Working Remotely From Another Country: What You Need to Know

If you currently work remotely from Austin, Texas, could you just as easily work remotely from San José, Costa Rica? So-called “digital nomads” make arrangements like this work.

What Is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is a person who earns a living working online while traveling. Rather than being in a fixed spot and working locally, they may choose to work remotely in a different country. According to, being a digital nomad is challenging, yet rewarding, and involves at least partial work online in various fields, such as content creation, tech or consulting. Teaching English online is another popular option for digital nomads. Contracted employees can also be considered digital nomads. There are lots of great options for living and working abroad, even working for a U.S. company while in another country.

According to the MBO Partners 2022 State of Independence research study, 16.9 million American workers identify as digital nomads. This is a 9% increase from 2021 and a 131% increase from before the pandemic in 2019. Also, the number of digital nomads with more traditional jobs, that is, employed full-time by an organization, increased by 9% in 2022. In context, this is in addition to the 42% increase in digital nomads from 2020 to 2021.

How Easy Is It to Work for a U.S. Company While Living Abroad?

One way to ease the process is to negotiate with your current employer to work remotely while abroad. For example, Sarah Zerina Usmen is able to work remotely in visual effects for an advertising company that does a lot of television ads. Usmen oversees freelance talent and motion-graphics artists before delivering the product to the client. In January 2022, as soon as Usmen returned from holiday vacation, she approached her employer with a request to work from abroad in Madeira, Portugal. “I got permission from our HR accounting teams and then my supervisor, and they all signed off on it,” she says. “I got a formal letter saying they were fine with me working remotely, and then I submitted that as part of my visa process.”

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How Long Does It Take to Switch to Working Abroad?

Living in Portland, Oregon, and making the move to Funchal in Madeira, Portugal, took Usmen months to arrange. By March, Usmen had an interview at SEF, the Portuguese Immigration and Border Service. “It was gathering all the documents, getting bank accounts set up, getting pay stubs, permission, FBI clearance, all these things,” she says. “They have to check your criminal record, do your fingerprints, everything.” So if you’re applying for a visa, be prepared for that as well. After everything is submitted, then you wait for approval. Once Usmen finally arrived in Madeira in June, ready to work, she encountered a local digital nomad community that was already well-established.

What Kind of Visa Should You Get?

Usmen advises that potential digital nomads do their homework first before starting their own visa timeline. To live in Portugal, Usmen has a D7 visa, which allows her to stay longer than just three months. For her visa application, she was required to submit bank account information, pay stubs and tax returns.

Annika De Maeyer, managing director of Overseas Interpreting, advises U.S. citizens be careful about visas when it comes to the 26-country Schengen zone in Europe. Overseas Interpreting is a London- and Malta-based company that provides communication solutions for academics and professionals who are deaf. “U.S. citizens can enter the Schengen zone for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Know the rules so you don’t get banned from re-entering a Schengen country,” wrote De Maeyer in an email. This could have implications for your work visa. More recommendations for navigating Schengen countries can be found on the State Department website.

Where Can You Find Child Care in Another Country?

After Usmen arrived, it took about a month to get settled in the digital nomad community and then network to find daily child care for her son. “It was really hard the first month because we were still on waitlists for day care and finding nannies as well. … So getting on websites and asking digital nomads’ families, ‘Who would you recommend?’ That process of sourcing people took a month,” she says. Digital nomads with school-aged children have the option of sending them to local schools that are taught in Portuguese or sending them to international schools.

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What if You Can’t Work Remotely?

How you work remotely differs from employer to employer. And, of course, not every job can go remote. “My partner actually left his job in Portland, because you can’t do his job remotely. It’s being in a lab and working with materials and you can’t bring your materials home,” Usmen says. With a residency card in Portugal, it’s possible to look for local jobs that aren’t remote, but that takes time. Do your research about non-remote work that may be available to you.

What Are Other Options for Working Abroad?

Language interpreting jobs are another option that will allow you to work from another country. For example, Overseas Interpreting provides sign language interpreting services throughout the world, with 80% of its assignments in European countries. It has two bases of operations, one in Malta and one in London, and it is opening a new physical office in Valencia, Spain. De Maeyer says most of the international sign language interpreters work as freelancers and get into the profession almost by chance, as there is no formal training. “We are trying to change this and ensure more access is provided internationally by also encouraging interpreters from underprivileged groups, including Global South and BIPOC interpreters,” De Maeyer says.

For a job like this, the company looks for workers who have previously traveled or lived abroad to match the needs of its well-traveled, internationally minded clients who are often fluent in more than one sign language. “This means they must have either lived abroad before or at least traveled extensively before joining OI. We value the knowledge of multiple spoken/written and sign languages and the ability to adapt easily both culturally and linguistically,” De Maeyer says.

Challenges Digital Nomads May Face While Abroad

With all this in mind, what are some real challenges digital nomads may face while working abroad?

Cultural differences. De Maeyer explained that in their case, in Spain, things may take longer than you expect. “Things will be different. Accept it and embrace it,” De Maeyer says. “You might think someone is being rude, while they might think you are rude. Give them the benefit of the doubt.” De Maeyer recommends keeping in mind that the culture of a company in another country may also be different.

Language barriers. Learn as much of the local language as possible beforehand to help you navigate life in another country.

Tax rules. Know the U.S. tax rules and see if you have to continue paying U.S. taxes, and how much, worldwide.

Finding co-workers. Identifying people that you can collaborate with professionally and who can support in your job takes effort. “For our staff it is also not always easy to find other signers, so get ready to spend some time finding people who become your peers,” De Maeyer says.

Loneliness. Even if you do not have social support, it’s easier now to find other digital nomads and arrange to meet up online. “It will be lonely. You will be missing many family events and friends’ events,” says De Maeyer. “You will not have a support network readily available. Luckily there are many groups available now, such as on Facebook or other social media platforms where expats share information.”

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Some Benefits You’ll Find

Given the challenge you’ll face as a digital nomad, what are some of the positive aspects you can look forward to?

More events post-COVID-19. Things have picked back up post-COVID, so there are more opportunities to meet your digital nomad neighbors as well as the locals. “Luckily post-COVID there are also many more events again that you can join,” De Maeyer says. “Meeting many people from different backgrounds and walks of life will enrich you in a way you never imagined.”

Working from tourist spots. Digital nomads also benefit from tourist venues that may be open at later hours. This helps with working odd hours across international time zones. “There’s a lot of restaurants that are open until like 11 p.m. or midnight,” Usmen says. “I don’t know if they’re catering to tourists in general … but digital nomads gravitate to those places to accommodate their own hours.”

Support from established digital nomad communities. An existing digital nomad community offers support, advice and stability. Initially, Usmen felt some anxiety going to Madeira, but now that she’s arrived, there’s a feeling of normalcy. “It’s really interesting because other people in the U.S. (say) ‘Oh, that’s so weird,’ or ‘That’s so cool, so different.’ But when I’m here, a lot of people around me are also doing that so it doesn’t seem weird at all.” Usmen’s co-workers in the U.S. sometimes wonder about the time difference for meetings, or about her working late hours, but Usmen says she’s not the only one. “I’ve been doing this, this is fine and everybody is working in international time zones anyway. It’s fun, I’m totally used to it.”

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