Tax and Legal Watch-Outs for Digital Nomads
As a digital nomad, there’s a bunch of not-so-fun stuff you need to consider. Here are some tax and legal considerations to sort out before you take the leap.
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The key to making the leap into the nomadic lifestyle is courage, first and foremost, but there are a series of steps you can take to build up that courage. The easiest path for a fearless transition into a nomadic lifestyle is to create an established safety net, so if you stumble or fall, you’ll be able to get right back on your feet. What do I mean by that? Let me break it down for you.
The first order of business is to take stock of your mental health. Going nomadic is thrilling, but it will also test many parts of you. Many nomads have praised the benefit of daily meditation (made super-simple with apps like Headspace) when it comes to preparing for and managing the mental and emotional rigors of life on the road. Be ready to interact with strangers regularly and embrace the adventure that comes with being lost in foreign places.
Another quick tip? Save some room in your suitcase for a couple of small items that make you feel at home no matter where you are: your favorite slippers, a Bluetooth speaker, your favorite thermos, etc.
Also stock up on reading materials in advance because they will come in handy when dining solo, which can be one of the loneliest parts of nomadic life. Audiobooks and podcasts are great for delayed flights and long trains. Pocket will help you stash all of those articles and tweets into a sleek content stream that you can conjure up later on.
Building your financial safety net will be the most stressful part about going nomadic, so it‘s best to attack this head-on. Your financial security system will look different depending on who you are and where you’re going (as well as for how long), but there are a handful of common denominators to get you started.
What you do for a living, and how established you are in that career, will greatly influence the type of financial safety net you need to build. Skill sets like software engineering, writing, product design, visual design and recruitment can be done from most anywhere. On the flip side, charging too little may also disservice you because you may end up having to take on multiple projects at once to make up for charging a lower rate, forcing you to work longer hours and juggle more expectations.
Charging too much for your experience may prevent companies from booking you. Director-level roles may be more difficult to secure remotely because you are expected to lead a team day in, day out. On the flip side, charging too little will do you a disservice, and cause stressors when it comes to taking on additional bandwidth to make up for the hourly losses inherent in charging a lower rate. It’s also important to keep in mind that the rate you set on Day 1 with a client will likely hold, so if the work becomes recurring, you’ll be stuck in that rate.
For those just starting out in their career, factor in being newer to the game and stay focused on opportunities that will create credibility for you in the space, especially as a remote team member. For those who are more senior, consider whether leading a team or staying close to the work matters more to you.
There are two different but equally effective, equations to use as a starting point. Both start with your ideal annual salary. Keep in mind that currency conversions and the cost of living abroad will constantly fluctuate, so plan accordingly. Fiverr Workspace just launched the ability to create expenses, income and invoices in any currency which is another great way to stay on top of this.
Option One: By Day
Calculate your freelance rate by taking your annual salary and dividing it by 260. This is the average number of working days in a calendar year.
Example: $130,000 USD / 260 = $500 per day
The result is the amount you‘d have to charge per workday to reach your ideal number, if you worked every work day of the year. However, this doesn‘t factor in time off for travel or for time between bookings. To address both of these parameters, consider dividing your ideal annual income by 230. Some of you will take more than 30 days off in a year, some of you may take less. Adjust accordingly based on your personal preferences.
Example: $130,000 USD / 200 (factoring in two months off) = $650 per day
Option Two: By Hourly
Again, start with your ideal annual salary. Take that number and divide by 2,080. This is the number of working hours in a year without any holidays factored in.
Example: $130,000 / 2,080 = $62.50 per hour
Multiply the quotient by 25 percent, add it to the quotient and the sum is your target hourly rate. Adjust your rate up to factor in days off for the calendar year as needed.
Example: $62.50 x 25% = $15.63 (rounded to $15.50)
Example: $62.50 + $15.50 = $78 (rounded up) = $80 per hour
One very important thing to remember is that neither of these equations factor in the money you will need to set aside to pay taxes. Many accountants in the U.S. recommend setting aside a third of your income aside for taxes (roughly 34 percent). If you‘re quite conservative financially, you might even set 40 to 50 percent aside to be safe.
Since your income places you in one of several tax brackets, keep in mind that the higher the day rate, the more you’ll need to stash for taxes. This percentage will also depend on your country of origin, so do your research or hop on the phone with your accountant to talk through the best plan of action for you.
The final step in building this financial safety net is actually doing so. Think about how much money you’ll need to be financially sound for at least three months and build your savings account accordingly. That way, if you hit a dry patch with projects or decide to take extra time off, you won’t be stressed.
Dealing with doctors overseas can be easy or difficult, depending on what part of the world you’re traveling in. A good rule of thumb is to get all preventative health check-ins done, and on your local health insurance, before you leave. Before heading out, you’ll also want to check in with your local insurance provider to see if they offer coverage overseas. Even if you do have international insurance, most foreign medical providers will request payment upfront at the time of service, so save all your receipts so you can be accurately reimbursed by your provider.
You should also add travel insurance when booking your flight to cover potential unforeseen medical needs. The U.S. Department of State provides a list of medical insurance providers for overseas coverage for U.S. Department of State.
Keep in mind that some countries require specific vaccinations upon entry so you may need to plan accordingly, depending on where you’re traveling. You typically need to see a healthcare professional four to six weeks before international travel to receive any vaccinations. Head to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers Health website for specifics listed by country.
You may not know where you’re going to be three months from now, but you most likely know where you’ll be in three weeks’ time. Call your cell phone carrier and find out how much it costs to roam in that country. If it’s more than $7/day, consider other options.
My Webspot offers unlimited pocket Wi-Fi globally and prices range depending on the country (max is ~$10/ day). This service allows you to make calls over Skype, WhatsApp FaceTime, Viber, and Google Hangout while also allowing you to do work from anywhere by setting up a remote hotspot. They’ll also deliver your device to your hotel or Airbnb address and offer airport pickup at most of the larger international airports. If delivered, a return envelope is provided so all you have to do is drop it in a local post box.
Another option is to pick up a local SIM card for your phone, allowing you to utilize your phone like you’re a local. One caveat here: Your cell phone number will change, so keep this mind when dealing with clients remotely. It may be a pain to update your team every couple of weeks with a new contact number if you are bouncing between countries, but if you’re staying in one country for an extended period of time, it’s a solid solution.
Finally, make sure you always filter for Wi-Fi when booking accommodations to save yourself any potential headaches upon arrival.
There are a handful of apps and tools available that will help bring structure and balance to your flexible nomadic lifestyle. Below are some favorites:
Take the time to do a bit of preparation before hitting the road. It will pay off in both the short run and the long run, making your experience much more enjoyable.
(Note: The author of this article is not a certified public accountant. The article was produced for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for the advice of an accountant.)
This post was written as part of our Digital Nomad series.
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