18 Ways for Digital Nomads to Make Money
The last we heard, real estate entrepreneur and writer and filmmaker Heidi Hough was living in a community of foreigners and natives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Prior to Chiang Mai, she was in Vienna for a few months, and before that, travelled back and forth between Los Angeles and New York City.
Hough is the quintessential digital nomad -- someone who lives in different cities and earns a living online -- and she makes it work by having multiple income streams. These include managing real estate sublets around the world, directing a documentary film through grant money and freelance writing. She was also, when we learned of her, in the final stages of launching an online life-coaching business.
The reasons for pursuing the digital nomad lifestyle are attractive and numerous. “Besides seeing new places and cultures and having adventures is finding people like myself," Hough said. "In Chiang Mai, I am never looked at askance for not having a 'regular job' or for constantly traveling. It's always just 'Where are you from, what do you do, where are you going next?'”
Whatever the motivation is for seeking remote work, the numbers show that this segment of the workforce is on the rise. A March 2019 report from FlexJobs showed the remote workforce, while not exactly synonymous with digital nomadism, had surged almost four-fold in the past decade, from 9 percent of U.S. workers working remotely occasionally in 2007 to 43 percent in 2017. And according to an 2018 Owl Labs report:
- 52 percent of employees around the world worked from home at least once per week.
- 68 percent of global employees worked from home at least once per month.
- 18 percent of employees worked remotely full time.
These work trends speak to people’s growing desire to be free from the confines of a stationary office and life. Over the next decade, it’s predicted that 38 percent of the full-time workforce in the United States will be remote, and there’s a crop of job sites dedicated to serving this shift to remote jobs and those seeking them, such as Remote.co, Remoteok.io, FlexJobs, Working Nomad, Upwork and Outsourcely.
For those serious about becoming a digital nomad, it takes more than just a laptop, wi-fi, country-specific SIM cards and power adapters to make it work. Hough maintains a core discipline: She’s not on vacation. “The main rule of my life is to remain responsible by always having wi-fi access, responding almost immediately," she says, "and most importantly by far, maintaining strong personal relationships everywhere I go and with everyone I work with to the best of my ability.”
If you’re looking to join the growing tribe of digital nomads, here are 18 slides with ideas to get you started.
Use the sharing economy.
If you’re got an apartment, house or spare room(s), you can rent them out on one of the many overnight-stay platforms, such as Airbnb, HomeAway or Overnight (specifically for women to encourage safety), and forge multiple income streams that can either supplement your income or serve as your main one as you roam the planet. Plus, you can manage your rentals with a laptop and wi-fi.
You can make money by not only renting out your living space, but also renting out your driveway using sharing platforms such as Rover Parking, JustPark, Parklee, Panda Parking, Pavemint and CurbFlip.
If you have a much-coveted garage or additional storage space in your apartment, you can use the apps Roost and Spacer to rent out storage space. (Of course, to manage rentals remotely where the renter may require access, you have to figure out a system of access if you cannot be present.) The money you can make from renting out space varies, depending on where you live and the demand in your community. However, according to Spacer, you can make between $2,000 to $4,000 annually renting out your garage for storage.
Renting your car (or cars) while it’s not in use is also another option. Car sharing websites, such as Getaround, HyreCar and Turo, make it easy. These companies have different provisions, but Getaround will actually rent out your car, clean it and take care of it. (They have a $1 million insurance policy.)
To manage your rentals from a remote location, make sure you have access to computer and wi-fi, email and phone, and if you’re renting out your home, automate the lock system (owners can install a digital keypad or renters can install a device next to the deadbolt so smartphones can wirelessly unlock it) so the guest can check in and out without anyone present. If you want boots on the ground, you can always get someone trusted and local (a friend or family member or an Airbnb property management service) to manage your rentals and/or see to repairs.
Copyediting is work that can mostly be done from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a computer and wi-fi access. (Although some very old-school places may still insist on scanning pages to copyedit. As a digital nomad, this arrangement wouldn’t be terribly convenient.)
First, find out if you’re a good fit for copyediting work. As a copy editor, you’ll review written material and check for factual accuracy, spelling, grammar and readability. This is an extremely detail-oriented job for people who have an affinity for the English language and a high standard of accuracy.
Often, copy editors and proofreaders are expected to abide by certain writing style guides -- the AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style are the go-to standards. The industries you can work in as a copy editor or proofreader are varied: from print magazines to financial institution reports to web copy to nonprofit newsletters. If you already possess knowledge in AP or Chicago styles, then you’re better suited for copyediting and proofreading for the media publishing industry as well as many advertising agencies. However, academic and medical written material tend to follow different guidelines, such as the AMA Manual of Style.
The bottom line is, if you’ve already got a solid handle on the basics of grammar rules and punctuation and readability, then learning various styles is a matter of simply purchasing the style guide (or an online subscription to the style guide) and looking up rules. You can fine-tune your copyediting and proofreading skills by taking an online copyediting course for certification at recognized online organizations, such as the American Society for Editing, Mediabistro or Poytner.
To find work as a freelance copy editor or proofreader, you can check out major job sites including LinkedIn, FlexJobs, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Indeed. You can also research freelance sites, such as FlexJobs, Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, Freelanced, PeoplePerHour, FreelanceWritingGigs, Super Copy Editors, Mediabistro and Global. Create a profile on these sites. Typically, you can either apply for jobs available or your profile may attract potential clients. Keep in mind, some places may ask you to take a short copyediting test to assess your skills.
The hourly wage for a web copy editor in the U.S. is $29 to $31 an hour. The median annual salary in the U.S. is $45,506. If you’re working for a U.S. company while living abroad, this arrangement can work to your pay advantage, however if you’re working abroad, you may want to also seek copyediting work in your area, although your options may be limited due to your work permit situation. Finding those local jobs require some sleuthing. Typically, countries have expat communities with job boards and Facebook groups with job listings. Start by asking around.
Take advantage of the languages that you already know very well and provide translation work for companies. This is the perfect opportunity to sharpen your language skills while making money. Translation is skill-based work, which can be done from anywhere. (Although it helps to be in a country where the language you're translating is spoken.)
If you’re fluent in English and a second language (Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Arabic are in demand), you can translate audio recordings, written documents and videos, or interpret in settings such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, meeting rooms and conference centers. You can also work for a translation agency (or several) that assigns you work.
Leah Shoup is a 26-year-old translator from Atlanta, Georgia, who has a B.A. in Spanish and an M.A. in interpreting and translation. She moved to Santiago, Chile, in 2014, and worked as a translator for two years before moving back to the U.S., where she’s been creating content and growing readership for her travel blog Gringa Journeys and continues her work as a translator, working for several agencies, where she gets paid by the word. Her line of work allows her -- actually encourages her -- to continue traveling other parts of the world.
Translation is a fast-growing field with a projected growth rate of 18 percent by 2026. Most translators are self-employed and work remotely. To become a translator or interpreter, you typically need a bachelor’s degree -- some places of work require a bachelor’s degree in interpretation. However, most places simply require proficiency in English and another language.
Do affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is when you promote other company’s products on your website or blog, and you earn a commission every time a visitor clicks on an affiliate link and purchases a product. However, to earn money, you need to have a website or blog with traffic.
If you’ve already got a blog and visitors, great -- you may already know about affiliate marketing and its potential to earn you money. However, you should have multiple income streams as you build your traffic and commissions, like financial blogger Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, does. She earns, on average, six-figures monthly from her finance blog Making Sense of Cents through affiliate marketing, finance and marketing courses (she offers a free “How to Start a Blog” course) as well as advertising.
She says she travels full time, and the first step to affiliate marketing is “starting a blog as it allows you to be your own boss and work from wherever. All I need is my laptop and internet.” Schroeder-Gardner started Making Sense of Cents in 2011 to write about how she made money on the side outside of her full-time job as a financial analyst. She initially had no monthly income from her blog, however over the next two years, she was able to build her content, traffic and monetize it through affiliate programs that fit her niche and partnerships and advertisers. In 2013, she quit her analyst job to focus on building her brand full-time. In February of 2018, she reported that her blog generated $179,139 (her best month ever) and the month before, she made $114,812. In 2017, in total, she made more than $1.5 million (before expenses.) Her next adventure as a digital nomad is to travel to Florida and buy a boat to live on and use to travel.
Sell your expertise online.
For the digital nomad, coaching and consulting in your area of expertise, whether it’s in web development, law, writing or medicine, can earn you top dollar by the hour. All you need is a computer or smartphone and internet access. Be smart and identify your expertise in an area that addresses a recurring pain point, and think about how you’re going to market your services.
One option to do this is through the freelancer marketplace, which allows for professionals to sell their expertise from anywhere, as long as they have a computer, wi-fi and a smartphone. Workers with professional degrees in a variety of high-skilled areas, such as accounting, law, medicine, social sciences, grant writing, marketing or veterinary medicine, can create profiles on expertise marketplaces, where clients can either select you for your services or you can bid on jobs
Among the places where you can get started is on the consulting and coaching platform Clarity.fm, where experts get paid by the minute to talk to clients over the phone or online, or Zeqr, where you can sell your knowledge one-on-one or through courses. You can also sell your expertise on JustAnswer, where potential clients post questions online and registered experts (e.g. doctors, lawyers, antique appraisers, engineers, essay experts and many more) bid to answer the question.
Some other gig platforms where you can sell your expertise include Fiverr (the marketplace is geared toward services required by the lean entrepreneur, e.g. video and digital marketing), TaskRabbit (household and errand services), Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mostly menial repetitive computer tasks), Amazon Home Services (home improvement and handyman services) and Upwork (another marketplace also geared toward services needed by lean businesses). These marketplaces vary in the range of required expertise and pay per job.
Be a social media manager.
The job of social media manager requires a lot of time online and can be done from pretty much anywhere there is a computer or smartphone and wi-fi. If you have a knack for social media and already have a social media presence and following, or are willing to learn the tools of the trade and build your following, you can have a future in social media marketing.
The responsibilities of social media marketer includes setting up social media accounts, performing a social media audit (examining client’s social media presence), developing a strategy to create, curate and manage all published content across social media accounts as well as developing marketing campaigns. Social media managers grow sustainable social media followings.
There isn’t one way to become a social media manager. Most full-time positions look for, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism or marketing. If you don’t have one, then look for freelance work to build your experience and credentials. You can also seek additional training, for a price: Hootesuite Academy offers certification, and General Assembly offers bootcamps and workshops on social media management.
The bottom line for becoming a social media manager is to demonstrate command of social media tools and an understanding of how to build and manage a following through content. While you can do this through job experience, if you’re new, then you have to establish your credibility and create a successful social media following of your own. You can also market and promote your services online, blog for free on other related sites providing free tips and using social media channels, build a following and reach out to businesses or individuals.
The median salary for a social media manager in the U.S. is $54,238. If you’re just starting out in this line of work, search for more entry-level social media job titles, such as “social media specialist,” “social media assistant” and “social media associate.” The median salary for social media assistant is $49,395.
You can look for remote social media positions on job sites including LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, FlexJobs and Indeed. Or if you’re looking for freelance work, try searching on Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr and PeoplePerHour. Or try job sites for remote workers, such as Remote.co, Remoteok.io, FlexJobs, Working Nomad, Upwork and Outsourcely.
Create online courses.
Creating online courses is a way to make passive income while you’re traveling the world. Start by creating online courses in your area of expertise (e.g. personal finance, public speaking, life coaching, financial literacy) on one of the many online learning platforms, such as Zeqr, Skillshare, Teachable, Uscreen and Udemy.
The work requires considerable labor in the front end: Recording video lectures, creating a class syllabus, writing content and coming up with assignments. However, once the work is done, you simply have to post your course (study the format and marketing of successful online courses for context) and get a percentage of the sales. Pay models vary between online learning platforms, but typically you get a percentage of the sales combined with royalties calculated by minutes of your videos watched.
Related: Top Tips From 5 Digital Nomads
Be a virtual assistant.
Virtual assistants are in demand, and the job can be done from almost anywhere (with some limitations if there is a time zone difference that affects your performance.)
A virtual assistant performs remote tasks across a number of fascinating industries, but the core of the job is administrative. Most of us have booked travel, arranged catering for meetings, done expense reports, maintained a calendar, performed general research and other administrative tasks -- these are among the skills you want to emphasize for the job, along any other organizational or administrative experience you possess.
Some virtual assistant jobs last a day, some for weeks or months. The median salary for this position is $15.57 an hour, and like any assistant, virtual ones need to be good on the computer, well organized and deliver what is asked. Having a good phone and email manner helps. You can kick off your job search by looking for “virtual assistant” on job sites such as FlexJobs, Upwork, Remote.co, ZipRecruiter and Freelancer.com.
The life of a writer allows you to work remotely, as long as you have a computer, internet access and a phone. To be a writer, you need to start with a foundation of good writing and research skills. You will also likely have to interview sources, so your interview skills need to be on point. There’s all kinds of writing jobs, from copy writing to content writing across industries to branded content writing (which is essentially marketing), and the majority of the jobs can be done remotely.
Not surprisingly, demand is directly related to your experience and areas of expertise. Niche expertise, such as within the aviation industry or blockchain applications in security, can impact your marketability. So define some areas where you already have contacts and knowledge, and make sure you have a website that showcases your best work and features your contact information. (If you don’t have samples of published work, then that’s where you need to start.) The average base pay for a freelance editor is $51,104.
If you’re just starting out, there are also freelance writing job boards and marketplaces to advertise your services and look for work, although the competition can be tough, writes Entrepreneur.com contributor John Rampton. Some places to look include the part-time-jobs website FlexJobs, which features writing gigs in specific categories, such as gaming, financial or medical writing; Freelanced, a freelancer social network where you can search for jobs and share your portfolio; and FreelanceWritingGigs, which lists freelance writer and editor jobs across a variety of industries.
Transcription work can be done from anywhere with the right equipment: laptop, wi-fi and headphones. Many of us already start at the baseline of having a computer, word processing software, headphones and internet access, so if you possess these things, there are little getting in your way to work as a transcriptionist.
As a transcriptionist, you need to be a fast and accurate typist, and you also need basic computer skills, including being able to download media files (so if you don’t have a media or audio player on your computer, you can download what's needed), attach files to emails and send them and convert word processing files into whatever file format the client needs.
The job can be done from home and has a lot of autonomy. The required speed varies depending on the company, but the faster the better. The average annual salary for a transcriptionist is $26,882. You generally get paid by how long the audio file is, not how long it takes you to type.
When looking for transcription work, emphasize any transcription or word processing experience you’ve had and underscore your knowledge of computer skills. To get started on your job hunt, do a search of “transcription” or “transcriber” on job sites such as FlexJobs, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Indeed. Or you can register as a freelance transcriber on job marketplace sites such as TranscribeMe, Go Transcript, UpWork and PeoplePerHour.
Resume writer work is flexible and can be done from home or anywhere. There's also low overhead: You simply need a computer, internet access and word processing software. This work requires a knack for organizing and formatting information and the ability to punch up job experiences into worthy accomplishments and call out singular skills.
A professional resume writer creates resumes for people who find themselves unable (or unwilling) to format and organize a narrative of employment, education and skills on their own. It’s a specific skill that requires editing (a resume should be, at most, two pages) and copyediting (it’s painful to see a glaring spelling or grammar mistake on a resume). Also, resume writing requires you to find out a person’s background and shape it into a concise format. That’s not an endeavor that takes 30 minutes to an hour. It can take four or five hours.
Professional resume writers can charge between $50 and $75 per resume and between $200 and $300 for a Fortune 500 executive. However, if you’re just establishing your services, it’s advisable to start at a lower price point.
Information on how to write resumes (tips on language and keywords) and actual resume templates are readily available online. You can offer your services to those with less job experience and shorter resumes -- anyone fresh out of college -- before you market yourself to professionals with long and varied careers. To find those college students, you can market your services in their career centers or advertise on campus and in the campus paper (if they still have one).
Writing resumes for professionals who have extensive job histories is a different skill than writing resumes for those fresh out of college, who often need a chronological resume as opposed to a targeted one. Job seekers with significant experience have a much more narrow search, so you can leave large parts of their unrelated work experience off the resume. While it’s not necessary, you may want to get certified from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. To get started, search for this type of resume work on Elance, Freelancer, FlexJobs, Indeed, RiseSmart, Talent Inc. and Upwork.
Teach or tutor.
Virtual tutoring and teaching are popular ways to work remotely using the ease of FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and other technologies to communicate with students. The majority of tutoring companies require a bachelor’s degree and some sort of demonstration of expertise in a subject through experience or some type of assessment. Many tutoring companies offer convenient online training modules.
The median hourly wage for a tutor is $17.72 an hour. Do a quick online search of tutoring wages in your area to manage your expectations and set your price.
Tutors in math (all grades, as well as the math used on the SAT and ACT) are always in high demand, along with physical science subjects (physics, chemistry, earth science) and English (critical reading and reading comprehension for test taking), writing (essays) and ESL (grammar, test preparation and English for Specific Purposes, e.g. specific occupations).
You can create a profile for virtual tutoring companies, which will allow you, in most cases, to be contacted by clients, or you can “bid” on clients looking for tutors. Check out the tutoring companies and marketplaces, including Wyzant, Tutor, Revolution Prep and Course Hero, to get started.
Another growing opportunity lies in teaching English to students abroad in countries such as China. Some English tutoring companies to research are VIPKid, Englishunt, Topic-Time, Twosigmas, Lingoda and Funbulous. What’s more, digital nomads can not only tutor to students abroad, but they can also find opportunities to tutor in the country or countries they’re living. You can go the route of setting up your profile and listing your expertise on a tutoring marketplace platform, like Verbling, and having students find you. Or you can seek out local university and schools to see if they have listings for English or other subjects tutors. However, you may encounter restrictions tutoring or teaching locals, if you’re on a travel visa and don’t have a work permit. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t working for a tutoring company online, while you’re traveling -- loophole.
Perform data entry.
Data entry work is location-independent. It also doesn’t require investment in equipment or skills training. Data entry work boils down to entering information on a computer. While it doesn’t requires previous experience or a bachelor’s degree, the work does require basic computer skills, such as knowledge of typing, accuracy and speed, as well as installing and removing software, creating new folders, sending emails and using the internet.
If you want to get your feet wet in the data entry field, you can create a profile on freelance job sites, such as Freelancer, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Upwork, The Smart Crowd, Fiverr, Working Solutions, Clickworker and Microworkers. Once your profile is created, you can either do a search for “data entry” to find gigs to apply for, or you may be contacted for work.
For more ongoing part-time or full-time data-entry work, visit more general job sites, such as FlexJobs, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Indeed. Type in “data entry” as your keyword. (Beware of any scams you see soliciting money to be registered in a data entry jobs database.)
Programming code is highly skilled work, but it doesn’t require a lot of equipment and can be done from pretty much anywhere. Coding is detail-oriented and meticulous work.
To find work as a newbie coder, you can build your resume with freelance jobs before going out for full-time ones. Check out Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Freelancer for coding and programming jobs. Once you’ve established some experience and job references, you can search for full-time or contractual work on job sites, such as FlexJobs, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Indeed.
Set up a drop shipping business.
Drop shipping is business arrangement that allows a business to sell a product while a different party, the manufacturer or distributor, takes care of the fulfillment and shipping. It can be a practical business model for the digital nomad, because you don’t need to deal with developing products, managing inventory, storage or order fulfillment, and there’s relatively low overhead -- you’re not purchasing the inventory until there’s a sale.
Plus, the business model allows for a digital nomad lifestyle. “A drop shipping business can be run from just about anywhere with an internet connection. As long as you can communicate with suppliers and customers easily, you can run and manage your business,” according to Shopify’s blog.
You, the business owner, simply need an ecommerce site to market your products (such as the aforementioned Shopify) and a laptop and wi-fi to do your bidding. Many drop shippers also work with Amazon’s fulfillment arm, Amazon FBA, which stores your products, markets them on the site and fulfills orders for a monthly fee. Your focus would be on selling products that align well with your interests and to your business’s brand, as well as the marketing to make as many conversions as possible.
It takes a while to build up sales and make money through drop shipping, largely because the cost of setting up a drop shipping business is relatively low, so the competition is fierce. That said, much of your sales success relies on marketing. Perhaps you have a really effective blog on a niche topic, such as dog health and safety, and you also run a drop shipping business on your website for products related to dog healthy and safety. The point is to attract potential customers through marketing, whether that marketing is through a blog that attracts visitors, social media posts, social media ads or an email newsletter -- or all of that.
Do graphic design.
For highly creative and visual nomads, freelance graphic design can be a great way to make a living. Graphic designers work with businesses and individuals creating logos, websites, banners and advertising and marketing materials, to name some. The work is comprised of both understanding the principles of design, as well as knowing how to use the software (such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) to execute the vision. Then, there’s the client component: You have to communicate with the client and be able to grasp what the client wants. Graphic designers frequently work with advertising agencies, publishing companies, magazines, corporations, product manufacturers and individuals.
As a graphic designer, you don’t necessarily need a degree or certificate, unless you’re trying to work at a creative agency, where the company might require it. However, if you go freelance or work for a smaller company, your work is your calling card. You need a solid portfolio more than a fancy degree. You can build your portfolio by doing small freelance jobs.
The average graphic designer makes $48,256 annually, and you can get a feel for jobs in your area by looking on the usual job sites: FlexJobs, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Indeed.
To learn more about starting a graphic design business from home, read Start Your Own Graphic Design Business by Entrepreneur Press and George Sheldon. It's available on Amazon, eBooks.com and Barnes & Noble.
Believe it or not, digital nomads can earn a living as an interior designer. The world of e-design is relatively new, and companies including Modsy, Havenly, Decorist and Laurel & Wolf are part of the growing trend of interior design services that offer price-packaged services and employ a stable of remote designers who are matched with clients.
Tara Smith is an interior design freelancer with Modsy, and the Pacific Northwest native says she started her interior design career at a yacht company in 2007 and worked her way up to the lead designer for residential homes at a residential design company. She went back to school in 2014 to earn her B.A. in interior design from the Art Institute of Seattle, and it was during that time her interest in the tech side of design was piqued. Her focus on 3D renderings and technical design documents allowed her the flexibility to embark on a more adventurous and nomadic lifestyle with her husband in September 2016. She and her husband have been traveling the U.S., ever since, and she's been working on design projects while on the road.
“Our ultimate goal is to find a hometown we would love to settle down in,” Smith says.
For those interested in joining the network of interior design nomads, anyone with a relevant design degree (interior design, art history, graphic design, architecture, etc.) can be a fit for this work. Typically, Modsy stylists commit anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week to work on 20 to 30 projects.
As a digital nomad, you can earn money as a videographer selling your videos to stock websites, such as Pond5 and 123RF, and getting a cut every time your video is purchased. Or you can work for companies that are hiring for video projects to be filmed and edited in a variety of industries, including advertising, marketing and media.
Video editors need to be fluent in standard editing software, such as Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro -- and it doesn’t hurt to know Adobe After Effects, a post-production tool. Check out classes and tutorials on Lynda, Udemy, Skillshare and CourseHorse, or you can earn certification from a film editing program, such as the New York Film Academy. However, this field tends to value experience and body of work over anything else. The bottom line is your work.
Freelance video editing is a good place to start to build your body of work. Try looking on freelance job sites that specialize in creative freelance work such as Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, Guru, PeoplePerHour and FlexJobs. Or try searching on jobs sites such as ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Working Nomads, Glassdoor or Simply Hired, and type in keywords “remote video editor.”
The median annual salary for a video editor in the U.S. is $46,274.