Digital Nomads: What’s that? How much do they make? Is it that even legal?

I move roughly 7 times a year. I collect all my things, leave my old apartment behind, and move into a new one. Over the past 3 years, this averages out to one move every 52 days. Sometimes the new place is in another part of the same city, and sometimes it’s in another country.

If the story stopped there, you would probably think that I’m a fugitive on the run or maybe a circus performer. Although I have a knack for throwing knives, neither of these explanations is the case.

Nowadays, there are plenty of people that roam around the world as I do. So much so that some of the more progressive governments create special conditions to make their countries more attractive to such individuals. However, in the eyes of other countries, ‘nomads’ are still equated to people that wander around with a sheepskin tent, a tambourine, and their personal herd of horses in tow.

If you work in IT, you are more likely to be predisposed to a nomadic lifestyle. In this article, I will try to introduce you to the concept of modern digital nomadism. Towards the end, I will share the interviews that we held with a few of its representatives.

You might like the concept and maybe even want to try it out for yourself. There will be a bunch of links to the community as well as resources that can be used for finding work/gigs.

Origin and History

One of the first people to take their job with them was Steve Roberts, back in 1983. His trip coincided with the launch of the Motosat satellite network, which made the Internet more mobile-friendly. While traveling around the United States on a recumbent bike, he continued to earn money by writing articles for a magazine.

If you have read the works of Nabokov, then you might remember that the novel “Lolita” (1953) featured main characters that traveled across America for over a year. At the same time, the book hints at the fact that the protagonist doesn’t stop writing throughout all this time, which is how he made his living. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that digital nomads were actually preceded by analog (postal) nomads.

Globally, the digital nomad movement started to take hold between 2008 and 2010, which is when access to broadband internet became more available throughout the entire world. At the same time, Skype (2003), AirBnB (2008), and Timothy Ferris’ book “The 4-Hour Workweek” (2007) started to gain popularity. All the while, PayPal has been making remote monetary transactions convenient for long before the digital nomad boom.

It is difficult to estimate the exact number of nomads (or, as my international friends sometimes jokingly call them, e-Mongols). Among US citizens, there are about 4.8 million of them. The Wyse Travel Confederation study found that 0.6% of all (1.4 billion) tourists call themselves digital nomads. This leads to the conclusion that there are at least 8.5–12 million such people in the world today. Experts believe that by 2035 this number may reach 1 billion people!

In 2035, every 9th person might be a nomad. Or not.

Freelancers, remote-work employees, and entrepreneurs become nomads. The industries where nomads usually work are programming, design, news, entertainment, marketing, and consulting.

Nomad or Traveler?

Contrary to frequent travelers, nomads can stay in a new location for quite a bit of time (several months), organize trips without the help of travel agencies, and (perhaps this is the most important difference) carry everything they own from place to place without much difficulty.

Relationships with Countries

Countries That Aren’t Very Nomad-Friendly

Plenty of my compatriots consider themselves digital nomads but don’t actually leave the country. In most regions relatively far from Moscow, such as the Ural and Siberia, you can live quite well for ridiculously low amounts of money. At the same time, people often move to the southern regions, such as Sochi, to escape the persistent cold (that sometimes reaches a frigid -60°C)

‘Digital nomad’ isn’t a legally established immigration status. Freelancers and businessmen have to formalize their paperwork the old fashioned way and try to tactfully divert questions regarding their physical presence at a registered address. At the same time, they’re forced to be fearful of bank account blocking and tax audits simply because they’re ‘acting suspiciously’ by not being in one place all the time.

USA

Despite having a huge number of nomads, the US isn’t considered to be the best place for them. Things may be easier for US citizens, but tourists are faced with two main problems: bad internet and even worse transportation infrastructure.

The United States is a country for car owners, and without one, you are unceremoniously deprived of many opportunities. For digital nomads owning a car is impractical since they can’t stick it in their suitcase and lug it on a plane with them.

The country is also notorious for its difficulty in obtaining a visa compared to other countries. Some people are put off by the States’ lax gun permit laws. I’m not even going to get into the topic of medical services and their costs.

Countries That Are More Nomad-Friendly

In Estonia, digital nomads are considered full-fledged members of society. So much so that special visas are even issued to nomads, giving them the right to live in the country for a full year with the possibility to file for an extension. Although the issuance of these visas was suspended for the duration of the pandemic, I hope that everything will return to normal sooner rather than later.

The country is also a digital entrepreneur’s paradise. Estonia issues an e-resident card, and the author of this article is a proud owner of one. It doesn’t equate to citizenship, but it does allow its holder to open and run a business in the EU via the Internet.

The process to open an Estonian LLC (OÜ) takes about a day with the help of an e-resident card. You can find a bank and an accountant straight from the government website. A vestige of traditionalism still exists, however, as you still need to rent a physical address to complete the process. Nevertheless, procuring such an address is inexpensive and the government doesn’t expect the entrepreneur’s physical presence.

Fun fact: Estonia is the first country in the world to declare the Internet an inalienable human right back in 2000.

Croatia

Croatia is another country that is expected to legalize the status of nomads. Soon the country will be launching its very own visa for digital nomads, allowing them to live and work in the country. It already attracts freelancers with its relatively cheap accommodation prices, stable (albeit slow) Internet, and developed transport infrastructure.

Portugal

Lisbon is arguably the best home for a digital nomad. At the very least, this is the opinion of digital nomads themselves according to the Nomad List community. Fast and affordable internet, frequent international flights, and pleasant weather during virtually any season, are all perks a nomad can enjoy here. The locals speak English surprisingly well, which is a bonus in and of itself.

Czech Republic

Prague is considered to be one of the most affordable European capitals. There’s free Internet in all the cafes and WiFi points all over the city which allow you to work on your laptop from virtually anywhere. With a Schengen visa stamped in your passport, it is convenient to get to neighboring countries such as Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. Although the government doesn’t provide any special incentives for digital nomads, it is definitely worth living in Prague nonetheless.

In regards to the general convenience of stay, digital nomads often choose Portugal, Mexico, Indonesia, Germany, Thailand, the Czech Republic, and Serbia.

This list is regularly updated, and the specifics can be viewed on the Nomad List

Work

Remote job vacancies: Flexjobs, AngelList, Indeed, Hubstaff Talent, Outsourcely, Power to Fly, Virtual, Vocations, Stack Overflow, LinkedIn, SmartCat

Freelance: Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal, Freelancermap, Freelancehunt

Community

Coworking spaces and meet-ups: Coworker, Workfrom, Creative Mornings

Coliving: Roam, Remote Year, Be Unsettled, Digital Nomad Girls Retreat, Nomad Cruise, Smena Station

Online Communities: Nomad List, Nomadbase, Nomad Soulmates

Facebook Groups: Global Digital Nomad Network, Digital Nomads Around the World, Digital Nomads, Hub, Digital Nomads Medellin, Bali Digital Nomads, Female Digital Nomads, Digital Nomads & Entrepreneurs

We got went out of our way and did some interviews

It’s in Russian, but with English subtitles

The following statistics are the bottom line in terms of numbers:

  • Average age: 28.2 years
  • Average nomadic experience: 5.3 years
  • Net Average monthly comfortable income (after taxes): 1 500 USD
  • Worked in an office before: 83.3% (5 out of 6)
  • Found mutual understanding with family members: 100% (6 of 6)
  • Afraid of being unemployed: 0% (0 out of 6)
  • Have regular work: 83.3% (5 out of 6)
  • Work in a coworking space or cafe: 33.3% (2 in 6)
  • Work from home: 66.7% (4 in 6)
  • Also do the cleaning at home: 16.7% (1 in 6)
  • Buy medical insurance: 33.3% (2 of 6)
  • Want to ‘settle down’ somewhere: 0% (0 out of 6)

The article was written by Denis Elianovsky. Special thanks to Stanislav Lushin and Tatiana Kitaeva for their help and editing, Olga Khaletskaya for the picture in the header. And also to Dmitry Dobrodeev for filming the interview, Sofya Morozikova for animating the cover in the video, and Pavel Chernetsov for the English translation.

I would be more than happy to get some feedback on this article and see if you are interested in learning more about digital nomads.

CDO at Russian TOP-50 IT Supplier for Banks denis@opium.pro