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Updated 10 May 2021

If the pandemic 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 continue to be 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 utilities, 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 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-nomadic 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 with 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 the great cathedrals in Spain or Portugal? Commitments to full-time employment no longer need to restrict wanderlusters.

By relocating, remote workers can explore a new country, meet new people, learn a new language and 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 US citizens will be eligible for the One Happy Workation programme, which allows stays from one week to 90 days in Aruba.

Barbados

Move to this island nation through the 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp – with potential for future extensions.

Costa Rica

The rentista visa allows a two-year 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. The visa programme requires a minimum income, a host of documents and passing an immigration interview, making it one of the most difficult digital nomad programmes to navigate.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai has launched the virtual working programme, which grants remote workers a visa that is valid for one year. The requirements for eligibility include receiving a minimum monthly income of USD 5,000 and having an employment contract that is at least a year long.

Estonia

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

Georgia

A programme known as Remotely from Georgia enables expats from up to 95 countries, including EU states and US citizens, to stay in the country for at least one year.

Germany

A freelancer or freiberufler visa typically permits stays in Germany for up to three months, which can be extended for up to three years.

Mexico

Provided they have a sufficient bank balance, expats could relocate to Mexico for 180 days to four years 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

Spain is launching a digital nomad visa for non-EU citizens who are entrepreneurs or are employed by a non-Spanish company, which will likely be valid for a year and renewable for another four years thereafter.

Croatia

Croatia now offers the Digital Nomad Croatia Temporary Residence Permit for remote workers or business owners employed by companies registered outside the country. The visa is typically granted for a year but depends on the length of your intended stay.

The list goes on with countries like Malta, Iceland and Mauritius offering their own versions of remote working visas in paradise.

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