Digital Nomad: The Cost of Freedom

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Unlike the baby-boomers or Generation X, millenials prefer flexibility and freedom when it comes to working. Following that mentality and aided with the advance of technology, more and more millennials are living the digital nomad lifestyle. Digital nomads can work anywhere and at anytime, as long as they have their laptop and access to the internet.

With an affordable cost of living and a growing number of co-working spaces, Chiang Mai in Thailand has been developing into a digital nomad and startup hub. The introduction of the four-year “Smart Visa” by the Thai government attracted even more talent there. Picture yourself in the tropical city, sipping a cup of coffee in a tranquil cafe, while working and earning your travel funds on your laptop. Does it sound like your ideal life?

Before you quit your 9-5 to become a digital nomad, remember that every coin has two sides. Take a look at these less glamorous parts of the lifestyle. Are you willing to pay the price for the freedom of digital nomad?

Losing connections

Digital nomadism is gaining momentum in western countries too. Unfortunately in Hong Kong, it is not as well-known yet. Your family and relatives may ask you difficult questions, such as “how are you earning money?”, or “you need to get a real job”. They are asking out of concern, so are you ready to put on a brave face and respond to people who love you but don’t get you?

“Well, my friends would get me, that is good enough for me.” Your friends will have a different lifestyle. Even if they are extremely supportive (maybe even a bit jealous of you), you guys will find it difficult to connect and chat like you used to. Having left Hong Kong, you will find it difficult to connect to trends in Hong Kong. You won’t be keeping up with where to get the best bubble tea in Causeway Bay. You cannot discuss with your friends about the hottest cafe in town anymore. Are you prepared for this?

”Flexible” working hours

When talking about digital nomadism, many think about the flexible lifestyle. No more clocking in at 9am or looking at the time until it is 5pm. Being a digital nomad means you might be working with people in a different timezone. As a freelance digital nomad, you might be taking multiple projects at a time to cover your expenses. Many nomad newbies tend to take up too much work, and when many of them are urgent, such as translation or copywriting jobs, they find themselves working Monday to Sunday, from morning till late night. There's no slacking off or you lose your income!

Income < Expenses

As a digital nomad, you essentially move around all the time. All the costs related to moving around and travelling, such as short-term accommodation (which tends to be more expensive), flight tickets etc. now become your recurring expenditure. For instance, a visitor visa in Thailand is 90 days long. If you want to stay there for any longer, you need to leave the country and return. Some people see this as an opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries. However,sometimes you may be busy and want to focus all your energy on working. You still need to spare some time and energy to book flight tickets and hotels. Because if you do not leave the country, you will be staying there illegally.

Goodbye, perks

Working at a traditional company means you are guaranteed a certain amount of benefits. For example, every employer gives a fixed number of paid vacation days. You get to relax and enjoy your holiday without worrying about money. However, as a digital nomad, your work and income goes hand-in-hand. The same goes for other common employee benefits, like medical and dental insurance, paid (or unpaid) maternity leaves, MPF contribution etc..

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Sophia Wong

Brand and Marketing Strategist in Hong Kong, writes about career, job hunting and interview tips.

3 min read

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