Watch CBS News

"Digital nomads" chase thrills by fusing work and foreign travel

The rise of "digital nomads"
The Shifting Workplace: Remote work sparks a surge in "digital nomads" 07:11

When you can work from anywhere, why stay home? 

Workers who aren't tethered to an office, who effectively have the ability to bring their jobs with them around the world, are doing just that. 

More Americans who aren't keen on working from their kitchens or living rooms are securing temporary visas that give them the freedom to travel and explore, while remaining employed. Portugal is one popular destination for these so-called digital nomads for a number of reasons. It has reliable Wi-Fi access, a low cost of living and close proximity to other European countries, making side trips easy.

After working from home in San Diego, Kendall Lobo, a remote employee for a California-based financial technology firm, quickly realized she could do her job from almost anywhere she wanted. 

"I can do the exact same job from a completely different country," she told CBS News foreign correspondent Ramy Inocencio.

Surf's up

Now, Lobo's daily routine includes spending most mornings at the beach, surfing three to four times a week, before she boots up her laptop and reports for duty.

She keeps California hours, which means her workday begins at 3:30 p.m. Lisbon time and ends at 11:00 p.m.

"I have the morning and the whole day to explore, do whatever. And if I'm traveling, then I'll take like a morning flight so that by 3 p.m. I can be working," Lobo said. 

There are a few reasons why it made sense to keep working for an American firm while living in Europe, she explained. "The first one was a lot of people didn't want to hire an American because of visa issues. The second was the Portuguese salaries are a lot lower than what I could make with the US job."

Although it took several months, Lobo was able to secure a visa that allows her to live and work in Portugal. Except for her surfboard, she travels light. 

"The biggest thing that I own is that surfboard right there, and I brought that blanket also," she said. 

"People come and go"

Lobo's cost of living in Lisbon, which includes renting a furnished Airbnb unit, is modest. That leaves room in her budget for travel, which she couldn't afford while living stateside. Her other costs, like public transportation and food, are also lower. 

Having only recently moved to Portugal and being new to the community, Lobo acknowledges feeling isolated at times. But it's nice making local and roving friends alike, she said. 

"The thing about being a digital nomad is people come and they go, you know, so it kind of depends what you're looking for and like when you connect more in the community, then there's more sense of stability," she said. "Whereas if you're looking for a friend for your next adventure, then maybe the nomad community is better."

Remote work costing Manhattan more than $12 billion per year 04:51

How long in one place?

Freelance software engineer David Tan, who lives in Bangkok, Thailand, has long enjoyed the perks of being able to work from anywhere for extended periods of time. 

"I think for a lot of nomads, the sweet spot is anywhere from 1 to 3 months," Tan told CBS News. 

Since 2019, he's lived in 15 different countries across five continents. Tan said his travels have allowed him to build a personal and professional network that spans the globe. 

"If you were to say to me any city, I could tell you someone that's there right now," he said. 

Tan noticed more people coming to appreciate the perks of lifestyles like his. 

"Before the pandemic, I think being a nomad was more of a fringe thing," Tan said. "But I think with COVID, it accelerated everything. It's never been easier to be a nomad just because there's so many services catered to nomads."

Tan also said he spends less in rent — not even $500 a month — than he did when he was living in San Francisco, where he estimates an equivalent unit could cost up to $4,000 per month. 

Inequality concerns

Although living abroad can be exciting and fulfilling for digital nomads, an influx of people earning U.S. salaries moving to more affordable cities like Lisbon can drive up prices for local residents, whose pay is typically far lower. 

Portuguese labor historian Raquel Varela is concerned about Americans with more buying power exacerbating issues such as housing affordability. She said it's incumbent upon local governments to protect their own citizens while encouraging digital nomads to make temporary homes in their countries, which can benefit local economies. 

Overall, she sees the recent infusion of people from different cultures into her country and others as a good thing.

"You want to know other countries, you want to know other people," Varela said. "This is incredibly positive."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.