The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed our patterns of employment. For millions of people, remote work became the norm, at least for a few months. Others, furloughed or left without a job, explored the world of freelancing.
Now that things are opening back up again, a growing number of people have decided not to go back to their old 9-5 lifestyles. Digital nomads combine remote work – whether freelance or permanent – with travel, making the world their office.
Cryptocurrencies offer particular benefits to these digital nomads, giving rise to a new trend of ‘crypto nomads’, who work in the blockchain sector and rely on digital cash to fund their lifestyles – helping them enjoy the freedom of working away from home without the downsides.
What are digital nomads?
“Digital nomad” is the term given to those who combine travel with remote work, using the internet to access opportunities and continue with freelance or permanent jobs while moving around the country or the world.
Typically younger people, or sometimes those who have semi-retired, digital nomads tend to be at a stage in life where they have few family responsibilities. They may live in hostels, recreational vehicles, or AirBnbs, and use public wifi connections in cafes, libraries or co-working spaces. Digital nomads may adopt this lifestyle for a few weeks, for months (for example, while backpacking on a gap year), or sometimes even on a permanent basis.
The attractions of life as a digital nomad are obvious: the chance to travel and see the world, while continuing to earn a living – whether to keep a foot on the career ladder or simply to fund a nomadic lifestyle. In the past, backpackers would generally have to pick up whatever work was available in their current location, which was typically unskilled and low-paid. Thanks to the internet and the trend towards remote work, it’s now possible to hold down a well-paid job without needing to go into the office at all.
How to get started as a digital nomad
Spending time as a digital nomad isn’t for everyone, but if you have (or can find) the right job, the right mindset, and the right personal circumstances, there are no major barriers to getting started.
One of the main priorities will be ensuring you have access to enough work, remotely, to pay your way. Certain types of jobs lend themselves to life as a digital nomad, including content creation, coding, design work, marketing, social media, and some support roles. Obviously, if your main job requires you to be present in person, this limits you significantly.
If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or you’re shifting to remote work for your existing job, then you’ll need to be able to prove to your employer(s) that you’re capable of delivering high-quality work on time. The last thing you want is to throw yourself into a new way of life, only to find you can’t keep up and end up out of a job.
Assuming you’re comfortable working remotely and can generate enough income, all you’ll really need to get started is a laptop and an internet connection.
Pros and Cons
There are lots of benefits to being a digital nomad, and a few downsides – and some that might be considered either, depending on your perspective. For example, adopting a minimalist lifestyle and leaving behind the responsibilities of owning a property and a mortgage are attractive for some people, but not others.
- Flexibility. Freelance and remote work typically allow you to tailor your working patterns to your own needs, including the number of hours you work, and when.
- Travel. Seeing the world can be expensive, and it’s not always realistic to save what you’ll need for a trip before you leave. Working on the move means you can cut out the overheads of a fixed life, and get started more quickly.
- Cost of living. Depending on where you travel, you’ll find you’re spending less money on the necessities like accommodation and food.
- You’ll be away from your friends and family for an extended period of time – though of course, there’s the opportunity to make some good friends on your travels, too.
- Finding work may not always be easy, especially if you’re new to freelancing.
- Administration and financial arrangements like organising paperwork and bank accounts in different countries can be complicated and time-consuming.
This last point is where crypto can make a huge difference to digital nomads.
What is crypto?
When you pay with coins and notes in a store, the only people involved are you and the storekeeper. It is a direct payment, ‘peer-to-peer’.
When you pay online, via a bank or using a credit card, this is not a direct payment. There is a middleman, the payment processor, who effectively makes the transaction on your behalf. They can also charge high fees, impose long delays, refuse to let you make a payment or block a payment being made to you, or even reverse a payment that has already been made. Anyone who has transferred money overseas will be familiar with the problems.
Bitcoin was the first form of peer-to-peer online cash, which allowed payments directly between users, without any middlemen. Instead of relying on centralised payment processors, it uses a blockchain – a shared database, secured by strong cryptography, that is maintained by thousands of computers around the world.
Today, there are many cryptographic currencies, also known as cryptocurrencies or digital assets, though bitcoin remains the largest and most popular. These include various stablecoins, which aim to maintain a value of $1, making them ideal for payments.
Because they do not rely on banks or payment processors, cryptocurrencies have several benefits for digital nomads.
What common problems for digital nomads can crypto solve?
Cryptocurrencies are not a panacea. There are both advantages and disadvantages to using crypto. However, there are multiple benefits to getting paid in crypto and working in the blockchain space for digital nomads. These include:
- No bank account required. Anyone with an internet connection can send and receive crypto.
- Instant transactions. Payments are typically received immediately, rather than taking several days, as can be the case with the legacy financial system.
- Borderless payments. You can get paid no matter where you are in the world.
- Flat fees. It costs the same to send any amount of crypto – just a small, fixed fee.
- Secure transactions. You won’t have the problem of your bank card being cloned by a dishonest merchant.
- You can cash out crypto to a Visa or Mastercard issued by a crypto provider (several exchanges offer these), and spend it anywhere these cards are supported, all around the world.
- New job opportunities. Getting involved in the blockchain space opens up new career options.
- Crypto earning opportunities. There are many different ways to earn crypto and make digital assets generate a return for you, supplementing your salary with passive income.
What should you consider when using crypto?
Using crypto gives you a high degree of freedom as a digital nomad, but can bring its own challenges and is very different to using conventional financial services. Responsibility for the security of your funds lies solely with you. Make sure you understand the potential risks and learn how to stay safe on Web3.
The most important lesson is to keep your private keys safe. These are the long ‘passwords’ that allow you (or anyone else) to access your crypto wallets. You should never share these with anyone else, and always back them up carefully.
Keep your laptop or phone safe, since you’ll be using these to send and receive crypto payments. You should use a so-called cold wallet for storing large amounts of crypto. These are not connected to the web, and you typically won’t store the keys on your devices, making them very safe. Consider investing in a hardware wallet like a Ledger, which is a popular form of cold storage and strikes an excellent balance between security and convenience. It could be the best $70 you ever spend.
One other point to bear in mind is that crypto transactions are irreversible, so check that you are using the right address before you send (or receive) funds. Any mistakes cannot be rectified.
Lastly, make sure you have signed up to a trusted exchange. You’ll need this to trade one crypto for another, and to convert crypto to fiat. You can also store crypto on an exchange if you want. However, this is only advised if you are using a trustworthy, regulated and compliant exchange that offers two-factor authentication, providing another line of security. This can be a good option if you’re worried about handling your own private keys. Check out our guide on how to get started on TimeX, an AUSTRAC-regulated crypto exchange based in Australia.
If you need to know more about getting started in crypto, there is plenty of information on the web, and thousands of crypto communities who will help you get set up and offer useful advice.