Across the globe, debates over the ‘death of the office’ continue along with discussions of how best to proceed with a ‘hybrid’ working model. In the meantime, those who are continuing to work remotely are starting to explore the possibilities presented by a ‘work-from-anywhere’ world. As a result, ‘Digital Nomad visas’ are beginning to appear and services catering specifically to this growing workforce are beginning to emerge.
Who are digital nomads?
According to the MBO Partners State of Independence in America Report, there were 7.3Mn American workers who self-described as “digital nomads” in the year 2019. The same report defines this group as “people who choose to embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work remotely, anywhere in the world.” At the time of the report, the majority of digital nomads (56%), were full or part-time independent workers, freelancers, independent contractors or self-employed. However, around 44% had traditional jobs.
Essentially, digital nomads travel the world (or roam around their home countries) while ‘working-from-Wifi.’ Prior to the pandemic, popular digital nomad destinations included Bali, Lisbon, Portugal and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Popular occupations for digital nomads were in content creation, copywriting, blogging, translation, social media managers and other occupations in the digital sphere. Digital nomads were also found in teaching positions, though with wide scale remote work now in play, professionals who embrace the digital nomad workflow are cropping up in finance, sales, HR and other more corporate roles.
Digital Nomad Visas
This year, Barbados and Bermuda were two of the first places to float the idea of long term temporary work visas for digital nomads.
On June 30 2020, Barbados rolled out the 12-month ‘Welcome Stamp’ Visa, allowing individuals or families to live and work remotely in the island, famous for its beautiful beaches and crystal blue oceans. The visa costs between $2000-3000 and applications are currently open. One potential catch: workers wishing to take up this visa must be able to prove they earn over $50,000 a year. The scheme has proved popular and Barbados is reportedly hosting around 3000 remote workers at the moment, most of whom come from the United States, the UK and Canada.
On August 1st, Bermuda also opened their applications up for their ‘Work from Bermuda’ visa, allowing workers a one-year pass. Commenting on the news, Bermuda’s Premier David Burt said “No need to be trapped in your apartment in a densely populated city with the accompanying restrictions and high risk of infection; come spend the year with us working or coding on the water.”
Last month, The Cayman Islands also premiered their Global Citizen Concierge Program, aimed at attracting remote workers earning even more than Barbados - over $100,000 a year. The Islands do, however, remain closed to general tourists.
Clearly, such programs are proving immensely popular and provide a much needed economic boost to these tourism-dependent islands amidst the COVID-19 travel lockdowns.
Working from (temporary) homes
Across the world in response to this phenomenon, platforms like NomadX are also starting to emerge. Established in July 2020, NomadX is a temporary accommodation platform run by a team of international ‘Nomad Experts.’ This Lisbon-based start-up works through connecting its customers with temporary housing in various locations across Portugal. Unlike certain other online temporary rental spaces, NomadX seems designed specifically with remote workers in mind. It’s website purports to provide “affordable month to month accommodations for Nomadic Professionals and Remote Workers, totally online.”
The ‘work-from-wifi’ phenomenon was already happening pre-pandemic. However, like many work and people transformations, the rise in nomadic professionals has accelerated since the crisis. In a conversation with NomadX, Belarusian-American entrepreneur Gary Vee commented that “what NomadX is doing is going to happen. 100%. The macro concept of what we’re talking about here is 100% going to happen. It's already happening. And this [COVID-19] has sped it up by over a decade. I mean, for me to contemplate not being in the office, that’s crazy. That means that an unlimited amount of people will be traveling all over the world and working from many different places,” he said. “It’s obvious.”
While Digital Nomads had been cropping up before the pandemic, there could be liability worries if more employees want to move abroad and work there longterm. There could also be legal considerations and complications with regards to taxes if workers of different nationalities look to carry on working abroad without a formalised employment pass for the country they’re living in. For now, too, it seems the digital nomad lifestyle in places like The Cayman Islands are largely reserved for those in a higher income bracket and wouldn’t be a realistic option for the vast majority of professionals - even those who ordinarily would be able to work remotely.
Some may wonder if this seems too good to be true. Of course, there are restrictions in place due to the pandemic and more border lockdowns are coming into play due to spiking COVID numbers. In many ways, there is now far less freedom to move about and live wherever we please. Naturally, Bermuda, Barbados and the Cayman Islands require visitors to test negatively for the virus and undergo a health check once they arrive. Considered high-risk visitors due to the number and rate of cases in their country, US residents are still banned from visiting many parts of Europe. For Americans, therefore, this rules out taking up the digital nomad life in Portugal for the time being.
Although the pandemic has accelerated the shift to more remote models, ‘working-from-home’ brings with it a slightly different set of considerations than ‘working-from-anywhere,’ particularly when there are so many practical restrictions in play due to the pandemic. It remains to be seen just how popular and sustainable digital nomadism proves to be in the longer term and it will take time for this shift in attitude to settle and realistically be an option for vast portions of the workforce, rather than a select few.