Digital Nomad Visas: How Covid-19 is Challenging the Status Quo

From eccentric lone wolfs to rising trend and, why not, world domination, digital nomads have predicted it all quite well. Starting as outsiders challenging the traditional workplace and confident enough to embrace minimalism to survive the tough conditions of moving from one place to another all that often, they have significantly evolved through time. Not to be confused with remote workers or freelancers, digital nomads are a category of their own. My personal opinion, they are pioneers. As is anyone willing to make a living outside of what society defines as normal.

While it’s a very common misconception that the term “digital nomad” was an aftereffect of travel blogging about a decade ago, the truth is far different, deeply intriguing and goes back to 1997. Because, in reality, the term was invented and described way before it actually existed thanks to some serious forward-thinking academic work presented by the rockstar IT scientist Dr. Tsugio Makimoto and the professional writer David Manners in their homonymous book “Digital Nomad”. And this is when digital nomads were born. I could talk about the uniqueness of this book for hours but I will resist the temptation and only quote one of my favourite sayings:

The 21st century will be the millennium which resurrects for humans a dilemma which has been dormant for 10,000 years – humans will be able to ask themselves: “Am I a Nomad or a Settler?

Digital Nomad, 1997

But things have not been easy for our contemporary nomads. This blurred line between being an expat and a vacationer due to a lack of a concrete way to introduce themselves professionally during their creative wanderlust has been the cause of multiple practical implications. Practical implications that were only added to some already challenging psychological matters they faced including loneliness, burnout associated with difficulties to switch off from work mode, financial struggles, communication issues and everything that comes with joining new cultures and communities all that often.

Is it a work visa? Is it a traveller’s visa? Are we dealing business or pleasure here? A work visa takes too much bureaucracy and too many people need to get involved, let alone you’ll probably need a fixed contract with a single employer with not much of flexibility there. On the other hand, a traveller’s visa can only be granted for a few months if you are lucky enough and it usually goes hand in hand with a health insurance package that is either too expensive or too inadequate. And let’s be honest here, working from a foreign country while being on a tourist visa is considered technically illegal in many, if not most, destinations. And not everyone feels risky enough to walk into this grey area always making sure that this new local acquaintance is not, in fact, an immigrant officer.

But the problem (and the blessing at the same time) with digital nomads is that they cannot tell business from pleasure. They are big supporters of work-life blending. They went down this road because they are free souls looking to push their limits, explore, learn and blend in with the locals. They are out on an adventure and they are perfectly capable of making a profit as long as you give them a reliable internet service and a descent but low cost living. And it is not really that important whether those people are looking for a life-long nomadic lifestyle or a short break from life as we know it. What is important is that these people identify as digital nomads here and now and giving them the option to use this professional identity officially can unlock creativity and take their productivity to whole new levels.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, companies like google and Facebook, giants in the field of technology, literally inspired this whole new movement in their pursuit of exquisite talent through their eagerness to invest thousands and thousands of dollars to recruit the right people no matter where they were located. And, without a doubt, that’s what made Silicon Valley the tech and innovation hub it is today. Completely overlooking national borders was a game changer. It was the stepping stone to opening up the human capital market and bringing closer offer and demand. But this is only one way to read into things. If you look closer you will see that hiring globally but moving them all to a hub city can be further simplified by removing the pressure of relocation when applicable.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Work flexibility taken on a whole new level. One of the most desired work aspects of the generation that rules the world today. What generation is that, you ask? Well, the one that you either love to hate or you hate to love, especially if you are a baby boomer. The generation that has been attacked, judged and underestimated for years after entering the market due to a shocking new mentality that could not be understood or explained. The millennials. A generation that was initially labelled as superficial and lazy mainly because they chose experiences over material possession. And, of course, work flexibility over work stability. But this generation, the first one to see the world through digital lens, did stay true to their beliefs despite going through two recessions in their adult lives. And they do deserve credit for this solidarity.

Unintentionally, Covid-19 has shed light on this nomadic lifestyle and became a catalyst for change. With remote work skyrocketing during this last year and the potential of this tendency being remarkable, the way we work has changed. The traditional workplace is being challenged. There are multiple directions to follow from where we stand right now but going back is not one of them. Not being able to travel during the pandemic is the last barrier to be broken down when this humanitarian crisis is over. And this is where many countries saw a window of opportunity. With little chance of reaching pre-Covid levels of global tourism spendings before 2024 the earliest, focus on healing tourism calls for new categories of “tourists” besides the traditional ones to be targeted. And digital nomads are the perfect tourists because they are willing to add value on a local level. With their moto being “live like a local” they consciously shop locally, circulating money within the local economy and community and avoiding international brands for as long as they stay in one place. Digital nomads long to blend in.

An Overview of the Current Digital Nomad Visas Around the Globe

The pile of information I gathered while studying the current situation on digital nomad visas has been impressive! Whether you are an experienced digital nomad or an aspiring one, below you can find everything you need to know to start planning your next steps.

Estonia

The first country to launch an e-residency program allowing foreigners to licence EU-based online businesses. Since June 2020, the program evolved into the famous Digital Nomad and Freelancer Visa with 1-year duration.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Estonia.
  • A minimum of 3504 EUR earnings per month for the last 6 months

How to apply: Fill out and sign the online application form and submit it in person at your nearest Estonian Embassy/Consulate.

Fee: 80 eur for Type C visa (short stay) and 100 eur for type D visa (long stay).

Croatia

Since January 2021, Croatia offers digital nomad visas for various durations but no longer than a year.

Requirements

  • Proof of self-employment or ability to work remotely
  • No less than 2500 euros per month from income or savings
  • Criminal background check performed in your home country
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Already obtained health insurance for length of stay

How to apply: You need to physically be in Croatia to apply. The process includes acquiring an OIB Identification Number, filling out an application form and 2 passport photos.

Fee: 590 kuna plus 35 kuna for tax stamps.

Czech Republic

What you need to look here is called Zivno and though it’s valid for 1-year it offers the option of extension.

Requirements

  • Trade licence for one of these trades
  • Proof of accommodation for at least a year
  • No less than 5.587 euros in savings
  • 1800 czk monthly payments in local taxes

How to apply: Zivno is kind of complicated. Lots of bureaucracy is involved so many aspiring digital nomads hire agencies to help them with the paperwork before going to their scheduled appointment at a Czech Embassy/consulate.

Fee: 100 eur

Georgia

A great example of a low-cost country with beautiful landscapes to explore. Look for the very recently launched Remotely from Georgia Visa with an up to a year duration.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Georgia
  • Proof of financial ability to pay taxes during your stay
  • Earnings of at least 2000$ per month
  • Mandatory 14-day quarantine
  • Already obtained health insurance for 6 months

How to apply: Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Just fill in this online application form.

Germany

You are going to love this! Germany’s digital nomad visa is called Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit. Apparently, pronouncing it is the first test you need to pass in order to get it! On the plus side, though, it offers a flexible duration range from 6 months to 3 years.

Requirements

  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof you can support yourself financially
  • Proof of accommodation in Germany
  • A client’s portfolio within Germany to ensure contribution in the local economy

How to apply: Schedule an appointment at the immigration office to submit all the necessary documents.

Fees: 100 eur

Iceland

A country with the most epic landscapes and the shortest digital nomad visas, what a pity! Valid for only 6 months that easily reduces to 3 months if you apply from within the Schengen Area.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Iceland.
  • A minimum of 1M ISK (approx. 7000 EUR) earnings per person or 1,3 M ISK (approx. 9000 EUR) per couple (a bit too high if you ask me!)
  • Already obtained health insurance for length of stay

How to apply: Simply by submitting the application form here!

Fee: 7800 ISK

Portugal

Two options here, either go with the D7 temporary resident visa or the 1-year Independent Workers and Entrepreneurs residence permit that can be renewed for up to 5 years at which point you can actually apply for permanent residency. Owners of these visas will be given the Título de Residência, an official Portuguese ID.

Portugal is really investing in this project. Don’t just take my word for it, go check out the Digital Nomads Village in Madeira!

Requirements

  • Proof of property or business income
  • Minimum of 600 EUR earning per month (finally a number that makes sense!)
  • Already obtained private health insurance for length of stay
  • Undergo a criminal background check

How to apply: Print and fill in the application form and submit it at the Portuguese embassy/consulate.

Fee: 83 EUR visa fee plus 72 EUR resident permit fee

Norway

The Norway’s Independent Contractor visa! A wonderful opportunity with the option to renew for up to 2-years. However, you’ll notice the limitations regarding the nature of your work below.

Requirements

  • Proof of self-employment with a contract to work on a Norwegian business project and relevant qualifications
  • Proof of accommodation within Norway
  • A minimum of 35.719 EUR gross income per year

How to apply: Go to the Directorate of Immigration to find the necessary documents and submit them at your nearest Norwegian embassy/consulate.

Fee: 600 EUR

Mauritius

Pay attention, please! This is the only FREE digital nomad visa. It has a 1-year duration and it is super easy (or it seems so!).

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Mauritius
  • Proof of plans to stay in Mauritius (whatever that means…)
  • Already obtained health insurance for length of stay

How to apply: Just fill in this application form. (in all seriousness, now, can it be this easy?)

Fee: In case I haven’t stretched enough yet, there is NO fee!

Mexico

First, let’s set the record straight. Mexico has always been a favourite digital nomad’s hub with one of the main reasons being the 6-month tourist visa. Super long compared to the norm. So, imagine what will happen now after the launch of the Temporary Resident Visa that can last from 1 to 3 years!

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Mexico.
  • A minimum of $1.620 earnings per month or $27.000 in savings

How to apply: Print and fill in the application form and submit it at the Mexican embassy/consulate.

Dubai

With a Safe Travels Stamp awarded by the World Travel and Tourism Council, Dubai launched the 1-year Virtual Working Program by the end of 2020.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Dubai.
  • A minimum of $5.000 earnings per month
  • Already obtained health insurance for length of stay

How to apply: Fast and easy, just fill in this online application form.

Fee: $611

Costa Rica

The Rentista, what an easy-to-remember and auspicious name for a visa (Germany, any second thoughts?)! Even though Costa Rica has always been a celebrated destination for digital nomads, their visa has one disadvantage compared to others. It only refers to self-employeed people! However, if that’s your case, keep in mind you can renew it for up to 2-years.

Requirements

  • A minimum of $2.500 earnings per month for two consecutive years and a $60.000 deposition in a local bank (well, now we are talking business!)

How to apply: Hire an immigration lawyer, that’s the recommendation! But also check the Migration site if you feel confident enough to do it by yourself. Make sure, however, to have all paperwork translated in Spanish and authenticated at your home country.

Fee: $250

Cayman Islands

Well, this is an expensive visa. But we’ll get there! First things first, you should look for the Global Citizen Certificate (GCC) that will give you the opportunity to live and work in the Cayman Islands for up to 2 years if you show proof of at least $100.000 earnings per year per person or $150.000 per year per couple or $180.000 per family. “The more the merrier” kind of a situation.

(More) Requirements

  • Proof of employment from anywhere but the Cayman Islands
  • A notarized bank reference letter
  • Undergo a number of background checks you’ll find in the application form
  • Already obtained health insurance

How to apply: Fill in and submit this online application form along with the required documents.

Fee: $1.469 (you already make more than $100.000 a year, don’t complain!)

Bermuda

There are no minimum earnings required for that visa! And now that I got your attention let me continue with Bermuda’s newly launched Work From Bermuda digital nomad visa with 1-year duration.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Bermuda.
  • Already obtained health insurance
  • Perform a mandatory COVID-19 test

How to apply: Fill out this online application form and submit it along with the required documents.

Fee: $263

Barbados

With this really catchy name, the Barbados Welcome Stamp will give you the opportunity to work from this beautiful island for a whole year with chances of further prolonging your stay.

Requirements

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located out of Barbados.
  • A Minimum of $50.000 earnings per year
  • Perform a mandatory COVID-19 test and a 48-hours quarantine

How to apple: Fast and easy, just fill in this online application form.

Fee: $2000

Antigua and Barbuda

These two small (both area- and population-wise) Caribbean islands with the unimaginable physical beauty have joined the big and famous digital nomad destinations with equal eagerness and enthusiasm! Their visa is called Nomad Digital Residence (NDR), it’s valid for 2 years and it’s ideal for families.

Requirements:

  • Ownership of a location independent business and/or working remotely for a company located outside the islands
  • A minimum of $50.000 yearly earnings
  • Undergo a criminal background check
  • Already obtained health insurance

How to apply: Submit this online application form.

Fee: $1500 for 1 person, $2000 for a couple, $3000 for families

Photo credits Mathieu Nivelles – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28326710

Sixteen nations have already believed, invested in and initiated a digital nomad visa program. Sixteen nations may not sound like quite the number but there are two things to consider before reaching conclusions. First of all, this discussion has been on the table for such a short time, only a couple of years if you think about it. For sixteen countries to have already taken action on such short notice it’s not something to pass by easily. And, secondly, just think of all these other countries currently working on their own projects. Take Greece, for instance! It has been officially announced that a new legislation framework to attract digital nomads is already at the last drafting stages.

Putting it in simple words, this is good. The direction things seem to have taken is good. Globalisation is here to stay and it is taking over all aspects of our lives. For companies to resist it and not look beyond their locale can potentially deprive them of a serious competitive edge. Digital Nomad Visas are here to make the game tougher because they add more players to the set. Up until now, it was only companies that had to compete for the best talent. Now countries also claim a share. And this is how Dr Makimoto’s prophesy that “remote work will force nations to compete for citizens” will be fulfilled. Playing the cards right, this can be a win-win situation. 

While it might seem a little out of place, I caught myself thinking of the Beat Generation since the moment I started reading about digital nomadism. And even though I know there is no real connection between modern digital nomads and these bohemian hedonists of the past, It still feels appropriate to end this post with these inspiring words of Jack Kerouac:

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.

Jack Kerouac

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