Brad Beckett is a digital nomad, who worked from the USA and other parts of the world and who eventually came to live and work in Serbia. How it is to be a digital nomad, what Brad’s line of work is and how he ended up in Serbia – you can read in the interview below.
1) We heard of you as a digital nomad currently residing in Belgrade. Could you tell us how it happened that you ended up living here?
A: After living in Bali and in Thailand for the past 2 years, I decided that, although beautiful, Southeast Asia was not for me in the long term. I was tired of doing visa runs every few months and wanted to settle somewhere I could stay long-term due to the coronavirus pandemic. I decided on Tbilisi, the capital city of the Republic of Georgia because they were offering one year stays without a visa. I intended to settle down there, live cheaply, work remotely, and save money. Before leaving Thailand I wanted to go see Bangkok because I had never been there in the year and a half I was living in Chiang Mai, so I took the overnight train down to Bangkok from Chiang Mai. I was in Bangkok for over a week and then saw an opportunity to go from Bangkok to Koh Samet island for only 2000 RSD total, which I considered a good deal. I couldn’t pass up going back to the beautiful Thai islands one last time before I left the region for the foreseeable future. I was on Koh Samet island and was having a good time there snorkeling, enjoying the perfect white sandy beaches with palm trees, and crystal clear waters with tropical fish and then… Georgia closed their borders. After about a week and a half on Koh Samet, I was done exploring the entire island and returned to Bangkok where pandemic measures were getting more serious. For example, inter-provincial travel was closed so I was unable to join my friends in the south, on Koh Pangan island. I was stuck in Bangkok and at the time, we did not know how serious this pandemic was and it was all speculation. Due to that I rented a hotel room between the two major airports so I could have access to Bangkok’s two airports quickly. I stayed there for about 2 and a half weeks and also had to deal with Thai immigration that never knew until just a few days earlier if foreigners were going to be allowed to stay or be forced to leave. While I will say Thai immigration was very organized and extended our stays there very quickly, the fact they did not have a long-term solution made me uncomfortable so I chose to return to San Diego, California via Los Angeles International Airport in March of 2020. While leaving Bangkok, the airport was utterly almost abandoned-looking. It looked like I was in the middle of a zombie movie. One guy had heart problems and dropped on the floor and nobody knew if it was from the virus or not. Everything was dark walking through the airport terminal to the plane and there were people lurking in the shadows. It was an extremely creepy and apocalyptic looking situation. I boarded my flight and the plane was only about 1/3 full. From this point I had been living outside of the US for 2 years and everybody says American customs and border protection is the worst in the world when it comes to aggressive questioning. I was expecting to be questioned about how I could have afforded to be on vacation” for 2 years. To my surprise, I was cleared by a kiosk and allowed to walk out of the airport without any questioning or human interaction at all. Los Angeles International Airport was also abandoned. While waiting for my sister to pick me up from San Diego, there was only ONE OTHER person getting picked up for as far as I could see and he was from my flight. It was an extremely crazy situation, and driving back to San Diego from downtown Los Angeles I think I only saw 20-35 other cars on the road the entire distance. After returning to San Diego, riots start forming around large inter-cities in the United States, with some cities being burned down completely. There were only mild protests going on in San Diego, but restaurants were either completely closed or the quality had gone from previously an 8 to a 2 or 3, and I couldn’t even get a proper haircut. After about 4 months I was ready to leave again but Georgia was still closed so I searched to see who was open. Serbia was open and that was very weird to me because I had originally wanted to come live in Belgrade after Southeast Asia, I remember very clearly because another YouTuber shot an interview with me on Bali and asked where i wanted to travel to next and my 3 places were: Chiang Mai, Thailand (the digital nomad capital of the world), Belgrade, Serbia and Medellín, Colombia. I say it’s weird because I believe the universe was pointing me in the right direction, towards Serbia. After expressing to my family I was again leaving in the middle of the pandemic to head to Serbia they all thought I was crazy especially since American media really played up the riots here. They suggested I stay in America and get a temporary job at a grocery store close to home. I said no, no, no, “I’m global now.”
Not only was I traveling to “SERBIA! !!!! !!!” but I was doing so during a pandemic and right after literal civil unrest. I decided to listen to my heart and book my ticket to Belgrade and didn’t have any worries or reservations about coming. I didn’t even have accommodation booked before I landed. I just got on Airport WiFi and booked a hostel via Booking.com and asked the airport security guard to refer me to a legitimate taxi. I’m 36 years old and usually like to stay in hotels because hostels are close and personal and always busy which can get mentally tiresome after awhile. However when going to a new city, I think hostels are good sources of local information and know all the tips and tricks of staying, including sometimes immigration procedures.
Everything, and I mean everything has gone silky smooth for me ever since I landed here. I wasn’t even ripped off by the airport taxi at 11 PM, I got into the exact apartment I really wanted after some negotiation, my landlord is perfect, my popularity on YouTube shot up, my income has risen, and some girl in my hostel was like “Hey I can help you open an Ltd. (DOO) .” I’m glad I took her up on her offer because she did everything exactly correct and made the process really easy for me. After being here for 6+ months now and talking to several professionals, she really knew what she was doing. Just some random girl in a random hostel. As I said, the stars all aligned for me at the exact moments I needed them to and the universe obviously wants me here. After arriving, I saw how beautiful the city was, how nice everybody was, it’s relatively clean, the government is really improving the infrastructure here, and how a lot of history has been preserved here and that is why I decided I want to live here long-term.
2) Your expertise is in IT. What is it that you do in your line of work?
A: I have a professional and personal background in IT management at-scale and cybersecurity. Enterprise IT is very different from home IT. Many new people to the IT industry try to apply home IT thinking to enterprise business IT and it just doesn’t work because it doesn’t scale well in large environments. For example, using automation software I can single-handedly deploy, manage, support, and secure about 500 computers. You couldn’t do that by installing software updates manually on every computer. You need to learn how to manage IT assets at scale which is what I had to learn on-the-job. Now I like to take people under my guidance early in their careers and change their mindset on IT management. Learning automation and standardizing hardware and processes is very important to be successful in IT at large scale.
3) Do you work for the US or other western European, North American clients? Is infrastructure that is used in your sector developed enough in our country to work for clients from developed countries?
A; I only work for American clients at this time but I wish to diversify outside of America and into Europe and maybe even Singapore. The infrastructure here is adequate especially with the proliferation of fiber optics and there are already 5+ data centers here just in Belgrade so yes, I think everything is great to work remotely from here.
4) You’re the President in an IT firm here in Belgrade. Would you mind telling how your business is doing and is it perspective to open businesses here?
A: At the time of writing, the immigration police are still deciding on my one year temporary residence permit. If that is approved, I will be based out of Belgrade for a long term. I will announce the results on YouTube. Of course I will still travel from time to time but Belgrade will be my home, business, and tax base. As for my Serbian company, I have significant interest from a former company I worked for, another IT contractor in San Diego that noticed me on LinkedIn and expressed interest, and other IT contractors known at Managed Service Providers in the United States. The reason being is I can lower their human employee expenses by about 50% which is a large number for US businesses, but is still a lot of money in Serbia. It’s a situation called “Geo arbitrage” which means making money in a stronger currency or economy and spending it in an economically developing country. I’d like to see more expats come here and move their wealth to Serbia. Local people often complain about the taxes here, but it’s the same situation in every country in the world if you don’t have a proper company structure, tax plan, and good accountant. Nobody in America and most of Europe that I know of can enjoy a flat-tax rate that entrepreneurs can here, but they must set up correctly as soon as they start making money. For me, an Ltd. / DOO was the best option for various reasons but most people say “oh you should have opened an entrepreneur — you should have become an entrepreneur ” without even asking or entertaining the idea of why an Ltd. might have been a better option, for me. While I agree that being an (preduzetnik) entrepreneuris the best option if you don’t really want to scale your operations, I was thinking long-term: perhaps hiring direct employees, wanting to limit my personal liabilities, have tax saving options, and want the business to be able to own assets and sign contracts I am not personally liable for. Sometimes foreigner entrepreneurs don’t really care about limiting liability because they can just leave if sued in Serbia but I want to actually stay here for the long term and build wealth here. Remember, Singapore used to be a back-water, bug infested type place in the 90’s and now that it’s so desirable, most people cannot even get in. People literally get deported from Singapore if it’s suspected they are just coming to tour the AIRPORT. Yes, that is actually a thing there. I can see the same possible future for Serbia and I’m happy to be getting in early. What’s best for me might not be best for you so I recommend always hiring professionals to best advise you on the best corporate and tax structure for you and your industry. Don’t open a DOO (Ltd.) just because I did, an entrepreneurship (preduzetnik) might give you better personal tax benefits and I believe you can suspend it, from what I hear. Like I mentioned, get professional advice.
5) Pečat, one of our weekly magazines, recently wrote about you. We saw that on your YouTube channel, so could you tell us what your YouTube channel is about, and how can people from our country follow your work?
Yes, I have very fond memories of my interview with Marko Tanaskovic. A true professional. I have more of an engineer mindset so I am not very creative. I also have ADHD which makes most things harder for me than other people. I don’t like editing cinematic videos so I just upload amateur videos without fancy drone shots or long and annoying video introductions. People like that and there is a market for that type of raw and real content. My most popular video I did in one take, I don’t think I even watched it before I uploaded it. People care too much what other people will think (especially in Serbia) and that scares many if not most people from doing new things which I believe holds them back in life. Stop caring what everybody might think and stop trying to conform. The type of content my Serbian friends say “oh no don’t do that” is exactly the content that I should be making because it’s different. I originally started an extremely low effort channel in Bali which didn’t get very many views because my content was bad. I knew everything about computers and video standards but very little about actual story telling. It was the same story in Thailand: low effort, bad storytelling. It wasn’t until my “Moving to Serbia in 2020” video that I saw some success on YouTube. Another popular vlogger who really inspired me was Haraold Baldr’s video on how to become successful on YouTube. His advice? Just keep uploading. As I’ve proven, it only takes ONE video to become successful. YouTube and most social media is all about algorithms. Their algorithms decide which videos to promote and what videos to suppress.
A few things that play into this is: Likes vs Dislikes (you need to actually ASK your viewers to LIKE your videos — not passively hope they do), total watch time: if your video is 15 minutes long but people stop watching after 1-2 minutes the YouTube video player tracks that and YouTube will think the video is boring, positive comments help a lot too (it’s your job to respond to every single one — which can sometimes double or triple your number of comments), and asking your viewers to share your videos on their social media, or external forum websites such as Reddit hellp bring external traffic to your video which the YouTube algorithm likes a lot.
Currently about 50% of my viewers are within Serbia and 13% are in America, and the rest is spread throughout the world. I am really trying to reach Americans and Canadians with my videos and not so much Serbians because I am trying to get more wealth and opportunities brought into the country and want people to take Serbia more seriously not only for business but investment too. The Serbian viewers really do help through, they help my videos rise up in the algorithms and I am seeing more and more people from the west see my videos because of that. I am currently thinking of starting a more professional channel to interview business owners here and show that Serbia is a very desirable place to live and do business from. I want it to be an independent channel because I want to show a more professional image then my personal amateur travel channel and be able to hand it off to somebody else in the future. I only have 4,700 subscribers now but it’s growing little by little every day. I didn’t produce any new videos during the winter because I think that the cold weather would scare foreigners away so that is why my YouTube channel hasn’t grown too much recently. I did have a LinkedIn post about doing business in Serbia that went viral and was seen by over 32,000 people with many in Dubai, United Arabs Emirates which could mean potential investors for Serbia.
6) What would you tell the young people reading this that think about starting a career in IT, or becoming digital nomads? What are some pros and cons regarding lifestyle like that?
Definitely do it but don’t force yourself to do something you are not made for or not good at. For example, I would never advertise myself as a graphics designer or wedding photographer. If you genuinely are interested in IT and don’t think you have the necessary skills, start watching YouTube and try to find an entry-level help desk job. Here are the basics you should learn if you want to go into IT:
1. Microsoft Windows 10 Professional
2. Microsoft Server 2012-2019
3. Microsoft Active Directory and Azure Active Directory (login and security policies)
4. How ticket desk software works.
5. Basic customer service, phone, and help desk support procedures.
6. Basic DNS – domain name service and how it works, and why it’s important.
7. Basic cybersecurity policies.
8. How email actually works, the technical backend of it and how to diagnose problems with it.
You can learn most of this on YouTube, enough to get a basic tier-1 help desk job where you are doing basic things such as installing software and doing password resets for company employees. You’ll be in a highly technical environment which will be scary at first but eventually you’ll start to absorb more advanced knowledge. What I did for years was if I didn’t know something during my day job, I would go home and spend all night researching and learning. It takes a lot of effort and personal time to become successful at IT. Only the people who are willing to use their personal time to develop skills will be successful.
If you don’t want to go into IT, there are many other remote opportunities available such as:
1. Website design (learn how to use WordPress and the Divi framework). You could call or email businesses in the US and ask if they would like a “website refresh” for 50,000 RSD. To them, that’s a deal but here that could be big money.
2. Video editing for YouTubers — I know of a good video editor in India that charges 5,000 RSD per video. This can be done with free software called Davinci Resolve, their standard version is free and has all the options you would need for an entire YouTube career. Its color correction and audio editing options are also free and I’d say Hollywood level. It won’t cost you a dinar to download it, install it, and learn how to edit videos with it using free YouTube tutorials.
3. Remote customer support via phone, ticket desk, or live chat.
4. Project Management – Even if you are not good with any of these skills, if you can find a freelancer to outsource work to, then communicate between the US clients and freelancer you can do project management. Say you are good at sales but your skills are lacking; you sell a website design for, say, 150,000 RSD to a US business and outsource it to a freelancer for 50,000 – 60,000 RSD and you pocket the rest. Learning project management allows you to scale your business with multiple projects going on at the same time. The real money is in sales and management, not the actual doing in this case. I know of a US business that isn’t even doing well and that inspired them to spend 300,000 RSD on a full website and brand redesign. There are platforms you can use to find freelancers but they are not all good. You must give them small test projects to find the good ones, once you do start outsourcing more and more work to them. The secret is to find the good ones. Platforms such as FIverr.com, Upwork.com, and PeoplePerHour.com are good to find freelancing designers. I recently noticed that Pakistan of all places was a good place to find a low cost designer.
You definitely need a stable income before setting out to become a digital nomad. Therefore you’ll need professional skills, experience, and industry contacts. Don’t buy a course online from a scam artist on how to become a digital nomad. I recommend watching travel videos, especially the ones about scams in different places, https://reddit.com/r/digitalnomad and “Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Coffee Club” group on Facebook. To be quite frank and honest: you need to have or learn very useful and in-demand skills before you become a digital nomad, and I recommend it to you only until you find the right place that is right for you. I think traveling continually isn’t conducive to doing serious business or your mental health. Definitely learn your industry well, make contacts, and have a stable income before leaving. When I left San Diego, I sold everything for about 1/2 to 1/3 of what I originally paid for the items only 1-2 years earlier. I took whatever I could get and left with about $6,000 USD in cash and $1,200 USD in stable passive income per month and it’s taken every penny (dinar) I’ve had to find my way and make this life viable so it’s not easy. It’s only natural to want to leave your home and explore the world, many people want to but not many get to do it.
Many Serbian youngsters are moving abroad for better immediate economic opportunities. They are intelligent and I do think they could benefit greatly by temporarily moving abroad, learning how to do business in places like America, and in places like Western Europe, and returning to Serbia and starting an outsourcing firm with the knowledge they have acquired. In my humble opinion, outsourcing is a great way for Serbia to improve economically.
I also think lowering the import tariffs would also help bring more economic success to Serbia. For example, I wanted to order a genuine North Face Borealis backpack from Amazon and have it shipped here because I was unable to find it domestically. Amazon.com calculated an import tax of: $72.83 USD on a backpack that only originally cost $88.95 USD and a $102.69 USD shipping charge. For a lightweight backpack. The import taxes on equipment like business desk phones are also high, so much so, it sometimes doubles the cost. For foreigners like me, that is OK because we can afford it as the cost of living offsets those costs since it’s usually a one-time cost but for an average Serbian salary, I think the very high import taxes and tariffs is one problem that needs to be figured out and lowered. I invite representatives from the Serbian government and tourism bureau to reach out to me through Instagram. I have some unique ideas to better advertise Serbia that I would like to discuss with them in person. Thank you for your time.
My Instagram link is: https://instagram.com/bradbeckett
My YouTube link is: https://www.youtube.com/c/bradbeckett/videos
My Linkedin URL is: https://brad.rs/linkedin