How Some Countries Are Replacing Falling Tourist Dollars By Welcoming Remote Knowledge Workers

MBO Partners, in their most recent report, found there are 10.9 million digital nomads, up from just 7.6 million in 2019. Moreover, 64 million have considered the opportunity and say they “may” become a digital nomad in the next 2–3 years, while 19 million say they “plan” to do so.

In 1997 the book Digital Nomad by Tsugio Makimoto, former Corporate Advisor to the Sony Corporation, and co-authored by writer David Manners was published. In their book, the authors predicted that technology, combined with our natural urge to travel, will once again “set us free, allowing mankind to live, work, and exist on the move.” They further predicted that remote working would force nations “to compete for citizens” and that digital nomad-ism would prompt “declines in materialism and nationalism”.

While in some countries, growth in nationalism has been driven by populism, part of their prophecy is coming true. Over the last decade or so, the popularity of the digital nomad life has grown massively, mainly, although not exclusively among the young. The pandemic has been a catalyst to also opening up this newfound freedom to thousands of previously office-based workers. Now, as a combination of governmental and business pressures seek a return to the status quo, it seems that many of these employees, who have tasted the freedom of remote working over the last eighteen months, are not keen to return to business as usual at a fixed desk with a daily commute. Many are prioritizing their quality of life and happiness over cash and career. Thus, potentially changing the dynamics of the relationship between employee and employer in the post COVID world, focusing away from chasing money and career advancement to finding a better quality of life.

Great companies will offer work flexibility and freedom to travel and work, and some, particularly start-ups, like dev-ops platform Git Lab recognizing a shift in expectations, have embraced fully remote working and now have 1300 workers in 65 countries. Their strategy has been to grow where they find talent and lend themselves to offering workers true digital nomad status. Other more established organizations, having seen productivity increase during the pandemic, now accept the remote working model resulting in some recruiters focussing only on remote working recruitment opportunities.

Companies and workers also need to consider the domicile and tax implications of being based in foreign countries. Remote working specialists like Velocity can provide a compliant solution enabling companies to hire employees anywhere in the world quickly without setting up a legal entity.

The reality is harsh though the pandemic has been; there has probably never been a better time for freelancers and contractors to work remotely and from desirable locations worldwide.

MBO Partners, in their most recent report, found there are 10.9 million digital nomads, up from just 7.6 million in 2019. Moreover, 64 million have considered the opportunity and say they “may” become a digital nomad in the next 2–3 years, while 19 million say they “plan” to do so

Seeing their tourist income fall off a cliff, some countries quickly recognized the opportunity and moved to mitigate the lack of tourist dollars by welcoming remote working nomads as a short-term fix and as a hedge against the risk of an uncertain future for tourism. Continued Covid uncertainty and the potential that global warming pressures will increasingly curb international travel, make it far from certain if and when tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels.

From Anguilla to Seychelles, the shift in priorities has encouraged more and more countries to put in place frameworks to welcome visitors who can work remotely, making it easy for them to stay and work for longer than a regular tourist visa allows. Each country is different, with different visa lengths and rules around proof of income or employment and with specific requirements often including having a minimum bank balance, proof of income, and valid medical and travel insurance for the entire period of stay. Seychelles, for example, requires nomads to obtain a Gainful Occupation Permit (GOP) before going to the country, which allows the holder to work remotely in Seychelles either as an employee or as a self‐employed person.

A recent Forbes survey found that Norway came first with Mexico second out of the current 32 nomad destinations ranked out of ten by perceived benefits. These include; length of remote working visa’’, ‘’nomad acceptance locally’’, broadband speed; cost of accommodation, overall living expenses, and happiness factor. In Europe, Germany and Spain are popular destinations but beaten by Greece and Portugal both of which like Norway do not limit the length of a remote working visa’’. Many occupations, including developers, designers, writers, business support, legal, customer service, and technical support, lend themselves well to remote working in a digital world.

If in the short term, Digital nomads may be considered as a new kind of tourist, the question is, when does a Digital Nomad morph into a permanent remote knowledge worker who, having traveled the world, finds somewhere they like and decides to settle and build a life?

As the pandemic eases and travel becomes more accessible, I fully expect to see many more nations opening up their borders to these new “citizens of the world” who can work remotely from their laptops. The question is, will countries who are initially welcoming their new visitors want to find ways to attract them to stay and build a future. If so, what will be the long-term effect of working diaspora finding better, more fulfilling lives potentially forever abandoning their home countries, taking their skills, knowledge, youth, and ambition with them?

Many Western countries, including the UK and USA, have an aging population and an issue with long-term support and care for people nearing the end of their careers and lives. Because younger people are much more likely than older people to work and pay taxes that finance Social Security, Medicare, and all other public-sector activities, the last thing they need is their future taxpayers abandoning the land of their birth and education, potentially straining future government budgets. The Urban Institute predicts that by 2040, about one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, up from about one in eight in 2000.

Arguably the United Kingdom, by leaving the European Union, deliberately curtailing its citizens’ freedom to live, work, and study in twenty-seven European countries, has potentially hugely exacerbated this issue, particularly among the young. Many of those who had no vote and who view themselves as citizens of the world are already exploring other options to live and work elsewhere. Moreover, considering that it is predicted that by 2040, 1 in 7 people will be over 75, the UK, like the USA, cannot afford to lose its future taxpayers.

Time will tell whether we are undergoing a short-term temporary migration or a longer-term permanent brain drain from some countries to benefit others.

Originally published at on Sep 10, 2021, by Symon Blomfield.



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