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Is Being a Digital Nomad a Lie? (coastery.com)
92 points by Naiiz on Dec 28, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

A routine is an excellent thing to have even if you aren't a nomad. I have countless little rituals I've collected and iterated on for years that serve to ground me and make my time productive no matter where I'm at.

I've noticed two different kinds, bottom-up rituals and the top-down variety. Bottom up rituals evolve organically out of whatever space / situation I happen to find myself in. In some situations I find I need a daily walk to help collect my thoughts whenever life is getting a bit too chaotic. Another ritual I might use when my workload is high is to collect tasks onto a sheet of paper, one per line. This happens perhaps twice a year and is a signal that there is mental cruft that needs to be cleaned out. The process of clearing out the list and striking the line items off of it is meditative and serves to bring that cruft to the surface so I can deal with it.

Top-down happens whenever I decide I need to make a focused change in my life and need a new set of ruts to run my wagon in. I started going to the gym every day a few months ago. I have a very specific routine that I change from time to time to keep it fresh. I often have to acquire things and maintain them in order to keep the routine convenient so I don't have an excuse to skip it.

It's gotten to where if I'm feeling unproductive, I start looking at my rituals, have I stopped any recently without noticing? Do I need a new one?

That's a good idea about changing your routine from time to time. Had the same idea recently.

Every time I see a laptop on a beach on Facebook I think to myself "Well, that's a lie".

I've worked from home for the past 5 years and one of the "secrets" is to have a dedicated home office as a work environment.

I personally don't see this working for the job I do. Never thought it's actually a sustainable option for more than a couple of months at best.

Yeah, we all know that you can take a laptop down to a beach and do something productive, but it surely won't be as optimal as time spent working in an air-conditioned coworking space or cafe, or at home.

If you're working on the beach you're not really at the beach, and you're not really working. You're getting a poor experience on both sides. I think anyone who's actually tried it, in all sincerity, would probably attest to this.

If you have access to a beach you're much better going somewhere optimal for work, saving some hours in gained productivity, then heading down to the beach for lunch or after the working day for some actual relaxing beach time.

You can actually do it if you are only overlooking the process of product/service creation. So lets say your task is to just control if all is done properly. For example if you resell things and you have set everything up. You got many reports that come and then go. You got a person that handles the whole process, but just in case you need to approve everything. So when the report comes from your processor, you just have a quick 5 minutes look and then you are free again. Since reports come at random times and it is better if they are forwarded asap. Now, you can enjoy all the time in-between and obviously this is not holidays but you are not on holidays. You live there. A lot of people will not understand how it is to live in holiday places and travel the world. It quickly becomes just another place and if you have everything figured out, work will allow you to enjoy the free time you get.

For the past twelve years I've been most productive either at a cafe or on the train.

At either of those places I know what I'm there to do and there's an inherent time constraint that I find conducive to productivity.

For me my home office is the worst place to try and get things done

But I see laptops on the beach on Facebook with the same frequency that I see them at the office.

I find it hard to work while on the beach. The sand gets everywhere, the wind gets annoying and you have to watch out for the sun too! OTOH if you have a house by the beach and you're just at the house, overlooking the beach... that's a different story.

I'd rather find a cozy Starbucks. That's where the work gets done. Doesn't matter the continent or the country :D The coffee quality varies a bit (good in most places in Asia, passable in UK, ok in States) but it's "home".

In many places there are better alternatives. Cool hipster coffee shops and whatnot but when I'm in a new location and need an anchor place I just go to Starbucks

All my stuff is location-independent. I have cloud machines for anything calculation intensive, and also for web infrastructure (naturally).

- Best thing about being remote is scheduling. There's no commute, so that's extra time to get things done. If you need more time before dinner, no problem. If you have things done early, you can go wrestle with the kid immediately.

- Not everything you do requires 100% attention. Writing emails, updating people on Slack, reading about some new tech, that can be done while you're hanging out with the family.

- You can be updated constantly. Some people would find this annoying, but I like it that way.

- You can spread your work out so it's lower intensity. If you're not on a weekend trip with the family, you can get things done and still have time to hang around the kids.

- When you're travelling, you can still get things done. I've checked in code from an airplane. You can visit friends in different places while not feeling like you're falling behind.

- It helps a lot to be self employed. Not sure I'd want to always be working if I had an ordinary job.

I've daydreamed of one step beyond the Digital Nomad to 'Citizen of the World'. The plan is fairly well formed, and combining a 'placeless' vocation with such citizenship can make one globally and indefinitely nomadic.

My thinking is to spend one month in a locale, explore it to the extent I desire, get to know a few people, learn how the locals live, and then move on.

The foundations of this lifestyle are Around-the-world air tickets from the major carriers [0] and AirBnb. I like the notion of finding friendly AirBnb hosts and learning from them what the local lifestyle is: Where they shop for food, how they get around, what activities they enjoy, what their days are generally like... Then spending a month more or less doing the same things. In the meanwhile, working for pay as a remote consultant.

Total cost of this lifestyle would depend on the class of digs you want to live in. Some cities are really inexpensive, say, Athens or Aukland. You could be comfortable averaging US$125/day for a place and $25/day for food. Another $25 for 'other stuff', entertainment, etc. Call it $175/day, 365/year, throw in the air fare, health insurance and taxes, and you're looking at about $85,000 in income to live this way.

What is interesting is that with this lifestyle, you don't need to own an apartment, or a car, or closets full of clothes. So the money you spend where you are is all the money you need.

[0] http://www.staralliance.com/en/book-fly

I did this for 15 months, 1-2 months in one place. Renting a room/house on AirBnB is significantly cheaper if you book it for a month, hipmunk allows you to chain destinations so that you don't need to buy return tickets, and you can be one month in Canada, next in Japan, then in Australia, as you feel like. Go for it! It was the best year of my life so far ;-)

What do you do for income?

Programming on a distributed team as well as having my own automated businesses. Top salary & equity, i.e. I can spend the whole month in hotels if I wanted. Travel photography income on a side (pro level).

Why are you still daydreaming about it? You've obviously done a bunch of research, the next step is to just go do it.

Wife, kids, mortgage...

But totally doable when I retire in a few years.

Are you planning a divorce?

Haha, no. We'll travel together.

How would you work out the visas and taxes though?

Did almost exactly this for all of 2014 (part of 2015). With a US citizenship, and visited 10 countries for a month+.

Working remotely for a foreign corporation generally isn't against the terms of a tourist visa (consult the specific country you're visiting). All officials I asked had no problem with it, from South America/Asia/Europe (Germany will actually let you stay longer, up to 2 years, if you're a remote worker/freelancer). You do need a work visa if you're planning to do work for a company that exists locally (competing with the locals, etc).

It was hugely income tax advantageous. There's a huge US tax credit if you aren't living in the US (your first $95-120k tax free), and I wasn't staying long enough in any country to meet their reporting requirements.

What types of places did you stay in?

I had forgotten the income tax advantage for expatriates. Makes it even more compelling.

Mostly Airbnb's, an occasional hostel/hotel if I didn't plan ahead.

My routine when arriving in a new country would be to quickly find a place to stay and a coworking space, then explore the city/country when I wasn't working.

Does this mean you did not have to file for local income tax in any of your host countries?


There are several countries that will offer you citizenship by investment, including some with visa-free entry to US and Canada. Of course there is no guarantee this will last or that you personally will be able to travel (see Roger Ver).

I'd remain a citizen of the US, so I'd still owe taxes to the US. Then, use a family member's address as a home address for official documents.

Visas would take some planning for countries requiring a visa for your passport. Many cities have consulates that you can go to. For example, if you were in Tokyo and wanted to go to Bankok next and needed a visa for Thailand, you'd head over to the Thai consulate near Meguro station to complete the formalities.

I suppose I may be skirting local employment laws in some places, on the other hand, my employer is not likely based in that country and would therefore have no tax reporting obligations.

I assume they're thinking they'll enter these countries under the pretense of vacationing.

This is actually the big lie of being a Digital Nomad. It's not legal.

As a US citizen there are only a handful of countries/territories that you can work legally without any sort of paperwork (Puerto Rico, USVI, Samoa) and a handful more that have official working holiday schemes:

- Singapore

- New Zealand

- Australia

- South Korea

- Ireland

If you are in the EU citizen you can work freely within the EU.

However most folks aren't writing about working holiday visas or working within the EU. They are writing about South East Asia and Central/South America. Neither of which allow people to go and work without permits.

People are breaking the law and being way too public about it.

It's totally legal everywhere I've visited (and I don't know a country where it's illegal).

Work visas are a thing because countries want to control the ability for foreigners to compete with locals for local jobs. Canada's definition of work (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/tools/temp/work/about...):

"What kind of activities are not considered to be “work”?

An activity which does not really ‘take away’ from opportunities for Canadians or permanent residents to gain employment or experience in the workplace is not “work” for the purposes of the definition."

Working for my own US company isn't competitive to local workers.

Every country I've visited has a similar definition, though I can't say for sure if every country does, so it's best to check before attempting to go.

Erm. From the source you just cited

'"Work" is defined in the Regulations as an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned'

On another Canadian immigration page:

"Most visitors to Canada cannot work or study in Canada without a permit."


It's problematic that most countries immigration websites don't explicitly point out that working for a company abroad or for yourself is not permitted on visitor visas, but if you write to their respective embassies then you will find this to be the case.

I have, quite often. :)

I've always gotten the answer from officials "if you aren't competing with local workers, you're fine". As always, depends on the country. Further down the source I just cited:

"Examples of activities for which a person would not normally be remunerated or which would not compete directly with Canadian citizens or Permanent Residents in the Canadian labour market and which would normally be part-time or incidental to the reason that the person is in Canada include, but are not limited to:

long distance (by telephone or internet) work done by a temporary resident whose employer is outside Canada and who is remunerated from outside Canada;"

It's the definition of "work", whether you're competing with locals, and whether you're being paid by a Canadian company.

Many countries don't have this clearly documented, as until very recently (last 10-15 years), the only real "work" was competitive with local citizens/residents. All work visa documentation is written with this implied definition. Many countries are starting to call this out as an exception (like Canada above, Thailand recently, etc, etc).

Until it's clear for a particular country, it's best to talk to an official.

Awesome that Canada has clarified that. The first I've seen.

Thailand's laws however explicitly don't. Work is defined very broadly. I've never seen it clarified beyond the report from Chiang Mai a couple of years back. Unfortunately the guy didn't have the authority to make the statement.

that means 100% of my work is done in Iceland. that's an awesome determination!

See jrallison comment.

If the employer is in the country you are visiting, you are correct. But if the employer is in a different country also (that is my thinking), then I'd expect there is no visa issue because the employer has no tax obligation to that country. It would be the same as if I vacationed in a different country, but responded to work e-mail for my US employer.

If that is not true, I'd be glad to know.

That doesn't apply because you're not working for a company in the country you're working in.

i.e. if you're American, and you visit Australia on a tourist visa and work for an American company while doing so, that's perfectly fine.

If you wanted to work for an Australian company and earn Australian dollars, you'd need a work visa which is a whole 'nother thing.

That's simply not true. It doesn't matter where your employer is based [1].

"if you have a tourist visa, you cannot work at all;"

[1] - http://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/2140/are-you-legally-allo...

Another comment in this thread makes it clear permission was asked in multiple countries, and every country was perfectly OK with it.

Anecdotes aren't evidence.

You're correct. That person calling each embassy separately and asking them is evidence.

Pretty sure that page is presuming the employer is Australian. That makes all the difference.

"Pretty sure" is something people should confirm before travelling to these places, no?


It's about whether you can manage your time properly - I thrive in a "digital nomad"-style work.

I programmed on the beach in Barcelona via their free Wi-Fi, overlooked Pu'uhonua o Honaunau while writing some advanced math/programming stuff, had a blast jumping off bungy, rafting and MTB downhill in New Zealand between the session of writing world-class code many people use now etc. It's all about whether you can focus. Learn to focus 100% on what you need to do, leave your brain rested by doing crazy inspiring things on a side and you'll manage digital nomad lifestyle and your output will be far higher than sitting in an office, especially open one. I noticed when I focus for 3-4 hours on some tough problem, then interrupt and do something completely unrelated or sleep, I get surprisingly many ideas quickly leading me to a solution. If I just sit in front of a monitor, it might take a week to solve the same. Weird, but works for me.

> I noticed when I focus for 3-4 hours on some tough problem, then interrupt and do something completely unrelated or sleep, I get surprisingly many ideas quickly leading me to a solution. If I just sit in front of a monitor, it might take a week to solve the same. Weird, but works for me.

Oddly, I have almost this exact same experience. If I work on a tough problem for 3 or 4 solid hours and then either do something completely different or go to sleep, I usually come back with at least three or four plausible solutions.

There's a 50% chance that we're both weird and a 50% chance that you're onto something....:)

Anecdotes are fun, but I have the same experience. One of the benefits of working from home is I can go play with my daughter for 10 minutes when I'm stuck spinning my wheels, afterward I usually have the solution I've spent 2 or more hours trying to come up with.

Cool lifestyle. Done some of that kind myself.

>I noticed when I focus for 3-4 hours on some tough problem, then interrupt and do something completely unrelated or sleep, I get surprisingly many ideas quickly leading me to a solution. If I just sit in front of a monitor, it might take a week to solve the same. Weird, but works for me.

I don't think it's weird. There are many anecdotes of that sort of thing being helpful with work, particularly mental work involving problem-solving.


>"and do something completely unrelated or sleep"

The German chemist Kekulé discovering the structure of benzene in a dream - read about it in school chemistry class:


I think a lot of people are enamored with something more specific, like a "digital backpacker," someone who acts like a backpacking college kid, and then wonders why months of bus travel, hostel living and camping aren't conducive to knowledge work.

I spent age 22-30 in remote coastal South America. I may have been a digital nomad, but I wasn't a backpacker.

I always had a "home base."

Having a "home base", and living somewhere for at least a couple of months (rent a place, or even buy a house, which is what I finally ended up doing in a little fishing village) is far from what some would consider being a "nomad," but personally I think it's more edifying.

Why are you traveling? Is it really that you love packing and moving? Or are you trying to find great places to live in? Focus on the living part first.

We work remotely. All of us. Remote worker or Digital nomad, pick whichever you feel like sounds better to you.

We have several blog posts about this topic since the entire company is 'Remote'. A couple blog posts that you all might find useful straight-from-the-source below, I've listed them in importance from what I think is the biggest bang-for-the-buck for remote workers.

Schedule your days: http://www.sofetch.io/blog/2015/5/19/stay-productive-schedul...

How to work remotely: http://www.sofetch.io/blog/2015/8/4/how-to-work-remotely

How NOT to work remotely: http://www.sofetch.io/blog/2015/8/3/how-to-not-work-remotely

Last but not least, all of our 'desks', some have offices to stay focused, some don't: http://www.sofetch.io/blog/2015/7/23/so-fetch-desks

I've been digital-nomading from a sailboat for the past 3 years... Works great as I get to have my office and take it wherever I want in the world (on the coast). See my previous comments for more info.

Since I sorta have a base for work I'd call myself a remote worker. I rarely work outside the boat, nothing ridiculous like working at a beach... So at the end of the day it's just a home office, so it's not too hard to get back into the work mindset after changing location as everything is static inside. Except my backyard changes all the time. I'm currently in downtown Barcelona after taking some time off the cross the Atlantic.

The lifestyle is not for everyone, sometimes it's quite hard, and I wouldn't say it helps my work that much... It's just something I enjoy doing (sailing and changing location), but have to compromise and do some work from time to time.

I've been planning and saving towards working remotely, with a stretch-goal of doing so from a boat. Would you mind sharing some details about your boat-type/unexpected costs?


Not knowing anyone where you go, or being 'lonely' has a positive side. John Carmack used to get a hotel room in a state where he didn't know anyone, so he could work for a week without distractions.

It's do-able. Perhaps if adventure is the goal, it's kind of a lie. If you have other goals, it can be awesome. It helps if you have a background where moving around was normal.

I do freelance work online. I went "nomad" nearly four years ago, but generally use a less glamorous label. I self identify most of the time as homeless. But having portable income and a past life as a military wife who moved and traveled a lot on a budget has empowered me to design a new life from the ground up to replace a life that simply did not work with one that did.

My income is gradually increasing, I have traveled enough to feel comfortable that I have finally found a city that should work for me for the foreseeable future and I am currently researching what I will need to do to go from sleeping in a tent to owning a house.

I think it is kind of a lie to think you can do portable work and be "free" to just live life as one big adventure. The fact that you have to work prevents you from playing tourist every minute. But, having been a military wife, I already knew what I could and could not get out of moving around. So I didn't have unrealistic expectations.

I know a very successful digital nomad. He, his wife, and their 3 kids have lived in an airstream trailer for the past several years. He has a good job, which he works remotely, and they move to a new location every 1-2 weeks.

His kids have explored every state and national park, and every museum of note. I envy that life more than a little.

They have a blog at CurrentlyWandering.com

Do their kids have friends, or are they just being dragged along on dad's vacation?

Digital nomads certainly aren't limited to freelancers. There's a wide spectrum of careers ranging from "normal FT but away from the office" to that with flexible hours to occasional high value freelance projects to running businesses where income is decoupled from hours of work.

Amazon FBA, kindle ebooks, online courses, affiliate sales, SaaS, mobile apps and high traffic ad-monetized sites are fairly common self-funded businesses for digital nomads.

I actually wrote a fairly detailed piece on the topic recently: https://toshuo.com/2015/what-is-a-digital-nomad/

>We have become like the most primitive Palaeolithic man, once more global wanderers, but information gatherers rather than food gatherers. From now on the source of food, wealth and life itself will be information.

-Marshall McLuhan

Does any digital nomad could share a bad experience with laws against working remotely in a foreign country?

"Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word _no_."


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