Digital nomads are people who conduct their life in a nomadic manner while engaging in remote work using digital telecommunications technology. Such people generally have minimal material possessions and work remotely in temporary housing, hotels, cafes, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles, using Wi-Fi, smartphones or mobile hotspots to access the Internet. Some digital nomads are perpetual travelers, while others are only nomadic for a short period of time. While some nomads travel through various countries, others focus on one area. Some may engage in vandwelling. In 2020, a research study found that 10.9 million American workers described themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 49% from 2019.
One of the earliest known uses of the term digital nomad was in the 1997 book Digital Nomad by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners, which describes how technology allows for a return of societies to a nomadic lifestyle. It is unknown if the phrase was coined in this book or if they took a term that had already existed.
People typically become digital nomads due to a desire to travel and location independence. Compared to living in expensive cities, a digital nomad lifestyle also has cost advantages. Digital Nomads are able to take advantage of different jurisdictions and global labor arbitrage to preserve their liberty and wealth (i.e., earn income in Country A, become tax resident in Country B, bank in Country C, own real estate in Country D, open a company in country E, hire labor from country F, etc)
Although digital nomads enjoy advantages in freedom and flexibility, they report loneliness as their biggest struggle, followed by burnout.
Other challenges include maintaining international health insurance with coverage globally, abiding by different local laws including payment of required taxes and obtaining work visas, and maintaining long-distance relationships with friends and family back home. In some cases, the digital nomad lifestyle leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication between digital nomads and their clients or employers. Other challenges may also include time zone differences, the difficulty of finding a reliable connection to the internet, and the absence of delineation between work and leisure time.
Feelings of loneliness are often present in the practice of nomadic lifestyle, since nomadism often requires freedom from personal attachments such as marriage. The importance of developing face-to-face quality relationships has been stressed to maintain mental health in remote workers. The need for intimacy and family life may be a motive to undertake digital nomadism as an intermittent or temporary activity as in the case of entrepreneur and business developer Sol Orwell.
Many digital nomads tend to come from more developed nations with passports allowing a greater degree of freedom of travel. As a result, many tend to travel on a travel visa; working while on a travel visa can be technically illegal and controversial.
Several visa programs are targeted at digital nomads such as the e-Residency in Estonia and a SMART visa program in Thailand. Estonia has also announced plans of a digital nomad visa. Other countries such as Argentina, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Croatia, Georgia, Greece and Spain offer similar digital nomad visa programs. Some digital nomads have used Germany's residence permit for the purpose of freelance or self-employment to legalize their stay, but successful applicants must have a tangible connection and reason to stay in Germany.
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