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  • Digital Nomads in Thailand


    FarangFarang
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    Khaosod English ran an interesting story about digital nomads in Thailand.  Thailand, as the article points out, is consistently voted as a top spot for folks who have chosen a lifestyle that enables them to work from anywhere in the world.  

    While the author, Sasiwan Mokkhasen, hit all of the common hot buttons pertaining to the digital nomad lifestyle, I have to give some kudos for also pointing out that digital nomadism isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be.  

    First off, no country really “gets” digital nomadism.  Few countries have visa or other laws that specifically address people who are technically working from a country but have no real business presence in that country.  

    How do you separate between someone who is in Chiang Mai on two week vacation and answers a few emails from their co-workers back home with someone who has an online business and is creating websites for American clients while enjoying a latte at a Starbucks on Sukhumvit? 

    Ultimately, it would probably be in Thailand’s best interest to better understand the needs of this new type of traveler.  Not only because they are long-term travelers who will benefit many of the businesses they frequent while in the country but, more importantly, Thailand is sorely in need of certain types of expertise that many of these digital nomads can introduce to Thailand.  

    If there was a better system in place, perhaps some of these digital nomads would train and hire people in Thailand.  Presumably, some of the people they hire would then learn skills that they could then go out market in the Thai economy.  

    And few digital nomads stay nomadic for life.  Many eventually settle into one location that they call their home base.  Making it easier for them to live in Thailand and hire local talent would have a mutually beneficial effect for Thais and nomads.  

    Perhaps one day Thailand, through partnering with foreigners, can actually incubate the technology hub that it has been promised for the last couple of decades.  

    Keep in mind, we’re not talking about people starting up businesses in Thailand selling to Thais or to farangs living in Thailand so this has no impact on the local competitive environment.  

    However, there is a darker side to the digital nomad lifestyle that Sasiwan touches on and probably needs additional exploration.  

    While the digital nomad lifestyle sounds romantically adventurous, so do a lot of things, for awhile.  It’s one thing to be 27 and running a website that brings in $1,000 USD a month which lets you live as you wish in some developing countries but those same people might have different aspirations when they are 37, 47, or 57 years old.  

    Likewise, keeping one’s skills sharp is not as easy to do in a developing country as it is where staying competitive is mandatory.  Many digital nomads are heavily involved in technology and the speed of change in technology is only increasing.  

    It wasn’t too long ago that being able to use a spreadsheet was considered a marketable skill that people got paid a decent salary to do.  Today, it’s doubtful you could even graduate grade school without that skill.  

    Even for things less tech-centric like online marketing, what worked in SEO two years ago might not work today.  Your eCommerce site might get 10 new, better financed, competitors in six months.  

    And the non-tech folks are also at risk.  Ten years ago, a nomadic journalist could make a good living but as more and more people have decided to become digital nomads, there’s more competition and it drives the prices for content down.  

    A good business network is also problematic for digital nomads.  Relationships often go stale after awhile and you need to keep replenishing your network with new blood.  That’s hard to do if you’re relying on programming jobs from Europe and you haven’t been back to Europe in five years.  

    We all like to say that email, Skype, Facebook, etc have made the world a smaller place but sometimes you need to get out there and press flesh.  

    As many people rely on living on developing world costs while receiving first-world pay, that could become problematic if their network starts to become too heavily dominated with local contacts who can only afford to pay local prices for their services.   

    Obviously most of these challenges have solutions.  Learning new skills can be done easily online.  Networks can be refreshed.  

    But it’s not quite as glamorous as many people imagine.  It’s not exactly the image that most people have of sitting on a beach sipping a cocktail with a laptop spitting out cash like an ATM.  

    It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hustle, and a lot of self discipline.  It was good to finally see an article that had a more realistic and complete picture of what digital nomadism is about.  

    Edited by FarangFarang

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