Top 10 things to do right away when you land in a new country as a digital nomad
You’re moving abroad with your business - wahoooo! You’re in for a hell of a life experience that others just dream of. I’m truly so stoked for you!
But before you get all Instagram-happy and start posting photos working from the beach and sipping on coconuts, we need to have some real talk about how to best prepare & hit the ground running in your new location of choice.
After all, you have a business to run as a digital nomad!
While yes, the world thinks digital nomads are just lounging around in cheap countries, taking aerial yoga classes all day and discussing our latest meditation-induced life philosophy breakthroughs, but you and I both know that working for yourself means a heck of a lot of real work.
So let’s best prepare you to be ready to do the work once you land!
By the way, important note: I’m writing this with the assumption that you’re going to be staying in your new digital nomad destination for more than a month.
Why? Because it’s digital nomad best practice 101. Moving every month is a sure-fire way to have life & travel organization tasks get in the way, work pile up, and stress take over.
I’d suggest staying in your new home for 3 months to start. You can always travel to near-by countries for long weekends or a week off, but constant moving every month is going to drain you real quick and be a real problem for getting your work done.
While most of these tips are related to what to do once you land, there’s a couple important things that are really best done before leaving home. Let’s start there shall we?!
Before you leave:
1. Book an AirBnB/hostel for your first 4-5 days
You need a place to stay once you land, but you don’t want to commit to a home until you’ve seen it IRL and get to know it’s proximity to all the other places around and get a lay of the land.
So book yourself an AirBnB or hostel for your first 4-5 days.
AirBnB’s tend to be easy to book online quickly and nice because you have your own place.
Hostels are good because they’re social, immediately gaining you new connections and therefore potential people to discuss the neighborhoods and areas to potentially live long-term. Whoever works at the hostel front desk, befriend them and get the down-low, local opinion on where to live.
The ideal is if you find a hostel that also has individual rooms. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve reached the point in my life where shared bathrooms and bedrooms are no longer a fun adventure. But for social purposes, hostels are ideal. So again, your jackpot is a hostel which also has individual rooms and bathrooms.
Where should this hostel/AirBnB be? Close by your preferred co-working space. Walking distance is ideal.
2. Download important apps for the location
Does your destination have Uber? Be sure it’s downloaded on your phone. Is there an Uber equivalent in your location? Get that. Is there an app to order food? Get that.
Do some Googling to find the most important apps in your new destination.
I went to Southeast Asia where the most important app was GoJek.
I’d never heard of it before but downloaded it once I landed only to find out I needed to set up an account which required getting an SMS with a code to confirm the new account. When I was in landed, I got a data-only SIM card and didn’t have a number to get an SMS.
I ended up getting a friend back home to use their number to confirm my account, but every time a GoJek driver came to pick me up or deliver food, my friend back home got phone calls from the GoJek folks to confirm (often in the middle in the night). Kinda annoying for her. (Sorry Meliss!)
Basically, find out the local apps you need and download them before you go while you still can confirm things by SMS easily, just in case that’s required during signup for the app.
3. Get a bank which is super world-wide friendly
Another fun mistake of mine you can learn from.
ATM’s in foreign countries can be a bit sketchy.
Sometimes they eat your card or just don’t give you money when they should, or are known for skimming your information and then the skimmers steal money from your account. Fun, fun, fun.
I got an N26 bank account and could not recommend it enough to anyone who intends to work from abroad!
Sorry time: Got to Bali, had 3 different debit cards from a Canadian, German and American bank. I figured with 3 cards, one would work right? Wrong.
NONE of them worked at the ATM I was recommended and I needed cash to get a scooter. Slight issue.
In Bali you’re recommended to only take out cash from ATM’s which have 24/7 security guards as a lot of other ATM’s skim your cards and then one day you look at your account and there’s $0 in it.
Well, none of my cards worked at the bank with a security guard, so off to a hut down the road I went which had 6 ATMs inside. Sketch AF? Yes. But I needed cash, so I tried anyways.
One glorious ATM eventually gave me money. I then named it the “magic ATM,” obv.
I then went to call my bank to change the pin so that if my card was skimmed, the pin would be different, thus preventing someone else taking money from my account.
“You’ll need to come into the branch to do that.”
“I’m in Bali and won’t be home for 6 months…”
“In that case you could wait for someone to steal money from your account and then report it and we can get the money put back in.”
“And to report it, can I do that by phone?”
“No, you need to come into the branch for that too.”
I quickly decided, screw my old bank, I’m finding a more modern one which doesn’t require a flight to Canada and rocking up to my local bank branch to fix all problems.
All the digital nomads at my coworking space were using is, so I decided to give it a go.
You can change your pin from the app on your phone.
Request a new card when your old one is lost/eaten from the app your phone.
You can turn on and off ATM withdrawals (meaning you turn it on when you go to take out cash and turn it right back off the second you take out cash, so basically only you can take money out, not skimmers.)
Best of all? NO branches! Everything can be done through the app.
You can open the account from anywhere, all in under 7 minutes! (I did some sort of funny video call confirming my identity by holding up my passport and my new account was good to go.)
So basically, get yourself N26 before you leave! (You’ll be so grateful you did.)
If home for you is somewhere in the EU, you can get an account here.
If you’re in the US, N26 is coming your way mid 2019 apparently. Get on the waitlist here.
If you live anywhere not in the EU but have a friend with a mailing address in the EU, sign up here. (The card must originally be sent to an EU address, but then just have your friend mail it to you wherever you are. I do actually have an EU address, but was in Bali at the time. I had my boyfriend send me the card from Germany to Bali. Worked like a charm.)
Once you land:
4. Get a SIM card
Your task #1 once you land is to get a local SIM card. You’ll need it for a few things in the near future. If you can get one in the airport, great. If not, ask your hostel front desk or AirBnB host where you can get one.
5. Sign up for a coworking space
Co-working spaces aren’t just great for getting work done, they’re also a gem for finding a place to live long-term, which is your next task. So go to your coworking space of choice and sign up!
Be sure when you’re signing up to ask if there’s a coworking space FB group or Slack channel and get added right away.
While you’re there, check that the Wifi is solid enough to do video calls. If you can do a video call no problem, the Wifi is generally good enough for whatever you need to do.
To test said Wifi, give your family and/or friends back home a call to say Hi, assure them you’re still alive/landed safely and make them jealous by showing them your sweet new workspace.
6. Go to coworking space events. Meet people.
In order to find an ideal place to live, you need to learn what the established nomads know. So it’s time to make friends!
Coworking spaces generally hold events regularly. (Like every day or two). (If your coworking space doesn’t hold events regularly . . . maybe find another.)
Go to an event and start mingling.
The good news is with digital nomad hotspots in the world, people come and go every month, so while new people are always coming in just like you looking for friends, even the people who stay long-term are always looking for friends too as theirs leave over time.
Basically it feels like the first week of college all over again. Just a super social time where it’s completely normal to rock up to someone, say “Hey” and start chatting.
So start chatting! Ask them where they live, what areas they recommend for housing, how they found their place, if they know anyone with a room needing to be filled, if there’s any FB groups they recommend to find a place, etc.
7. Start reaching out for potential long-term homes
Now you’ve met people and gathered info, it’s time to start reaching out.
Follow up with people you met, post in FB groups or the coworking Slack channel and even ask the person sitting next to you while working, then start setting up appointments to view places to live.
8. Figure out transportation
Every place is different. Maybe you’ll be in a city with a subway or maybe you’ll be in a place where scooters are where it’s at in order to get around.
Whatever the normal transportation is, start getting used to it and buy a transportation pass or rent the necessary transportation thing.
If you’ve never driven a scooter before, get a lesson and then rent said scooter from your teacher.
(Legit a thing I did. Locals got a kick out of seeing a grown adult be taught how to ride a scooter, but I was never the tourist who ended up in a hospital, ditch, or rice paddy. Granted, I’m sure I’d be pretty entertained if an Indonesian strapped on skis and watched as they attempted their way down the Alps. We all learn different things in the countries we’re from. I never learned to scooter in Canada, so a lesson it was! #noshame.)
9. Visit potential homes
If you get down the transportation thing before you go to visit homes, that’s ideal. If you just taxi to homes, you have no idea what it’s like to get yourself there and back with your normal mode of transportation.
Maybe the subway in Paris is super sketchy to your new home? Or you need to cross the world’s most scooter-jam-packed-road-full-of-pothles you’ve ever seen. Those things should be important factors in choosing where to live.
So try to take whatever your normal mode of transportation will be when you go to visit a place.
Then once you’re there, test the Wifi. Again, that’s kinda vital to you getting work done, so it’s gotta be good.
You can use speedof.me to test it. I know that for hosting webinars on Crowdcast, I need an internet speed of 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload for a stable and consistent stream of video, so that’s my minimum requirement.
10. Join a gym/dance classes/yoga studio/fitness something
Getting back into your regular exercise routine is key to getting your life back to normal ASAP, so go find yourself a nice fitness place to sign up to!
And my final, bonus tip . . . ?
11. Give yourself 1 week to figure out your life . . . then get back to work
Don’t expect to really achieve anything work-wise while you sort out all of the above.
So plan your work around your move. It’s not going to be a fun time for you if you have a full week of work and then your life-settling process drags out and takes forever. You’ll feel unproductive and frustrated.
Give yourself a week expecting no work to get settled, wrap up all the little settling tasks and then get back to work after that. Set a deadline for when you’re going to start working again (say, 7 days after arriving), and then stick to it. That means don’t drag your home search out for weeks on end, at some point you need to just pick one.
(Assuming you found some decent home options and you feel safe in one of them. If you don’t feel safe in any places you looked at, that’s valid reason to keep looking.)
Truly, this process can take a week, so that’s why I recommend not moving every month. Imagine only working 3 weeks out of 4 in a month? Having 1/4 less time to get work done? Not fun.
So again, remember the golden rule, stay put for a couple months and travel out from there. Just because you’re a digital nomad doesn’t mean you need to live in a permanent state of hot mess in a new country every other month.