The pandemic suddenly turned tens of millions of Americans into remote workers, without those workers having an opportunity to plan their new work environment. A lucky minority had existing home office setups. Most toiled at seldom-used dining room tables, in semi-finished basements, on their laps in the family room or maybe on the patio, if it was a nice day. Those in small, city apartments were especially challenged—particularly if their new “office” also included a significant other on videoconferences and children attending Zoom school.
When it became clear they weren’t going to return to the office in weeks or even months, some workers started to rethink their “temporary” work location. Urban singles retreated to their parents’ spacious suburban homes, folks with vacation houses decided to decamp there indefinitely, and some more daring types took home shares in other domestic locations.
Turning Adversity into Adventure
The more intrepid workers looked even farther afield, determined to turn adversity into an adventure. It seems simple enough: you have a laptop and cellphone and no obligation to be in an office. Why not work from any country you want? One immediate obstacle: most countries make it illegal to work on a tourist visa, which is usually valid for 30-90 days or six months at the outside. This applies even if you’re continuing your current job and not taking employment away from a national.
However, several countries have welcomed so-called digital nomads—workers who need only suitable hardware and reliable broadband and cell service to work anywhere. Most, but not all, of these countries are popular tourist destinations that have suffered economically from the loss of visitors. Digital nomads are not new, but they were rarer pre-pandemic. Previously, they were more likely to be creative types or gig workers unconnected to full-time employment based in another country.
Countries that Welcome Digital Nomads
According to Expert Vagabond, 18 countries offer visas tailored for digital nomads: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dubai, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Spain and (U.K.) Anguilla.
The terms and conditions of these visas vary. In general, they require a source of income or assets sufficient to support oneself, established housing arrangements and proof of health insurance coverage (home country coverage might not be valid or might offer limited benefits abroad).
While you might theoretically qualify for a country’s digital nomad visa, that doesn’t mean it’s simple to become a digital nomad. First, the pandemic continues. The U.S. Department of State currently recommends against travel to 80 percent of countries worldwide, and air travel to many locations is limited or restricted. Virus variants continue to emerge, and local requirements for testing, quarantine and vaccinations change continually and without notice. The local healthcare infrastructure might differ from what you’re accustomed to—a particular concern if you have Covid risk factors.
The real show stopper might be your employer. Some companies have been more amenable to digital nomad jobs, with a few even using “work from anywhere” to lure talent. Many others are much more conservative, fearing that a sudden globally dispersed workforce could present a compliance nightmare and negatively impact company culture.
Some companies fear that employees could establish permanent residency and the attendant tax obligations. According to Nitzan Yudan, founder and CEO of human resources technology company Benivo, “Tax rules between countries are not just too complicated but too established. I don’t believe in work from anywhere — I’ve done a lot of research with companies, and it doesn’t exist. It requires 100 companies to agree on a new tax treaty; that’s a 10-year project.”
Other executives dislike “work from anywhere” in principle, believing it negatively impacts collaboration and culture. “This is not ideal for us, and it’s not a new normal,” David Solomon, chief executive at Goldman Sachs, said at a Credit Suisse conference in February. “It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
So while some countries have made being a digital nomad easier, workers with wanderlust will need to jump through several hoops to fulfill their dreams. The question remains that as the war for talent resumes, will more companies find more liberal remote work policies to be a competitive necessity?