How to be a digital nomad: Everything you need to know in preparation for a nomadic lifestyle
How to be a nomad - or everything you need to know before leaving your home country to start your live as a digital nomad!
This post is for everyone who is interested in going fully nomadic for a longer period of time or who just wanna know more about it. Being a digital nomad, living location-independent and being a full-time traveller basically means that you are not living in one country permanently but decided to work and live wherever life takes you. There are thousands of different variations of digital nomads. It’s a fairly new concept and even though it has been around for at least 15 years, it started to get bigger during the last five years. Some live in one place for half a year, a few months or only a few weeks. Other move constantly, live the van life on the road, are freelancing, work remotely for different companies or are sent to other locations by their employer every now and then. It differs from just travelling or taking a gap year (or two) in the term that a digital nomad is working and is not purely there for leisure. Most work on their computer or their phone and can do that as long as they got WiFi. So it’s basically possible to live this kind of life in every country on this planet, even though in some nations it is more difficult than in others of course. It’s possible to do this on a very low budget with staying in hostels, not eating out and preferably do the free stuff a place has to offer. Or on the contrary, stay at hotels/AirBnbs, eat out and take part of every activity possible.
So for living this kind of a lifestyle, there are a few questions that pop up during the process that I want to answer and talk about what worked for me and what didn't. Bear in mind that this can differ based on your citizenship and the country you lived in before you left. My experience is based on Switzerland.
One of the first question that comes up is one that many of us never even thought about. You have a permanent residency in the country you're registered in. This can be your country of origin or a different one than your nationality. If you wanna go travelling and are planning to leave this country for a longer period (normally at least 6 months to a year), you have the choice to stay a permanent resident or quit it. A permanent residency gives you the security of the state, which includes paying taxes, holding contracts, having a national health insurance, paying money into social security and bank accounts. If you plan on staying away longer, many countries, like Switzerland, leave you no choice than to quit your permanent residency. But actually, this isn't only bad as it makes it possible to quit any contracts like phone provider, insurances etc. immediately and depending on the country of origin you won't have to pay taxes to that state anymore. It also depends on the kind of work you are doing and who you work for to decide what's
best for you. In my case, as a full-time traveller with no intention to come back in the near future, working independently as a freelancer, it was pretty soon clear: I will quit my permanent residency. Hence, most of the following topics will be based on this situation.
First of all, we all have to pay taxes to the country we live in. But what happens if you don't really live in any country and are constantly moving? Freelancers are normally registered in the country they pay taxes in, which isn't the case if you're living a fully nomadic lifestyle. If you're doing this as a swiss citizen, you have to go to the tax office where they take a look if you got any open bills. If yes, they need to be paid first before you can proceed. In case you are leaving in the middle of the year, you have to fill out a tax document for that period and then you're done. No more taxes, no more tax forms. But please be aware that as soon as your business may grow, you need a residence for it and then you have to pay business taxes again in the country you decided to place it in.
You may already realised that you need to provide an address for basically anything. Make sure you can use the address from someone you fully trust and who is ok with handling your postal mail. This can be your parents or a friend. If you need a local address for something make sure to ask your AirBnB or hostel first - most of them will permit the usage, if you stay for a longer period. A P.O. Box sometimes is enough, but very often it is not. So if you’ve got one, make sure that you still have a valid address you're allowed to use.
Another issue is the fact that many in-store banks won’t allow you to keep your account if you’re no longer a permanent resident. There are multiple solutions. It’s always worth asking the bank you’re with for the longest if they may allow you to stay with them. And especially for savings it’s essential to have a bank account you can trust. In most cases, a bank won’t run after you and makes sure that you’re still a resident. So another option is to transfer all of your savings to an existing account and just do nothing. You can also make a friend or relative open an account which you use. But be careful, because this means you basically give your money to someone else as it’s no longer in your own name. And I would only suggest doing this for an everyday account with little money in it - not for savings. Another reason why it’s important to try and keep an account is the fact that you will need a credit card as it’s basically impossible to rent a car, buy plane tickets etc. without one - or to get one without having permanent residency.
As most banks charge you for foreign transactions or if you pay somewhere with card, there are mobile banks like Revolut, N26 and Transferwise and each of them has their own benefits. I personally use all three, they are easy to set up, come with an App and you can order a free debit card which allows you to pay wherever you are or get money out of an ATM. It’s always smart to have more than one card, so if you lose one you still have others to use and they are all easily disable from your phone in case of a robbery.
In most places it’s easiest to buy a SIM card upon your arrival: it’s the cheapest and usually the best way to get data. What does that mean for your old local mobile contract? Most providers offer to change your plan to prepaid so whenever you’re back to visit family and friends, you can just put money on it and use your old phone number. In the meantime, yes this means a new phone number in every country, but if you return to the same one you can reuse your SIM card. If you quit your permanent residency, you simply have to send your provider a copy and all of your contracts will then be discontinued from the date written on your document as exit date.
This is a bit of a difficult one. So first, you are no longer obliged to stay in a national health insurance and can quit all insurances with a copy of your exit letter. There are quite a few companies that offer long-term travel or expat insurances. The difference is that travel insurances are often only for a limited period of time: some are up to five or two years. They often combine travel (baggage, law, accident etc.) and health insurance and they are also way cheaper than expat insurances. My personal advice is to stick with the first kind as long as possible and then switch to an expat one with additional insurances from other providers if you will travel long time. Some providers are:
o possible for up to two years,
o mid-price range,
o rate depending on countries visited,
o combined packages with additional tech equipment options
Hanse Merkur (also possible via STA Travel Austria)
o only for holders of certain passports (German, Swiss, Austrian),
o up to five years,
o combined packages,
o rates divided in worldwide without US/Canada or worldwide but with the option to add the US/Canada later on upon request
o Expat travel insurance,
o only for health purposes,
o bit more expensive,
o several packages
o especially for digital nomads,
o only health insurance,
o fairly new concept
If I missed anything or you got any questions about what you need to do before leaving your home country, write it in the comments!