If you could live and work in any place in the world, where would you go and why? The answers to the question could range from a sandy beach in the Maldives, a lovely apartment in the lush forests of Bali or the glittering metropolis of Dubai. While this sounds like a fantasy to some, for others, this is a normal way of life.
Those who are brave enough to choose this radical way of life are called digital nomads. By definition, digital nomads are location-independent people who use telecommunications technologies to earn an income, while living a nomadic lifestyle. Digital nomadism has been made possible through more affordable internet access and smart phones, among others. The growth and normalisation of the gig economy has also contributed to digital nomadism.
To be successful as a digital nomad, one typically builds a strong financial cushion or needs to develop high levels of self-reliance and self-discipline.
Digital nomadism is not defined by time and physical structures. The traditional way of work is defined by one’s ability to report to a set physical location at a set time to provide a service for a fixed remuneration or wage. With digital nomadism, people provide their skills and services to one or multiple clients for a fixed or variable fee from anywhere in the world.
With more and more people opting for this type of lifestyle, countries have taken notice and are positioning themselves as prime destinations for the adventurous soul that wishes to work away from their home country. There is also the context of COVID-19, which has led many of us to begin working away from our offices and has normalised remote working for so many people who had never even considered the possibility.
It is illegal to work in a foreign country on a tourist visa and in many cases these visas usually expire after 30 to 90 days, and it’s not always easy to renew them. So, what if you want to stay longer?
This is where a remote work visas come in. While visa laws in most countries are not set up to deal with this new class of modern nomads who are living and working remotely around the world, the tide is turning. A number of countries have recognized the need for remote work visas (also called digital nomad visas or freelancer visas), specifically to entice foreigners to work and contribute to their economies. And this trend is expected to continue with the disruption of tourism and travel due to COVID-19. As countries look for innovative ways to reboot their tourism sectors and overall economies, the remote work visa seems like one of the best ways to drive this resurgence.
As attractive as remote work visas are, they do come with requirements that aspiring nomads must meet in order to qualify for the visa. These requirements vary from country to country but often relate to: the type of business that one runs (does the business require an office to deliver a service), gross revenue of the business (monthly or annually), credible references from banks and other institutions, passing criminal background checks, personal health insurance schemes, among others.
The benefits of remote work visas abound for both the country and the individual. Remote workers are a source of foreign direct investment, which contributes to the economy of the host country. The influx of people from all over the world also boosts tourism for the host country which raises the profile of the country.
For the individual, one benefit is the ability to live anywhere you want, while maintaining a sustainable income. Many countries hoping to draw remote workers have also spent significantly on developing their telecommunications infrastructure and internet coverage and quality. This is certainly appealing to remote workers who expect fast internet, among other facilities, to optimise their performance. Lastly, visiting digital nomads are offered a safe environment to work in. These countries depend on people coming in, staying for a while and spending money. This wouldn’t be possible if everyone was worried about their security. Therefore, a lot is spent on ensuring that cities are safe, which benefits remote workers and citizens alike.
Estonia leads the way offering a digital nomad visa for remote workers from outside the EU, that allows remote workers – whether working as freelancers or for foreign companies – to live and work in Estonia legally for up to one year. Dubai is also positioning itself for remote workers with a new one-year virtual work programme. This offers a great chance to remote workers to enjoy the sun everyday while working in one of the safest and most dynamic cities in the world.
At the time of writing Mauritius was the only African country offering a digital nomad visa, called a premium visa. It lasts for a year and is renewable. Elsewhere in Africa, the Western Cape provincial government has been calling for South Africa to create its own remote work visa.
There are more than 22 countries that are offering remote work visas and those who are interested in this way of life will have a wide range of countries to choose from. The world of work has changed and now productivity is more important than structure. Therefore, countries have realized that the old adage is true, if you cannot beat them, join them.