My life as a scuba digital nomad: Your questions answered

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From Panama to Bali, the start of my digital nomad journey over the last two years has been full of trials and errors. While working online while travelling is full of exciting promises of extended adventures and in-depth knowledge of each country’s culture, it’s important to realise there is more to it than just a pretty picture of a laptop on the beach (I staged the cover picture of this article on purpose to make a point, I never ever work outdoors – too bright, too hot, too many mosquitoes, you name it).

After my sabbatical in Japan and New Caledonia, then my first year as a digital nomad in Latin America, I realised that Asia is where my heart is. And so is some of the best diving in the world while being extremely affordable. It eventually led me, step by step, to an organisation that works for me with a local base as I’m currently exploring Southeast Asia.

Here is a reality check blog post about a lifestyle many fantasise about while answering the most common questions with my personal take.

What do you do for work?

digital nomad in Thailand

OK, let’s start with the number 1 question everyone keeps asking on my social media as an increasing number of people are rightfully looking for a way out of the rat race. 10 years ago, I wanted it out, too, and I got out. The difference between back then and now is the incredible number of online resources, whether about most common remote jobs or how to start an entrepreneur journey. Seriously, it’s only a Google search away. Then, it’s about consistency to make the dream happen. No matter how small, do something that brings you closer to your goal every day.

Having two master’s degrees, one in engineering and one in marketing, I embraced an entrepreneurship journey and created a freelance SEO & content strategy consultancy. For those unfamiliar with the marketing world, I analyse my client’s presence on search engines like Google and social media like Instagram or LinkedIn and offer action plans to reach their ideal customers or users. I also provide copywriting and translation services focusing on branding and purpose. This blog you’re reading is a fantastic portfolio of what I can do and is my primary provider for new clients on top of my networking efforts for the past 10 years. And the best of all? I managed this way to only work with clients who have a link to the ocean.

As I quit my corporate life after a sabbatical in 2019, it also freed up time to develop my diving blog to the point I now make money from it through affiliate marketing and sponsored content. The first one is related to commissions I earn on hotels and diving trips when readers book through my links (at no additional cost). The second is about creating sponsored content around products and services of interest for scuba diving travellers (only occasionally, as I maintain a high standard regarding who I accept to work with). The cherry on top is when I can sell articles or pictures to other publications or, more recently, participate in writing a book with Lonely Planet. All of this didn’t appear magically and is 100% related to working on my blog since 2012. If you ever heard “blogging is dead”, think twice.

Is the Internet good enough everywhere?

life as a digital nomad in the Galapagos

Absolutely not! And clearly, some destinations are not equal in terms of infrastructure. And before I roast any place, one of the worst places is where I’m from, in Brittany, France, where I can sometimes lose all bandwidth. Indeed, speed is not enough. Bandwidth is equally important as you share your connection point.

In places where the Internet is not the best, for instance, the Galapagos, where the connection is via satellite, it was terribly bad when I stayed in hotels. But from the moment I rented a house with my own router, I could even watch Netflix! There is a considerable difference between online jobs regarding the internet speed and bandwidth needed. In my case, I make video calls and need to upload large media like photos or videos. You should be fine if all you have to do is send emails with an occasional text file.

Last but not least, sometimes the Internet won’t be your only problem. The basic need for electricity might be a problem too. This is something I had not anticipated. Some places have regular blackouts. The worst for me was Bocas del Toro, Panama, with daily random blackouts, sometimes short, sometimes long. I got scared after strong tropical rains flooded the island and broke the road on the continent that the trucks had to take to transport the fuel for the small local power station. They warned us about a potential blackout of 3 days, but it didn’t happen in the end. Imagine the stress of having to warn all my clients they might be unable to reach me.

As a result, I understood that it was better to live in large cities like Panama City or Quito when I was in deep work mode. But even in Ecuador, this didn’t help entirely. I always take a local SIM card with a large data plan to use my phone as a backup router, but even if Guayaquil is the country’s economic capital, the apartment router and my phone data could be down at the same time.

So, I let you imagine how I proceeded with care when I arrived in Bali, testing the Internet everywhere before choosing where to stay. The truth is, the Internet works really well so far. But to be honest, we had already had a few blackouts in Amed. While it means no AC, I was positively shocked to see the 4G still working, as apparently, the antennas have their own generator in case the electricity is shut off.

How easy is it to find mid-term accommodation?

life as a digital nomad in Bali

The mid-term accommodation market was much different when I started my nomad journey in 2018. Today, I keep reading about how the housing crisis impacts every country. It’s no big surprise that paying 200€ a month like I did in Thailand for my divemaster training in 2013 belongs to the past.

Before you head to any country, ensure your budget fits the local market, as you’ll pay more per week or month for renting a furnished place than for a yearly contract. An excellent way to know the prices is by joining one of the local expat groups on Facebook (Airbnb prices have become insane; you’re more likely to find better prices on But before you give up, remember that the beauty of digital nomadism is also about not paying for a place back home.

I readily recognise that my needs have significantly changed, too. I’m no longer a casual backpacker going from place to place and somewhere to return to after 2 weeks. I’m working online and at “home” (I can’t focus while sitting at a café or coworking space) and love making healthy homemade food. It means often looking for more luxury options as I spend a lot of time at my accomodation. But the additional budget is usually compensated by all the coffees/lunches I’m not buying outside or coworking subscriptions.

The difference in cost between Latin America and Asia is quite staggering. The most expensive accommodation budget I had so far was Panama, especially Bocas del Toro, where I couldn’t get a monthly apartment; I paid weekly for 3 weeks for a total of 1200$ for a 1-bedroom flat. However, once in Ecuador, I balanced it all with my $ 550 condo in Quito and my $ 400 house in the Galapagos. Note how learning how to spread your costs over a year can help here.

Prices in Malta came as a bit of a shock last year compared to how affordable it was in 2016. Thankfully, I shared my Sliema apartment with a friend, but 1500€ a month for a simple 2BR apartment made me only stay for 2 months in the country (and prices would have gone up after May). To be fair, we rented together the year before a luxury condo in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for 1400$ a month, and we couldn’t help but compare.

Regarding Bali, the southern region between Canggu and Sanur has become more expensive than it used to be (but you can still find a simple but lovely homestay at 25 € a night). However, if you go further north, you can still rent a house with a garden for between 300 and 600 € per month if you are not looking for too much luxury.

How does it work with visas?

life as a digital nomad in Singapore

The pandemic may have stopped tourism for 2 to 3 years, depending on the countries, but the emergence of remote work has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people joining the digital nomad community, either as freelancers or remote workers. Popular tourist destinations were quick to catch up. They understood it was an excellent opportunity to replace some lost revenue with this new type of travellers who usually have a higher spending power and stay longer.

This is how, since 2021, many countries have created digital nomad visas or similar for stays ranging from 6 months to 5 years. While many countries require a quite steep minimum income to qualify for these, it had the benefit of giving guidelines for all the people who remained in the grey area of renewing tourist visas from 2 to 6 months. As long as you work with clients outside the country, it is usually tolerated. Note: please appreciate the difference between tolerated and legal.

However, don’t underestimate the cost of visas and flying out regularly to renew your visa or change countries. As an EU citizen, Malta didn’t cost me anything visa-wise, so European destinations are always a great option for me. While Latin America was quite cost-effective in this respect, as I got a minimum of 3 months for free in all countries, the situation is quite different in Asia.

In Mexico, you can get up to 6 months for free (depending on the nationalities). In Ecuador, it cost me 142$ to renew for 3 months after my initial free 3-month period. Asian countries with higher standards of living, like Singapore or Japan, may also give you 3 months visa-free. However, in countries like Indonesia, there is a minimum cost of 35$ per month on top of flights to get out every two months, or a cost of 50 to 100$ per month and flights out every 6 months. In Thailand, I could get 30 days for free but had to pay if I wanted to stay for an additional month (apparently 1900 THB / about 50$).

Where do you pay taxes?

life as a digital nomad in Panama

Every country is different, so I can only discuss my case. France is notorious for its high taxes (but it isn’t the most expensive), but still, this is where I pay my taxes. We have a law that says that no matter how long you stay abroad, if the centre of your family and/or economic interests is in France, you should keep paying taxes there. I’m in the latter case. Thankfully, France has many fiscal agreements with countries worldwide, allowing me to avoid double taxation.

Please note income tax and social contributions are two different things. I pay for both in France because it makes my life easier. I get comfort in thinking that in case of big health issues, I can still fly back home and use the French healthcare system without feeling like a thief as I keep paying the French social security.

As a side note, I don’t relate to digital nomads trying to avoid taxes entirely. It’s just unfair. I almost got my master’s degree in engineering for free and got financially supported when I created my business; I think it’s fair to pay it back when you can. Be wary of people selling online the dream of living tax-free by staying in each country for less than 180 days. The reality is a tad more complicated, especially for US citizens; do your due diligence about your specific situation.

How to stay safe as a digital nomad?

scuba diving in Malta

I discussed already extensively the matter of safety in my solo travel blog post. Anyone can find him or herself at the wrong place at the wrong time, even at home. This being said, since I started to work as I go, step by step, it has changed the way I travel.

The days I was couchsurfing are long gone, and even if I would still consider it in Japan, you won’t see me much in a dorm these days. After trying homesitting before the pandemic, I mostly rent flats and houses everywhere I go now, with the occasional hotel when I’m in explorer mode. I need my own bubble to do effective work, and I also need to protect my belongings that help me do that work (mostly electronics).

Digital nomad or not, never travel without being properly insured, as the healthcare cost in case of an accident can skyrocket. But obviously, as you stay longer in each destination, the probability of having something happening to you increases. For instance, while the US and Canada are infamous for their high healthcare costs, it is a little less known that a scooter accident in Bali can easily lead to a 10,000 $ hospital bill. I discussed previously diving insurance and travel insurance, and while I didn’t need to change anything for scuba diving as DAN Europe keeps insuring all over the world all year long, I had to make adjustments for travel insurance.

With no return to France planned for the foreseeable future, none of the travel insurance solutions I had been using worked anymore. I asked around fellow digital nomad friends, did my due diligence benchmarking, and chose Genki’s digital nomad travel insurance. They can provide travel insurance no matter where you go and how long you stay (I chose to opt out of the US and Canada to pay less).

Does it get lonely?

life as a digital nomad in Ecuador

Depending on whether you are more of an introvert or an extrovert, you will live things differently. In my case, I’m both. I love being social, but I also love staying in my bubble to work on my projects. For instance, I quickly understood coworking spaces weren’t for me; they were too distracting. I personally thrive in a quiet environment to focus. But whenever I feel like being social and meeting like-minded friends, it’s easy: I go diving!

Being a diver makes you part of a worldwide community with a deep common passion (pun intended) that makes us bond almost instantly. I’ve never been alone as a scuba diver because I meet fellow divers in every dive centre I visit. I recently came back from a liveaboard in the Similan Islands, Thailand, and poof, I have a new Thai friend in Bangkok I can’t wait to visit again. I also choose places I stay based on the available scuba diving spots, so it attracts many other travelling scuba divers. I keep making friends easily as I naturally run into other divers.

Now, do I get homesick? Usually not. However, during my six months in Ecuador, with constant care about safety, I was honestly happy to fly home. If you add on top of that a failed love story with a lot of lies and manipulation, not having your friends nearby can sometimes make things even harder to navigate. Having friends who are travellers like you and can answer WhatsApp messages in any time zone greatly helped me overcome that difficult time.

But I could stay forever in Asia, where I am convinced my heart belongs. I love the culture of countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan so much. Sometimes, it feels like I wasn’t born in the right country. So, I would say, if you feel lonely and homesick, it might have nothing to do with you but be a place that is not for you. The beauty of being a digital nomad is the ability to move whenever you want to the next destination.

How often do you travel?

life as a digital nomad in Mexico

The freedom that comes with the digital nomad lifestyle can sometimes be overwhelming, with endless choices and options. It’s tempting to do everything and travel non-stop as you have virtually no return date.

While I still have to work, finding a daily balance between work and exploring is actually easier said than done. I’ve noticed, for instance, that from the moment I go outside, going back to the laptop is really hard, except if I have a planned call. I wish I could work in the morning and then go explore in the afternoon, but it rarely goes this way. When scuba diving, we usually go early in the morning, and I’m knackered after for the rest of the day (I’m getting Nitrox more and more often to avoid this). Or if there is a beautiful and famous place I want to photograph, it also means an early start to avoid the crowd and have the best light.

In the end, I found that working in phases works best for me, with 2 weeks with 90% exploring, and then 2 months focusing on my work while still enjoying my surroundings in the evenings. Slow travel has been my mantra for years, but I have to slow it down even more. And it doesn’t bother me at all.

How often do you go diving?

Scuba diving makes me happy

It might look like I’m always diving, but I’m not. I spend way more time behind my computer than underwater. For example, in 2022, the year I spent in Latin America, I logged 62 dives (a bit more than 5 per month). In 2023, from Malta to Bali, I logged “only” 46 dives (less than 4 a month) as I had a busy year collaborating on a Lonely Planet book about scuba diving. But within the 3 first months of 2024, I’m already at 34 dives.

On top of work, transportation logistics and finding a suitable place to stay within my budget take an incredible amount of time. That’s why, this year, I resolved to have a regional base in Bali, where I can keep the travel and diving logistics to a minimum. My goal? Going diving once to twice a week. Thanks to the easy access to the shore dive sites of Bali’s northeastern coast, this should be achievable.

What’s the biggest takeaway?

life as a digital nomad in Malta

It might sound like a cliché, but the freedom is exhilarating. Watch out, freedom comes with responsibility. But I love being in charge of my destiny. In case of failure, it’s also fully on me, though. I try to learn from my mistakes; the biggest lesson is that you don’t have to do everything alone. Trying to build a support network everywhere I stay longer made the difference in the last two years. I have always been all about going out of the expat bubbles and making local friends only. However, having a few expats who might share the same struggles and might have experience you can build on is not a bad thing either.

This being said, the absolute takeaway of living in countries for up to 6 months has given me access to a broad knowledge of each county’s culture. Most of the time, speaking the local language is the only way to get to this point. While I learned Spanish at a relatively young age, which made my life in Latin America easier, learning Japanese and Indonesian was the only way to understand people beyond words, even if I’m far from being fluent in both languages. How a language functions tells you so much about social interactions in a country.

Do you see yourself going like this forever?

life as a scuba diving digital nomad in Amed Bali

Maybe, maybe not. But I already feel the need to slow down even more. Being a digital nomad is more about location independence to me than constantly moving. There are no fixed rules, and everything can evolve as I see fit.

After 20 years around the world, I know my heart belongs in Asia. So, what I see for the near future is moving regionally around Bali. Indonesia is such a vast country with so many incredible dive sites. I want to return to Japan to keep my Japanese alive and explore countries I haven’t been to, such as Malaysia or Taiwan. And it seems the initial 2 years I had planned won’t be enough. But right now, I’m pretty busy reexploring all the best dive sites in Bali. Stay tuned!

Is something still missing from this article? Do you have any questions?

Please let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help!


Posted by Florine

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