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It’s been an interesting time for digital nomads. When the world locked down it suddenly became a lot harder to live the nomadic lifestyle and freely move about. And yet, it was during this time that a whole bunch of countries decided to announce special digital nomad visas. Because of travel restrictions few were able to take up and try this novel new approach to long term travel. That may start to change more and more as borders reopen.
Before the pandemic I definitely fit into the broad definition of a digital nomad. As such, I spent quite a bit of time looking into these new visas, especially with Brexit coming into place. The severity of the pandemic changed things personally and led me to return to Australia, but my deep interest in these programs remains.
Managing visas and borders is just one of many challenges of a travelling freelancer and I’m excited by the prospect of it being a little easier in the future. It’s particularly comforting that many of the best countries for digital nomads are leading the charge with all this. So while I’ve yet to take advantage of any digital nomad visas, it may be a possibility down the road. With that said, here’s what I’ve found thoroughly looking through what’s currently on offer.
Please know that all efforts have been made to present accurate information at the time of writing. However, these visa programs do change over time. Check official websites for the most current and authoritative information.
What are Digital Nomad Visas?
In the past those living the nomadic lifestyle have had to make a choice when working out where to stay. Do they use up the visa period or visa-free period of a destination and move on or apply for visa extensions when possible? That approach doesn’t provide much stability and worryingly sits in a grey area regarding working while in a foreign country. Digital nomad visas are designed to allow those working remotely a means of securing a longer-term visa to stay in one destination without worrying about extensions or applying for residency.
Because it’s still a relatively new concept, the language around this visas varies wildly from one scheme to the next. Many visas have marketing names like “Remotely from Georgia”, “Work from Bermuda” and “Barbados Welcome Stamp”. This branded approach is basically designed to sell the nomadic dream of working there. More specifically though, these initiatives refer to the visa they’re offering as either a digital nomad visa, a visa for remote work or a temporary stay visa. These wording differences can cause confusion so always carefully read the visa details to ensure it is what you think it is.
When looking at digital nomad visas, the most important part besides the destination is the visa’s eligibility requirements. These visas are not a free-for-all that are available to everybody, they’re meant for people in very specific circumstances.
Each country has their own requirements for their digital nomad visa that reflect the kind of digital nomad they’re hoping to attract. This mean you will have to look carefully at the specific requirements for each visa program as they’re all unique. However, there are six common requirements that some or most have.
Employment or Registered Business
The most common requirement for these visas is providing proof that you’re employed or own your own business. Most programs want evidence that you fit into one of several remote work categories. The exact wording and required documentation differs between destinations so getting this right is crucial. Get it wrong and it could prove to cost you both time and money.
Typically, the categories look like:
- actively employed with a foreign company in a role that can be performed remotely;
- have you own your business that has official registration; or
- perform freelance work for clients based outside the country from which you want the visa.
The requirement that I think will ultimately determine which programs remote workers decide to go with is the income check. Pretty much all remote worker visas have an income threshold that you must meet to be eligible to apply. They do this to ensure that you’re financially self-sufficient.
Most measure this requirement by regular monthly or yearly income. Instead, some actually ask for a bank statement to check you have an equivalent amount in savings. What really matters though is the dollar value of the threshold, because it varies a lot from one country to the next.
At the lower end, you have the Georgian digital nomad visa who require a monthly income of USD$2,000. A bit up from that are countries like Croatia and Malta that are more in the USD$3,000 range. Further up we have Estonia and Dominica hovering at USD$4,000, while the richest requirement is Dubai at USD$5,000 and Iceland at USD$7,800 per month!
These thresholds are partly designed to reflect the cost of living in each of the countries offering remote work visas. But you have to imagine the values indicate the type of remote worker the destination is hoping to attract. Some countries may be happy with freelancers, but others clearly want to attract remote employers or business owners.
Much like tourist and business visas, there can be limitations on which nationalities can apply for digital nomad visas. Some, like in the case of Georgia, are restricted to a specific list of counties (95 for Georgia). For others like Iceland, you are only able to apply if you don’t normally need a visa to visit.
Nationality can also impact how you’re able to apply for the visa. For the Croatia digital nomad visa, if you don’t normally need a visa to travel there, you can apply after arriving in Croatia.
Another requirement that you’ll also often encounter when applying for visa is a criminal record check. Countries including Dominica and Croatia require you have no criminal record to apply for the program.
Because you’ll be a long-term visitor, it’s common for destinations to require remote workers have health or travel insurance. Destinations including Bermuda, Dominica, Dubai and Georgia all require valid insurance that covers medical expenses that nomads might incur.
An interesting thing that some visas require is proof that you have accommodation arranged for when you arrive. To me that seems a little counter intuitive, as I wouldn’t want to book months of accommodation before I know I have my visa sorted. And yet countries like Mauritius, Portugal and Croatia all require you provide one when booking. Fortunately, in the case of Croatia, they do say that you can provide a temporary address of a hostel/hotel if it’s your first time applying for the visa.
Cost of Remote Work Visas
In the world of travel, it’s quite common for entry visas to come with a fee you pay once you’re deemed eligible. The situation is no different for remote work visas, with each country levying their own fees to receive the visa. Cost of visas varies dramatically depending on the country and may reflect the type of remote worker the country has in mind. Some like Barbados even offer bundled fees for families of remote workers, rather than charging fees per individual.
The cheapest digital nomad visas tend to be focused around Europe with the likes of Estonia, Croatia and Portugal. Each is around 100€ with Croatia’s the cheapest at USD$65 if you apply at a police station in country. At the other end of the scale we have the Caribbean destinations, with the fees for Barbados starting at USD$2,000. Bit of a difference there, right?
There are also a few rare cases, such the countries of Georgia and Mauritius that do not charge any fee to apply for their visa. That may be to help draw interest early on and could change later on, but it’s great news for nomads right now.
Duration of Visas
Even when it comes to the duration period of these visas, some options are much better than others. The standard validity period for these visas is twelve months, but there are exceptions. Iceland’s is relatively short at only 180 days, while Dominica’s stretches to 18 months. Then there’s Georgia’s, which at 360 days, seems needlessly difficult.
But what about if you want to renew your visa and stay longer? Again, that depends on where you’re looking at. For some, like Bermuda, you apply for a new twelve month period. As for Estonia, it only allows a six month extension on your original twelve months. Then you have Croatia, who require you wait six months after your visa to apply for a new one so you can’t go back-to-back.
The common trend among the programs is that they’re meant for a limited time. They’re not intended as a backdoor option through which you stay in a country indefinitely without gaining residency or citizenship.
Multiple Entry Visa Options
Digital nomads like to travel so it stands to reason you might want to use your temporary home as a base to explore. For that you’re going to want to look at countries that offer digital nomads a multiple entry visa or at least the option for one. Barbados and Dubai are two destinations that provide multiple entry visas, although Dubai has the caveat that you cannot be outside the UAE for longer than a continuous six month period.
The other programs that enable travel are countries that belong to the Schengen area, such as Estonia and Iceland. Thanks to their visas, nomads can enter other Schengen countries for up to 90 days over a 180-day period. What’s great about this is that your time in the visa-issuing country doesn’t count to those 90 days.
As such, these programs are great for digital nomads in Europe who want to travel occasionally. Interestingly, there’s no noticeable information on this relating to the Malta and Portugal digital nomad visas, but as fellow Schengen members it is likely a possibility.
The Application Process
When planning to travel using these visa schemes, it’s important you allow plenty of time for the actual application process. Destinations have different time frames for how long their process’ take, so you will need to ensure you get it sorted appropriately in advance. Time frames for processing range from just 5 days for Barbados and 7 days for Dominica to 30 days for Estonia and Malta.
Typically, when applying for these programs you’ll be doing so before arriving in country. However, there is the rare exception such as Croatia which allows you to apply after arriving if you don’t require a visa to enter the country and follow their rules on registration.
Difference to E-Residency
It’s important to understand that regardless of how these visas are described that they’re not residency programs. You can certainly apply for residency in the destination if you’re loving the destination, but it’s not necessarily a right granted by these visas. This means that you’ll need to have your business or employment in another country, typically your home country.
What can make all of this slightly confusing is that Estonia also offers an E-Residency program. It may sound similar in name to a visa program, but it is significantly different. The E-Residency scheme is designed to allow digital nomads and business owners the opportunity to establish their business in Estonia and pay taxes there. However, E-Residency doesn’t grant you any right to travel or reside in the country, meaning you’d still need a visa to travel there.
Digital Nomad Infrastructure
A big thing to consider with these initiatives is how well-suited the country is for hosting digital nomads. We’re not just talking about internet speeds here, although that certainly will be a real factor. It’s more the infrastructure that a destination has in place to support the digital nomad community it hopes to engage.
Being a digital nomad is simplistically described as being able to work anywhere you have an internet connection. But these visa programs are designed for longer-term stays and working from a hotel room for twelve months isn’t going to cut it. With longer stays come important requirements like access to medium-to-long term rentals and co-working spaces that really determine how suitable a place is for remote workers.
Personally, I’m more partial to working in cafes when I travel, but I know there are many folks who prefer having a specific place to work. Destinations like Bermuda seem to have given this some real thought by making it easy to find remote working spaces. Likewise, Madeira in Portugal has streamlined the process for finding monthly accommodation around the island to save prospective nomads time.
I only have personal experience working in a few of the destinations currently offering remote working programs. But digital nomad cities like Tallinn and Tbilisi do feel well-suited and prepared for the needs of remote and freelance workers.
Suitability For You
Ultimately, a lot of this is going to boil down to whether the visa program is designed for you and your circumstances. Not only does all the requirements and perks have to align with what you need, but it also has to be for a destination you actually want to stay in. Locking yourself into a costly 12 month visa for somewhere you won’t enjoy could prove to be a major headache. I’d say if the nomadic lifestyle is new to you then I’d suggest you don’t jump in the deep end right away. After all, it’s not for everyone.
Resources for Digital Nomads
Now that you’ve got a well-rounded perspective on what digital nomad visas require and provide, you probably want to start looking through all the programs. Below is a list of all the remote worker visas that are currently available, with links to where you can get more information or apply.
Fair warning, the process for some programs is easier to navigate than others, so allow plenty of time to go through it. Some visa programs also make it quite challenging to find official information, but that often means they haven’t been fully launched yet. It can take quite some time from a program being announced or enacted by law and it actually becoming active. Remote work visas due to to be made available in the future include ones for Romania, Spain, Costa Rica and Greece.
Digital Nomad Visa Programs
Have you considered applying for a digital nomad visa? What was your experience like with the process? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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