FAQs about digital nomadism

If you are considering becoming a digital nomad or just want to know more about it, here are some essential facts to keep in mind.

1. HOW DO I GET STARTED?

The move from a nine-to-five job to flexible hours in multiple time zones can be a shock to the system. For that reason, most seasoned nomads advise a slow transition.

A few tips:

Freelance first: “Start part-time,” says Leighton Prabhu, cofounder of Interstice Consulting. “You can always do freelancing or consulting on the side while you’re still employed.”

Overdeliver: Before leaving, build your employers’ and clients’ confidence, and develop skills that will help you to work remotely.

Leverage your networks and do your research: Use web resources to find jobs, destinations and other essential information. Some examples:

Simplify everything: Leave your apartment or rent it out, and sell possessions you don’t need. Victor Lai, owner of Good Picnic Consulting, sums up the idea of a minimalist lifestyle this way: “Consume less, waste less, spend less.”

2. DOES DIGITAL NOMADISM MAKE FINANCIAL SENSE?

According to Harvard researcher Beth Altringer, digital nomads range from those with little or no income to elite software engineers, independent financial professionals and what she calls serial entrepreneurs. These nomads take in at least US$ 8,000 a month – and sometimes much more. Middle and lower income earners generally work in online sales and marketing, life coaching and blogging.

The cost of nomadic life depends on where you go, where you stay and what equipment you use. But most nomads say life on the go is not as expensive as it might sound. “There is definitely a discipline toward not accumulating clothes, gadgets, furniture, etc. when you move around frequently,” Prabhu says. “So [you] definitely save money.”

3. HOW DO I GET THE RIGHT VISA?

Visa regulations will depend on your nationality, your destination, the length of your stay and the type of business you intend to conduct.

According to an article by Steven Melendez on Fastcompany.com called “Work from anywhere but home: startups emerge to turn you into a globetrotting digital nomad,” many nomads, particularly those providing services for clients or companies based outside the countries they’re visiting, enter countries on tourist visas. Generally covering periods of 14 days to six months, these are cheaper and easier to obtain than working visas.

For longer stays (more than six months), nomads may need to apply for other types of visas. Josh Zweig of LiveCA is staying in Colombia for a full year on a student visa. He recommends reaching out to other travellers and expats before making a trip.

For visa regulations, check consular websites.

4. WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE?

Securing health insurance can be a challenge for digital nomads who spend several years abroad at a time. In Canada, provincial health insurance plans cover only a limited range of emergency medical services for those outside the country, making private insurance almost compulsory for travellers. However, many private insurance companies only cover individuals who already have base coverage at home. In Canada, individuals are generally required to remain in their home province or territory for a minimum of five to six months a year (depending on the province/territory) to remain eligible for provincial plans. However, you may be able to apply for an extension of provincial coverage if you meet the criteria.

The only alternative is to invest in long-term international health-insurance. While these policies don’t come cheap, seasoned nomads say they’re worth it.

5. WHERE CAN I STAY?

Nomads can stay anywhere from hostels to upscale hotels. Those who remain for more than a few weeks generally rent apartments, but for shorter stays, hostels, hotels or short-term rentals are most popular. For example, Airbnb is a favourite with Lai and Daphnée Laforest.

Some co-working spaces also offer accommodation, with package deals available for nomads on extended stays. A popular option is Hubud in Ubud, Indonesia.

6. WHERE CAN I WORK?

Contrary to popular belief, nomads don’t work out of hammocks or beach chairs. That’s because they all need a few basic things that a deserted beach can’t provide: a secure WiFi connection, a safe place to store their belongings, and a comfortable environment – which for the many nomads working in hot places, means air conditioning. The most reliable places to find such facilities are hotel rooms and rented apartments, and, depending on the location, cafés.

Co-working spaces, where workers can share printers and other equipment, are especially popular with nomads seeking other like-minded professionals. Laforest, for example, likes to work at KoHub in Thailand. “I work so much more here because of the community,” she says.

However, if your job involves lots of phone calls, co-working spaces might not be the answer. “I’m on Skype all day,” says Zweig. “It’s super annoying to make calls when you’re in a co-working space.” As a result, Zweig works from his apartment on weekdays.

Favourite co-working spaces:

Canada:

Abroad:

  • CAMP, Chiang Mai (Lai)
  • KoHub, Koh Lanta (Laforest)
  • The OutPost, Singapore (Prabhu; he is the co-founder)

7. WHAT APPS AND TECH EQUIPMENT SHOULD I TAKE?

A laptop is a digital nomad’s most vital tool. For its light weight and compact dimensions, the MacBook Air is the computer of choice for nomads such as Lai and Laforest.

For logging on from remote places – for example, day trips outside major cities – a smartphone or tablet comes in handy. With data widely available on mobile networks throughout the world, nomads are then able to log on even when they’re off the grid. Zweig has connected with clients from cliff tops in Lake Louise (see photo) and hiking trails north of the Arctic Circle thanks to the data packages included with local SIM cards: “You'd be surprised how far those cell signals reach,” he says.

Useful applications:

Filesharing: Citrix ShareFile, Dropbox

Communications: Skype, Google Hangouts, GotoMeeting

Organization: Trello, WorkflowMax

For nomadic accountants: Xero, QuickBooks Online, Wave, FreshBooks, Kashoo

8. OTHER CHALLENGES:

For all the personal and professional enrichment digital nomadism can provide, it also comes with its own challenges. Professionally, as Altringer, mentions, it can slow down your career progression. And socially, there’s the isolation from friends and family, as well as the difficulty of forging romantic relationships. Laforest says it’s difficult to find people who not only understand her lifestyle, but share it. “I feel like it’s more likely to find one of these people on the road, but then their plans have to match with yours.”

About the Author

Lara Bourdin


Lara Bourdin is a freelance writer based in Montreal.

comments powered by Disqus

Highlights

Jointly presented by CPA Canada and CPA Ontario, The ONE is the must-attend, multi-track event of the year, designed for all CPAs who want to be at the top of their game.

Our Firm Directory allows you to search for Canadian CPA firms using our interactive map as well as other criteria.

You’re in the eye of the storm amid a swirl of slips, forms and receipts. Chart your way through tax-time turbulence with these updates and resources.