what you should know before you go

Imagine starting your work day with a fresh coconut juice standing by your laptop as you look out over the ocean or a tropical rainforest.

It’s the sort of thing to fantasize about long, grueling commutes and days in a claustrophobic, noisy office.

But as long as you have the right kind of job, and a pleasant boss (not Elon Musk), it can be your reality.

The war for talent is no longer just between companies. More than 40 nations or territories now offer “digital nomad” visas for those who can be employed in one country while living and spending their earnings in another.

Feel like going to the beach? A bunch of exotic islands are on the list. prefer tropical forests? Try Brazil or Costa Rica.

Looking for history? There is Spain or Greece. Love Wim Hof-style ice cream? Iceland nodded.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, about 50 km southwest of Reykjavík.
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, about 50 km southwest of Reykjavík.

What is a digital nomad visa?

Think of a “digital nomad” visa as a cross between a tourist and a temporary migrant visa – a working holiday visa. Instead of the visa giving you the right to work in the country, it allows you to stay as long as you are gainfully employed and bring money into the local economy.

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How long you can stay varies, from 90 days in Aruba in the Caribbean to two years in the Cayman Islands. Most are for 12 months, with an option to renew.

Some places, like Latvia, restrict visas to employers registered in an OECD country. But generally the key requirement is that you can show you have no need to find local work and meet the minimum income requirements.

In general, the visa conditions simplify the tax problems: you continue to pay your income tax in the country of your employer.

But this varies. For example, in Greece (which offers a two-year renewable visa) you are exempt from local income tax only for the first six months.

Combine work and travel

A key driver of the digital nomad trend is the ability to maintain a career while sidelining other personal goals, especially travel and the ability to experience a different way of life.

Moving somewhere with a cheaper cost of living could be another motivation.

But before you decide to pack, there are a few things to consider to make sure a digital nomad is right for you.

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You are far from home

The first is whether the reality lives up to the fantasy.

As a digital nomad, you are a complete remote worker, with all the pros and cons that come with that.

Some studies have shown that remote workers can feel socially and professionally isolated.

Having an employer who supports your move helps. A 2017 review of previous studies on remote work found organizational support greatly reduces the psychological strain and social isolation felt by remote workers.

Read more: It’s not just the isolation. Working from home has surprising disadvantages

But working at home is one thing; being in another country is quite another. Living a long way away from family and friends and support networks is likely to be more challenging, no matter how idyllic your location.

Woman with laptop sitting next to the pool in tropical place.
Even with a great view, remote work can have its drawbacks.

If you like predictable structure and routine, the uncertainty and inevitable inconveniences that arise may mean it’s not for you.

And while you may be exempt from paying local income tax, you must comply with all other local laws – such as Indonesia’s new laws that make sex outside of marriage potentially punishable by up to a year in prison.

Foreigners do things differently

If these things don’t faze you, here are three tips to make the transition easier.

First, all the usual considerations about remote work apply – and some are reinforced. You will absolutely need reliable high-speed Internet, and access to support services. Living in a remote village might be tempting, but how close is the nearest computer store?

Second, understand when you have to work. You may be in a different time zone than colleagues or clients. The novelty of an ocean view could easily wear thin after a few weeks of getting up in the middle of the night for Zoom calls. How available you need to be could be a big factor in choosing the destination.

Third, you may still find it a challenge to maintain work-life balance. Research has shown how easily work-life boundaries blur with remote work. The desire to prove that you are not sleeping can make it even more difficult.

But if you have the right personality, and you’re lucky enough to have the right job and employer, being a digital nomad could bring you the best of both worlds.


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