Practical Advice for Location Independent Professionals

By Jennifer Miller on March 11th, 2015
BootsnAll

This article is part 4 in a series about long term, open-ended travel written by Jennifer Miller, who has been traveling with her family of six for seven years now. Read the other parts below:


First let me say that Location Independence does not necessarily equal open-ended long term travel. Many people are location independent in their career (meaning that they’re not tied to an office or a fixed location and they could be anywhere in the world), but they choose not to exercise their freedom to travel. I have a several friends who fall into that category.
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However, if you are Location Independent and traveling for the long haul, you’re going to find yourself with a rucksack full of logistical issues that you may or may not have seen coming when you set off for a lovely life of mai tais by the pool with your lap top.

May I share with you what I’ve learned the hard way?


On banking


If you’re living and working on the road, you’re going to need to consider carefully (preferably ahead of time) your banking situation. You’ll need reliable ways to send and receive money.

“Paypal, no problem!” you reply.

Yes. Obviously, that’s a good start. While you’re at it, get their business account and a debit card to go with it. They have great customer service when things go wrong with ATMs in weird places and money disappears that never made it to your hand – you can trust me on that.

Paypal is one option, make sure you have others.

Your brick and mortar bank is important. Make sure you know their transfer policies. In some countries, paying by bank transfer is the preferred method for rent or even utilities. Make a point of being on a first name basis with the manager and the head teller before you leave. If something goes south while you’re abroad, that familiarity will serve you well. Our head teller has made the impossible happen for us on more than one occasion and happily spent a couple of weeks collecting clean American one dollar bills for us to renew our black market cash stash when we needed it.

My biggest piece of advice on banking, as a long term digital nomad, is to diversify.

It might seem silly from where you sit, but you definitely want to have several, if not many, bank accounts. Preferably not all in the same country.

Why? For various purposes (business, personal, or investments) and to minimize potential losses. If an account is breached, your losses will be significantly less if your eggs are not all in one basket. Your inconvenience will be less, too.

We once lost a few thousand dollars to some pirates in Bogata. When you can simply lock down one account and transfer daily use to another, there’s no crisis. If you have no other options, things can get serious rather quickly.

We’ve found that keeping most of our money in two or three accounts that are never accessed by a debit card and then transferring a few thousand dollars at a time into the accounts from which we can draw funds while we’re abroad is the best way to maximize convenience and minimize losses. And obviously, make friends with your online banking system and set the automatic payment alerts. That’s how we caught the Bogata pirates before our brick and mortar bank did!


On taxes and getting paid


Taxes
What you do about getting paid will vary by industry and account. Clearly, direct deposit is your friend, with regular clientele. Paypal is another great option. If paper checks are arriving, then having a reliable person depositing those into your brick and mortar account will be important.

With very, very few exceptions, you’ll still be required to pay taxes, even if you’re out of the country “full time.” It’s very, very important to read carefully the terms of your visa and make sure that you know what constitutes “work” in the countries you’re visiting so that all of your business dealings remain above board.

A good tax accountant is worth her weight in gold. Hire one!

Does working location independent violate my visa?

The short answer is: usually, no it does not.

The actual answer is: it depends.

If your business is registered in your country of origin, your clientele is all within your country of origin, and (or) you’re being paid into the accounts in your country of origin, then you are, essentially, working within your country of origin, regardless of where your body may be. This is not violating your visa because you’re working at home while you happen to be abroad.

Where it gets sticky is if you are in an industry where you’re traveling to a country to do a contract and working for a business, or an individual, in that country for a period of time. If money or services, are changing hands in exchange for your efforts for a business or an individual in a country you’re visiting, you may be violating your visa.


On hiring people


If you’re going to be abroad for an extended period of time, and especially if you are running a business, I highly recommend hiring someone (or a couple of people) to handle your logistics at home. We have an assistant who we pay to take care of our essential mail, our on the ground banking, tax and insurance paperwork, and a myriad of other small tasks that would become really difficult if we were without her. She also knows how to get stuff to us, no matter where we may be in the world. Since she’s been with us from the beginning, she also knows our business and our personal patterns – that familiarity has been a godsend more than once.

I also employ a virtual assistant. She’s a real person, not a service, and her attention to detail allows me to accomplish twice what I would otherwise in the work arena. I prefer a person who I know and can train to my personal and work patterns over a VA service where I’m getting someone new every time because it cuts down the time I spend having to give repetitive instructions and monitoring minutia.

Consider what you can set down, or outsource, and hire a reliable person to increase your productivity.


On insurance


Of course you’re going to look for appropriate health insurance as you travel. The key features when you’re abroad (above and beyond the usual basics) are emergency evacuation and expatriation of remains. No one likes to think of what happens if you are seriously injured or have a major health emergency abroad, but it does happen. When it does, it can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in med-evac flights. Shipping a body home, god forbid, is not cheap. Get good insurance.

In addition, if you’re traveling and working with expensive electronic equipment, like we are, try to add coverage for your machines. It’s a bit scary to realize that one’s whole business rests within a laptop that could be destroyed or stolen in a place where replacing it quickly isn’t an option.

Think about your layers of contingency, storing data in a way that will be restorable should the worst happen, and what your back up plan is, if you need it.


On connectivity


The internet is surprisingly ubiquitous. Whether it’s of a quality that will support your online work is another question entirely. That information can often be found through contact with other digital nomads who’ve been where you’re going. Ask them for specific recommendations for companies and individuals who provide good service. Your business depends on it.

We always have a back up plan. Usually a cellular modem or tethering to our phones (although this isn’t an option everywhere). One relatively new option for Americans traveling abroad is T-Mobile’s International plan. I’ve been testing it for about a year now and have been surprised by the seamless coverage, at no additional charge for data or text, in a decent range of countries (read their fine print).


There’s an App for That!


Here are our favorite apps and tools that we use on a regular basis:

Evernote


A myriad of uses, professionally and personally.

WhatsApp


Free text messaging, internationally.

Airbnb


Find your next location independent home office on the fly.

CamScanner


Perfect for scanning in receipts or documents with your phone.

Time Master


Keep track of your hours for your various clients and generate billing reports from within the app.

Meeting Planner


Have a meeting with people in Christchurch, Tokyo, Mumbai and NYC at the same time? This app will help you figure out when you can schedule that meeting for everyone’s convenience.

TripIt


Keep all of your travel documents sorted by trip.

Word Lens


Use your phone to translate print from language you don’t know, to English.

Line


An alternative to Skype with more features.

Slack


A great app for reducing email and increasing productivity and communication within your team.

Photo credits: Ditty_about_summer, Oleksiy Mark