How to be a Digital Nomad

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Digital nomad spelt in fridge magnets

Have you ever just wondered what it would be like to pack it all in and run away to a foreign land? I’m sure most of us have daydreamed this exact thought on a crowded metro as we think about how one positive of wearing masks in public is that you can’t smell the armpit that is way too close to your face. 

We’ve all looked out a window at work and thought about how amazing it would be to spend some time in a summer cabin on a fjord, taking some time for yourself, walking in nature, and just getting away from it all. It sounds like a great idea, but how the hell do you pay for it all? 

In the current world, the way we are connected has made it possible for people to work in different ways. By now, most of us have had some experience of working remotely or under a hybrid model, and the scope of how we perform our jobs is only going to continue to change. 

The ability to run away for an international adventure is actually easier to do than you think. If you have a skill that can be performed online, you might be able to become a digital nomad. But what exactly does that mean? How do you do it? What do you need to look out for? Read on to find out all this and more. 

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad working from a room with a cityscape in front

So what exactly is a Digital Nomad? The term does sound a little bit like a race of people in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, but it has its roots very firmly planted in reality. A digital nomad is basically any kind of worker that can do their job from pretty much anywhere in the world

Digital nomads can be contract workers, freelancers, remote workers or even people with a side hustle who are taking advantage of the gig economy. The main thing that sets digital nomads apart from the rest of us is that they don’t need to be in a specific place to make a living. 

People can be drawn to this kind of work for many reasons. They might prefer working in a different time zone; maybe this kind of working model gives them a better work-life balance, or maybe they’re addicted to travelling and need a job that can be done anywhere in the world.  

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Digital Nomad?

A man with a cup of coffee working remotely on a laptop

There isn’t really an ‘A+B=C’ approach to becoming a digital nomad. There are lots of different ways you can get into it, and each one has its own pros, cons and rough guidelines to navigate. There are, however, some tips that can help you along the way if you decide you’d like to start living the digital nomad life.  

Embrace Remote Working

A remote worker watching the sunset

Possibly the most essential thing you need to do if you want to get on the road to being a successful digital nomad is that you need to get comfortable in the world of remote work. This actually means a lot more than just getting used to working on a laptop in a cafe somewhere; it actually involves taking a close look at your lifestyle and finances. 

As I said earlier, the biggest thing about the digital nomad lifestyle is the ability to travel. If this is something you’re going to take advantage of, you need to eliminate unnecessary costs from your life. 

A for rent sign inn the window of an apartment

If you own the place you live in, you might need to rent it out or set up an Airbnb profile to make sure you always have some income to pay the mortgage. If you are renting, it might be a good idea to take a shorter lease. You should also look at additional expenses like gym memberships or subscriptions to the cinema or theatre. These are great to have if you live permanently in one location, but if you are travelling, they will just become unnecessary expenses. 

It could also be a good idea to get rid of things like a car, motorbike or anything else that won’t be used but will keep costing money. The best thing to do with these items is to turn them into cash. 

A series of red sale stickers

It’s also a good idea to pay off as much debt as possible, especially high-interest loans or credit cards. If you take care of these financial needs before embarking on a digital nomad adventure, you are less likely to encounter hiccups that will eat into your savings. 

The biggest mantra to get used to is that you should be preparing yourself to travel as light as possible. This means minimal possessions and minimal financial commitments. So take a look at the things in your life that don’t ‘spark joy’ and give them the Marie Kondo treatment

Join a Digital Nomad Community

Joining the digital nomad community from an iPad

Just because you’re not working in a traditional structure doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own. You’re not the first person to set out on the digital nomad path, and you won’t be the last. 

The people who have done it before you have learned a lot, and connecting with them will give you access to a wealth of information. They’ve learned things so that you don’t have to, and in many cases, there are digital nomad communities and forums all over the internet. From Facebook to Reddit, you can ask questions and get tips on where’s good to visit. 

As you begin to navigate the digital nomad way of life, joining a community of like-minded people can be a life-saver. 

Identify Your Core Skills

A dog sitting in front of a computer

Probably one of the most important steps if you want to become a digital nomad, is to take a look at your individual skills and figure out the most proactive way to exploit them. You need to ask yourself, ‘what am I genuinely good at?’ ‘How can I monetise that?’ ‘How much should I charge?’

There could be a number of things you are able to do or just one. The main point is that you need to identify your core skills so that you can figure out how to sell them to potential clients. 

Ideally, you should aim to focus on work that can be done with just a laptop and an internet connection. Some really common skills that people search for online include; graphic design, data entry, software engineering, bug fixing, writing, copy editing, film editing, and language lessons. 

Sign up With Swapp Agency

A graphic of remote workers discussing at a table

One of the hardest things to achieve once you have decided to step into the world of independent work is finding clients. It can be difficult to get the attention of companies who would benefit from your skillset, and sometimes it’s even harder to sift out those you don’t really want to work with. 

A way to get around this hard stage would be to sign up with someone like Swapp Agency. Swapp is a company that was founded on the concept of connecting skilled freelance workers and independent contractors with companies that are in need of their skills. 

One of the main benefits of signing up with Swapp is that you are instantly connected to legitimate businesses that are looking for the exact services you provide. There’s no need to worry if the potential client on the other end of an email is going to jerk you around; you are simply connected with those who need and appreciate your work. 

Build Your Personal Brand

Developing your own personal brand

After you have begun to work freelance for a while, you can start figuring out how to make your business as profitable as possible. This can mean focusing on one particular skill set or even expanding wider to attract more clients. Maintaining a website, keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date and sending samples of your work to leads are all great ways to keep your name and business growing. 

If you want to maintain a decent amount of business, it’s important to find ways to develop a few long-term clients. These can be your ‘bread and butter.’ Long-term clientele creates a steady stream of income through regular work, which enables you to focus on the quality of your output instead of spending your days fishing for a sale. 

One of the biggest pieces of advice I could offer you when starting out as a digital nomad is to pay attention to emails, messages and deadlines. One of the main reasons businesses hesitate to use the services of freelancers is that they can sometimes feel like they’re left out of the loop or that they will be waiting too long for a response. 

Just like in the regular working world, you could be great at what you do, but if you’re not easy to work with, people will just find someone else. Successful freelancers produce work in a timely manner and communicate effectively with their clients.

Develop Your Business

A person holding a growing plant in their hands

As your digital nomad business grows, it’s important to look for opportunities to work smarter. This could mean diversifying the reach you have with clients; it could mean offering incentives for clients who sign on to long-term contracts. 

It’s also possible that if you are enterprising, you could take on more work by outsourcing some of it to other freelancers you know and trust. 

Decide on Your Destination

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in south Iceland under a sunrise

As a digital nomad, this could actually be the hardest first decision you ever make. The possibilities are somewhat endless, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed by choice, but there are a few things to take into consideration that might help you narrow it down a bit. 

Firstly you need to know why you’re doing this. If you want to spend more time exploring nature, then perhaps a stint in Berlin isn’t the best first choice for you. You also need to make sure you are realistic about the things you need to function and your budget. 

You could easily live a comfortable life in Thailand for about $15,000US per year, but in many parts of Western Europe, that might not last three months. You should pick a place that ticks as many of your metaphorical and literal boxes as possible, and remember, if you end up hating it, you can just go somewhere else.  

Figure Out How You Want to Live

A house on the coast by the sea

This is a piece of the digital nomad puzzle that a lot of people leave till the very last minute or don’t think about at all. We all have different needs when it comes to our living situation, and although you might be on an adventure, if your abode doesn’t vibe well with you, it could soon leave you feeling like you made the biggest mistake of your life. 

The kind of accommodation you prefer is important. You should also try to investigate how easy it is to find a place to live. If you only plan on staying somewhere for a short time, couch surfing or Airbnb could be a good option. However, if you’re planning on doing a six-month stint, a shared house might be a better option. 

There are also many sites and networks that connect travellers with like-minded people who wish to swap apartments or homes for short periods of time. 

However you decide to live, the important thing is that you take advantage of the fact that you have the chance to experience new things and figure out what’s right for you on your own terms. 

Create a Plan and Follow it

Make plans spelled out in scrabble pieces

Goals are important for any professional. You might not be working for just one boss or even in one industry anymore, but it’s a good idea to have some sense of where you’re heading. 

Once you’ve made the decision to get into working as a digital nomad, take some time to look at all the things mentioned above and decide on a realistic time to depart. From there, the easiest thing to do is work backwards, set due dates and stick to them. 

Take the time to investigate the rules, regulations and cultural customs of the place or places you plan to operate from. Make sure you understand what your rights are as a foreigner and freelancer and decide a plan of action if anything happens to go south. 

Your plan might change or vary depending on how you and your business develop but by having one in the first place, you have already set yourself up for success. By doing this, you will get yourself in the habit of sticking to plans and deadlines, which are essential when you’re your own boss. 

Taxes For Digital Nomads

A series of tax forms for a digital nomad

There isn’t a single person on the planet who wants to think about taxes (well, maybe tax accountants). It’s a necessary part of life that none of us can escape, and when you’re a digital nomad, it’s incredibly important to know exactly what you owe and to which country you need to pay it. 

Not every country has the same rules for tax when it comes to foreign citizens and their own citizens living abroad. For example, the majority of Americans need to file a tax return with the US government even if they are living abroad. Other countries state that you must pay your taxes to the country you spend more than 180 days per year in. 

The safest way to make sure you are doing everything above board is to first research what taxes you are liable for in your home country when you’re abroad. Then check what the rules are in your target country before you move there. It can be worth utilising the services of a professional accountant when you live abroad. It might be an expense you’re not used to paying, but it’s worth incorporating it into your business budget, even just for the peace of mind. 

Banking For Digital Nomads

Mobile banking options for digital nomads

Few things come close to the feeling of getting paid for work you’re good at, and doing it from anywhere in the world you like is even better, but the act of receiving funds can be challenging when other countries are involved. 

Most bank accounts have the ability to receive funds from international payers, but there are some drawbacks to this. There can be lengthy processing times, there are often international transaction fees, and in some cases, the day of the week when the money was transferred can make a big difference to what actually lands in your account. 

Not all of us are going to be paid in Bitcoin, so what are the other options? 

The easiest thing, of course, would be to open a bank account in the same country as your client, but that’s simply not practical if you are providing services in multiple countries. Many digital nomads use online services like Paypal to receive payments. If you aren’t from a country where this is possible, there are other services available like Wise that are available in more countries. 

How Swapp Agency Can Help-Link Employers With Remote Workers

A fluorescent hello sign

If you’re reading this and you’re actually an employer, Swapp can also help you to find remote workers and digital nomads to fulfil your needs. Swapp prides itself on having access to an incredible network of freelancers across a huge range of industries. 

The Swapp database has been carefully cultivated to ensure that only the highest skilled individuals are connected with Swapp’s clients. 

Swapp is also able to operate as an Employer of Record in Iceland, which means they can assist you at pretty much every step of the process. If you want to get a project off the ground or would like to expand your business into the land of fire and ice, Swapp has you covered. 

From HR to onboarding, payroll, project management and everything in between, Swapp can be as involved as you need to enable you to get your business off to a flying start in a new market.  

Conclusion

The ring road in Iceland with a mountain in the background

Jet Setting off on a digital nomad adventure is an achievable goal for anyone who’s got a decent amount of marketable skill and an internet connection. If you plan it correctly, it could easily become an incredible period of learning and exploration, but it could also become a more permanent way of life. 

The world is your oyster, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and see it. 

ABOUT SWAPP AGENCY

Swapp Agency is an innovative recruitment firm in Reykjavik that focuses on helping people find jobs and companies to fill their openings in Iceland.

Swapp offers a range of services to their clients in operational supports.

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