The Stack Overflow Podcast

How do digital nomads pay their taxes?

Episode Summary

Almost all software developers are being asked to work fully remote, and many companies are moving to keep this arrangement permanent. This raises a lot of new questions around taxes, legal liabilities, and compensation.

Episode Notes

A nice story on how to avoid the Nomad Tax Trap.

Got a lot of employees moving to Texas? The state is notorious for the number of patent lawsuits filed there, and having employees living in the area may expose companies to great legal liability.

If the work from home boom is here to stay, get ready for a lot of "cost-of-living" adjustments to follow.

Our lifeboat badge of the week goes to kd12 for explaining: How to get an element by its data-id in jQuery

Episode Transcription

Sara Chipps There's a lot of companies that consider butts in seats a success metric. And I'd love to see that go away. It's like, "How many butts do we have in seats from these hours of the day?" And that doesn't seem conducive to success to me.

Ben Popper Exactly. And then also, we can stop saying butts in seats, which is like who wants say that? [Ben & Sara laugh]


BP Are you ready to start writing your tech story? join an Ironhack boot camp and learn the skills you need to pursue a meaningful career in tech. Visit to find out more. Let's write your story. 

BP Hello! Good morning and welcome to the Stack Overflow podcast. Hi Sara. 

SC Hey Ben! Good morning! It's just us today.

BP It's just us. It's gonna be really--

SC I'll be Paul. [Sara imitating Paul's voice] "Hello Ben! Hello Sara!"

BP [Ben imitating Paul's voice] Hey! [Ben laughs] So Sara, I know you have been traveling a lot during the time where we've been remote from the office. And I had a really interesting conversation on Friday with somebody who works at Atlassian. And they have a lot of offices in Australia. What I learned is that a lot of people, you know, lived in Australia, because there was an expectation of coming to the office, you know, a few times a week, a few times a month. And also it was fun to have the office culture, whatever. So post pandemic, a lot of those people, if their families lived in New Zealand move back there. You're not changing your timezone. You're not that far away. 

SC Yeah, it's a great place. 

BP But, you're in a totally different country. And so taxes suddenly get really complicated. And that brought to mind a few things I've seen on Twitter among software developers, which is, how do you think about sort of, yeah, these wrinkles that are introduced? Let's say, you're just traveling around the country in a van, like, are you going to pay taxes in any particular state, the state you live in longest? 

SC That's actually a great question. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

BP Yeah. So that the employee has a certain, you know, level of responsibility to figure this out. And perhaps even more, the employer has like a pretty hefty responsibility to figure it out, and whether or not that puts maybe extra burden on your small to medium businesses, your startups and stuff. Because, the tech giants of the world have a legal department that will figure this out, but maybe some of the other ones don't. So yeah, who have you been talking to? And what have you been hearing? 

SC Yeah, so it gets really complicated. So some context here for folks listening to the pod. So my partner and I have been during COVID, in the southeast of the US living in AirBnBs, because both of us have been--not separate ones. It sounds like we're separate ones--in the same one. [Sara & Ben laugh] 

BP You need a little space. 

SC Sometimes, yeah. [Sara laughs]

BP Two adjoining Airbnbs.

SC Yeah, it's really nice. It gets complicated, because so a lot of companies and Ben, you may have been seeing, I know we don't do this at Stack Overflow. But a lot of companies, if you don't live near a metropolitan area, you get a different compensation package. So a question during this time is what does it mean to live in a different area? Does that mean, I'm going to be there for a month? Additionally, here in the US each, which is very confusing to people, myself included, who has lived here my whole life, every state has their own tax rules, some of them are more appealing than others. So what does it mean to live in a state and that kind of thing. And so you know, we've been talking to people about their situations and what that means, and everyone's very confused. There are tax people that will help you through this, which is what we've opted to do. But the burden of proof to say that you live somewhere versus where your home, it turns out states like getting those taxes. 

BP Yeah, I read that there were actually like apps and services that help you track and keep all your receipts so that you because you have to bring the proof, right? Like, yeah, look, I was here, not just like passing through, but for six solid months, or whatever it may be, in order to keep a rent controlled apartment, or yeah, not pay state taxes and stuff like that. 

SC Yeah, I know for Stack in particular, Stack's been pretty generous about, you know, just being not wanting to change people's, you know, compensation package or anything like that. But instead just like, give us a heads up about where you are, and your locations, in case we're mailing stuff to you. But that's been, I think, pretty generous, 'cause I don't think every company has been like that. 

BP And it was actually interesting, as I was having this discussion, I was thinking that there might be sort of like a flip flop, where it used to be that companies that offer the ability to be fully remote, were kind of in demand. And that was, you know, like a sort of one of the perks you could state of your company. Now, it may be that in six months offering the ability to be in person will be in demand--

SC I know! So different.

BP And people will crave that and want to go back to that. And so, again, I think that unfortunately, sort of puts companies with a lot of resources at an unfair advantage right? The winners, the big winners might win more because they are able to say look, we're gonna have, you know, you all in a safe space and we're doing X, Y and Z to protect you and you can come back and so, I don't know it's interesting to think about.

SC It is, and Ben you went fully remote during That pandemic. So you moved to upstate New York, which is quite a commute for the office. So I imagine that you plan on staying remote?

BP Yeah, I do. I mean, I was thinking, like, if our office ever opened back up, I would come down, you know, maybe twice a month and work from the office for, you know, two or three days that week, and then go back. So, you know, like, sort of visit the office and have some face time with people be largely remote, but you know, get face time because that's, you know, important for building connections. And, you know, also just healthy I think, you know, yeah, the hardest things about this, for me is like how lonely it is to work at home alone all the time. 

SC Yeah. Well, you have the chickens. 

BP I do have the chickens. And they're lovely. You know, at first our report wasn't great, but it really opened up to me, it's takes time. But yeah, you make another point, which is that I think, really interesting, which is that a lot of companies are saying, okay, you're welcome to be remote. But if you move away from this city, we're gonna pay you less. And so I had heard about someone in your situation, what they did was they kept a PO box, in their initial location. And, and traveled all around the country, you know, so technically, they were in this city, but really like, who's, who's checking up on them? And who's to say, if you're just traveling, like, if you're not settling down somewhere that you'd live there? You know? 

SC Exactly. Yeah, that's a really, really tough one to qualify, right? Like, what does it mean to live somewhere? I think that's actually a big question that's come out throughout this whole thing. For a bunch of people I've talked to. It's interesting. And I know a lot of companies in the beginning of the pandemic decided not to open their office, I wonder what we'll see on the other side.

BP I learned something else pretty interesting when it relates to software. So the software industry has long been sort of bothered by patent trolls, you know, who bought patents and then just harass people hoping that they'll settle. And for a while, there was a well known rocket docket in the, I think it was Eastern or Western District of Texas, I forget which one, it was just known as a place where a lot of these patent trolls would file suit, because, you know, judges were very amenable to the cases or whatever. So they had tried to change that. But what I learned was, if you have a lot of employees moving to a certain place and working on IP, for example, if they moved to Austin, if they moved to Texas, you now have additional legal exposure, which I wasn't aware of like, this value was created in this state or this, you know, sale was done in this state. So that's a lot of sort of headache and overhead for you to manage, which I hadn't thought about. 

SC No, I didn't think about that at all. That's wild. 

BP So yeah, there's lots of interesting wrinkles. You know, we started talking about this topic on the podcast, I don't remember how many months ago it was, but we were sort of saying, a lot of companies are saying, you know, we're going to be fully remote for a long time. And that was the big shift. Now, some companies like Salesforce are saying, let's make the four day work week permanent, which is a seismic shift. You know, that's like, woah. 

SC Yeah, yeah, that stuff was really interesting. I was also just talking to someone whose office has no meeting Fridays. So like, making sure giving employees that time to like, have that break. Because I get, I mean, Zoom fatigue is very real. 

BP Yeah, absolutely. So tell me if you're like this, or if this is just what, you know, neurotic New York Jews do. When I have like a nine to five day, in some ways that's helpful. And when I have like, just get your projects done on time, and like, attend these meetings, then sometimes I'll do other things during the day and then feel guilty at night after five o'clock. So then there's no point in the day where I'm like, just relax, like, either I'm not doing work during working hours, because like I it's more convenient. And then after work hours, I'm like, oh, I should have been working more. So for me, I don't know how this is for other people, sometimes, yeah, that that structure and demand, like gives you a work zone and a non work zone. And you know, focus here and relax here. It's a little harder for me to see those boundaries now. 

SC Yeah, I face the same thing. And I also, too, it's a lot of meetings all day and work all night. I don't think, I think a lot of people that were remote before the pandemic learned this. And I think if I decide to stay remote, my hope is that I can do the office thing, like have a room that's an office that I go into, and work and then leave because otherwise it's so tempting at 9pm when you're just sitting there watching something to grab your laptop and be like, "I just have to get that one email. If I get that one email out, I'll feel so much better." And three hours later, you're like, alright, bedtime.

BP There's that, yeah, that mixing where you're like, okay, I'm gonna watch this series, but also like, see if I can get to Inbox Zero. Next thing, you know, you're like, you know, exactly, answering emails, and then you're opening a Google document or whatever, you know, opening a repo. Yeah, not a good thing. Cool. Well, yeah, we'd love to hear from folks who are listening. We've actually gotten some emails about this in the past. So thanks for sending those in. And yeah, an interesting topic to discuss. Because it seems like, especially for technology companies, and for software developers, there's going to be an unprecedented level of freedom offered to them in the coming year or two, and that that may be a permanent change. 

SC Yeah, I think that'd be really neat. 

BP So Sara, I had started to think about my dog park application. If you missed that earlier podcast. The objective is to allow strangers to coordinate on a shared calendar, without really exchanging any personal information. And for me as the creator, to be able to build something that resets once a day, is able to hold, you know, sort of values at different times is how many people might be at the dog park, but doesn't even necessarily have a database. Like, it's super simple, you know, to build and set up. So we had the conversation. I thought, like, okay, these are good. This is good advice for starting. And I sat down, and I just was like, I could imagine building the website, like how it looks. And yeah, maybe where some of the buttons go. But actually like having each button when you click it increment, and then having that increment saved somewhere, where you get to a second page and like you have that I was like, I don't know what to do. So you had suggested to me this node code solution. What was it called again? 

SC Node-RED.

BP Node-RED. Which I played around with. And I had played around with another one that was very similar. And you know, what's nice about them is they have, people call this business logic, I don't know what they call it business logic. But they have--

SC Because you have your little business, your little dog business. 

BP Yeah, I have my little dog business. But yeah, exactly. So business logic, meaning, like, we're gonna add numbers and have users and like, you know, maybe like display data. And I was able to create, like, a little bit of a mock up last week. So we're getting somewhere where it's like, often in the node code solution, they'll say, you know, here's a button, you can push it, these responses, you know, you can like create a chain of events. Yeah, the button is pushed. It does this to this. And that does this to that. So that was helpful for me. But I guess my question to you is for beginners, people like me, who are beginners who are trying to learn to code, how much value is there in this? And to what degree did they let you cheat your way out of the hard work of actually learning to write this stuff? So you're cheating yourself a little, you know, maybe I could put the buttons together and then inspect the elements and look under the hood. But I think I'd probably be better off in terms of my progression as a coder if these didn't exist. 

SC Yeah, it's if you're learning, yeah, disclaimer, Node-RED is part of the Open JS Foundation, which is, I am on the Cross Project Council of, so disclaimer, but that's why I like Node-RED actually, because it is a node code solution that is very code centric, in the way that you're going to be able to do some drag and dropping, however, you're going to need to jump into the code a bunch. So you'll have your buttons that will do things. But in order to get it to work the way you want it to work, you're going to need to jump into the code. And so what it does is it generates a lot of the code you need, I think it's actually very good for beginners, because it generates the code you need. And so then you can go in and change the particular values to match what you're doing. So it kind of helps you to understand I think, you know, instead of having to write the function yourself, you can go in and look at the function to say, okay, this is a, this is a node function, I can kind of tell what it's doing by reading it, and I can tell the difference I need to make so that next time, when you need to write that function, you kind of have a reference, if that makes sense.

BP Right, no, that makes total sense. I mean, that's one of the things you know, like Paul has talked about, and I'm sure you had a similar or maybe you had a similar experience, you can tell me, that was so attractive about front end web development. And what Yeah, you know, a great entry point for so many people was, you can just go to any website and start peeking under the hood. You can write stuff. And when you refresh it, you see it right away. So this is similar, you know, a little bit backwards, like you kind of see the building blocks first, and then you, you know, can take a look at the code. But yeah, that's what I was hoping was that at least putting the logic together in my mind, and then looking to see how it was built would be a nice way to get some grounding. And then maybe, as you said, yeah, like having to go in and tweak the variables, or the function slightly in the actual code would be where the rubber meets the road. I don't have to, you know, I have to bash my head against the times before I searched Stack Overflow, which is great. Like, that's what I need to do. 

SC Yeah, yeah. No, that makes sense. And I think, I think it depends on what kind of learner you are. But I think having for me, at least, and for a lot of people, I know having a little project like this helps. Because otherwise, you're just sitting there learning, like, here's what a variable is, and you're like, I don't care, how does this help me?

BP Totally.


BP I'll read us out a lifeboat and we'll take it from there?

SC Sounds great. 

BP Awarded February 11th to kd12: "How do I use jQuery to get an element by its data ID?"  Let's see if that one has an accepted answer here... It does. Alright, so we've got an accepted answer. We'd like to shout those out. And actually, this is, this lifeboat was given for a secondary answer. So one of those ones where it's like, you could try it this way. You could try it that way. 

SC I love that.

BP Yeah. So there's a couple different versions of the solution here, which is nice. Alright, everybody. I'm Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. And you can always email us If you're having experiences as a software developer with moving around, deciding if you want to move, wondering about how to deal with the tax, the financial or legal sort of ramifications of this new world. Yeah, we'd love to hear from you shoot us an email and you can share your story and we can chat about it on the pod. 

SC Great. And I'm Sara Chipps, Director of Community here at StackOverflow. And you can find me @SaraJo on GitHub.