Four years ago, Heath and Alyssa Padgett were newlyweds undertaking
a bold experiment: spend a year on the road, living in an RV, documenting how
others are making a living. Funny thing happened somewhere across those 49
states and 12 months: they not only produced a documentary film, but also
crafted a sustainable nomadic lifestyle that leverages their creative work
talents with their desire for location independence. Today, the couple has a
thriving digital business of blogs, sponsorships, videos, workshops books and a
Facebook group of 10,000 followers
– all produced from their home and office on wheels.
Padgetts are among a burgeoning mass of workers who are rejecting the
traditional office assignment, for a work lifestyle that is not defined by a
location. Rather, they travel the world while working remotely – needing only
the internet and a digital device to produce a living.
A British journalist and Japanese
semiconductor scientist first coined the term in their 1997 book, “Digital
Nomad.” According to a recent New
York Times article, the authors predicted that technological
advancement would “make us geographically independent of our homes and
offices,” leading to “cerebral nomadism” — we will travel the world hunting
down information and relationships, much as our ancestors stalked the plains
These so-called digital nomads can thank the strides made in
the late 1990s to bring telecommuting to the mainstream. By the late 2000s, the
nomadic lifestyle was becoming a “thing” as millennials in particular saw it as
an alternative to high rents and high costs of living. It’s estimated that by
the year 2035, there will be 1 billion digital nomads.
For employers seeking to fill remote global
work positions, the nomadic population will be an increasingly important one to
tap. Some things to consider when working with digital nomads:
Not all nomads live in an RV like the Padgetts. The fact is
housing options vary widely, but forget the long-term apartment rental or leased
homes in a community of expats. Nomads
seek flexible, short-term, low-cost housing in a location that is walkable or
easily accessible to coffee shops and community gathering spaces. The one
common denominator regardless of type of housing is access to reliable high-speed
International housing networks like Roam are a popular housing alternative, with more
than 2,000 members currently in its network. It provides furnished,
single-occupancy housing for around $500 per week, in major international
markets. Its facilities offer communal kitchens and co-working spaces to encourage
community. Other nomads may choose to share space with a friend while on a
temporary assignment, or use employer-provided apartments. The key for
employers is to couple low-cost, clean and quiet housing with areas for
community and co-work space.
The very nature of location-independence means work created by digital nomads
can be at greater risk for data breaches. “Digital
nomads typically work remotely—from home, co-working spaces, coffee shops,
hotel rooms, etc., on tasks and goals that traditionally take place in an
office. All they need is a laptop and a good internet connection,” according to
the blog Fulltime Nomad.
Sadly, those open networks can be a
danger zone for hacks and breaches. Employers should take extra precautions to ensure
location-independent hires are working on encrypted and secure platforms. The General
Data Protection Regulation issued in 2018 applies to all European Union
residents, not just citizens. Employers must ensure that both they and their
digital nomads strictly adhere to rules for protecting personal data or PII.
of the biggest challenges for the location-independent worker is how to handle
financial transactions. The default payment option typically is PayPal, for its
convenience and protection. It is offered in more than 200 countries, and
supports 25 currencies. But PayPal has its downsides, most notably high transaction
fees. PayPal Business can be a less costly option for frequent users.
the nomadic workstyle has grown, so have the options for transacting payments. Stripe,
Skrill, TransferWise and Bitcoin are among numerous alternatives to PayPal. Some provide
payments directly to the user’s email address, or to an ATM-like card. Wire transfers are another option.
Digital nomads may be able
to avoid the monotony of an office, and the drudgery of a long commute, but one
thing that can’t avoid is paying taxes. According to Stewart Patton,
tax attorney currently living in Belize, “all US citizens are subject to US
tax on their worldwide income, no matter where they live. Also, US citizens are
required to file a US tax return if their gross income is over the applicable
threshold (generally $10,000 for single people and $400 for people with
However, he says, “US citizens who live outside the US can
take advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion to reduce their US tax.
“The FEIE allows a digital nomad to make up to about $100,000 from providing
personal services without paying any US income tax. To qualify, you generally
need to be in a foreign country for 330 days in a 12-month period (and that
12-month period can start on any day). If you work as a self-employed person
(an independent contractor, freelancer, solopreneur, professional, etc.), then
you still have to pay self-employment tax, which is 15.3% of the first $118,000
and 2.9% above that. Also, when you own a business (not a profession) directly
in your own name, there are some rules that reduce the effectiveness of the
FEIE.” For more assistance, Worldwide ERC®’s global
tax specialists offer an array of resources on global taxes online.