Digital Nomad Visas and Currency Exchange Challenges: Hidden Costs of Going Remote, Part 1

When we think about the relative costs of going remote, we usually add up the costs of airfare, accommodation, workspace, and food. Then we add a little extra for enjoying the nomad experience. But there are many travel and work expenses that aspiring digital nomads often overlook when crunching the numbers.

1. Visas and Entry/Exit Taxes

Most travelers know they’ll need visas for some destinations. But the costs of those visas can be a surprise. First, there is cost of the visa itself—which can be expensive. And when a third-party company handles a country’s visa process, there’s an extra administrative fee (these can vary based on company, so do your research). Many visas also require photos, and sometimes it seems like every country has a different requirement for size, background color, and whether you can smile or not. You may also need to pay an entry tax or fee at the border. This might be included in the visa costs, or may be due in cash on arrival. Many countries also charge an exit tax of some kind, and when this levy is not included in your airfare, you’ll need cash at passport control. And don’t forget, when your travels fill up the pages of your passport, you’ll need to pay for a new one!

2. Currency Exchange

There are many apps that will give you the most current rates of exchange on the world currency market, but setting your budget based on these rates is a mistake. No one in real life pays the basic trading rate. Financial institutions set their own rates, and many charge additional fees when exchanging currency. This is true when you exchange cash, but also when using credit cards or online payment systems and transfer services.

Even if your bank doesn’t charge you for international ATM withdrawals, the local ATM fees in some countries can really add up. Experienced travellers and nomads pay close attention to exchange rates and maximize their ATM withdrawals to limit the fees. A pre-loaded travel money card can help guard against fluctuations in exchange rates, but no matter how you get your money, you will pay a premium when exchanging or converting currency.

3. Airport Transfer

Taxis to and from airports can be surprisingly expensive, even in relatively inexpensive destinations. Airports are often very far outside your destination city, and drivers must often pay a surcharge to the airport. In some cities, you may need to arrange a private transfer in advance for security reasons or because you’ll be arriving late a night. There are often cheaper options, such as public buses, but these can be difficult for non-locals to navigate and may take too much time to be practical. When returning to an airport, you are a motivated buyer—airport transfer services and taxi companies often set high rates knowing you have a flight to catch. These costs can add up quickly, especially if you travel frequently.

4. Travel Hiccups

When you decide that you just have to stay on your island paradise for another month, there’s a cost to change your ticket. When you read the dates wrong and book a budget airfare to your conference on the wrong date, you’ll probably have to buy a new ticket outright. If there’s a railway strike and the buses are all booked, you may need to rent a car to make sure you don’t miss your cannot-be-missed flight.

Your passport may be stolen, or you may lose your credit card. And what if there’s a blizzard, or a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a coup d’etat, or heaven forbid, a terrorist incident? From minor inconveniences to dangerous security threats, many things can get in the way of your nomadic life, and that usually requires some kind of extra expense. When estimating the costs of going remote, you should set aside an emergency fund for contingencies.

Have you ever had an unexpected cost in your digital nomad life? How did it effect your plans?

[This is the first post of the hidden costs of going remote series. For the second one, go here and for the third one here.]

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