Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads

Remote Working while Abroad - Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads by Expat Empire
Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads

Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads – The idea of living abroad is intertwined with the concept of freedom. The ability to choose where one lives is the dream of an increasing number of people around the world, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this freedom most often comes at a greater cost and finding work while living in another country can be intimidating at best. The more you know about working abroad, the better your chances of creating a successful lifestyle outside of your home country. 

Simply knowing the terminology used in describing how people work abroad and fund their journeys will help you to understand how to create a life abroad of your own. As the pandemic continues to define the relationship between companies and employees around the world, it’s important to understand the similarities and differences between all of the relevant terms including remote worker, freelancer, contractor, and digital nomad. This article lays out our current understanding of these terms and how they are interrelated, but please know that as the language used in this space evolves, the definitions of these employment relationships will continue to change as well.

Running a Business Abroad

What Are Remote Workers?

The term “remote worker” has become increasingly common in recent years but was greatly accelerated as more and more people were forced to work from home during the pandemic. A remote worker is simply someone who is working as an employee or contractor for a company from somewhere other than the company’s office. 

When not confined by a pandemic-related lockdown, remote workers have the freedom of choice when it comes to where they work. These days, it takes little more than a laptop and an internet connection to make a sustainable living abroad. Remote workers will often establish their workplace in a sunny corner of their home, at a cozy coffee shop, in a coworking space, or even in transit to somewhere else. The exciting possibilities of remote work are a primary driver for many people to consider the idea of moving abroad in the first place.

There is some overlap between the definitions of a remote worker and some of our other terminology. For instance, a remote worker can be considered a digital nomad as well. This distinction between the two, however, entirely depends on the location of the work. If remote workers are working at or near their home or company office, then they are probably not considered to be digital nomads. On the other hand, if they are working far from their home or company office, such as in another city or country, for a longer period of time, then they can also be called digital nomads in addition to remote workers. 

Guiding Your Own Path Abroad

What Are Freelancers and Contractors?

While both freelancers and contractors have existed long before the Internet, the use of these employment relationships has increased in the last few decades alongside advances in technology. Since many companies are requiring employees to return to in-person office work as the pandemic subsides, individuals who still want to work from anywhere are turning to the freelancing and contracting world in greater numbers. 

A freelancer or contractor is someone who does not work for a single company as an employee. Instead, this is someone who either works for a single client as a contractor or works for multiple clients in either one-off projects or consistently over time as a freelancer. 

By and large, freelancers and contractors are independent and self-employed. This arrangement ideally enables them to create a favorable work-life balance with the freedom to choose when and where they work. While freelancers and contractors have the unique ability to accept as much or as little work as they are willing or able to do, the downside is that establishing a stable relationship with clients often takes time.

To compare and contrast freelancers and contractors with the other terms in this article, freelancers and contractors can also be digital nomads if they choose to work far from their homes or clients’ offices. Only contractors may also be remote workers as they are working for a single company in a relationship similar to that of an employee but without the healthcare, vacation time, and other benefits reserved for employees. 

Working As A Digital Nomad - Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads by Expat Empire

What Are Digital Nomads?

A term that is thrown around more and more often these days is “digital nomad.” It’s a fairly vague term that describes more of a lifestyle than the type of work someone does. A digital nomad is someone that is moving around the world while working on their laptop and doing all of their work online. Digital nomads can rarely stay anywhere longer than one year if they follow the established visa rules, and they often move every three months to avoid overstaying their tourist visas in many countries of the world. It’s certainly an exciting prospect for those who want to combine work with a travel-focused lifestyle.

Digital nomads can be one of the previous definitions: remote worker, freelancer, or contractor. However, the main distinction is dependent on the work situation. A digital nomad may be employed by a company as a remote worker, be a freelancer on behalf of several clients, or be an independent contractor for a single company. Generally speaking, digital nomads live in a different state or country than their employers or clients.

Moving around the world and spending time in different countries can be a difficult path to take in the long run as it doesn’t provide much of a sense of permanence. However, as long as digital nomads can sustain themselves through acquiring tourist visas in a string of different countries, the lifestyle has proven to be attractive to many people in the last few decades. Several countries including Portugal, Croatia, and Estonia have even introduced special visas or residence permits for digital nomads that make it easier for people doing remote work to live in the country for periods of time longer than those offered by typical tourist visas. All of these changes make the dynamic digital nomad lifestyle more attainable for adventurous individuals around the world. 

Working Where You Want - Knowing the Terminology: Remote Workers, Freelancers, Contractors, and Digital Nomads

What Kind of International Working Experience Do You Want?

When it comes to living abroad, everything depends on your income. If you’re working for a company, check to see if they are open to the possibility of remote work. If not, there are likely some great opportunities around the world for taking on freelancing or contracting work. Whatever your working and traveling goals are, there are employment opportunities that will help you to achieve them. We have defined and compared and contrasted several of these employment relationships in this article so that you can identify the best working situation for you.

Expat Empire is focused on inspiring people to move abroad and helping them make it happen. As expats ourselves, we have experience working as remote workers, freelancers, contractors, and even digital nomads. To help you to do the same, we offer personalized consulting services such as the Remote Work Roadmap, which will give you the information and advice you need to start working remotely. To get all the support you will need to become a digital nomad, be sure to check out our Digital Nomad Premium Package. Beyond our personalized services, we also publish bi-weekly podcasts as well as educational courses. Get started today with our Free Consulting Call so you can find the answers you need to live abroad!

I'm a writer and former Chef living in Ankara, Turkey. Originally from Evergreen, Colorado, I spent my childhood years in the mountains. I moved to Denver nearby for my education at University of Colorado Denver where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in English - Creative Writing. After graduating in 2012, I rediscovered a passion for cooking and sought to combine that passion with travel. In 2019, I met my future wife, a teacher, in Denver. The COVID-19 Pandemic broke us apart for some time, but we reunited and married in Ankara in 2020 and we continue to live happily in this stunning culinary and cultural oasis.