How to make money online as a digital nomad

I’m a digital nomad. It gives me tremendous freedom to run my business from anywhere, and I think it makes my business so much better, being able to offer a variety of cultural, religious, and geographical perspectives. As a writer, you can’t help but be influenced by your surroundings and this shows in the depth of my work.

I belong to a few online communities for digital nomads and daily, people write ‘I want to be a digital nomad and don’t know how’. This blog is for you. If you’ve ever wanted to un-tether yourself from your desk and make lots of money doing very little, you will not succeed. This style of working takes dedication, a lot of hard work, and it has lots of barriers to overcome. These I might address in another blog, but for today I want to talk about the traditional options for online-workers.

digital nomad on a beach
My desk in Goa, India. It’s a hard life!

Teaching English

You don’t necessarily need a formal teaching qualification in order to make this work. If teaching English online is what you want to do to become the digital nomad you’ve always dreamed of, you must have an excellent understanding of the language. You should also be able to see where a student is going wrong and how to correct that. It helps if you are personable with excellent presentation skills as you’ll be on webcam to teach.

Here are a few examples of providers- there are heaps more!

VIPkid teaches Chinese children from anywhere in the world with one-on-one classes. They provide their own lesson plans to you and offer you full tech support.

Cambly pay $10.20USD an hour (as at 8/01/2018) and lets you set your timetable. You can log in whenever you want, and can be taking calls within minutes. This service is worldwide so you can come across a variety of languages and cultures.

EnglishHunt require that you have an ESL certification such as TESOL or IELTS. They provide software and curriculum, and is specifically from the USA to Japan. The pay is $14.50 an hour.

Mechanical Turk

This option is when you basically manually do a task online that a machine doesn’t quite have the brains to do. You won’t get a paid a lot, but I’m sure there are ways to make it work if you’re clever. Pop over here to Mechanical Turk to see if it might work for you.

Become a writer! It’ll be fun (they said)

Being a writer is amazing and I’m lucky it’s something I’m good at AND enjoy. It’s not easy though. The gold standard is to have your own travel blog and get paid to travel and eat around the world… to achieve this you’ll need serious hard work and an amazing USP!

For the rest of us, to get work as a writer there are three main options:

  • Compete with everyone else on freelance hire sites

Sites like Upwork let you can create a profile, and bid on projects.  Beware though- you are competing with people who live in places like India, who can bid very cheaply, so don’t invest too much time or money in this unless you have a niche. I’ve been hearing that UpWork have too many writers and are not allowing any more to join. Look here for a list of 70 freelance sites.

  • Write articles for magazines and websites with no guaranteed income

This is a great option and sometimes they pay really well (see here for a list of 70 places that pay $1 a word!) but every publication has different criteria and guidelines. So you may write a fantastic article on trekking in Nepal, and send it to a magazine who turn it down. So then, you have to re-write to suit another publication. This can be very time consuming. Most places do list what they are looking for though, but there are no guarantees!

  • Write for your own clients

This is what I do. I had an established network at home in New Zealand, and I had people prepared to vouch for me. I had experience writing for a content writing company, and some existing writing samples. However, initially you will be a starving artist. The hunt for customers isn’t something I enjoy and you get negative responses a lot of the time. BUT this way gives me local clients, so we understand the same language and culture which is excellent as some countries have very different work cultures.

There are Facebook and LinkedIn groups that frequently have people looking for freelance writers.

Fancy yourself a digital nomad graphic designer?

You need a degree or qualification for this- and a semblance of design skills, at least. Very similar to writing, you can use Freelance websites to find work, or create your own client base. Try 99designs and AwesomeWeb for design-based services.

Becoming a VA – Virtual Assistant

You don’t need any formal qualifications or particular skills for this but to be successful, you have to be proactive, organised, and an excellent communicator. There are online courses you can take but it really depends how you’re going to spin your skills. Once again, freelance websites may offer work for you or you can build your own customer base.

Translating and interpreting freelance

You have to be fluent in at least two languages to make this work! Look on the likes of Upwork for contracts, or set up your own business. Gengo, Day Translations and Deluxe Digicaption are a good starting point looking for work specifically tailored to interpreting and translating work.

Create an App

No, I don’t know how to do this, and I don’t know what kind of app you could make, but if you’ve got an idea, this could be a great source of passive income! This will require a chunk of money to set up (unless you’re an app developer already) and remember to do very thorough research first to make sure you’re not replicating someone else’s work, and that you’re creating something people will use.


Selling your photography of Shutterstock and iStockPhoto is one way to monetise your photography. This isn’t guaranteed income though… once again, the dream is to be paid to travel the world and take photos of amazing things. If this is your goal, you’ll need a website and lots of hard work!

A bunch of other ideas to make money online and while travelling

Make YouTube videos. Attach AdSense to the videos, which provides an income.

Buy an existing online business. You’ll need a bit of cash to start this up though.

Rent out your home on AirBnB, although increasingly this window of income is going to get harder to do, with local authorities cracking down on it.

Write a book or ebook and collect royalties (I’ve been writing my own book since I was 20… I’m not any closer to finishing it).

Create an online guide or course, teaching people how to do something you’re really good at.

Invest in Bitcoin. No, don’t ask me how to do it, and remember never gamble something you can’t afford to lose!

Invest in the share market. This can be very profitable but it requires knowledge and skill. Read everything you possibly can about the shares and the company before putting your money anywhere.

Affiliate marketing. If you have a blog, someone will pay you to talk about how great their product is. It’s just finding that company! Check out Clickbank as a first stop. I have a travel blog and feel like I can’t sell my soul for this… maybe you can make it work for you.

InboxDollars and SwagBucks promise to make you money just for cruising around on the internet. Take a look and see if this might work for you.

This is far from an exhaustive list of everything you can do to become a digital nomad- feel free to comment or email me with suggestions I should add. The nomadic lifestyle offers you freedom that you’ll never get in a traditional job, but it’s challenging and stressful at times too. If you are hard working and driven, this lifestyle may be for you!

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