COVID-19 inspires more to seize the dream of ‘digital nomad’


WORLD: “When I talked about this before the pandemic, people thought I was crazy. Now they tell me I was right after all, ”said Arnaud Wilbrod, a French freelance writer who moved to the Estonian capital Tallinn after his home country went into lockdown.

The number of people replying to emails from the beach or a picturesque town square has increased and is expected to continue to rise as remote working becomes more widespread. Photo: AFP.

Wilbrod is just one of many who, since the coronavirus pandemic hit, have turned to the dream of a ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle – responding to emails from the beach or a quaint town square as remote working becomes more widespread.

Once reserved for freelancers, those with stable jobs are increasingly tempted to take the leap and some countries are eager to attract them – even as COVID-19 has made takeoff to a destination office a much higher hurdle .

While the number of digital nomads is difficult to pin down, experts believe there are millions around the world.

About 10.9 million Americans were living the lifestyle in 2020, according to Steve King of consultancy firm Emergent Research – a third more than the year before.

“Suddenly, a group of traditional employees who, in the past, did not have the freedom to travel, suddenly received it. They were released from the location, ”King said.

He estimates that in 2020 around 60% of digital nomads were employees rather than freelancers – up from a third in 2019.

With potentially more years of remote work to come, “the number of digital nomads will continue to increase,” King predicted.

Sharon, a 28-year-old American who requested that her name be changed, moved to Mexico when her business switched to working from home, enjoying the sunnier weather and “the freedom to be able to adjust my schedule.”

Live in paradise, save money ‘

During the pandemic, a new type of part-time nomad has emerged, like Denis Muniglia, who has made a habit of adding a few weeks of remote work at the end of his vacation after passing the lockout in Guadeloupe.

“I tell myself that working remotely is a blessing – spending more time in a different environment,” he said.

In addition, around 15 countries have stepped up efforts to attract mobile and connected workers to make up for some of the tourism revenue lost due to travel restrictions.

“They have jobs, so they don’t take local jobs, and they’re fairly well paid,” said researcher King.

The main criteria for choosing a home port are “Internet connection” and “cost of living,” said Mexican nomad Claire Lambert.

“It’s really nice to think that you’re going to live in a place that looks like heaven and put some money aside.”

Since March 2020, when restrictions hit much of the developed world, the coronavirus situation has also become a powerful factor.

Last summer Georgia – which had so far been largely untouched – created a visa for people earning at least $ 2,000 (B60,000) a month to live there for up to a year.

Intended to attract high-income visitors, the program attracted 787 digital nomads, although the virus has since been felt.

One of the new arrivals, South African Jenni Pringle, said she had Google searched for “a cheap and safe place” – finding Georgia “clean and beautiful”.

“I didn’t know anything” about the country before, she added.

A nomadic village

Costa Rica, a top travel favorite, is also making plans to allow remote workers to stay longer, with Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura playing on the country’s “connectivity”.

And Bali, a favorite of digital nomads, is working on its own special visa program, with tourism agency chief Putu Astawa calling them “a source of income … to help recover after being hit hard by the pandemic “.

But the foreigners debate erupted again after the dismissal of an American lesbian couple – one of whom published an e-book on how to get around the rules currently banning tourists.

In Portugal, the government of the small archipelago of Madeira supported the development of a village with free coworking spaces, houses for rent and events for digital nomads, a first in Europe.

They hope “to show Madeira as one of the best places in the world for remote working,” said Margarida Luis, spokesperson for the regional economic authority.

So far, only around 100 of the 3,800 applicants to live in Punta do Sol, on the south side of the main island, have exceeded coronavirus restrictions.

“I think remote working will never return to what it was” before the pandemic, said Goncalo Hall, one of the founders of the project who hopes it will boost the island’s economy.


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