If you have the ability to work remotely (or you’re looking for a job that allows you to do so) there’s a good chance you’ve thought about being a digital nomad. It makes perfect sense, if you can work anywhere, wouldn’t it be great to live abroad where you can see the sites and immerse yourself in the local culture? 

Life as a digital nomad sounds great in theory, but it’s not as easy as you think. Although you can jump around to different countries as you please, there are many things to consider that relate to your finances. From figuring out your visas to how you’re going to get paid, these are the things you need to do to keep your finances in order as a digital nomad.

Get the right visa

One mistake that digital nomads make is that they assume they can just work anywhere since they’re working for a company that’s based in their home country. That’s not how it works. Let’s say you’re from Canada and you plan on working in Barbados as a digital nomad, you would need the appropriate visa that would allow you to work in Barbados

Every country has different working visas available so you need to see what’s available. Generally speaking, student and under 30 visas are the easiest to get. Some countries even offer visas that aimed specifically at digital nomads since you won’t be taking a job away from a local.

It may be tempting to just lie about your work status, but if you plan on being in one country for more than a few weeks, you probably want to ensure that you have the right paperwork in place or you could be deported.

Create a budget

One mistake that digital nomads make while abroad is to not make a budget. They figure there’s no point since things will fluctuate so much every month. Now that may be true, but if you don’t have some rough numbers in mind, you could blow through your cash reserves fast.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to create a rough budget and then modify things as needed. For example, you could estimate $1,000 for housing every month but have the understanding that will change depending on where you’ll reside. What you really want to do is ensure that you’re setting aside money for the sightseeing you’ll be doing. Don’t forget, when friends visit, there’s a good chance that your expenses will go up while they’re in town.

Build an emergency fund

Before you depart, you’ll want to save up at least 3-6 months of expenses in your bank account. Traditionally emergency funds are used for emergencies such as home and/or car repairs, but when you’re a digital nomad they serve a different purpose. It’s there to help you in case you have any unexpected medical expenses or if something happens to your phone/camera/laptop. It’s also handy in case a customs officer wants you to prove that you have money available to fund your travels. This may seem unlikely, but if you ever travel into a country on a one-way ticket, customs will likely ask you a few extra questions.

Get health insurance

Since medical attention can be expensive overseas, you don’t want to rely on your emergency fund alone. If you have a full-time job but you can work remotely, find out if you have health insurance from your employer that will cover you while you’re abroad. Credit card travel insurance is another option, but that will typically be limited since it’ll only cover you for 15-48 days at a time. The obvious solution is to simply purchase a health insurance policy that will cover you when you’re away. Don’t forget to read the fine print before you get your policy as you want to ensure you’re covered for everything you need.

Figure out how your bank accounts

When you’re at home, you can get everything deposited to your home bank, but when you’re abroad you need to start thinking globally. TransferWise is a company that allows you to set up borderless accounts in multiple currencies which can be handy if you’re on the move or getting paid by clients from different parts of the world. Since they’re an online company, the fees to exchange money are minimal. If you’re going to base yourself out of one country for an extended period of time (and you’re legally allowed to work there), you can set up a local bank account so you can get full service.

Look for a good accountant

Filing your taxes can be complicated when you’re working abroad since you need to consider your taxes for where you’re a citizen as well as where you’re currently residing. Of course, every country has different tax rules depending on your individual circumstances. Hiring an accountant who has experience working with expats is likely worth the money.

Even if you plan on working with an accountant, it’s still worth looking into what the various tax rules are. For example, an American living in Canada would still be taxed on their investments made within their Tax-Free Savings Account even if they have permanent resident status in Canada. This is because the U.S. doesn’t recognize TFSAsas tax-free.

Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees

Regardless of what country you end up in, you’re going to want a credit card without foreign transaction fees. In case you didn’t know, most credit cards charge you a fee of 2.5% whenever you make a purchase in a foreign currency. This may not sound like a not but, but if you’re a digital nomad who’s on the road for long periods of time, this fee can add up to quite a bit. Keep in mind that you’ll also be charged a fee whenever you use for ATMs so you may want to consider something like the STACK Mastercard since it doesn’t charge any fees on ATM withdrawals. 

How to Keep Your Finances in Order as a Digital Nomad

3 Comments

  1. Deborah S on September 1, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    Actually, medical care overseas, anywhere EXCEPT the USA, is pretty reasonably priced. That said, it’s not your provincial Medicare coverage, so a good travel medical or global health insurance policy is in order.
    And experienced accounting help is essential! I speak from experience Asa dual citizen with permanent residency in a third country. And find your account before you leave (and before you make critical mistakes!)

    • Barry.Choi on September 1, 2020 at 11:54 AM

      Deborah,

      Yes, some countries have reasonably priced medicare. That said, I’m thinking worst-case scenario where you need emergency surgery or something. It’ll still relatively expensive I imagine. Much cheaper to just get travel insurance or preferably regular medical insurance if possible.

    • Deborah S on September 1, 2020 at 12:31 PM

      Of course! I did say that insurance “is in order.”

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