How to become a digital nomad

Gabriela Peratello

If you want to see the world while building a career, you may be wondering how to become a digital nomad. Digital nomads work remotely, from laptops, phones or other smart devices — which means you can travel and live wherever takes your fancy, and just work wherever the wifi is. It sounds too good to be true, but in fact with a bit of hard work more or less anyone can try the nomad lifestyle.

This guide covers all you need to know including how to become a digital nomad with no experience, and where to find remote jobs online. We’ll also introduce the Wise Account as the simple, low cost way to manage your money as a digital nomad.


What's a digital nomad?

Let’s start at the beginning — what is a digital nomad in the first place?

The digital nomad trend has become increasingly popular in recent years, as more and more jobs move online and international travel is more common. Generally, the term digital nomad refers to someone who works remotely online, from a laptop or phone, and is therefore free to move where and when they like.

They may stay in one location for just a few days, or fall in love with a place and stay for months — and they might work for a single employer, run their own businesses, or freelance. It’s a pretty flexible lifestyle, which makes it accessible to a broad range of people.

What do digital nomads do?

When you think of the best travel jobs you might imagine working on a cruise ship, or as a tour guide. But there are also plenty of jobs you can do remotely, which means you can become a digital nomad if you want to.

Pretty much anything you can do online can be an option as a digital nomad — here are a few common career choices:

  • Web and app development

  • Graphic design or photography

  • Content and copywriting

  • Translation

  • Admin and virtual assistant

  • Finance and accounting

  • Online teaching

As long as you have a saleable skill, and a working laptop, there really are plenty of choices out there for you. Getting started as a digital nomad isn’t easy, as many of the fields which are popular are competitive.

That may mean you need to hustle to get going — but you can also benefit from global arbitrage, meaning you earn from clients in the US while choosing one of the world’s cheapest places to live, to make your money go further as you get set up.

Pros and cons of being a digital nomad

✅ Pros❌ Cons
  • Live and work wherever you want

  • Experience new cultures and make new friends

  • Cut the costs of living, while earning from higher income countries

  • Work for yourself, freelance, or get a remote position with an employer

  • Complicated visa and tax implications

  • It’s harder to build relationships when you move often

  • Income isn’t guaranteed

  • It can be hard to balance work and free time, while still earning enough — at least at first

Advantages of being a digital nomad

As a digital nomad you have a lot of control over certain aspects of your lifestyle. Decide where you want to live based on your personal preferences, work to suit your schedule as long as you can earn enough to pay your way, and build a portfolio career using different skills for variety.

You can be a digital nomad working for a single employer — if you can find one which is happy for you to work fully remotely from anywhere in the world. Or you can become a digital nomad by freelancing or building your own business based on your professional skills and interests. There’s a lot of flexibility for anyone who’s willing to work hard.

Downsides of being a digital nomad

The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t perfect. For many digital nomads, income isn’t predictable, which can mean you have to take on extra clients or cut costs when things get tight.

It can also mean you’re in a fairly complex position for visas and tax, which does mean reading up and getting advice about what’s legal and required based on where in the world you are.

While having full control over your lifestyle can be freeing — it’s also a responsibility. Every time you move you’ll need to think about where you’ll live, how you’ll make new friends, and how you can structure day to day life to make the most of the opportunity. That’s a lot of thinking, preparation and planning — and doesn’t suit everyone!

How to become a digital nomad: step by step

There’s no single right way to become a digital nomad. Your journey will be influenced by the type of work you do, the country or countries you want to travel to, your personal preferences and lifestyle.

However, for most people there are a broad set of steps which just make sense when you’re preparing to take the leap into digital and remote working.

Step 1. Figure out your saleable skills

Unless you’re lucky enough to already have an employer who will allow you to work remotely while you travel, you’re going to need to find a new job, build a business or start freelancing in order to support the digital nomad lifestyle. Before you get started, it’s a smart idea to figure out your saleable skills as a digital nomad.

Of course, you may have the option of simply taking the work you do now and using that as your key freelance or business offering. That can work well if you’re already in a field like web development or graphic design for example — you’ll just need to change the way you work, rather than the type of work you do.

But what if your job right now won’t be possible online? In this case, it’s time to think about transferable skills you can move to a digital lifestyle. For example, if you’re super organized you may consider looking for work as a virtual assistant. If you have a specialist skill you could consider creating and selling online courses. Or maybe it’s time to think about remote English teaching?

Step 2. Build a portfolio

Most digital nomads will need to build a client base and sell their skills, experience and talents to customers. Chances are that you’re going to need a web presence and a portfolio to do that. You can build a website using a free tool, and use it to showcase your work — whether that’s uploading images of art you’ve created, providing links to published writing you’ve done for other clients, or hosting positive customer reviews alongside details about the type of projects you take on.

Exactly what you need will vary a lot based on the type of work you do — but having a professional online presence which clients can check out when they’re deciding whether or not to work with you will definitely help.

Step 3. Start looking for freelance projects

It’s pretty common for people transitioning to a digital nomad lifestyle to start to find and take on freelance projects even before they move overseas.

It can be a great opportunity to build a bit of a side hustle, create a client base, and add some work to your portfolio, so you hit the ground running faster when you make your move.

There are a few ways you might want to find freelance work:

  • Use a freelance marketplace site
  • Look for recommendations from your own network
  • Approach businesses directly
  • Try professional networks like LinkedIn to build business

What works for you will depend on the field you’re in. It’s good to know that freelance marketplace sites like Upwork and Guru often operate in a couple of different ways.

Employers publish projects which freelancers can bid for — and freelancers can also create profiles detailing their skills, which employers can browse. Spending a bit of time on sites like these can really help you get a feel for the type of projects out there that might suit you, the fees people can command, and how best to market your experience.

Step 4. Pick a destination and plan your move

Once you’ve got a clearer idea of the type of work available, and what it might pay, you’ll be able to narrow down your destination options. Look for countries which offer digital nomad visas, which often let you stay for anything from a few months to a couple of years, and think about the cost of living as well.

Often it’s best to choose a destination with a lower cost of living where you can, to give you a bit of breathing space while you’re building your online earning potential.

No matter where you head off to, there will be a lot of practical planning to do. From where to live, to what to take — and how to manage your money while you move around. Connect with other digital nomads online and through blogs, to get an idea of how the lifestyle works for others.

And once you’ve picked a destination, you’ll also be able to tap into expat communities there on social media, to get advice and insights into practical day to day life. Before you go anywhere, download some of the best apps for travel onto your phone, so you’ve got a head start once you’re on the move.

Step 5. Start earning remotely wherever you are

Once you’re on the move, you’ll need to ramp up your online work and continue to build your client base.

Typically it takes time to establish yourself as a digital nomad, so it’ll be hard work getting started. However, because you can do so many different things online to earn income, you do have a lot of opportunities to build varied income streams, which can make it easier to manage peaks and troughs in workload.

For example, as well as looking for freelance remote work directly linked to your professional field, you could explore other common remote opportunities like teaching English, taking on data entry or admin, or creating or selling online products and courses.

It’s worth noting at this point that you’ll also need to think about your taxes now you’re earning overseas. Depending on where you are in the world, and how much you earn, you may have different reporting requirements both in your new home and in the US.

You’ll need to report your income to the IRS if you exceed the minimum income requirement based on your age and tax filing status — this changes from time to time, so the IRS offers a tool to determine your filing requirement¹. Take professional advice if you’re unsure of your obligations, though — it’s not worth accidentally breaking the law.

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Step 6. Build your network and client base

Even once the work has started coming in, you’ll find you need to continue to network and market your skills. As a digital nomad this is likely to be mainly done online, through joining professional communities, reaching out directly to potential clients, and maintaining your web presence.

You may also want to build a mailing list, or post blogs, vlogs or other social media stories, depending on your field.

Get testimonials from clients you’ve worked with before, share these as widely as possible, and ask them to recommend you to others. You can also talk to other digital nomads in related but not competing fields who may be able to recommend clients to you — developing as many relationships as possible will always throw up new opportunities, even if they’re not what you expected.

Step 7. Create and use a flexible budget

Once your new digital nomad lifestyle is really up and running, you’ll start to build a better picture of the income and outgoings you can expect.

One of the great things about being a digital nomad is that you have options to increase your earnings — or to decrease costs by changing where you live. Keeping on top of your budget will be crucial — and it certainly helps if you’re able to build an emergency savings pot for those unexpected expenses.

Whatever you do, make sure you have adequate health and travel insurance — specialist digital nomad insurance policies are available — so you know you’ll be looked after if you run into any medical issues along the way.

Where can you find digital nomad jobs?

The best places to look for digital nomad jobs will vary a bit based on the type of work you want to do, and whether you’re looking for freelance opportunities or a full contract with a single employer. If you’re considering freelancing, check out:

  • Upwork
  • Guru

All of these platforms offer freelance opportunities which can be done remotely from anywhere. They’re competitive, but you can build repeat business and start to bring in income using your existing skill set.

Alternatively, you can look for remote work with a single employer by searching umbrella sites and using remote work as one of the search terms. Here are a few of the largest job sites in the US, which all allow you to filter positions for remote opportunities only, and then search for specific career types.

  • Careerbuilder
  • Glassdoor

If you’re looking for remote work opportunities from a single employer, you’ll need to talk through their expectations before you accept a position. Some may still require you to be based in the US, or may have fixed shift patterns which would be hard to abide by as a digital nomad, for example.

Working remotely or overseas: alternatives to being a digital nomad

Digital nomads typically move around a lot. However, you can also look for opportunities to work remotely or experience an expat lifestyle without committing to moving around often.

This can give you the opportunity to explore new places in more depth, making new friends and really getting under the skin of a new country and culture.

If moving around frequently isn’t your thing, you may still be able to consider a few alternatives to being a digital nomad:

  • Would your employer support you working remotely for shorter periods, to allow you to travel and explore, but return to the US regularly as required?

  • If you work for an international company, do they offer relocation opportunities for the short or long term?

  • Have you considered teaching overseas? Both language centers and international schools look for native English speakers often

  • Could you get a new position with a business based abroad, which could help you get a work visa to move to the new location?

  • Many volunteering organizations offer short and long term positions internationally, which include food and accommodation in return for volunteer work

Wise: a financial solution for the nomadic lifestyle

No matter how you decide to arrange your work to support your travel plans, you’ll need a way to manage your money across currencies. Meet the Wise Account.

Open a Wise account online or in the Wise app, to hold and exchange 40+ currencies all in the same place. You can also get a linked international payment card, and bank details to receive payments like a local in 9 different currencies and send to over 160 countries — perfect when you’re moving around.

Wise currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate with low, transparent fees for the services you need. There’s no monthly fee and no minimum balance, which means you can use your account when you need it, with no ongoing charges to worry about. Easy.

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Becoming a digital nomad is a dream for many people. And with more and more online and remote work available, it’s becoming ever more achievable. Whatever your skill set or background, if you can work online and from your phone, you can probably become a digital nomad.

It’s not an easy ride and will require a lot of planning and preparation — but the rewards are pretty amazing once you get started. Use this guide to help you launch the next chapter in your journey — and don’t forget to open your Wise Account to make it easier to manage your money on the move, too.


  1. IRS - Do I need to file a tax return?

Source checked on 10.12.2022

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This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

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