What is digital nomadism?

Unsplash, photo by Shridhar Gupta

Digital nomadism means travelling while working, changing places perhaps every month, three months or six months, and working in a location-independent manner. So, in other words, it is directly linked to the changing nature of work and how certain professions have become location-independent, not tied to any particular physical place.

Who are the digital nomads? Digital nomads are professionals, often from Global North countries, who use telecommunication technologies to earn a living and conduct their lives in a nomadic manner. Statistics collected on digital nomads vary to a certain degree.

How many digital nomads are there? Although difficult to estimate accurate numbers, a 2018 study by MBO Partners discovered that 4.8. million citizens in the USA alone identified as “digital nomads”. Another study published by Abrotherabroad estimated the number of digital nomads to 35 million globally.

What else do we know of digital nomads? There are no official statistics collected by states on digital nomads. Below I are highlight some statistics that I could locate from different websites that give some estimates on their gender distribution, country of origin, preferred destination countries, professional profiles, and so forth:

Some stats from the website: http://www.abrotherabroad.com

Based on 4000 poll and survey responses from the English-speaking world

  • With the estimated 35 million digital nomads, if the digital nomad community were a country, it would be the 41st biggest country right after Canada.
  • Most digital nomads seem to be in their 30s and 40s.
  • Most digital nomads (76%) are from Europe, and hold thus powerful passports.
  • The majority (66%) of digital nomads prefer to stay in one destination between 3 and 6 months.
  • The cost of living and a fast Internet are two major factors when choosing where to stay (factor #1 for 56% of nomads).
  • The average digital nomad monthly budget was reported to 1,875 USD (1620€) and the annual budget 22,500 USD (19,430€).

What do digital nomads do for profession? 83% of digital nomads are self-employed and 17% are employed by companies as remote workers. Most common professions are marketing, computer sciences/IT, design, writing and eCommerce.

Where do digital nomads stay? Some of the most popular destinations are Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Vietnam, Portugal, Turkey, Costa Rica, Brazil and the Philippines. Southeast Asia was considered the most popular region with 34% of votes, being followed by Central America (16%) and South America (13%).

Some other interesting statistics collected in this study were the following:

Why some nomads return back home? Major reasons listed for this were loneliness, missing family and friends, lack of connection and traveller fatigue. Other challenges that digital nomads encountered were handling tax and medical (insurance) issues, loneliness and lack of items they would usually have “back home”.

Is the world adapting to mobile life-styles? Altogether 21 countries have adopted digital nomad visas or have specific programmes targeting digital nomads (as of 2021). And 28 countries offer digital nomad-friendly visas that are valid for six months or more. For more information concerning the EU countries, check here.

To check out all 63 statistics, visit Abrotherabroad.

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Digital nomads in the United States

Statistics from the MBO Partners’ report, “Covid-19 and the Rise of the Digital Nomad”

This study by the MBO Partners is part of their State of Independence in America research series. This 2020 study is based on 3,457 responses from US citizens or those with US residency status.

As the report states, there was a “seismic shift” towards remote work between 2019 and 2020, largely due to the Covid19 pandemic. This became immediately visible in the rising numbers of digital nomads in the United States. The number of digital nomads rose by nearly 50% from 2019, from 7,3 million to 10,9 million in 2020.

Source: MBO Partners 2020

Who are the digital nomads? Digital nomads in the United States are a very diverse group. This is most likely true to digital nomads also outside the US. Some travel for years, moving often between different countries and regions. Others tend to travel sporadically, perhaps only a part of the year, while staying put for most of the year. Some take “workcations” or working sabbaticals that last for some weeks or months, while other embrace fully the digital nomad life and don’t have any “home base”. Most interestingly, the report shows that many surveyed digital nomads in the United States never actually cross the country’s borders. What unites all is that they combine working remotely with travelling for different durations of time.

Did more people become digital nomads because of the Covid19 pandemic? The short answer is yes. Interestingly, the report shows that many current digital nomads used to hold “traditional jobs” and that their numbers rapidly increased during the pandemic. This means that many people holding “traditional jobs” in the sense of working in one place became location-independent and took to the road. In 2020, the number of traditional workers who worked as digital nomads grew by 96%, from 3.2 million to 6.3 million in the United States!

Unfortunately, similar data is not available (at least yet) from other countries, but it is likely that a similar trend has taken place in other countries as well.

What else do we know of digital nomads in the US?

  • Millennials represent 42% of digital nomads in the country. However, the older age groups are becoming more represented with 28% being aged over 45 and 8% being aged over 65.
  • They mostly work on fields such as information technology (12%), education and training (11%), consulting, coaching and research (11%) and sales, marketing and PR (9%).
  • Most digital nomads are highly satisfied (81%) or satisfied (9%) with their life-style choice and work.
  • Digital nomads often take advantage of “geoarbitrage”, which means combining low-cost living while being part of higher-wage labour markets. Previously for the US-based nomads this has meant travelling to Thailand, Costa Rica or Vietnam, but due to the Covid19 restrictions, digital nomads have left behind high-cost US cities such as San Francisco and New York and headed to low cost areas such as Boulder, CO, Austin, TX or some resort areas, for instance in Florida.
Photo by Balkan Campers, Unsplash

Also, 17% of digital nomads in the United States are “vanlifers”. The Vanlife Movement that has become more popular with the Covid19 pandemic, means travelling in vehicles that have been converted to living spaces.

Millions are thinking of becoming digital nomads in the United States. The report shows that 19 million people in the United States, who are not yet digital nomads, plan to become one in 2-3 years. Also, 45 million said that they will maybe become digital nomads.

What are the future trends? The report predicts three trends for the years to come. The first is that more traditional employees will become digital nomads. This is the result of companies and various employers allowing their employees to become location independent. The second is that digital nomads will most likely travel closer to “home”. This will be affected by the employers’ demands towards remote workers, requiring employees to be at least occasionally present in their work places or at least in the same time zone. The third is the impact of the pandemic for digital nomads staying longer in one place and travelling less. This has also been shown to increase productivity and allowing digital nomads to explore a place more in-depth.

The report concludes that the year 2020 has been exceptional in terms of the increasing number of digital nomads. Although this trend would not continue in similar numbers, we can still expect a strong growth in the number of digital nomads in the United States in the years to come.

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Want to know more? Check out these stats!