Have you secretly dreamed of getting a digital nomad visa then jetting off to work remotely from an idyllic island, a quaint European town, or a bustling metropolis?
Well, you’re in luck! More and more countries are embracing the digital nomad visa, a travel permit that lets you to work remotely in a foreign country.
Countries get the benefit of you spending money on their goods and services without you competing with their citizens for jobs because as a digital nomad you’re already employed (whether for yourself or an employer in another country).
At the same time, you get the benefit of switching up your usual office environment for a place more in line with your weather, lifestyle, or cultural preferences.
Who hasn’t dreamed of trading in florescent lights for sunshine?
Want to work by the ocean in the Caribbean? In a cliffside village in Portugal? From a high-rise in Dubai? All of these scenarios are possible thanks to digital nomad visas and companies’ increased willingness to let employees work remotely.
Since the pandemic, the number of companies that are offering remote work has exploded. And current projections show this trend continuing for the foreseeable future.
Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Microsoft, Shopify, Pfizer, and American Express have embraced remote work as an option for employees. And since the pandemic many more have discovered that employees perform just as well (if not better) when they are given more control over their work environment.
If you’ve been thinking about taking advantage of the digital nomad and remote work trend, or if you’ve been wondering how you can get a digital nomad visa and work abroad, you’re in the right place!
What is a Digital Nomad Visa?
A digital nomad visa (aka a remote work or freelance visa) is a legal document that lets you stay in and work from a country that is different from your home country.
Think of it as getting temporary residency in a foreign country while you work for yourself or an employer in a country other than the one in which you want to reside. These visas fill the legal vacuum that used to exist between a tourist visa and permanent residency.
While most tourist visas expire after 30 days, typical digital nomad visas let you stay in a foreign country for a year or longer. Some even offer a series of extensions and/or renewals.
Many countries have realized that by creating and simplifying the steps for getting a digital nomad visa they can boost their economies with long-term visitors. As a digital nomad you’ll spend locally, whether you’re buying supplies for living and working (groceries, household products, clothes etc.), or you’re spending money on recreation and dining out.
Unlike traditional work visas (where you are employed through a local entity that “invites” you to come work and live in the foreign country), digital nomad visas usually do not require a work contract or much paperwork. But many will require some proof of income and/or an ability to support yourself and any dependents.
Is a Digital Nomad Visa Right for Me?
Before you go through the process of researching and applying for a digital nomad visa, you should ask yourself: “is a digital nomad lifestyle right for me?”
To help you answer that question, I recommend answering these questions first:
- Do I have (or can I secure) a remote job or can I work for myself?
- Can I work in an environment that I’m not accustomed to?
- Do I get excited by the idea of working in new / exotic places?
- Am I comfortable with a (potentially) more minimalist office setup?
- Can I embrace new cultures and am I open to new ways of doing things?
- Am I accustomed to using the technology needed to work remotely?
- Am I comfortable hunting high speed internet in libraries, co-working spaces, coffeeshops, hotels, or restaurants (in the event mine has issues)?
- Can my family (spouse, children, etc) adjust positively to the change?
- Can I deal with the time zone difference (if applicable)?
- Will there be anyone else co-working with me, and if so, will I be able to concentrate?
- Is the healthcare system in my target country(s) sufficient for my needs?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, a digital nomad lifestyle may be right for you!
Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of working remotely and decided that you want to try it for yourself, you may still be wondering whether applying for a digital nomad visa is the best next step.
Before spending time applying for a digital nomad visa, I recommend having some experience in the country that you’re considering as a home base.
You may want to visit on a regular tourist visa first (if a visa is even required for a short stay) to see what your life would be like there.
Pro tip: Starting in 2022, non-EU citizens will be able to travel across the Schengen Area of Europe for up to 90 days at a time without a visa. This means that you could “try out” several European countries before applying for a digital nomad visa.
During your “scouting trip” pay attention to things you would need / want if you were to move there long-term.
I recommend staying at an AirBnB or similar, more local accommodation since it’ll give you a better feel for living like a local. If you need help finding the right AirBnB rental, I’ve got you covered in this article!
Some things to watch out for include: how easy is it to get internet, how reliable / strong is the internet connection, what are your options for housing / working spaces, is there an expat community, and what are the costs of living there.
Most tourist visas are capped at 30 days, but you can still get a feel for a place in that timeframe. Plus local blogs, TripAdvisor forums, and good ol’ Google research can help you make a decision about your prospective home base.
I created a comprehensive list of the best countries with digital nomad visas further down in this article. I suggest reading through to the end and then making a list of your top 5 contenders.
They may be countries that you’ve been to and loved. Or countries that you want to check out as potential options. Then narrow further depending on what your needs are as a remote worker and what your budget is for your time abroad.
Pro tip: There may be tax advantages to getting a digital nomad visa as many allow you to live in the issuing country tax free for the length of the visa. Note that you’ll still need to pay taxes to your home country. Uncle Sam in particular always collects!
How Do I Get a Digital Nomad Visa?
Digital nomad visa applications run the gamut from the super fast and easy to the downright cryptic. But with a little research and planning you can master the process.
Most require a valid passport from your home country and proof of a steady remote income whether from an employer or from your self-employment. Bank statements or similar financial documents usually suffice.
Pro tip: Some countries have an application or entry fee so watch out for that when budgeting!
You should also check the country’s visa application website to see if you need further documentation like vaccination records or proof of health insurance.
I’ll use Estonia as an example to give you a taste of a typical digital nomad visa application process:
According to the Republic of Estonia website, you can apply for the digital nomad visa (also called a Type D long stay visa) if you meet the following requirements:
- Able to work independent of location
- Perform your work duties remotely using telecommunications technology
- Either have an active employment contract with a company registered outside of Estonia, conduct business through your own company registered abroad, or work as a freelancer for clients mostly outside of Estonia.
- Provide evidence that your income met the minimum threshold during the six months preceding the application (currently, the monthly income threshold is about $4,125 USD).
If you meet the eligibility requirements you can fill out an application form online. Then print and sign the form and make an appointment to bring it (and all supporting documents) to the nearest Estonian Embassy or Consulate. There you’ll also pay an application fee of 100€ (about $120 USD).
Once you submit everything, say a prayer to your favorite deity for a speedy response.
Selecting the Right Countries to Work Remotely
Budget-Friendly Countries Offering a Digital Nomad Visa
Vietnam — Cheap (like REALLY cheap) and absolutely, mind-bogglingly beautiful, Vietnam has attracted remote workers for years. Imagine pagodas, karst peaks, and rice paddies in the background as you’re working. Add to that a thriving coffee culture and you have digital nomad gold. US citizens can apply for a 1 year business visa, but citizens of other countries are capped at 3 months. I am not sure why Vietnam created this distinction, but hopefully it’ll change in the future. Another potential complication is the fact that there are a lot of “application processing” companies and many of them are not legitimate so it’s imperative to do your research.
Thailand — If you can deal with some connectivity issues (if you plan on staying outside of Bangkok), you’ll be rewarded with cheap accommodations and food as well as stunning beaches beckoning you away from your laptop. You can apply for a long-term visa through Thailand’s Smart program which is intended for professionals and entrepreneurs in certain targeted industries (NOTE: Thailand plans to expand this program to attract more digital nomads and remote workers).
Mexico — Budget-friendly living with countless beachside remote working opportunities, Mexico has long been a favorite of digital nomads. The Mexico Temporary Resident Visa is intended for those who wish to live in Mexico for more than 180 days and up to 4 years through a series of one year extensions. You can apply for this visa at your nearest Mexican consulate. The visa fee is $36 USD and the resident card cost is just under $200, plus you’ll need to show an income in excess of $1,634 USD per month.
Croatia — Thanks to its relatively low cost of living digital nomads have been lusting over this Balkan gem for ages, but a Croatian digital nomad visa was not available. That is, until now. Seeing Estonia’s success with their remote work visa, Croatia wanted in and now offers a “temporary residence” visa that’s good for a year. Croatia has a modest proof of salary requirement at around $2,700 USD per month (and at least 32,000 USD in the bank). Expat in Croatia has a great article summarizing the application process.
Czech Republic — Low-cost living, reliable internet and the romance of Prague, if you haven’t considered the Czech Republic as a digital nomad home base, I suggest you do. As an added enticement, the Czech Republic has Locus Workspace, a co-working space with members from more than 20 nationalities! The Czech Republic’s digital nomad visa Zivno (aka Zivnostenske opravneni) requires proof of funds (minimum of 124.500 CZK or around $5,700 USD), proof of accommodation in the Czech Republic, and proof of travel medical insurance. Note that the documents will need to be in Czech so you may need to hire a translator, and there is a visa application fee of $224 for the business visa.
Georgia — (no not the state, the country in eastern Europe!) Inexpensive, under-the-radar and hospitable are just a few words to describe this Eastern European gem. When it comes to remote working and living, it’s hard to find a country where your dollar will go further than Georgia. Plus the capital city, Tbilisi is already a digital nomad hot spot with co-working spaces like Impact Hub Tbilisi and LOKAL! The Work From Georgia visa requires an income of $2,000 USD or more per month and proof of health insurance for the duration of your stay. Once your application is approved, you can stay in Georgia for up to a year.
European Countries Offering a Digital Nomad Visa
Spain — Don’t even get me started on Spain… from the architecture to the delectable food to the beautiful Balearic Islands, it’s no wonder so many people want to work remotely in Spain. Spain’s Self Employment Visa makes this possible for digital nomads who are self employed and wanting to work there for up to a year. But you have to be willing to provide all information and documents required in the multistep application process like a “business plan of activities.” Some of the requirements seem excessive, but hey, it’s Spain so it’s well worth the effort!
Portugal (Madeira) — If you’ve ever dreamed of working remotely in Portugal, the digital nomad village on the gorgeous Atlantic island of Madeira, Portugal may be for you. The Digital Nomads Madeira project is courting those who want to work remotely while enjoying breathtaking ocean and mountain views. This project was designed specifically for digital nomads and boasts amenities such as “a free working space […], access to a Slack community, and free internet from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.” You can apply here to be in the next phase if working in paradise for 5 months appeals to you!
Greece — There is no denying that Greece is a beautiful, temperate remote work environment, and although it does not have a digital nomad visa that would allow you to be in Greece tax free, it has several types of long-term visas to entice digital nomads. Digital nomads can also save 50% on any eligible taxes for up to 7 years of remote work in Greece. And although connectivity and internet issues frustrated remote workers in the past, Greece has laid out plans for improvement, most recently launching the COSMOTE 5G network in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities.
Germany — Germany may not be the first place to pop into your head for remote work, but I highly recommend that you consider this cool country with grand metropolises, quant old towns, fairytale castles, and the best pretzel bread you’ll ever have in your life. If you are a freelancer. Germany offers the Freelancer (or Freiberufler) Visa for those that are self-employed in fields like healthcare, law, tax and business counseling, scientific/technical and “linguistic and information-transmitting.” Be sure to read the requirements carefully as german authorities are sticklers for rules! This visa will let you work remotely in Germany for 3 months, and it can be converted into a “residence permit” valid for a year (with up to 3 extensions).
Estonia — Did you know that Estonia is one of the most digital-forward countries in the Baltic region? Estonia’s government and private sector has fully embraced the digital revolution and citizens can do practically anything online other than marrying someone or buying / selling property! And as of August 1, 2020, “eligible location-independent workers can apply for the chance to come to Estonia to live for up to a year.” You can fill out the application form online and bring it to your local Estonian embassy or consulate. You’ll need to show proof that your income (during 6 months prior to applying) meets the minimum threshold monthly income of €3,504 (about $4,196 USD), a surprisingly high number for a relatively affordable country!
Iceland — For those that don’t require warm weather and can bear the expense (Iceland is the second most expensive country in the EU following Switzerland), Iceland can be an absolutely stunning remote work environment. It is clean, sustainability-focused and full of incredible scenery and marine life. But here’s the rub: you have to show an income of $8,000 USD per mo. if you’re single and $10,300 USD per mo. if you’re bringing a spouse to qualify for the long-term visa which will let you stay in Iceland for up to 180 days.
Norway (Svalbard) —If you’re part eskimo and/or you love the idea of working in one the coldest, most remote digital nomad areas in the world, Svalbard may be a good fit. This archipelago north of mainland Norway that is home to the northernmost city in the world, Longyearbyen, and with the right connections, you may might get a chance to co-work with Santa. But best of all, Norway doesn’t even require a visa to work remotely from Svalbard. You can stay there visa-free! But if you want to go to other parts of Norway, the usual Schengen area rules will apply and you will be limited to 90 days.
Island Destinations Offering a Digital Nomad Visa
Bahamas — The Bahamas has a VERY attractive digital nomad visa program, nearly as attractive as its azure waters and white-sand beaches. Unlike other visa programs in the Caribbean, the Bahamas Extended Access Travel Stay program doesn’t have an earnings requirement (just proof that you are employed). The application fee is also very low ($25 USD), but you’ll have to pay an additional $1,000 USD for the Work Remotely permit when your application is approved (and an additional $500 USD for each dependent). If you want to replace that fake tropical Zoom background for the real deal, you can’t beat the Bahamas!
Bermuda — The next tropical paradise for digital nomads (starting with the letter “B”) is Bermuda, boasting pink sand beaches, dramatic caves, and ample opportunities for whale watching in your off hours. Plus, like the Bahamas, Bermuda has an attractive digital nomad visa program in which they issue what’s called a 1 year Residential Certificate to applicants who demonstrate “employment with a legitimate firm or their own company registered and operating overseas,” “sufficient means and/or a continuous source of annual income without the need to engage in gainful employment in Bermuda,” and valid health insurance. Meet those requirements and pay the $263 USD fee and you’re ticket to working in paradise awaits!
Barbados — Rounding out our list of “B” islands for remote work is Barbados. Once a getaway for British elite, Barbados is now welcoming digital nomads with its the Barbados Welcome Stamp program. At $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families this year long visa is one of the most expensive I’ve seen, but it has very few restrictions: you can come and go as you please and you will not pay any income tax in Barbados. Plus what’s a couple thousand dollars in exchange for consistently blissful temperatures, ocean vibes and post-work tropical drinks at sunset?
Cayman Islands — More than a place for the wealthy to hide their money, the Cayman Islands are an idyllic remote work environment for those seeking some sun along with their screen time. There are 3 islands that make up this British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac, but you’ll probably want to base yourself in Grand Cayman, the largest of the bunch. And with the Cayman’s Global Citizen Concierge Certificate you can live and work remotely in the Cayman Islands for up to 2 years. At $1,500 USD for 2 people and $500 USD per dependent this digital nomad visa pricier than some others, but the beauty and climate here make it worthwhile. The major downside of this visa is the high minimum annual salary requirement ($100,000 USD for an individual and $150,000 for an individual with a spouse / civil partner).
Antigua and Barbuda — “The beach is just the beginning” is the tourism tagline in Antigua and Barbuda, and I’m here for it. With places like Half Moon Bay, 17 Mile Beach, Stingray City and the largest frigate bird sanctuary in the world, the sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda give other Caribbean remote work destinations a run for their money. If you base yourself on Antigua, you’ll have 95 miles of coastline to park your beach chair and laptop! Antigua and Barbuda’s Nomad Digital Residence program lets you stay and work remotely on the islands for up to 2 years. You can apply online and the fee is $1,500 USD per individual, $2,000 USD per couple, and $3,000 for a family of 3 or more. You’ll also need to declare an expected income of $50,000 USD for each year of the 2 years in Antigua and Barbuda.
Anguilla — Like the Antigua and Barbuda, the tropical paradise that is Anguilla does not come cheaply. The beaches are the main draw here, but the thriving food scene, dive sites, and friendly atmosphere are equally appealing. As their website says here you’ll “put work and life back in balance from a destination that turns every day into a working vacation.” Sounds good to me! The fee is $2,000 USD per individual and $3,000 USD for a family of up to 4 persons. Once your application is accepted, you can stay for up to 1 year on Anguilla (renewable each year).
Monserrat — Have you heard of the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean”? If you’ve dreamed of combining the verdant beauty of Ireland with the weather of the Caribbean, the tiny 10 mile island of Monserrat may be your perfect location independent home base. Monserrat launched its digital nomad visa program — the Remote Work Stamp — in February of 2021 and has easier qualification than many others in the region. Also, visa approval can happen as quickly as one week from the time you submit your application! The application fee is $500 USD or $750 USD for a family of up to 3 dependents and you’ll need to show an income of $70,000 UDS per year. You’ll be able to stay for up to 1 year (with the possibility of renewal).
Mauritius — Want an office space on a tropical island that’s a bit more exotic than the Caribbean? Well, Africa’s Mauritius island may be for you. The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 1,200 miles off the southeast coast of Africa, and it includes the main island (also called Mauritius), Rodrigues, Agaléga, and St. Brandon. Unique Mauritius sites include the 7-Coloured Earths of Chamarel, the Black River Gorges and two UNESCO World Heritage monuments. Mauritius has been an under-the radar, luxury holiday destination for a while, but more recently it’s been gaining popularity as a remote work location. Best of all, the Mauritius Premium Visa does not have an application fee. You just need to show earnings of at least $1,500 USD per month and you’ll be able to stay for up to a year once your application is approved.
Australia — Australia qualifies as an island, right? If the initial travel distance doesn’t scare you, Australia can be an incredible base for remote work with vibrant, large cities like Sydney and Melbourne as well as lesser-known places like Wollongong and Hobart. Australia is on the expensive side as a long-term home base, but you’ll likely be very comfortable with its infrastructure and connectivity options. If you’re 18-30 years old (or 18-35 years old if you’re a Canadian, French or Irish citizen) and don’t have kids, you can apply for an Australian Working Holiday Visa which will let you to stay in Australia for a year.
Middle East Country Offering a Digital Nomad Visa
United Arab Emirates (Dubai) — Dubai is currently the only place in the Middle East offering a digital nomad visa! If you have a thing for high-rises, dramatic skylines, and mega malls Dubai may be the place for you. It has reliable internet, work spaces galore, and expat communities from a wide variety of countries. At $611 USD for a one-year visa the application fee is pretty steep, but Dubai’s visa program gives you access to services like telecoms, utilities, and schooling. Dubai also requires proof of a monthly income in excess of $5,000 USD, no easy feat for many digital nomads!
Countries to Watch (aka Countries Which May Have a Remote Work Visa Soon)
Indonesia (Bali) — Although it doesn’t offer a digital nomad visa just yet, I’m including Indonesia as a country to watch. Bali has long been a digital nomad hot spot with its cafe culture, breathtaking beaches, and zen work spaces. But now they want to be #digitalnomad official with a 5 year visa option. The proposed visa would allow remote workers live in Indonesia while paying a modest 5-10% flat income tax. Right now you can live in Bali for 60 days through the Sosial Budaya Visa (this visa can be extended in 30 day increments up to 4 times for a total of 180 days). This visa requires a sponsor letter, and there are many agencies in the business of helping you get one.
Costa Rica — Another country to watch is Costa Rica. Although (like Indonesia) it hasn’t passed a digital nomad visa yet, Costa Rica granted more than a year’s worth of tourist extensions for visitors during the pandemic. According to the Tico Times, “[t]housands of tourists have taken advantage of the grace period, working remotely from communities like Jacó, Santa Teresa, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio.” This comes as no surprise considering Costa Rica’s great internet connectivity, glorious weather, and plethora of outdoor adventures like hiking and surfing!
It can be easy to get bogged down by all the things you need to consider when deciding whether / where to be a digital nomad. Bookmark and use this article as a handy step-by-step guide.
Start with the big questions about whether a remote work lifestyle is right for you (and your family). Determine your budget and time-zone preferences. Then start googling destinations that fit your criteria.
I highly recommend planning a trip to your potential digital nomad destinations before applying to live there. Even if you’ve vacationed in a country, returning with an eye towards living there long-term can help you make an informed decision.
And most importantly know that there is no “wrong choice,” though some options will be better than others for you. Think of choosing a digital nomad location as a journey, not a destination, and you’ll end up in a country that feels like home!
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