A laptop and camera sit on a ledge overlooking green mountains

Digital Nomad Visas Inspired American Workers to Pursue a Change of Scenery

When millions became remote workers overnight, these countries got creative

Before the pandemic, travelers didn't need to consider how many days their tourist visas allowed them to stay abroad. For most people, the length of a trip was limited to how many vacation days they had to spare. Now, after office buildings around the world have emptied (some permanently), more travelers than ever have been encouraged to take their jobs on the road, prompting a rise in digital nomads: full-time travelers who work remotely from their chosen destinations. With so many new nomads on the scene, governments worldwide have hurried to respond with special visas and programs designed to attract these full-time travelers to their shores.

Before these new programs, the average digital nomad visa was valid for just one to six months. But over the past year, the number of countries offering visas allowing workers to stay for up to a year or longer, either through obtaining a new visa or temporary residency, has topped 20. Countries that have begun to offer digital nomad visas for the first time are Barbados, Georgia, Costa Rica, and Iceland. Amid the pandemic, nomads have become more than just a subset of digital workers: they've become priority guests for countries around the world.

Illustration of different people working around the world remotely

TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Visa-on-arrival programs for tourists are not new, and most travelers, mainly Europeans and Americans, would not need to contact a country's embassy or consulate to go on a short vacation. But for those looking to work remotely in their chosen destination for several months or more, an approved visa is needed. Each country has a different application process for these visas—most of which have been called some variation of "digital nomad visas," or "nomad visas"—but in most cases, applicants begin the process by providing proof of income, proof of insurance, and passing a criminal record check.

Many nomads gravitate towards visas that can be fully completed online, such as Malta's Nomad Residence program or Georgia's Remotely From Georgia program. For Rachel Coleman, a college essay editor who works remotely, this was one of the reasons she chose to apply for the program in Malta. The main requirement she had to meet was proof of income, telling TripSavvy that the visa is "highly targeted towards people who aren't employed in Malta and can continuously work from home—so verifying that was of utmost importance."

In other countries, like Mexico and Portugal, visa-seeking nomads have a lot more work to do. Both of these countries offer long-term residence permits instead of digital nomad visas. Cali O'Conner, the founder of Travel Shifters, a coaching program for those looking to pursue remote work abroad, is in the process of applying for a temporary resident card in Mexico. After entering Mexico on a tourist visa, she returned to the U.S. to make an appointment at the Mexican consulate.

O'Conner says that one benefit of choosing Mexico is that its tourist visa allows visitors to stay up to six months. "I was able to spend a good portion of the past year making sure this is a place I love," she said. Before making a significant commitment to a year in one place, many nomads may choose to experience it first within the limits of their tourist visa.

The process requires even more paperwork and in-person visits to government offices in Portugal, but it's also one of the most generous programs. Once received, remote workers can renew their permit every year and eventually apply for permanent residency or even citizenship if they stay in Portugal.

Photo of someone working on their laptop during a flight with a quote in white on the photo

Photo: Unsplash

Lora Pope is a travel writer applying for Portugal's D7 Passive Income visa, which requires applicants to obtain a long-term residence, tax number, and bank account. Pope expects the application process to take at least six months. "The most difficult part of the process is trying to navigate Portuguese bureaucracy and the back and forth between Portugal and your home country," she said. "Each step, like acquiring a tax number, requires a lot of paperwork in Portugal, which hasn't been easy to navigate."

Most governments require applicants for digital nomad and residency programs to show proof of income to show that they can financially sustain themselves throughout their stay. While some countries have not specified the minimum amount of money you need to earn, others have set high financial benchmarks.

The Caribbean nations of Antigua & Barbuda and Dominica require applicants to prove an income of at least $50,000 per year, but that's nothing compared to the Cayman Islands, which requires a minimum annual salary of $100,000 per year for singles and $180,000 per couple on top of a $2,000 application fee. (A $2,000 payment is also required to apply for Anguilla's and Barbados' visa programs.) With high financial requirements like these, it's clear that some countries are explicitly trying to attract a wealthier subset of remote workers. For traditional digital nomads, many of which are independent contractors or small business owners, these programs may be out of reach.

Eastern European countries like Croatia and Estonia have launched more attainable requirements, asking applicants to prove a minimum monthly income between approximately $2,000 to $4,000 per month. In some countries, proof of income is still a hazy subject, such as Georgia, Seychelles, and Bermuda, where applicants are required to include their income with their application, but a minimum amount is not specified. However, to their benefit, the application fees in these countries are much lower than their tropical competition in the Caribbean. Seychelles only charges a $52 fee to apply to its Workcation Program, while Bermuda's Go to Bermuda visa charges $263.

A woman working on her computer at a beach hut

Peggy Anke / Unsplash

The countries that have succeeded in attracting remote workers to their shores were the ones that were able to move quickly, such as Estonia and Croatia, and implement visas and programs that minimized the amount of bureaucracy involved, such as Malta and Georgia. These programs are best suited for remote workers who may be new to the digital nomad lifestyle and want to spend just one year abroad.

Particular kudos should also be given to countries that have moved bureaucracy along quickly, such as the Bahamas and Bermuda, which promised to process applications in five days—a lightning-fast turnaround compared to other countries such as Estonia, which processes applications within 30 days. Remote workers who want the option to extend their stay by a year or more might want to consider the benefits of the more traditional residency programs offered in Mexico and Portugal. There are more hoops to jump through, and the process will take much longer than other programs, but in exchange, you can stay beyond a single year and may even be able to gain permanent residency or citizenship.

The pandemic proved that remote work is the future of work, and—judging by how many countries have hurried to introduce digital nomad visas this year—it may also be the future of tourism. With countries like Spain and Romania announcing plans to implement their own digital nomad programs in the coming year, it is clear that governments are continuing to provide these visas as an attractive way to lure talent in the year to come.