I sold everything I own and became a full-time digital nomad. Now I live a great life on less than $1,500 a month.
I’m over a year into the full-time digital nomad lifestyle, but have traveled to 85 countries since 2013. I have seen firsthand how living outside the U.S. can be cheaper while giving you a great lifestyle. I explore the world while saving money and working on my financial independence goals.
Advancements in remote work make it easier than ever to explore being a “digital nomad,” a lifestyle in which you use your location independence to see the world and experience different cultures. When afforded the opportunity to work remotely, 87% of workers do so for at least one day per week, according to a recent report from McKinsey. Now that I’m in this lifestyle, I’m not sure I ever want to return to a more traditional life. I live on $1,500, which allows me to save and invest around $8,500 a month.
Here’s how I reduced my monthly expenses by becoming a digital nomad and some advice for anyone curious about building financial independence while living all over the world.
I Fell in Love With Travel While Working a Job and Building My Side Hustle
My mother is from Mombasa and sent me to live in Kenya for two years when I was 12 years old, but after that, I didn’t travel internationally again until I was 30. Then, in 2014, I got an opportunity to travel more extensively as a contract corporate consultant for large financial companies. From 2014 until the pandemic began in 2020, I had two-month assignments in London, Tokyo, South Korea, Bangkok, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Cape Town, Nairobi, Medellin, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Manila, Rome, and Athens for work.
During this time, I was also building an online side hustle. I wrote and published three books, wrote articles as a freelance writer, sold online training courses, did some coaching, was an affiliate for various products, and did some public speaking at virtual events. Once I found my footing, my side hustle brought in $10,000 a month from 2014 to 2018 and $18,000 a month from 2018 to 2021.
Work trips gave me a taste of the digital nomad lifestyle. I found cheap Airbnbs, booked flights with credit card points whenever possible, and reduced how much money I spent on touristy activities. I’m also a father of three who balances work, a side hustle, travel, and seeing my kids, who live with my ex-wife, as much as possible.
The Pandemic Made Me Realize I Wanted to Become a Full-Time Digital Nomad
In 2020, I stopped all corporate consulting and went all-in on my side hustle. But I missed the thrill of being in a new country, and I noticed a difference in my cost of living expenses. Paying for the cost of living in America planted a seed in my mind about how I could travel and also save much more money along the way.
After the lockdowns were lifted, I decided to go all in on this lifestyle. I spent two months selling everything: my house, my car, and all material possessions. By September 2021, I was officially a full-time digital nomad with no home base. So far, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, London, Rome, Lisbon, and Nice. I’m currently in Medellin, Colombia, where I plan to stay for a year.
My Monthly Budget in Medellin
My monthly expenses in Colombia calculate to just under $1,500 a month, and are as follows:
- Rent: $850, which includes wifi, water, and electricity.
- Health insurance: $71. This is private insurance that covers everything.
- Transportation: $60. I live in an area where I walk to everything I need, and use Uber when needed. On average, Uber rides are $2.
- Food: $150. This includes groceries and eating at restaurants.
- Housekeeper and assistant: $360. I have someone who cooks lunch and dinner and cleans my apartment from Monday to Friday.
Total expenses: $1,491 a month
|Expense Category||Monthly Cost|
|Rent and Utilities||$850|
|Groceries and Dining||$150|
I also have a global Google Fi cell phone plan that costs $50 a month, but that is paid for as a business expense and billed to my business. Many jobs and businesses can be managed remotely, but to do the work successfully you need to put systems in place.
“I’m Italian, but have been living in Barcelona for the last 14 years,” says Alberto Betella, the co-founder of RSS, a SaaS podcasting platform, and a traveling entrepreneur. “My co-founder Ben is based in Texas, and we met online. We have a distributed workforce with employees and contractors spread throughout Russia, Spain, the U.S., and Mexico.” Betella says remote work has lowered overhead and lets employees explore digital nomadism if they so choose.
The Good and Not-So-Good of Digital Nomad Life
Pro: Strength of the U.S. dollar
One of the biggest pros of the digital nomad lifestyle is how far the dollar goes in many other countries. The USD gives you a lot of buying power in many countries worldwide. Other digital nomads agree.
From my experience traveling to 85 countries and living in over a dozen, the amount of paperwork you need to complete — and the speed at which it gets processed — can be frustrating. You’re often waiting on something that takes a while to process and is necessary to enter or stay in a country.
Pro: Healthcare coverage
Paying for health insurance and medical debt can wreck a budget in the U.S. One visit to the hospital — with insurance or without — could set you back tens of thousands of dollars. Living in other countries as a digital nomad means getting good healthcare at a much lower price. Many countries worldwide offer universal healthcare, and even provide it to digital nomads who get an extended visa in a given country.
I’m in Colombia on an extended visa. I purchased private insurance that costs $850 for an entire year. It’s full-coverage insurance on everything, with no copays. I also got a Colombia Cedula, a national I.D. card, which lets me get additional Colombian national health insurance. In some countries, health insurance is required for entry.
“A lot of countries that offer digital nomad visas are now requiring some sort of health insurance with the visa application,” says Angela Berrio, an insurance agent in Colombia who helps digital nomads and expats get health insurance. “I’ve been an insurance agent for over 13 years, and have mainly worked with expats because I’m bilingual. Foreigners are surprised at how much cheaper the insurance is while [also] offering some of the best care in the world.” Berrio says you can get a full-year plan with no copays for under $100 a month. She recommends you talk to an insurance professional, because expats tend to listen to other expats, who may not always have the most up-to-date information.
Con: Less instant shipping culture
One con to digital nomad life is not getting what you want or are used to. Depending on the country you go to, there could be limited or difficult availability on certain foods, material possessions, or medicines. Amazon ships internationally, but is limited on item availability, and doesn’t ship to certain countries.
Pro: Exploring new places
Traveling for vacation can be expensive, because you go somewhere for a period of time and try to stack in as many touristy things as possible. Digital nomad life means you have more time, and can usually secure housing at much lower daily rates.
“My rent was $600 a month in Thailand, and it was a large three-bedroom house — I lived on less than a thousand dollars a month,” says Desislava Dobreva, a business mentor and branding expert currently living in London. “I’ve lived a good life in many countries, and [have] grown as a person and entrepreneur. When you’re picking a destination, think about your life and financial goals. Some places may be cheaper, but [do] not offer the quality of living and motivation you need to grow. I found myself getting too comfortable in some countries, and switched to places that stimulate my growth.”
Digital nomads are not tourists in a country; they live where they are. We balance doing touristy activities with maintaining a work schedule. You can make your money during the week, then live like a tourist on the weekends.
Con: Missing home and family
The digital nomad life is excellent, but you leave behind family and friends when you travel. I miss my kids more than words can say. I miss getting a bratwurst in downtown Milwaukee and watching the Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau Field. I love my life now, but it’s not uncommon to get homesick and miss people.
Figure Out What You Need to Know Before Booking Your Next Destination
The internet is an excellent tool for exploring what you need to know about digital nomad life. You can watch YouTube videos about a specific city or round up videos of multiple cities to determine what makes sense.
You can listen to podcasts about digital nomad life and living in certain countries. You can read articles about the cost of living and what it’s like in countries and cities. There is a lot of information online that lets you “test drive” a place before buying a ticket there.
I’ll continue this lifestyle because it’s allowing me to live well for much less than almost anywhere I could go in the United States. I’m saving money, investing the difference, and creating financial independence while also seeing the world.