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How to become a digital nomad family

How to become a digital nomad family

Want to travel the world with your kids and still have an income? Then read our guide to becoming a digital nomad family.

For many families, the prospect of starting a new life in a new country is a dream scenario, but not something which ever feels attainable. How do the parents continue to work and the kids keep up with their education?

The concept of a digital nomad family has become more commonplace recently, driven by the increase in remote working roles for parents and online learning options for school-aged children. Being a digital nomad is no longer just an option for people in their twenties and what was once a pipe dream is becoming more realistic. We’ve taken the leap ourselves and we’re sharing some information in this post about how you can make it happen for your family as well.

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What is a digital nomad family?

The dictionary definition of a digital nomad would describe people travelling from place to place whilst continuing to work remotely. They would have a way of earning an income which didn’t require them to be in a physical location and they could choose the location from where they did the work.

A digital nomad family extends that concept to include children and perhaps an extra parent. One or both of the parents would have a job which isn’t location based, allowing them the freedom to move around the world as and when they chose. The kids would either be pre-school age, be happy to be schooled online or by their parents (homeschooled), or to attend an international school in the place they’re currently living.

Our experience as a digital nomad family

It’s taken us over ten years, but we now feel like we’re on track to becoming a fully fledged digital nomad family. We’d always travelled extensively after the kids were born, and fitted in long-term trips around career breaks, but the realities of paid employment always constrained our nomadic dreams.

Until recently, Jay’s always been a software engineer which fulfilled the ‘remote’ part of the digital nomad equation, but his employers were never keen on him working from wherever he chose. Aside from short stints, we still had to be based in the UK. We spent a year living and working in Bangalore, which was an incredible experience, but Jay was based in a physical office five days a week. We still weren’t digital nomads.

Visiting the Taj Mahal with kids
family adventures living in India

More recently, we spent four months as digital nomads in Morocco, which gave us a taste of what life could be like. However, it was only ever for a finite period, so once the four months were over, it was back to our normal life.

Walking through Essaouira Medina with kids
we lived for two months is Essaouira, Morocco

The final (and most significant) change we’ve made to our lives, and the one which has finally led to us being digital nomads, is when Jay quit his job and joined our blogging business. We’re now in the fortunate position of being in control of our own working schedule and location, which allowed us to apply for the Malaysia De Rantau visa

With parent’s work ticked off the list, our focus switched to education. Our kids are getting older now and their schooling needs are at the forefront of our minds so the absolute freedom of being digital nomads, moving from place to place every few weeks, has been tempered somewhat by needing to find a suitable schooling. We’ve had great success with worldschooling and online-learning over the past few years, but want to give the boys some structure for a year or so. The proliferation of international schools in Penang made it the logical choice for our next base.

Monkey Beach Penang
a little adventure after checking out schools in Penang

Benefits of digital nomad life for families

A semi-permanent life on the road is an intense, invigorating and memorable way to live as a family. It’s a fact of life that for most of us, travel is only a part-time activity, with your experience of the country you’re visiting always feeling temporary. One of the great benefits of a digital nomad life for families is the opportunity to actually live in a new country, moving around as and when you want to. If you decide you love one place, you’re free to set up camp and immerse yourselves fully. On the other hand, if a place isn’t ticking all the right boxes, pack your bags and try somewhere new.

For the parents, the sense that you’re marking time at the office until your next trip evaporates; the world is now your office, and you’re able to combine experiencing it whilst you work. We’ve always found that work is easier when you’re relaxed and enjoying life. The days go quicker and the weekends are more fun.

For kids, there’s an array of advantages to a digital nomad life, ranging from seeing more of the world, learning a new language, meeting people from different cultures, increased flexibility and adaptability, plus getting an education which goes beyond the standard curriculum. Indeed, many of the advantages of worldschooling overlap here.

Challenges of digital nomad life for families

Very few things in life are without their negatives, and digital nomad family life is no exception. Whilst we believe the positives far outweigh the negatives, there are still some downsides to keep in mind.

For both parents and kids, it can be difficult saying goodbye to friends and family back home. With no fixed timetable or plans, you might not know when you’ll be back home again permanently. As kids get older, their attachments to school friends get ever stronger and there may be some resistance to leaving them behind. Once you’re on the road, friendships can be harder to form, as you might only stay still for a few weeks before moving on.

If you have any pets at home (or plans to get them soon), you’ll need to find someone to look after them, perhaps indefinitely. 

Friends in Essaouira
meeting fellow digital nomad family, My Free Range Family, and spending a month in Morocco with them

What jobs to digital nomad parents have?

The list of potential jobs a digital nomad parent might have is vast, and growing all the time. It must be remote based and not rely on you being in a physical location or having face-to-face meetings. Some people factor in very occasional visits to the office (perhaps once a year), but that is an exception to the rule.

We fall into one of the most common categories (travel bloggers) but make sure it’s already an established business generating an income; it’s not something you can set up and monetise within a few weeks. 

travel blogging Morocco
Whilst many travel bloggers like to give the illusion that they work by the pool, this really isn’t true and like any job, you need a quiet corner away from distractions.

IT and software engineering are common choices, particularly if you work as a contractor on shorter term contracts. The trend post-pandemic has certainly been towards remote working in these fields, although increasingly companies are asking people to come into an office occasionally. Make sure your contract is clear on these requirements before you commit to the move.

Other digital nomad jobs include online teaching, social media management, SEO consultancy, graphic design, virtual assistant.

Many, many other jobs have the potential to be remote and thus enable you to become a digital nomad family; it mainly depends on your company and how keen they are to facilitate the move. A word of warning from experience is that companies often seem keen until you actually ask for approval, then the backtracking begins. Consider the option of parental leave (available to all employees in the UK for four weeks per child per year) to test the water with your company; it’s sometimes easier for them to approve longer-terms plans when you’ve already shown it to be a success.

Visas for digital nomads

To legally work in any country, you’ll need a valid visa. Digital nomads are a relatively recent phenomenon and it’s taking a while for governments around the world to catch up and offer applicable visas.

In the past, potential digital nomads had to apply for old-fashioned employment visas, which were difficult to get unless you they had an employment contract with a local company, or try entering on a tourist visa and take their chances.

The good news is that increasing numbers of countries are recognising the value of digital nomads to their economy and are creating specific visas for them. As long as you can prove past earnings in an applicable field, and have enough funds, insurance, etc, you’re in a good position to be approved. Once you have the visa, you can legally live and work in that country and have access to some other benefits of residency, including healthcare, schooling, opening bank accounts, etc.

Some countries, such as Malaysia with their De Rantau visa, are at the forefront, with a dedicated organisation set up to process and advise on the applications. Malaysia has also setup digital nomad hubs across the country, focusing specifically on creating positive environments for digital nomad families to settle. The list of countries is growing but currently includes such other tempting locations as Spain, Dubai, Thailand, St Lucia and Cyprus. More are likely to join the club over time as the benefits become even clearer.

Paying tax for digital nomads

This is definitely one area you’ll want to get specialist advice, which will vary depending on your own circumstances, where you’ll be living, and where you originally call home.

In general terms, the amount of tax you’ll owe in any country largely depends on where you’ve generated your income, and how long you spend in the country. The UK, for example, has a double-tax treaty with many other countries, which stops you from paying tax twice on the same income. As above, speak to an expert on international tax rules and follow their advice.

Schooling for kids of digital nomad families

For any family, the kids’ education is vital, and there’s no reason it should suffer if they’re part of a digital nomad family. A whole education ecosystem has grown up around travelling families and you’ll have several options at your disposal.

A lot of families have positive results with homeschooling, where the parents educate their kids, often using the natural world as their classroom. This works better if at least one parent has spare time throughout the day, although homeschooling can easily fit around more unconventional hours.

Alternatively, we’ve had a hugely rewarding experience with online schooling, especially in places where there’s a decent internet connection and somewhere quiet to work. For our family, it works much better if someone else is doing the teaching. We’re realistic enough to accept neither parent is an amazing teacher.

online lesson in Koh Chang

For more structure, consider checking out any worldschooling hubs nearby, where like-minded families congregate to school their kids with other families. In the right setting, this can be a fantastic way for kids to learn and allows them to build more of a social life. If you know you’ll be staying somewhere longer (i.e. more than six months), think about enrolling your kids in an international school. The standard of teaching tends to be excellent and helps combine travel and home life whilst you’re away.

Best destinations for digital nomad families

Linking back to the section on visas, the best destinations for digital nomad families are the ones offer appropriate visas. Whilst some digital nomads take the risk of working in a country on a tourist visa, this is technically illegal and could land you in trouble with the authorities. 

We might be biased because of our plans, but Malaysia offers a brilliant lifestyle for families, with the De Rantau visa clearly targeted at digital nomads with a strong support process behind it. Thailand has a similar visa (albeit with a much higher required income) and a comparable standard of living and opportunity for families.

Borneo with kids
cruising the Kinabatangan River in Malaysia’s, Borneo

For people in the UK, a digital nomad visa could be a route back to living in Europe after the Brexit referendum. Multiple European countries, including Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia, offer a digital nomad visa. Although we attempted the Portuguese Digital Nomad visa a couple of years ago and gave up with all the red tape. Unfortunately, even though a country say they offer a Digital Nomad visa, with this being a relatively new concept, they’re not always completely straightforward to obtain.

Once you’ve considered the visa, keep in mind the education options, particularly if you plan to send the kids to an international school. As a working family, you’ll also want to pay close attention to healthcare, entertainment options, and internet connectivity.

Final thoughts on becoming a digital nomad family

We love travelling as a family and know from experience that a longer trip creates even stronger bonds and memories. The best way to achieve this is living in a country and calling it your new home, whether that’s for a few weeks, months or years. 

With the strict rules on visas, employment and tax, it’s essential you follow the correct procedures to live legally, and a digital nomad visa is by far the best approach. Many of the most appealing and beautiful countries in the world are now offering these visas and, if your application is successful, you and your family will soon be experiencing the incredible life of a digital nomad.

You may also like to read:

What is worldschooling? Everything you need to know
Online schooling for family travel
Backpacking with kids: top tips to make it work