Are you looking to live the digital nomad dream? Well even if you book your flight and pack your bags, you’ll still need to consider your digital nomad visa options.
You could be bouncing around the globe with nothing but a laptop and a backpack full of clothes. Earning an American income while living the high life in exotic low-cost locales. Online work is transforming the way we travel, providing a proven pathway to perpetual adventure.
But the digital nomad lifestyle comes with one ever-present hurdle: obtaining the appropriate visa. In this article, we’ll provide general info on common visa types and examine the top digital nomad visas to consider in 2021.
What Is A Visa?
A country will grant a visa to allow a foreigner entry into its territory under specific conditions. Visas are provided at the border (a quick stamp of the passport) or processed in advance via a postal or online application.
Visas come with different conditions: travel visas grant entry for tourism, education visas allow studying, and employment visas permit local work.
Common Visa Types For Digital Nomads
Although most digital nomads work and travel on a tourist visa, several other types are available. We’ll offer a brief breakdown of each. Visa requirements vary significantly and change sporadically. It’s prudent to check the details of the destination country carefully before booking a flight.
As a relatively new movement, the legalities of digital nomadism aren’t yet well defined. Immigration departments worldwide—with a few notable exceptions—still haven’t worked out how to handle laptop-wielding globetrotters who earn their income on the road. The lack of clarity in the visa situation leaves even the most seasoned nomad scratching their head.
A select few countries, which we cover at the end of this article, have implemented a special digital nomad visa to cater specifically to remote working wanderers.
As the path of least resistance, tourist visas are readily available for most destinations, often at the border without prior planning. And that makes them a hit among the spontaneous digital nomad set.
Obtaining A Tourist Visa As A Digital Nomad
If a tourist visa isn’t available at the border, you’ll need to acquire one in advance. The process ranges from a quick online application to a drawn-out arduous affair—think embassy visits, affidavits, and interviews.
Not only do regulations vary according to the destination; they also differ depending on where the traveler comes from.
Digital nomads from high passport power countries—most of Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States—will find it relatively easy to gain entry to most nations with minimal hassle.
Nationals of low passport power countries—i.e., most of the developed world—often have to overcome endless bureaucratic hurdles to obtain a tourist visa. Expect a long-winded advanced application rather than a quick flick through the passport and a stamp upon arrival.
Passport power matters: an Afghani digital nomad will have a harder time globetrotting than an Australian.
Can You Work Remotely On A Tourist Visa?
Working remotely on a tourist visa is a grey area, made especially muddy due to differing regulations between nations. Some countries permit the practice, provided you only work for offshore enterprises. Others explicitly forbid it, and a few don’t have any legal guidelines at all.
Although working remotely on a tourist visa is widespread in the digital nomad community, it’s not explicitly permitted in many countries. Usually, travelers on a tourist visa are expected to be on vacation, contributing to the country’s tourism industry. It’s up to you, the nomad, to understand and abide by the diplomatic policies of your new temporary home.
If working remotely on a tourist visa is permitted—as it is in Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa, for example—it’s only permitted when a foreign enterprise pays your wage. While you can work remotely from a chic co-working space in Bali, you can’t technically do any work for business. That means no serving frothy coffees in their café or fine-tuning their social media marketing efforts. All remote work must be entirely unrelated to the economy of your gracious host country.
Needless to say– thousands of digital nomads around the globe continue to work on a tourist visa while living abroad. The natives of South-East Asia know them quite well as “backpackers”– westerners lugging around a large backpack. Inside of it: some shirts, shorts, a single pair of undies and a laptop.
In truth– using a laptop for a few hours a day has never bothered locals or authorities in these countries. Thus, digital nomads have rarely had issues working remotely on a tourist visa. But that lifestyle has only been possible for those willing to perform a visa run…
What Is A Visa Run?
Confused about what the term ‘visa run’ means?
It’s when a traveler or quasi-resident departs to a nearby country for a few days and immediately returns to acquire a fresh tourist visa. Since tourist visas tend to allow a short stay (30 to 90 days), the traveler must leave the country and come back. This will give the traveler a chance to get a new tourist visa lasting another few months. Rinse and repeat.
Some countries prohibit the practice by restricting how long you can stay per calendar year. The Schengen Area is the most famous example: you’re only allowed 90 days per 180 day period.
Although some countries let you leave and come back indefinitely, visa approvals are always at the immigration officer’s discretion. Should the official suspect you’re working illegally, you’ll be barred from entering again and may receive a persona non grata stamp in your passport.
Education visas afford two crucial benefits: a longer length of stay (up to a year in many cases) and the opportunity to study abroad. On the other hand, the typical length of stay for a tourist visa is between 30 and 90 days.
Seasoned nomads often grow tired of jetting around the globe; the constant need to relocate fast tracks travel fatigue. And as the standard 30-90 day tourist visa barely affords enough time to settle in, education visas are ideal for nomads after an extended stay.
Conditions vary, so check with the relevant immigration department. In general, you’ll need to enroll in an approved educational institution, be it a language school or a local university. The application may require a mountain of paperwork and a substantial processing time, but it’s worth the hassle for digital nomads looking to establish roots.
For example, the thriving nomad destination of Colombia only hands out tourist visas for 90 days at a time (extendible on request). With a student visa, however, you can obtain anywhere from 6 to 12 months in one go, ample time to mingle in Medellin or live the bohemian life in Bogota.
If you choose to enroll in a language class and learn the local language, then your experience may become even more enjoyable since you can mingle with locals in their native tongue and learn about the local culture to the fullest extent.
Business visas aren’t common among digital nomads due to the in-depth application process involved. Expect to obtain sponsorship from a local company and proof your position doesn’t take local workers’ jobs.
While a nomad may choose work remotely for a foreign company on a tourist visa, they’ll need to transition towards a business visa if they wish to work in the domestic economy. Business visas also allow the nomad to settle long-term (often leading to permanent residency), perfect for the would-be “digital ex-pat” who’s grown tired of traversing the globe.
Family, Partnership, & Retirement Visas
Digital nomads seeking to create a home base can look at more permanent visa options.
Family visas are a common way to emigrate abroad, and you’ll likely earn the right to work in the domestic economy of your new home. You need to have a close relative living there to apply.
A partnership or marriage visa lets you settle down with the love of your life—many digital nomads meet “the one” while on the road. Although the application process is easier than other permanent visas, you’ll need in-depth documentation to demonstrate your relationship is legitimate; otherwise, the authorities might suspect a fake marriage.
A route for older digital nomads is the retirement visa, which allows the elderly to live out their twilight years abroad. A cheap cost of living, stunning scenery and warm weather tempt retirees to destinations like Ecuador and Thailand, among others. Most retirement visas don’t prohibit remote work, perfect when you want a little extra income to prop up your pension.
You’ll need to have the financial means to retire—and yes, the visa is only available to older applicants, typically over 60.
Official Digital Nomad Visas
In line with the times, numerous nations have implemented digital nomad-friendly visas to lure wealthy foreign workers. Many more will likely follow suit as remote work takes off in the post-COVID era.
The logic behind these innovative visas is that digital nomads earn currency in a foreign land and spend it in their new home through locally acquired goods and services. Therefore, the host country gets a much-needed cash injection and doesn’t need to invest in additional education and healthcare services (digital nomads don’t tend to study, and health insurance is a ubiquitous visa requirement).
Germany Digital Nomad Visa
Germany was one of the first countries to attract remote workers through its Freelance Residency Permit, AKA the “German Freelance Visa.”
The visa is only available for self-employed professionals who reside in Berlin. You’ll need to prove you’ve got the financial means to survive in the capital (don’t worry, Berlin is cheap by European standards) and provide evidence of a contract with a local company, among various other things.
Many nomads use Berlin as a base to bounce around the Schengen Zone. As a German resident, you won’t have to abide by the 90/180 day Schengen Visa Rule.
Czech Republic Digital Nomad Visa
The Czech Republic has a similar freelance visa.
Like the German version, you’ll need to provide residency evidence (say, a one-year apartment lease). Other requirements include health examinations, criminal record checks, financial solvency, and a business plan. It’s a long, drawn-out process, but extensions are relatively straightforward, and you get unrestricted access to the Schengen Zone.
Estonia Digital Nomad Visa
In August 2020, tech-savvy Estonia became the first country to introduce a Digital Nomad Visa (DNV) that specifically caters to an elite online workforce.
Unlike the German and Czech freelance visa, you don’t need an apartment lease or any professional connections in the country—on the contrary, your work must be entirely unrelated to Estonia. The visa is open to all industries and affords restriction-free travel in the Schengen Zone.
There’s a catch, though: only established nomads are welcome. A minimum gross monthly income threshold of €3,504 applies.
Portugal Digital Nomad Visa
Portugal already permits nomads to do location-independent work on a tourist visa. It’s also got a temporary residency visa that caters to digital nomads seeking a lengthy stay—as a neat little bonus, it can lead towards permanent residency, too.
The country is actively attracting new remote workers to its shores. A novel digital nomad village, Ponta Do Sol, has recently been established on the picturesque island of Madeira. Expect sleek co-working spaces, chic co-living resorts, and ample opportunity to network with like-minded nomads.
Greece Digital Nomad Visa
In December 2020, the Greek Parliament approved a new digital nomad visa, providing a viable pathway for location-independent workers to settle.
Details of the application process are still under consideration, but one especially enticing perk has been confirmed: nomads will receive a tax break on 50% of their income for the first seven years. There’s no requirement to reside in Greece the whole year-round, so feel free to jet off during its cold and windy winters.
Dubai Digital Nomad Visa
Expat haven Dubai took steps to lure the nomad set in 2020 with its remote work and travel visa. The application process is relatively simple and requires a meager $287 USD fee. Plus, you’ll get local access to Dubai’s world-class social services and a free COVID-19 vaccine.
On the downside, you’ll lose the visa if you skip town for more than six months at a time (pro tip: don’t hang around through the summer). It’s also only available for high-income nomads as the minimum monthly wage is $5,000 USD.
Mexico Digital Nomad Visa
Budding digital nomads with a modest monthly income should make a beeline for Mexico. Not only is the Latin American nation tantalizingly cheap, but you need only earn $1,620 USD per month to qualify for its Temporary Residency Visa.
As you’d might expect with Mexico, the bureaucratic process is vexing. But hey, think of all the tacos and tequila you’ll be quaffing down after a lazy day “working” by the Caribbean Sea.
Barbados Digital Nomad Visa
The famously friendly nation of Barbados recently launched a digital nomad visa for folks to escape the incessant lockdowns of the COVID-19 era. Dubbed the Barbados Welcome Stamp, the visa is available to applicants with a projected annual income of $50,000 USD or more.
The $2,000 USD application fee is a little steep. Nonetheless, it might be worth it for high-income nomads looking to ride out COVID in tropical bliss.
Georgia Digital Nomad Visa
Georgia is an exciting up-and-coming digital nomad destination for its friendly locals, jaw-dropping scenery, and rock bottom cost of living.
And now, with the August 2020 announcement of the ‘Remotely from Georgia’ program, nomads can easily snag residence with legitimate working rights for up to one year. But as tourists from many countries can obtain a 12-month tourist visa without much fuss, the new program isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
Nonetheless, the application process is quick and easy and requires a modest monthly salary of $2,000 USD.
Traveling during COVID
With the pandemic still in full swing, most nations have shut their borders to new arrivals. Those that allow visitors have a whole list of additional requirements—think mandatory quarantine, mountains of paperwork, and a negative COVID-19 test.
Now isn’t the ideal time to become a digital nomad. Those of us who decided not to return home—or don’t have one to return to—are hunkering down someplace safe because international travel has largely come to a halt.
But hope is on the horizon with the rollout of multiple highly-effective vaccines.
International travel could be back on the cards in late 2021, albeit to a lesser extent. And as border restrictions begin to ease, the rise of remote work in the post COVID era will see the digital nomad scene boom once again.
Don’t be surprised to see a few new nations added to our list of digital nomad visas in the coming years.
Get a Digital Nomad Job
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