Health Insurance Considerations for Digital Nomads

Health insurance is something that many young healthy people don’t think about. And many digital nomads are young healthy people, though not all of them are. And if you are from most rich countries you may not think about health insurance as your country makes it pretty easy to just be treated if you have health care needs, without a need to have bought health insurance.

But when you are traveling outside your country health insurance is important. I am not very familiar with the details of how health coverage works for all the different countries so you will have to figure it out for your own country. It wouldn’t amaze me if European countries set up some kind of reciprocal care agreements but I have no idea if they do (they should if they don’t).

In the USA we know what a nightmare health insurance is. The ludicrously expensive USA health care plans generally don’t provide any coverage when you are outside the USA (even inside the USA, but not in your own state there are severe limitations). There are many wonderful things about the USA but the health care system is a nightmare and has been for decades.

If you are going to fly off and become a digital nomad one of the critical items to consider (though many don’t give it the attention it needs) is health insurance. It is true that in many countries you can pay out of your own pocket for health care that would bankrupt you if you used the USA health care system and tried to pay out of your own pocket (tens of thousands of people go bankrupt in the USA due to health costs).

If you use good personal financial planning practices you should have at least 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund (and I would strongly suggest at least a year for any digital nomads). That emergency fund should be able to pay for routine medical visits in many countries (Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore… – I would imagine this is true in most countries, but certainly not the USA.) without a need for health insurance.

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Peer to Peer Car Rental

Turo provides peer to peer car rental in the USA. I have rented cars through them before and have found it useful. A big part of the reason I do so is I find the big rental companies pricing so opaque. And if you want something like an SUV the pricing is often very high through car rental companies.

And it isn’t just the pricing that is opaque through the big rental companies, even the rules are crazy. Some seem to block you from renting if you are local (for example, if you didn’t fly into the city) or if you don’t have car insurance (which I don’t because I don’t own a car). It is all just a lousy customer experience to deal with them.

Toyota Rav 4, Skyline Drive, Virginia

My Toyota Rav 4 on a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

You can also chose to rent out your car through Turo. It isn’t really ideal for doing while you travel overseas, as someone needs to deal with the car (get people the keys, check it out, clean it up…). But if you had a friend that wanted to pick up some spending money maybe you could leave it with them while you travel.

When I went on my oversea travel adventure I sold my car before I left. And actually I still would as I planned to be gone for years. But, if you were doing something like going to South East Asia for 6 months, you could possible have your car earning money while you were gone.

Eventually there might even be model where you can leave your car with a location that deals with arranging pickups etc.. I think that would be a nice addition to this business. I think it is also a pretty good business for Turo also. One big advantage is they can sell insurance at a huge markup (so make lots of money) and they also get a portion of the rental payment (I think 20% of it).

Related: Should I Sell or Keep My House When I Become a Nomad?Transfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And SaveTaxis in Johor BahruMy Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part 2

Economics: Digital Nomads, Visas, Foreign Currency

This is a slighted edited version of my comment to someone asking about countries that have laws specifically detailing digital nomads are allowed to work on tourist visas. My background is in economics and investing based on economic understanding.

The question of digital nomads working encompasses legal questions (do I need a special visa etc.), regulatory realities (regardless of what the law says how is it enforced at the ground level?) and economics (I am talking here about the benefits to the country economically from having digital nomads).

I like the economic thinking that should drive what the government’s wish to accomplish. The prohibition against work on tourist visas makes sense when work is defined as it was historically (being hired by a company in the country that otherwise would have hired a citizen). So when I am thinking about it I find thinking about the macroeconomic level view and how that is manifest in laws and policy. From a practical standpoint of being a digital nomad what really matters is how that all gets filtered down to the government employees on the ground making decisions.

Few laws say what is legal, they normally say what is not. I would imagine few countries specifically say it is legal to do work from another country (as a digital nomad, as a employee answering an business email on their vacation, as a private investor reading the news and using the internet to buy or sell a stock, as a writer writing a book that will be published back home, an entrepreneur refining ideas to launch a new business back home or whatever).

The laws usually are pretty clear you can’t apply for jobs and get hired by a company inside that country to do work in that country on a tourist visa.

“Thailand” has said it is ok to work as a digital nomad (work for some company outside the country) while on a tourist visa. But these pronouncements by officials don’t carry much weight with other officials so they are not worth much.

What is helpful is knowing the prohibitions against working are primarily about not having foreigners take jobs of the citizens. Digital nomads don’t do that. So they are not meant to be prohibited anymore than the other examples (an executive participating in a conference call from work while on vacation etc.).

But since it isn’t clear cut it can be confused by officials as something not allowed. It is much easier not to have to get low level officials to comprehend the intent of the laws. They think of it as tourists can’t work in the country and that is essentially true. But how “work” is defined is the issue; and digital nomad work doesn’t fit the description of work in that context.

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Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) and Location Independent Working

My plans were similar to the now popular (within a small but committed group of people) Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement. I was more focused on lifestyle and increasing my financial independence (as apposed to striving for complete financial independence in order to retire very early).

My thoughts were more along the line of being able to avoid a full time job and possibly do some consulting, run my own business (with a lifestyle goal rather than a make millions goal) and have investments that supplement that income. I also wanted to be able to have that possible from wherever I chose to live. Often you are quite limited on where you can live (especially cheaply) if you require a high paying job.

I also understood by living more frugally I gave myself lifestyle options. Living frugally allows you to save money. But it also lets you experience what living on less is like and you know if that is what you want. It is for me. I would much rather have freedom from having to earn a bunch of money to allow me to spend lots of money.

John Hunter with lake and mountains in the background

John Hunter, Bear Hump trail, Glacier Waterton International Peace Park.

I think Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) concepts fit very well with a subset of digital nomads. Those focused on FIRE don’t have to be digital nomads (in fact a very small percentage is) and digital nomads don’t have to be concerned with FIRE (in fact, few are). But they are both, at the core, about putting your life first and not letting your life on the 9 to 5 job hamster wheel drive your major life decisions.

Combining FIRE and location independent work provides some valuable benefits. If you have some investments saved up that can be tapped as you travel that can meet some of your living costs, this aids on of the bigger challenges – how to earn money while you travel. And if you travel frugally you can reduce your costs (below what you speed where you used to live).

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Multi-generational Housing Communities

The digital nomad lifestyle is made possible by the modern world. In some ways it harkens back to nomads but not really very much. Another idea that is gaining favor (not as popular as the digital nomad trend) is multi-generational housing.

Our ancestors all lived in close knit multi-generational communities. Normally with 3 or 4 generations of the same family under the same roof (or within shouting distance in a hut nearby).

I can understand many reasons why many of us moved to our more independent way of living (especially in the USA) as we got rich enough to afford to do so.

There are really interesting (small) efforts to do this in non-related multi-generation households. I think there are very good reasons for it. And for people like me that would rather not live in the same house with these others it can even work in a small group of homes. Often with shared kitchen… Sometimes older people can share some financial burden (young family gets cheaper housing). And younger people can help with yard work, repairs… Cooking can be shared. Childcare from elderly can help free up the kids parents and can give some personal contact to elderly (that can otherwise be socially isolated). Kids can get more contact with people in the small community and may has less time just sitting in front of Netflix (especially small kids).

I learned about the resurgent movement for co-housing while I was living as a nomad. To me it really seems like another form of trying new ways of living that are not the common living arrangement for most people today. It seems to me it has the potential to be as life changing and enriching as many find the nomad lifestyle to be.

Of course there are all the issues you have with people being together. But there are some pretty good things about it too.

Related: Union Corners Cohousing in Madison, WisconsinShould I Sell or Keep My House When I Become a Nomad?Design coalition multifamily housingHousing Savings by Living as a Nomad