What you need to know to be a Digital Nomad

Author: Aaron Green LLB CIPD, Operations Manager.

So, you’ve been released from the confines of working in an office, either temporarily or permanently, and the borders are starting to open. Now might be the perfect time to try being a “Digital Nomad” or “Location Independent”.  

These are 2 different ways of working abroad. A Digital Nomad chooses a career they can do from just about anywhere. This is often self-employed, free-lancing and generally generates smaller incomes. Being Location Independent means that you can work for your current employer from anywhere in the world. During the global pandemic, we have seen a massive increase in people abandoning their home cities and countries and working globally.  

Before you pack a bag and book a ticket, there are a number of things that you need to determine in working from abroad: 

  • Tax – if you are working abroad in short or medium term, you may be liable for tax in both the UK and the country that you are working in. This is a complex area and relies on double taxation rules and length of time resident in different countries. This is particularly relevant for location Independent Workers as it could also have tax implications on their employers. It is worth checking with your employer and an independent financial advisor before deciding if this applies to you. 
  • Entry to the country – you must check with each country whether you are allowed to enter and whether you are allowed to work on the particular visa you have. We have seen stories of travellers being arrested and deported for overstaying their visas or working on a non-work visa. 
  • Insurance – most domestic insurance policies will only cover you for being abroad for up to 60 days in a year. If you are planning on travelling for longer than that you will need specific insurance. This includes device insurance as well, as you will be taking devices that will be expensive and a hassle to replace.  
  • Security – both personal security and device security. Research the countries you are planning to travel to and take the necessary, recommended personal security measures whilst you are there. Keep devices hidden from view and never leave them alone in coffee shops etc whilst you are remote working. Not only could you lose the device, but you could also be liable for data breaches.  
  • Finances – not such an issue if you are location independent working, but if you are leaving your current role and planning on being a Digital Nomad then ensuring you are financially stable enough to afford it is vital – you don’t want to have to use the emergency get me home fund 3 months into your trip.  
  • Time Zone differences – if you are judged on out-put rather than presenteeism then this is not so much of an issue – you can work in the daytime wherever you are and file whenever suits you. If you are managed by presenteeism and are expected to be on line 9-5 GMT this could be the middle of the night in your time zone – bare this in mind if it means you will be sleeping when all the visitor sites are open!  
  • Productivity – if you struggle with productivity in the UK, you will struggle with productivity travelling when there are so many interesting, exciting sights to see, or you just want to spend the day at the beach! Having productivity improvement mechanisms is vital to keep you earning!  
  • Planning – have a plan on where you are visiting, a budget on what to spend, and an emergency cash flow. Stick to your plan and to your budget otherwise you won’t see everything you want to.  

Once you have the boring bits covered and you have planned where you are going, now comes the exciting bit of selecting the right tech for you.  

You will want to pack light so that you can move around more easily and not have to pay checked luggage charges, but you also need to be able to work effectively – otherwise you might as well just take a holiday!  

The laptop is the first, and most important, bit of kit you need. You need a decent spec and battery life so that you don’t have to keep searching for power outlets in the cafes and restaurants you will visit. Don’t over spec your laptop though – if you aren’t a Graphics Designer or Particle Physicist you don’t need a power-hungry laptop. It needs to be robust as well and survive the travel and occasional drop that will undoubtedly happen.  

You need to decide how you will connect to the internet. Using public Wi-Fi is fraught with security issues and tethering to your phone is useful in an emergency but not suitable for everyday use – you will be draining 2 devices and your connection won’t be stable, not to mention roaming charges. A Wi-Fi hub is the best bet and with some providers offering international data packages you can pick up some good deals. This will mean you don’t have to get a package with calls and texts and you can connect more devices, with a more stable connection than tethering to your phone. It also frees your phone up to use as a phone.  

You will need something to carry your kit around in. You won’t want to use the traveller’s backpack all the time as it means packing and unpacking or carrying a heavy load. A small, protected backpack is your best bet – preferably one with the zip on the inside to prevent pickpockets from getting hold of your tech. Packing cubes are also a great idea. You can organise your clothes into days/weeks so that you are only unpacking what you need – it also gives you an idea of when you need to do laundry without leaving it too late!  

Whilst working, you need to consider your occupational safety. Digital Nomads and Location Independents often work out of cafes, on kitchen tables or on the sofa. Having a laptop stand, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and a good back support will help protect you from injury.  

Working in cafes and on planes, trains and automobiles is also a noisy event. Decent noise-cancelling headphones will help to block out the distractions and allow you to focus on the work you are doing. They also come in handy for relaxation and mindfulness time to block out any unwanted noise, particularly if you are in hostels or shared accommodation.  

A global charger and surge protected multi-plug are also necessities. You need to charge your devices wherever you can and using a global charger with multiple USB charging points will prevent you having to decide which device is most important to charge. A power bank is also vital. You don’t want to be short on power when you are coming up to an urgent deadline without a power socket nearby.  

How you will store your information is also important. A combination of storage devices, USB sticks and cloud storage is the best bet and the most secure. If you lose your hard storage, ensure it is password protected and encrypted to prevent your data being lost, and back everything up to the cloud!! Jumping in the swimming pool with your only USB stick in your pocket is a sure-fire way of losing everything you have been working on.  

Whilst working it is important to keep hydrated, particularly in warmer climates, but rather than pay out for bottled water everywhere and lug it around with you, water purification tablets can really help – and prevent any upset stomachs that could stop you enjoying your travels.  

Whilst travelling you will pick up lots of local currency. Having 2 wallets/purses, one that you use and one that you keep safe in your accommodation, means you don’t have to carry all your currency around with you – stopping you from being a target for pickpockets and also meaning you have an emergency stash should you lose your wallet. Decent travel credit/debit cards are also a good idea, those with 0% foreign transaction fees from a global bank are your best bet to keep your money safe and get access to it in an emergency.  

You will want to take lots of leads and cables with you when you go, but triage what you actually need. You won’t need more than 2 USB chargers, 1 Apple charger and possibly a HDMI to HDMI cable – if you are working in a hotel or Airbnb that has a TV screen you can plug your laptop in and watch your latest downloaded series on it when you are chilling out – a break from squinting at your laptop screen will do wonders for eye-strain. Portable screens are also widely available and at a good price. Ensure the cables are organised so that you don’t lose them or damage them. They can be costly to replace if you are in a country where tech isn’t as prevalent. Stock check them before you leave places to make sure you aren’t leaving that most valuable cable.  

There will be other items you need and other items you want. Make sure you know the difference. Things that are going to make your travelling safer are items you need, things that are going to make your travel more enjoyable are things that you want. Practice pack a few times before you go and prioritise the necessities before you move on to the nice-to-haves.  

And most importantly, enjoy your time away. Use it to reflect on yourself, your career and what it is that you want to do. Being a Digital Nomad or Location Independent won’t last forever so use the time to decide what you want to do with your life once your experience is over.  

Safe travels!