Digital Nomad Prep: Your 10-Step Pre-Travel Checklist
The allure of being a digital nomad is undeniable. It's a great way to see the world, all while earning your keep. But before you jump on a plane to start working remotely, discover the ten must-dos you should complete first.
1) Set Up Your Income
So, you've got the wanderlust but need the cash flow? If you're already your own boss, the world's your workspace. But if not, it's time to strategize.
Lucky for you, many employers are embracing the remote revolution. All you'll need is internet and card access to the bank account your pay goes into so that you can live.
Tech-savvy roles like designers or marketers? You're already ahead of the curve. But if your job's more suited to a suit, it might be time to upskill or pivot.
Feeling lost? Talk to an employment agency specializing in work that isn't dependent on where you live. This might get your toe in the door while you learn how to manage the system independently.
Also, have emergency money stashed to cover the cost of living for a few days, a hotel, and a plane ticket home.
2) Sort Out Taxes
Taxes can be tricky, especially when hopping from one country to another. If you're on a company's payroll, they'll likely handle the tax for you. But things can get a bit more complex if you're freelancing or consulting.
Typically, you'd pay taxes in the country where you earn your income. But, the USA requires residents to pay taxes on income earned within their borders and outside the country. This means you'll probably file a US federal tax return and pay tax on any income, no matter where you earned it.
Each country has its own set of rules. Some might tax you based on how long you stay, while others might look at your nationality.
Feeling overwhelmed? Before you jet off, talk to a tax pro. They'll help you decode the tax rules of your home country and any other places you plan to live in. It's all about staying ahead and avoiding any nasty surprises
3) Research Places You'd Like to Visit
Every corner of the world has its own rhythm, its own quirks. Cultural values, laws, food, technology, weather patterns, and more can make your experience a blast or a bummer. But to truly enjoy the digital nomad life, you've got to do your homework.
The US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs is your go-to for the nitty-gritty of each country.
In addition to official research, the savvy digital nomad also checks these kinds of things:
- Cost of living. Before you settle on a region, learn about the cost of living and whether your income will cover it. Nomadlist will help you with your calculations.
- Work conditions: Consider where you like to work – at home, in a cafe, or will you sometimes need a shared office? Check out the availability of coworking space.
- Cell phone access: Will your own phone work there, or will you need to snag one on arrival? Research phone plans within your own country and also where you're going to get the best deals.
- Internet availability and speed: Internet speed varies enormously from area to area. Find out what rates you are likely to encounter in your chosen country. Remember, places like Australia might leave you in a signal desert between towns.
- Voltage converters and wall plugs: In North America, the voltage is 110, while many other countries run on a zippier 240 volts. Plugging your trusty US hairdryer into an outlet in Malaysia, for instance, might cause a fire, but if you went the other way, drying your hair with a towel might be quicker.
- Wall plugs also have different shapes depending on where you go. Don't sweat it, though. Hit this handy website to make sure you're packing the right stuff.
- Suitable clothing and other items: Pack right. And if you're taller or shorter than the local average, shopping might be a challenge.
- Food: Check the local menu. Is chicken stock in most hot food, and you're a vegetarian? Do you hate spicy food but want to visit Thailand? How will you deal with this issue?
- Language: Language barriers can be real. Maybe grab a phrase book or take a crash course.
- Getting around: Walk, bike, bus, or drive? Plan your commute.
Just when you thought you had it sorted, you might also consider countries' biases towards the things that make us unique. You might want to rule out some places from your list of potentials.
- Gender: Some places have strict rules for women.
- Sexuality: Not every country is LGBTQ+ friendly.
- Drug offenses: Some regions have severe penalties for drug offenses.
- Gun Safety: How safe will you feel if most people carry a gun?
- Clothing: Some cultures require a modest dress code. Respect them or pick a different destination.
4. Plan for Safety
The allure of new places can sometimes make us forget the basics. But safety, both online and offline, should always be a priority. Here's your checklist:
- Safety within the country. You don't want to be caught in a coup or have a high chance of being mugged, so check your government's travel advisory department.
- Internet safety. The bottom line with this is: set up a VPN. You'll use public Wi-Fi somewhere along the line. VPN gives you an extra layer of security, making your connection safer and more private. Some countries have strict internet censorship, and some websites and streaming services are region-specific. With a VPN, you can virtually "appear" in a different location, allowing you to access content that might otherwise be blocked.
- Phone and SIM card. Roaming charges can be expensive. Check with your provider for overseas packages. Research SIM card options for your destination.
- Money. Don't flash your cash.
- Online Banking: Yet, another reason to get a VPN.
- Documents. Documents not only need to be safe but also current. Renew if you're nearing the expiry date. Email encrypted copies of essential documents to yourself. Store digital versions on a secure cloud. And for that extra layer of safety? An encrypted flash drive separate from your originals.
- Street Smarts: Trust your gut. If a deal sounds too good to be true or someone's overly friendly with a strange request, it's okay to decline. Remember, "NO" is a complete sentence.
5) Get Travel and Health Insurance
Setting off on a nomadic journey? It's not just about packing your bags and passport. It's also about ensuring you're covered for those unexpected twists.
Sure, losing a suitcase is a bummer. But imagine needing emergency surgery in a remote location without proper health coverage. That's an absolute nightmare.
Love a good party? Remember, some insurance policies might not cover incidents if they're alcohol-induced. So, while you're sipping that cocktail, know your limits.
Different destinations, different risks. Ensure your insurance matches where you're headed and what you're up to.
Be sure to buy travel and health insurance covering the part of the world you're visiting and the activities you plan to do.
6) Get a Work Visa
Before you hit the road, ensure you have the correct visa. Some countries have a specific visa for digital nomads covering those working either freelance or in an overseas company. If this doesn't apply to you, the choice usually depends on the purpose of your visit:
- Employment status.
- You're on vacation.
- Length of your stay.
Bottom line: Don't just wing it. Get the proper visa and travel stress-free. Check Passport Index for a quick view of the requirements.
Before you start packing, ensure you have the qualifications needed for the job you'll be doing. As well as certification for specific roles, such as teaching, qualifications could include a current driver's license and membership to recognized bodies. As mentioned, make copies of everything, and save them to secure or encrypted devices or clouds, as well as to your laptop.
8) Swap Materialism for Minimalism
Living out of a bag or two automatically causes a limit to the stuff you take on your digital nomad journey. But what about the things you leave behind? Where will you leave it?
As soon as the remote worker idea hits you, begin downsizing. Clear out all those drawers and boxes so you don't have much to do when it's time to leave.
9) Finalize Commitments
Wind up subscriptions you no longer need, end your gym membership, and any other groups you attend.
With the remaining companies or organizations that you still need, change your address to one that is secure and where someone will forward your mail if necessary.
Make a will, not that you're likely to need it, but make one anyway.
10) Ready to go?
Once you've double checked you've got a job, can pay the rent, and eat the food, now's the time to start reviewing and buying:
- Accommodation for at least the first few days.
- Converter and adaptors for electronics.
- Copies of qualifications.
- Special clothes or gear you'll need.
Your Digital Nomad Adventure Awaits
Ready to trade your desk for a beach or a bustling city halfway around the world? These ten steps are your roadmap to a successful digital nomad journey. From setting up your income to ensuring you've got the right visa, it's all about preparation and a dash of courage.
The key? Stay flexible and adaptable. Embrace the unknown, learn from each experience, and keep an open mind. That's where the real adventure begins.
Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.