Becoming a Singaporean digital nomad isn’t as simple as quitting your job and booking a flight. Factor in these costs before you pack your bags.
The “digital nomad” is a dream lifestyle for many Singaporean millenials. The freedom to travel and work from any country in your own time seems the penultimate in work-life balance.
But becoming a digital nomad isn’t as simple as booking a ticket and taking your laptop with you. Assuming you have the requisite clients, or a company willing to let you work “off the leash”, you still need to make enough to sustain your lifestyle and save money for the future.
Here’s what it costs to be a Singaporean digital nomad.
Flight tickets are the most obvious cost, but don’t forget the cost of domestic flights, train tickets, cabs, or public transport. Unless you’re wealthy enough to Uber everywhere (and remember some countries don’t have such services), it’s a good idea to learn the public transport systems wherever you’re going.
Most of the digital nomads we spoke to fly once every two to three months. This usually means having S$1,200 to S$1,500 in the bank every three months. If you are flying within South East Asia, this is considerably cheaper – budget flights can cost under S$200, if you keep track of promotions.
By a travel credit card like the Citi PremierMiles Visa Signature Card, you can maximise air miles points to convert them into free flights or free business class upgrades. Compare and find the best air miles cards at SingSaver.com.sg.
Besides air tickets, you should be prepared to set aside at least S$50 a month for public transport, or triple that (S$150) if you primarily use cabs and Uber.
Total Cost Per Month: S$450
Averaging the cost of a flight ticket over three months, and assuming you make long distance flights, it comes to about S$450 a month for transport. Again, this is highly variable depending on where you travel to, and we are assuming you use public transport.
Singaporeans have the fifth best passport in the world, but you still need to get visas for some countries. These typically cost between S$50 to S$100. There is also a cost of S$80 every five years, to renew your passport.
There may be other added fees, such as customs duties (check the rules of the country you are going to.) In addition, you may have to pay a fee to replace lost or damaged papers.
Total Cost Per Month: S$100
To be safe, always keep about S$100 on you every month for administrative fees (they are often unexpected).
Few nomads use hotels, as they are too expensive. In most major cities, hotel costs come to around S$250 a night (and those are seldom good hotels). Airbnb rentals are usually more tolerable, reaching around S$120 a night. Many nomads choose hostels instead, where costs can be as low as S$15 a night.
Per month, living in a hostel can cost around S$900. Airbnb comes to around S$3,600, while hotels come to around S$7,500 (although no one we asked used month-long hotel stays).
See Also: How to Save Money on Your Airbnb Booking
If you plan to stick around a place for months at a time, it makes more sense to rent an apartment, which comes out even cheaper than staying in a hostel. In Bali, for example, you can get a decent one-bedroom flat for S$450 a month.
Total Cost Per Month: S$500 upward
Set aside at least S$500 a month if you want to rent an apartment, or S$900 if you’ll be stay in in hostels.
This is the cost of data roaming, or getting a new sim card in various countries. Few of the nomads we talked to recommend a data roaming plan.
The reason is simple: if you pay for data roaming in Singapore, and then fly abroad and find it doesn’t work, it is difficult to contact your telco representatives from there. You will often end up just buying a prepaid sim card, thus paying twice over for 3G or 4G access.
The cost of a prepaid sim card varies dramatically between countries. But in most major cities, a prepaid sim (with enough data to reliably go online and work) will cost around S$90 to S$120 per month. The prices vary by country and city however, so be sure to check on tourism websites before you go.
Alternatively, some digital nomads refuse to buy sim cards with data access. They feel it is unnecessary, as in most developed cities you can get free wi-fi in cafes, or your Airbnb rental (hotels sometimes charge exorbitant prices for wi-fi, check before you book in). This means they don’t buy sim cards with data plans, and even for calls they prefer to use VOIP apps (e.g. Skype).
Total Cost Per Month: S$120
If you insist on having a prepaid sim with data, prepare to pay S$120 a month. It’s often better to get the top-shelf unlimited card; otherwise repeated credit top-ups of S$10 or S$20 can lead to paying more in the long run.
Some digital nomads told us they only pay S$30 a month if they rely on free wi-fi and apps like Skype. Note that you should always have a sim card to call from your phone, just in case of emergencies.
There is a huge disparity when it comes to the cost of food. Many nomads we spoke to spent about S$900 a month on food, but some went as low as S$200 and some as high as S$1,500. They all were quick to point out one important detail: if you’re constantly on the go, you often cannot cook your own meals. So be prepared to pay to eat out.
Mid-range restaurants tend to be around S$25 to S$50 per meal. However, most cities have some form of cheap eats (e.g. street food) where the costs can be as low as S$3 to S$5 per meal.
Remember to include the cost of entertaining clients, if your business requires it. Otherwise, food costs depend on how fancy you want things to be. For major cities, don’t be surprised if high end restaurants can charge upwards of S$70 per meal.*
(*We are looking at food as more of a necessity, rather than as a form of entertainment. Michelin star restaurants at S$600 per head should not be counted as a basic food cost.)
One way to save money is to use a cashback or rewards card. Most restaurants have some sort of deal with Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. Compare the dining credit cards on SingSaver,com.sg to make sure you have access to good restaurant offers overseas
Total Cost Per Month: S$450
Assuming you spend S$5 a meal, set aside S$450 a month for food. It can be a lot cheaper depending on where you are, and if you stay in a place long enough to be able to cook your own food.
Travel insurance costs vary based on where you are going. Note that, in general, travel insurance for the United States will be more expensive (can be around S$100 a month), as it has the highest medical costs in the world. Otherwise, most forms of travel insurance cost around S$50.
Be wary of unusually cheap travel insurance. Some forms of travel insurance eliminate high cost coverage, to lower the premium. For example, some will not cover the cost of medically evacuating you to your home country. Some cheap insurance also comes with terrible administrative support. You may lose your luggage, and end up needing three weeks to get a payout.
Most of the nomads we spoke to told us their insurance agent deals with this. Some have global insurance policies (higher premiums but their insurance is valid wherever they go). Others contact their agent, who buys the relevant policy for them when they travel.
Total Cost Per Month: S$50
It’ll be double that if you’re in the United States.
7. Emergency Costs
Most nomads told us they’ve set aside S$2,000, on any month, for emergencies. This ranges from an unexpected need for hotel rooms, to having to book emergency flight tickets. A good generic rule we were told is “If you fall sick and need to go home right now, do you have the cash on hand to do it?”
At SingSaver.com.sg we always advise an emergency fund of six months of your income (which may take two or three years to build for some.)
Total Estimated Costs
You should earn a basic of S$1,670 every month, plus savings of at least S$2,000. In addition, we are adding 20% as necessary savings, and another 20% for entertainment purposes.
Overall, we’d say a reasonable income for a would-be digital nomad is at least S$2,338 a month, if you can live and eat on the cheap.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.