So, what exactly IS a digital nomad?

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Spend time searching online for references to freelance work and you will quickly encounter the term ‘digital nomad’.

It can seem like everyone is talking about becoming a digital nomad and it appears to be a hot topic at the moment. A search for the term digital nomad on Google returns more than 3.3 million results!

So, what exactly IS a digital nomad and what is involved in becoming one?

What is a digital nomad?

The term ‘digital nomad’ is simply a ‘buzz word’ for someone who combines work and travel. More precisely, they can be described as location independent workers who combine freelance work with living in interesting and exotic locations. Digital nomads will have clients all over the world and interact with them over the internet. Relatively small numbers of people have worked remotely for centuries (e.g. journalists or writers) but now this opportunity is being embraced by increasing numbers of (mostly) young, highly skilled and very motivated people.

Geoarbitrage and the internet have made being a digital nomad possible

Digital nomads live in one country and sell their sevices in another. This is simple geoarbitrage. Geoarbitrage is a concept often associated with Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Geoarbitage works so well because different countries have different living costs. Digital nomads live in beautiful and exotic locations with relatively low living costs and relatively high-speed internet and sell their services in countries that pay relatively well for them.

Geoarbitrage enables nomads to live relatively cheaply and means that they can use their earnings to finance further travel. This has made location independent working not just viable, but a particularly attractive option, for thousands and thousands of people.

Location — the key to the Digital Nomad lifestyle

The ideal location for digital nomads is one with lower living costs and relatively good internet. It should come as no surprise that there are many countries in Southeast Asia, South America, and perhaps to a lesser extent, parts of Europe that do offer that alluring combination of relatively low living costs and fast internet speeds.

Many nomads who are looking for that ideal location to live the digital nomad lifestyle start their search using websites like, developed by entrepreneur Pieter Levels. This is a frequently updated database of more than 2,000 of the best geographical locations for digital nomads. At the time of writing, some of the best destinations listed include Canggu in Bali, Bangkok in Thailand, Budapest in Hungary, and Buenos Aires, Brazil.

So, where do digital nomads actually work?

Every entrepreneur needs somewhere where they can run their business. The stereotypical image of a digital nomad is someone lounging on the beach with a cool drink in their hand, while blissfully working on their laptop. However, the reality is somewhat different!

You may find some people happily working from their hotel room, hotel lobbies, beachside cafes and yes, even lovely sandy beaches. However, many location independent workers find that the distractions, safety concerns, and feelings of isolation can mean that these are not always ideal workspace for long term success.

Consequently, this has lead to the rise of coworking shared workspaces where nomadic workers can rent a comfortable place to work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Nimman in Thailand, Hubud in Bali, and La Casa Redonda in Medellin, Colombia are just a few of the hundreds of shared workspaces worldwide that are popular with the growing community of location independent workers.

What sort of work do digital nomads do?

If there is a service that people are prepared to pay for and it can be provided over the internet then there is a good chance that a digital nomad is offering that service for sale, somewhere in the world.

Being able to interact with clients is vital, of course but that is not a problem forlocation independent workers. With a quality internet connection, a laptop, a Skype account, and a telephone headset, working for and communicating with clients could not be easier.

There are numerous freelance opportunities out there and many, perhaps most of them, will fall into one or more of the following categories:

Coding/ Programming — developing code such as Python, Ruby on Rails and C++.

Web development — setting up WordPress websites and plugins for clients. Also includes coding in PHP and HTML.

Internet marketing services — providing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Social Media Management (SMM) services.

Graphic design — creating business marketing material such as business cards, company brochures, business branding, and logo design.

Translation, interpretation and English language teaching — interpreting or translating the written word to or from English. Internet video services such as Skype are ideal for teaching English to pupils anywhere in the world.

Copywriting and writing for the web — writing advertising sales copy and website content such as commercial web pages and articles.

Many digital nomads are exploiting other opportunities to earn a living including teaching in-demand skills online, travel blogging (and earning through affiliate advertising on their blog) and establishing e-commerce sites.

Digital Nomad Visas

Interestingly, a number of countries have recognized the massive potential benefits that digital nomads bring to their chosen destinations such as their entrepreneurial spirit, technical knowledge, as well as their spending power.

In order to capture that talent and enthusiasm countries are creating specific visas to allow location independent workers to live, work and pay taxes in their countries. For example, Estonia’s Ministry of the Interior plans to develop the world’s first Digital Nomad Visa, Thailand has a SMART visa program and in Europe, Berlin in Germany offers nomads the opportunity to apply for a Freelancer Visa. This appears to be a trend that could continue.

As so many people have demonstrated, it really is possible to set up your business in exciting locations with little more than the right skill set, a laptop, and a fast internet connection.

Of course, being a location independent worker does not mean that the other pressures that entrepreneurs face suddenly disappear! You will still be running a business on your own, possibly with limited funds, thousands of miles away from your personal support networks.

However, this should not deter you if you want to live the digital nomad lifestyle. There are many nomads out there who have been able to make the transition to location independent working, successfully. If this lifestyle really appeals to you, then you will be in good company. Thousands and thousands of people are living the ‘digital nomad lifestyle’ already and with the right level of passion and determination, you could be one of them, too!