The global immigration framework is going through an unprecedented transformation. A remote work revolution and appetite for post-pandemic travel created the perfect elixir. And it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Below, I explore some of my recent findings at the intersection of immigration law and the processing of digital nomad and remote work visas.
Digital Nomad and Remote Work Visas
Depending on who you ask, there are nearly 50 countries providing remote workers and digital nomads with tailored immigration and residency options. This explosive growth started with Estonia back in 2019, and has since sparked a competitive global arena to attract this demographic.
Top-3 Advantages of the Digital Nomad and Remote Work Visa
1. Minimal Requirements. Compared to traditional immigration pathways, there are significantly less core-requirements to obtain the digital nomad and remote work visa. In fact, there are really three elemental requirements that apply across the global digital nomad and remote work framework: (a) Proof of meeting the minimum income requirements; (b) Demonstrating the ability to work remotely; and (c) access to sufficient healthcare.
2. Ability to Work. While you cannot work for an employer within the destination country, nor conduct your business activities or render services for local businesses, you can work remotely. Unlike traditional tourist visas that do not permit you to legally work while in a country, the remote work visa gives you this right. And unlike traditional “work or employment” visas you are not bound to a specific sponsoring company in that country.
NOTE: This does not mean you will obtain formal work authorization – it simply means you have the privilege to work using telecommunications technology (as governments like to say).
3. Mobility & Taxes. Call a spade a spade. Digital nomads and remote workers crave freedom of movement. Many also seek the holy-grail of reducing tax-liability on income to 0%. The digital nomad and remote work visa category caters towards these objectives. Regarding taxation, countries realize that having this desirable demographic of income-earners resident will result in local economic spending – and there is no shortage of tax-incentives being presented along with the visa. Typically granted for a minimum of 12-months, successful applicants will also find doors open for mobility. This is particularly true for Schengen region destinations, such as Portugal, Greece, Malta and Spain. And this is especially true for applicants with less favorable passports in terms of global mobility – Chinese, Nigerian, Iranian, South African, Pakistani and Indian – to name a few.
There is a laundry-list of other advantages to the remote work and digital nomad visa category, such as: Flexibility for long-term immigration planning, ease of extensions and renewals, as well as lower application costs and affordability.
But the top-3 reasons outlined above are enough to be game-changers and shake up the global migration framework.
Top-3 Misconceptions of the Digital Nomad and Remote Work Visa
As I like to say, it is still very much the wild, wild west when it comes to remote work and digital nomad visa applications. That is, when you get down into the nitty gritty details of actually filing an application, more often than not, surprises emerge.
This is no surprise, either. Governments are literally attempting to plug remote work and digital nomad visas into their traditional migration framework for processing them. Couple this lack of operational guidance with the omnipresent global demand to get these visas and well, it's a nice recipe for (as they say in the legal immigration industry) “backlogs.” In other words, it can be a hot mess.
Therefore, let’s get real and set some expectations from the start:
1. It’s Easy to Process a Digital Nomad and Remote Work Visa. This depends on a variety of factors. Specifically (a) Your destination; (b) Nationality; and (c) Where you process the visa.
While the requirements for obtaining a digital nomad and remote work visa might be somewhat uniform, the processing of digital nomad and remote work visa applications is extremely nuanced. Traditional methods of applying for this visa are still ubiquitous for most of the top-destination nations – i.e. you still need to go through Consular Processing routes. This means being forced to use monopolizing frameworks like VFS to schedule appointments, and being at the whim of other national systems still stuck in a DOS era with no English language translations. This is unfortunate, but not surprising, given that countries are just figuring out how to implement these visa categories.
Notably, however, some countries have built a model processing framework around this visa category, seemingly setting the gold-standard – this includes destinations like Belize, Malta, Malaysia, and Costa Rica – to name a few.
2. Obtaining Work Authorization. As mentioned above, remote work and digital nomad visa applications do not provide work authorization. It does not give you the right to work for an employer in that destination country. It does not give a visa holder the right to render services to an entity established in this destination country. The purpose of this visa category is to enable you to live and work remotely – using telecommunications technology (as governments like to label it) to perform this work. The moment you tell an immigration official you are working in the traditional sense of the word you will encounter issues and no doubt receive a rejection on your application.
3. Automatic Residency and more Permanent Immigration Options. Immigration generally involves two distinct and oftentimes overlapping processes: (a) Obtaining a visa; and (b) Establishing residency. Each country has its own requirements for this process and sometimes they are mutually exclusive. And oftentimes there are additional requirements after receiving the remote work visa approval. This includes, but is not limited to furnishing further proof of a local address that will serve as your residence for the duration of your visa and performing biometrics upon arrival in your destination country. In other words, even after an initial approval of your visa you may have additional steps on the ground in your destination country to fulfill with local authorities.
Furthermore, it is safe to say that digital nomad and remote work visas are typically granted for an average duration of 12-months. There are definitely avenues to extend and renew this visa, but it is not automatic, nor does it guarantee any path to permanent residency. Still, it is safe to say that this visa category does open doors for those who ultimately want to find a more permanent solution – and at least gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the country before making this decision. And please don’t even mention Citizenship, yet. That’s a long road to travel for nomads, unless of course you meet someone along the way.
David has been working remotely as an immigration lawyer since 2012
The Digital Nomad Lawyer
I’m hoping that this article provides some unique insights for remote workers and digital nomads who are going through (or considering) this visa as a viable immigration pathway.
On a personal and professional level, I also believe it to be an apt title:
Digital: Still figuring this existential one out, as I’m a horse-and-carriage romantic with two young daughters. I still enjoy readings books - real ones with paper. I guess being at the ground-level of some amazing tech-companies is probably enough to qualify me for this one, right? Still, probably more lawyer than digital, though.
Nomad: For those that know me, they know about my shoe-string wanderings and encounters with nomadic life. They likely know about my nomadic heart and stories from Patagonia to Autonomous Tibetan regions.
Lawyer: For those that know me professionally, they know I am a passionate advocate for the freedom of movement as a legal practitioner. Still, definitely less lawyer than nomad though.
David is a global immigration lawyer and Founder of Relocate. He currently resides in Italy with his spouse and two young daughters.
🏄 Need help with a Remote Work or Digital Nomad Visa Application?
Be sure to check-out what our partners are doing at Citizen Remote in this emerging space and join a global community of remote workers and digital nomads.