Written by Emilie Brunet on June 12, 2023
As much as I despise the term digital nomad (not sure why, I just do!), I have to admit that I am one. Well, some might argue that since I have a permanent address in Montreal and live here 6+ months of the year, that I’m not technically a “real” digital nomad, but that’s just semantics. Journey Education, the parent company of the Concordia Bootcamps brand is a 100% completely remote organization. The founder and the vast majority of the team is based out of Montreal, but we all work from home. Or… home-ish. In the time that I’ve worked for Journey, I’ve lived and worked in Toronto, Ottawa, Lisbon (Portugal), London (UK) and most recently, Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
When people hear that I travel while working full-time, they immediately want to know how they can transition into that world. And look, I’m not going to lie, it’s freakin’ awesome. There’s a specific joy that fills your heart when you’re working under a palm tree with your toes in the sand as opposed to under harsh lighting in an uncomfortably air conditioned office.
But there are a few misconceptions about becoming a digital nomad that often leads to people making mistakes in their transition to working abroad. Let’s take a look at a few common myths that I run into as both an HR manager and digital nomad when I talk to people about transitioning to working abroad full-time.
When looking for companies that will allow them to work abroad, one of the biggest mistakes I see is people assuming that working abroad and working remotely are the same thing. They aren’t.
While working remotely has become more and more common since the pandemic, this concept is still very widely misunderstood. As a People & Culture Manager (fancy modern way of saying HR Manager), I’m deeply familiar with the weird laws and regulations around remote working vs. working abroad.
So here’s the bad news: most companies still require you to have a permanent home address in the country the company operates out of. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick to Canada-specific. Most companies require you to have a Canadian permanent address even if it’s a remote work position.
This means that while you can go and travel abroad for part of the year, it doesn’t mean you can do so all the time.
Other companies might require that you come in for in-person events once every month or quarter (at Journey Education we’ve recently begun doing quarterly in-person meetings) or that you can work remotely from home, but if they need you in the office you need to come in with a few days notice.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible or that there’s never room for negotiation, it’s just important to ask. When you’re applying for “remote work” jobs, get clarity about what that actually requires in terms of where you need to be working from.
Every company is different and in fact, every country you visit has different laws around taxes, employee safety, and confidentiality. It’s important to do your research and talk to the company you work for (or are applying for).
Like I said earlier, every company and every country is different. Depending on your own country's laws, and the laws of the country you are visiting, you will have to organize for work visas and consider tax implications when working abroad.
I’m privileged enough to have a dual citizenship for both Slovenia (in the European Union) and Canada. Which means that I can work anywhere in the European Union for any length of time. But that’s not the case for everyone. When you’re looking to work in a different country, you need to do your research. Some countries require you to get a "digital nomad" visa, and others are fine with remote working on a tourist visa. Some have a cap on the amount of time you can work there, others have a cap on the amount of money you can make there. Each country has its own laws both around working and taxes.
A simple Google search of, "remote working in [name of country]" can get you a lot of the answers you're looking for, however I suggest getting in touch with the local Canadian embassy in the country you're hoping to work from.
Yes, there’s no denying that a strong, reliable internet connection is the absolute most integral part of working abroad. However, “having internet” is just one aspect of your ability to work from anywhere!
You also need to consider:
These are just a few things that need to be integral in your ability to work remotely. Because let’s face it, you could arguably get away with just “working from anywhere” but the worse your set up is, the less likely your manager is going to let you do it again in the future.
It’s all about proving that you can and will do productive, reliable work while sipping coffee out of a coconut under a palm tree (has anyone had coffee from a coconut, is that good?)
If your company requires you to work Eastern Standard Hours, you might want to take a moment to think about it before hopping on a plane to go work from Bali for a month. As a rule of thumb, I aim not to be in a timezone that’s more than 6 hours outside of Eastern Standard Hours. The reason for this is that depending on your job, you usually need to have calls, coordinate with your coworkers and just generally be available for people during the company’s primary work hours (this isn’t the case for every job but most jobs require you to have at least a few hours of overlap).
Bali, Indonesia has a 12-hour time difference with Eastern Canada. Which means when your coworkers are opening their laptops up at 9am, you’re opening yours up to start work at 9pm. This might work for a week... arguably maybe even 2 weeks. But nothing spoils a work from abroad trip quite like never actually seeing the sun that you escaped winter to see in the first place. Sleeping during the nicest parts of the day in order to work through the night isn't exactly ideal work-from-abroad circumstances.
Outside of missing the sun during the day, you’re also coming into your work day with a completely different energy than your colleagues. You’re at the end of the day while they’re at the beginning of theirs.
It’s important to really understand yourself, when you’re most productive, when you need to overlap with your company’s work hours and most importantly, what you’re willing to compromise on if you’re going to be working in a different timezone.
A little bit of a less common myth, but one I think is important to address.
While I already covered the importance of having a permanent address in Canada for tax reasons, having a permanent address is also integral to keeping your health insurance.
Most folks don’t know that your private health insurance through your company is only valid as long as your provincial health insurance is valid. And your provincial health insurance is only valid if you're in Canada for 180 days out of 365 days of the year. Which means you need to be in Canada at least 6 months of the year in order to keep your health insurance. The cost of paying for additional insurance when you don’t have provincial insurance is really high. So, just being mindful of what you’re willing to compromise on in order to chase that work abroad life.
While hostels are a great way to save money as you travel, if you're trying to prioritize still being good at your job (which I encourage you do, so that you still have a job), it's not always the best option. There's often a lot of unforeseen costs to hostels.
In a hostel, you can’t really take private calls in your room (especially if the dude on the top bunk is snoring loudly) so you might need to pay for a membership at a nearby co-working space or at least pay for a few cups of coffee as you work from a local cafe.
If the kitchen in the hostel isn't properly equipped, is always messy or just not big enough, then you'll wind up spending more money on eating out.
If your hostel doesn’t provide coffee or give you good tools to make coffee from the kitchen or your room, then depending on your caffeine addiction level (I write as my hands shake from my 4th cup of coffee today) then you’ll need to be spending money daily on coffee.
In an absolute worst case scenario, one that I am unfortunate to say that I have personal experience in, depending on the cleanliness and cheapness of your hostel, you might just end up with certain creatures in your room which will either make it hard for you to sleep or might result in you having to change hostels (which might cut into a workday or your budget).
I love hostels for travelling. I think they are a great way to meet people and a super affordable way to make exploring the world accessible to more people. But it’s not always the best choice if you’re planning to work abroad.
I usually suggest booking a co-living space, so you still have access to community or at least booking a private room in a hostel so you still have access to a private space to work.
Given all of this myth-busting, consider the following:
These questions will help get you started, but if you want more you can download our PDF: 27 questions you need answers to before asking your employer to work abroad below.
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I'm the People & Culture Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.
Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!
My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.