Do you think $500 per month income is the bare minimum for a comfortable lifestyle? Is a $1 coffee cheap? Would you call $300 per month for a private room in a gorgeous villa a steal-deal?
Of course, your answer depends on a multitude of factors. But if you keep all the variables constant, you will still get different answers from people from different parts of the world.
Almost everything serious about “working + travelling” lifestyle is written, said and discussed from a Western point of view. Here’s an account of what’s it like being a digital nomad from a developing country.
Back in India
Just over a year ago when I was in university in Kolkata (India), I was paying less than $3 per month for my tuition fee, $30 per month for a shared apartment, 30 cents (minimum) for a meal in small restaurants, and 12 cents for a bus ride across the city.
The insanely low cost of living in India clouded my sense of ‘money vs value’ when I travelled abroad. I still pay $4 for a cup of coffee. But not before converting local currency into Indian Rupees in my head and pondering, for a moment, about how much it would have cost back home.
If you have ever wondered why the majority of location independent freelancers, entrepreneurs and remote workers are from the West, this is the primary reason: they are in a better position to leverage the difference of purchasing power. The average pay in developing countries is so less that it’s difficult for an average person to lead a location independent lifestyle for a sustained period.
I realised early into my career that working with local clients wasn’t an option for me. I thought I had deciphered the puzzle, except, I didn’t. Coming from a developing country, finding quality clients from the US, Europe or Australia was a huge challenge. Once, a prospect tried to lower my rate to 1/3 of what we initially agreed when she found I am an Indian.
The work and money issue can be resolved. But not my passport. Except for a few African, South-East Asian and small island countries, I can count the number of countries I can visit visa-free/visa-on-arrival/e-visa on my fingers. I have to provide a detailed cover letter, bank statement and confirmed return tickets and accommodation proof while applying for visas to most countries. And I have to apply for the visa from their respective embassies which is 400 km away from my home. I envy my Western friends who can be so flexible in planning their trips.
Okay…enough ranting and whining. The point of this article is not to complain but to point out how digital nomad lifestyle is different for western and non-western citizens. And why there are so less digital nomads from the developing world. I would have loved to shed some light on the advantages of being a non-westerner over a westerner but I couldn’t think of any.
Do these issues bother me? Definitely. However, I don’t think I have a critical disadvantage in any way. I’ve access to the internet like every digital nomad. If I have the skills to get things done – no matter which country I grew up in. If planned smartly, visas are not much of a hassle either. These issues don’t warrant excuses for not designing the life you want.