You’ve read all the glossy magazine articles and beautiful blog posts about international digital nomad life, and now you’re ready to try it for yourself! But there are a lot of things those articles don’t tell you about what to expect.
We talked to experienced digital nomads to find out what they would recommend to anyone who is just starting out with remote living. They gave us 31 tips that any nomad traveler can use to have a better experience. Some of these might surprise you!
Preparation Tips for The Aspiring Digital Nomad
1. It’s tempting to romanticize the idea of moving abroad, but try to resist the urge to be impulsive. Test-drive the digital nomad lifestyle by working remotely while traveling for a couple of weeks to make sure it’s the life for you. Some people find themselves struggling after they commit to remote living without dipping their toes in first. Give yourself the chance to test the waters!
2. No matter how digital you are, you could still receive important mail on paper. You may have a trusted friend or family member that can text you photos of important mail. If not, find a mail scanning and forwarding service for access to important documents wherever you are in the world.
3. Get smart about spending abroad! A credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees will help save money as you travel. Foreign transaction fees can add 3% or more to every expenditure you make. Additionally, when you pay with your credit card, always choose to pay with the local currency. Paying in your own currency will often come with a terrible exchange rate and an added surcharge.
4. Understand your visa, or the country’s entry conditions if you don’t require a visa. Pay attention to details like expiration dates, what your visa permits you to do, and what it doesn’t permit you to do. Many countries now have digital nomad visas that allow you to legally work remotely while you are in a country.
A number of digital nomads have experienced consequences for breaking these rules. They’ve been barred from countries for overstaying their visas. And even though countries often turn a blind eye to internationals who do remote work on a tourist visa, it is a legal gray area and one zealous border agent can ruin your whole trip.
5. Don’t give up the vote! Figure out how to vote in your home location from wherever in the world you happen to be remote living. Set this up well in advance. Some states make this much easier than others, and you may have to do this in person.
Get Your Gadgets Sorted
6. Make sure your electrical equipment will work on the local voltage and stock up on travel adapters and a transformer or two before you go. A travel adapter makes the plug fit the outlet, while a transformer actually changes the voltage to make it right for your device. Most modern electronics will work on 120 or 220. But certain electronics will require a transformer. Also, consider bringing extra cables for your phone and other devices in case one goes bad.
7. Contact your phone provider and get your international phone plan sorted out. Many new nomad travelers have tried to go wifi-only with their phone, only to be surprised by huge international roaming fees. Mobile phones access data a lot, even when you aren’t on them, so if your phone ever leaves airplane mode, even accidentally, it could result in some hefty fees. If you are going overseas, you will want either an international plan or a local SIM card. Many carriers have international plans, which are good if you will change countries a lot and want your current phone number to persist. However, data rates are often slower than in your home country.
8. If you are staying in one country, figure out if your phone will work with a local SIM card. There are different kinds of mobile networks and not all of them are compatible with all phones. Switching SIM cards can cause problems with WhatsApp and other applications because it changes the phone number of your device. It can also create problems if a company is texting you a code for two-factor authentication because it will go to your home country number and not the number on the SIM card for your new country. You can get around some of these problems by using your home phone number with a virtual phone line such as Google Voice.
9. E-readers are a great way to bring your reading on the road. If you have a library card in your hometown, you can take out library books with Overdrive no matter where you are in the world. Just get it set up before you go.
10. Stay connected! Keep rechargeable power packs with you and make sure to keep them charged in case the power goes out or your batteries run low on the road. Many airlines have restrictions on the size of the power pack you can carry on board; check that your device complies with every airline you’ll be taking.
Digital Nomad Jobs Tips
11. For most digital nomad jobs, it’s important to know the time difference between where you are and where your client or employer is. If you have regular meetings, make sure you are in a time zone where they will not happen at a bad time for you (such as 4 am). Also, check to see what day it is where they are located. In certain parts of the world, you may be a day ahead of (or behind) your client.
12. It’s easy to get so head-down with digital nomad jobs that you don’t see the country you are in. Make plans to see the place you are visiting, both the must-do tourist attractions and the offbeat stuff.
13. Before you book a non-refundable AirBnB or other rental, make sure you find out what the internet speed is if you work online. “Fast” is relative and in some places, 10mbps is considered lightspeed – but it’s not good enough for most digital nomad jobs. Ask them to use the Ookla Speed Test and send the results.
14. Make sure you keep all the files you’re working on backed up locally as well as in the cloud. If you lose internet you can keep working on your local files. If you lose your laptop, you can still access your files when you get another one.
15. Use work as a chance to make social connections! Scout a workshare that you can use to have some time to make new friends and contacts. It’ll also come in handy if your internet connection goes down or you need to do things you can’t do in your own space such as printing or faxing.
Related: 9 Best Work From Anywhere Jobs
Digital Nomad Health Care
16. Your home health insurance plan likely will not cover you while you’re on the road. Check to see if your country has a reciprocal health care agreement with the country you are traveling to. If not, you would be wise to get either a travel insurance plan or an international health insurance plan. Our friends at International Citizens Insurance have written a guide to nomad travel insurance plans to help you determine which is the best solution for you.
17. If you depend on a prescription or over-the-counter medication, make sure it’s legal in the country you are going to. Do the research several months before you depart. Many medications for ADHD and anxiety, as well as CBD and other cannabis products, are banned in other countries. Travelers have been arrested in some nations even when they can show a prescription for the product. Some countries even ban medications that are over-the-counter elsewhere.
In some cases, you can bring prohibited substances with you if you file the right paperwork with the government of the country you are traveling to. However, this paperwork can take several weeks, so give yourself a lot of lead time. If you can’t bring it, talk to your doctor about other options and find out if there’s a local alternative. See the International Citizens Insurance checklist for traveling with prescription medication overseas for a detailed guide.
18. Pack a travel medical kit. The medication you’re used to buying over the counter may not be available everywhere. A good travel kit has: antidiarrheal medication, an electrolyte powder for dehydration, an NSAID like ibuprofen, Tylenol, Band-Aids, Neosporin, antacids, allergy medication, Sudafed, Gas-X, and anti-itch cream for bug bites.
19. Carry a printed or digital copy of your prescriptions for both medications and vision correction. While practitioners cannot fill a foreign prescription in most other countries, the information will help a doctor or pharmacist get you what you need.
20. Figure out the healthcare system in advance, especially if it’s a country where you don’t speak the language. Find a facility that you can go to where you can find care in your language if you fall ill. Learn the emergency numbers (it’s not 911 in most countries) and see if there is one specifically for English speakers. You will need to know where you are when you call, because they may not be able to locate you by your phone. Or better yet, get a good travel insurance plan with 24/7 assistance that can help you if you fall ill.
Get to Know Your New Remote Living Location
21. Research the weather and conditions of your new location before you leave, and find out if there are any national holidays, traditions or cyclical weather events that might disrupt your plans. Chiang Mai can be very smoky from January through March because farmers set fire to their fields during the “burning season.” Hurricane season in the Caribbean peaks from mid-August to mid-October, and a bad hurricane can wipe out communications for weeks. A lot of Christian countries shut down on the days surrounding Easter weekend, so you might find it difficult to dine out, socialize or buy supplies.
22. Read local news so you can be aware of transit strikes, protests, looming natural disasters or other issues that could impact your travel or your day out. You usually won’t find this information on CNN, Fox News or the New York Times. Find a local English-language news source or use Google Translate to read items from local media if they are in a foreign language.
23. If you drink alcohol, learn the local regulations about when you can buy it and when you can order it if you’re out. For example, Thailand does not permit alcohol sales in stores between 2 and 5 pm.
24. Remote living can get isolating, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language. Coworking spaces and hostels that cater to digital nomads are great ways to meet other people.
25. Make sure to get out of the digital nomad “bubble.” Stay in a “locals” area for a couple of weeks. Shop at the local grocery stores and eat at restaurants that are for locals, not tourists. You may get a very different view of your location. Locals are also great resources for getting to know the city or location.
26. Not everywhere has Uber! If you’re taking a taxi, make sure you can see the meter. Watch your route using Google Maps on your phone so you know you are headed toward your destination rather than on a long tour of the surrounding countryside.
27. Electronics and luggage get stolen all the time. A good travel insurance policy will refund part or all of the cost of your gear if this happens.
28. If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions, learn how to make them clear in the local language. You may want to have the information on a printed card.
Make Your Nomad Life Better
29. If there are packaged foods you love from home, pack some in your bags. It may be a specific granola bar, a brand of mac and cheese or your favorite cereal. At some point, you may have a tough day and really need that comfort food.
30. Learn at least a few phrases in the local language. “Hello,” “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” go a long way. Learning some numbers is also helpful. The Google Translate app is very useful for translating sentences, reading articles and understanding food labels.
31. Traveling to a new place every few days can seem exciting. But it’s often better to stay in one place for an extended period of time, especially if you’re working. Many experienced digital nomads travel in this way; it’s called the “slow nomad” lifestyle. It takes a lot of time and energy to constantly change locations. By spending more time in your new location, you can get to know it like a local.
Working remotely from abroad as a digital nomad is an exciting way to live. You can immerse yourself in different cultures, meet new people, and travel at a slow pace that allows you to experience the world. Keep these tips in mind as you go on your nomad travel adventure!