5 hours. Similarly, you can work harder for a short stretch to give yourselves days off without having to ask permission. 
  • Freedom to travel: Did you know about 50 countries offer a digital nomad visa? Canada included! Even if you don’t want the hassle, it’s easy enough to sneak in a quick vacation and work for a few hours here and there if needed. 
  • Cost savings: Some digital nomads use wage arbitrage to live a better lifestyle in countries with lower costs of living. This, along with savings from not having to commute, can create more financial stability and opportunity.

Of course, every rose bush has its thorns — and being a digital nomad is no exception. So what are the pitfalls?

What is the downside of being a digital nomad?

Unfortunately, being a digital nomad isn’t always as easy or convenient as it looks. Here are some potential downsides to consider before jumping into the digital nomad lifestyle:

  • Visa and tax headaches: You can’t just work from any country legally. If you travel to a foreign country and hope to work from there, you might be subject to visa requirements and tax implications. In addition, you may want to maintain Canadian residency to access benefits like free healthcare, which requires that you follow certain rules.
  • Lack of financial stability: This mainly applies to freelance digital nomads, especially when starting out. If you’re operating on a contractor basis and don’t have stable work, you’re SOL if you lose a client. Pair that with being in a different country, and things can get scary. That’s why it’s always important to travel with a hefty emergency fund to fall back on. 
  • No structure or home base: Chrissy Kapralos of Toronto-based agency No Worries Writing Co. shares that becoming a digital nomad can feel draining since you have to decide your entire life’s structure on your own. It’s not like you follow the blueprint of traditional jobs, like a 9 to 5 office role. Plus, she found it draining to be on the move all the time and had difficulty feeling grounded while living in short-term accommodations for so long across the world. In other words? The accountability required with this amount of freedom, plus too much time away from a home base, can make you feel overwhelmed. 
  • Limited sense of community and loneliness: Digital nomads tend to connect with each other when they travel. However, the nature of this lifestyle means friendships can be temporary. You’re connected to family back home via technology and video calls, but you might feel lonely after a while. In addition, you may become distant with relatives and friends who don’t share the digital nomad lifestyle with you. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to get up and travel at any time. Sure, you will make new friends, but being a digital nomad is generally quite lonely.

Still, a strong sense of self-awareness, solid financial planning, and a sense of adventure can easily mitigate these downsides. If you’re confident you still want to learn how to become a digital nomad, keep reading. 

Related Reading: Tips for Finding a Job During a Recession

How to Become a Digital Nomad

Anyone can become a digital nomad. It might take you longer than others if you still haven’t figured out your niche or client base, but it can happen if you keep at it long enough. Like any career, becoming a digital nomad takes time and dedication — you won’t achieve it overnight. Here’s our step-by-step guide for how to become a digital nomad: 

1. Assess your skills and passions

Think outside the box for this one. It’s not just about your degree or current experience, though that’s definitely worth writing down as well. 

Note down all your credentials, educational achievements, and skills in general. Maybe you have an economics degree, but you’re also really good with kids — that could be a correlation to some sort of tutoring gig. Or, you’re also a strong public speaker, which could link to a future in coaching or lecturing. 

Now here’s the kicker — do any of your skills align with your passions? It’s OK if they don’t. In that case, you might want to add a bit more juice to your resume by pursuing further education. Just don’t go overboard. While a diversified and balanced portfolio is good in the investment world, potential clients trust a vetted specialist more. Once that’s done? 

2. Prove your expertise with a portfolio and references

Whether you’re applying for a remote job or seeking freelance clients, you’ll need to demonstrate your skills and accountability. Start documenting your work through a resume, website or portfolio, even if you’re just starting out. You might look at examples of college assignments if you’re brand new to a niche, or volunteer your skills to gain more experience and reference potential. 

3. Get up to speed on your industry

Not all email is junk. Unsubscribe from the useless newsletters and sign up for ones from industry publications and leaders. For example, a digital marketing writer might sign up for Hubspot’s newsletter. A journalist or data analyst might sign up for Statista’s newsletter. Schedule time in your workflow to learn the latest happenings in your industry to keep you relevant and informed. Many entities also host seminars and workshops in their respective industry. Consider registering to get involved and make new connections.

4. Find work

Digital nomads have a cornucopia of job opportunities at their fingertips — they just need to find them. Look on your standard job boards like Monster and Indeed, paying special attention to “remote” and “freelance” opportunities. Then, you can look to more digital-nomad-esque resources like:

Social media platforms and industry-specific resources are also great ways to find job opportunities. While this all may seem daunting and overwhelming, remember that you’ll only need to chase work for the first few years as a digital nomad. Once you build a network and brand, work will find you!

But in the mean time, what’s another great way to find work? 

5. Network

We’re taking clients, employers, and peers. Ultimately, people like to work with people they like. There’s no better way to meet like-minded people than by networking.

Let’s start with social media. A quick look on Facebook’s search bar brings tons of digital nomad groups where people share tips, experiences, and opportunities. You can connect with people in your industry that share your digital nomad dreams, and maybe even find in-person meetups to connect with them. LinkedIn is also a massive resource for connecting with new potential clients, since this platform serves a lot of B2B professionals looking for services to support their brand.   

Networking isn’t just good for finding work. It also helps you stay sane — digital nomadism can get lonely, and you’ll feel more grounded if you’re connected to others like you. 

We’d recommend looking at any other platform that caters heavily to your industry, too. For example, a designer might find more relevant content and leads on platforms like Instagram or Pinterest.

6. Start saving, update your budget and buy insurance

If you plan on travelling or living abroad, be prepared to spend a lot of initial funds on plane tickets and accommodations. You will probably get more cost savvy the more you travel, but it takes some time to adjust. Some digital nomads prefer to get their income stable before travelling for extended periods of time — but to each their own.

More than that — if you’re in a new place, it’s easier to spend more on comforts to get acquainted. That’s why it’s so important to have a robust emergency fund and sound budget before you embark on a trip. You might start small with a budgeting app like Mint or DebtMonitor. And beyond that, you can rely on financial advice from our roster of certified financial planners!

One more important financial matter? Travel insurance. The last thing you need is to have a broken leg in a place you can’t afford care. You might also consider getting a travel credit card to take advantage of points programs targeted towards frequent travel.

7. Research potential destinations

Once you feel secure enough to travel, decide how long you want to leave your home country and what’s important to you in a destination. Maybe you’re looking for beachside towns with a bustling digital nomad community already? Or you’re more interested in a cultural experience halfway across the world. Here are some things to consider in potential new spots to live as a digital nomad:

  • Transportation: Is the location accessible with decent public transit options, or are you comfortable with the extra cost of renting or buying a car?
  • Visas: Do you need to obtain a specific visa to enter the country for the length of time you’re considering? Be very careful not to overstay your welcome or buy a plane ticket without considering this properly. People have been turned away at the border many times for this reason, which can be a frustrating experience.
  • Living costs: Look up average prices for apartment rentals, food, and entertainment. 
  • Weather: Does your destination have a rainy season? Heatwaves? Ice-cold winter? Consider your climate needs and comfort limits.
  • Community: Do you speak the same language as the country’s inhabitants? If not, are you willing to learn? Perhaps there’s already a big English-speaking population and community of peers you can connect with — look to social media to find them. 

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Pro tip: Join expat and digital nomad groups specific to each country or city you’re considering. You might look to Reddit and YouTube as well for firsthand experiences that you won’t hear about on your standard web resources. 

How much does it cost to become a digital nomad?

This number depends on your country of choice and lifestyle. But generally, experts recommend a minimum of $2,000 per month in available funds. To be on the safe side, we’d recommend $3,000, especially when starting out. Consider the costs of groceries, accommodations, visas, entertainment, insurance, and everything else you need for your day-to-day living. 

Is it too late to become a digital nomad?

Not at all! With more and more countries issuing digital nomad visas and more workplaces going remote, now’s the best time to make the jump to a digital nomad lifestyle. As long as you have a solid work opportunity, robust emergency fund to fall back on, and solid financial planning advice, you’ll be well-equipped to learn how to become a digital nomad. 

Thinking about making the switch? Let’s get your finances in order first. Whether that’s settling a few debts or addressing poor money management skills, a financial advisor can support your journey toward greater financial health as a digital nomad. The best part? You have tons of financial advisors to choose from with AdvisorSavvy’s platform. We’ll help you find the best fit for your unique needs and financial goals. Find a financial advisor today

Read More: New digital platform allows Canadians and advisors to find their perfect match

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