I make up to $50,000 a year as a digital nomad. Find out how much digital nomads make while traveling the world.
When I tell people that I work online while travelling, there is always the same question – ‘How much do digital nomads make?’
I don’t mind this question because there isn’t much information on the internet about the average digital nomad income.
Some websites will tell you that all the highest paid digital nomads are earning $100,000+ a month! But other blogs are claiming that the digital nomad salary is more like $1000/month.
The true digital nomad income is probably a lot more ‘normal’ than you would think. The top paying digital nomads tend to be jobs like programmer, bloggers, or remote workers.
How Do Digital Nomads Make Money?
The aim of Your Green Grass Project is to encourage more people to get started working online. And to do that, there needs to be more transparency about digital nomads’ salaries.
Therefore, this post is an honest look at my digital nomad salary journey right from the beginning. From how much money I made at the start to how much money I am currently making.
My Digital Nomad Story
Back in 2016, I was living in Colombia and working as an ESL teacher.
I had fallen in love with Colombia and I was enjoying a fantastic lifestyle. Unfortunately, a teacher’s salary in Colombia is pretty low. But I wanted to enjoy more freedom to be able to travel more. Pulling up my sleeves, I began thinking of ways to make money online.
2016 – STARTED ON UPWORK
A friend of mine had funded her backpacking trip around South America by freelancing on Upwork. The idea of Upwork really appealed to me, but I felt like I didn’t have any viable skills to offer.
I didn’t have a cool skill like a web developer or content writer. So, I didn’t feel like I was good enough to work online. But, still, I kept looking through the job postings on Upwork. Searching hopefully for any type of work that I felt qualified to do. Then I struck gold!
A new digital marketing agency was searching for someone to perform a simple market research project. THIS I COULD DO!
FREELANCER – MARKET RESEARCH
Growing up my father had run a very successful market research agency.
I had often helped out during my summer holidays doing administrative tasks, but along the way, I had learnt lots.
Feeling confident that I could help this entrepreneur find the information he was looking for, I pitched a proposal. I won the job!
From there, I began marketing myself as a market researcher. I began doing one-off projects for various companies, large and small.
For a day’s work, I would charge $100 or about $15/hour. After Upwork took their commission, I was left with about $70-80 or $10-12/hour.
$10/hour is not very much in the UK, but $10/hour is considered a good salary in many developing countries. In Colombia, where I was living, $10/hour is more than enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. This was enough to motivate me to keep working online.
ONE-OFF PROJECTS VS STEADY WORK
The problem with project work is that it didn’t provide me with a steady income. A lot of time had to be spent searching for jobs. Then I would have to craft a unique proposal before negotiating with the client.
This could take a few days each time. And I wasn’t paid for this time. With project work, I could earn about $1500/month but there was a lot of unpaid hours spent searching. Something needed to change.
FINDING STEADY WORK ON UPWORK
I resolved to find a couple of steady part-time gigs to do alongside the project work. Virtual Assistant work seemed like the most viable option for someone like me without any specialized skills.
After a couple of weeks of searching, I managed to secure myself three steady part-time jobs!
1. Virtual assistant for a Vice-President at VICE Media.
2. Market Research for a software company in the USA
3. Administrative support for a small techforgood charity in the UK
Between these three part-time jobs, I was working an average of 25-40 hours a week and earning between $1400-1600/month
A BREAKDOWN OF HOW MUCH A DIGITAL NOMAD MAKES IN THE FIRST YEAR
The pay wasn’t great. Between $10-14/hour. But I didn’t care!
With these three jobs, I was able to earn about $400-500/week (before Upwork fees). And after Upwork took their cut, my digital nomad salary was about $350-400/week.
This was more than enough for me to live comfortably in Colombia where my expenses were about $1000/month.
This included renting my own small apartment in a safe neighbourhood, paying for health insurance and putting aside money for taxes as a self-employed freelancer. Once my bills were paid, I was still able to eat out most nights and enjoy a very active social life.
As my expenses weren’t very high in Colombia, I was able to save about $400-500/month.
Saving $500/month allowed me to fly to England every few months to spend time with my family. Finally, I was making money as a digital nomad with a real salary! I was legit!
INCREASING UPWORK RATES OVERTIME
As outlined above, in my first year of working online, my digital nomad salary was about $1600/month. But, over time, my confidence grew and I gradually kept increasing my fees on Upwork.
My rate increased from $15/hour to $25/hour.
However, some of my original clients still paid the lower rates of $15/hour. So this meant my salary was very varied!
TAKING WORK OFF THE UPWORK PLATFORM
Another key point to make here is how it is better to take your work off freelancing platforms. Cut out the middle man. Working with clients directly allowed me to earn a lot more because I didn’t have to pay any commission.
After a year and a half of freelancing, my digital nomad salary was a steady $3000 per month. Some weeks, I would only work my steady gigs. Other weeks, I would take on one-off market research projects for an extra $300-500 per project.
Overall, the hours spent working would be between 25-40 per week.
MAKING $50,000 A YEAR AS A DIGITAL NOMAD
After two years, mid-way through 2017/2018 one of my first ever clients contacted me. He owns a digital marketing agency and needed a freelancer to help with their SEO services.
This client knew I had no experience with SEO. However, he was happy to train me up because he knew me to be a reliable and trustworthy freelancer.
I was also able to charge a good fee with him, $25/hour for 12-24 hours a week.
With this new client paying me such a good rate for SEO work, I was able to say goodbye to a couple of my lesser paid gigs. In my third year of freelancing, I was being paid between $25-35/hour. Coupled with the other contracts I had secured, my digital nomad salary was over $50,000!
TIME OVER MONEY
There I was, feeling like the richest girl in the world earning $50,000 a year!
BUT, I was also working incredibly hard. Working as a freelancer was far harder than ever office job I had ever had.
Often, I had to work weekends to make deadlines and there were many late nights spent in front of the computer.
A 40-hour work week as a freelancer is more like a 50-60 hour work week in an office job. You don’t get paid for your toilet breaks, your coffee breaks, time spent chatting to colleagues.
CHOOSING TIME OVER MONEY
Once again, things needed to change. Remember that I was living in Colombia at this time. $50,000 a year was a huge amount!
Time to me is very important. And the weeks where I earnt $1000+ were time-consuming and I was glued to my computer. Over time, I learnt that I would rather earn less and have more free time to enjoy life. In 2019 I decided to move to Brazil for a while.
And the decision was made to let go of most of my freelancing clients, and instead only work 24 hours a week. As my rate was still $25/hour, I was earning about $2500/month.
I gave myself a budget of $1300 per month. With this budget, I am able to rent a private room in a hostel, eat out in delicious restaurants and generally enjoy life to the maximum!
Quality of life is extremely important to me and I like to be able to enjoy hobbies and socialising.
With a digital nomad salary of $2500 in a developing country, I am able to comfortably save $1000+ each month. Over the last few years, I have been able to enjoy a very high quality of life.
I am able to travel when I want, afford luxuries such as shopping trips and generally not worry about money. Most importantly, I am in charge of my time. I love being completely in control of my schedule.
HOW MUCH DO DIGITAL NOMADS MAKE? – CONCLUSION
There is an illusion that making money online happens quickly. But this isn’t true.
Melissa over at Nomad Life 101 has a fantastic post where she breaks down how much she earns and how long it took her. Currently, in 2019, she’s making $3500 a month! Congrats, girl!
It took me time to build up a steady income to get where I am now. One where I am able to save as well as afford a comfortable lifestyle.
That’s why many digital nomads choose to live in countries where the cost of living is lower. How much digital nomads earn is’t solely dependent on what skills they offer.
A digital nomad’s salary also varies greatly depending on how much time they WANT to spend working.
When you are working out how much digital nomads make, you have to consider their lifestyle choices as well. Many might not be earning as much as you think they SHOULD make. But they may not want to make that much.
Lots of people want to learn how to be a digital nomad because they want to travel and enjoy a higher quality of life. To do this you need more free time and most importantly you need to enjoy flexibility in your schedule.
Update March 2020: I recently just did a financial case study interview outlining my current salary over on The Professional Hobo blog.