How to Pick Your First Country as a New Digital Nomad
The world is changing. Well, those are words you may have heard a lot since coronavirus became one of the most commonly used phrases in everyone’s vocab. Digital nomadism, however, is a trend that was already underway well before the health pandemic.
The rise in the number of digital nomads has proliferated in the last six years or so. While COVID-19 may have brought global travel to a standstill and forced us all into an unprecedented retreat in our homes, what it also did was fast-track the use of technologies at both an individual and organisational level.
In other words, the world was already going digital, but with physical interaction being discouraged, suddenly there was a growing need to adopt online technologies even in aspects of our lives that were not categorised as shopping, music or movie streaming.
Related Reading – 6 Digital Nomad Hotspots You Need To Check Out
Once an Exception, soon to be a Norm
One of the biggest gainers of the increased digital adoption was the online workspace in all its variations – freelancing, independent contractors, online business ownership in its myriad forms, remote working; the works.
There’s no doubting the digital trajectory the world was taking with respect to the “occupation” side of things. But the coronavirus gave that shift a fresh jolt as people lost jobs, companies embraced remote work and individuals rethought their life priorities and decided to do the things that matter more, with travelling the world (which tops many a person’s wish list) being one of them.
As the world opens up again, you can expect the digital nomad workforce to mushroom. And it won’t be just millennials posing under palm trees, computer in one hand and a piña colada in the other. The remote-work genie is well and truly out of the bottle and more and more people are willing to take that leap and roam the world more than ever.
One study [PDF] dubbed COVID-19 and the Rise of the Digital Nomad conducted in the US showed that the population of digital nomads in the United States shot up by 50% from 2019 to mid-2020 (before the vaccine rollout, mind you) rising from 7.3 million to 10.9 million.
Another study involving British employees looking for work opportunities in 2021 found that most people (in diverse sectors) considered the ability to work remotely or flexibly as the biggest appeal when it came to work benefits – a similar script in many countries around the world.
What was once an exception, it’s safe to say the digital nomadic lifestyle is going mainstream.
Things to Consider When Choosing Your First Country as a Digital Nomad
Indeed, some countries are even getting creative by issuing digital nomad visas to attract long-term stayers beyond the usual couple-of-days or weeks’ holiday in a bid to boost tourism.
Even Airbnb has shifted its focus from short-term rentals to long-term stays (a month or more) for both holidays and “workcations”, the idea being that more people are embracing the idea of working remotely. Suffice to say, there’s never been a better time to become a digital nomad.
Thing is, though, despite the foundations for a nomadic lifestyle already laid, becoming a digital nomad is not just about thinking up a dream location, packing up your bags and setting off into the sunset.
You’re leaving behind the familiar and venturing into a way of life you’re not accustomed to; probably in a far-off land with a completely different culture to what you’re used to. As exciting as the idea might seem, it’s good to dream about the life that awaits but also important to take the rose-coloured glasses off and do your planning from a realistic standpoint.
That’s particularly the case if this is your first foray as a digital nomad.
Being a digital nomad does not mean you’ll be on holiday 24/7, you see. The ability to work while you travel is a key factor to making this lifestyle work.
Of course, there will be a burning desire to spend time exploring and playing tourist. But you also need to be able to support yourself, otherwise you risk turning what was supposed to be a fun drawn-out experience into a short-lived affair.
When it comes down to choosing the destination country as a first-time digital nomad, there are some important things to think about before making that transition.
Yup! One often overlooked aspect when choosing a destination is the climate and weather. Being a digital nomad means you’ll not be visiting the country for a couple of days but rather, putting down roots for several months – or weeks if you plan to up sticks and swap locations.
The weather will determine how comfortable and bearable your new city or country will be. After all, half of your time – if not the large chunk of it – will be spent working, not lounging on the beach or exploring nature trails. Ideally, you want a setting you can be productive in.
If sunny climes don’t do it for you, you might want to consider somewhere with a cooler climate – and vice-versa.
The weather will also influence the type of activities you can immerse yourself in. The beauty of being a digital nomad is the ability to create the life that you want, and having a dream climate can go a long way towards helping you achieve that.
Good thing is, most countries have different climate zones or annual seasons, so sometimes it’s possible to work around the weather, especially if you don’t plan to stay in a fixed location for too long.
This mostly applies to employees working remotely or individuals working in teams.
The time zone of the destination you’re considering should be manageable to ensure that you’re both productive and able to make the most of your time in your new city or country.
Overlooking this could see you not only working at odd hours of the clock due to time overlap (at times you’re not even productive!) but also making more sacrifices than you’d have bargained for when you find yourself giving up a part of the lifestyle or culture of the destination you’re visiting.
In some cases, you might find the sacrifices are just not worth it and are probably better off picking a country in a different time zone.
Cost of living
Research on the cost of living in your destination country (or city) before setting off. This will help you determine whether the lifestyle will be sustainable and if so, in turn help you in planning your budget.
It’s also important to think about the type of life you intend to lead. Do you plan to be more settled in a particular place or plan to travel across different cities? This will have a bearing on your budget as well as the cost of living.
The exchange rate is something else to factor in. If you’re earning in USD, your money will stretch further in Africa or Asia than it would in Europe or North America. Food and drink is also likely to be cheaper so you can enjoy say, more fine-dining treats than you would in the latter.
In relation to cost of living, evaluate the housing options available to you. The best thing about becoming a digital nomad at this moment in time is the choice of options on offer.
Importantly, the emergence of alternatives like Airbnb and Vrbo means it’s possible to enjoy some of the best housing options anywhere without making your wallet squeal.
As a digital nomad, a lot of your work is centred around the Internet and technology in general. Having a good (aka fast, reliable and affordable) Internet connection is a non-negotiable.
You might want to look up the options in your destination first to get a general feel of what you can expect in this regard.
Amenities and infrastructure
In addition to good Internet, it would be a bonus if the country you plan to visit has a well-established infrastructure to support digital nomads – think co-working spaces, coffee shops, libraries and other digital nomad hotspots.
The idea of working with turquoise waters as your backdrop or in the serenity of nature might sound alluring, but as you’re bound to quickly realise, you won’t be getting much work done in the outdoors. And not because you can’t shut out the distractions. Too much heat doesn’t do laptops justice, as is the glare of the sun on your screen.
Some countries (and cities) have a well-developed infrastructure, with some specifically targeting digital nomads and remote workers. Check out how friendly the amenities in your destination are so you know what to expect.
Oh, and depending on where you’re going, power cuts are something you should bear in mind.
Digital nomad community
While you’re at it, explore how developed the digital nomad community in your destination is.
As a digital nomad, you’re creating a home away from home, and a community will play an important role in that.
You can encounter people with whom you might forge friendships or networking relationships or even become travel companions.
When venturing out as a digital nomad, safety should always be one of your top priorities.
When evaluating the safety of a place, consider aspects like:
- Crime of the area you’ll be settling in (the lighting too)
- Attitude towards “expats”
- Safety of the public transport system
- Walking and biking
You can check out evaluations from international students or online reviews that include safety ratings, in addition to the local crime or police statistics.
There are many differing working holiday visa options and if you’re lucky, you might find your destination country has a provision for those digital nomad visas we mentioned earlier.
Otherwise, depending on how long you plan to stay, it’s important to settle on a country (and a visa) that allows you to stay as long as you need subject to the entry requirements.
Life as a digital nomad is undoubtedly cool. It’s a chance to see the world and immerse yourself in memorable experiences while getting paid at the same time.
However, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine and once the excitement of the new surrounds begins to fizzle out, things can get pretty mundane.
It’s good to approach this lifestyle without having your head in the clouds. Proper planning is key, as is having an emergency fund on the side to cushion you from any curve balls that life might throw your way.
As much as you’re travelling whilst working, stability is a good thing in the life of a digital nomad.
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