WORKING ABROAD / JAN. 20, 2015
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How to Work as a Digital Nomad in Central America

In 2014, I finally pulled the trigger on a big dream: living remotely and traveling around Central America while working online. With so many jobs done electronically these days, it’s becoming more common every day. The coffee shops and office workspaces I frequent tend to always be peppered with people like me -- those digital nomads who don’t need a physical address to do their work. But like me, the ones who thrive in Central America, have learned some tips for survival.

If you’re considering working as a freelancer in Central America, here are some things you should know before you go.

Charge everything when you can

Nearly every city has decent wireless internet service, but that does you no good if there’s no electricity that day. Power outages can be frequent -- especially in more rural areas. Thus, have your laptop and any peripheral devices fully charged as often as you can, so you don’t get stuck not being able to work when the power goes out. What’s more, have a list of to-do’s that’s not tied to a cloud service or your email, or else you may not be able to access it during outages.

Bring extra cords, chargers and any other necessary items

In places like Costa Rica and Panama, it can be easier to find replacement parts or chargers for your electronics. In rural Nicaragua, on the other hand, good luck finding someone who stocks the peripherals for the newest gadgets that can help you get back to working. When in doubt, bring backups off all charger cords and batteries -- and always use a surge protector when plugged into outlets.

Protect your electronics from dust

Keep those electronics covered! Most houses and even hotels in Central America are at least partly open-air. So unless you’re springing for a fully air-conditioned apartment in which you never open the doors or windows, you’re going to need to cover your electronics with a cloth when not in use, and use bottles of compressed air to keep dust out of the cracks and crevices.

Have an “uh-oh” fund that’s bigger than you imagined

Many places in Central America are cheap enough for a digital nomad to live comfortably, but things do sometimes get stolen, broken, or they simply stop working. Plus, that "cheap" lifestyle can really add up if you enjoy things like eating out or riding in air conditioned comfort to the beach, instead of taking the chicken bus. Thus, your safety net had better be fairly large, just in case.

Show up on time to your client appointments -- but don’t get mad when others don’t

If you’re doing freelance work for Central American clients, don’t throw your business ideals out the window just because you heard that everything runs on “mañana time.” Sure, some people do tend to show up later to appointments -- even business appointments -- than they do in North America or Europe, but then again, many do still value punctuality. In fact, they may be relying on the fact that you’re known for being on time and don’t want to lose face. Don’t keep them waiting -- but pack your patience too, in case you have to wait a while.

Plan for days when it’s just too hot to work

Yeah yeah -- you have to make a living, but with beaches nearby and the hot sun blazing much of the year, give yourself a break now and again and realize your pace of work might just be a lot slower than you’ve been accustomed to in a more temperate climate.

It’s OK -- there’s always mañana...

Image: iStock

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