Common Digital Nomad Mistakes and How to Prevent Them
With the rise in remote work accelerated by the pandemic, more and more people are choosing to take their work on the go. So-called digital nomads are professionals who work outside of their home country, traveling between various countries for long periods of time.
Digital nomads by nature have the freedom to choose their own hours as well as where they would like to work: in a café, a coworking space, or in a home office. As you may have guessed, this working arrangement is quite attractive to many people, which has led many people to wonder how they can become a digital nomad.
Theoretically, digital nomads can go anywhere, but certain destinations have proven particularly popular for this new class of worker. First and foremost, digital nomads have to worry about governmental regulations in their host country: while some countries have implemented specific visas for digital nomads, others are not as hospitable or understanding. In addition, there are other factors to consider, including but not limited to the local culture, cost of living, safety, and air, water, and noise pollution.
The digital nomad phenomenon has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, both positive and negative. Though this relatively new lifestyle can give people the chance to orient their lives around travel, it also involves a lot of complications that people who work 9-to-5 jobs in their home country don’t experience. Keep reading to learn how to be a digital nomad while avoiding some of these pitfalls.
Mistakes to avoid
1. Not researching your visa status
As a digital nomad, you will be living and working in countries outside of your country of citizenship. This means that, prior to entering that country, you’ll have to do some research regarding the local regulations regarding your arrival.
Many digital nomads go back and forth between different places on tourist visas. Technically speaking, you are not supposed to work on a tourist visa, which leaves digital nomads in a legal gray area.
There are some countries, however, that have implemented specific visas for digital nomads. Because the digital nomad phenomenon is so new, many of these visas are as new as late 2022 or even early 2023. Each of these comes with different requirements regarding minimum income and permitted length of stay.
Applicants for Portugal’s digital nomad visa, for example, must make at least €2,800 a month (four times the minimum wage) and are permitted to stay in the country for up to 12 months. Malaysia, on the other hand, requires an annual income of at least $24,000; its visa, also known as the DE Rantau Pass, is granted for up to 12 months and can be renewed.
These days, digital nomads have many options to explore, particularly in Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America: those interested in taking their work overseas should consider this range of options before departure.
2. No clear boundary between work and pleasure
Digital nomads tend to be people who value the freedom to plan their own time. This means that early-risers can get an early start and that night owls can work when their brain is most alert. However, this freedom also means an added level of responsibility to enforce your own schedule: if not, you might end up burnt out or missing deadlines.
Additionally, working for a client in a distant time zone may mean that your work hours are erratic, making it difficult to maintain a good work-life balance. This is not to mention the temptation to ditch work for a beach party in Bali or a nightclub in Bangkok.
As a digital nomad, you’ll have to learn to manage your time well, and perhaps in more detail than you would ever have to do at a 9-to-5. Before embarking on your transcontinental journey, you may want to think about whether or not you can manage your own affairs like this.
3. Not learning the local language
Nelson Mandela is sometimes quoted as saying “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” People dispute whether or not Mandela actually said these words, but there’s no doubt that learning a foreign language is still a valuable act of respect in a world in which linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened.
For digital nomads, this is especially so. People from Anglophone countries, particularly the United States, have a reputation for being stubborn monolinguals. Some attribute this to practicality and efficiency: when one speaks the world’s lingua franca, why learn something else? But as a guest in a foreign country, it’s important to remember that language is not just a tool of communication, but also a cultural artifact and a symbol of pride.
That being said, learning the local language need not be stressful or overtaxing. As Kató Lomb said, “language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.” That is, each thank you or nice to meet you in the local language demonstrates an effort on your part to respect the local culture.
Since finding community and long-term connections can also be a difficult part of digital nomad life, taking a language class in-country could be a great way to meet like-minded people while also becoming more comfortable in your new environment.
4. Not getting adequate health insurance coverage
The digital nomad lifestyle, as intriguing as it is, invites some basic concerns, one of these being health insurance. As a worker living outside of your home country, you don’t have access to the health coverage that you are used to.
Tourist visas typically don’t provide health insurance coverage in the local country, and even some digital nomad visas don’t allow for it. Plus, travel insurance is typically designed for short periods, not suitable for digital nomads’ needs.
Fortunately, there are options for digital nomads to obtain worldwide health insurance that can fit within your budget. These plans sometimes also include coverage for visits to your home country, but it’s important to check and make sure. Coverage in your home country may incur extra charges, particularly in the United States where health insurance is expensive.
All in all, if you can manage it, the digital nomad lifestyle is a great opportunity to travel the world while making a living. Although there may be some challenges along the way, the benefits far outweigh the potential negatives of this lifestyle.
Matthew is a freelance content writer whose work has previously appeared in well-known language-learning blog Fluent in 3 Months and The Happy Self-Publisher. His creative work has also appeared in Otoliths, CafeLit, and the Eunoia Review. He is currently based in Taipei, Taiwan, where he is studying for a master's degree in Chinese Literature.