Living and working as a digital nomad is growing in popularity as internet capabilities expand globally. If you have incurable wanderlust, you are in for a treat with such a career move. Working as a digital nomad or virtual expat gives you the opportunity to quench your travel thirst in dynamic and exciting ways.
Now before I dive too deep into this topic, let me clarify what I mean by a digital nomad. For definitive purposes, a digital nomad is an individual who utilizes technology as their primary means of maintaining a location-independent lifestyle. This could be through employment, entrepreneurship, residual income, or retirement.
For the purpose of clarity, I use the terms digital nomad and virtual expat interchangeably throughout this post. However, keep in mind that a digital nomad does not necessarily have to live outside of their passport country. Though living abroad is generally accepted as a major part of this lifestyle.
Digital Nomad Pathways
In general, there are two main pathways to becoming a digital nomad. The first option involves being a virtual employee or entrepreneur while living outside of your passport country. In such a scenario, an expat can work for an organization within or outside of their host country.
For instance, you may move from America to the UK and work as a virtual graphic designer while working for a UK-based company. Conversely, you may work as a virtual graphic designer in the U.S. for a U.S.-based company and decide to move to Thailand while continuing your employment.
The second option for digital nomads is to work remotely for an international company as an expatriate employee while living in your passport country. Remote or virtual work still gives a person a chance to travel domestically or internationally at their leisure. Though I know that some may not deem this as a “true” expat or digital nomad experience.
However, such an individual may be considered an expat based on their employment classification. This has become more common in light of recent travel bans. This is primarily due to the need for countries that depend on expat labor to find innovative ways to attract and retain such employees. Also, this situation still qualifies one as a digital nomad based on the definition.
There are many pros and cons to both of these options. Deciding to embark on a digital nomad journey is simply a matter of which option is most beneficial for your particular needs.
Pros of Being a digital nomad
Cost of Living
One of the most common reasons that people choose to work as a virtual expat is to enjoy a better standard of living. The average income of a worker or retiree from a developed country can typically go a long way in an underdeveloped or developing country.
This is why many remote employees and entrepreneurs choose to live in foreign countries with a lower cost of living. They can enjoy a higher standard of living while being able to save, pay off bills, or otherwise accumulate cash reserves.
Another benefit of being a digital nomad is the ability to be location-independent. You can travel to and/or live almost anywhere as a digital nomad. So this option is perfect for someone interested in exploring multiple locations without being tied to a specific geographical region.
Being a virtual expat opens the door to more employment opportunities. The virtual workspace in general, has literally changed our definition of when, why, and how we work. So digital nomads are often able to find or create unique and innovative career paths.
Being a digital nomad is all about freedom. In many instances, you have the opportunity to choose when, where, and how long you stay in a given destination. Depending on your work situation, you may also be able to choose your own schedule. This could mean spending early mornings relaxing at the beach. Or it could mean taking long drives up the coast in the middle of the workweek.
Being an expat, in general, often comes with its share of unique and exciting experiences. Expats tend to spend a good portion of their time exploring and learning about new places and meeting new people.
Working as a virtual expat has the propensity to expand your ability to explore and learn to a much higher degree. Since you are not bound to a traditional office setting, you can have the freedom to move around more frequently. This ultimately means more time for adventures and exploration.
Cons of Being a digital nomad
The digital nomad space can also present its share of challenges. In particular, for those who rely on steady and fast internet capabilities to perform their duties, infrastructure issues can present major problems.
This is especially the case for expats who live in areas that consistently have issues with the electricity and/or internet grid. Unfortunately, such issues are very common in underdeveloped and developing regions of the world. These issues can make the digital nomad life extremely difficult or outright impossible in some cases.
Loneliness and Isolation
Being an expat already comes with its own share of issues related to loneliness and isolation. Engaging in a digital nomad adventure can easily amplify such issues. When you work remotely, you typically work in a bubble even if you communicate with your colleagues on a regular basis.
If you spend the majority of your day online while living in a foreign country, it is easy to feel isolated. Undoubtedly this contributes to loneliness. When loneliness lingers, one can easily begin to experience mental health issues. So this is definitely something to consider, especially if you tend to be the loner type.
Another issue for digital nomads is securing visas for long-term stays. Digital nomads who work for organizations outside of their expat country usually have issues securing work or other long-term visas. This is because they don’t actually work for an organization within the country.
Therefore, they either have to make visa runs, apply for a business visa, or secure a long-term visa through other means. In most instances, such situations can prove cumbersome and daunting over the long haul. This can easily fatigue even the most adventurous person.
Dating and Romance
Loneliness and isolation can also bring trouble in the romance department. Not being around other people on a regular basis obviously diminishes your chances of meeting someone special. Couple this with language and cultural barriers, and you have a recipe for dating disasters.
Though all is not lost for virtual expats, it can be challenging for them to find suitable mates. Dating can be even more challenging for digital nomads who move around frequently. It is very difficult to maintain long-distance relationships over the long haul.
When someone chooses not to live a traditional lifestyle, they are often misunderstood by society. While being non-traditional is more fashionable than ever before, it is still taboo to break away from some societal norms. Living as a digital nomad is one of them.
Your family and friends will probably often question your desire to roam the world. Many of them won’t understand why you don’t want to settle down. So you may often feel like the black sheep of the family if you choose this lifestyle.
The Best Pathway
As always, my advice for choosing any option is what’s best for your situation. The digital nomad life is the only way to live for some. For others, not so much. You need to do some deep digging to determine if the above-mentioned and other pros outweigh the cons for you.