Everything You Wanted to Know About Nomading (But Were Afraid to Ask)
Do we pay taxes? Can you be a nomad if you only speak English? Other than Airbnb, how do you find lodging?
We get a lot of questions about our lives as digital nomads, and not surprisingly, the same questions come up over and over.
Here are some of the most frequent:
How many languages do you speak? Could I travel like you do if I only speak English?
Michael speaks some Russian, and I studied French in school — but I remember virtually nothing. I’ve been Duolingo-ing Spanish for three years, and we also lived in Mexico for almost a year, but my Spanish is still terrible. Basically, I really suck at languages.
And honestly? It hasn’t mattered.
My lack of language proficiency was one of my big concerns when we first left America. It was partly that I hated confirming the stereotype of the American-who-only-speaks-English, but it was also more practical. How would I understand people in other countries?
In fact, our first international nomad destination was Malta, precisely because I knew they spoke English there (in addition to Maltese).
Since then, I’ve learned that English has basically become the “default” language of the world. English is widely spoken throughout Europe. In fact, living in Switzerland, I was shocked to learn that while the country’s four national languages are French, Italian, German, and Romansh, the language they all use to communicate with each other is…English!
In 2022, almost every country on Earth realizes that if you want a piece of America’s massive economic pie, you need to speak English. This is especially true among those under thirty.
Yes, we have lived in a few places where English isn’t widely known — Vietnam and Southern Italy. But even there, there was almost always an English speaker nearby.
And we live in the era of Google Translate, where rapid text or audio translation is always only an app away.
That said, the stereotype that French are jerks to English-speaking Americans is true.
You’ve said you don’t use Airbnb. So how do you find places to stay?
First, despite its problems, we do sometimes use Airbnb — though we’re more likely to use Booking.com (because of its much better cancellation policies, and we think the customer service is better too). We also live part of the year on cruise ships.
But we’ve also found apartments through contacts we’ve made on Facebook and other social media. And we rely on word-of-mouth from other nomads and traveling friends.
I know this all sounds fairly mysterious, but it’s really not. If you do choose to become a long-term traveler, you’ll quickly meet lots of people, and opportunities for lodging will just sort of present themselves.
In the meantime, don’t stress too much about using Airbnb. Yes, it’s possible to find cheaper lodging elsewhere, but Airbnb is convenient, and they do a lot of vetting.
That’s what you’re paying for, and it’s fine if you think that’s worth it.
What do you do for medical and dental care?
Here’s a more detailed look at our health care situation, but in a nutshell: we keep a (subsidized) Obamacare “bronze” policy as kind of a catastrophic American policy, and we also carry a SafetyWing travel insurance policy for any on-the-road emergencies.
But all of our medical (and dental and optical) care to date has been fairly minor, and we’ve mostly paid out-of-pocket. There are definitely local issues to be aware of — certain medical scams in Thailand, for example — but our experience so far has been that our care has been excellent everywhere, and the facilities have always been very modern.
Alas, it’s not that medical care is fantastic for everyone throughout the world. It’s more that — as completely unfair as this is — everywhere we’ve traveled, there’s been at least one private hospital that caters to “rich” Westerners like us. Even so, from our point of view, prices have been extremely reasonable — anywhere from one-fifth to one-twentieth what we might have to pay in America (given our insane Obamacare deductibles). For example, we’ve never paid more than fifty dollars for a top-of-the-line teeth cleaning and examination — something that would cost at least three hundred dollars back in Seattle. A pair of lenses with trendy frames cost $100 in Istanbul.
And yes, English has always been spoken in all these places.
In terms of prescriptions, we have a primary physician in America (as part of our Obamacare plan), and we go home at least once a year to get check-ups and have our prescriptions refilled. Our doctor allows “vacation refills,” which lets us fill our prescriptions for an entire year at one time.
Do you pay taxes?
We absolutely pay all legal taxes. That said, you can definitely pay very low taxes by nomading — and it’s entirely legal.
In most countries, you are not required to pay local taxes unless you stay there more than a hundred and eighty days. Meanwhile, back in America, there is something called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (or FEIE) which allows you to exclude from your federal taxes up to $112,000 (for 2022) of your earnings while living overseas.
So if you’re American, and you stay for less than three months in any one place, and you make less than $112,000, you pay no income tax.
The catch? You need to be a resident of another country or you need to live in another country or countries for at least 330 days of the year.