Back when I was traveling around South America for a bit, I remember coming across more foreigners and travelers than I ever had throughout most of my time in Latin America.
While in Argentina at some place called El Chalten, I was staying at some hostel where the two other individuals sleeping in the same room were also Argentine.
They were young dudes who were just traveling the world basically.
They had just arrived back to Argentina after doing some time away in Europe together.
From what I remember, they had spent years living abroad but I forgot for how long.
And they worked from their laptops.
Now, having done a bit of time in Europe, they chose to come back to Argentina and broader South America.
One of them told me that they have plans on basically just checking out most Latin countries hitting the road often.
From what they told me, they very much came across as “digital nomads” in that they consistently lived abroad, travelled often and worked from their laptops.
Here is a definition of the term “digital nomad” here.
One who derives income remotely and online, rather than from commuting to an office. This enables the digital nomad to not need a permanent home base, and she/he can travel anywhere at any time. Often find them couchsurfing, living in hostels, with friends, or in third world countries where rent is cheap.
Now, while I do fit the definition above of working from home, living in the “third world” and traveling around a bit, I wouldn’t call myself a digital nomad.
Granted, I haven’t done any serious traveling in years now but I do live in another country.
At any rate, every single “digital nomad” that I’ve ever met in my time abroad has been from more “developed” countries like the US, Canada, a few countries in Europe, etc.
These were the only dudes I ever met who identified as “digital nomads” but were from Latin America.
A region that many outside associate with poverty, crime, underdevelopment and all that.
Though, to be fair, there is some ignorance in that idea that everyone down here is poor as fuck and Argentina is a relatively more successful country with vast parts of its country having a high HDI (human development index).
And I wouldn’t call Argentina “third world” but you get the idea of what I’m talking about here, right?
Where, if you’ve been paying attention, a good deal of the “digital nomads” have usually been from places that are seen as more developed.
You just don’t see that many of them from places like Latin America (though they do exist).
The question though is, as Latin America continues to develop and changes in the working conditions continue, will there be a change?
Will we see more digital nomads from these countries?
Of course, the question could be extended to the rest of the “developing world” but, given we only talk about Iberian America on this website, let’s stick to just that.
Here are my thoughts below.
The Money Factor
Obviously, to be a digital nomad, you need some money in the bank.
You don’t have to be wealthy but you can’t be living in the poorest favela of Rio de Janeiro.
Here is a screenshot that I took here of some Mexican chick who wants to be a “digital nomad” in South America.
Her budget? Seemingly only 600 to 800 bucks a month.
Now could she live on that down there?
But I do hope she has money set aside for moving costs when traveling from one spot to the next.
Still, assuming that, she could pull it off but her mileage will vary by what parts of South America she chooses to live in.
A place like Rio de Janeiro will probably be off the itinerary but a place like Pereira in Colombia is more realistic.
Still, as you can see in this video here, Latin America has developed quite nicely across the region over the last few decades but you do have noticeable differences between countries in economic growth.
And, as you can read here, it’s predicted to keep growing economically in the future.
“Fortunately, population trends work in the region’s favor. Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced one of the most rapid fertility declines anywhere, falling by at least half in the majority of countries. 1 But most of the region will still be experiencing a demographic dividend in 2030, because the ratio of workers to dependents (those who are too young or old to work) will still be positive. In Europe and East Asia, however, more than 30 percent of their populations will be over sixty-five in the next decade or so. This gives Latin America a comparative advantage over much of the world.”
Among other benefits and challenges the region is predicted to face in the coming decades.
Still, regardless of the rate of economic progress, I think it’s fair to say that Latin America will continue to progress and not decline across the region.
Just like we saw in the huge progress we have seen in the region over the last century and last decade.
With more wealth per individual in the future compared to now, it makes sense that we could see more “digital nomads” from this region.
While I imagine there’s probably some digital nomads who travel with children, I’ve never met then.
Every single one I’ve met is childfree.
As I wrote here, Latin America’s fertility rate has been declining a lot.
With more people without children, they should have more disposable income to spend and also easier logistics to be “digital nomads.”
In order to be a digital nomad, you need a decent passport to more easily travel the world.
Similar to how wealth varies by country in Latin America, passport strength varies by country also.
I already wrote a little bit on passport strength across different Latin countries in this article here but I’ll summarize that portion of the article with this list here of the passport strength of different Latin countries from best to worst:
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Dominican Republic
To the surprise of nobody, you generally have wealthier countries closer to the top with poorer Latin countries closer to the bottom.
Though you would expect Colombia or the Dominican Republic to do better than Venezuela or Paraguay.
Outside of that, that’s the general trend you can see in that list.
Which brings us to the next point.
Variances by Country
It’s a point I always beat to death every single time I discuss broad trends across all of Latin America.
So I won’t torture you too much here with the same point always brought up.
That point being that the amount of “digital nomads” that we’ll see in Latin America will probably concentrate more in certain countries than others.
With wealthier ones like Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and others producing more “digital nomads” than others.
With wealth and passport strength varying quite a bit between different Latin countries.
And, quite possibly, some countries could see societal wide turmoil in the future than others.
Maybe a civil war or economic collapse?
Like the civil war we saw in some countries like El Salvador during the 20th century to the collapse of Venezuela that we have already seen.
Or the impact of climate change and how it’ll damage some countries (like Guatemala) much more than others (like Chile).
That should impact the pace at which different countries grow economically and, consequently, which ones produce more “digital nomads.”
Of course, any country that does experience a dramatic event would likely see its citizens leave anyway.
But we’ll probably call those folks “migrants” instead of “digital nomads” like we do already with those from places like Guatemala or Honduras.
Different titles for different folks!
But, you know, if we had to be optimistic here, they all still get to travel the world, right?
Just in an extremely different style….
More Remote Work in Latin America?
Remember that screenshot of that Mexican chick way above?
She can afford to be a digital nomad because she gets to work remotely!
Similarly, over the last few months, I’ve been seeing a Mexican chick named Jovi who works as an accountant from home.
With seemingly no plans on going back to the office anytime soon.
More remote work for her also!
Depending on her income, I suppose she could be a “digital nomad” if she wanted to be.
And, according to this article here, we very well might see some increase in digital nomadism as the whole situation with Covid has pushed so many jobs to becoming remote.
“The remote-work genie is out of the bottle: workers desire room to roam more than ever, and have more resources to do so than before. However, some experts say that we shouldn’t expect everyone we know to pick up and go: only some groups of workers at specific types of jobs will really be able to embrace a digitally nomadic lifestyle, leaving others behind. It’s also unclear how many people will actually take the jump if afforded the opportunity.
One study shows that in mid-2020, the digital-nomad population in the US exploded 50% from 2019, up to 10.9 million from 7.3 million. And, as more workers turn nomadic, the lifestyle has mainstreamed: telling your family or company you want to move around while you work might have drawn sceptical looks in the past, but the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched now – especially as some companies are increasingly allowing their staff to work remotely indefinitely.”
Of course, it should be remembered that the information above relates more to the US and the UK perhaps.
Nothing about Latin America specifically.
Though, at least from my years living in Mexico City specifically, I can definitely see some increase in digital nomadism down here also.
Outside of Jovi, I have a friend named Angie who is Mexican and she works from home also now.
Hasn’t gone back to the office either.
In Angie’s case, she happens to be a computer programmer or something like that.
And, among other Tinder chicks that I’ve met, it has come to my attention that quite a few of them do work online these days!
Not all of them obviously.
And, if we’re being honest, there’s one aspect to the labor market in Latin America that would make it difficult for people to be “digital nomads” in my opinion.
Jovi is an accountant.
Angie is a computer programmer.
Both of them have very specific and marketable skills that can bring them better paying jobs that allow work from home.
Not everyone in Latin America has those marketable skills nor remote work opportunities.
Granted, not everyone in the US does either to be fair.
Or in any part of the world.
Nonetheless, it should be reminded that the labor force in Latin America does have its differences from the labor force in the US in that, at least from what I have noticed, you have a lot more “informal workers.”
Those who have some informal job that basically pays nothing and requires them to not work from home also.
During the Covid situation, that was one of the challenges that Latin governments had as you have lots of poorer folks down here who simply don’t have a choice in being able to work from home.
They have to leave to work!
As one lady told me when I was getting my haircut in Pedregal de Santo Domingo, she either dies from hunger or from Covid.
So she has to work.
And, given how little informal jobs pay (cutting hair isn’t informal but still), plenty of these folks don’t have the money to travel anyway.
But really the big point here is that, even if those jobs like selling candy in the metro did pay more, they can’t be done remotely.
The dude who walks onto the metro with cheap headphones to sell at 1.50 each can’t do that remotely.
Among all of the other informal jobs out there that require a physical presence and of which A LOT of people in Latin America do.
As you can see in this source here, the informal labor market in Latin America is quite strong.
“A total of 140 million people work in occupations involving social vulnerability, limited rights and precarious conditions. According to the ILO, this number translates to roughly 50 percent of total employment in the region. It is a little less than the global average but more than double for the developed region.
The percent of informally employed workers varies greatly across the region. Costa Rica had the lowest rate of informally employed workers as of 2013 at 30.7 percent. In addition, Guatemala had the highest at 73.6 percent.”
Of course, in the long run over the next few decades, I’d like to think this situation improves along with the economy of the whole region improving also in that time frame.
But, in the moment, it’s not looking too positive currently in 2021 as a majority of new jobs created after the decline caused by the Covid Recession have been informal as you can see here:
“Around 70 per cent of the jobs created in recent months in a group of Latin American countries are in informal conditions. Meanwhile, unemployment and the decline in labour force participation are persistent. The International Labour Organization (ILO) calls for action to face the unequal impact of the crisis with more and better jobs.”
Still, time will tell how Latin America progresses on this topic in the coming years.
But let’s wrap this up.
So More Future Digital Nomads from Latin America?
In the long run, I’d like to say yes.
But, for obvious reasons outlined before, I’d confident that some countries will produce a lot more than others.
Those being the richer countries obviously – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.
With some relatively well to do folks from other countries in the region following the same footsteps.
Therefore, I could expect less the demographics of who makes up “digital nomads” to change in the future.
But time will tell.
I only wrote on this subject because I saw that screenshot above and thought to myself “that’s interesting. Is this a changing trend?”
Because I genuinely have only met two people from Latin America who were “digital nomads.”
A vast majority that I have seen have always been from the so called “first world.”
Though, to be fair, I don’t hang out with “digital nomads” ever these days.
So times are changing, I’m sure!
And, as I said, I imagine we’ll see many of the changes above in the coming years and decades regarding tends within the “digital nomad” community.
I’m sure any actual digital nomads who travel around constantly could offer greater insight into this topic.
Either way, that’s all I got to say for now.
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