A Dreamy Lifestyle
It’s 9am. You plan the day: Work until 4pm in your preferred café, while the sound of a language you don’t understand becomes white noise in the background. Later you plan on city site-seeing, sampling new cuisines, and living as locals do to the best of your ability. At night you research your next destination. Maybe Bali? South Africa? Greece? This is the lifestyle of many digital nomads. A digital nomad works remotely and is not tied to particular office spaces, heck, not even to a particular city or country. The lifestyle is a tightrope act balancing travel and work, yet despite the challenge, it can be so rewarding.
Who are Digital Nomads?
In the post-pandemic era, remote work is increasingly accessible. Global lockdowns evidenced that many sectors and offices may function productively while employees work from afar. In a CBNC survey of US workers, only 65% have returned to working entirely in person. A rise in ‘digital nomading’ is the outcome of accessible remote work and the accumulation of travel dreams and wanderlust being put on hold since 2020. Most digital nomads hold citizenship in ‘Western’ regions such as Europe and North America, as well as Australia and New Zealand. This is because these destinations have entered a post-industrial era, facilitating remote work, and they tend to have a strong passport power, making travel more accessible.
Digital Nomad Visas
Digital nomads from economically advanced countries tend to flock to where living costs are cheaper and relative spending power is higher. When converted to a lesser currency, earning an average paycheck in the US dollar or British pound is a financial boost. And chasing the tropical and sunny climates of many of these places is another no-brainer. At present, there are few tailored visa options for digital nomad travel. Digital nomads commonly travel on easily obtained 30 days to 3-month visitor visas. However, this arrangement presents a legal and administrative grey issue dependent on specific laws and practices in the host country. The purpose of digital nomad travel is not simply to visit but also to work.
Why do Digital Nomads not apply for a Work Visa?
Firstly, the costly and timely process of applying for a semi-permanent work visa defeats the nomadic and transient aims of the digital nomad. Secondly, the difficulties in obtaining a work visa prevent foreigners from taking jobs from locals. Digital nomads, by contrast, work for an international or overseas company, posing no competitive threat to the local job market. Currently, 44 countries have a digital nomad visa, temporary residence permit or similar option, which is the solution to the issue of what visa to apply for. Not all 44 options, however, meet the ideal requirements of a digital nomad visa. A digital nomad visa ought to be relatively cheap, have a fast-processing time and allow digital nomads to rent temporarily. Perhaps digital nomad visas may also enable access to similar administrative services to locals, such as banking options, driver’s licence, and public transport passes.
Two Case Studies: South Africa and Indonesia
The question becomes; should states facilitate digital nomad travel by implementing a special visa? South African and Indonesian governments are exploring that question and the benefits of implementing a special visa. Firstly, digital nomads are also tourists. In his public statements, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa highlights that welcoming digital nomads will revitalise the tourism sector following post-pandemic struggles, thus boosting the economy. Southern Africa’s Airbnb spokesperson notes destinations with a similar visa “have seen an overall growth in tourism numbers”.
Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno had similar motivations for instigating the discussion of a digital nomad visa. Uno remarks, “Now with the pandemic handled and all the ministries getting involved and cooperating from the health side to the immigration office, we believe this is an opportune time to relaunch this idea”.
Benefits of Implementing a Special Visa
An economic benefit is digital nomads tend to settle for an extended period meaning the administration costs of monitoring immigration are less. This is important considering the increased administration costs related to pandemic restrictions and precautions (covid tests and health checks). South Africa’s proposed visa will allow stays up to 1 year with the option to extend. Indonesia’s visa, famous for being the longest digital nomad visa, will enable stays of up to 5 years. Also worth considering is that digital nomads eligible for the visa will have stable jobs, earn a foreign, likely higher currency, and spend in the host country.
The Bad and the Ugly
Sounds good? Sadly, digital nomad travel does not always benefit locals. From a consequent rise in gentrification, stripping places of their history, price manipulation and tax avoidance. All sides should be considered. Take price manipulation, digital nomads endeavour to ‘live as locals do’ but often with a bigger budget. A digital nomad may be inspired to travel ‘off the beaten path’ and live in a vibey neighbourhood This might be via Airbnb rather than in a traditional hotel. As a result, renting may escalate in price. As one example, the TimesLive South Africa reports a shortage of rental properties owing to Airbnb investments. Furthermore, in neighbourhoods primarily occupied by locals, an influx of foreign visitors may prompt businesses to raise their prices, and the cost of living becomes higher.
Careful Management is Needed
South African, Indonesian, and other governments have a tricky decision regarding how much they will facilitate digital nomad travel. Arguably, for a digital nomad scheme to successfully do more good than harm, it requires careful policy planning and conscious travel by the nomads themselves. A digital nomad scheme can benefit economies and those who wish to pursue a lifestyle of continuous travel and adventure. But as in so many other walks of life, mutual respect and understanding it necessary.
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