Where can remote workers work during the pandemic? So far not Asia

It is often said that remote workers can work from any location that has an internet connection.

But tell it to someone who wants to live and work in Bangkok or Bali right now.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed millions of workers from their desks to their homes – and many have decided to change countries, at least temporarily. To respond to this trend, countries in Europe, the Caribbean and the Caucasus are trying to attract these workers with new “digital nomad” visa programs.

But to date, no Asian country has officially opened the door to this new remote workforce, leaving them wondering whether to hold on to their preferred Asian destination or apply to live elsewhere that is open to them now.

Remote workers want to travel

According to a global Booking.com investigation of 20,000 travelers working from home during the pandemic, more than a third have considered working remotely from another destination, Nuno Guerreiro, regional director of the site, told CNBC’s Global Traveler.

A woman works by the beach on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand.

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“From the research, we can say that there is an appetite to work remotely from another destination, with respondents in Asian countries such as Thailand (60%), Vietnam (52% ), Singapore (50%), China (45%) and Hong Kong (39%) surpassing the world average (37%) in expressing their interest in this type of arrangement ”, he wrote by e- mail.

Respondents from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Russia and the United States also generated great interest.

Wanted: recreation and lower cost of living

Asia was home to four of the top 10 destinations for expats to live and work in 2019, according to expat networking site InterNations’ “Expat Insider Survey 2019. “

1. Taiwan – best in the world for affordability of healthcare
2. Vietnam – best in the world for personal finance
3. Portugal
4. Mexico
5. Spain
6. Singapore best in the world for personal safety
7. Bahrain
8. Ecuador
9. Malaysia – well rated for cost of living and affordable housing
10. Czech Republic

Adrien Pierson is the co-founder and COO of MillionSpaces, a workspace booking website that operates in Singapore and Sri Lanka. He said he believed other destinations in Asia would be attractive to remote workers for the following reasons:

Credit: CNBC.com Source: Adrien Pierson, MillionSpaces

Launched in 2020, the MillionSpaces service is designed to allow workers to book workplaces or organize meetings in hotels, bars, restaurants and traditional collaborative workspaces, for periods as short as one. hour. Pierson said he believes remote working is here to stay because it allows workers – not just retirees – to live in any destination they choose.

“You have almost reached … retirement 20 years ago,” he said.

Places like Phuket, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia are leisure destinations with enough infrastructure to do work, Adrien Pierson said.

Jasmina007 | E + | Getty Images

American Marta Grutka has said she wants to move to Bali or Bangkok.

“I have lived in Bali in the past, working from my laptop,” she said. “If the border restrictions weren’t barriers, I can imagine having Bali as the base from which I work.”

She said “quality of life for the price” is her main motivation, but warned that living and working in Bali on a budget is not the same experience as going there for vacation.

“Prices are increasing dramatically due to the rush of expats going there over the years,” she said. “A few business owners I know have recently moved from Bali to Bangkok to have a more profitable and cosmopolitan lifestyle.”

Living and working in Bali is not the same as going on vacation, warned longtime digital nomad Marta Grutka.

agrobacter | E + | Getty Images

Singaporean Shuhui Fu has been working from home since March 2020. She said if her business switches to permanent remote work, which she is “quite sure she will,” she will consider moving to Japan.

“I’m just fascinated by its culture and dynamism, and yet there is a resemblance to [Singapore] in terms of order and security, ”she said.

In addition to the travel opportunities, Fu is also motivated to move for the weather – but not for the warm beaches that draw many travelers to Asia. She would go “somewhere where I can experience the seasons, which you cannot do in Singapore”.

A future for itinerant remote workers in Asia?

To date, no country in Asia has announced a program specifically designed to attract the pandemic influx of remote workers.

And whether an Asian nation will provide them with a formal route to live and work within their borders, it is not clear. Asian governments have been quiet on the matter, and authorities in Singapore, Bali and Thailand have not responded to CNBC’s questions on the matter.

Thailand’s special tourist visa allows tourists to stay for periods of up to nine months.

Alexander Spatari | Moment | Getty Images

Informal avenues for remote workers to live temporarily in parts of Asia still exist, although the pandemic has made them more difficult to manage.

“Digital nomads go from place to place and make frequent visa runs,” said Grutka, referring to the practice of crossing national borders to renew tourist visas. “With Covid now, it’s more expensive, and there is more time to devote to these steps.”

Bali is officially closed to international tourists, although some are find ways enter during the pandemic, as reported by the Singapore Today digital newspaper.

Thailand’s new special tourist visa allows visitors to stay for up to 90 days and can be renewed twice, provided tourists are quarantined at approved facilities for at least 14 days upon arrival, provide proof long-term hosting plans and have at least $ 100,000 in medical insurance. blanket.

As to whether Asia will ever officially open up to remote workers, Guerreiro of Booking.com said: “It is only natural that supply follows demand.”

The development of vaccines, improved contact tracing, and the possibility of remote working becoming a long-term reality have led Guerreiro to predict that this “looks promising for those who are able to travel and work virtually anywhere. ‘anywhere’.


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