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Updated 21 Oct 2020

If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s the importance of businesses and governments adapting to change – and one major example of this is in remote work. 

Thanks to the internet, work and travel often go hand in hand. The world awaits, and a diversity of landscapes are begging to be explored, from the tropical idylls of the Caribbean and jungles of South America to the stunning beaches of the Iberian Peninsula and futuristic cityscapes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), all of which are that much more accessible nowadays with the possibility of remote jobs.

Technology and digital connectivity have allowed people to stay in touch and work internationally for decades, and the events of 2020 have been a catalyst for a new wave of remote work. 

Many businesses have closed up their physical offices and opted for virtual workspaces, saving money on rent and utility expenses, while employees save on transport costs. And, with ‘working from home’ fast becoming the new norm, 'home' can really be anywhere. Indeed, it seems home isn't where the heart is, it's wherever one has access to a reliable internet connection.


What are remote work visas?

Remote work visas go by different names and policies in different countries. However, they essentially allow foreign citizens to enter and reside in a country while they work and earn an income digitally, engage in freelance work, are self-employed or are employed by an organisation that permits work from home. To qualify, employers and individuals must be from outside the country, or else expats will have to apply for a specific work permit. 

Of course, conditions and processes of getting a remote work visa vary depending on the country and are subject to change over time. So expats should do their research when considering the digital-nomad lifestyle.


How to get a remote work visa

Required documentation varies but could include:

  • Health and travel insurance
  • Proof of basic income and employment
  • Minimum bank balance
  • Visa fees
  • Travel and stay itinerary
  • Valid passport
  • Police clearance

What’s so good about remote work visas?

Remote work, as digital nomads have been popularising for some time, benefits not only employees and businesses, but economies at large. 

Countries have recognised the incentives of opening their borders to freelancers and remote workers. Some economies have suffered a 'brain drain' with skilled expats repatriating to their home countries in the wake of the pandemic. A remote work visa programme is one way of encouraging the flow of human resources back into a country. New expats support local economies by buying locally, engaging in tourism and travel activities, and contributing to the housing market. Meanwhile, local jobs remain safe, as expats on this specialised visa programme will continue remote work from an international company abroad, and won't take up employment in the local job market.

Okay, great, so it’s good for the local economy, what about the expats themselves? Well, the pros are endless. 

Ever thought about the view from Dubai's famous Burj Khalifa? Or wanted to spend weekends sunbathing on a golden beach in the Caribbean? Curious about the hype in Europe and intrigued by Gothic monasteries, Moorish castles and great cathedrals in Spain or Portugal? Commitments to full-time employment no longer need restrict wanderlusters from travelling the world.

By relocating, remote workers can explore a new country, meet new people, learn a new language, experience a different culture. A ‘gap year’ experience working abroad is no longer limited to high school graduates before starting university. Individuals of any age can embark on a journey across borders, and remote work ensures continued employment, a solid source of income and none of the uncertainty that expats often face in a foreign job market.

Additionally, tax benefits, such as those in the UAE, and the potential of a cheaper cost of living abroad are definite lures for expats to both spend and save. It’s often a win-win.


Countries offering remote work visa programmes

Many countries have had existing immigration programmes of this sort for some time, while several other governments are establishing new visa policies. Some are more student or tourist orientated, while others are aimed at entrepreneurs, contract workers and freelancers or individuals employed in remote jobs. Here are some popular countries offering remote work visas:

Antigua and Barbuda

Nomad Digital Residence (NDR) visas could be valid for up to two years in Antigua and Barbuda.

Aruba

As a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, expats can apply for short-stay visas and the One Happy Workation programme, which allow stays from one week to 90 days in Aruba.

Barbados

Move to this island nation through the One Year Residential Certificate or 12 Month Barbados Welcome Stamp – with potential for future extensions.

Costa Rica

The rentista visa allows two years' stay for expats with regular income from outside the country.

Czech Republic

Zivno is a freelancer visa for the Czech Republic, allowing long term stays.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is launching a virtual working programme, valid for one year.

Estonia

Estonia's Digital Nomad Visa allows for year-long residency.

Georgia

A programme known as Remotely from Georgia aims to allow stays of at least one year.

Germany

A freelancer or freiberufler visa typically permits stays in Germany for up to three months.

Mexico

Provided a sufficient bank balance, expats could relocate to Mexico for at least one year on a renewable temporary resident visa.

Portugal

Entrepreneurs and independent workers can move to Portugal on temporary stays less than one year or for long term residency over one year, provided applicants meet certain criteria.

Spain

While visas for Spain are typically restricted to three months, longer stays are possible through the Non-Lucrative Residence Visa for expats who are not working yet receive an ongoing source of income. Self-employment visas are also available.

 

The list goes on... Croatia could be next with hints at a digital nomad visa programme from 2021.

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