After months of restrictions on movement, many of us have become used to working from home. But what if home were a beachside bungalow in the Caribbean or a woodland cottage in Europe?
The Caribbean island of Barbados is pioneering a new type of visa and employment model that gives a whole new meaning to the term “remote working,” creating a new breed of sun-seeking digital nomads.
The Barbados Welcome Stamp allows people to stay in the country and work there for up to a year with no restrictions. Applications are made online and cost US$2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a family.
Applicants must be able to show that they have an annual income of at least $50,000 and submit to the country’s Covid-19 regulations, which include testing or possible quarantine. Bermuda, another sunny island further north in the Atlantic, launched its One Year Residential Certification on August 1, offering an opportunity for foreigners to “share our uncrowded open spaces and coveted island lifestyle with travelers from across the globe looking to work or study remotely,” according to the island’s tourism authority.
Or if cooler climes are more to your taste, how about Estonia or Georgia? Both now offer a one-year residency visa aimed particularly at freelancers and the self-employed with the lure of a less stressful lifestyle and much cheaper living costs.
The Czech Republic, Albania and Costa Rica also offer extended live-and-work visas.
The idea of upping sticks and setting up shop anywhere that takes your fancy certainly has appeal. The cost of living is likely to be much lower than in the UAE and in most, if not all, Western countries. Barbados even boasts high-speed internet that is faster than the UK. Tiny Estonia (population 1.3 million) on the shores of the Baltic is one of world’s most digitally-advanced countries. But is digital nomadism really feasible?
Mitch Hyde, co-founder of the travel company AdventureFaktory, certainly thinks so.
“I think we’ve proven over the last few months that we don’t need to be in the office. That’s from the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we all packed in that nine-to-five, five days a week of everyone going to the office. We’ve been trending away from that in the last 10 years, with internet around the world and the flexibility of jobs and this [the pandemic] may have accelerated that process.”
Appealing as it sounds for employees, there is another crucial factor to consider: would employers stand for it? Nazar Musa, of Retreatmi, a travel company specializing in tailor-made holidays with an emphasis on adventure and wellness, has his doubts.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for most people,” he says. “Can I sit in my house working remotely? Absolutely I can. But would a normal business allow you to go and do it from another jurisdiction? With different time zones and distractions, that’s going to be tough.”
The long-term visa is particularly aimed at the self-employed, which could include people trying to start their own business.
“If you’re a start-up, there’s nothing better than collaboration, being in the same place and bouncing ideas off each other,” says Musa.
Working remotely has already had some unexpected unwelcome effects on his own business, he adds.
“What I’m beginning to see is that working distantly creates tensions that were never there when you could just sit in front of someone and have a conversation.”
Hyde points out there are obvious savings to be made both in money and time by dispensing with offices and having employees working remotely.
“Office space is a huge overhead. Commuting is very time-consuming and if you can work from a laptop and still do it as effectively, there’s no reason why people can’t live and work anywhere,” he says.
The Covid-19 pandemic has robbed countries of much-needed revenue. Worldwide, the travel industry is on its knees and so are the multitudes of businesses that rely on tourists and travelers for customers, from large hotel chains to small bed-and-breakfast operations, from high-end restaurants to tiny neighborhood cafes, from activity companies to souvenir shops. All are desperate to revive their business and recoup income.
Their customers, too, have greatly missed traveling and being able to frequent those businesses. While travel is slowly opening up, taking frequent flights anywhere and everywhere is not yet an option. With Covid-19 still very much a threat to the world, many people feel nervous about traveling as frequently as they used to. But taking one flight to a place where you intend to stay for an extended period could be a way of satisfying both ends of the market.
The fact that the countries offering long-term live-and-work visas tend to be far less affected by the virus is an important added bonus.
Are digital nomads the future for both work and travel? While he admires the innovative thinking behind the idea, Musa believes that it remains wishful thinking.
“The luxury of packing a bag and going to work from a beach in Barbados… I wish that was a reality. The actual reality is that the way we work has changed and will remain changed but will we all start working remotely from now on? No, we just won’t.”
Hyde says the same criteria applies to digital nomads as any other employee.
“As a business owner, I look at the return on my investment. Can the employee produce the same results as they would in the office? Or more? If my employees can do that, then that is one big tick toward making working from wherever they want more possible, more often.”
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.