One of the many perks of working remotely is having the opportunity to travel and work from different locations. Since remote jobs are mostly digital, you only really need a laptop and good internet. But there are still some things to consider before you hop on the plane.
Traveling within your home country and working remotely is relatively easy. The biggest challenge will be to find reasonably priced lodging. Hotels are too expensive. Motels are too uncomfortable. And long-term renting of an apartment or home means that you are no longer actually “traveling”.
You will also need to consider what will happen if you leave your local apartment or home unattended for a long period of time. Are you still going to pay your bills and rent for that unit, or cancel them until you come back from your travels? Do you have pets that need to be cared for? Booking a plane ticket is easy, but it’s all of the other required arrangements that make domestic travel challenging.
Traveling internationally carries all of the same challenges as domestic travel, but has even more implications.
Most people think that if you travel to another country, bad things will happen. You will lose all of your money and get stranded. You will arbitrarily get sent to a foreign prison and disappear forever. You will get caught up in a diplomatic issue and be unable to return home. But there are actually millions of expats living abroad peacefully without ever running into these issues.
The truth is- in modern times, you can easily travel from the US to Asia in less than 15 hours. As an American, you can often get a visa stamp upon arrival to many countries. With a Skype number, you can cheaply call anyone in the world through a WIFI or mobile data connection. With good internet and a good sleep schedule, you can work remotely with the same level of productivity no matter what country you’re in.
Even though international travel is easier than ever, there are still some loose ends that need to tied before you take your first international trip as a remote worker.
Do you have a passport yet? You’ll need one in order to travel outside of your home country. Getting a new passport usually requires you to take a portrait picture of yourself, fill out some documents, and submit them to your local passport agency. You should start this process several months in advance of your international departure, just in case there is a hiccup in the process that causes delays.
Friends and family
Before taking an international trip, you should talk with everyone who might be affected. Your friends and family might think it’s unsafe for you to venture so far away, so you should ensure them (and yourself) that you know what you’re doing. Show them videos that showcase the country you are going to travel to. Many people- especially in the US- have a negative image burned into their imagination regarding foreign nations. The reality is that many countries aren’t as dangerous or poverty-stricken as you may think. Residents abroad actually tend to be friendly towards travelers from far-away remote lands!
Your employer will likely be concerned about your working hours as well as legal employment status. If you are an official employee of a company (not a contractor), then it is important to be upfront about your intention to travel to foreign countries while working remotely. Companies often see it as a risk and may ask you further questions about your travel itinerary. Ideally, these discussions should be had before you become an employee of a company because it can be a sticky situation otherwise.
Whether you are an employee or not, your computer security is something you should be aware about. No matter where you are in the world, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can see information about your web activity. They can see what websites you’ve looked at.
If you access sensitive information on your computer, you need to make sure that the connection is secure and encrypted. Most websites already use SSL with no additional effort required on your part, which provides an acceptable amount of security. But if you are traveling to a foreign country with the intent of working remotely, then you may also want to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) like ExpressVPN. It will help to completely mask your internet traffic so that others can’t spy on you.
China and some European countries have imposed internet firewalls that block access to Google and other popular internet services. Their governments are known to intercept internet traffic without restrictions. Even using a VPN in these countries might not completely fix the issues. So you should tread carefully when considering visiting there. Read some online reviews and posts first so that you know what to expect.
Staying abroad long term
Are you traveling or relocating? Some remote workers are spontaneous like a digital nomad, while others prefer to stay in one city for several years before considering a change in scenery.
As a remote worker, you will want to consider what your goal is before embarking on a long trip. If you are simply traveling, then you don’t have much to worry about. But it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that you are merely traveling- then later decide not to go back home. After all, this is your new home, right?
If you wish to stay long-term in a foreign country, there are a few things to consider.
Credit card issues
You will likely find that when you make your first credit card transaction in a foreign country, your card will become locked and unusable. This is because the credit card company “detected unusual activity” and took measures to protect you from potential fraud. Whether it be Visa, MasterCard or American Express- you should notify your credit card company of your international travels before you take the trip.
Another issue you may experience is that your original SIM card will no longer work once you leave your home country. This isn’t a big deal because you can just grab another cheap SIM card locally. But there’s another lurking issue you might overlook…
Nowadays, you likely have many internet accounts that you log into on a regular basis such as online banking, Facebook, Gmail, etc. These services typically require 2-factor authentication, which means that you need to receive an SMS code through your registered phone number. But if you switch out your original SIM card, you won’t be able to receive this code and therefore may not be able to log into your accounts!
The solution is to make sure that your native phone carrier allows you to receive text messages internationally. You’ll also want to use a phone that allows at least 2 SIM cards to be used so that you don’t have to frequently switch out SIM cards and potentially lose them.
Another more technical solution is to make your internet accounts use an Authenticator app method instead of SMS for 2-factor authentication.
It’s not the most fun topic to talk about, but it’s an issue you’ll inevitably need to resolve. Your tax responsibilities vary depending on your home country, country of residence, and employment status. If you can keep your employment status aligned with your home country, handling taxes is fairly simple and straightforward. To be safe, you’ll want to consult with a tax attorney to figure out how to properly handle your particular circumstances.
Generally as a remote employee, you receive your tax documents digitally every year. If you’re a freelancer, then using a freelancer bank account can help organize and manage your expenses so that you can fill out the documents yourself. From there, you can hopefully file your taxes online and have your tax return deposited into your bank account via direct deposit.
Sometimes things get hairy if the tax agency requires identity verification. In this case, you’ll need a domestic address to receive mail and a domestic phone number registered in your name. This is where having a good smartphone with 2 SIM card slots comes in handy- as well as a mobile carrier with support for international calls.
Receiving mail is another cumbersome thing when you live abroad. One option is to use a family or friend’s home address and have them forward the mail to your foreign home address.
Another option is to use a service like Traveling Mailbox, which will provide you with a mailing address to their collection facility. They can scan the mail for you to view digitally or forward it to your foreign home address. You can view your inbox items online through their dashboard interface.
To get started, there is a bit of initial paperwork that needs to be done, but it’s all digital. You’ll need to verify your identity and notarize a document (once again- digitally) before being able to use the service or any similar services.
What Visa will you get?
Although your passport is required in order to leave your home country, a visa is also required. A Visa (not the credit card) is a stamp in your passport which allows you to step onto foreign soil, and it determines how long you can stay there. All countries have different visa options for foreigners. There are visas for travel, work, education and more. In order to get information specific to your travel itinerary, you will need to go to the foreign embassy website for the country you wish to travel to.
Do you need a work visa?
The simplest way to work remotely abroad is to be an employee or contractor of your own country first. If you’re an American, you should ideally work remotely for a US company while traveling abroad. That way there’s no need to jump through the hoops of applying for a special work visa.
But if you want to be an employee of a business that operates on foreign soil, then you are required to get a work visa and handle your taxes in the foreign country.
Opening a foreign bank account
One of the benefits of opening a foreign bank account is that it helps you avoid many of the transaction fees that can eat up your wallet when using a credit card and taking out cash from a foreign ATM machine.
But opening a foreign bank account isn’t always easy. Your eligibility to open a foreign bank account depends mostly on what type of visa you have. It usually requires that you have a long-term visa or resident visa because banks want to avoid the possibility of fraud.
Every bank, even those within a specific country, will vary in their policies. So you will need to talk with a few different bank representatives to get the most accurate information. Don’t bother trying to find banking policy information on the internet because it’s often outdated and inaccurate.
The further away from home you travel, the more stark the differences are. The air feels different. People speak a different language. The foods have different ingredients and textures. This all adds up to an overall different cultural experience than your home country.
Each country has a different set of weather conditions. The US has a large range of weather conditions, like sunny, rainy, snowy, and dry- depending on the state you are in. Yet in Thailand, the air hardly ever dips into the cooler temperatures, the humidity is always high, and only on the highest mountain peak does it ever snow. Check the weather for your destination country and make sure you pack the best clothes for the conditions!
You should not assume that everyone in the world speaks English. Outside of the United States and the United Kingdom, most countries don’t speak English as their primary language. Although at popular tourist destinations, taxi drivers and hotel staff will know enough English to take your cash, many of the locals likely don’t speak English very well. So if you learn some of the basic words in their language, it will make your experience far better.
You will be able to socialize with locals, date, make friends, and more. It might even open up opportunities for jobs and/or business partnerships. It’s at this point that the perks of working remotely while traveling start to really show.
When it comes to food, every country has a particular type of dish. Some European countries may emphasize meat, bread, and pasta, while some Asian countries focus on rice, noodles, and veggies. You can quickly become homesick when eating food that you aren’t accustomed to eating. But in the metropolitan areas, you might find familiar restaurants to cure your homesickness.
How do people move around in the destination country? Each country provides different types of travel accommodations to get you around the cities. Check if the country has taxies, buses, trains, or subway systems. You may even want to consider renting a car or motorbike if there aren’t many public options or for the convenience alone. Be careful, as you might need to drive on the other side of the road!
While you can travel to various cities within the country by plane- it’s actually the most boring method of travel. Traveling by train across the country is exuberant to the senses- you can watch as beautiful mountains and pastures stroll by while you work remotely.
If you accidentally cross boundaries with the local culture, it is unlikely that anyone will tell you. It might be a good idea to look at YouTube videos that can help demystify some of the cultural nuances that you as a foreigner might be unaware of.
And yet, you will find that even though many things are different between cultures, most things are actually the same. People go to work, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy occasional recreational activities. It turns out, humans around the world are all mostly the same at the end of the day. Nonetheless, it’s fun to explore our differences.
Another thing to think about is the products that you will (or won’t) be able to purchase in another country. For example, in Thailand, you won’t find stick deodorant for sale in any of the brick-and-mortar businesses. Only the roll or spray variants are sold in Thailand. So you’ll need to order the product online, likely from overseas.
The same situation might apply to your favorite soap, hair spray, or lotion. But don’t worry, most of the sanitary products in foreign countries are nearly identical to those in your home country. And there are likely some interesting local treasures to try out, too.
Before you go
At this point, you have your passport, visa and everything is ready to go. But before you commit to the trip there is some research you should do first. Check out a news website for your destination country. Ask yourself these questions.
- Does the country have fast internet?
- Is there political instability in the country?
- Has a devastating event happened there that might put you in danger?
- What are the experiences of other travelers who have been there?
- How easy is to transport between cities and book accommodations there?
- What will you do if you lose your passport and/or credit card? (Where is the embassy for your country located?)
If your research indicates that everything checks out good, then you are suitably prepared to travel abroad to the country.
Enjoy your trip
Whether you choose to travel domestically or internationally, it takes some prep work to make your trip safe and hassle-free. But once you’ve prepared adequately, it’s smooth sailing.