Digital Nomads: The Big Summary

The Big Picture 8/8: Definition, popularity, trends, demography, pros, cons, misconceptions, and a look into the future, in six minutes.

Marc Knaup
Oct 31 · 6 min read

The Big Picture covers quite a lot of information on Digital Nomadism and related topics. This final article is dedicated to those who merely seek a quick overview for the time being.

Part 1: Definition & Popularity

  • Digital Nomad is not a black-and-white term. It’s more like a dynamic lifestyle based on three preconditions.
  • Precondition one: source of income
    How much income is earned by digital means?
    The more digital, the more qualifying as a Digital Nomad.
  • Precondition two: frequency of relocation
    How frequent are relocations?
    The more frequent, the more qualifying as a Digital Nomad.
  • Precondition three: distance of relocation
    How far are relocations?
    The further out, the more qualifying as a (global) Digital Nomad.
  • Available numbers are vague due to a wide variety of definitions.
  • 4.1M U.S. Americans are Digital Nomads, 16.1M plan to be, and 41M are considering it (2019, MBO Partners).
  • 24% of international remote workers are Digital Nomads (2018, Fiverr).
  • 30% see location independence as the biggest benefit (2019, Buffer).
  • 25% travel and work for more than one month per year (2019, Buffer).
  • 84% of U.S. freelancers rank lifestyle over earnings (2018, Upwork).
  • Digital Nomadism is about making good use of location independence.

Digital Nomads make good use of location independence to combine work and travel in many ways. There are millions around the world, often hiding in plain sight.

Part 2: Trends

Digitalization

  • It enables remote work.
  • It makes a global lifestyle easier.

Global Internet connectivity

  • It enables remote work.
  • It improves rapidly.
  • Reliability is still a problem.

Remote work

  • It gives location independence.
  • It enables global job and talent access.

Freelancing

  • It enables remote job access.
  • The majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing by 2027 (2017, Upwork).

Social networking & media

  • Country borders barely have meaning there.
  • Generations now grow up with global connectivity & interaction.
  • People share more about their life. That includes Digital Nomadism.
  • The Digital Nomad lifestyle looks compelling and easy.
  • Plenty of Digital Nomad groups (largest 117k, 50k, 44k members) and events.

Experiences

  • Experiences are valued more than things and ownership, especially by Millennials.
  • Digital Nomadism brings a host of new experiences.
  • Experiences are frequently shared on social media and causing FOMO.

Coworking

  • Everything is set up so all that’s needed is a laptop.
  • It expands beyond a desk, with events, networking, and everyday amenities.
  • It becomes increasingly important for productivity & social connections.
  • It can help Digital Nomads to counter loneliness.

Coliving

  • It’s good for meeting and living with like-minded people.
  • It’s good for engaging in group activities.
  • It’s good for saving money by sharing amenities.
  • Often everything is set up (e.g., furniture, Wi-Fi, kitchen).
  • It sometimes includes coworking.
  • Wide variety, e.g. commercial/non-commercial, short-term/long-term.
  • It can help Digital Nomads to counter loneliness.

Sharing economy & “on-demand everything”

  • A decrease in ownership makes way for an increase in location independence.
  • There’s no need for setup, maintenance & insurance.
  • In many cities, the basic necessities for a Digital Nomad’s everyday life are covered.

“Geoarbitrage”

  • Income from high-earning countries meets the low cost of living in others.
  • Money lasts longer for Digital Nomads, depending on where they live.
  • Countries may adjust tax laws and visa regulations to benefit from or prevent it.

Company-as-a-Service & Estonian e-Residency

  • Very easy to set up and manage companies for self-employment & startups.
  • Provide reputable company locations (EU and USA) independent of citizenship.
  • Help administering companies fully remote, cheap, and with minimal bureaucracy.
  • Offer automation and support in administrative matters (e.g., bookkeeping, tax filings).

Tourism & solo travel

  • Tourism is still increasing.
  • Solo travel becomes more popular.
  • People often do some work during vacation, and Digital Nomadism is not that far.

Judging from the current trends, life as Digital Nomad can only become easier, more accessible, and more attractive to an increasing number of people.

Part 3: Demography

Data

  • It is collected from various small surveys and my own research.
  • I recently launched Nomadic Report to gather more data long-term.

Age

  • The majority are Millennials (23–38).
  • Some are Generation X (39–59).
  • Few are Generation Z (22 & younger).

Relationships

  • Almost half are in a relationship.

Citizenship

  • 42% are from the USA.
  • 34% are from Western Europe.

Occupation

  • Two-thirds are freelancers & company owners.
  • Most others are employed.

Income

  • Roughly half earns more than $2,000/month.
  • The other half is spread out below.

Relocation

  • Most relocate at varying frequencies.
  • Stays are mixed between short, medium, and long-term.

Accommodation

  • The majority rent apartments.
  • Half use hospitality services like Airbnb.
  • One-third stays in coliving spaces.
  • One-third stays with friends & family when possible.

Workspace

  • A large number works from their accommodation.
  • Half work from cafés & coworking spaces.
  • Some work from local company offices.

Destinations

Among the most-frequented ones:

  • Southeast Asia: Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea.
  • Europe: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Lisbon, London.
  • South America: Columbia, Mexico, Argentina.
  • Canary Islands: Tenerife & Gran Canaria.
  • USA: San Francisco, Los Angeles.

Taxes

  • The majority pay taxes in their home country.

Digital Nomads are a highly diverse crowd. Any attempt to put them into a box will ultimately fail.

Part 4: The Bright Side

  • You’ll decide where you live and when you move.
  • You’ll explore cities and cultures more thoroughly.
  • You can find communities that resonate with you.
  • You can explore new activities.
  • You’ll experience many unique moments.
  • You can have a healthier life.
  • You’ll become more minimalistic.
  • You can reduce your daily expenses and make better use of your money.
  • You’ll grow personally and professionally.
  • You can spur your creativity and productivity.
  • You’ll have the benefits of remote work (less commuting, out of the typical office environment, fewer meetings, more control over time, etc.).
  • You can support local economies (bring in money, share skills/knowledge/experience, spend time on development projects).

As a Digital Nomad, exploring the world will become part of your daily life. You’ll reflect on yourself, life, work, and the places you’ll live. You’ll focus on what is truly important to you and will learn where to find it.

Part 5: The Dark Side

  • You’ll have to organize a lot (accommodation, transportation, visas, vaccination, tax residency).
  • Your expenses can go up (accommodation, transportation, visas, tax).
  • You’ll also live in cities that you don’t like (at first).
  • You’ll have to consider your family situation.
  • You can feel lonely at times.
  • You’ll lose routines and good habits.
  • Your health can deteriorate.
  • Your productivity can go down the drain.
  • You’ll have to develop a remote work mindset.
  • You’ll have difficulties communicating remotely (time zones, internet reliability, noise, privacy).
  • Your laptop and phone will become mission-critical (bad when lost or broken).
  • You’ll get tangled in tax laws and reporting.
  • You’ll struggle receiving mail.
  • You’ll have to dive deeper into healthcare and insurance.
  • You’ll have to register in other countries (visa requirements, processes, cost).
  • You’ll have difficulties to communicate locally (not everyone speaks English).
  • Owning stuff will become challenging.
  • You can have a negative impact on the environment (aviation, infrastructure, gentrification, business occupation).

Just like with any other lifestyle, there are pros and cons to being a Digital Nomad. Learning to handle and minimize the downsides takes time and experience. Ultimately it’s up to you to find out if it’s a way of life that you love.

Part 6: Misconceptions

  • They work on the beach (rarely).
  • They’re all software engineers (nope).
  • Their jobs must be fully digital (nope).
  • They only work four hours a week (nope).
  • They only care about passive income (nope).
  • They don’t have to pay taxes (dangerous).
  • They’re on a never-ending vacation (nope).
  • Working while traveling is easy (nope).
  • Being a Digital Nomad is easy/hard (it depends).
  • Being a Digital Nomad is cheap/expensive (it depends).
  • Being a Digital Nomad is just a phase (it depends).
  • They disconnect from family & friends (it depends).
  • They don’t contribute to their local environment (it depends).

Digital Nomads are freelancers with very easy lives who earn tax-free passive income by building websites for four hours a week on beaches around the world in a never-ending vacation.

— Eight misconceptions about Digital Nomads

Part 7: The Future

  • Mixing life, work, and travel is getting popular.
  • Many trends fuel these changes in behavior.
  • It attracts very different people.
  • It will become more attractive.
  • Today’s challenges will become tomorrow’s products.

Digital Nomadism will become a perfectly normal life choice and the term obsolete.

🙏 Special thanks to everyone who has given feedback, participated in a survey, or diligently reviewed these articles.

❤️ I’d love to hear what you think.

Marc Knaup

Written by

❤️ building things, breaking things, writing software, discovering electronic music, living everywhere, and learning about life — knaup.io

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