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The Ultimate Digital Nomad Checklist For 2019 And Beyond
Megan and I are both anxiety-filled messes and yet, somehow, she still trusts me to handle the arrangements of our digital nomad life.
You don’t need a formal plan to work and travel, but it is a good idea to have a little checklist, like the one we offer here, to ensure your next move as a digital nomad goes smoothly.
So, here’s what you need to know:
What Are The Laws Of The Land?
If you want to spend a year in Thailand, how are you going to do it? What visas do you need? What’s the current attitude towards visa runs (we can tell you that in Thailand the answer to this is “stinky” and getting worse)?
If you’re going to change your passport while you’re there, how will you do it? How will you ensure that your visas are still legal? That sort of thing.
Many laws like don’t drink and drive or don’t drive without insurance are obvious but there often small things that relate to digital nomad life that are not.
The best places to check for this kind of information? Expat boards online, search engines (a massively under-rated tool), your government’s foreign information site (which lists travel warnings and key laws, etc.) and, of course, the embassy of the country you are traveling to.
Look stuff up before you go and at a minimum check: visas, driving licenses, and vaccinations.
Also, if you carry any form of prescription or non-prescription medication, whatsoever, check out whether it’s legal in your destination or at any place you may stopover. You may find that many common over the counter medications are illegal. You don’t want to do 4 years in a Dubai jail for possession of paracetamol and codeine, do you?
Cover Your Backside For Flights
Make sure your passport is in date (normally you need at least 6 months of validity when you arrive in a country).
Make sure you have a visa if you need one and that it is valid for your date of travel.
Make sure you have two consecutive blank pages in your passport, just in case. (This is an entry requirement for some countries).
While there are places that you can go without an onward ticket, most countries expect you to have an onward ticket before you can board the plane and will refuse you entry if you somehow slip the airline’s safety net.
We’ve found that Best Onward Ticket is a lifesaver for the digital nomad who wants to go but doesn’t know when they will leave. $12 (or so) will get you a ticket you can wave at airlines and immigration which will stand up to scrutiny if checked but which will be canceled about 2 hours after you arrive. Which is 100% legal.
Check Your Packing
Make sure you have the essentials you need for work and that you’ve got your cards/money on you. If you don’t have these, life’s going to be very tough, indeed.
If you’re going to use travel insurance, it’s a good idea to check that it’s valid and that it offers sufficient coverage for your needs. There’s no point in crying over your broken MacBook if you chose insurance that only gives you $50 payout per broken item.
Anything of any real value should be packed in your carry-on luggage if possible. It’s going to be safer there than in the hold.
Speaking Of Money
Money is important. It may be inelegant to discuss it publicly but it’s almost impossible to live without at least a bank card and some cash.
You’ll find ATMs at nearly every airport on earth when you land but as I found out, the hard way, in the Philippines – that doesn’t mean that they’re going to give you money (my bank’s network was down for 4 hours – no Pesos for me).
Changing up just a couple of hundred bucks before you go, even if you don’t get the best exchange rate can make life much easier when you arrive.
Also, look to your cards before you go. See if you can switch to banks which don’t levy charges for foreign ATM withdrawals or which, at the very least, limit the fees you must pay. ATM fees can add a lot of cost to living overseas.
You might also consider using Transferwise, Revolut or a similar service which provides truly international cover and, most importantly, the cheapest international transfer services from one bank to another.
Make Sure The Internet Is At Your Command
Every digital nomad and/or expat needs to invest in a VPN service. That’s because nearly every developing nation has some form of censorship of the Internet.
This is doubly true for China.
It is better to ask around some friends as to the best provider rather than shouting it on a local bulletin board. Ask any China old-hand, the best way to get a VPN on the banned and blocked list is to recommend it on social media.
For reference I use Windscribe. It’s cheap and cheerful. I rarely have to use it, but it has been truly invaluable when I do. Occasionally, I need a US server to check work for a client who uses affiliates that block non-US IP ranges.
It is much harder to buy VPN access when you’re inside a firewall than before you leave.
Make Sure Your Logins, Etc. Are Secure
We use 1password but there are plenty of folks who recommend LastPass. This is a very easy way to secure all your logins to different programs without leaving them exposed.
Do this and if your stuff is stolen, the robbers won’t be leafing their way through your bank account too.
Consider The Cloud
Backing up is easier when you have it automated to the cloud. There’s nothing worse than a drive failing or a computer breaking just as you need to deliver a 3-week project to a client or employer.
You can get cloud storage for such little money nowadays that a TB shouldn’t cost you much more than $20-$30 for a year.
Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, pCloud, etc. are all perfectly good cloud providers. We’d note that we’d recommend avoiding Google and Microsoft products like the plague if you value your privacy, but it appears that many people don’t.
Book A Place To Stay In Advance
Always, try to have at least 3 days of accommodation booked before you arrive anywhere. Don’t worry about being ripped off – Internet deals, for the moment, are almost always better on short-term lets than you can wangle in person.
Wandering about trying to haggle for a place to stay the day you arrive is stressful and not much fun. Have somewhere, go get a shower, some sleep and then explore your new town/city.
Pick somewhere in the area that you think you might want to live in and use it as a base to explore and find the right place to live. If possible, pick somewhere near a café or a co-working space – to give you some extra options to work from. That’s the best way to make your digital nomad life easy.
We recommend Booking.com or Airbnb for this. Booking.com is our favorite. It’s great value for money and in most cases, you can cancel if your plans change with no penalties. Sometimes, however, Airbnb does beat the costs of Booking.com by a wide margin and then, regretfully, we can be persuaded to pay a month’s rent in advance if the price is right.
Decide If You’re Going To Learn The Language (And If So Prepare)
We speak a few languages between us but we’re not great at learning new ones. You don’t have to be like us but if you are – Google translate can be a savior when you’re stuck explaining to someone who really has no English.
If you want to learn more of the language, you might want to get a beginner’s course. But don’t go overboard, in our experience, there are far more digital nomads who talk about learning languages than those who actually do.
We’re not fans of DuoLingo and other apps now. The monetization models often work out much more expensive than just buying a course, a far cry from their generous early free models.
Good news! The ultimate digital nomad checklist for 2019 and beyond isn’t huge! That’s because you don’t really need to attend to too much before you travel and once you get where you’re going, you can wing most things anyway.