Want to Work From an Island in 2021?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Remote workers could prove the new lifeblood for travel-starved tourist destinations.
By Nick Fouriezos
Remote working isn’t going anywhere. Yet the appeal of leaving the house is also undeniable in a year when travel has been restricted and social interaction limited. With vaccines rolling out and many — although not all — countries likely to start receiving them, experts expect a different surge next year: employees deciding to take their remote work global. In response, a number of nations are trying to make sure they’re the first choice for those expat-minded foreigners.
The African island nation of Mauritius and the Caribbean paradises of Barbados, Antigua and Bermuda have all launched one-year digital nomad visas in the past few months — offering tax incentives to those who come, but also levying an upfront charge ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Meanwhile, popular resorts, like Vakkaru in the Maldives, have launched packages specifically for long-term remote-working travelers.
There are only a handful of countries that make this easy, and now that more are opening up, travelers are going: “Oh, finally, there is somewhere else I can go now.”
Matt Karsten, travel blogger
The incentives have inspired more than a few housebound Americans and Europeans to head for the beach, especially at a time when travel restrictions remain in force throughout much of the world and the U.S. struggles to contain its COVID-19 cases.
“There are only a handful of countries that make this easy, and now that more are opening up, travelers are going: ‘Oh, finally there is somewhere else I can go now,’” says Matt Karsten, who runs the travel blog Expert Vagabond and spent a decade on the road himself.
The benefits are clear for small nations, especially islands traditionally dependent on tourism that has dried up because of the pandemic. Tourism levels are unlikely to revive to pre-2020 levels in the coming year, and depending on risk-taking honeymooners won’t do. Instead, by pitching themselves as safe and fun beachfront WeWorks, they can guarantee themselves the predictable and steady income that comes from guests who stay several months at a stretch.
“If you’re a country facing a demographics crisis, lots of pension liabilities building up, for example, maybe this is an ability to use one of your best natural resources — your climate — to attract new taxpayers,” says Daniel Bunn, vice president of global projects at the libertarian-leaning Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. After all, many of those who come for what they think is going to be a 12-month getaway might end up staying.
However, Karsten warns, these remote working visas will only work for nations that keep their requirements practical for nomads. Plans like the one in the Cayman Islands, which requires a minimum annual income of $100,000 to qualify, or Barbados, whose visa costs a hefty $2,000, aren’t feasible for many would-be remote workers.
Meanwhile, countries such as Estonia and Georgia have crafted policies that make it much easier to work from them, which could lead more nomads to make the move. Facebook groups and other forums dedicated to roaming expats have spread the news, with people asking others for advice as many choose to make the leap to a new country.
Will such programs last past the pandemic, as borders begin to open more broadly and visa requirements globally begin to normalize? Karsten thinks so. After all, a number of countries, from Thailand to Mexico, have a long history of courting expats with traveler-friendly policies. And once nomads arrive, they can quickly make the benefits of their presence known.
“There are whole large parts of these countries’ economies that rely on foreigners, expats and nomads that come in,” Karsten says. “Maybe some of these countries are going to realize that it’s worthwhile keeping it going once they see people stick around and create these communities.”