Life as a digital nomad is mostly great. But not all product and services are designed with nomads in mind. This page is mostly a place for me to vent my frustrations with companies, organizations and governments that are making life harder than it needs to be.

And before anyone accuses me of wasting time on #firstworldproblems, let me just say you’re wrong. These are distinctly #nomadproblems. And the problem with #nomadproblems is that it’s difficult for the people designing the offending services to relate to them, as they likely stay in the same country most of the time. Consider this a friendly attempt to make it easier for people to design products with nomads in mind.

Okay then, on to the shit list.

Anything that relies on a specific phone number

As a nomad you’ll go through phone numbers at almost the same rate as you change your underwear. Anything that relies on a phone number then is incredibly frustrating. One of the worst offenders are banks, government sites and a bunch of other products that insist sending you an SMS to let you log in. Especially if it will only send SMS to local numbers. And even if the service allows international phone numbers, if it does not work with Google Voice, Twilio and similar, you’re shit outta luck again.

I really appreciate the effort of protecting my data or money using a form for two factor authentication. In fact, I personally enable two factor auth (2FA) on all sites that offer it. I even use 2FA to log into this blog.

What to do instead: Use the Google Authenticator protocol. Or at the very least support texts sent to Google Voice (which is easy to receive through Google Hangouts on your smartphone and laptop/web). Even one-time code generators would be preferable (even though they are still a hassle, as they often run out of batteries and need to be replaced occasionally)

Worst offenders that I know of:

  • Nets Denmark: To use any Danish debit or credit card online on a site that has enabled MasterCard SecureCode or Verified by Visa authentication (which is normally a good thing), you need to receive an SMS to your phone. It does look like it supports international numbers, but I have not been able to set it up with my Google Voice or Twilio number. So in effect I can not pay for anything online (using any of my Danish cards, even the Mastercard for my company checking account) on most modern websites without digging out my Danish SIM card, installing it in my phone (replacing whatever local SIM I’m using) and waiting for my phone to reboot. Seriously? Just add support for Google Voice numbers or preferably Authenticator…
  • MinID (login for Norwegian government sites): It does support international numbers, but not Google Voice. Meaning I will have to dig out my Norwegian SIM card to log on. Luckily, you can now use BankID (secure login system used by all Norwegian banks) instead of MinID to log in to most government websites, but it still relies on a one-time code generator for 2FA that might need replacing when I’m on the other side of the globe. Just support Google Voice FFS!
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Anything that relies on a specific SIM card

It seems SIM cards increasingly are being used as secure elements for various purposes. One example is for phone based NFC payments. No problem if you stay your entire life in a single country, but the second you’re abroad and and swap your SIM card you’re out of luck again.

What to do instead: For NFC Payments, wallet providers should do something similar to what Google is doing with Wallet, using HCE or at the very least use the secure element in the phone instead of the SIM card. Google’s approach is also much more secure in the case of a lost device

  • Valyou: A Norwegian mobile NFC wallet that uses special SIM cards as the secure element to store card data. Currently only supported by one carrier and a few banks. And again, not suited for use abroad unless you’re (data) roaming with your Norwegian SIM card. And in case of a lost phone you need to call both your operator and all card issuers independently to protect yourself. They should copy what Google is doing with Wallet, or face the same fate as Softcard is likely facing in the States.
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Ridiculous geo blocks aka “safeguards”

All too often I get locked out of an online account, payment card or similar because I log in from a different place than “normal”. These are just some providers I’ve had issues with lately (I’ll add more details soon):

  • Digital Ocean
  • Google Wallet (Card)
  • A lot of banks, especially in the US
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