We are called by many names, including digital nomad and location independent entrepreneur (LIE). Some are employees of large and small companies, freelance contractors, or run their own business like myself.
The lifestyle that once seemed only plausible for the online poker player or day trader is now accessible to a countless number of professions. Within this digital era, more and more functions of a business can be performed remotely. This allows for many advantages from a business and personal perspective but also creates certain challenges as well. Many new businesses have even been created to cater to this new population.
Along with my business partner, I run an online affiliate marketing business from Medellin, Colombia. We create content-based websites around topics we’re excited about, use market research and SEO tactics build traffic to those sites, and then refer visitors to where they can find products and services related to those topics — and make a commission from those sales. One of those sites is PTPioneer.com, a website devoted helping people become personal trainers.
As our company purely provides a digital product — information — our ability to work remotely is relatively easy. But even those working with a physical product can take advantage of opportunities to work remotely. As the online marketplace for the purchase of physical products has become more and more dominant over brick-and-mortar shops, this has become less of a consideration.
Now that you know what a digital nomad — or LIE — is and have some context on my particular situation, let’s talk about some of the advantages and challenges I have personally experienced living and working abroad.
- Location Independence — This is undoubtedly the biggest advantage of being a LIE. I can live anywhere I want as long as there is a suitable internet connection. So why am I currently residing in Medellin, Colombia? The cost of living is very inexpensive, especially when considering that you are living with all the comforts of a developed country. Currently the exchange rate is very strong, so by earning American dollars and spending Colombian pesos, my income goes very far. Medellin also has great year-round weather and is a metropolitan city that is culturally rich and fun to live in.
- Networking and Collaboration — Not surprisingly, many LIEs come to a similar conclusion on where to live when considering factors such as cost of living. There is a very large community of American LIEs in Medellin, which creates an environment for networking and collaboration with others in similar lines of business or similar experiences.
- Trying a New Culture — Living in Medellin has allowed me to truly experience a new culture, far beyond than what simply traveling somewhere provides. With the right mindset, you have the opportunity to truly immerse yourself into the community, develop relationships, obtain different perspectives, and really learn. I cannot emphasize enough how much this has impacted me personally. The very warm, welcoming, family-oriented culture of Colombia has really changed my perspective on community and life in general.
- Learn a New Language — Depending on one’s perspective, this can be seen as a challenge or opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my bouts of frustration at learning Spanish and communicating with the locals, but overall, I see language immersion as a unique opportunity to build a useful new skill.
- Tax Advantages — A great advantage of working abroad and having an American-based business is that you are able to elect the foreign earned income exclusion, which permits you to not have to pay personal income taxes for approximately the first $100K.
- Visas — This is the biggest challenge I have personally faced living abroad. You can easily jump from country to country on visitor visas that usually have a duration of three to six months. But if you want to live in a particular location longer term, obtaining a visa can be difficult. Reaching out to others in the country where you want to live who have encountered similar issues can provide invaluable information on how to best resolve these issues.
- Missing Friends and Family — Living and working in another country, you will obviously see your U.S.-based family and friends less often, but they are really only a plane flight away. With occasional visits — not to mention the ability to Facetime with anyone at a moment’s notice — I have not found this to be much of a hindrance for me. To be honest, now that my schedule is more flexible and I am more conscious of staying connected, I almost feel closer to many of my friends and family since moving abroad.
- Culture Shock — Many find this to be a problem, as a new culture can be so fundamentally different. From food to customs to language, people can begin to feel homesick or isolated. As much as I have experienced certain frustrations as anyone will inevitably encounter, from an overall perspective, I personally have come to fully embrace the culture of Colombia and now even prefer it in many ways.
- Banking Banking can be a challenge when running a business where your income is produced in the States and where you’re a foreigner. Most countries do not allow you to open domestic bank accounts. But with the right tactics and careful planning, these problems can virtually be eradicated.
Living this nomadic lifestyle is obviously not for everyone, and achieving such a lifestyle is usually not as easy as simply making the decision to do so. But I hope this introduction to the concept, insight into the business model that permitted me to live abroad, and learning about some advantages and disadvantages of living this lifestyle provides you a jumping-off point to explore further as to whether you would be interested in living the nomadic life and ideas on how to get started.