The ability to work remotely from anywhere in the world is more important than ever as organisations and employees realize the tangible benefits. One such benefit is a better work-life balance by working from wherever the employee chooses, be it the comfort of one’s home, the hustle and bustle of a sidewalk café, or the relish of a far-flung foreign country. The remote workers, or “digital nomads” as they have become known, prefer to live and work in different countries relying on technology to do their work. This growing stratum of workforce is ambitious and adventurous. For them, the ability to work and travel simultaneously is becoming the norm.
A Race to Liberalisation?
This is why a growing number of countries are moving forward to create the option of Digital Nomad Visa to attract remote workers. The vast majority of digital nomads live and work abroad on a tourist visa, valid for three to six months during a calendar year. For those who wish to stay longer, or for those who wish to base their place of work in a country to which they became emotionally attached, the prospect of staying longer can be challenging. They move to another country, or change their legal status by either purchasing real estate or setting up a business. It goes without saying that the latter option is only available to a limited number of wealthier digital nomads.
This year, Barbados, Bermuda and Estonia have been busy at work rolling out the red carpet for the world’s remote workers. The Barbadian “Barbados Welcome Stamp” visa, the Bermudan “Work from Bermuda” certificate program and the Estonian “Digital Nomad Visa” regime, announced in June 2020, have been operative since July 18, 2020 in the case of Barbados, and since August 1, 2020 in the case of Bermuda and Estonia.
Last month, a Digital Nomad Visa program went live in the country of Georgia (not to be confused with the U.S. state of Georgia). On August 27, 2020 the Prime Minister of Croatia announced, through a Twitter post, that adjustments would be made to the Croatian Aliens Act in an effort to introduce a statutory framework enabling foreigners to obtain Digital Nomad Visa in the Balkan country.
The Digital Nomad Visa in Barbados, Bermuda and Estonia
The three legal frameworks allow visitors to stay in Barbados, Bermuda, or Estonia and work remotely for up to a year. All that is required is filing an online application form and paying an application fee. In the case of Barbados and Estonia, the applicant would also have to provide evidence that his or her monthly income meets certain minimum threshold requirements. In addition, in the case of Bermuda and Estonia, the applicant would be required to demonstrate employment with a legitimate company or the applicant’s own company registered and operating outside of Bermuda or Estonia, respectively.
On the flip side, no applications for the Estonian Digital Nomad Visa are currently processed if made by applicants residing in countries subject to the COVID-19 restrictions on crossing the EU border. The visa application fee varies from EUR 80, in the case of Estonia, to a whooping USD 2,000 in the case of Barbados.
Barbados, Bermuda and Estonia are not the first jurisdictions to offer Digital Nomad Visa. Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay have been offering similar formulas since 2018. However, the requirements in these jurisdictions vary and can present significant barriers. Hence, independent advice should be sought. For example, applicants for the Dutch freelance visa are required to prove that their business would be adding value to the Dutch economy. Not surprisingly, in the case of the Netherlands, the freelance visa is claimed to be virtually impossible to obtain.
The founder of Nomad List, Pieter Levels, predicts that by 2035 there will be 1 billion digital nomads. No doubt, with 5G on the rise and the gig economy advancing, the number of flexible workers will continue to grow dramatically as the world enters the future of work. More significantly, perhaps, digital nomads are a new breed of workers entirely. Flexible, open-minded and interculturally empathic, these citizens of the world are absorbing the different cultures, languages and religions on a whim. They are breaking the boundaries of traditional skillsets and resourcefulness. As can be seen, they are now beginning to force legal and regulatory transformations.