An easy, step by step guide to becoming a digital nomad

Lazy Sunday in Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

I don’t want to convince you that becoming a digital nomad is a good thing. I want to give you a short step-by-step guide, so you finally stop dreaming, and start acting. If you are interested in my personal story, and how it all started, here it is. I hope you find it inspiring.

1. Brush up your skills

Not every profession or skill set is suitable for remote working. If you are a sommelier, you are probably out of luck. If you are an accountant or an HR professional, your chances are pretty slim (although I’ve seen examples for both). Remote working, on the other hand, works especially well for all things tech: developers of any kind, QA engineers, technical writers, UX wizards, support staff, et cetera. It’s also great for creative individuals, designers and marketing people (like me).

The good news is as an intelligent person you can learn some of these individually. I’ve, indeed, seen accountants learning Ruby on Rails or political science majors learning UX and wireframing — and working remotely using their new skills. It’s 2015. It not just that you should embrace lifelong learning; in a world where job security is weaker than ever you absolutely have to invest time and money to stay ahead of the curve.

Find a coding bootcamp next to you, or enrol into a General Assembly course. These won’t make you the best developer on the planet, but they will give you enough to start your journey.

If bootcamps are outside of your budget (they are expensive, indeed), you still have plenty of options. My personal favourite is Udemy, where you can learn hundreds of skills at a very friendly price. If I could code a fairly decent iOS app after taking a course or two for around $50 total, you can do it too.

2. Get some street cred

Remember, your goal is not to get a job at PWC or Ernst & Young. You want a remote position, and 95 percent of them are advertised by startups. Formal education won’t matter much to them, but street cred can take you far.

Clean up your Twitter presence as a minimum. And start writing a blog. I know it sounds hopelessly 2007, but when it comes to being chosen as the one candidate out of hundreds of applicants these are the small efforts that show passion for your work.

If writing is not your cup of tea, consider curating content. Simply putting together a Last Week in Python Development blog post every week will make you stand out from the crowd. If you are a designer, make sure your Behance site looks as badass as possible — but this probably goes without saying.

If you are more of an exhibitionist (and you have more time on your hands) try creating videos. You have no idea how many beginners in iPhone development do a Google search for “how to hide the keyboard”. Yes, there are hundreds of videos explaining it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not your end goal. Your YouTube channel of ten short Swift development tutorials is nothing more than a vehicle to earn you a nice remote job.

My view in Bangkok

3. Find a remote position

Remote jobs are not on Monster. Well, most of them aren’t, anyways. Instead, there are specialised sites for remote job postings, and checking them out you’ll be surprised how many positions are out there. It’s actually the easiest part of becoming a digital nomad.

I’d start here if I were you:
- Working Nomads
- We Work Remotely
- Work In Startups
- PowerToFly (RebelMouse-powered!) if you are a woman in tech

4. Make the effort. No, seriously, make the effort.

So you just sent your CV and you are continually refreshing your inbox looking for the response? It’s not very likely to happen.

Most of the time, when you apply to startups, you are dealing with a group of extremely motivated, smart people. Who, well, want to work with extremely motivated, smart people. A Curriculum Vitae in .docx tells them you are probably not such a person.

Videos, slides or other unconventional applications work much better. Fire up Keynote or Powerpoint and make a few slides (let’s say maximum eight). Make it pretty, sharp and interesting. Do a voiceover, make your elevator pitch, and send them a password-protected Vimeo link. I guarantee your reply rate will be much higher.

Once you get that response, always begin by offering to do a mock assignment, or if possible, a mock day. It’s quite different to work in a team distributed around the world than working with your buddies in the office (I’d even say working remotely is not for everyone).

You have to find out if the setup and the company works for you — and they would equally love to see if you are a right fit.

5. Set up the business framework

Let’s say you are from the lovely little country of Latvia, and a company in the States wants to work with you. Not “hire” you, but work with you full time. It’s quite a difference, technically speaking.

Startups can be reluctant to hire employees, and hiring someone in Latvia might be way too difficult for a US company (or a Chilean person hired by a startup in Singapore… you get the picture). Although I’ve seen a startup actually hiring someone in a situation like this (once), you’ll almost certainly be a contractor. A full-time staff, and a real member of them team, but still, technically a contractor.

If you live in a not so business friendly country, or if your plan is becoming a real nomad, you might want to set up a business framework. Incorporating a limited company is a breeze in places like Hong Kong or Estonia, and it’s usually a good idea tax-wise. Your mileage may vary depending on your citizenship, so make sure you consult an accountant.

Hanging out in Shanghai

6. Buy a plane ticket and live free

The experience of not being forcibly tied to a city or even a country can be extremely liberating. It only gets better when you realise your well-earned USD, GBP or Euros can buy you a life in places like Thailand, Cambodia or Bali you’ve only been dreaming of up until now.

And remember the cardinal rule: as long as you have good Internet connection you are in business.

Best of luck with your new life as a digital nomad.

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