The world of work is changing. Daily commuting is, for many, being replaced by remote working at home.
Some, though, are going a step further, hopping about the world, remote working wherever their fancy takes them. Because for millions of “digital nomads,” completing that latest project, then connecting with a client via live video call from a hotel on the beach is more than their working life. It’s their way of life.
But how do they work as freelancers, permanent employees, or company owners and stay on the right side of immigration law, while never having permanent residence in one country?
The truth is many such workers rely on some form of a “tourist visa.” Yet, for true digital nomads, a visa designed for them, now available for many countries, is undoubtedly the best option.
What is a digital nomad?
To be clear, digital nomads differ from most freelancers working remotely. Many remote freelancers tend to be based in a primary location—usually at a permanent residence.
Conversely, digital nomads, as per the name, aren’t tied down to a location. They actively work anywhere that gives them a decent Internet connection. Be that a temporary home, a hotel room, a coffee shop, or even a beach bar.
They don’t necessarily have to be contractors, either. They might be permanent employees of a company or, indeed, company owners.
This digital-nomadic working life is becoming ever more popular, especially since the height of the pandemic. An extensive survey by MBO Partners found that, between 2019 and 2021, there was a 112% increase in digital nomads in the United States alone (see chart below).
The need for a visa solution that properly suits this sector has never been greater—and will probably only increase in the future.
What’s wrong with using a tourist visa?
So, why not just turn to a longstanding visa solution, such as a tourist visa? After all, this type of visa seems to serve many remote workers well enough.
The trouble with such a visa is it tends to last a few months at most. This means those who rely on one are required to leave a country after a short time, then return as soon as they can, having quickly obtained another such visa.
Plus, doing this isn’t really legal. Although, some countries seem to overlook this “abuse” of their visa system. In these places, it’s relatively easy to get hold of a new tourist visa after exhausting the last one, often by temporarily crossing the border, obtaining another visa, and re-entering the country.
This method enables remote workers to return to work swiftly and focus precious time on explicit work matters. Such as resolving urgent DevOps issues or deciding which Zoom phone competitors to choose between when contacting colleagues and existing clients.
All that said, in European Union (EU) countries, the rules for tourist visas are stricter. Non-EU citizens are allowed only to visit its free-movement Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days out of 180, then not re-enter for another three months.
It’s here, then, where digital nomad visas step up. They offer longer work stays—and enable fully legal working.
What is a digital nomad visa?
Designed to enable an employee or someone self-employed to work remotely, a digital nomad visa usually requires employee applicants to be employed by a company based outside a country of temporary residence.
Also, generally speaking, applicants must prove they receive a minimum monthly income (specified by the country they’re applying to) and that they can perform their job remotely.
How to apply for a digital nomad visa
The 36 countries that already offer a digital nomad visa are:
|Anguilla||Antigua and Barbuda||Aruba|
|Bermuda||Cabo Verde||Cayman Islands|
Apart from these, there are several countries where digital nomad visas have been introduced but not yet implemented:
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
But what are the specific requirements for each country? It’s always best to check the country’s embassy or consulate website to be sure—but here’s a flavor of the requirements for selected countries where digital nomad culture is popular:
|Georgia||This digital nomad visa is free of charge, lasts for a year, and has a fast processing time.|
|Germany||The German freelance visa allows you to work with various businesses or individuals on part-time contracts.|
|Costa Rica||The Rentista visa enables you to remain in the country for up to two years, with the possibility of an extension. You’ll have to prove a fixed income of $2,500 per month.|
|Norway||Digital nomad visas are only offered for the Svalbard region. There’s no expiry date, but you must prove you have enough money to support your stay.|
|Mexico||The temporary resident visa lets you stay for a year. You can extend it for a further year, up to three times—but you can’t stay longer than four years.|
|Portugal||With the D7 Passive Income visa, you can stay for a year, and then extend it for two years at a time. You must show proof of sufficient income, and where the money comes from. After five years, you may apply for a residence permit (subject to passing a Portuguese language test).|
|Czech Republic||This visa is valid for a year, but because it’s aimed at freelancers, you’ll need to obtain a trade license.|
|Iceland||The Remote Worker visa is valid for six months and also serves as a temporary residence permit. Holders may be self-employed or work for a foreign employer located outside Iceland.|
Although each country has slightly different requirements and protocols, the basic steps for applying for a digital nomad visa are roughly the same.
1. Fill out the application form
Check the embassy or consulate website for the country you wish to work in, and find out whether you need to fill out the application online, print it out and sign it, or fill it out in person at the embassy or consulate.
2. Make an appointment
As well as completing the form, you’ll need to attend a visa interview—so the next step is to schedule an appointment with the relevant embassy or consulate.
3. Prepare your documents
Ahead of the interview, prepare the rest of your documents and find out whether they need to be translated and certified. Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months at the time of application, so check the requirements carefully.
4. Submit your application
Double-check everything and submit the forms and documents. You may also need to pay the visa fee at this stage. A digital nomad visa can cost from $200 up to $2,000.
5. Wait for a response
The processing time for a visa application varies between countries. Your application may be turned down if you don’t meet the digital nomad criteria, you didn’t submit the right documents, or you’ve been convicted of a serious crime.
What about accompanying documents?
Whatever the country in question, you’ll be asked to provide copies of accompanying documents with your application form.
A word to the wise here. You may be tasked with providing a translation of one or more of your documents and they may need certifying with an apostille stamp.
The accompanying documents will likely include:
- A copy of your passport (valid for at least six months)
- Proof of identity photos
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof of income
- Proof of remote employment (e.g., a job contract)
- Civil documents (e.g., a birth certificate and proof of qualifications)
Once you’ve submitted your application along with these documents and had a visa interview, the visa will be processed.
If you’re successful, it will probably take about a month—but it could take longer. Just like the application process itself, the processing time will vary from country to country.
Finally, in terms of length of stay, a digital nomad visa is often valid for up to 24 months. However, depending on the country, you may be able to top that up to five years, subject to meeting specific criteria.
A modern visa solution
Clearly, then, with work habits and locations changing, lawmakers everywhere are figuring out how to ensure flexible workers can legally work where they want to.
The digital nomad visa is a testament to this—a 21st Century visa solution for remote working in different corners of the world. It benefits not just digital nomads but the countries that implement it, dynamically enhancing their economic potential.
It’s a visa solution that embraces the digital nomad way of life.
About the author
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration with help from Dialpad’s guide to first-call resolutions. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace has also written for other domains such as Agility PR Solutions and Cococart. Here is her LinkedIn.