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Why Accounting Is the Key to Expanding the Digital Nomad Movement

Getting paid to sit on a beach in Tahiti or ski a few runs at Whistler Mountain might sound a little too good to be true—if it were 2004. But with the power of reliable Wi-Fi and a trusty laptop, the age-old idea that traveling the world while earning a living is only a fantasy has become just that: age-old.

Digital nomads—aka those who work remotely abroad—are now a fixture in today’s business world. U.S. companies large and small have continued to invest in remote work programs that are designed to broaden their talent pools and give greater flexibility to their younger employees.

But while remote workers might bend their work schedules around global adventures, they can’t escape an often tricky set of homeland tax codes and accounting issues. And because country hopping is a relatively new business idea, it requires an accountant who understands the culture.

That presents a unique opportunity for today’s accountants. The digital nomads of the world need your numbers skills to successfully continue their migratory lifestyles. And if you yourself are a digital nomad, or want to become one, even better—as you hop about the globe, you’ll grow to understand the needs of the roaming workforce more than someone chained to a desk in Idaho. You can use that advantage to land digital nomad accounting clients as a freelancer or small firm startup.

Enter digital nomad accounting

That’s exactly what Krystal Pino, CPA, PFS, is doing today with her firm Nomad Tax. Pino, as she’s known by in her communities, started her accounting career at a large firm in the southern U.S., but she had a change of heart about her corporate path following a year-long, international, 12-city work abroad program.

Krystal Pino

After deciding to permanently work abroad in 2017, Pino founded Nomad Tax to help a “community that I felt was being underserved by the current tax and accountant consulting offerings.”

Now that she’s running her own digital nomad accounting business remotely across the world, she said she’s happier and more productive than she’s ever been—and is helping others fulfill their dreams.

“Starting my own business as a digital nomad was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it,” Pino said. “And now I want to show people that this can be done. It’s easy. It’s fun. And it’s a wonderful way of life if you understand what you’re doing.”

Birth of the digital nomad community

Although the term “digital nomad” was coined more than 20 years ago by author Tsugio Makimoto (in a book that looks really boring and has exactly one Amazon review), the concept was largely considered science fiction until the late 2000s, when a new wave of business professionals entered the workforce.

Armed with worldwide internet and Instagram, millennials took their penchant for adventure and made it profitable. It made us wonder: How many digital nomads are out there, anyway?

The internet, in all its wisdom, has yet to give us a clear answer, but here’s what we were able to dig up. A 2014 survey by oDesk or Upwork or whatever they call themselves reported that 39% of its freelancer client base considered themselves to be digital nomads. We assume that number has grown in the last five years, but we don’t have anything to back that up.

FlexJobs has no idea how many digital nomads there are either, but it still uncovered some fun data in a 2018 study. We were surprised to find that 70% of digital nomads are women, which then made us wonder if finding that surprising makes us sexist, and then we gave up and drank some Diet Coke. Also 18% of nomads earn more than six figures a year, which is pretty rad.

Whatever the exact figures are, digital nomads are a group that businesses are going to have to deal with soon, if not now.

“Companies now have to ask themselves if remote people hurt or help their business,” Pino said. “More and more are finding that the positives of employing digital nomads far outweigh the negatives. With Wi-Fi and secure networks that you can find almost anywhere today, companies need to embrace the concept and reap the rewards.”

Pino said that being part of the ever-growing digital nomad community—both online and through meet-ups in various cities—has been key for her accounting business’s growth. But she cited her biggest goal as visiting global digital nomad hubs where she can talk to people face-to-face about their financial and business goals.

“Ultimately, we’re in the people business,” she said. “I want to know what my clients’ goals are. Are they planning on hiring another employee? Aiming for a million-dollar revenue next year? Just looking to make sure they comply with the rules that give them the best tax savings? I don’t want to be just their accountant, I want to be on their team, helping them achieve what they’re setting out to do.”

Caring is sharing nomad advice

The boom of online forums such as Workfrom and Coworker have given nomads a community where they can find answers to a variety of questions on issues such as housing, cafes and cheap internet, and finding new clients.

Pino said having that community backbone has not only been vital to her accounting business, but it also encourages others looking to branch from their desk jobs to start their own businesses.

“Clients come to me all the time and say they’ve had an accountant for years but now want to use us because we understand what this life entails,” she said. “We face unique challenges, things that you just don’t get if you’ve never embraced this life. You see people collaborating and coming together in the community who understand what your day-to-day is really like.”

Digital nomad accounting is critical

There’s no easy way around it: bookkeeping, accounting, and taxes are a serious pain in the bidet hole for digital nomads. Combine multicountry laws and they’ve got themselves a headache no amount of Caribbean moonshine, homemade sake, or Eastern Bloc beet wine can crush.

That’s why so many of them are leaving their books to professionals like those at Nomad Tax—a firm that understands digital nomad businesses because, well, it is one.

“Digital nomads are increasingly looking for accountants who know how to meet their needs,” Pino said. “That’s why we started Nomad Tax, to help nomads improve financial outcomes while embracing the fun and freedom of the nomad lifestyle ourselves.”

The digital nomad community is growing, but if the businesses and individuals within that group don’t get their accounting practices in order, their success will be limited. Thankfully, people like Pino are around to help them keep their books together, do their taxes right, and maximize financial opportunities.

If you’re an accountant and are thinking about breaking the chains and embarking on the digital nomad lifestyle, now might be the perfect time to do it. It works for Pino—so why not you?

Still not inspired? Read more about Pino’s digital nomad accountant journey here.