Expat or Digital Nomad? How To Make The Right Choice


Both digital nomads and expats have one thing in common – they live abroad. Beyond that, there are a few differences between the two lifestyles, and if you are considering upping and moving from your home country, it would do you well to know the difference. 

Expats or expatriates reside in a country other than their native land, and usually for long periods of time. Their main priority is working over travel. On the other hand, digital nomads savour travel over their work, and tend to move between locations frequently. 

Commonly, expats are professionals, skilled workers, or artists who have taken a position outside of their homebase country independently or sent by their employers. Although they like to travel, expats usually want to take up roots for a certain period. Many expats plan to stay put in their chosen country, and most of them actually meet their partners there and eventually start a family. Most of them become migrants or take up citizenship in their expatriate countries. 

On the other hands, digital nomads rarely stay in same place for an extended period, spending several weeks or months in a country before moving onto the next. The keyword here is digital; because their work can be conducted remotely, digital nomads take the opportunity to move from one place to another.

When deciding which is the more suitable lifestyle choice for you, ask yourself the following questions before you take the leap. 

Do you rely on a strong circle of friends? Can you be alone? 

Expats generally have more stability in both their career and social life, since they are rooted in one place and have the opportunity to build roots. This gives them ample opportunity to build lasting relationships, which is a crucial factor to some. On the other hand, whilst digital nomads meet a much larger variety of people, they will often find themselves having to say goodbye to their new friends. In fact, unless you’re traveling with someone else, life as a digital nomad can get lonely. Ask yourself if you are the sort of person who is comfortable being alone for large periods of time, or whether you need a strong circle of friends for support. 

How adaptable are you to new cultures?

It’s not always easy to learn and adapt to a new culture, and this is something which digital nomads often don’t have so much time to do. As soon as they’ve learnt some of the important phrases and details of a country, they will soon find themselves in a completely different location with different cultures and norms. Being adaptable is an important skill for digital nomads to learn. Meanwhile, expats can take the time to immerse themselves in the new culture, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of all the little details. Learning another language is a great benefit of being an expat, though this aspect can also bring about some difficulties when first settling into a new country. Locals often tend to expect expats to adopt the language and cultures quickly, while digital nomads might have more flexibility in being excused for not knowing so. With expats, familiarity will grow. With digital nomads, you continuously have to be aware of different norms, and comfortable with not understanding everything. 

What are your goals? 

You’ll find that the ambition for many expats is either to pursue a certain career path or to embrace life in a certain country they have a passion for. Digital nomads are usually travel-hungry, eager to explore new places, learn new cultures and pick up varied experiences, putting work secondary. 

What are your skills and job prospects? 

It goes without saying; it helps to have certain skills to be able to work remotely as a digital nomad, particularly digital skills. It’s not viable to be traveling when you are, for example, a teacher – though you can still live somewhere other than your own country. Don’t just worry about your past job experiences, think about the skills you are willing to learn when deciding what’s best for you – you’re never too late to change your life. 

Related: Jobs You Can Do From Anywhere in the World

How much do you like to travel? 

Expats often have holidays just like those living in their home country; although these holidays might be taken up visiting their home country, which limits their opportunities to travel beyond their home base and home country. Digital nomads, on the other hand, are constantly traveling, which might dissipate the entire thrill of taking a holiday altogether, since work and holidays tend to blur into one. 

How much do you value material things? 

When you have a homebase, you can spend the time and care in building a home which is a reflection of who you are. As a digital nomad, it helps to own as few things as possible. When digital nomads settle down for a couple months at a time, it financially makes more sense to purchase second-hand goods, or to settle in a place that already provides for your needs, which limits your options for preferences. Is it important to you to have things which you can call your own, or would you rather trade personal belongings for experiences? 

To wrap up, whilst there are some distinct differences between being an expat and a digital nomad, the definitions should by no means limit you from attaining a balance and lifestyle that you want to achieve. If you’ve been stuck in one place too long, follow your passions. Both paths can be equally fulfilling and rewarding. Your answers to these questions should help give you a better understanding of the pros and cons of each that are personal to you. 

If you prefer stability in work, social life, housing, and relationships, you may choose to move to a fixed location and create a new homebase. Putting down roots and immersing yourself in a new culture and country would be better suited for you as you start your expat life. If you are an adventurer and traveling is your friend, then you are fit to be a digital nomad. There may be some hardships in this lifestyle in building relationships, but it also opens the opportunity to meet new people. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference. Don’t be so stringent on definitions, either – find a balance that works best for you. Just so you know, the internet has already begun labelling the “Digital Expats”.

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