The digital nomad’s dream is over


When Miami-based photographer Matt Karsten quit his job to become a country travel blogger, he was not only living his own dream, but living a life most of us could only dream of. “Exploring jungles or beaches during the day while working from my guesthouse at night was a lot more fun than dealing with typical office politics or wishing I could take days off for a short vacation somewhere. He said. “I felt free.”

Yet ten years after Karsten embarked on an adventure that took him from Afghanistan to Iceland, from Antarctica to Costa Rica, his reality should no longer be a dream for everyone. Office closures have forced employers to make their staff homeworkers overnight; the protracted nature of the pandemic has seen many of them give them the chance to become so-called digital nomads too. Revolut, Shopify, Siemens, and Spotify are among those who have introduced work policies from anywhere. Airbnb is so convinced that the trend will become mainstream that it has revamped its app to cater for long-term travelers, allowing people to search for accommodation without having to specify dates or destinations.

Labor policies anywhere are proving popular. A study released last summer found that the number of digital nomads working for U.S. companies increased by 50% from the previous year, although restrictions on international travel at the time meant a significant proportion had converted vehicles so they can live as “VanLifers” rather than nomadic globetrotters.

Another report from Airbnb shows that in the first quarter of this year, long-term stays – those of at least 28 nights – accounted for 24% of nights booked through its site, up from 14% in the same period of 2019. were offered in 87 % of available accommodation and among those who had booked a long stay, 71% planned to book at least one more before the end of the year. By destination, tour operator Club Med believes that Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore are the best countries to live as a digital nomad.

Still, Darren Murph, responsible for the remote control of the dev-ops platform GitLab – which has been entirely remote since its launch in 2014 with three employees in three different countries – is skeptical. He says this change doesn’t mean that all companies touting work from anywhere, policies are willing or able to support every employee’s demand. “The missing phrase from the global conversation on this topic is ‘work from anywhere your employer can legally employ you.’ It’s cut because it’s not as glamorous, ”he says.

The appendix may cut the wings of aspiring digital nomads, but the distinction is important. Minaho Shiraishi, head of global mobility services at consulting firm KPMG, explains that the tax implications of picking up a laptop and traveling to a country where your employer is not present can be huge, both for employers and staff. “Depending on where an employee works in the world and the nature of the work being performed, their presence may create a permanent establishment for their employer in that country,” she says. “When this happens, the business could be exposed to corporate income tax in this country, as well as withholding tax obligations and other regulatory requirements.”

Staff, meanwhile, could find themselves paying personal income taxes, which in some cases may need to be paid both at home and in the country in which they temporarily reside.

A number of professional employers’ organizations have emerged to take charge of this logistics. The distributed HR company Remote, for example, works effectively as an employer on behalf of businesses, handling everything from contracts and payroll to visas and work permits for digital nomads.


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