Photo of a family riding camels in front of the Pyramids in Egypt.
Courtesy of Bretley Hanson

See the Lives of ‘Digital Nomads’ Who Do Their Jobs While Living Outside the US. How You Can, Too

We want to help you make more informed decisions. Some links on this page — clearly marked — may take you to a partner website and may result in us earning a referral commission. For more information, see How We Make Money.

Your new strategy for navigating America’s cost of living crisis? Leave.

“I lived in Silicon Valley, where the cost of living was expensive,” says Keith Romes, a quality assurance analyst, who moved to Mexico to work remotely in August 2020. “When companies moved to remote work during the pandemic, I got a taste of it. I love to travel, and thought I could get the best of all worlds: work remotely, travel, and save money.” The idea of digital nomadism — working from another country or multiple countries — has been around for years, but the remote work revolution has renewed interest in the wanderlust lifestyle.

When people have the chance to work flexibly, 87 percent do so, according to the American Opportunity Survey, a report published by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. Some fully-remote workers are moving abroad to lower their cost of living and invest their extra savings to create financial independence

But will your employer let you make the leap? Here’s what you need to consider if becoming a digital nomad is a goal of yours, according to people who’ve been doing it for years.

Get Your Employer’s Buy-In First

If you’re an employee, know that there are state-specific labor laws your company must abide by. If you want to work from outside the United States, doing so may mean becoming a contractor with your employer or moving into a different role. 

“I wanted to start traveling in January of 2020,” says Christa Knox, a client implementation and support specialist who has worked remotely for seven years. “I decided to see if my employer would approve of me working mainly outside the U.S.” Knox says the company she was with at the time reclassified her from a standard W2 employee to a 1099 contractor to limit its liability. “It was still the same type of job, with the same role and amount of hours,” she says. Knox later moved to a company set up to hire her as a W2 employee working remotely outside of the United States.

Since becoming a digital nomad in 2020, Knox has traveled to 17 countries. She spent extended time in Colombia and Mexico because of both the cheaper cost of living and good visa terms for Americans. 

Christa Knox has been working remotely for seven years, and nomadic for nearly three years. She has visited and worked in 17 different countries since January 2020. (Photos courtesy of Christa Knox)

Consider Visa Lengths When Choosing a Location  

Visa lengths are another factor you must consider when deciding to remote work outside the United States. Most countries offer U.S. citizens a tourist visa that gives you 90 days in the country. Some, like Colombia, where I’m living, allow you to apply for a 90-day extension. If you want to stay in a country longer, you’ll need to apply for a student visa, work visa, or investor’s visa. 

Some countries see so much potential in digital nomad life that they’ve launched digital nomad visas, allowing remote workers to stay in countries longer. These visas have terms, such as requiring you to have healthcare and a certain income threshold that you produce outside of the country, so that you don’t take a local job.

“I work from my laptop, so I work from everywhere,” says Zach Benson, an entrepreneur who travels full-time. “I’m the founder of the company, but have a CEO who runs the day-the-day of the company. Outsourcing has helped me work less and be efficient with my time.”

Choose Destinations That Help You Accomplish Your Financial Independence Goals

The U.S. dollar goes far in many countries, allowing you to take the money you make in dollars and stretch it further by living abroad. According to Nomadlist, a global digital nomad community, some of the most popular digital nomad destinations include: 

  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Canggu, Bali
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Medellin, Colombia

Romes, the former Silicon Valley resident, sold most of his belongings and relocated to Mexico in August 2020. He says the cost of living allows him to save and invest in the markets as well as an online consulting side hustle he’s building.

Romes pays $1,500 a month for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom place with a private pool and office, a rate “you can’t even get for a room in the Bay Area,” he says. The median monthly payment for an apartment in San Jose is currently $3,702, according to rent.com

Keith Romes, who previously lived in Silicon Valley, works his U.S. job from abroad. He rents a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house in Mexico for $1,500 a month. (Photos courtesy of Keith Romes)

If You Have a Mortgage, Consider the Sublet Economy 

When COVID-19 arrived, Bretley Hanson got permission from his company to work remotely. He moved himself, his wife, and two daughters (10 and 8) from Oregon to the Dominican Republic in 2020. 

“We sold some smaller items and left all the larger items in our house to make it a fully-furnished home that we could and did list on Airbnb,” Hanson says. On Airbnb, their home brings in $3,000 of extra income per month. 

The family stayed in the Dominican Republic for one year, then spent the holidays in Cairo, Egypt, and Bangkok, Thailand. The family is now in Tokyo, Japan. Hanson says his kids love the travel lifestyle. 

Bretley Hanson and his family became digital nomads after he got company approval to work abroad, on the condition that he still be available for client calls in U.S. time zones, which sometimes means early mornings or late nights. (Photos courtesy of Bretley Hanson)

Use the Opportunity to Create New Income Streams 

Sometimes, having a lower cost of living can give you the time and mental space you need to explore new projects or streams of income.

“I was working for a hospital and got laid off during the pandemic,” says Corritta Lewis, a digital nomad with a full-time U.S. job she works from Mexico. “We decided to move to Mexico because the cost of living was much cheaper, and there is a black expert community. We were able to live well on $900 a month in Mexico while I applied for unemployment and looked for a new job online.” The experience of being laid off made Lewis realize she needed multiple income streams. After getting settled with her new job as a remote information systems analyst, she started on a side hustle, a website documenting their lifestyle and travel tips. 

“I wanted to have as many income sources as possible,” says Lewis. “I needed to be in control of my income as much as I could for my family.” In addition to their time in Mexico, Lewis, her wife, and their son have since traveled to Colombia and Guatemala.

Corritta Lewis, left, with her wife and son at the Corporación Parque Arví in Medellin, Colombia. The family moved to Mexico after Lewis was laid off to have a lower cost of living. Lewis found a new job that allowed them to continue their digital nomad lifestyle. (Photos courtesy of Corritta Lewis)

Turn Your Digital Nomad Dream Into Reality

Remote work has created opportunities to both see the world and save more money along the way. If you have the flexibility and are content to work remotely, start your research and conversations with your employer today to help bring your travel aspirations to life.