7 Financial Tips from Digital Nomads who Travel the World was written for Playlouder by a contributing author. Please note that contributing opinions are that of the author. They are not always in strict alignment with my own opinions. –Joe.
Becoming a digital nomad seems to be the thing to do these days. Even before the pandemic, the tech world was encouraging greater remote work as people were starting to realize they could still accomplish the same tasks without having to go to the office.
Covid further encouraged the move away from formal office space, and now people of many stripes are pursuing the nomadic work style.
Some might be intimidated by the prospect. Heading off into unknown territory can be exciting, but there are a lot of questions involved, including time management, how to keep control of one’s cash flow, safety, etc.
Fortunately, the digital nomad lifestyle is now becoming popular enough that people are establishing common techniques for how to manage the day-to-day issues involved in moving around.
In trying to figure out whether or not this might be a lifestyle choice for you, there are several points made repeatedly by digital nomads that can help clarify things. If you think you can manage these ideas in practice, this decision might just be a good one for you.
Figure out the standards of living in your destination countries before you arrive
A mistake that many travelers make is assuming that poorer countries are necessarily cheap to live in. If you look at the GDP per capita of some poorer countries, you might think that you’ll be able to live like a king for next to nothing.
However, you’ll later find that people who are perceived as “wealthy foreigners” are more often subject to random theft. Or you could end up living without clean running water, for example, and have to accommodate for that. Obviously, there is a cost associated with these challenges.
In addition, buying even essential goods in developing countries can be more of a challenge than you might think. Sometimes import taxes can drive up costs of decent-quality toiletries, food items, and other things that you’d never expect to be expensive.
You’ll also want to consider what your preferred mode of transportation will be. Car rental services are often a good choice for digital nomads to get around in a reliable way. Hey, if you have the dough you can even rent a Rolls in Dubai at vip rent a car! Sexy!
But, for the rest of us, there may also be very reliable public transportation, or even local taxis, that you can use regularly and inexpensively. So, it's important to do your homework and be prepared before you venture off into what you think will be an easy place to live in.
Consider the use of e-wallets
E-wallets are considered by many to be a good alternative to credit cards because they don't require carrying around a physical item. Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Ali Pay are just a few examples of e-wallet options these days.
While this form of payment is a big plus in the eyes of many, there is also some concern about their safety as they may be easy for a thief to use if your phone gets stolen. Make sure you have a string password of face ID enabled. And perhaps a way to wipe your phone remotely if it gets stolen.
E-payment systems can also vary from country to country, as well, so you may find that you've gotten yourself nicely set up to pay for things in one place, only to have your payments rejected in the next. Again, it pays to do your homework in advance.
Keep a substantial reserve fund
The fear that things could suddenly go awry is a legitimate one. Even with the best planning efforts, you can run into unexpected problems that can suddenly slash several hundred dollars or more of your budget.
You never know when you will suddenly get your visa rejected upon entry to a new country because of some fine print and end up having to buy a plane ticket out of there on the spot.
For this reason, you should set a certain amount of money aside for incidentals. Keep it separate from your proposed budget so that you can have the peace of mind of being able to utilize your daily budget without the risk of falling below it.
The amount that you choose to put aside should be proportional to the amount of moving around that you want to do. If you are planning to move between several different countries, make contingency plans for that many places. If you end up lucky and not running into any major problems, you will be better off in the end.
Double-check your banking ability overseas
Another essential thing you’ll want to do before you venture out is ensure that you’ll be able to conduct your banking activities online (including bill payments, etc.) and ensure your accounts won’t be blocked by your bank because of perceived suspicious behavior.
You also may be surprised at how many websites (including local utility sites, shops, phone providers, etc.) won’t work overseas without the right VPN, or perhaps at all. So you should be fully prepared to manage all your regular finances while you’re away.
Carry extra cash in local and reserve currency
Many places claim to take debit and credit cards, but you’d be amazed at the number of exceptions to this.
You might see a sign for Visa and Mastercard in a shop window but later discover that there is a problem with the chip on your card. Or you could find that a restaurant accepts debit cards but that their WiFi goes out so often that, in practice, their machine doesn't work reliably.
Any number of things can happen that can make you suddenly strapped for cash, both in local and internationally-accepted currencies. It is always wise to carry a good amount of money both in the local currency and in dollars or euros because these are internationally recognized.
A related concern is the currency strength of the places you go. If the country you're visiting is unstable or somehow prone to political or economic problems, you could find your proposed budget suddenly blown in an instant.
While it's never possible to be completely sure of what will happen on your voyage, it would be a good idea to research your intended destinations as thoroughly as possible before you go to determine their level of stability.
If you’re concerned about safety while carrying cash around – as you should be – think about ways that you can keep your cash secure. You should always have a way to lock up your suitcase, and if you have particularly valuable things with you, you should ask your hoteliers about safes inside the hotels where you can leave your stuff and not have to worry about it.
Think about the other important temporary residence requirements your destination may have.
Aside from the question of living expenses, the bureaucracies of different countries can exact money from you as a visitor, especially if you are earning money in the country. Some countries require tax payment for stays beyond a certain number of days.
Also, remember that even though you are overseas, you will still owe taxes on any money made while there. It doesn't even matter if you earned the money from a local source; you would still owe taxes in the US. Check with your CPA for details on this!
In addition, certain countries might require you to carry or purchase health insurance while you are there. You should figure this out and calculate the cost based on the amount of time you hope to stay in advance.
Live like a local
If you're really looking to get into the cultures of the places you're going, it will mean getting away from the Hiltons and the ex-pat pubs, at least sometimes, and hitting some spots that will take you out of your comfort zone.
Why not hit a local food stall where you'll have to point at what you want? Try buying some basic food items in the local open market rather than the big supermarket? After all, you're not really a tourist at this point, so why act like one?
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