How Remote-Work Visas Are Paving A Future For Digital Nomads
Covid has accelerated the digital nomadism trend, as remote-work visas legitimise the experience and open up a world of possibilities
Being a digital nomad isn’t a new concept. Consider author and speaker Lauren Razavi, who has been taking advantage of digital tools to work from wherever suits her since 2010.
“It has given me the chance to develop a more global, cross-cultural understanding of what’s happening in the world,” says Razavi, who is half-British and half-Iranian.
What is new, however, is the rise of the remote-work visa. With countries reeling from the collapse of tourism, a growing number are looking to attract overseas professionals for extended stays, as long as they’re engaged in work for businesses based elsewhere.
“Governments hope nomads’ spending can bolster local economies and help build stronger business ecosystems,” says Razavi, author of the forthcoming book, Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel and Innovation. “Nomads tend to stay longer in a place and are more likely to integrate with host communities, making them more attractive visitors than tourists.”
Caribbean and European nations have been leading the charge, along with the United Arab Emirates and Mauritius. While no Asian country has used the term ‘remote-work visa’ or ‘digital nomad visa’ yet, Malaysia offers an MTEP visa specifically for entrepreneurs, and Indonesia and Thailand have similar visa proposals in the works.
For entrepreneurs, the benefits of digital nomadism include being able to live and work flexibly across borders. They can expand their networks, tap into the local talent pool and uncover business ideas and investment opportunities by being on the ground.
There’s also an important clarity that comes from being able to secure a dedicated remote-work visa, which typically lasts 12 months and provides local income tax waivers.
“Before these launched, digital nomads were—and some still are—travelling on tourist visas, which means they have often been working in countries illegally or in a grey area,” says Dave Cook, an anthropologist at University College London who is conducting a seven-year study on the topic. “Remote-work visas legitimise digital nomadism.”
Not only do remote-work visas create legitimacy, they also come at a time when companies are providing greater flexibility and many people are reassessing how, why and where they want to work in the wake of Covid.
“Looking to the future, companies that want to hire the best talent will have to accept that many of the most talented and employable people will want the freedom to work remote, travel and not stay tethered to one location,” says Cook.
Razavi also anticipates a permanent shift to increased global mobility that will play out in different scenarios. Consider a power couple primarily based in London who, thanks to remote work, spends every winter working from Costa Rica. Or a college grad employed by a Tokyo firm yet living in a more affordable city.
It’s a reality long in the making. Octogenarian Tsugio Makimoto, a Japanese semiconductor pioneer, coined the term 'digital nomad' back in analogue 1997.
"Digital nomads are considered a major growth market now that remote work is mainstream. Big global brands like WeWork and Airbnb are openly pivoting in the direction of this target audience," says Razavi. "We'll see more platforms and services at the global level in response to remote work's rise, and nomads are early adopters that companies can look at to understand what comes next."
See also: Cloud Talk: The Future of Mobility
So You Want To Be a Digital Nomad…
Choosing the right remote-work location is largely about personal preferences. Andrea Lo, a Hong Kong-based journalist and translator, had always wanted to visit the Caribbean, so she jumped at the chance to apply for the Barbados Welcome Stamp.
“The laidback lifestyle that Barbados is famous for seemed very attractive,” says Lo, who relocated to its south coast in December 2020. “It was also an opportunity for new adventures and reporting on new topics.”
Barbados has delivered on both accounts for Lo, although she has also grappled with restrictions from an unexpected second wave of Covid cases. With the pandemic still in flux, she advises that anyone pursuing a remote-work visa should be prepared for some ups and downs. Here are three of the top countries to consider.
Several Caribbean islands have launched remote-work visas, including Barbados and Bermuda. The newest entry is Dominica, an English-speaking island with high-speed internet, modern health services, practically zero Covid cases and a serious sustainability commitment. Hot springs and tropical rainforests are also part of the appeal, as evidenced by the visa’s name: Work in Nature (WIN).
Visa terms Relocate for up to 18 months. Visas cost US$800 per person, or US$1,200 for a family, plus US$100 application fee.
This Northern European country was one of the first to rollout a Digital Nomad Visa, in August 2020—the latest in its series of entrepreneur-friendly visa schemes. Estonia has built a reputation as a mini Silicon Valley, and relocating to its capital Tallinn gives you access to the buzzing startup community, plus the wider EU market. Visa holders can travel to the 25 other Schengen Area countries. Within Estonia, Covid cases are on the decline, though there are still some restrictions in place.
Visa terms Relocate for up to 12 months on a long-stay visa. Visas cost EUR100 (US$121), including application fee.
United Arab Emirates
Overseas professionals have been officially welcome for extended stays in Dubai since last autumn and, as of March 2021, the remote-work visa applies nationwide. Expect near-constant sunshine, a slick urban lifestyle and relative affordability compared to expat hubs like Hong Kong or Singapore. While there was a Covid spike in early 2021, more than half the eligible population has since been vaccinated.
Visa terms Relocate for up to 12 months. Visas cost US$611 per person, including application fee.
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