Expat vs. digital nomad: Which lifestyle is best for you?

If you’ve considered living and working abroad, chances are you have looked into the possibility of either doing it as a digital nomad or pursuing a more traditional expat lifestyle. As a digital nomad, you would be switching between various locations across the world, and working while you travel. In contrast, the expat lifestyle usually involves digging your heels into a new fixed location to work and call home, instead of working on the fly. This article will address the differences between the two lifestyles and will help you to decide whether a digital nomad or an expat path is more suitable for you.

What are the career differences?

First of all, many digital nomads choose freelance or remote roles to enable them to continue travelling. Because digital nomads can work remotely from their home country as required, they can be paid in their home currency, meaning they can stretch their budget and adjust to potentially lower living costs in their new location. A digital nomad is all about being a 100% remote worker, which means working anytime and anywhere. Remote work is not always easy to come by for digital nomads, which could result in a slump in their career and reduced prospecting.

Teaching language online is a good career option for both digital nomads and expats
Teaching language online is a good career option for both digital nomads and expats

On the other hand, an expat will often turn their hand to localised jobs, in offices, or in person. Expats might follow a single career path within a company, moving through the ranks of general employment to a more senior role. However, expats may need to take a pay cut if they move from a country with strong economic foundations to somewhere with a weaker economy, although the career ladder steps may be more accessible than that of a digital nomad.

Expats or digital nomads that are multilingual or speak a language that others might wish to learn might offer English lessons, Spanish tutoring, or teach any other language that could prove helpful to others. Although both of these sound great, they both come with their own challenges.

An adventure around every corner

Everyone needs some adventure in their life every so often, and although the initial move abroad as an expat is exciting at first, settling into a new lifestyle can soon become the norm. Digital nomads, however, have an adventure waiting for them just around the corner, and although work still needs to be done for them to continue their journey, an exciting role or a new location is often on the cards for them.

If life before your move as an expat is a little mundane and you feel a move to a new country is the solution, bear in mind that the bills, the commitments, and 9-5 working will soon follow the same routine as you did before you switched locations.

Do you need social interaction?

Let’s be honest: it’s hard to have a social life if you hop from one location to another, which is why expats win when it comes to socialising. It’s extremely tricky working from home and making friends, especially when you meet someone only to realise a week later you’ll be off again. Expats are more fortunate in that they have co-workers ready to invite them into their friendship circles, but there are plenty of other opportunities to meet people through clubs, get-togethers, sports, and more, which is why expats prevail over digital nomads.

Who socialises more, expats or digital nomads?
When it comes to forming strong social bonds, expats are probably at an advantage over digital nomads

See the world and work as you travel

Every aspect of a digital nomad’s work stack is devoted to online working, and you have complete freedom to move around and work from anywhere you’d like. You might work as a freelance writer, a social media marketer, or any other role you could fulfil from your computer screen’s comfort. Although expats can easily travel during holidays and weekends, an expat experience involves a more stagnant approach, moving to another country, whether that’s Madrid or London, and getting to understand the new culture that awaits them. On the other hand, a digital nomad becomes a little less involved, knowing that they’ll soon be moving to a new location along their adventure.

Living costs compared

Digital nomads might agree that they spend a little more than their expat equivalents. Think planes, trains, and automobiles. Think about rent, and you’ll be on your way to understanding some of the costs involved with continually travelling. Many digital nomads counteract the cost of living by visiting countries where the economic position is a little more forgiving. Expats and digital nomads alike need to spend on food, accommodation, and travel, so it can be particularly tricky to average the cost and say which option comes out on top.

Experiencing the culture

An expat will often spend years, if not their entire lifetime creating a life for themselves and those close to them in a new country, whereas digital nomads are on the fly jumping between locations and seeing some of the highlights. However, they miss out on some of the more profound offerings you’d experience by spending more time in one location. Because of this, expats have a better deal, as laying down roots in a new location enables them to enjoy the traditions and holidays of the country, be a part of the community, and experience everything their new home has to offer.

Castelleres, human towers in Barcelona
Expats typically get to experience local culture more deeply than digital nomads

Are you a digital nomad or an expat?

If you’ve come this far, then you probably already have a good idea of which category you fall into, but rather than flip a coin to decide my fate, I usually compare the pros and cons of digital nomads and expats. Check them out below.

An expat lifestyle is for you if:

  • You like the concept of moving abroad.
  • You are content spending prolonged periods in one location.
  • You want a greater level of stability in your career.

You’re more suited as a digital nomad if:

  • You want to travel the world.
  • You are happy working 100% remotely.
  • A social life is lower on your priority list.

At the end of the day, the right option comes down to personal preference and which one you can see as a suitable lifestyle choice for the foreseeable future. It’s no secret that there are more digital nomads and expats around than ever before, and they’re taking the bull by the horns to achieve their travel aspirations, learning, and living the life of their dreams.

So, what are you waiting for?