The so-called nomadic movement was already underway before the virus shut down cities and workplaces, forcing people to work from home.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has closed some traditional doors, but ironically, forced isolation could actually revive depopulated villages in Europe. The growing acceptance of remote working by the market has led several European countries to offer digital nomadic visas and even cash incentives to foreigners who wish to settle down.
The so-called nomadic movement was already underway before the virus shut down cities and workplaces, forcing people to work from home. Before mainly freelancers, remote labor became widespread in 2020 as full-time employees joined its ranks. While many returned to the office, many did not, a significant number who refused to return to work in person and took a new course.
It’s one of those counterintuitive twists that we sometimes come across: quarantine could eventually lead to more freedom than before.
The stereotypical pre-pandemic digital nomad was young, adventurous, and of course digitally savvy – but in terms of economic desirability, he was probably just a step up from the budget backpacker.
But with highly paid employees of Google, Facebook and many others, free to live where they want as long as there is a fast and reliable internet connection, digital nomads have acquired a more polished image. While the terms can get blurry, some are in fact entrepreneurs who have the potential to create jobs and tax revenue in a foreign country.
Initiatives in Europe range from villages whose goals are isolated independents with a modest level of income to entire countries that want digital brilliants capable of boosting jobs and the economy.
Some villages are breathtaking due to their incredible landscapes, history and centuries-old culture. They can also be remarkable for demonstrating something deep in the human mind – the determination to stay alive even after decades of abrupt decline. After World War II, many remote towns in Europe were depopulated as people moved to town in search of jobs during the recovery and the economic boom that followed. Some hamlets have become real ghost towns.
The bewildering list of former settlements now courting digital nomads includes villages in Spain and Italy that would each be a strong tourist draw if located in another country. They’re not Disneyesque – they’re the real deal that inspired people like Walt Disney.
Infused with this history and beauty, mayors and local citizens are determined to save their hometowns by becoming innovators themselves by unveiling incentive packages that include 1 euro housing, resettlement money, tax breaks and fast Internet access.
And Italy has now added firepower – some € 1 billion from EU Covid-19 recovery funds intended to bring fast internet and other improvements to seemingly time-lost villages, mostly in the south of the country, which the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini calls “the embodiment of the identity of Italy”.
Lightning-fast internet and other improvements in the hamlets aim to attract the growing number of Italians and foreigners looking to relocate from the towns to the countryside.
“The emergency upset the social and working habits of Italians who again began to consider the countryside not only as a destination for trips out of town, but as a lifestyle choice to enjoy larger living spaces with a greater sense of security and well-being. said a report by the agricultural organization Coldiretti, which noted that previously only 76 percent of families in the Italian countryside had access to the internet.
In Spain, dozens of small villages offer digital nomads cash payments and other incentives to relocate. The National Network of Host Villages, which has around 30 members, tries to attract foreign teleworkers by offering coworking spaces, high-speed Internet access and up to $ 3,500 in moving expenses.
Examples include Benarraba, a hamlet of less than 500 people in the northern region of Andalusia, which says digital nomads can live for around $ 457 a week, or Tolox, a village of 2,250 people in the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves where the cost of living is a thrifty of $ 175 per week.
According to the website of a specialist who calls herself Nomad Girl, at least 32 countries now offer digital nomadic visas to qualified foreigners, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Portugal. in addition to Spain and Italy.
Promoting itself as Europe’s first digital nomadic village, Ponta do Sol on the small volcanic island of Madeira, one of Portugal’s two autonomous regions, began its modern internet-based incarnation in February. It offers teleworkers a free workspace and free Wi-Fi from 8 am to 10 pm every day. Developed by the regional government of Madeira, the initiative can accommodate 100 nomads. Some 3,000 have already registered to try to join.
Ireland are looking for bigger players. It offers a visa and even financial support to foreigners who can demonstrate that their business is capable of creating at least 10 jobs and 1 million euros in turnover in the first three years. Last year, the program awarded more than 120 million euros to startups.
Although by their very nature the number of digital nomads is difficult to pin down, experts believe there are millions of them around the world. According to Steve King of consulting firm Emergent Research, an estimated 10.9 million people were living the lifestyle in America alone in 2020, a third more than the year before. He estimates that around 60% of digital nomads were employees rather than freelancers last year.
Often these days it seems like an increasingly distant goal, but eventually the pandemic will end. What will stay in its place is a world that has been fundamentally changed in some ways, perhaps most notably in the way and where we work.
Rather than a crowded urban location, our office could be in a beautiful village where the food and wine are delicious and cheap, the air is clean and all we hear are the bucolic sounds of the countryside.
After what we’ve all been through for the past 20 months, we deserve a romance like this. Europe is working to make the dream possible.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are Milan-based journalists