UNWTO says more than half of global destinations now offer digital nomad visas.
The popularity of digital nomad visas is on the rise, according to a new report from the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
Since 2020, many countries have created visas specifically aimed at remote workers in response to the travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first was Estonia which introduced its specialised digital nomad visa programme in July 2020.
As video conferencing technology has improved and freedoms to work outside of the office have widened, the popularity of digital nomadism has continued to grow over the last three years.
In the US, for example, the number of digital nomads increased by 131 per cent in 2022 compared to 2019 to a total of 17 million people.
And with increasing popularity, more and more countries have created visa schemes specially targeted at these international remote workers. The different visas on offer around the world have a variety of benefits and downsides.
What do digital nomad visas look like around the world?
Of the 54 destinations analysed by UNWTO, almost half offer visas of up to one year.
Canada offers the shortest stay of just 30 days for digital nomads whereas Thailand issues the longest visas.
Most countries initially allow three-to-six-month visas with the possibility of extension or renewal at the end of this period.
It found that the Americas were the most digital nomad-friendly region. Visa programmes are offered in 21 different destinations, predominantly small island states. In Europe, 19 countries have digital nomad visas while two more, Italy and North Macedonia, are working on introducing specialised programmes.
Almost 40 per cent of destinations exempt digital nomads from tax payments including Croatia, Portugal and Albania. UNWTO found that nomads became taxable residents after staying for 183 days in most places.
Antigua and Barbuda offers visa holders two years without taxes while Barbados and Latvia offer one year.
Minimum income requirements also varied wildly across the 54 countries. Anguilla, the Bahamas, Curaçao, Morocco and Saint Lucia don’t have any minimum monthly requirement.
In the Cayman Islands, however, you’ll need to make around $100,000 (€93,600) a year to apply for a visa. Typically a minimum income of between $1,000 and $4,000 (€936 and €3,744) a month was required in most destinations.
Where is it easiest and cheapest to apply for a digital nomad visa?
When it comes to applications, 76 per cent of the destinations allow digital nomads to apply online. But a surprising number of countries, including Estonia, Cyprus and Iceland, still only accept hard copies of applications.
Four-fifths of the countries process applications within one month. Many do so much faster than this with some authorities, including Greece, Morocco and Barbados, taking a maximum of 10 days. Some of the longest processing times were found in Czechia, Denmark, Ecuador, Malaysia, Norway, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates which all varied between two and four months.
All 54 of the countries in the UNWTO report require some form of criminal record check as part of the process.
The cost of applying varies around the world as well. Just 6 per cent of countries – including Aruba, Georgia and Mauritius, had no fees for visa applications.
The highest fees were found in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Grenada where a visa will cost you more than €1,000.
What impact have digital nomad visas had?
The UNWTO analysis says that, while digital nomadism has emerged as a model to support tourism losses from COVID-19, it is still hard to evaluate its impact.
Generally, these specialised visas offer a good option for individuals looking to travel, providing an opportunity to explore new places while still being able to work. They could also help promote less visited destinations such as rural areas or encourage people to visit in the low season.
But, it cautions, digital nomads must be encouraged to integrate with the local economy and culture.
Research has shown, for example, that digital nomads rely heavily on short-term rentals for their accommodation through platforms like Airbnb. This aspect of the emerging trend has led local residents in some countries like Portugal to blame remote workers for pricing them out of the housing market.
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