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Navigating the Unexpected: The 7 Challenges You’ll Face as a Digital Nomad

Ditching a run-of-the-mill job to be a digital nomad abroad is an appealing career choice. And why not? It’s never been easier to start an online business and become a solopreneur. With a little cleverness and a stable internet connection, you could say goodbye to your boss and hello to a life of adventure. But surely there’s a catch to being a digital nomad, right?

Social media influencers will lead you to believe that life as a remote solopreneur is a montage of a never-ending beach vacation. Well, that might be partially true, but it’s not the whole picture. Just like everything in life, there are good and bad parts.

In this article, we’re going to look at the unanticipated challenges of being a digital worker abroad. Whether you’ve already started your journey as a solopreneur or thinking about taking the leap, there are some important things to consider. The point of this isn’t to scare you out of your dreams but to make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Finding a Work-Life Balance

Being a digital nomad doesn’t mean less work and more play. It can take years of sacrifice to become a successful solopreneur. Don’t be surprised if you’re working more hours at the beginning of your journey abroad than you did at your old 9-to-5.

Living somewhere like Bali, where there are pristine beaches, fellow backpackers, and exciting opportunities at every corner, doesn’t make it easy to focus on your tasks. You’ll constantly be tempted to close your laptop and join in on the fun. Creating a sustainable work-life balance is a crucial hurdle to overcome as a digital nomad. 

Experiencing Culture Shock

Culture shock is a real part of traveling abroad and can be exhausting. You’ll be living in a foreign world where the language, customs, smells, and tastes are far outside of your comfort zone. Many digital nomads have said culture shock starts creeping in around the three-month mark. Symptoms could include feeling frustrated, disconnected, and resentful. 

The important thing to know when the stress kicks in is that you’re not alone. Plenty of digital nomads abroad have been through it. So, don’t hesitate to ask other travelers for advice.

Working in Different Time Zones

Thanks to applications like Zoom, you can connect with employees and meet with clients and vendors from anywhere in the world. However, if you decide to relocate overseas, you’re going to be in a different time zone. That means routine business calls might have to take place in the wee hours of the morning. And you can’t expect other people to accommodate your new work schedule because you’re the one who left, remember?

The best part about being a digital nomad is you can relocate whenever or wherever you’d like. So, if one time zone isn’t working for you, try another region until you find the right spot.

Dealing with Immigration Requirements

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Each country has its own visa requirements and limits. Unless you decide to apply for a long-term visa, you’ll typically only have a few months to live in a country before needing to leave. Just when you’re starting to get comfortable in a place–whoops!–your visa is already expiring. Some countries will allow you to extend your stay, but that requires waiting in lines, submitting paperwork, and using Google Translate to communicate–it’s not the most fun experience.

Solopreneurs interested in staying in one place for an extended period of time should consider countries that offer special visas for digital nomads. Countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, and Portugal are more than happy to let you stay longer if you can provide proof of sufficient income. It’s a great little life hack to make life as a digital nomad abroad a little easier.

Having Less Job Security

Starting an online business, moving abroad, and being your own boss is a risk. You’ll have less job security and no one but yourself to rely on. Dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of running a company or offering an online service can lead to some stressful days and nights. So, when you scroll through photos of solopreneurs living seemingly perfect lives abroad, just know they could be under a lot of pressure to keep their businesses afloat–you never know.

Suffering from Loneliness

Here’s something not everyone is willing to confess: the digital-nomad lifestyle is lonely. Being so far away from friends and family is tough. Time zones can make it difficult to keep in touch with people, and international phone plans can be expensive. Even the friends you make abroad will only be temporary. You might travel around with them for a few weeks, but eventually, you have to go your separate ways. 

Spending time alone will give you a chance to reflect upon your life and define what’s important to you. The only catch is you have to go through a bit of homesickness and melancholy to uncover those gems. Loneliness is a part of being a digital nomad abroad, and it’s nothing you can’t overcome.

Not Having a Homebase

You can kiss stability goodbye when you choose to be a solopreneur in a foreign country. Constantly moving from one accommodation option to another prevents you from ever having a homebase, and there’s no guarantee of stable Wi-Fi. Most digital nomads work at public cafes, which can be noisy–not ideal for getting down to business. 

Cities that are hotspots for remote workers often have free coworking spaces, but reserving a quiet office usually costs a monthly fee. You’ll have no trouble finding places to set up shop abroad, but just get ready to be comfortable working in uncomfortable environments.

Being a digital nomad abroad has its challenges. But, hey, so does everything else in this life. You’re going to face times when you second-guess your decision to be away from loved ones, chasing a dream of adventure, and that’s okay. The good news is that you can find a community of other digital nomads and solopreneurs going through the same difficulties as you. So, keep your head up, and don’t let a few bumps in the road hold you back.

Amanda Bates

Amanda Bates is the founder and creative director of The Black Expat, where she is generally excited about all things related to identity, travel, and cross-cultural experience. She has traveled five continents, lived on three and always plotting the next trip.
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