The Surprise Cost of Being a Digital Nomad

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Last August, my husband and I witnessed the culmination of all of our hard work unfold as we packed up our bags and headed to Europe to work as digital nomads for three months. Our first stop: The City of Love aka Paris aka land of carbs and mansard roofs and trying to get by with the very little French that we knew (shoutout to Babbel).

In short, we were starry-eyed newlyweds who knew what we wanted and weren’t afraid to go after it — the risk, the reward, the chance at humiliation, homesickness, and pure love for the world and its people. One of the risks was the expense — how much money would this actually cost us? To our surprise, we were actually in for a huge reward.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the four most surprising costs we ran into while being a digital nomad.

1. International Healthcare

As young newlyweds who were privileged enough to be on our parents’ healthcare, choosing a plan started out as quite a daunting task. After getting acquainted with terms like inpatient, outpatient, copay, etc., we dug into finding a solution that fit all of our needs.

Because we are still in our early 20s and are not at risk for any major health problems, we opted for basic coverage that cost us around $180 a month. Now, this price varies a bit depending on where we are based in Europe. For example, when we move to the UK in February, we will be paying $230 a month instead.

Because Jack and I are contractors, we looked up the average monthly cost of private health insurance for self-employed people in the United States, and in 2020, that number was a whopping $456 per month. This is one area where the risk of dealing with international health insurance plans actually turned into a major reward.

A few recommendations for international healthcare:

Cigna Global (the one we decided on)
Safetywing
Aetna International
GeoBlue Medical Global Medical

2. Transportation

Ahh, the joys of public transportation. The smells, the sights, the sounds… you learn to love it in a weird, twisted way. Those 25 minutes on the slightly-better-than-hell Paris metro proved its worth over and over again as we compared what transportation would have cost us in the states.

Because we knew we would be living in Europe without a car, we budgeted $100 a month for transportation. In Paris, you can get a pack of 20 metro tickets for € 32, and we ended up purchasing around two of these a month, which averages to about $75 total spent on transportation per month.

In Italy, we lived in a super small, walkable city and averaged $0 monthly for transportation.

If we had been living in the U.S. where gas prices are currently extortionate, we would be paying roughly $200 per month just for gas. Couple that with my average monthly car insurance bill, and you’re already at $322 for transportation in the United States every month. This price doesn’t include oil changes or any maintenance costs.

While living in Europe without a car, we never felt isolated due to their extensive public transportation system. This is yet another “oh la la” moment where the reward greatly outweighed the risk of living in Europe without a car.

3. Cell Phone Plans

If Jack and I would have signed our own cell phone plan for two people in the United States, it would average to about $160 a month. For this example, I chose AT&T’s Unlimited Extra plan which includes a mobile hotspot aka one of the handiest tools a digital nomad can have.

In Europe, however, we chose a plan where we paid a one-time fee for the foreign sim card and then another monthly fee for a certain amount of gigs. At first glance, this may sound like the more expensive option, but that’s actually not the case.

For two months, we paid $180 in Europe and would have paid $300 in the United States.

4. Rent

After almost a year-long online apartment hunt, I stumbled upon our saving grace — a real estate rental agency called Morning Croissant. No, I’m not joking. That was the name. We found the most amazing furnished 2-bedroom apartment complete with all the natural light and herringbone wood floors. Ugh, I get teary eyed just thinking about it.

We were sharing the apartment with one of my friends, which brought our monthly rent to $1,400 plus $54.74 per month for utilities. Just a note — we had to pay for our entire stay up front, including a hefty safety deposit, so just keep that in mind. It totaled to $1,454.74 per month to live in an apartment in Paris. Not bad at all — especially when I Googled the average rent in my hometown.

If we were to have chosen to settle down in my hometown in Georgia, USA, we would be paying almost $600 more per month on average, and this excludes any utility bills. Yes, that’s right. Rent in The City of Love is $600 cheaper than rent in my hometown in Georgia, USA. Mind. Blown.

Rent was a little less in Italy, where we found a one-bedroom apartment in the city center on Airbnb for $1,219.43 a month, utilities included.

Besides the one-time sim card cost, this is the only time Jack and I went over budget, but we found a way to source a little extra in order to live in our dream apartments.

Here’s a breakdown of everything we discussed.

Budgeted per month
Actual per month
How much we would have paid per month living in the US

International Healthcare
$250
About $180
$456 on average

Transportation
$100
About $75 in Paris, $0 in Italy
About $322 (gas + car insurance)

Cell Phone Plan
$60
For two people, it cost $120 the first month; $60/month after that
$150 (AT&T)

Rent
$1,200
$1,454.74 in Paris, $1,219.43 in Italy
$2,010 on average

 

So, there you have it. It turns out that living and working in what is considered one of the most expensive cities in the world may not actually be as expensive as we are conditioned to think. Maybe the French just want all the croissants to themselves, and how could I blame them?

One last tip: You can track your spending and saving with Personal Capital’s free money management app. I love it for categorizing my expenses and looking back at where I spent my cash over time.

Get Started with Personal Capital’s Free Financial Tools

 

Author is not a client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation and is compensated as a freelance writer.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. Compensation not to exceed $500. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.