Being tied to a physical location because of a job is becoming a thing of the past. Having the ability to travel and work from anywhere for months on end while perfecting your skills and adapting your work hours from all corners of the world is the future. These are only a few of the many reasons why more people are adopting the digital nomad lifestyle.
If you are thinking of becoming a digital nomad, this article will explain the following:
- What documents, licenses, and permits you’ll need to update or obtain
- Things to check with your health professionals
- Managing your banking and financial situation
- What to do about your housing before traveling abroad
- Other pre-travel arrangements
Although this guide is written primarily for US citizens looking to work and travel around the world, most of the advice applies to digital nomads in general.
What is a Digital Nomad
The term digital nomad is used to describe location-independent professionals who use the benefits of technology to travel around the globe while working either fully employed, remote, or as freelancers.
They often work in coffee shops, coworking spaces, public libraries, hotels, or other locations and depend on devices with wireless internet capabilities with hotspots to do their work wherever they want.
Pros and Cons of Being a Digital Nomad
Some pros that are enticing to the digital nomad lifestyle are being location-independent, flexible work schedules, choosing your destinations, meeting new people, and experiencing unlimited adventures.
A con that no one mentions about the digital nomad life is that due to the lack of roots or a permanent home, it’s hard to manage your mail as a digital nomad. Staying current on travel requirements and maintaining clients is difficult with different time zones. Traveling to new places while working is unpredictable. Also, it can be lonely with less connection and less presence of family and friends.
Types of Digital Nomads
The Remote Worker: This type of digital nomad is an employee of a company where physical presence is not required. They have a steady paycheck, file taxes in their home country, and can be anywhere in the world. This setup offers more stability, but can be limiting because you’ll need to adhere to certain set work hours.
The Freelancer: This type of digital nomad takes on longer projects and might have long-term clients with regular work. Apart from putting in the hours to earn your living as a freelancer, you need to scour job websites for new work and clients.
The Entrepreneur: This type of digital nomad tends to strive for passive income where a minimum level of work is required, but getting to that stage actually requires a lot of hustle.
Want to be a digital nomad? Other common roles digital nomads hold are in the IT, marketing, and advertising sectors, but can be any job that doesn’t require your physical presence. Here you can find some of the jobs that are a perfect fit for the digital nomad lifestyle
Basic Travel Documents for Digital Nomads
The following documents are basic requirements to travel abroad and should be updated or acquired as a digital nomad.
The first thing to do is to make sure your passport is updated, so it won’t expire while you’re abroad and leave you stranded in a foreign country. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months after your planned return to the country you will call home.
In addition to the original passport, prepare a few certified passport copies/scans of both front and back and passport-sized photos of yourself as well. If you need a new passport or want to learn more, you can click here.
Traveling to Europe From Canada or the United Kingdom
The Schengen countries have a strict six-month validity rule. This means that if you choose to access one of these 26 countries through Canada or the United Kingdom, your passport must be valid for at least six months in advance. Otherwise, airlines might prevent you from boarding the plane.
Gather information about the visa application process, necessary documents, and other requirements for your destination of choice. Apply early in order to avoid any last-minute troubles and delays.
The visa application process may take a long time and rules vary from one region to another.
Working in the European Union (EU)
US citizens do not need to apply for a work visa in the EU, but they must apply for a residence and work permit. It is important to note that you cannot work while holding a Schengen visa for other purposes such as tourism, visiting, business, medical purposes, etc. If you plan to do business within the Schengen zone, you need to apply for a Business Schengen Visa.
What About Brexit
It is recommended that you keep an eye on the official UK government website for any work visas, questions, or other business-related travel within the United Kingdom.
As far as other foreign countries are concerned, the wisest thing to do is to contact the embassies and ask about the requirements of getting a visa.
Need more information? Find out more about the country of your choice here.
Entry and Exit Permits
Some countries may require entry and exit permits. As regulations vary from one country to another, check the requirements of the countries you plan to visit in advance. It is recommended to keep a few certified copies/scans stapled to your passport so you are not fined for losing your entry and exit permits.
It is important to renew your US driver’s license before leaving your home country.
If you plan to drive a motor vehicle while you’re traveling abroad, you should get an International Driver's License (IDP). You must be a permanent US resident at least 18 years of age and have a US driver's license that will remain valid for the next six months.
When accompanied by your valid US driver’s license, your international driving permit will allow you to drive legally in countries that recognize it. It may also be required or recommended by many rental car agencies. While some countries accept non-resident driver’s licenses, it’s best to obtain an IDP.
What is an International Driver’s Permit (IDP)
An IDP is a document that contains your name, photo, and driver information, translating your ID information into 10 languages. It is valid for one year and in 150 countries worldwide. Many of those countries legally require having an IDP, and penalties for driving without it can be expensive.
An IDP is not proof of driving knowledge or skill. An IDP is a permit, not an ID card or a driver’s license, which is why you must also have your driver's license with you. Your IDP won't even be recognized if you don't also hold a valid driver's license. Also, your IDP does not entitle you to any additional benefits, discounts, privileges, or rights.
Keep in mind that you cannot get an IDP while abroad. Apply for your IDP while you’re still in the US and check the requirements of the countries you’ll be visiting before traveling.
How to Obtain an International Driver’s Permit (IDP)
There are only two organizations that issue valid IDPs in the United States: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
American Automobile Association (AAA)
In order to apply for the IDP via the American Automobile Association, you need to complete the following steps:
- Fill out the application provided on the official AAA website.
- Gather the necessary documents: the filled-in application, a valid US driver's license, two passport-sized photos, and your IDP payment fee.
- Visit your local AAA branch and bring the above documents with you.
American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA)
To get an IDP from the American Automobile Touring Alliance, you’ll follow a similar process:
- Complete the application form.
- Provide two passport-sized photos, photocopies of your driver’s license front and back, and a check or money order for the IDP issuance fee plus your choice of shipping and handling options.
- Mail these documents to the address provided in the form.
Note that USPS Priority Mail shipping and handling costs $10, while USPS Express Mail costs $35. If you’re outside the US, the AATA mails you the license by DHL Express for $85.
Look into your current car insurance situation and make sure the plan matches the activities you’ve planned for your travel time. If you’re not planning to drive a car, cancel the insurance to save money (provided your car will be somewhere safe while you’re abroad), or speak to your car insurance agency to find out the best way to update your plan during your long period of travel.
If you plan to be abroad for an extended period of time or plan to not come back at all, it might also be best to sell your car. It’s not a simple process and can be even more complicated if the car is still under loan. It is important that you start this process early so everything is ready when it’s time to go.
Health and Medical
Taking care of your health and medical needs is critical before you travel.
Begin addressing any chronic health issues you have, and make doctor appointments ahead of time with specialists like dentists, opticians, and physicians.
Be sure to ask your doctor/s to provide you with 5 to 6 months of prescriptions in advance for any pre-existing medical conditions. If you plan on traveling longer than 6 months, it is important to speak with your physician in order to plan the best route to obtain and maintain your medications.
Also, prepare doctor’s notes for countries with strict drug policies and keep copies of your medical records on hand as you travel.
Immunization and Vaccination
When planning out your travel itinerary, consult your healthcare provider/s for the necessary immunizations and vaccinations. Research any requirements for region-specific vaccines. Here, you can check the recommended immunizations for each country.
Bank Accounts and Financial Considerations
Get your current finances in order before leaving the country by reviewing your bank accounts and updating your banking plan according to your new travel needs.
Notify your current bank about your relocation, and inform them of your travel itinerary and the duration of your trip. You can also consult a financial advisor who will help you set up your account according to your personal needs based on the travel time frame and budget.
To make money transfers easier, consider setting up an overseas account as well, or pick a fintech company (such as Transferwise, PayPal, Payoneer, Revolut) so you can hold, convert to, and pay with preferred currencies.
As far as credit cards are concerned:
- Check if the countries you plan to visit will accept the current credit cards you already own. If they don’t accept your current credit card/s, it is important to sign-up for a new credit card that will support your travel needs.
- Beware of foreign processing fees with your current credit cards. Foreign processing fees can go up to 3%, and they can add up, so consider withdrawing a substantial amount of cash for your travel so you have money ready and can avoid ATM fees in other countries. You can also obtain a new credit card that doesn’t have extra foreign transaction fees.
If you’re interested in looking into other credit card options, this article lists a few options for cards that require no foreign transaction fee.
Cost of Living
As part of your financial consideration, check the costs of basic expenses where you plan to spend time traveling such as the rent, utilities, food, health, and transportation. Compare that amount with what you pay now, and you’ll get an idea of how much you will need to earn and whether it will pay off to stay in that location.
Some useful sites for comparing the costs of living in various countries are:
As a digital nomad, you’ll have to consider your current housing situation and where you’ll live as you travel abroad. Below outlines each scenario of housing and how to handle them as you move.
If you own your current home, it might be an option to sell if you are planning on staying an extended time abroad. Selling your current home will also give you some financial resources for moving abroad. Be sure to list your home for sale ahead of time and consider hiring a real estate agent to speed up the process.
If you decide that you will come back to your home, putting your current home on a lease might be ideal. Apart from guaranteeing a place to return to, this will generate a steady stream of passive income and add another layer of financial security. It is important to list your property for rent and begin interviewing renters as soon as possible. It might be ideal to hire a property manager to help while you are abroad to make sure your tenants and property are taken care of.
If you are on a rental lease, contact your landlord and cancel your rental contract. It is also important to review your current rental situation to make sure any late fees and apartment maintenance needs are taken care of when you leave.
Due to the fact that you will be gone for a long period of time, you should cancel or pause your utility service. Manage your service online or contact your service providers and notify them to suspend your gas, electricity, water, sewer, television, and telephone services as well as payments.
Contact your home insurance providers and cancel or modify your plan for the time you plan to be away.
The spontaneous lifestyle of a digital nomad may take you down unexpected trails, and this includes many different jobs and working locations. Naturally, the requirements will vary as well, so a well-prepared digital nomad will carry photocopies of the following documents:
- Proof of citizenship
- Insurance policies (life, health, etc.)
- Academic records and diplomas
- Employment records
- Proof of residence and/or your new job
- A living will and testament
Don’t forget to change the address at which your mail arrives at when relocating. Complete the required forms at your local post office and file a change of address with USPS. You can opt for either a temporary or permanent change of address.
How to Manage Your Mail While Traveling Abroad
Now the age-old question...how do you handle mail as a digital nomad? A virtual mailbox is your ideal solution if you don’t want to rely on (or burden) friends and family to receive and open your personal mail.
What is a Virtual Mailbox
A virtual mailbox is a type of service that allows you to read your postal mail online via any device with an internet connection and from anywhere in the world.
With a virtual mailbox, your physical mail is available to you in an online account, similar to email. In addition, a virtual mailbox offers a variety of other mail services including:
- Online viewing of mail
- Mail opening and scanning
- Mail forwarding
- Package forwarding
- Mail shredding, mail disposal, or mail recycling
- Package storage and shipping
- Check depositing
What Else to Do Before Traveling Abroad
Before setting out on your journey, it’s a good idea to do the following:
- If you have pets, be sure to take care of their accommodations before you travel. You might need to find them a loving new home if the travel is too risky for their health. If you plan on taking your pet, be sure to get them vaccinated and obtain the necessary travel and medical pet documents.
- Address any safety concerns if you’re traveling to a tumultuous country. It is best to research the country or countries you’ll be visiting ahead of time. You can start with the Department of State’s travel warnings and check websites such as Nomadlist.
- Decide what to pack for your travel destinations. A minimalist approach is popular with the digital nomad crowd (this list is useful for packing), but be sure to think of things that are hard to acquire in certain countries. For example, deodorant is notoriously hard to find in China.
- Determine what to do with your remaining things such as give them away, sell, or store your items.
- Cancel memberships that you’ll no longer need such as your internet provider, libraries, gym, etc.
Get a printable version of VirtualPostMail’s (VPM) Moving Abroad Checklist for Digital Nomads and review it whenever you want. It will help you move overseas and is based on a 90-day timeline.