How to Become a Digital Nomad: eSIMs, Work Visas, and More

July 10, 2024

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The digital nomad has become an increasingly popular way of life. If you’re considering it, this guide covers everything you need to know to get started, from essential tech to popular destinations. 

What is a digital nomad? 

A digital nomad is someone who uses technology to work remotely while traveling the world. They aren't tied to a specific location, allowing them to explore new places while maintaining careers. With just a laptop and an internet connection, digital nomads can work from cafes, co-working spaces, or even beachside bungalows. It’s an attractive lifestyle; one that offers flexibility and freedom, and the opportunity for adventure and new experiences.

If you’re thinking about living the life of a digital nomad, there’s a few things to consider, including what setup you need to bring, and where you’re going to work from.  

11 must-haves for digital nomads

To thrive as a digital nomad, having the right gear is essential. Here’s a list of must-haves:

1. Laptop: Choose a laptop that's no more than 14 inches for portability. Ensure it has reliable processing power and good battery life to handle your work tasks without overheating. It’s handy if it’s eSIM compatible too, so you can easily switch between data plans as you travel.

2. Smartphone: Invest in a durable smartphone that can withstand the rigors of travel. A good camera is essential for capturing memories and sharing content. Ensure the phone supports eSIM to access affordable data plans instantly on the go.

3. Portable Monitor: Some people feel more productive with a portable monitor. Portable monitors are lightweight and easy to carry, and can make working remotely more comfortable.

4. Portable Keyboard: A compact and easy-to-carry keyboard can make typing on your laptop or tablet much more comfortable. Look for one that’s ergonomic to avoid strain during long work sessions. 

5. Universal Travel Adapter: A universal travel adapter is the only charger you’ll ever need. It ensures you can charge your devices no matter where you are in the world. This eliminates the need to carry multiple adapters and simplifies your travel setup.

6. Long USB-C Cable: A long USB-C cable is perfect for those awkward charging positions you often find in cafes, hostels, or airports. It gives you the flexibility to move around while your device charges. 

7. Power Bank: A power bank is essential for keeping your devices charged throughout the day. Choose one with a high capacity to charge multiple devices or provide several charges for your smartphone. This ensures you’re never left without power, even during long travel days.

8. VPN (Virtual Private Network): Essential for safeguarding your personal and work information, a VPN is crucial for secure internet browsing, especially when using public Wi-Fi. It protects your data from potential hackers and ensures your online activities remain private. 

9. Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot: A portable Wi-Fi hotspot ensures you have a reliable internet connection wherever you go. These portable travel routers let you establish a virtual private network (VPN) connection from anywhere. It’s perfect for areas with poor Wi-Fi or when you need a secure connection.

10. Online Banking: Services like Revolut or Wise are very popular with nomads because they offer low fees for international payments, making financial management easier. They provide competitive exchange rates and allow you to hold multiple currencies

11. Travel eSIM (or SIM card): Some countries have spotty Wi-Fi networks, so a prepaid SIM card or eSIM is an essential addition to your work setup, ensuring you’re never offline. When you activate your eSIM on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you connect to local networks for instant internet without the exorbitant roaming charges. Planning to stay somewhere for an extended period? Consider a travel SIM card as well. We discuss this more below.

eSIM vs. physical SIM card: which should you choose?


We all know traditional SIM cards; physical cards that you insert into your smartphone. They require manual swapping whenever you want to change carriers or plans or devices, which can be cumbersome, especially for digital nomads who are always on the go. 

On the other hand, eSIMs are embedded directly into your device's hardware. It’s highly likely your smartphone comes with eSIM capabilities and you can check this list to confirm. 

Your eSIM eliminates the need for physical swaps and allows you to switch carriers or data plans via your device's settings. It means you can buy local data plans when (or before) you arrive in a new country, straight from your phone. And when you activate a local plan, you avoid the high costs that come with international roaming. 

An eSIM is particularly beneficial for a working nomad, as it ensures constant connectivity without the hassle of managing multiple physical SIM cards. 

Here's a quick comparison:

Feature

eSIM

Physical SIM

Accessibility

Simple download for instant access to local data. 

Requires you to physically replace the SIM for every country.

Compatibility

Works with a growing list of newer devices.

Enjoys mainstream compatibility.

Effort

Quickly switch networks in your phone settings.

You need to physically swap out the card.

Security

Built-in and harder to clone.

Removable card is easy to lose or damage.

Price

Designed for short-term stays (under 3 months)

Cheaper if you plan to stay long term (3+ months)

Choosing between an eSIM or SIM card depends on how long you plan to stay in each country. 

Many eSIM providers, like Sim Local, offer a range of data plans specifically designed for heavy usage, which can be a lifesaver during critical work periods. But if you’re planning a long stay in one country (say, three months or more), a traditional SIM card probably works out cheaper. Plus, they fit nearly all devices and provide a dependable, long-term mobile plan.

On the flip side, eSIMs are perfect for bonafide globetrotters or people who like to hop from country to country every few days or weeks. You can download a local data plan without hunting for a store each time you land in a new country. They also allow you to store multiple profiles on one device. For example, if you fly back and forth between Romania and Indonesia, you can simply switch to a local network in each country by toggling the settings of your phone. An eSIM also offers greater security since they’re embedded and harder to clone.

What is a digital nomad visa?

Since it’s illegal to work under a tourist visa, a digital nomad visa is a special type of visa that allows remote workers to live and work in a foreign country legally. These visas are designed to attract digital nomads by offering longer stays than typical tourist visas, often ranging from six months to a year or more. They usually come with requirements, such as proof of remote employment or sufficient income to support yourself. This type of visa aims to boost the local economy by bringing in skilled professionals who contribute to the local community without taking traditional jobs from residents.

Do digital nomads pay tax?

Yes, digital nomads do have to pay taxes, but the specifics depend on several factors, including their home country’s tax laws and the regulations of the country they are residing in. Some countries with digital nomad visas offer tax benefits or exemptions to attract remote workers. However, nomads may be required to file taxes in their home country, especially if they retain residency there. It's essential for digital nomads to understand both their home country and host country’s tax obligations to ensure they comply with all legal requirements.

Which countries can digital nomads work from?

When choosing a country to work from, look for countries that offer:

  • Nomad visas 
  • Low cost of living
  • Excellent cultural experiences

Here are 10 countries that meet all three criteria.

1. Portugal

Portugal offers a whole lot of culture and history, stunning beaches, and a relatively low cost of living. Additionally, cities like Lisbon and Porto are known for their thriving expat communities. The D7 visa is perfect for digital nomads and provides significant tax benefits. You must visit an immigration department in person to submit an application. 

2. Thailand

Known for its affordable lifestyle and beautiful landscapes, Thailand is a favorite among digital nomads. The country offers a special visa for remote workers, making it easier to stay longer. Cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok are popular for their bustling coworking spaces and vibrant digital nomad scenes.

3. Estonia

Estonia is a digital nomad hotspot with its innovative e-Residency program. This program makes it easy to manage an online business from anywhere in the world. The country also offers a specific digital nomad visa, allowing you to live and work there legally.

4. Mexico

With its rich culture, delicious food (think: tacos and fajitas every day), and reasonable cost of living, Mexico is an excellent choice. The Temporary Resident Visa allows you to stay for an extended period. Popular cities like Mexico City and Playa del Carmen are known for their expat communities.

5. Indonesia (Bali)

Bali is often referred to as a digital nomad paradise due to its relaxed lifestyle and numerous coworking spaces. The B211A visa allows remote workers to stay for up to six months. Bali's beautiful beach vibes make it an ideal place to work and live.

6. Germany

Germany’s Freelance Visa (Freiberufler) is ideal for digital nomads looking to live in Europe. Cities like Berlin are cultural hubs with a high quality of life, diverse food scenes and nightlife, and plenty of networking opportunities.

7. Spain

Spain offers a Non-Lucrative Visa which is suitable for digital nomads who can support themselves financially. Remote workers gravitate to its Mediterranean climate and vibrant cities including Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga, and more. 

8. Colombia 

Colombia has become increasingly popular among digital nomads due to its affordable living costs and beautiful cities like Medellín. Medellín, known for its perfect climate all year round, has a growing expat community and plenty of coworking spaces.

9. Croatia

Croatia has introduced a digital nomad visa, allowing stays of up to a year. This beautiful country offers stunning views of the Adriatic coast, while cities like Dubrovnik and Split are known for their breathtaking scenery and baroque, old-town feel.

10. Romania

Romania is an underrated gem for digital nomads, offering affordability and great internet connectivity. While it lacks a large digital nomad community, its low cost of living is a major draw. Cities like Brasov and Sibiu in Transylvania are particularly appealing, with stunning old towns and easy access to nature.

Choosing the right country depends on what you value most, whether it’s cost, culture, or connectivity. With the right setup (and travel eSIM), you can work freely from almost anywhere in the world.

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