Digital Nomads, Passive Income Online – the Reality

I was a gypsy before I discovered what a digital nomad was – I like the name – it was easier to spell… The idea of being able to packup up the laptop and move your life at whim – how alluring is that to so many people? Ben wants to use his success at making money online with SEO and travel the world – he’s clearly been to some places already judging by his stunning travel photos – so he possibly knows what he’s getting himself into – or may be not.

Back in 2006 I had a brain wave – I was earning a good hourly rate in a job I hated and despised. I woke up sad on Sunday because I had to go to work on Monday. I buried three friends that year – two of them were younger than my partner and less than ten years older than me – it makes you think.  It makes you think that life is for living and life is too short to waste it doing something you hate – I’d known that for a while but I managed to persuade my partner to.  My partner asked for leave of absence from the Bank he’d worked for nearly 10 years and for which he always got raving performance review. They turned him down of course, he resigned.

In early 2007 we rented out the house, put all our worldly possessions in storage. We bought one-way tickets to Australia. We arrived in Brisbane, bought a 1985 Landcruiser, some camping gear (neither of us had ever camped in our lives). We hit the road, and 6 months and 36,000 km (22,000 miles) later we got as far as Perth (bottom left if you are geographically-challenged). (BTW I laughably thought that this would be the perfect time to launch my online business! In a word – don’t!). Tired of the long open  road not yet ready to drive across the Nullarbor, we settled down in Perth for a while. Two years later we are on the move again, back to New Zealand.

Swan River, Perth, WA
Swan River, Perth, WA

Which brings me to my point – how in hell can two people who arrived with a Landcruiser full of gear end up with so much crap to sell! Why does the world make it so hard to be location independent? I have fantastic broadband here in Australia  – can I transfer my plan to New Zealand – of course not- same company but you can’t transfer. Can I transfer my phone number? You’re joking aren’t you – well this is the last time I am ever being taken that con again – I am getting a location independent IP phone as soon as I work out the details – I know Skype will do it but there might be other options. At least I don’t have any emails attached to local ISPs anymore (you don’t do you?)

We are lucky, we have 2 month’s notice that my partner’s contract won’t be renewed – double the time they had to give us. So now we just have to get rid of all the stuff, close down the power, the phone, the Internet. Cancel the car’s insurance – oh and sell the car as well. Cancel the subscriptions. Get the notes from the various medical practioners we’ve been supporting over here. Say goodbye, find a flight just before Xmas – and find somewhere to live before we can legally evict the tenants in Feburary. And then we – well lets be blunt here  – I – get to do the whole thing in reverse. At Christmas, while mourning the loss of summer (trust me moving from Perth to Wellington in December will be the end of summer).

Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand

I don’t think I am that excited about going “home” – but then I never am really. It is time we sold some real estate there and probably a whole lot of other junk that seemed important at the time. The weather is probably worse than I remember it, but at least we can do some skiing next year – that will be nice.

At least my business is really not affected – thank goodness I have been using a NZ PO Box as my official business address from day one – so that part just keeps on working. The broadband speeds appear slow and the price sky high -and that’s with the best network in the country – which now limits the suburbs we can move to  to those that they cover.   The tax laws are a great deal simpler but I probably will pay slightly more tax – but apart from that nothing much has changed.  The New Zealand dollar is well over-priced against the US dollar – but far more likely to drop once they cut the mortgage rates – which will probably be better for our overall bottom line.

There will be some advantages too: daylight saving and Sunday shopping are the obvious ones. As is being able to eat out without worrying about the bill, seeing friends and my partner’s family again. Being able to afford a dentist will be nice. But after about two weeks, in my experience, the novelty wears off. And the reality is that my closest family is in Europe anyways – for those of us who have wandering in the blood its highly unlikely that one place really will ever contain all the people that matter to us ever again.

The trouble is is that the little things are really difficult if you keep moving. We have both lost medical insurance – you can only be covered for the first year out of the country – no country recognises your insurance record overseas – so effectively you start again each time you move. Our car insurance will probably go up as well as we haven’t had insurance on the car we haven’t driven for over two-years.  My partner needs to ensure that he spends enough time in New Zealand to qualify for superannuation over the next few years – the fact that he was born there and worked his entire life there is irrelevant – he needs to spend 5 years between 55- and 65 in New Zealand – oh and then when he retires he needs to spend at least six months a year in the country- that could become quite inconvenient long-term.

And remember this is the easy direction: we have a credit record, credit card, mobiles, driver’s licenses, car – all waiting for us in storage. We don’t have to start all those things up again from scratch in an unfamiliar system.   Useful hint – never cancel everything when you leave a country – we will be keeping a bank account here – it was too darn hard to get one setup to shut it down now!

The point of this post? I’m not sure that I have one but it some ways I think I look at the other side of living the Nomad’s Lifestyle and wonder if people realise that sometimes it has its own disadvantages – I for one don’t see too many Western countries making it a whole lot easier any time soon. And relatives who don’t understand travel – about 90%  them don’t who ever you are related to – will never understand your inability to “settle down”. So yes we are going home – but I have a feeling it won’t be for ever.

Some Resources for Digital Nomads

Living in Bali

Working Nomad Forum is very useful – the first forum I ever found online actually.

20 replies on “Digital Nomads, Passive Income Online – the Reality”

You don’t have Sunday shopping in Australia?

I hope your move goes smoothly – it does sound like you’ll have a lot to sort out, although I guess you’re an old hand at travelling by now. I’ve moved around a lot within the UK, but not abroad – it’s a lot easier when you stay in the one country! Still, at least you don’t need to worry about finding a job : D

We don’t have Sunday shopping in WA – the rest of Australia is out of the dark ages! We only have one late night shopping a week too, its utterly prehistoric!

I’m thinking about hitting the road and travel abroad alone to not only experience new things but also develop myself. Unfortunately I recently had a surgery so everything had to be pushed forward.

With that said I would love to hear more about your reaction to living abroad. I have travelled Europe before but only staid a few weeks in each country. To make the transition smooth, would it not be best to either live abroad a few months (like vacation) or move their for at least 5-6 years?

If you stay in the same country you shouldn’t have the problem with selling your car, getting a new insurance, etc.

I have never stayed for 5 year Stafan – its more like 1-2 years that I’ve stayed in one place. Actually, oddly I have generally been in either very obscure places e.g. Bougainville (because I used to be a geologist) – or great places which I hadn’t been to before (e.g Vancouver). You definitely see a different side of life – just by living in a flat and shopping for food you do different stuff compared to living in a hostel and eating out all the time. I find generally its takes about 12 months to make real connections – now that was when I was working for someone else. Now I just sit with the laptop at home its a lot harder to make connections – now I have a partner so its not that big a deal to me – but it would be tough if I was still single – and I know its an issue for Internet marketers who are single. On the other hand it depends on where you chose to live -in Perth -there is no real backpackers scene – its a great place to raise a family and get high paying jobs- but its a not a travel scene. If I was single and taking this business on the road, I would chose a location which has a traveller scene which I could connect to: Goa, Bali, some of the Thai islands spring to mind immediately. I added a couple of links at the bottom of the post which are a good place to start.

Oh and actually if we stayed in Australia but moved to say Sydney – we would have to either drive the car for about 7 days to get there, get it transported over there and then have to get it relicensed etc, get new driver licenses – the state system is a real pain – I see you are from Sweden so are probably not familiar with the silliness of states – in Australia even the high school education system isn’t compatible between states LOL

Hey Lis,

Another great post! I always liked the “gypsy” moniker as well. Had a friend try to nickname me that, but she got mad because I wasn’t supposed to like the nickname, I was supposed to feel guilty for not hanging around longer, lol. The freedom is definitely where it’s at for me, although I think 99% of people don’t fully understand what they’re getting into before they take the plunge. That said, definitely worth it. My office days are over.

Shane “Master” Dayton

It sounds like you have this process well under control.
One step at a time. 🙂

Like a great thinker once said, “It is what it is.”


Is this a new targeted word I see here “online business” or is that an older one I have not noticed before?
All I know is that I would love the headaches that come with being “free” rather than the headaches or working for a big company that thinks I am nothing more than a line on a Profit and Loss statement.
Lis– I know you will come out ahead in this move!!! Keep your head up my friend!

I was just about to say “you could always come to Bali” and then I saw your link. Thanks Lis!

Actually, I think Bali could be a great place for you to live. It’s certainly not perfect, but I love it!

Lis, you’re going back to NZ? Well done! Hubby and I just made a 5-year (yes!) plan that includes me moving back to Aussie. We’re going halves on a biz venture, he gets to stay in Asia and I man the Aussie side of things. I’m not sure what happens with the kids… (just kidding. They keep learning Mandarin, it’s a useful language.)

Anyhoo, after living in Asian for close to 30 years, that’s going to be a huge adjustment for me. I don’t think I even have a bank acct. any more, tho my kids do–we saw to that, they need a ‘presence’ more than we do since they were born abroad, thus have citizenship by descent only. They have to go back to Aussie to have babies, otherwise they can’t pass on citizenship. So much for nationality 😛

All the best to you Liz! Have a great time relocating…

@Robyn – seriously re the kids citizenship – cannot you just register them before they hit 18/21 – that’s how it works for New Zealanders born in Ireland. You better find a warm bit of Australia to move back to. Longer term I am seriously impressed with Malaysia’s “retirement” visas (kick in at 50) – no tax on overseas income whcih is great (unless you are a NZ tax resident) – no hassel getting the visas though if you can show a bit of overseas income.

I dunno, there’s something about having a day off in the week to NOT go bloody shopping that I like. Most shops are closed in Sundays here in Spain except the important ones that sell cold beer. Oh yeah, they’re not shops they’re bars… silly me…

There is actually an advantage to being a Europen Citizen in that you can move freely amongst member states and bring your car, pension, insurance and most other things along with you. The disadvantage is that once you hit Spain, you can’t go any closer to the equator… Yeah, most of the rest of Europe is too bloody cold for me!

So here I stay and I’m shocked to see that I’ve been here 7 years already. It seemed like only yesterday when me and my dog drove my old van down from freezing cold England to my new home on the side of a remote mountain… I drove, the dog whined…

I always wanted to return to Oz someday. I’ve heard the Sydney suburb where I spent my childhood is unrecognizable now, but I’d still like to see it one day. Preferably before I get too bloody old.

Are my travelling days over? I have a sneaky suspicion they’re not…

Terry – it bloody snowed on me in Spain – was not super impressed (somewhere between Portugal and Madrid I forget where!) But the food, the wine, the beer, the music – yes i am definitly coming to visit you at some stage! Sydney is not so far – Air Asia X does some cheap flights – you will have to swing by NZ as well now! The time thing – I think its an age thing I was talking to someone the other day about Bali – and then realised it might have changed a bit in the 20 years since I’d been there.

I had a family friend who was touring OUter Mongolia at 80 so I think I have a bit of travelling left in me too!

Hi Lis,
I think the idea of being a digital nomad with and online business is what gets a lot of people into this business. Unfortunately, we don’t realize that it is not really about travelling around and checking how much money is in out paypal account today. The business actually does take work but the nice part you can do it from anywhere as long as you will put in the effort. I think most people lose interest and quit before they really see results because they think it is magic money instead of money from hard work.

Hi Agrande, yeah its pretty sad its not magic money LOL! I figure there are 2 sides of every coin – I can’t live the lifestyle I want for the income I make at the moment, in Australia or NZ, but I could in Malaysia or Bali.

Don’t know if you noticed, Liz, but I linked to this article and posted some of the important things you mentioned that take the edge off some parts of the nomad life for some. One thing most don’t realize is that after you move and the newness of the place wears off a bit, _you_ are still there, and everywhere in the world has some of the same mundane things to do … you still have to have an electric bill, still have to register your car, so on and so forth. After working with Americans wanting to live overseas for ten years now, there is a common thread .. escape. It can’t really be done. There are many advantages to travel, but you really can’t ‘escape’.

That being said, a couple issues I see here in the comments:

US citizenship works the same … children born of at least one US-born parent overseas inherit most of the rights of any other US citizen except for two important ones that come to mind … can’t run for president and can’t pass on citizenship to their children .. must return to the US for a span of at least 5 years to ‘inherit’ that right.

Retirement visas .. permanent residency. Philippines has one that equals or actually betters Malaysia … starts at age 50, very easy requirements and in what I thought was really kewl .. you lease a home, that is then your required investment. Likewise, no tax at all on foreign income, earned ot un-erned … a prime reason I live here. Banking secrecy laws that better Switzerland also … the US is constantly at odds with the Philippine government about the things my Philippine banks are constitutionally forbidden to report … nice.

Of course as a good US citizen I always, always, always pay my just and due US taxes (Hello Mr. NSA eavesdropper)… but the opportunities exist 😉

There are no tax havens for New Zealanders – you have to pay tax on your world wide income unless you sever all ties – that means killing off the relatives (or moving them overseas too) and selling all property. I though US tax payers didn’t have to pay if resident overseas unless you earned quite a lot …

The escape thing is the same with regular travel – though I escaped several boy friends by just getting on a plane – I suspect that works less well these days with email and facebook! But yes if what you are actually running from is yourself – you are out of luck LOL! Sent

Some nomad you turned out to be! It doesn’t sound like you ever got to do much travelling around Oz in that van 🙂

The trouble with moving country is it’s so damned expensive – if you’re only staying for a few weeks, serviced apartments are costly. If you’re staying longer, you can save on accommodation but you have to set yourself up all over again, and it’s surprising how much all the little things cost. I reckon each time I’ve moved countries, it’s cost me around $10,000 when you add it all up.

Well I did do 35,000km and over 6 months in a tent – Ayers Rock ,Tassie, Cape York, Gibb River Road, every capital – done them all – I just did all before I started any blogs or online presence than anyone ever found! I disagree re the costs – we set ourselves up initially for $10k – but that included $7k for the 4WD – if we had just been moving here to a city it would have cost about $1k for stuff and $2k for a car. You need more cash up front for bonds etc – but you do get those back – plus hopefully something for the vehicle (anyone want to buy a 95 Commodore in Perth?)

You must live a lot more frugally than me! Apart from in the UK, I’ve never been lucky enough to find decent furnished accommodation when I move – so set-up costs have to include furniture, pots, pans, crockery, cutlery etc etc. $1k doesn’t go far for that lot! I guess if I was only moving to NZ I might put the small stuff in a few tea chests and bring it with me – but moving to the other side of the world, it cost more to ship it than buy new.

Ahhh, the dream. To be able to take your work any where, no matter what is on. I spent six years abroard and age and finanaces where the only driving factor to bring me home. I guess I will have to keep working to fulfill the dream of being able to pick up my laptop and jump on a plan to the nearest exotic beach, lounge i drink cocktails and continue to get the job done.

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