I live in what is now a poor country (Argentina). I hear a lot of people talking abot making multi thousand USD a month by working for foreign companies from home. I tried, a lot, to get a job like this, but it just seems to me that those salaries are either exaggerated, or the people working on them really have very unique skills.

Most job offerings on LinkedIn seem to be scams. A recruiter would offer you a great job and tell you to submit your resume, and then you never hear from them again. Other times, recruiters get very specific about requirements. You can tick all the boxes, but when it comes down to "years of experience", if they require 5 years and you have only 4, you're instantly rejected (it has happened to me).

There are also websites like Toptal, Gigster, and others, that seem to offer extremely low rates as most people there come from poor countries like mine, and work for peanuts.

Is actually "living in a rich western country and then negotiate remote working at a company that hired you in person" the only way to go about this?

Edit: to make things clear, I'm currently emplyed but getting an extremely low salary of under 600 USD a month. Even if my employer would allow me to do remote working permanently, the salary (which is already about the highest that they go around here) is useless for pretty much any idea of "digital nomad" lifestyle.


2 Answers 2


The usual rule of markets applies: anything any person can do to earn money is already being done at scale. The idea of earning in a high-wage locality and living in a low-expense locality certainly isn't new.

Freelance work can have good hourly rates, but that usually comes with insecurity.

I know people who charge 250€ per hour, but the number of billable hours on average per month is rather on the low end because their customers basically expect them to turn up, solve the problem and leave as quickly as possible, and the timer stops when they go to the bathroom.

There is a happy medium where people charge 50–90€ per hour, and effectively work the same as regular employees, but with no benefits or protections. These jobs tend to be on-site, and while the yearly income is high, the lack of predictability has a lot of drawbacks, for example a lot of rental contracts stipulate a minimum rental period that is longer than a typical project contract.

On the lower end, there are some contractor positions for simple tasks, like adjusting color schemas in websites or writing GUI dialogs. These don't pay well, generally, but there is a steady supply of these contracts, which gives a bit of security. Usually these have a coordination requirement like going to a weekly meeting in-house, and the rest is work-from-home because the customer does not want to invest in office space and equipment for one-off projects like rebranding an application.

The automated freelancer brokers are not seen as serious work, these are mostly used by students wishing to cheat on their exams, and by companies who need a quick mock-up for a demonstration. There seem to be very talented people on these sites with impressive portfolios — projects I'd bill a month for are listed as "done in three days for $500" — but whether they actually exist is questionable.

Last but not least the true digital nomads — most of those that I know are well-established freelancers who have specialized in a field where customers generally need their services only for very short amounts of time, and where enough customers exist. A lot of these jobs seem to be performance tuning, like routing policies for overseas network cables, or storage management for large datasets — basically things you do not want to change during normal operation, so a full-time support person makes no sense.

As with any market, these are mostly optimization problems being solved at scale by having lots of people with different strategies filling different niches. If there was an optimum strategy, everyone would be doing that. Instead, people place themselves on various axes like "desire to travel", "desire to know how much money I will have next month", "desire to see friends" and so on and then see what is possible within those parameters.

One person I know who is happy with "digital nomad" style basically knows people in every city, so wherever the current job is, they call someone and meet for dinner. Expensive, yes, but they have basically been able to work around any political crisis in the last ten years by simply going somewhere else — but that is a different kind of "security" than having a house and a family.

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    This is an interesting answer with a different concept of "digital nomad". By that term I'm more refering to people who post their Macbook Pro with a different background every week. Those people seem to hang around "hotspots" like Bali and Chiang Mai, and many do software development, website design, or general "blogging". But I'm not entirely sure if this lifestyle is real or if it's just young adults taking a gap year. A friend of mine did that life for a year, making $4000 while spending $400 in Thailand every month. But he's an european citizen working for european companies.
    – hjf
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 21:28
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    The lifestyle is somewhat real, but few people do this for a longer time -- maintaining friendships is difficult this way. Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 7:55

Working as a digital free lancer on a digital marketplace means you are competing with every other person in low cost countries. At best you are going to make an 'average' wage for a low cost country.

To do well you need something more valuable than the average free lancer on the market place. This is not just technical skills.

You need relationships or reputation.

So it is worth the high cost country customer taking a risk on you and paying more than the rock bottom dollar price offered by everyone else on the market place

You may need to invest a lot upfront to build both.

People who come from high cost countries have a bit of a head start, because they have skills (speak the language well, understand the problem domain etc) and already have relationships or build a reputation before they left. They then have the buffer to then spend the time investing in building on those relationships and reputation.

Think of the problem from the buyers perspective and try and position yourself to meet their needs. That way you will have a better chance winning relatively high paying work.

  • I've been thinking about this question. But the reality shows most of the people I know are coders of the "lower end". Sit on a computer, code, go home. Not team leaders, not executives, and certainly not entrepeneurs or freelancers (before jumping into freelancing, that is). So I find it very difficult to see how one of those "anonymous" people make a reputation of themselves. I think it comes down to just "find a job in a rich country first, and then ask to be remote".
    – hjf
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 15:29
  • I think it is easer for a more visual talent (Photoshop, logo design, etc). You may need to take some underpaid gigs but you works can speak for themselves. Once you build reputation and ongoing relationships then you start making useful amounts of money. For coding I think it is a lot harder. I typically work on 3-6month long coding contracts. There is no way I would pay someone I don't know do do a job like that. Even if it were dirt cheap I would have to wait 3 month to find out if their work was any good. This leave short simple gigs like setting up a WordPress site. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 20:07

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