March 10, 2022

Digital Nomads: What expats need to know about moving and working abroad

Digital Nomads are the new Global Nomads. Read David and Barrie’s stories in this article with tips for expats working abroad as digital nomads.

Many of us have dreamed of changing our career direction, moving to another country, and doing something completely different. These days, making this ambition reality has become far easier. If you’ve got a laptop, a reliable internet connection, and you don’t need to be bound to a specific location, you can move and work anywhere – from Budapest to Buenos Aires. It’s called digital nomadism; increasing numbers of us are embracing it. Paradoxically, COVID made the phenomenon even more popular: the pandemic has shown that we don’t need to be in the office 9 to 5 to work and has prompted many people to reflect on both career and life priorities.

Two expats talk about why working abroad as a digital nomad works suits them

Among them are US digital marketer Barrie Jansen and sales manager David Reilly. Barrie began travelling when her expat husband was offered new positions abroad. She has lived in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Montreal. Briton David Reilly decided to take a career break from being a policeman in London. Accumulated leave in that position enabled him to spend more extended periods travelling internationally, which he loved. Wanting to learn Spanish and experience living away from the UK, he took a break from the police and moved to South America, where he became fluent in Spanish and eventually transitioned into sales positions. He now lives in Colombia but frequently spends time with family in Spain and Ireland. We asked Barrie and David about lessons they have learned as digital nomads. Here are their five key tips for anyone considering the global digital nomad lifestyle.

Be flexible

Firstly, they note that curiosity about the world around them and a willingness to engage with it have proved invaluable. “My husband’s work has taken us around the world. We love to explore new places, so when we were offered opportunities to travel for his work, we took them,” explains Barrie. “You need to be adaptable, and it really helps to get involved and immerse yourself in the local culture,” she adds.

Shared interests are shared connections

David and Barrie point out that connecting with like-minded people is a seamless way to help you settle in and make friendships. “As soon as possible, reach out to a few local expat clubs or get involved in activities that interest you. Most cities have an International Women’s Club, a newcomer’s club, or something similar. These are great ways to meet other expats and learn about your new city. If you aren’t sure how to find them, ask your relocation consultant for suggestions,” explains Barrie. For fitness enthusiast David, sports activities in the local area have provided a valuable connection. “I found myself signing up for six-aside-football, and there was a local Facebook group and an expat football team. Players were from all different nationalities, and sport brings everyone together.” He also notes that it has been a means of meeting both locals and expats.

Find a co-working spot

David points out that being a digital nomad can be a lonely existence. Working from home can be convenient at some times, but at others, it can prove isolating. "I spent a lot of time at home. I only recently went into the co-working space last year, even just to break up the day and give me a change of scenery. You have a structure to the day, and you’re more productive because you’re leaving the house,” he explains, adding that whenever he moves to a new city, finding a co-working space is the first thing he looks for.

Learn the local language and the culture

"Try to learn the local language, or at least enough to be polite! It will give you a much deeper understanding of your new home,” says Barrie. David agrees: “Here in Colombia, people that don’t speak the language have a completely different experience.”

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Barrie’s story

Originally from Rhode Island in the USA, Barrie has been moving around for two decades. Work took her husband to different locations, and Barrie moved with him. “We began travelling in 2000. We moved to Amsterdam, then the USA, then Hong Kong, now Canada. I started being a digital nomad when I lived in Hong Kong and began providing digital marketing services for teams across Asia and Europe,” she explains

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The trickier details

Both Barrie and David explain that you need to be fully aware of the immigration and tax requirements. You need to check that you can live and work in your new location. It is always worth talking to an immigration specialist, getting some expat tax advice, and finding out if you will need health insurance.

Moving between countries

David and Barrie have different approaches to the moving process. “When necessary, we have left furniture behind in storage, but we have always brought at least some of our belongings with us. It helps make a new house or apartment feel like home,” notes Barrie. David travels lighter. “I keep it simple. I have one big suitcase. I pretty much have everything I need in there. I change my wardrobe now and then. Everything I have fits in one place,” he says, although David explains having a base in Colombia helps.

Barrie offers a handy tip for anyone moving overseas. “If you are planning to go home during summers – whether you rent something or stay with family – put some of your summer stuff in a small accessible storage unit. Your kids will be happy to be reunited with their bicycles and toys.”

She and her husband also have two cats and a dog, and she offers useful advice on moving a pet overseas. “When we moved to Amsterdam, we took our one cat in a small carrier, and he stayed with us in the airplane cabin. When we moved to Hong Kong, we had two cats and a dog, so we used professional pet relocation services. They flew them to Hong Kong via Frankfurt, where they were required to stay overnight in a “pet hotel” at the airport. Barrie adds that at the pet hotel a vet checked the animals to ensure they were ready for the final stage of the journey. “None of our destinations had quarantine requirements, so we were able to have our pets delivered directly to us after they arrived,” she concludes.

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David’s story

It’s not every day that one swaps the streets of North London for a remote job with a base in Medellín, Colombia, with stints in Ireland and Spain. However, the chance to fulfill life goals and a new career direction prompted David’s transition. He’d been working for the Metropolitan Police for 8 years and was offered the chance of a career break for up to 5 years, with the possibility of returning. “It was a very low-risk option for me,” he explains. “I also had 3 goals. I wanted to learn Spanish as my Mum lives in Spain. Secondly, I wanted to live in another culture and experience it not just as a traveller. The third goal was to do something different. I’d only ever been a police officer. I wanted to see if I could use my skills somewhere else and to see what was out there.”

He moved to Panama and then Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, developing his proficiency in Spanish along the way. David then moved to Colombia, where he fulfilled another ambition by setting up a business in Medellín, teaching sports to local schoolchildren. Skills he acquired at the Metropolitan Police proved invaluable in a new job in sales at the Medellín office of Flexfire LEDs, a LED lighting manufacturer. He worked there for 6 years. Since 2020, David has been at Leadable, in a fully remote position, allowing him to work between Colombia, Spain, Mexico, Ireland and England, and make use of coworking spaces. He has built up a strong client portfolio with an international client base. “It’s great. It’s essentially the same as working from home, but I have a far better standard of living than in the UK, and I get to experience this amazingly rich culture.”

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To sum up, Barrie and David have found moving abroad and living the flexible digital nomad lifestyle a hugely positive experience. Moving is not without its challenges, but they have grown through it.

Thinking of embracing the digital nomad life and moving abroad?

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