By Shay Steacy
Location independent, geographically fluid, timezone agnostic… these are just some of the terms that I’ve come to identify with recently. You see, I’ve been living life as an international digital nomad for the past few months.
I’m a homeless financial planner.
And as a Certified Financial Planner Professional of no fixed address, I made sure to get my financial life in order before I took off to roam the world. This was especially important because I was abroad for the tax-filing deadline in Canada. But even if that hadn’t been the case for me, or doesn’t apply to your upcoming remotenicity (because that’s a word, right?), I’d still suggest to take some time to get your finances in order before you leave on your working adventure.
Here are some of my best practices:
1. Sign up for electronic statements
Most companies have eStatements as an alternative to paper statements now. So if you haven’t converted to this option yet, get on that. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s easier on your filing system while abroad.
2. Sell things
Before shaping up to ship off, consider what you really need to keep in terms of material items back home. Sure, storage units (whether you pay for them or beg friends to use their basements) are an option, but consider the financial and mental cost of keeping too many things. Not only will it be more economically efficient to pare it back (*cue minimalism reference*), you can also make some money if you sell things online before you go… maybe even enough to cover the cost of your flight!
3. Digitize paper documents
So what should you do with all the paper you already have? Digitize it all. If you have business receipts, find an app to help you store/organize these, as this will also make it easier at tax-time and give you a better handle on your expenses throughout the year. As for other paper you’ve got filed away (investment and bank statements, personal receipts, and previous years’ tax returns, to name a few), I’d suggest using an app that converts smartphone pictures to PDFs. I personally use Genius Scan, but there are others out there.
A few things to note here:
- From a Canadian tax perspective, the CRA is ok with “an accessible and readable electronic format” as your record keeping. If you’re outside of Canada, make sure your country’s tax authorities allow for the same.
- BACK THESE ELECTRONIC FILES UP! Saying your computer crashed and you no longer have copies of your documents is the equivalent of saying “my dog ate my homework”.
- Some things need to stay in original form, like wills, Powers of Attorney, and certain insurance policies, so find a safe storage place for the originals. But a good practice is to make digital copies for reference anyway.
4. Auto-pay bills
Trust me, when you’re working abroad there are going to be a ton of distractions, and you won’t be as responsible with your day-to-day finances as you think you will be. Set up any bills you still have to be debited from your bank account or charged to your credit card automatically. As for the bills you can’t do this with? Set recurring reminders in your calendar.
5. Reduce phone costs
Travelling can leave you with a hefty phone bill if you forget to add an international roaming package, but even a traditional roaming package isn’t your only option when setting up shop from your suitcase. Consider online providers. Some allow you to port your existing phone number, some provide inexpensive international plans, or you can get a new local number (for calling and texting back home) and put your existing plan on hold. If not on an international plan, make sure to get your phone unlocked before you leave home so that you can purchase local SIM cards at your destination–many countries offer affordable data rates.
6. Get travel insurance
Nothing puts a damper on an international experience like something going wrong—a hospital visit from an injury/illness, lost or misplaced luggage, or if a thief makes you a target. It can also be extremely costly. You may have some coverage from your credit card or personal health insurance, but it’s likely not enough. There are travel insurance companies now that offer extensive travel insurance to cover a lot of the perils you might encounter working abroad for longer durations of time, and to higher levels of coverage than you might be used to.
7. Research foreign currency and transaction costs
Make sure to do a banking review before you leave. Is your current bank and/or bank account the best one you can have while travelling internationally? Will it cost you each time you take money out of a foreign ATM? Are there any foreign transaction fees to be aware of?
Traditional banks make money when they convert currency for people, and can often add transaction fees without you realizing it, since they will simply include these costs in the overall conversion of the transaction. The general consensus is that it’s the least expensive to take money out of a foreign ATM, but just be mindful of the transaction fee the ATM might have itself.
8. Stay on top of things while you’re gone
Sorry, just because you’re in a foreign land experiencing new things doesn’t mean you get to forget about your finances. Sounds harsh, but it’s true! So, make it easier on yourself by checking in with your finances on a regular basis. At minimum once a week, sit down and review credit card transactions, bills that need to be paid (see “Auto-pay bills” above), customers who need to be invoiced, and any other money related matters that haven’t magically disappeared like you have from your home country…
9. Have a financial runway
I’ve left the best (read: most important) for last, and that’s to set yourself up financial success while you’re away. First off, only set off on this journey if you’ve got some savings already. Don’t put your plane ticket and first month’s AirBNB rental on credit. Next, if you going to be doing remote work full time, plan to have a couple months of expenses in savings just in case something happens with your steady stream of income. If you’re self-employed or a freelancer, it’s best to do the same, and even a little more, especially if you don’t have a full workload before you leave. You don’t want to be away and realize that you need to cut your trip short because of money troubles.
Before you go…
Have I given you all the things to do to set yourself up for success as a digital nomad? Maybe not, but I’m hoping I provided you enough to feel more confident before you pack your bags. Which reminds me of one final tip… Don’t pack too much! You may have to pay baggage overage fees and, take it from me, you probably won’t use it all anyway.
Shay Steacy, CFP is the Lead Financial Planner & Principal at KindWealth. With 13 years of experience as an advisor at two of Canada’s top banks, Steacy is passionate about helping people make sense of the complicated financial world. Follow along with her journey as a digital nomad in South East Asia.