Digital Nomads: Demography
The Big Picture 3/8: Who they are and how they live.
It’s difficult to get a clear picture of what Digital Nomads are really like. Information on the web is scarce, scattered, and sometimes misleading — especially on social media. In this article, I’ve summed up research, survey data, and personal experience to give you a more accurate insight.
The Big Picture
- Part 1: Definition & Popularity
- Part 2: Trends
- Part 3: Demography (this article)
- Part 4: The Bright Side
- Part 5: The Dark Side
- Part 6: Misconceptions
- Part 7: The Future
- Part 8: Summary
About the data
Information in this article originates from the following sources:
- Nomadic Report is an open survey I launched this year (2019). It’s a long-term survey instead of a one time snapshot. It also gives every participant instant and permanent access to the latest results. Note that the number of responses (35) is still too low to give a clear picture. Consider its results merely as an early indication until it evolves.
If you’re a Digital Nomad, or are interested, your participation would be greatly appreciated!
- Workers of the World is a one off survey with 152 responses collected in 2016.
- Digital Nomad Survey is a discontinued survey with about 500 responses collected up until 2016.
- The knowledge that I’ve gained through research and from personal experience as a Digital Nomad.
Please do get in touch if you find any errors or can contribute more data.
The majority of Digital Nomads are Millennials (23–38 years old). That’s followed by Generation X (39–59) and only a few from Generation Z (22 and younger).
Note that all three surveys use different age ranges.
Almost half of Digital Nomads are in a relationship, according to Digital Nomad Survey and Nomadic Report. Of those who I’ve met, some travel together with their partner or spouse. But there are also some who see their partner only for a limited time each year.
Looks like being a Digital Nomad doesn’t hinder people in making relationships work — good!
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Working & Travelling Is Better When Shared
Not all passports are created equal. Depending on where you’re coming from, traveling can be a lot easier, especially when it comes to visas. Workers of the World show that about 42% of Digital Nomads come from the USA, followed by Western Europe with 34%.
Workers of the World and Nomadic Report agree on this one: A good two-thirds of Digital Nomads are freelancers and company owners. This is not surprising given the autonomy that comes with the territory. Most of the remaining third are employees.
It will be interesting to observe whether employees will catch up as remote work is rising in popularity and acceptance. Also, employment usually provides for a steadier income stream. That gives more safety and confidence when experimenting with a nomadic lifestyle.
Workers of the World shows that a little more than half of Digital Nomads earn more than $2,000/month. The other half is spread out below.
In addition, Nomadic Report asks whether income varies each month considerably. So far, half of the Digital Nomads have stated that to be the case.
Many Digital Nomads move to the next place at varying frequency. Short-term (weeks), medium-term (few months), and long-term (many months to years) stays are all mixed.
Some Digital Nomads maintain a profile on Nomad List. There they list every single one of their trips. Browsing them gives a good overview of how they are moving around the world.
Also interesting is that the majority identify as occasional Digital Nomads. Only one-third state that they’re non-stop on the move.
Nomadic Report is the only survey asking that question. It’s difficult to tell how to interpret that without further context. It could mean that people who settle in a location they love for a while won’t consider themselves Digital Nomads anymore until they relocate more frequently again.
Digital Nomads have many options when it comes to accommodation and which ones they choose depends on many factors. Important are the duration of stay, price, availability, location, and personal preference.
According to Nomadic Report, the majority rent apartments. That’s usually cheaper and possible even with a stay as short as three months.
Half of Digital Nomads use hospitality services like Airbnb. It’s great for covering short-term stays, or the first days in a new location. From there, they can explore cheaper alternatives locally. The same goes for hotels and hostels.
A large number of Digital Nomads work from their accommodation. It’s cheaper than the alternatives and makes for a quiet and private work environment.
About half of Digital Nomads work from cafés and coworking spaces for a variety of reasons such as meeting new friends, networking, or just getting some highly focused and productive work done.
Nomad List is a well-known resource for Digital Nomads. It lists all the popular cities around the world for living and working remotely. There is plenty of related information like internet speed, estimated cost of living, popularity, and safety.
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Below are some of the most-frequented destinations among Digital Nomads in no particular order. The list is based mostly on the frequency that the cities have been mentioned in social media. Popularity, according to Nomad List, is used as an additional indication:
- Canggu & Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
- Chiang Mai & Bangkok, Thailand
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Berlin, Germany
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- San Francisco, USA
- Seoul, South Korea
- London, United Kingdom
- Budapest, Hungary
- Medellín, Columbia
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Tenerife & Gran Canaria, Spain
- Barcelona, Spain
International tax is a complicated matter for Digital Nomads, so Nomadic Report asks them where they’re currently paying taxes.
The majority still pays taxes back in their “home country.” That’s probably a safe bet before going down the rabbit hole of tax residency.
It’s worth noting that the USA is the only major country that taxes its citizens worldwide, so it’s independent of where in the world they live. For them, paying taxes in their home country is usually obligatory.
I’ll add more information to this article as it becomes available.
More questions I’d like to have answered in a structured quantitative way:
- By what means do Digital Nomads earn money?
- What are the reasons Digital Nomads live and stick with that lifestyle?
- How many families travel, and with how many kids of what ages?
In the meantime, check out the following discussion on Digital Nomadism. It was hosted by the Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN). They look at the lifestyle from different angles and cover many important topics.
The numbers indicate, and from experience, I can confirm that Digital Nomads are a very diverse crowd.
I’ve met citizens from many countries — not just from Western Europe and the USA. From young to old. Married, with a partner, solo and complicated. Even families with kids. From fast-moving to multi-national expats. From grinding to wealthy. With totally different jobs and daily lives.
Sometimes they’re even unaware of the term Digital Nomad, and that they live quite differently than most other people. They just do it.
Digital Nomads are a highly diverse crowd. Any attempt to put them into a box will ultimately fail.
Now, let’s dive into the upsides of Digital Nomadism to see why it’s so alluring.
Continue reading in Part 4: The Bright Side.