The headlines are everywhere. “Estonia launches world’s first digital nomad visa.”
But is that true? Hell no. A little fact-checking is all that’s needed. And while it’s great that Estonia has delivered – once again – on its promise to welcome digital nomads and remote workers (its e-residency program was a great success, mostly), the fact is that many countries and US states have programs that are either designed specifically for nomadic types or support our unique way of living and working.
What are nomad visas?
Global citizens have had to deal with being in limbo for decades now. You can apply for traditional work visas, of course, but many of those require you to work for a local company, have an invitation letter or a contract, and in some cases require full sponsorship from the organization you’re working for.
And it depends on where you have citizenship as to how flexible a country will be to you working, for yourself, in its location. If you have an EU passport, living and working in EU countries is relatively painless, but it still has its restrictions.
Many tourist visas allow you to work remotely and independently. You only fall foul of the rules if you work for a local company or try to get hired in that country, which is great for digital nomads since most generate revenue online.
Nomad visas fix some of these legal grey areas by allowing you to work in a country for long periods of time (much longer than the typical 90 days allowed on many tourist visas), as while the rules change for each location, if you can prove you have a steady online income, have a good visa history, don’t pose a threat to the health and security of the country and its citizens, and have a valid passport, you should have all you need.
Speaking of passports, you need to know what your particular brand of official ID will get you. My favorite passport site by far – Passport Index – will tell you what countries you can visit with and without visas, which is a good place to start.
So which countries have nomad visas?
The Germans have had a “freelance visa” for many years. There are two types – one for artists and one for professionals. Of course, since the Germans love their paperwork and red tape, you’ll have to visit the German tax office and give them a shit ton of documents, including your portfolio, bank statements, proof of expertise, and more. And you’ll need proper health insurance – not just cover on your travel insurance plan. It can be a painful process, and there are lots of mistakes you can make along the way, but it’s one of the better options for nomads.
The Czech Republic offers a special type of business visa called a “zivno” (short for zivnostenské opravneni). It is meant for non-EU citizens who intend to work as contractors/freelancers or run their own business. While some can apply through any Czech Republic embassy (Americans, Canadians, Australians etc.), others will need to apply at the embassy in their country of citizenship. It takes a long time to get this one, so get ready for a long-ass process – typically 90-120 days.
The Portuguese do love a good nomad. The country has a temporary resident visa that is perfect for freelancers and startup types. The visa is granted within 45 to 60 days, but after having the visa for six months, you’ll need to exchange it for a residence card. Oh, and a freelance visa can be easy to apply for, according to most reports. One couple managed to collect all the relevant papers and present them in only eight hours. Bear in mind that you need to be earning a minimum of €800 a month, and you have to be able to prove that. There is another type of visa for nomadic types, for entrepreneurs, so be sure to check out all the options.
The Norwegians have a visa in place for those that want to relocate to Svalbard. The catch? It is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Sure, the visa remains valid for the rest of your natural life, and it is a beautiful location, but in addition to proving you make enough money to live there, you’ll also have to get used to the often fucking depressing 24-hour darkness in winter. The 24-hour daylight season sometimes makes up for it, but be prepared for the emotional turmoil that comes with a lack of sunlight, and the freezing temperatures. (I’m really selling this to you, aren’t I? 😉 )
The Rentista visa requires you to show proof of generating $2,500 income every month, so it’s not for everyone. One silver lining for the USA, Canada, UK, Ukraine, and many other passport holders – you can stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days on a tourist visa, and several people do a “visa run” every three months by hopping over to Nicaragua or Panama for a quick visit.
There are digital nomad, freelancer, and startup visas in place in these countries:
In addition, US citizens are being flirted with by the states of Vermont, Oklahoma, and Alabama, who all want remote workers to relocate to their territories, so they make it attractive for you to do so.
And what about the new Estonia Digital Nomad visa?
If you can show your work is location independent, that you can work remotely, that you have an active employment contract with a company registered outside of Estonia, conduct business through your own company registered abroad, or work as a freelancer for clients mostly outside of Estonia, you can apply.
That’s pretty bloody restrictive, in comparison to some of the programs I’ve looked at. Oh, and you have to also show your income met the minimum threshold during the six months before applying. What’s the threshold? Glad you asked. It’s €3,504 (gross, not net).
This is different from the Estonian e-residency program that allows you to apply for a “digital identity” and status and manage your business from anywhere. Depending on the tax rates and rules in the country you’ve established your business, Estonian e-residency can be attractive, but it’s not going to let you live there and work legally (depending on your citizenship, of course.)
More countries are expected to launch nomad visas (and other freelancer options that suit our fucking amazing lifestyle), and when they do, we’ll be first to tell you about it.