This an excerpt from Digital Nomad Escape Plan: From Cubicle to Chiang Mai, Thailand (it’s 100% free for download). Updated on March 28, 2017. This post will prepare you for the long-game and suggest some tools you may want to set up in advance of starting your digital nomad adventure.
Digital Nomad / Travel Blogger / Expat / Remote Work Tools
Before you pack your life into a suitcase, some to-do list items are universal; Unlock your smart phone, backup important data to the cloud, set up banking (with or without a giving someone power of attorney are a joint cardholder), make copies of all important ID’s, flight details, doctor’s notes, and so on. Bring copies with you and leave some at home.
I also suggest travelling with a utility bill that’s in your name, and a bank statement that have been mailed to your home, back in your home country. You never know when you’ll need “proof of address” to sign up for something.
These tools are pretty relative to whatever you might be doing in Chiang Mai. I’ll focus on both day-to-day tools first, and then deliver a high-level overview of a few tools that might help you make an income in a pinch.
Work from home?
Even though a number of these tools are ideal for travelers, there are plenty in the list that will make lives easier for people that work from home or work remotely for a company in another country. Have anything to add to this list? Let the world know in the comments.
1. Travel Insurance
World Nomads is an established “nomad-friendly” insurance company. They’re international, and you can renew your insurance or file a claim online from wherever you are.
They cover things like “adventure activities”, riding a motor bike, last minute hospital visits, and even trip cancellations –this is unique, most insurance companies won’t, or the deductible isn’t worth it.
I’ve personally had to make a claim for my first laptop death and they made it easy. (And so did the tattoo shop in Ao Nang, Krabi who let me borrow their computer –the whole process took about 5 minutes).
Set the date, and buy insurance online right after you pick up a plane ticket.
You can check out World Nomads here.
2. Banking, Bitcoin, Online Shopping, and Invoicing
To keep track of expenses across multiple currencies, download Trip Wallet or Trail Wallet.
In order to send and receive money, pay bills, or invoice customers, there are a number of great solutions available.
I strongly suggest setting up an account with these services prior to getting on a plane, as you may require proof of address back home –hard to do in Thailand!
Because everyone has different needs, I will list them in order of popularity, and you can take it from there.
Payoneer is a PayPal killer: Get a physical MasterCard prepaid debit card that you can have shipped to an alternative shipping address –great if you lose your wallet abroad, or if you’re a Canadian and can’t get (or don’t want) PayPal’s debit card. Lower fees in most cases, sometimes no fee at all.
Plus, they really help with geoarbitrage – receive local bank transfers from your international customers, as if you had a local bank account. View their site to learn more.
With this link you get $25 free.
Transferwise gives you the actual exchange rate, has the lowest minimum transfer requirement, and fastest turnaround I’ve ever experienced. Your most ideal solution in case of emergencies, and you can send money via Facebook Messenger.
You can learn more about Transferwise here.
By far, Stripe is the most popular among developers and drop shippers due to its robust API/merchant integrations that are available. I personally don’t use it at this time, but I know it has a cult-like following.
You can learn more about Stripe here.
With Currency Fair you can either send money instantly, or choose your exchange rate and wait for it. It’s a unique approach and a reliable alternative to Transferwise.
You can learn more about Currency Fair here.
Everyone dislikes PayPal, and so do I. I’ve used them for years, and I’m still forced to more than I’d like –IMHO they like to randomly freeze accounts and bully their clients, but for many, they are a required evil.
You can learn more about PayPal here.
Coins.ph is a little-known gem and ideal for quick hops to the Philippines; it’s got a great app, works with Bitcoin, extremely low fees, has a virtual Visa debit card for making purchases, can be used or signed-up for internationally, provides cash-back on most purchases or bill payments, can be topped up at 7-11 in the Philippines or by Bitcoin, allows card-less withdrawals at Philippines Security Bank ATM machines, and is recognized by major international ecommerce brands even though it’s a Philippines-based company.
You can learn more about Coins here.
Gumroad is one of the best platforms to sell digital products online, such as ebooks, audio, video, and learning materials. It’s also great for recurring subscription you might bill customers for online courses. They have a sweet affiliate program, too –so you can build an army of affiliates for you products, courses, and services.
You can learn more about Gumroad here.
3. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Some websites in Thailand are censored, and regionalized content from around the world may not be viewable from your location. In any case, your internet traffic could be manipulated or recorded whenever you go online.
A VPN is a great security tool, and it will allow you to browse the internet from another location. Viewing content from another location virtually will quite often allow you to view regionalized content from another region. A VPN is just another layer of security when it comes to internet browsing, however it is not a complete security solution.
A VPN is also great for Digital Nomads that may or may not be informing their clients or employers that they are taking their home-based operation to the tropics!
ZenMate and other Popular VPN services
At a browser level, I use ZenMate, which is a browser plugin available for every popular web browser that will make it appear that you are viewing the web from another location. Locations include the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, China, and others. It’s a great, lightweight solution for watching regionalized online TV, banking, etc. Check out ZenMate here.
Some of the popular VPN services suggested to me by fellow nomads include:
4. Email Browser Plugins
There are a handful of browser plugins I use daily, in addition to ZenMate. They’re less travel-centric, but equally useful no matter what you’re doing.
Boomerang for Gmail
Boomerang allows you to configure Gmail to send emails at set times throughout the day in another time zone, creating the illusion that you’re working the same hours as everyone else. When dealing with businesses in my home country, I typically check email once per day, after I am finished my work for the day and before I head out.
Check out Boomerang here.
Discoverly for Gmail
Discoverly is a great tool for learning a little more about who you are corresponding with. It pulls together information from recipient social accounts and displays them as an easy-to-read baseball card style fact card on the right hand side of your browser.
Comes in real handy when sending cold emails to people with names that suit either gender like Chris or Taylor!
I used to love and endorse Rapportive for this type of service, however at this time Discoverly is a cut above. Discoverly also works on Angel List, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and Crunchbase, too.
Check out Discoverly here.
5. PO Box or Mail Forwarding Services
Your life back home is far from over; credit card bills, client correspondence, incoming checks, and other mail will continue to come your way.
If you’ve got a trusted friend or relative who can pick up your mail, a post office box may be sufficient.
Mail-a-Letter (simple tool for outgoing mail)
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable mailing letters from Thailand to my home country. I’ve received mail no problem, although it took two months to arrive and it was just a couple photos (nothing with monetary value).
If you’d like to use a reliable mail service located in the US to mail out a letter to anywhere in the world starting at around $1.50 USD, try Mail a Letter.
Simply use their WYSIWYG editor or upload your letter digitally and they will mail it from their office within 1 business day. Your letter will arrive a lot faster and you’ll avoid the two months of nail biting while you wait to hear if your mail reached its recipient.
Check out Mail-a-Letter here.
PO Box Zone
PO Box Zone is like a PO Box on steroids. It has everything you’d expect from a PO Box, with additional services such as letter scanning and forward –all via a handy online interface. Scanned mails can also be easily updated to your Dropbox or any other cloud service.
Check out PO Box Zone here.
Earth Class Mail
If your correspondence is more sensitive in nature (i.e. financial information) or you’re might have a higher volume of incoming mail and need more support, I recommend creating an account with US-based Earth Class Mail.
Earth Class Mail is a mail forwarding service that can open and scan mail contents on request so you can access it from wherever you are.
They will also cash checks for you, allow unlimited registered users, ship items to wherever in the world you are, provide storage, and will securely shred items at request.
Check out Earth Class Mail here.
Shipito is another great service that will allow you to shop in the USA and have your packages forwarded to wherever you are. Just beware of duty fees at the Thai border, they’re pretty random.
You can check out Shipito here.
6. Second Card Holder on a Joint Bank Account
If you’re not going to use Earth Class Mail, you might want to empower a trusted friend or relative with the ability to cash checks and deposit money into an account you share.
This is great for business purposes, and even better in emergencies. You can do this by either giving someone Power of Attorney or making them a second card holder on an account before you go.
7. Business License in Your Home Country
So, what’s the plan? Coming home to tie up loose ends is expensive, so if you think you’re going to want to have a business license in the future, pick one up now.
If you don’t use your business license, you typically don’t need to file taxes for it. And if you’re looking at getting into drop shipping, you’ll need one.
Otherwise, most of us make money as sole proprietors under a certain amount and that doesn’t require a license. Some opportunities do. Plan ahead!
8. VOIP Solution (Voice-over-IP)
It is possible in many cases to port existing phone numbers over to VOIP solutions, and offer a consistent experience with clients after you relocate.
Download Fongo onto your smartphone –as a Canadian, I get a free local number, free unlimited local incoming and outgoing calls, and customizable voicemail. I use this for all of my business-related stuff, and it’s the number I post on my website(s).
Check out Fongo here.
Get a Skype In number in your home country, voicemail, and call forwarding to your Thai cell phone number. I used to use Skype with a NYC number, but Fongo suits my needs much better because Skype doesn’t offer Canadian numbers.
Check out Skype here.
Grasshopper is favored by my friends in the drop shipping community because of its advanced features and ease of use. Port your existing number, get a vanity toll-free or local number, forward calls, add department/employee extensions, send texts, and have voicemails transcribed and sent to your email.
Grasshopper destroys Skype in terms of features; it’s per-minute cost is a bit higher, but the monthly fee is lower for what you’re getting. The lowest-priced package includes a toll-free number, unlimited extensions, voicemail, call forwarding, screening, etc. for $12/month, and 6 cents per minute.
You can learn more about Grasshopper here.
9. Productivity Tools
There’s a million productivity lists on the web already, so I’ll just chime in with a few that I use on a regular basis. And since everyone knows what Asana, Trello, Basecamp, and Evernote are, I figure I’ll save the e-ink.
Piktochart is like Canva, except they have a flat rate for unlimited use in addition to their free offering. No more paying $1 per image –either pay $29 per month, or $250 per year flat. I use it for most of our Pinterest images, and snazzy infographics like this one.
You can find Piktochart here.
I mentioned Viddyoze earlier in this guide in the “make emergency money” section. Viddyoze is like Canva for video and costs $67 one-time for a commercial license (unlimited renderings) and an additional $37 per month for unlimited access to their premium template marketplace called the Template Club.
Board Booster for Pinterest
I’ve talked a lot about Pinterest in this update, so it’s only natural I include one of the best Pinterest automation tools I’ve used to date.
Board Booster uses the native Pinterest user-interface to automate your pins and keep engagement (and click-throughs to your website) coming. Automate pins, re-pins, and set custom criteria with this simple tool.
You can learn more about Board Booster here.
Another “runner-up” to Board Booster worth checking out is called Tailwind, which also works for Instagram –you can learn more about here.
Additional Productivity Tools
In order to manage tasks for ourselves and our team, we use different solutions for different client environments. Some clients prefer Asana, while others use Google Calendar, Basecamp, or the free version of Trello. Each has it’s own benefits and drawbacks; in the future we’ll take the time to write a review of our favorite solution.
10. Mobile Applications
There are a number of apps which are popular in Asia among locals and/or nomads. Feel free to explore each, as you’ll likely wind up meeting someone who suggests connecting on Line or Viber. And Tinder is popular in Asia, too. Who knew?
Most importantly, your central asset while on the road is your data. Make sure everything is backed up in the cloud, on an external hard drive in your pack, and consider leaving an external hard drive back home for those memories that date back to before you made your exit. I also suggest diversifying your data across cloud solutions.
No links provided for the following mobile applications because they span different platforms; instead you can search for them in your app store of choice for more information.
- Evernote – Store everything
- Google Translate –Translate everything
- Google Maps –Find everything
- Google Adsense –Track ad revenue
- PayPal –Get ripped off daily
- Coins.ph –Neato app, works with Bitcoin
- YouTube –Cat videos!
- Duolingo –Learn most languages
- Air Bnb –Find a place to crash, get $20 free at signup with this link
- Google Drive
- MEGA Cloud Storage
- Sherpa –Quick visa information
- Skyscanner –Compare flights
- FlightAware –Live tracking of flights
- QuakeFeed –Earthquake monitoring, you never know
- Grab –Asia’s Uber competitor
- Fongo –Cheap/free VOIP
- Skype –The classic
- Viber –It’s purple!
Chat, Community, and Messaging:
- Slack –Join my Slack channel
- Line –Asia’s version of What’s App
- Viber –It’s purple!
- WhatsApp –Because it’s popular
- BoOola –Chat just for travelers
Have a better idea?
If there’s any must-have remote work tool or precaution you would like to recommend, let everyone know in the comments.