How to be a Digital Nomad in Southeast Asia

Beach in Thailand on a budget

Want to become a digital nomad? We share how to be a digital nomad in Southeast Asia, so you can live & work in amazing Southeast Asia.

What is a digital nomad?

The term ‘digital nomad’ refers to a person who works remotely and lives a nomadic lifestyle where they’re constantly travelling to new places. This means that as long as you have an internet connection, you can work anywhere you want in the world. Imagine setting up your laptop at a beach café or sitting at a desk in a hotel room overlooking the sea. Sound appealing? Then why not abandon your 9-5 office job and live the life you’ve always dreamed of? We share how to become a digital nomad but also experiences of many who live and work abroad

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Why Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is a very popular destination for digital nomads. It’s also a bit of a cliche for young people to go backpacking in this part of the world. But who can blame them? Southeast Asia has warm weather, stunning beaches, interesting cultures and also a much lower cost of living compared to many Western countries. 

Thanks to the rise of remote work, it’s now easier than ever to pack up and leave without disrupting your job, or even your own business. So, if you’d like to become a digital nomad in Southeast Asia, here are the most important tips to help you achieve this goal. 

Become a digital nomad

Accounting as a digital nomad

When you’re working or running your business in Southeast Asia as a digital nomad, you’ll need to keep your accounts running smoothly by making all your finances digital. In particular, you should get yourself some accounting software to keep detailed records ready for any audit that may pop up. 

Use a UK VAT Calculator to ensure you’re paying the right amount of tax and stay up to date with all your tax payments, which will be hugely helpful when filing your annual tax return – if you’ve paid the right amount of tax throughout the year, then you are much more likely to find yourself getting a hefty tax rebate from your business expenses.

Finances are definitely something that should all be conducted via the internet for both security and accuracy purposes. It’s much harder to monitor payments if they’re just coming in as bank transfers and harder to keep records if you have to do it manually as you’re opening yourself up to the risk of human error. For example, you may miss transactions or type numbers incorrectly.

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Getting a visa as a digital nomad

To live and work in Southeast Asia as a digital nomad, you’ll need to get a visa. Many digital nomads obtain tourist visas to live in Southeast Asia, but since these visas don’t permit work during your stay, this is actually illegal. 

Digital nomad in Southeast Asia

If you want to avoid legal issues, you should get a visa that allows you to work within the country. For example, if you want to go to Malaysia to start a business, you could take advantage of the Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Programme (MTEP). With this programme, you could get a year’s residency for the equivalent of 600 US dollars by starting a new business in Malaysia. This stay can be extended to five years if you have an established business and the equivalent of 1,200 US dollars.

If you want to start a business and be a digital nomad in Singapore, then you can obtain an EntrePass visa if you fulfil a few requirements. In Cambodia, there are a couple of visas you can get that permit work, but in Thailand, the rules for foreigners working within the country are generally quite strict, so you’ll need to do a considerable amount of research to learn what you can and can’t do according to the law. 

Wherever you’re hoping to go in Southeast Asia, you must research visa options and the laws of the countries before you travel. This will prevent you from getting into legal trouble.

Respecting the community

Sometimes, digital nomads can get a bad reputation for not trying to be part of the local community and not contributing to the country’s economy, making them a drain on resources.

If you want to defy this trend and respect the community you’re joining, then there are a few things you should do. First of all, you could learn some phrases in your country of choice’s official language to help you get by. Then, you need to research the culture and customs of the country you’re going to live in. For example, in many Southeast Asian countries, it’s respectful to always take your shoes off inside, especially if you’re visiting a temple, so you should bear this in mind to avoid offending people. Additionally, you should always show particular respect to older people.

Although there are some common customs across Southeast Asia, each country has its own unique culture and societal norms. In Thailand, you should never make disrespectful comments about the royal family in public, and in Indonesia, you should never shake someone’s hand or give them something with your left hand. To uphold standards of cleanliness in the streets, chewing gum and littering are banned in Singapore.

In addition to following these customs and becoming part of the community, you should try to contribute to the local economy. You can do this by shopping at local markets and eating at small, independent restaurants. 

Singapore visitor visa

Communication as a Digital Nomad

When you’re working remotely as a digital nomad, you need to maintain strong communication with others. Luckily, you can get a good internet connection in Southeast Asia – in particular, Singapore has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world, and countries like Malaysia and Thailand also rank highly.

With these fast internet speeds, you’ll be able to keep up with your work and easily stay in touch with your colleagues, friends and family. However, if you’ll be moving around a lot and you’re worried about maintaining communication, you can use Wi-Fi calling and get yourself a portable hotspot to stay on top of your incoming emails. You should also stick to scheduled meetings as much as possible so you can prepare ahead of time.

As a digital nomad, you should also remember time zone differences across Southeast Asia and the rest of the world when you schedule meetings, make calls and send out any correspondence. You could seriously damage your professional relationships if you consistently call people in the middle of the night because you forgot about the time difference. 

If you are struggling to maintain good communication and find yourself up at all hours trying to keep in touch with everyone, then consider having days or hours in which you are “on-call.” Be realistic about when you will be reachable and let others know when they will be able to contact you – this will relieve a lot of pressure on you and will free up the rest of your time to focus on your projects without interruption.

Ultimately, becoming a digital nomad in Southeast Asia, or anywhere in the world, requires a lot of planning and preparation. However, once you’ve sorted out your visa, cultural research and finances, you can begin your digital nomad journey and live a life free of the constraints of a 9-5 job!

Helpful resources

Travel essentials:

What to pack

How to visit Thailand

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