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Are you thinking about taking your remote work up a notch and moving from your kitchen table or home office to new, distant and exotic lands? Then you are ready to become a digital nomad. But before you start the process of selecting a country and packing your bags, there are a few key areas you need to focus on.
First on your list is which countries are offering digital nomad visas and what the requirements are, if any. You will need to establish if there’s a demand for your digital nomad business services to ensure that you have an income stream to support you while you are working out of Barbados, Iceland, Croatia or the other dozen countries currently accepting digital nomad workers. You will also need to look at potential digital nomad pros and cons, understand how your business finances might look and ensure everything is in order. In short, you will need a business plan.
What Is a Digital Nomad?
Before we get into how to become a digital nomad, let’s review what a digital nomad is. A digital nomad is a remote worker who utilizes telecommunication technologies to earn a living abroad as either a freelancer or someone concentrating on their own project or business. Just like traditional nomads who had no permanent base or home but traveled from place to place to find new grazing lands for their flocks or hunting grounds, you will be free to travel and work wherever you like.
Being a digital nomad gives you the opportunity to earn a living and experience life in different countries. This new freedom gives remote workers the chance to escape traditional office settings and work anywhere they are able to connect their laptops or smartphones — a library, café, coworking stations or a bungalow by the beach.
Digital Nomad Pros and Cons
The digital nomad life is not for everyone. Sure, there are many benefits, including trading a typical office space for a view of the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean Sea, but if you are currently an office-bound or remote worker and plan on transitioning into a digital nomad, you'll need to work on a pros and cons list. That list will vary depending on each person's specific needs and requirements, but to help you start your list, here are some general pros and cons that will apply to most digital nomads.
- Becoming your own boss and work wherever and whenever you like
- Having the freedom to travel to different locations and work where you like
- Gaining the opportunity to experience life as a world traveler, learn new things and meet new people
- Improving your quality of life by traveling to a country where the U.S. dollar has added value against the local currencies.
- Finding motivation in new settings and experiences
- Learning that being a digital nomad does not meet your expectations
- Feeling isolated, alone and unable to meet other likeminded people or connect with the local population — especially pertinent during the pandemic with less in-person contact and closed businesses
- Maintaining your level of motivation when it comes to your business
- Unable to earn money in your business
- Dealing with local services, including housing and medical
- Potentially getting "stuck" in a country due to COVID-related restrictions or closures
Once you've worked through your list, which may include additional points like maintaining a long-distant relationship, job security or health needs, you should consider your next steps. Should you shelve the idea of becoming a digital nomad or take the next step and choose your own adventure?
Which Countries Are Offering Digital Nomad Visas?
A travel visa is a conditional authorization granted by a country allowing a traveler to visit for a set period of time. Most visas allow travelers a few months' stay in a country. Foreign travelers visiting the United States are allowed to stay for 90 days. Foreigners working in the United States can apply for a B-1 Visa, allowing for an extended stay of 180 days. Digital nomad visas can offer up to two years in a foreign country.
If you are a freelancer or remote worker and living and working in a foreign country sounds appealing to you, the first task you need to look into is which countries are offering a digital nomad visa and learn about the application process and requirements. Lucky for you we’ve made the research easy by breaking down some of the key requirements and providing links to online application forms. The majority of these locations are requiring a negative COVID test before entering the country, so keep that in mind as you're selecting your destination.
- Antigua and Barbuda: Interested in working from a beautiful Caribbean island? Making sure that you don’t get sand in your phone or computer is not the only requirement for working here. You’ll also need a Nomad Digital Residence (NDR). Having an NDR will allow you to stay for up to two years. Requirements include paying a $1,500 visa fee, an income of $50,000 a year and proof of health and travel insurance.
- Croatia: For your 12-month visa as an expat living in Croatia, you will need to pass a criminal background check, have a rental/accommodations agreement, proof that your business earns a minimum of $500 a month and health insurance coverage.
- Iceland: Known for its beautiful fjords, midnight sun and a front-row view to the northern lights, this northern European country also has a high cost of living. Compared to Croatia, your minimum income requirement for Iceland is a minimum of $7,800 a month. This amount is higher if you have a spouse or children joining you in your digital nomad experience.
- United Arab Emirates: Home to the modern city of Dubai, this desert nation also has higher wage requirements that include proof of employment or a one-year contract as an independent worker, as well as proof of income of at least $5,000 per month. Like many of the other nations offering a digital nomad visa, you must also have health insurance if you plan on spending time and working near a desert oasis. (It can get hot in UAE, but at least it's a dry heat, right?)
- Mauritius Islands: Located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, this tropical island nation offers digital nomads a one-year visa and does not ask for an application fee. But like all the other countries accepting digital nomads, you will need proof of travel and health insurance, the purpose of your request to travel and work in the country and your accommodation plans.
Additional countries that offer digital nomad visas include Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Norway and Mexico. This list will only grow as more countries open up their doors and offer digital visas to adventurous entrepreneurs.
Traveling During a Pandemic
Digital nomads will always need to research the countries they plan to travel to and work in and ensure that they receive the proper inoculations and vaccinations. However, this has become even more complicated as nomads navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of COVID-19, most foreign countries have additional requirements, including mask-wearing regulations, social-distancing rules and proof that you’ve taken a COVID test and followed quarantine requirements.
Make sure that you are up to date with any changes in the application requirements and understand any restrictions on travel and border closings. Verify with your hotel and airline carrier for refunds if your trip is postponed due to illness or other travel constraints. You should also be prepared for additional screenings and restrictions depending on your destination. And always check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for any travel advisors and restrictions placed on other countries and travel guidelines.
Starting Your Digital Nomad Business
In order to determine if becoming a digital nomad is right for you, make sure your business idea can support your new lifestyle. Before you apply for that visa, book your flight or start your apartment search, it is important to have your business plan in place.
Think about your digital nomad business idea, the skills you have and whether you can transform your concept into products and services you can sell. You can start doing this by carrying out a SWOT analysis — look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Strengths: your skills, experience, expertise, insight and anything else that can drive business success
- Weaknesses: any areas where you lack skills and experience or you believe there may be an internal issue with your digital nomad business idea, products or services
- Opportunities: areas where your digital nomad business can grow, get new customers or deliver products and services your clients are likely to need
- Threats: external threats from competitors, changing marketplaces, rules and regulations
A SWOT analysis is an excellent way to start thinking objectively about your business. Here’s a great guide and worksheet for performing your own SWOT analysis.
Validating Your Digital Nomad Products and Services
Before you launch your digital nomad business, you need to understand if there’s a demand for what you’re selling. That means carrying out market research and “validating” your products and services. Here’s how to go about it:
- See if there are any market research reports for the particular type of business you’re running. Do some internet searches to pull up market research documents, look at existing marketplaces and learn the opportunities in the space.
- Look at who your competitors are in the space — having competitors is a good thing as it shows there’s a market. Bear in mind that you will need to do something to separate yourself from all the other sellers. You must have a unique selling point, more on that next.
- Identify your business’s unique selling points (USPs). These are the area that will set you apart from competitors and encourage customers to come to you. You might have better pricing, a higher-quality service, faster delivery or some other special feature.
- Validate your products and services. Test if people will commit to spending real money on what you’re selling. See what the existing marketplaces are like and talk to others in the same situation as you.
- Get involved with business communities and discussion groups. Ask questions about digital nomad businesses. You can find links to some excellent discussion groups later in the article.
Creating a Business Plan for Your Digital Nomad Business
Finally, create your business plan. Business plans do vary slightly, but they should cover the following areas:
- An executive summary with the most important points from your business plan
- Your goals and what you hope to achieve with your digital nomad business
- A description of your business, background information and context
- A market analysis and likely demand
- An overview of how your business is structured
- Your business model
- How you will market and sell your offerings
- Financial projections, revenue and profitability
Once you have your ducks in a row and have a plan in place to earn a living abroad, start organizing your trip and make sure to follow the guidelines of your host country. It takes a special type of person to become a digital nomad, but the best path for success often comes with a solid plan.
Peter Mavrikis is an author and editor with over 25 years of experience in publishing. He has worked as the Editorial Director for Barron’s Educational Series, as well as Kaplan Test Prep, where he ran the test prep, foreign language, and study guide.
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